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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART SIXTEEN

SERMON DELIVERED ON 09-01-18

       In my last sermon in the series I am doing on the Book of Acts, we covered the conversion of Saul and activities engaged in by Saul shortly after his conversion.  We ended with a rather lengthy discussion of the different perspectives as to how to best coordinate what Paul says about those activities in his letter to the Galatians and what Luke records about those activities in Acts nine.  As you may recall, in his letter to the Galatians Paul speaks of going to Arabia after his conversion experience in Damascus whereas Luke in Acts has Saul going to Jerusalem shortly after his conversion on the road to Damascus.  Luke says nothing about Saul going to Arabia.

       I suggested that the best explanation was that after his conversion, Saul preached to the Jews in Damascus and then traveled to Arabia for an undisclosed period of time.  He then traveled back to Damascus where he continued to preach the Gospel which led to great opposition from the Damascus Jews.  This necessitated Saul’s escape through a hole in the city wall after which he traveled to Jerusalem.

       Today we will examine why Saul traveled to Arabia shortly after his conversion but before we do that I want to deal with another issue regarding Saul.

       I have just spoken about Paul’s letter to the Galatians while at the same time speaking about the activities of Saul in the Book of Acts.  Now we all know that Saul and Paul is the same person.  So how did Saul become Paul?   It is a common belief that Jesus changed Saul’s name to Paul after his conversion.  However, there is no Scriptural evidence for this belief and this does not appear to be how Saul became Paul.  As you will see, Saul was always Paul and Paul was always Saul.

       Saul is seen as Saul for many years after his conversion.  As we discussed last time, shortly after his conversion, Saul is seen as going to Arabia and returning to Damascus, a period involving three years of time. He then travels to Jerusalem and is introduced to the Apostles as Saul.  In Acts 11 we see Barnabas meeting Saul in Tarsus and from there traveling with him to Antioch where they ministered for a year.  In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit is seen as setting apart Barnabas and Saul for a special work.  If Jesus had changed Saul’s name to Paul, it would seem that the Holy Spirit would be seen as facilitating the setting apart of Barnabas and Paul and not Barnabas and Saul.

       Saul is first referred to as Paul in Acts 13:9.  "Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit……."  It is interesting that from this point on in the NT, Saul is called Paul. You will notice that the writer says Saul is also called Paul.  It is apparent Saul had two names.  As it turns out, Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Latin or Roman name. Saul was born a Hebrew and given a Hebrew name.  He was also by birth a Roman citizen.  He was born in the Roman city of Tarsus and his Father, though of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin, had apparently acquired Roman citizenship which passed on to Saul.

       So why was it at this point in his ministry that Saul is seen as Paul and no longer as Saul?  Remember Saul was appointed by Christ as an Apostle to the Gentiles.  While it is evident he had begun to fulfill this role shortly after his conversion, we see in Acts 13 that he was now embarking on a special Holy Spirit ordained mission that would take him to a number of Gentile cities.

        It simply may be that he began to use his Roman name as a way of better interacting with the Gentiles he was ministering too.  Starting with Acts 13 and going forward through the rest of the Book of Acts, it can be seen that Saul is ministering almost exclusively to Gentiles. Therefore, the using of his Roman name Paul was probably advantages and he became known as Paul from that point on.

       To repeat, there is nothing in Scripture that says Jesus gave Saul the name Paul.  As Acts 13:9 indicates, Saul was always Paul and Paul was always Saul.  From here on in this series, I will refer to Saul as Paul.

       Having hopefully cleared this issue up, let us now return to the issue of Paul going to Arabia shortly after his conversion.  We saw last time in our discussion of Paul’s conversion that Luke writes nothing about Paul travelling to Arabia but Paul alludes to it in chapter one of his letter to the Galatians.  The questions before us are two fold.  Why did Paul go to Arabia and where in Arabia did he go?   Let’s begin by looking at Paul’s introductory remarks in this letter.

