21 May 2022


The History of Paul-The Silent Years

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When many people investigate the life of Paul, they mainly think of three famous aspects of his life. The first element that majority of people are aware of regards the way Paul persecuted Christians before he was converted. Many people are aware that he was called Saul before conversion and named Paul afterward. The second thing that rings in many people’s mind is Paul’s vision of the Lord on the road to Damascus, where he was on a mission to persecute Christians. Lastly, many individuals too are conversant with Paul’s three missionary journeys that are recorded in the book of Acts by Luke. There is a significant period that up to date many scholars have written little. It is a period of close to ten years that followed immediately after his conversion. Scholars of the Bible allude that Paul’s conversion probably took place around 36 A.D whereas his journey of missionary work began 45 A.D 1 . This time span is what many scholars of religion, particular scholars of Christianity, are interested in finding out what Paul was doing.

Knowing the overall character of Apostle Paul as being an enthusiastic person, many researchers have ruled out the possibility of the silent years being a time of inactivity 2 . In fact, many suggest that it was a time of preparation for Paul, which was laden with activities that would later serve him well. The scope of this research paper will be to try to survey and establish the events that Paul was doing during the so-called silent years through the analysis of his life as a new Christian.

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Three years in Damascus and Arabia

Initial preaching in Damascus

In the book of Acts that was written by Luke, it is recorded that Paul spent some time in Damascus preaching. Paul, then known as Saul, was commanded by the voice to head to Damascus where he met Ananias as evidenced in the following passage:

“Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord-- Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized 3 .” 

The book of acts still mentions that Paul spent several days in Damascus where he spent time preaching in the synagogues. The passage below provides evidence of this allusion.

“And after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who caused havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ 4 .”

Boyce Mouton in his article the Life and Letters of Paul follows closely the life of Paul and analyses that Paul was baptized in Damascus when he met with Ananias 5 . He further states that Paul then escaped the Jews who were hatching a plot to kill him and headed to Jerusalem. Boyce additionally posits that Paul also traversed Caesarea and then headed to Tarsus when the Jews in Jerusalem wanted to kill him. However, there have emerged various disputes that challenge the narrative of Luke in the book of Acts. Paul’s writing in the book of Galatians has raised questions about the authenticity of Luke’s story in the book of Acts.

“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, 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 Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie 6 .” 

Time in Arabia 

From Paul’s narrative in Galatians, one can deduce his travel to Arabia. He alludes that he went to Arabia immediately before returning to Damascus. Scholars argue that from the language used in the Bible, it could be suggested that Paul did not directly go back to Damascus 7 . The same reasons that compelled him to escape from Damascus would have likely prevented him from returning to Damascus quickly to engage in any preaching. A quick return would have made those who were in pursuit of him to arrest him and even kill him. The possibility of those who were after him being able to have calmed down during such a short duration is almost impossible. This kind of reasoning points out that Paul could have probably spent a considerable part of the three years in Arabia. 

Having reached an affirmation that Paul indeed spent a significant portion of his life in Arabia, scholars are then faced with another challenge. Most researchers point out that the close to three years that Paul seemingly spent in Arabia represent the most unknown years of his life. Researchers can only guess, and as such, many dissenting opinions have come forth. Scholars are further unable to conclusively establish the true extent of the country, Arabia, both in the ancient and modern time context 8 . The reasons why he went there as well as the kind of occupation he was involved in are still unknown. Additionally, researchers question why Paul did not start immediately preaching the way the other apostles did.

The country, Arabia, as presented in the Bible in the ancient times does not explain the correct expanse of its borders. Researchers are of the view that “Arabia” has usually been a term that is very vague in its application. They further analyze that sometimes the word includes Damascus and sometimes consists of the Lebanon and even extends over the borders of Cilicia. Determining which parts of the stated locations Paul went is a challenge. Analysts comment that if Paul went into the region of Arabia which was near Syria, then he did not go very far from Damascus. On the other hand, if he went Arabia Petraea, then analysts speculate that he might have been guided to those mountain heights by the Red Sea which Moses and Elijah had gone before. This analogy, therefore, attempts to give a hint on the activities that Paul was doing in Arabia. Only assumptions and opinions have been put forward to suggest the kind of work that Paul did in Arabia. Murphy is of the view that Paul must have felt the need for calm contemplation 9 . In light of the mission that was ahead of him, this author analyze that Paul engaged himself in meditation on the new work that he had embraced because he had been called suddenly. The author further compares that just as Moses had spent several years in the desert of Midian in readiness of leading Israelites out of Egypt, there is a likelihood that Paul also passed through the same.

