Wednesday, 22 June 2016

What did Paul do in Arabia?

     After his conversion to Christ, the apostle Paul spent the first three years of his Christian life in the Syrian city of Damascus and the adjoining country of Arabia (Acts 9:3-19; Gal. 1:15-18). Arabia was the Roman name of the Nabatean kingdom, ruled for approximately forty-eight years (9 BC – AD 40) by King Aretas IV, mentioned by name in 2 Cor. 11:32.1 During the Middle Nabatean period (30 BC – AD 70) its boundaries fluctuated but would have included what is today known as the Sinai, the Negev, the east side of the Jordan Valley, much of Jordan, and part of Saudi Arabia (cf. Gal. 4:25). At times it incorporated the cities of the Decapolis and Damascus, and Paul probably did not venture far from Damascus during his time in Arabia. 
     The apostle was in Damascus at least twice: (a) when he was converted to Christianity (Acts 9:8-19), and (b) when he returned from Arabia (Gal. 1:15-17). His initial departure was prompted by a Jewish plot to kill him (Acts 9:23-25), and his second departure was instigated by the governor of Damascus desiring to arrest him (2 Cor. 11:32-33). On both occasions Paul escaped by being let down in a basket through the city wall.
     Whether the apostle (as a young Christian) went to Arabia for a period of isolation and renewal or as a missionary, the biblical record does not say. Neither does it indicate for how much of the three years he was there. But in view of his preaching Christ almost immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20-22) and subsequently arousing the disfavor of the Nabatean king (2 Cor. 11:32), missionary activity seems likely.
     While in Arabia, Paul may not have been the only disciple of Jesus there. Seeing that Arabian Jews were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when thousands were converted to Christ (Acts 2:11, 41) and later scattered abroad (Acts 8:4; 11:19), it is certainly plausible that there were fellow Christians in Arabia with whom the apostle worked.
     Whatever Paul did in Arabia, he was no doubt preparing for a lifetime of service as an ambassador of Christ to the Gentile world. While specific details have not been disclosed, we do know the nature of his convictions following that initial encounter with the Lord at Damascus: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of [the other apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).2
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV, was at one time married to Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to AD 39. But Antipas divorced her in order to marry Herodias, who had previously been married to his half-brother Philip I (see Josephus, Ant. 18.5.1, 4), and then he beheaded John the baptist when he opposed this unlawful union (Matt. 14:3-12; cf. Luke 3:19-20; 9:9).
     2 Scripture quotations are from the ESV.

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