|PAUL'S INTERMEDIATE YEARS
From Acts one cannot necessarily observe how long the interval is between Paul's call and his actual missionary journeys. Galatians 1 is a fairly exact account of that stage of maturation which prepared Paul both as a man and as a teacher and as a "Messianic" theologian, too. Paul indeed began preaching immediately after his conversion. His call was so clear that he rejected all human authorities. Of it he writes, "Am I now seeking the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I still wanted to be to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brethren, that the Gospel I preach is not from man; nor did I receive it from men, nor was I taught it, but Jesus Christ revealed it to me" (Gal. 1:10-12).
This attitude reminds one of what the Pharisees said of Jesus in three of the gospels: "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God in truth, paying heed to no one, for you do not show favouritism." Jesus himself said, "I do not receive honour from men -- how could you believe, you who receive honour one from another?" Paul had become a genuine follower of Jesus. He said of his teaching that Jesus Christ had revealed it to him; in the Greek is the expression "di apokalypseos", that is, he had received his teaching as if by an "apocalyptic" revelation. Once Dr. David Hedegård, the well-known Swedish expert on Jewish prayer literature, mentioned, when we were speaking about this verse, that Paul's theology is by nature "apocalyptic". It can seem mystic and irrational. Basically it is the theology of the Holy Spirit.
Paul describes it in greatest detail in 1 Corinthians : "We speak of God's secret wisdom -- God has revealed it (Gr. "apekalupsen") to us by his Spirit -- we have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." This presupposes that one can only study Paul if one takes note of these inner requirements.
At the end of Galatians 1 and at the beginning of chapter 2 Paul gives a general account of the initial stages of his ministry: "I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days -- Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. -- Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles."
If Paul's conversion was in the year 32, he worked "a long
time" in Damascus, then he went off for a short visit to Jerusalem,
he was "three years in Arabia" and in Syria and Cilicia so long that
only "fourteen years later" did he visit Jerusalem again. Evidently
these fourteen years must be counted from Paul's conversion experience.
Thus 32 + 14 plus the "long time" in Damascus, that is, perhaps
almost a whole year would point to the year 47 A.D., when
his first missionary journey is often placed. These approximate estimates
make one ask where Paul had worked in those "intermediate years".
And what universal and human conclusions can be drawn from this long delay?
Pauls' Activities in Arabia
Paul stayed in Arabia for three years. This Nabatean kingdom was then ruled by King Aretas IV. He married his daughter to Herod Antipas. And when he fell in love with his brother Philip's wife Herodias, there commenced a longlasting guerrilla war. Josephus explains Herod's defeats by saying that God was punishing him for beheading John the Baptist, "because he was a righteous man." And the Jews were convinced that due to his death "Herod's troops had become the object of God's displeasure." Aretas ruled areas in present-day Jordan and Syria from 9 B.C. to 40 A.D. In this area was undoubtedly situated the place where Paul stayed for a long time.
The expression in Galatians, "I went into Arabia," has been thought to mean only "wilderness", or "steppe", as the Finnish Old Testament interprets the Hebrew word "aravah". For instance, the Jewish scholar Leo Baeck thinks that this word Arabia is misleading. In Deut. 2:8, 3:17 and 4:49 the Greek Septuagint uses of the wilderness the word "Araba", from which was formed the term Arabia. In his opinion, this can support the view that Paul worked in association with the Essene wilderness brethren.
Since Paul was first "a long time" in Damascus, it is thought that he had there contacts with the Damascene Essene groups. The Qumran community was also called by the name Damascus. Therefore Paul's conversion has also been connected with Qumran. However, at Qumran there was no 'Straight Street' nor were there any synagogues in which the discipline of the Great Council would have been applicable. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that Paul and in particular the letter to the Hebrews has a great number of converging points of contact.