       Galatians 1:1: Paul, an apostle--sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.

       Paul wants the Galatians to affirmatively understand that he, Paul, was not doing what he was doing based on his own initiative, but was doing what he was doing based on being sent by Jesus Christ and the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. He goes on to tell the Galatians that Jesus gave himself for their sins to rescue them from the evil age they were living in.  Paul goes on to chide the Galatians for apparently giving consideration to a perversion of the Gospel Paul had taught them. He then writes the following:

       Galatians 1:11-12: I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 

       Verses 15-18:  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.

       In writing to the Galatians, Paul says that upon being called by God to preach to the Gentiles, he immediately went to Arabia and later returned to Damascus.  Last time we discussed how best to coordinate what Luke writes in Acts 9 with what Paul says here in his letter to the Galatians about his activity subsequent to his conversion.  As you will remember, Luke writes nothing about a trip to Arabia.

       We looked at three different perspectives as to the apparent disconnect between Acts 9 and Galatians 1 as to Paul’s activities after his conversion. As already mentioned, it is very likely Paul left for Arabia shortly after his conversion and stayed in Arabia for an undisclosed period of time and then returned to Damascus and powerfully preached the Gospel which resulted in an attempt to have Paul arrested.  The disciples found out about this and arranged his escape and subsequently he travelled to Jerusalem to meet with some of the Apostles.

        It is commonly believed the reason Paul want to Arabia after his conversion was to be personally taught by Christ.  This conclusion is reached based on what Paul says about not receiving the gospel from any man nor being taught it in some manner but receiving it by revelation from Jesus Christ.  It is assumed this revelation came to Paul in Arabia.  However, Paul does not say he received the revelation of the gospel from Jesus Christ while in Arabia.  He only says he received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

       It is also often taught that Paul was in Arabia for three years.  Paul doesn’t say that either.  All he says is that he went to Arabia and later returned to Damascus and then after three years went up to Jerusalem.  He says nothing about how long he was in Arabia. In fact you could more easily conclude from Paul’s letter that he went to Arabia, returned to Damascus and then after three years in Damascus he travelled to Jerusalem.

       Could Paul have gone to Arabia to receive a revelation from Jesus Christ?  Yes he could have.  However, as we covered last time, Paul received revelation from Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.  As we saw in Acts 26, where Paul recites his conversion experience before King Agrippa, it can be seen that Jesus revealed a lot more to Paul than recorded in Acts 9.

       Acts 26:15-18: "Then I asked, `Who are you, Lord?'   "`I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

       Now we do see Jesus saying to Paul, "I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you."  Does the phrase “what I will show you” indicate Jesus would appear to Paul again with additional revelation?  That is the indication but as to when and were, we are not given that information.

       The question that can be asked is why would Paul need to travel from Damascus to Arabia to receive additional revelation from Jesus?  This brings up another question.  When Paul speaks of Arabia, where is it that he is referring too?  Arabia is mentioned only twice in the NT, here in Galatians chapter one and in Galatians 4:25 where Paul speaks of Mount Sinai in Arabia. So Paul identifies Arabia as the location of Mount Sinai which we know from OT history is the location where Moses received the Ten Commandants.

       Galatians 4:25: Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

       Paul used Mount Sinai as a metaphor for the city of Jerusalem and locates Mount Sinai as being in Arabia.  Because of this, some have speculated that Paul traveled to the area of Mount Sinai to be taught by Christ just as Moses was taught by God at this site when he was given the Law.  This, of course, is pure speculation as there is nothing in Scripture that reveals this.

        It is instructive that Arabia is not mentioned in the OT as the location of Mount Sinai.   We know the Arabia of today is the country of Saudi Arabia which is around 800 miles south of Damascus.  Did Paul travel 800 miles from Damascus to receive further revelation from Christ and then travel 800 miles back to Damascus?  What area did Arabia represent in Paul’s day?

