Monday, November 10, 2008

The Curriculum Vitae of St. Paul

Below is an attempt at a chronology of the life of the Apostle Paul:

Pauline Chronology: The Life and Missionary Work of St. Paul of Tarsus by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.[Esta página está disponible también en ESPAÑOL.]

The Traditional (but Inaccurate) Division of Paul's Travels:
People usually talk about "Paul's Three Missionary Journeys" (each beginning and ending in Antioch), followed by "Paul's Voyage to Rome":
Acts 13–14: Journey through Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Pisidia (today's South-Central Turkey).
Acts 15:39–18:22: Journey through Macedonia and Achaia (modern Greece) and Asia Minor (Western Turkey).
Acts 18:23–21:16: Another Journey through Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia, ending in Jerusalem.
Acts 22–28: After being arrested in Jerusalem and imprisoned in Caesarea, Paul is taken by ship to Rome.
For some online maps of this traditional understanding of Paul's "three missionary journeys", see the Good News Christian Ministries or the Maps Related to the Life of Paul by Nancy Carter; see also the larger list of Ancient World Maps by Dr. Mark Goodacre.
Problems with this schema:
Paul is not in charge during the first journey; rather, Barnabas is the leader and Paul is his assistant (see Acts 9:27; 11:25-30; 13:1-3; 14:12).
After Paul and Barnabas go their separate ways, Paul never travels or works alone but always has a number of assistants (esp. Timothy; see Acts 15:39-40; 16:1-3; and the beginnings of most of his letters).
The so-called second and third "journeys" are not really circle-trips departing from and returning to Antioch (see Acts 18:18-23).
Rather, Paul makes a definite break with Barnabas and the Church at Antioch (see Gal 2:11-14; Acts 15:39-40).
Then, he spends several years preaching and establishing Christian Churches in Macedonia and Achaia, esp. in the city of Corinth.
After leaving Corinth, he makes the city of Ephesus, in Asia Minor, his main base of missionary operations for several more years.
If Paul ever returned to Antioch, it was probably only for a brief visit (see Acts 18:22-23); he is no longer commissioned by the community there.
A More Accurate and More Comprehensive Overview: Five Main Phases of Paul's Life
The following chronology is based on a combination of evidence from Paul's own letters and from the Acts of the Apostles, since neither gives us a complete picture, and there are some points of tension between them. (See the maps in the back of any good Study Bible; see also my New Testament Geography webpage for more background on the Roman PROVINCES and their Capital Cities).
0) Pre-Christian Phase (ca. AD 10–35)
Paul was a Jew who was born in Tarsus, the capital of CILICIA (Acts 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39), but possibly also lived and received part of his education in Jerusalem, "at the feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3).
He was a Hebrew, born of Hebrew parents (Phil 3:5; 2 Cor 11:22), but probably also a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29; 23:27).
Thus, he was bi-lingual (Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek) and bi-cultural (Jewish and Hellenistic/Greek), making him an ideal "transition figure" for the spread of early Christianity from its beginnings in Palestine to the rest of the Roman empire.
He was originally named "Saul" (Acts 7:58–13:9; 22:7; 26:14) but later (as a Christian) changed his name to "Paul" (Acts 13:9ff and in all the Epistles).
Raised as a Pharisee, he was very zealous for the Torah & Jewish Traditions (Phil 3:5; Acts 23:6-9; 26:5).
He begins persecuting the followers of Jesus, because he considers belief in Jesus as Messiah to be incompatible with Judaism (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:5-6; 1 Cor 15:9; Acts 7:58; 8:1; 9:1-2; 22:3-5; 26:4-12).
1) First Phase of Paul's New Christian Life: in the EAST (ca. AD 35–49)
Jesus "reveals" himself to Paul (traditionally called Paul's "conversion") while Paul is traveling on the road to Damascus in southern SYRIA (Gal 1:11-12, 15-16; 1 Cor 15:8-10; Acts 9:3-30; 22:6-21; 26:12-18 - for these texts, see below).
Paul begins preaching around Arabia, Damascus, Syria, and Cilicia, despite some opposition (Gal 1:17-24; 2 Cor 11:23-33).
