As we saw in our last study the Apostle Paul knew some important things before James and other Jewish elders and apostles in Jerusalem. Those things concerned how Gentiles would be saved. Some of the Jewish church leadership went to Antioch, Syria, and told the Gentile believers there that they needed to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas had “no small dissension and dispute with them” (Acts 15:2) in Antioch, so they traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to consider the matter.
Luke described the meeting this way – “And when there had been much dispute …” (Acts 15:7). Peter stood up to speak and that opened the door for Paul and Barnabas to speak. After listening to Paul and Barnabas declare “how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles,” James determined that the Jewish church leadership in Jerusalem “should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:12, 19)
From that point on, as Paul wrote, it changed the way the Jewish apostles and elders responded to the salvation of Gentiles:
… when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.Galatians 2:7-9
It should be obvious from reading Acts 15 and Galatians 2 that Paul knew some things about how God would save Gentiles that the other apostles did not know. The reason for the dispute in Antioch and the debate in Jerusalem was because Jewish followers of Christ in Jerusalem believed Gentiles had to be circumcised and obedient to the Torah (Mosaic Law) in order to be saved. Paul knew that was not the case and would not give in to the Jews who wanted to change the Gospel to the Gentiles. As Paul wrote the Galatians about facing opposition in Jerusalem — “we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:5).
Pauline Knowledge Timeline
The purpose of this series is to determine what Paul knew and when he knew it. It’s clear from Acts 15 and Galatians 2 that Paul knew more and knew it earlier than the other apostles and elders in Jerusalem, but how and when did that happen? Let’s look at a quick timeline that will take us from Paul’s salvation on the road to Damascus to the council meeting in Jerusalem (dates approximate based on information from Acts and Paul’s epistles), along with other important dates in his ministry.
|Paul’s Conversion||34 AD|
|Paul in Arabia||35-38 AD|
|Paul Visits Peter in Jerusalem||38 AD|
|Paul Preaches in Syria and Cilicia||38-46 AD|
|Paul’s Visions of Third Heaven||41 AD|
|Paul Teaches in Antioch, Syria||46-47 AD|
|Paul’s First Missionary Journey||47-49 AD|
|Paul at Jerusalem Council||49 AD|
|Paul’s Second Missionary Journey||49-52 AD|
|Paul in Antioch, Syria||52-53 AD|
|Paul’s Third Missionary Journey||53-57 AD|
|Paul Imprisoned in Judea||57-59 AD|
|Paul’s Voyage to Rome||59-60 AD|
|Paul House Arrest in Rome||60-62 AD|
|Paul’s Last Missionary Journey||62-65 AD|
|Paul In Prison in Rome||65-66 AD|
|Paul Martyred in Rome||66 AD|
You will notice that Paul received many visions and revelations several years before he began teaching at the church in Antioch, which was prior to going on his first missionary journey. According to 2 Corinthians 12, Paul was “caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” He also wrote that he saw an “abundance of the revelations.” That means Paul saw Paradise, heard inexpressible words which was not lawful for a man to utter and experienced an abundance of revelations years before he began his teaching and preaching ministry in Antioch and other parts of the Roman Empire.
Paul knew more than the other apostles about the ministry Jesus had called him to with the Gentiles, but it’s interesting that Peter came to Paul’s aid because of his own visions and revelations concerning the Gentiles. Though Peter’s ministry was to the Jews (Galatians 2:7), God used Peter to open the door to God-fearing Gentiles at an earlier date (Acts 10). Peter used that experience at the Jerusalem meeting to support what Jesus was doing though Paul (Acts 15:7-11).
Here are some of the New Testament references we used to develop the timeline. We invite you to use these Scriptures and others you may find to develop your own timeline for Paul’s conversion and ministry.
While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’Acts 26:12-18
And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.Acts 9:9
Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.Acts 9:23
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.Galatians 1:15-17
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.)Galatians 1:18-20
Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God in me.Galatians 1:21-24
It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.2 Corinthians 12:1-4
Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.Acts 11:25-26
Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.Acts 14:3
So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.Acts 14:28
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.Galatians 2:1-2
And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles.Acts 15:33
Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.Acts 15:36
Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’ And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.Acts 18:9-11
After he had spent some time there, he departed and went over the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.Acts 18:23
And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.Acts 19:8
And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.Acts 19:10
So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.Acts 19:22
Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece and stayed three months.Acts 20:2-3
For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.Acts 20:16
Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.Acts 20:31
Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult.Acts 24:17-18
But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.Acts 24:27
After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island.Acts 28:11
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.Acts 28:30-31
Some people believe that the Apostle Paul “hijacked” Christianity and turned it into something God never intended. How Paul, a mere human being, could have done that to God’s plan is not explained very well, but they still believe it. Some say Paul was a dupe. Others say he was a fraud. If you believe that, please read Paul – Apostle or Fraud. It should answer many of your questions about Paul and his position in the early Church.
If you wonder what the early Church thought of Paul’s writings, please read Convince Me There’s A God – The New Testament Part 7.
As for whether Paul hijacked or invented Christianity, here are some of the previous studies in our series. If you have not read them, please click below:
In the next part of our special study, What Paul Knew and When He Knew It, we will look at Paul’s claim that God used him to reveal a “mystery” to the Church.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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