Workshop on "The teachings of St. Paul -- useful today for church
1 - A brief history of Paul and the churches with whom he was in contact
Robert Nguyen Cramer
Taking Paul's 7 undisputed
Letters as the primary resource, but not ignoring evidence from Acts, Paul’s
career can be summarized in the following way:
- 34 or 35 A.D.
- Paul's conversion near Damascus in about a.d. 34 or 35 (Gal 1:17;
- 34-37 A.D.
- Spent three years in Arabia (i.e., Nabatea; Gal 1:17)
- No doubt some of that
time was spent in religious reflection, but probably Paul began to preach
relatively soon. Unless he had been doing more than meditating, Paul would
scarcely have had to flee from Damascus (2Co 11:32-33; Act 9:23-25).
- 37 A.D.
- First visit to Jerusalem after his conversion occurred around 37.
- Although the account
in Acts presents him as ‘preaching boldly’ (Act 9:29), Paul’s own testimony
is that he saw only Cephas (Peter) and James (Gal 1:18-20; Act 9:26-29).
- 37 A.D.
- After this fifteen-day visit to Jerusalem, Paul engaged in missionary activity
in Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:21-22; Act 9:30).
- 37 A.D.
- Acts 13 and 14 describe a mission to Cyprus and central Asia Minor
(Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe).
At Lystra, Paul is reported to have been stoned (Act 14:19), an incident confirmed
by 2Co 11:25.
- 37-51 A.D.
- During this fourteen-year period, Paul may have engaged in missionary work
in north Galatia (founding the churches addressed in Galatian), Macedonia
(Philippi and Thessalonica; see 1Th 1:2-3:10), and Achaia (Corinth).
- Acts, of course, places
the missionary activity in these provinces after the Jerusalem conference
(Act 16:11-18:21). Acts and the Letters agree that Paul was accompanied
on this mission by Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy (1Th 1:1; 2Co 1:19).
- At Philippi, Paul is
said to have been beaten with rods (Act 16:22), one of the three times he
suffered this punishment (2Co 11:25).
- At Corinth (2Co 10:14),
where he labored for a year and a half (Act 18:11), Paul probably wrote
earliest book in the NT. There he also appeared for trial before Gallio
(Act 18:12-17), the newly appointed governor, whose accession to power can
be dated at around 50 or 51. According to Paul’s strategy, the mission
was begun in a large urban center, after which fellow workers were enlisted
to help in spreading the gospel into the surrounding areas (2Co 1:1).
- 50 or 51 A.D.
- The Jerusalem conference was probably convened in 50 or 51.
- According to both accounts
(Gal 2:1-10; Act 15:1-21), the primary issue was the question of requiring
circumcision for Gentile converts, i.e., requiring Gentiles to become Jews
before they could become Christians. Both accounts agree, too, in regard
to the decision: circumcision should not be required. According to Galatians,
the leaders of the Jerusalem church (Peter, James, and John) approved Paul’s
mission, but requested him to collect an offering for the poor of the Jerusalem
congregation (1Co 16:1-4; 2Co 8-9; Rom 15:26).
- Some scholars believe
Paul engaged in missionary work farther west (in Macedonia and Achaia) prior
to the conference. For them, the fourteen years [approximately 37-51]
of silence (Gal 1:21-2:1) were filled with activity.
- 51 A.D.
- After the conference, Paul traveled to Antioch (see Act 15:30; 18:22).
- Cephas (Peter) arrived
shortly thereafter (Gal 2:11). At first, Cephas ate with the Gentile members
of the church. When emissaries from James, the leader of the Jerusalem church,
came to Antioch, Cephas withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentiles.
Apparently, the ‘circumcision party’ (Gal 2:12), asserting its power in
Jerusalem, had insisted that Gentile Christians observe Jewish food laws
(see Act 15:22-29; 21:25). Paul, upset by Cephas’s failure to recognize
that the fellowship of the Lord’s table depended solely on faith, ‘opposed
him to his face’ (Gal 2:11). [This also seems to have been the basis for
his contention with and separation from Barnabas, who also followed Cephas
in disassociating himself from the Gentiles, after which Paul traveled with
Silas/Silvanus and Barnabas traveled with his cousin John Mark.]
- 52-54 A.D.
- After the conference, Paul carried on an extensive mission in Ephesus
(approximately a.d. 52-54).
- There Paul wrote most
of his correspondence to the Corinthians (1
Corinthians & 2 Corinthians).