Yigael Yadin, the well-known archaeologist and interpreter of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in several contexts made extensive concept analyses between the Qumran texts and in particular the Letter to the Hebrews. Discussion about the high priest and the Teacher of Righteousness, comparison of the Messiah with Moses and the angelic powers and, for example, mention of the eschatological "final generation" (dor aharon), which occurs particularly in the Damascus fragment, creates a bridge to the New Testament. Of it Yadin writes: "The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews could not have chosen examples closer to the hearts of the recipients -- who in my view were the Dead Sea sect -- examples which touch upon this the most extraordinary letter in the whole of New Testament literature." In his introduction Yadin finds it strange that well-known Christian experts say that in the Letter to the Hebrews there is "nothing to show that it was intended especially for Jewish readers" and "it manifests least of the Jewish character of the New Testament." Jews are very aware of the low state to which liberal Christian theology has sunk.
The church father Clement of Alexandria mentioned the tradition according to which Paul wrote Hebrews in Hebrew and Luke translated it into Greek. Origen thought that its ideas came from Paul, but not its literary form. Tertullian regarded Barnabas as the writer of the letter. Many scholars think that it was written between the years 60-70, for if the Temple was already destroyed, at least the Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospels too would have used it as a witness to the correctness of Jesus' predictions. The Letter to the Hebrews is not really a letter but a kind of midrashic study. Its beginning is a typical homiletic "petihta" (opening or prologue), in which are listed the basic factors with which a midrash deals.
It may be that Paul was an associate member of an Essene community in Arabia. And therefore he would later have written to these Jewish Christians of Essene origin this christological midrashic study, the Letter to the Hebrews. Yigael Yadin writes that "the main theme of Hebrews is: he is so much higher than angels as the name he has inherited is nobler than theirs." "This letter wishes to say that Jesus is an anointed priest, a priest who is not of Aaron's seed, but of nobler origin." Thus it "manifests the most" the Jewish character of the New Testament.
After three years' preaching and inner maturation Paul visited Jerusalem again. He wanted to get to know Cephas, that is, Simon Peter. These fifteen unforgettable days, when he could hear in detail about Jesus' life and ministry, remained indelibly in his mind. Paul did not then see the other apostles, "only James, the brother of the Lord." When one knows that in Jerusalem everything is near everything else, this seems strange, unless one supposes that the apostles were scattered due to the persecutions and took care of small new groups of believers.
The Work in Syria and Cilicia
Between the years 36 and 47 Paul worked in his home district in Syria and Cilicia. However, we have no detailed information. Then the Gospel spread widely, and each of the believers acted in his home area. These "intermediate years" of Paul's undoubtedly involved establishing contacts with new churches. Acts 11:19-20 tells of this initial stage: "Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus."
The most important event of this time was undoubtedly the Olympic Games organized in Antioch in early autumn 44. This festival affected the whole of the empire. It gathered representatives from far-off cities, created new trade links and promoted the cultural life of the time. According to tradition, the names of the first Olympic victors are from the year 776 B.C. The last games were held in 393 B.C. When they were once again revived, Jews of different nationalities won between 1896-1968 a total of one hundred and five gold metals and slightly fewer silver and bronze ones. They especially excelled in gymnastics, swimming and fencing. Also, they have favoured power events such as wrestling and boxing. Pious Jews have indeed always avoided trotting-races, because the associated gambling is forbidden by the Torah. It is very possible that the commercial "world exhibitions" connected with the Olympics also tied Paul's family business business affairs to the Antioch exhibition. At the same time he may have followed the Olympic competitors' sports performances.
In antiquity men's events included the fivefold contest, the pentathlon, which comprised running, long-jump, discus and javelin throwing and boxing, the so-called pankration, which was a kind of combination of wrestling and boxing. Also races were part of the programme. The prize was a crown of olive branches. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul refers clearly to Olympic prize and running and boxing. "Do you not know in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight (Gr. "box") like a man beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
Paul speaks elsewhere of a "prize" and "crown of victory." And he asks young Timothy to fight "the good fight of the faith." "If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules." And "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness." Such influences Paul received from contemporary sporting life.