Return and escape from Damascus

After spending some time in Arabia, Paul reveals in Ga 1:17 that he returned to Damascus. It is unlikely that he spent a considerable period there because those that had led to his escape were still in pursuit of him. Below is a narration of Paul himself.

“In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. 10 ” 

First visit to Jerusalem (39 AD)

Paul, then still known as Saul, tried to join the other disciples but the disciples were too afraid of him. The disciples even had the notion that Paul was likely to persecute them. The church did not also accept him at once. It takes the effort of a man named Barnabas, who introduces Paul to the apostles as well as the church. While in Jerusalem, Paul goes to see Peter and stays with him for three days. He also met with James, the Lord’s brother. Acts 9:28 records that Paul was given free access to the church where he preached. The church had now gained confidence in him and readily gave him an opportunity to proclaim the word of God. While doing the preaching, Paul disputes with the Hellenists (Grecian Jews) who eventually plan to kill him. Acts 22:17-21 records that the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision and warned him of the imminent danger. As a result of the threat ahead, the disciples sent him to Tarsus by way of Caesarea.

Five years in Syria and Cilicia

Acts 22:3 records that Paul went Tarsus which was his place of birth. Paul indicates in Ga 1: 21 that he afterward went to Syria and Cilicia. Paul’s stay in Cilicia is said to be the better part of a decade. This period is also shrouded in uncertainty regarding the exact activities that he was doing just like the span in Arabia. Paul himself reveals very little about this time in his letters and Luke as well in the Acts of the Apostles does not mention any specific events. Chris Crabb suggests that there are clues that could give an insight of the events that Paul was participating 11 . Chris postulates that there is a high likelihood that Paul was actively involved in ministry work. First Paul brings forth several events that happened during his life in 2 Corinthians 11:22-29. Unfortunately, these events are not mentioned in the book of Acts. For example, Luke tells only one shipwreck in Acts 27 whereas Paul talks of three such occurrences in 2 Cor 11:25 12 . Although there is a possibility that such incidents could have happened during Paul’s official mission journeys and Luke chose not to record them, it is equally likely that some of these events occurred during Paul’s time in Cilicia. 

Secondly, Paul’s own words in the first chapter of Galatians confirm that he had gone into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. Acts 9:30 is also consistent with Paul’s move to Tarsus and finally Syria. The Acts of the Apostles, especially in the events that follow the First Missionary Journey reveals substantial evidence of the time of Paul in Cilicia. For example, there is evidence that there were churches in Cilicia. In the letter that was drafted in the wake of the Jerusalem Council, the letter addressed the brothers in “Antioch, Syria and Cilicia” (Acts 15:23). Through that statement, it is clear that there were churches in Cilicia of former Gentiles with considerable populations. This letter also makes individuals deduce that Paul’s time in Cilicia would have likely been spent actively in these churches.

Going further, a short time after the Jerusalem conference, Paul and his Companion, Barnabas decided to check on the brethren in the regions where they had preached the gospel previously 13 . Because Paul and Barnabas seem to have gone back to visit those they had once preached to, it can be deduced that Paul’s quiet years in Cilicia were not idly spent. His return to Cilicia and Syria as Barnabas did in Cyprus suggests that he was going back to a region that he had once preached at in the past. This revelation solidifies opinions by various scholars that Paul was involved in the ministry of the gospel in Syria and Cilicia.

