As I was growing up in the United States, I loved listening to Paul Harvey on the radio, and in particular his telling you “the rest of the story.” It was always good to hear what else happened that usually you had never realized.
When you read through the book of Acts, you quickly discover that there are sections of the early history of the Christians that are left out. Even in the life of the apostle Paul, we discover some gaps, in particular at the beginning (after he became a Christian) and at the end (after we presume he was released from house arrest in Acts 28). Isn’t it nice that Paul himself filled in some of this gap by recording some incidents from his life and work as he defended himself against unjust criticism from the Galatians. Here is some of “the rest of the story” of the apostle Paul.
When we read the end of Acts 9, we get the impression that very soon after he became a Christian Paul returned to Jerusalem. Luke simply said that he stayed “for several days…with the disciples in Damascus” (Acts 9:19 NET). When we are reading Galatians 1 we discover that it was three years before he went back to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18). He wrote, “nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus” (Galatians 1:17).
Paul’s point in Galatians 1 was that he was not taught the gospel from anyone, but that he received it directly from Jesus. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). It would seem that it was while he was in Arabia for three years that he was taught by Jesus.
His visit to Jerusalem three years later would coincide with the visit that Luke recorded at the end of Acts 9, when he escaped Damascus in a basket. “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and get information from him, and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19). This would be the visit where the Christians were afraid of him until Barnabas introduced him to the apostles, apparently specifically to Peter.
While in Jerusalem Paul spent time debating with the Greek-speaking Jews. When they decided to kill him, Paul was sent by the Christians to Caesarea and then to Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30). This would coincide with what Paul recorded at the end of Galatians 1:21-24.
The visit to Jerusalem fourteen years later, at the beginning of Galatians 2, would coincide with the visit recorded in Acts 15. The subject matter and the timeframe fit perfectly.
The last incident recorded in Galatians is when Peter arrived in Antioch and Paul “opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong” (Galatians 2:11) in refusing to eat with Gentile Christians. This would have taken place at the end of Acts 15. This seems to be the correct time as Paul and Barnabas had not yet split up and they were both together in Antioch, making this about the only time this could have occurred. It would seem that Peter came down to Antioch from Jerusalem to see how the letter had been received.
And this is at least some of the rest of Paul’s story, as supplied in Galatians 1-2. We can piece together more of the end of his life when we read 2 Timothy and Titus.
Readings for next week:
4 April – Mark 1
5 April – Mark 2
6 April – Mark 3
7 April – Mark 4
8 April – Mark 5