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The Lost Years
Saul's Early Ministry

 

After Saul's conversion or call there was a period of thirteen years in which he disappeared from our gaze. Acts tells us only that immediately after his eyesight was restored "he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God."

For a good picture of what happened during this time, we need to merge two brief accounts from Galatians 1:16-21 and 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, with those in Acts. This is the result:

After spending some time in Damascus, Saul spent three years of monastic-like existence in the northern Arabian desert, where he no doubt was engaged in reflection and meditation.

For reasons unknown Saul returned to Damascus, now controlled (following the death of the Roman emperor Tiberius in 37 AD) by King Aretas of Nabatea. He boldly proved from Scripture "that Jesus is the Christ," and in the process, agitated the Jews. We have two versions of what happened next:

Version 1: In Acts 9:20-25, we are told that his teaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the long awaited "Anointed One" upset the Jews and they sought to kill him. The Jews set a watch on the city gates.

Version 2: In 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, Paul tells us that his preaching angered the ethnarch (governor) under King Aretas IV of Nabataea, who "had the city of the Damasenes guarded in order to arrest me."

Both accounts basically end the same way: "But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through (their) hands."

Below, Bab Kisan (Arabic "The Kisan Gate"), one of the seven ancient city-gates of Damascus. Located in the southeastern part of the Old City, it was named for a slave who became famous during a conquest by the Caliph Mu'awiya. Today it holds the Chapel of St. Paul commemorating Saul's escape from the city.

 

Bab Kisan Gate commemorating Saul's escape from Damascus

Below, Chapel of St. Paul inside Bab Kisan

Below, relief in the chapel depicting the escape of Paul in a basket

Saul then made his way to Jerusalem where he attempted to meet with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. At first they refused to see him, thinking it was a trick to kill them off. It was through Barnabas, Saul's future traveling companion on his first missionary journey, that he gained an audience with the Apostles. This important meeting established Saul as a recognized Apostle alongside the founders of the church at Jerusalem. Acts then states that Saul moved "about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord."

But when he talked and debated with the Greek Jews, "they tried to kill him."

When "the brothers" learned of this, they took him down to the seaport of Caesarea and sent him off to his hometown of Tarsus.

For the next ten years (37-46 AD) he engaged in missionary activity in Syria and Cilicia (Paul's home province, where Tarsus was located). The only reference to this period is found in Galatians 1:21-23, where Saul/Paul relates:

"Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: 'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.'"

 

Saul returns to Tarsus, his hometown