Work in Antioch

Risto Santala elicits an exciting analogy of Paul’s possible activities in Antioch of Syria 14 . He notes that the most prominent event that occurred at the time when Paul went to Antioch was the Olympic Games that took place in early autumn 44. Santala alleges that this festival affected the entire empire. He postulates that it is possible that the commercial world exhibitions related to the Olympics also linked the business affairs of Paul’s family to the display in Antioch. On the same note, Santala says that Paul may have followed the events at the Olympics. Men’s games comprised of the pentathlon which incorporated running, discus, log-jump, boxing as well as javelin throwing. Races were also part of the programme. The overall award was a crown made from olive branches. Santala notes that Paul used some of the events to put across his message.

“Do you not know that 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 forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 15 ” 

Mark Copeland in his article A Harmony of the Life of Paul writes about some of the possible activities that Paul performed during his stay in Antioch 16 . Barnabas went in search of Paul, and when he had found him, they preached together. The evidence is located in the following passage from the bible.

“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 17 .” 

It is also stated that it was in Antioch where the Disciples of Christ were for the first time called Christians (Ac 11:26). While in Antioch, Paul and other disciples received the news of the prophecy of a prophet named Agabus of an impending high famine in Judea. The disciples contribute their resources and assign Barnabas and Paul the role of sending the relief to their brothers in Judea.

Second visit to Jerusalem (45 A.D)

A Harmony of the Life of Paul analyses the bible and puts across that Paul, in the company of Barnabas went to Jerusalem with the primary aim of delivering the relief food 18 . The relief food was supposed to be disbursed to their brothers who were involved in the ministry of the gospel as well as the elders. After distributing the relief food, they returned to Antioch with John who was also known as Mark. Mark would later become useful to Paul. He was a traveling companion on the first missionary journey of Paul. Mark was also then with Peter, and he wrote the Gospel of Mark. The return of Paul to Antioch from Jerusalem marked the end of Paul’s silent years. From this juncture, Paul is guided by the Spirit which sends him on his first missionary journey and subsequently all the other missions.


The arguments brought forward by the different scholars eliminate the notion that Paul’s so-called ‘silent years’ was a period of inactivity 19 . It can only be said to be a period when the writers of the activities of Paul left out crucial information. Luke, in specific, omits critical information about Paul’s life immediately after he was converted. Some scholars suggest that Luke may not have been an excellent historian and it could have been the reason why contradictions exist in his narratives in comparison to Paul’s letters 20 . On the same note, researchers are of the view that Paul was a prominent figure in the New Testament and had to pass through a preparation stage before he was commissioned to proclaim the gospel. His move to Arabia is compared to Moses’ where the latter spent days in the desert in readiness of delivering the Israelites from Egypt. Because he had unexpectedly been countered on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, many scholars posit that it was necessary for him to go through a preparation phase. Therefore, Paul’s years that little information is provided on are not quiet years as per se. Instead, he traveled across many regions namely, Damascus, Arabia, Syria, Cilicia, Antioch, among others. In all these mentioned areas, there is substantial evidence that he ministered the word of God 21 . Several hints are provided in Paul’s letters as well as some essential highlights in the Acts of the Apostles that was written by Luke.


Bible Study Tools. Residence of Paul in Arabia. Salem Media Group, 2017.

Copeland, Mark. "A Harmony of the Life of Paul": Paul's Early Years of Service (36-45 A.D.) . Executable Outlines, 2009.

Crabb, Chris. “The Life of Paul: Paul Returns to Damascus, Jerusalem, and Cilicia” Oxford Press, 2000

Ehrensperger, Kathy. Speaking Greek Under Rome: Paul, The power of the language and the language of power. Neotestamentica 46.1 (2012) 9-28

Mouton, Boyce. The Life and Letters of Paul. Oxford Press, 2010

Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. Paul: a critical life . Oxford Paperbacks, 1998.

Osborne, Robert E. "St. Paul's Silent Years." Journal of Biblical Literature 84, no. 1 (1965): 59-65.

Santala, Risto. "The Midrash of the Messiah.” Finland: Tummavuoren Kirjapaino Oy (2002).

Schnelle, Udo. Apostle Paul: His life and theology . Baker Academic, 2005.

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