An early letter mentioned in 1Co 5:9, 11 was probably lost. Paul wrote 1
Corinthians in response to problems in Corinth reported by Chloe’s people
(1Co 1:11) and by a letter from the Corinthian church (1Co 7:1).
- Sometime between
52-54 A.D. - When relations between Paul and the Corinthians deteriorated,
Paul seems to have made a quick visit from Ephesus to Corinth — a journey
scholars call the ‘painful’ or ‘sorrowful’ visit (implied by 2Co 2:1; 12:14;
13:1). This visit aggravated the conflict, and provoked Paul to write the
‘severe’ or ‘tearful’ letter (2Co 2:2-4; 7:8), part of which may be preserved
in what we now have as 2 Corinthians 10-13.
also comes from this period, being written after the Jerusalem conference
(Gal 2:1-10). In Galatia, as in Corinth, the church had been invaded by
opponents who preached a ‘different gospel’ (Gal 1:6) and/or ‘another Jesus’
- 52-54 A.D.
- During the Ephesian ministry (approximately a.d. 52-54) Paul
was probably imprisoned (see 2Co 1:8-11).
- Although the account
in Acts 19 mentions no prison, Paul says that he had suffered ‘far more
imprisonments’ (2Co 11:23) at a time when Acts has reported only the imprisonment
at Philippi (16:23-39). During this probable Ephesian imprisonment,
Paul seems to have written Philippians
and Philemon (Phi 1:7, 13,
14, 17; Phm 1, 9, 10, 13). Imprisonment in Ephesus (rather than Caesarea
or Rome) would help explain how the extensive exchange of information between
Paul’s prison and the church at Philippi (Phi 2:25-30; 4:18) was possible.
It would also make more feasible Paul’s plan to visit the Philippians after
his release (Phi 1:26; 2:24). Similarly, a runaway slave from Colossae (Onesimus)
would much more likely have met Paul in Ephesus than in the more distant
Caesarea or Rome, and Paul’s plan to visit the owner of the slave (Phm 22)
is more plausible if Paul is imprisoned in nearby Ephesus. If Colossians
is an authentic Letter of Paul, it too would have been written from the
Ephesian imprisonment (see Col 4:3, 10), since the situation from which
it was written is closely related to that of Philemon (see Col 4:10-17;
Phm 2, 23-24).
- 54 A.D.
- After leaving Ephesus, Paul moved on to Troas, and eventually to
Macedonia (2Co 2:12-13).
- There he met Titus,
who brought him good news from Corinth (2Co 7:5-7). In response, Paul apparently
wrote 2 Corinthians 1-9, the ‘reconciliation letter.’
- 55 or 56 A.D.
- He then left Macedonia for Corinth where he spent three months (probably
the winter of 55 or 56; see Act 20:2-3) and wrote Romans [including
his letter to the church in Rome (Romans
1-15) and his introduction letter for Phoebe to the church in Ephesus
(Roman 16). For further details,
- 55 or 56 A.D.
- From Corinth, Paul departed for Jerusalem with the offering, anticipating
trouble from the Jews and Jewish Christians (Rom 15:31).
- 55 or 56 A.D.
- Biographical information from the Letters ceases at this point. Acts, however,
describes in detail Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem (Act 20:3-21:16), his imprisonment
(Act 21:27-23:30), his transfer to Caesarea (Act 23:31-26:32), and
his voyage to Rome (Act 27:1-28:31).
- Those who accept the
pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) as genuine believe Paul was released
from his first imprisonment in Rome (2Ti 4:16-17) and made another journey
in the East. During this hypothetical journey, he is supposed to have visited
such places as Troas (2Ti 4:13), Ephesus (1Ti 1:3), Miletus (2Ti
4:20), and Crete (Titus 1:5). According to 2Ti 4:6-8, Paul is back in
prison, anticipating martyrdom. This reconstruction, built on data which
the pastorals have derived from the authentic Letters, is unconvincing.
- 62 (or as late
as 67) A.D. - Although a tradition suggests that Paul had been released
from Rome and visited Spain (1 Clement 5:7), this tradition probably rests
on Rom 15:24, 28. More likely, Paul was executed at the end of his original
Roman imprisonment, probably in a.d. 62 [or as late as 67
source of the information below is almost entirely Harper’s Bible Dictionary
(edited by Paul J. Achtemier, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). You
are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition
of this book, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition
(edited by Paul J. Achtemeier and the Society of Biblical Literature, New
York: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary
in English and is available at Border's Books (http://www.borders.com),
Christian Book Distributors (http://www.christianbook.com),
and Christian Science Reading Rooms.