Paul evidently knew Titus from Antioch at the initial stage of his ministry and it was he that he sent to deliver 1 Corinthians and to organize church affairs there. Sporting terminology was familiar to these Corinthians, too. Every other year they organized the famous Isthmus Games outside their city. At them the sportsman had to swear that he had trained for the games for ten months and was ready to compete according to the rules. Paul was at least a spectator sportsman -- and in modern walking contests he would undoubtedly have won a medal. It is to the Corinthians that Paul writes that believers are "God's temple" which one may not "destroy" and that "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit." The church father Clement of Alexandria is known to have recommended the gymnastics ground to young men, although in his opinion domestic chores already provided sufficient physical exercise.
We have no precise knowledge of Paul's intermediate years. Evidently he made use of his old channels created by commercial contacts. Accordingly, it was natural that his focus of activities was in Syria and Cilicia. Perhaps also during the Olympics the trade and sports representatives of the whole contemporary world who had visited Antioch opened his eyes to see new wider challenges.
Acts 11:22-26 shows that also in Jerusalem the constant spread of the Gospel was being observed. When some Cypriots and Cyrenians preached in Antioch the Gospel to the Greeks also, word of this came to the Jerusalem church. "And they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord." The sequel shows that Paul had a central position in the Syrian awakening. Barnabas already knew Paul. And therefore we are told: "Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Also this deeply impressive year in Paul's life is to be associated with the work in Syria and Cilicia.
When we attempt to understand Paul as a man and as a teacher, we necessarily have once again to make human deductions about his inner development. He received his basic emotional attitude in the strict Pharisaic atmosphere of his home. That movement indeed aimed at "rational solutions" and always taking note of "the changing situation of the time," adapting the interpretation of the Torah accordingly. However, it created hundreds of little regulations, where they "strained out gnats, but swallowed camels." Gamaliel's conciliatory and positive attitude towards life alleviated this inner tension and also opened people's eyes to what was acceptable in Greek culture. At the same time he learned the importance of epistolary expression. They say in Aramaic, "safra sayafa" or "the book is a sword."
Stephen's death as a martyr and the vision of Jesus on the Damascus road led Paul into "crisis" (Heb. mashber), which "broke" the former mental structures. The experience was so powerful that he "immediately" began to proclaim Jesus as the promised Messiah. His fearless and open actions always led him into mortal danger -- and so was fulfilled Jesus' promise to show him how much "he must suffer" for his Master's name. Nevertheless, Paul worked, as it were, as an entrepreneur for more than fifteen years. Why should he experience such a long delay before he began his missionary journeys proper and his epistolary activity?
Already as a child a Jew has an excellent knowledge of the foundations of his faith. At the age of thirteen he becomes a full member of the synagogue. This "bar mitzvah" meant that he was confirmed as an adult in one day. However, only at the age of thirty was he regarded as fit for the office of rabbi and public teacher. Paul wrote his first teaching letters at the age of about forty-five. He had then received an excellent basic education and long varied experience of life. In addition, Paul's literary activity lasted only ten or so years. Paul writes to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1-10) a long list of traits required of an "overseer": He should be "above reproach, the husband of but one wife -- able to teach -- managing his own family well. -- He must not be a recent convert-- and he must also have a good reputation with outsiders -- Them must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve."
To the Jew studying the Torah is a life-long matter. If there are seven children in the family, very often the other six are obliged to look after one so that this one can devote all his time to the synagogue. Christian theology is mostly short-spanned. A Christian scholar feels he is creating a theological career. First come five or so years' university education. Afterwards there is a doctoral thesis to be written on a limited subject in about three years. Already in their student days most young theologians present their later basic theses, which will no longer be altered by academic research. Hardly any work will be done on independent analyses based on primary sources and the original languages. And no one will dare to do general time-consuming research with confidence in the Bible. Scholars also more often than not lack contact with a living church. The rabbis say that "Torah which does not have the father's home is no Torah."
Thinking of Paul's long process of preparation, we too should consent to time-consuming research challenges. Already, for example, a proper knowledge of Hebrew and getting used to the extensive rabbinic commentaries written in "Rashi" characters demands firm motivation and at least ten years' full-time toil. Only then can we see something of the reliability of the New Testament in the history of ideas and of the background to the ideas of Jesus and Paul. But this does not happen in artificial light. We also need practical contact with "the people of the book." Their formulation of the problem and literary methods can help one to find a reliable view of the Bible.