       There has been some extensive research done on this issue and the bottom line is that the when Paul uses the term Arabia, he is apparently referring to a much broader area than what we know as Arabia today.  In reading through the writings of first century historian Josephus, it becomes apparent that the first century understanding of the term Arabia included much more territory than the area of modern day Saudi Arabia. The term included territory in modern-day Jordan and southern Israel, Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and even part of modern day Iraq. 

       Another first century historian, Quintus Curtius wrote a history of Alexander the Great and spoke of how Alexander and his armies fought in Lebanon and Syria which is seen as fighting in Arabia. The historian Plutarch, who lived from AD 45 to AD 120, also wrote about Alexander and recounts how Alexander made an expedition against the Arabians who lived in the neighborhood of Mount Antilibanus which is Hebrew for Lebanon.

       It is apparent that anciently, the term Arabia described a much greater area than it does today.  Paul was a contemporary of Josephus and very likely would have understood the term in the same way Josephus did.  Therefore, when Paul speaks of going to Arabia, he could have meant any number of areas in what was then considered Arabia. Since he says nothing more about it, there is no way we can know where exactly he went.

       Why did Paul go there?  He doesn’t tell us.  There has been much speculation as to why he went to Arabia wherever that might have been.  As already mentioned, a common conclusion is that he went there to be personally taught by Christ.  As already covered, this conclusion is based on a particular interpretation of Galatians 1:15-18.  

       Galatians 1:15-18:  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.

       Because Paul writes that upon his conversion he did not consult with any man, or with the Apostles who preceded him but went to Arabia, it is often assumed what Paul meant is that he was not taught by any man or by the Apostles but was taught by Christ and for, whatever reason, this took place in Arabia.  As can be seen, Paul doesn’t say this.  All he says is that after God called him to preach Christ among the Gentiles; he did not consult with any man or the Apostles but immediately went to Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

       Paul says nothing about going to Arabia to be taught by Christ.  In following Paul’s narrative sequentially, it may be more valid to conclude that after Paul was called to preach to the Gentiles, he did exactly that.  He left Damascus and traveled to some part of Arabia to preach the Gospel to Gentiles as he was called to do. Some NT scholars have actually drawn this conclusion.

       However, the idea that Paul preached the Gospel to Gentiles in Arabia is problematic. A chronological journey through Acts shows Paul initially preaching the Gospel to the Jews and only taking the Gospel to the Gentiles some time after the Cornelius event with Apostle Peter,  We will cover the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius and his family in detail in the next sermon in this series. 

       Some scholars believe Paul went to the Nabatean kingdom which was considered part of what at that time was Arabia. What Paul shares in his second letter to the Corinthians is seen as evidence for this.  In this letter Paul recites many of the trials and tribulations he had suffered as an Apostle of Christ Jesus and he includes his escape from Damascus.

       2 Corinthians 11:32-33: In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

       Historically, Aretas is seen as a client king of the Roman Empire. Client kings were rulers who Rome allowed to reign over certain territories provided they submitted to overall Roman rule.  Aretas ruled over a rather large area called the Nabatean Kingdom.  This area included Damascus, cities of the Decapolis which is on the east side of the Jordan River and as far down as Petra which was a major trading center at the time.

       As Paul points out in his letter to the Corinthians, the governor of Damascus is seen as being under King Aretas.  It is theorized that Paul had been preaching the Gospel in parts of the Nabatean Kingdom which created opposition and when he returned to Damascus, opposition developed to the point where the governor set out to arrest Paul possibly on orders from King Aretas.  It is felt that Aretas may have already been familiar with Paul from his preaching activity in other parts of his Kingdom and may have come to view him as a rebel rouser.  

       This, of course, is all speculative as there is no Scriptural or other historical record that gives clear evidence as to where it was Paul want in Arabia, why he went there or what he did there.  All we know is what the Scriptures tell us.  When putting all the Scriptures together that pertain to this matter we can safely draw the following conclusions.