The independent line of Paul's thought can be better understood when one compares him with his contemporaries. The historian Josephus' descriptions of the religious movements of his time teach one to understand the Pharisees' world of values, their limited doctrine of predestination, their attitude towards capital punishment and their attempts to reform Jewish interpretation of the Torah. Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.-50 A.D.), who attempted to combine Hellenistic and Jewish thought, spoke in the same way as John of the "logos" of Israel as representative and as high priest. Thus he personifies the logos idea of the Messiah as the "Word" of God, familiar to us from John's Gospel. Philo and Paul were children of the same time. Both were city-dwellers, both pupils of Diaspora Judaism, they used the same Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, made in c. 200 B.C., and both knew Hellenistic dialectic and thought. However, Philo was a theoretical philosopher and a cool speculator. Paul was more a rabbi, a touring demagogue and active volcano.
Also, comparison between Jesus and Paul gives some human hints. It is not said of Jesus that he was influenced by any contemporary rabbi or a particular philosophical school. We know that "the people were amazed at his teaching" and "he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the Law." When people wondered how he "knows the Scriptures, although he has not studied," he answered, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." Similarly, Jesus is not said to have withdrawn into the wilderness like John the Baptist and perhaps Paul too during his time in Arabia. Jesus normally got up early every morning to pray in solitude, and fasting, too, was part of his normal life. If it is true, as tradition indicates, that his step-father Joseph died when he was nineteen years old, Jesus acted as guardian of his family in his role of eldest brother right up until his public ministry.
All of Jesus' parables and figures of speech are connected with country life. He spoke of a sower, of ploughing, of fading of fields, of false wheat, of harvesting the grain, of millstones, of figs and fig trees, of thorns, of flowers of the field and birds of heaven, of pulling in nets and fish, of skins of wine, of salt and leaven, of bearing the yoke, of country weddings, of oil and oil-lamps, of shepherds and sheep, of living water and bread -- these metaphors never grow old, and they are connected with all world cultures. He did indeed speak also of warfare, of taking loans, of debts and money. However, he lacks actual urban pictures and technical terms connected with sport and war.
Paul's life, by contrast, was connected with urban conditions. In his letters there are therefore many points of contact with building and buildings, the authorities and their use of the law, sport, seafaring and military life. The United Bible Societies have published an extensive new kind of Greek-English dictionary, in which is presented thematically the semantic background of different Greek terms. It contains separate sections and explanations on sport, seafaring, military life and, for instance, of terms connected with the courts system. When Paul speaks to the Ephesians of spiritual warfare, he says, "Put on the full armour of God" -- and "put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." "Putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet."
The description in Acts chapter 27 of Paul's sea voyage and shipwreck is regarded as the most detailed account of seafaring in Antiquity. Here he speaks of Adramyttium and an Alexandrian ship and of sailing in the Mediterranean during an autumn storm. Islands such as Cyprus and Crete are used as shelters from the wind. When the ship does not succeed in rising to shelter in the north-easterly gale, it is left to be driven by the wind. Ropes are tied around the ship as a precaution and the sails are lowered. Finally the cargo is thrown into the sea, and when that is not sufficient, the ship's equipment and stock of grain meet the same fate. In extreme distress they sound the depth of the sea, and when it is sufficiently shallow, four anchors are lowered from its stern. When there is no option left but running ashore, the anchor ropes and rudder ropes are cut and they try with the aid of the bow-sail to reach shore reefs. The rescue itself takes place using boards and pieces of the ship.
I have myself experienced a winter storm measuring 13 on the Beaufort
scale, in the Mediterranean in February 1955. Fortunately the Negbah, a
former warship, was able to stabilize the motion of the ship by filling
its lower hold with water -- thus we were rescued from that storm regarded
by the Italian press as the worst of this century. Paul's expertise again
helped contemporary sailors. It was such a conceptual world applicable
to the Roman Empire that made Paul's literary activity relevant to