       Paul traveled to Arabia shortly after his conversion.  After being there for an undisclosed period of time, he returned to Damascus. His ministerial activity among the Jews created great opposition and the Jews wanted to kill Paul.  The governor of Damascus tried to have Paul arrested.  Paul learned of the plot to kill him and escaped through a hole in the wall and traveled to Jerusalem.  This is all we know for sure about this period in Paul’s life.  Anything beyond this is speculation.

       Having explored the Scriptural passages associated with Paul’s activities subsequent to his conversion, let’s pick up where we left off in Acts 9 and continue beginning with Acts 9:32 where we see Jesus performing miracles through Apostle Peter. 

       Acts 9: 32-35: As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. "Aeneas," Peter said to him, "Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat." Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

       This appears to still be early in the development of the Christian Church. Here we see that there apparently was a church in Lydda as Peter is seen as visiting the saints there.  Lydda is around 47 miles from Jerusalem.  Upon seeing the miracle of the paralytic being healed it is reported that all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord.

       As I have pointed out before, there were a number of miraculous healings that occurred in the early years of the Church.  It is apparent these healings were for the purpose of giving witness to the validity of the Gospel message.  People seeing the power of Jesus demonstrated by these healings were much more inclined to take seriously the teaching that Jesus, the man that had been put to death, was indeed alive and was the promised Messiah to Israel.

       You will notice that it is recorded Peter visited the saints in Lydda.  The Greek word rendered “saints” is hagios. This word appears 229 times in the NT. It is often rendered into the English word “holy.”  Where you see the phrase “Holy Spirit,” the English word “Holy” is a rendering of this Greek word.  Vines Greek NT dictionary defines hagios as one set apart for God.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as properly reverend and worthy of veneration.  The Arndt, Gingrich, Bauer Greek Lexicon defines hagios as an attribute of divinity and everything belonging to it.

       When it comes to this word being applied to Christians, Vines definition is probably the most apropos.  It simply identifies one as set apart for God. Christians in general are called saints throughout the NT.  The word “saint” is not seen in the NT as identifying only certain Christians but all Christians.  It is simply the word used to designate a follower of Christ.  Now as you all know, there is a major denomination within Christendom that selectively promotes only certain individuals to sainthood.  The Scriptural teaching, however, is that all Christians are saints in that they are set apart as servants of the living God.

       Getting back to Acts 9 we see it recorded that there was a female disciple living in Joppa which is located about 12 miles west of Lydda where Peter had healed the paralytic. This disciple is identified by both her Hebrew and Greek names.

       Acts 9:36:  In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor.

       Her Hebrew/Aramic name is Tabitha and her Greek name is Dorcas. Both her Hebrew and Greek names mean antelope or gazelle. Tabitha is an English rendering of the Aramaic word טביתא which in Aramaic means gazelle. Tabitha in English means gazelle. Dorcas is the English rendering of the Greek word Ταβιθα which in Greek means gazelle.  This passage is an example of translation where a word in one language is matched to a word in a different language that has the same or similar meaning. The Aramaic, Greek and English words all mean "gazelle"

       It is recorded that she was always doing good and helping the poor.  However she had become sick and she died.  Her body had been washed and placed in an upstairs room.

       Since Lydda was near Joppa, when the Joppa disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him to come at once. Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.  It is recorded that all the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. We pick up what happened next in Acts 9:40-43:

       Acts 9:40-43: Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha, get up." She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

       Again we see a great miracle taking place resulting in many coming to believe the Gospel message. It is recorded that Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.  When I was in Israel some years ago I remember visiting what is purported to be the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa which is now called Jaffa.  Like many such artifacts in Israel, one can only guess as to whether they represent the real thing.

       Next time we will begin with Acts, chapter 10 where we will discuss the conversion of Cornelius.

PART SEVENTEEN