Barnabas takes an interest in Paul, guides and protects him, and introduces him to other Christians (Acts 9:26-30; 11:25-30; 12:25).
Commissioned by the church of Antioch, in Northern SYRIA, Barnabas and Paul go on their first missionary journey to Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Phrygia (Acts 13–14); Barnabas is clearly the leader, with Paul as his assistant (see esp. Acts 14:12, in which Barnabas is called "Zeus," the king of the Greek gods, while Paul is called "Hermes," the Greek messenger god).
Barnabas and Paul participate in the "Council of Jerusalem" (ca. AD 49; Gal 2:1-10; Acts 15 - note that many scholars think this council was slightly later, ca. AD 51).
2) Early Independent Missionary Phase: in MACEDONIA & ACHAIA (ca. AD 50–52)
Paul breaks with Barnabas due to the "Incident at Antioch" (contrast Gal 2:11-14 with Acts 15:36-41).
Paul travels with Silas & Timothy through ASIA and crosses over to MACEDONIA, where they establish small Christian churches, esp. in Philippi & Thessalonica, possibly also in Beroea (Acts 16:1–17:15).
After getting kicked out of one Macedonian city after another, the three missionaries go down to ACHAIA; Paul alone briefly visits Athens, but his preaching is not very successful there (Acts 17:16-34).
They move on to Corinth, the capital of ACHAIA, where they stay for over 18 months (Acts 18:11, 18); they meet Prisca & Aquila in Corinth soon after Emperor Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome in AD 49 (Acts 18:2).
Paul is brought to trial before the Proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17), who was in Achaia only in AD 51–52; this fact gives us the only fixed date in the chronology of Paul's life, from which all other dates are calculated backward or forward.
From Corinth, Paul & his companions write 1 Thess, and probably also 2 Thess (see 1 Thess 3:1-6).
3) Mature Missionary Leadership Phase: in ASIA (Minor) (ca. AD 53–57)
Paul travels through Asia, then to Syria (including brief visits to Jerusalem and Antioch), and back again to Ephesus, the capital of ASIA (Acts 18:18–19:41).
He remains in Ephesus for at least 27 months, probably longer, preaching and strengthening the churches (Acts 19:8, 10, 22); Ephesus becomes his "missionary headquarters" with more and more associates over time.
Paul travels personally and sends & receives messengers and letters back and forth from Ephesus to Macedonia, Corinth, various parts of Asia Minor, and possibly other regions (1 Cor 16:5-12; 2 Cor 8-9; Phil 2:19-30; 4:10-20).
He and his associates found other Christian communities in and around Asia Minor, e.g., Epaphras establishes a church in Colossae (Col 1:7).
Paul encounters opposition from Jews and Gentiles, and is blamed for a riot caused by some silversmiths in Ephesus, since he preached against the "idolatry" of worshipping pagan gods (see Acts 19:26); he probably spends some time in prison in Ephesus.
From Ephesus, Paul & his companions write 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Phil, Phlm, and probably Gal (see 1 Cor 15:32; 16:8; 16:19).
4) Final Missionary Travel Phase: to the WEST (ca. AD 58–62/64)
Paul wants to go West to Rome and Spain, but first to collect & deliver money for poor Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-4; Rom 15:22-32; Acts 19:21); he stays in Corinth three more months (Acts 20:3), and writes Rom from there (Rom 16).
Paul and some associates deliver this collection to Jerusalem; soon he is arrested in the Temple (Acts 20–21).
Paul is held under arrest for about two years in Caesarea; at his trial he appeals to Caesar and is taken to Rome, where he remains under house-arrest for another two years (Acts 22–28); possibly writes Col from prison in Caesarea (or later from Rome).
We cannot be sure what happened next, since nothing else is written in Acts: either he was tried, found innocent and released, in which case he might have gone to preach in Spain, as he had planned; or he was tried, found guilty, and executed.
Early Christian tradition agrees Paul was executed during the reign of Emperor Nero; but we cannot be sure whether it was at the end of his first Roman imprisonment (AD 62), or after his return from Spain (AD 64), since his death is not recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
X) After Paul's Death: his legacy continues (AD 60's - 90's and beyond)
Paul's associates continue to preach, gain new converts, build up Christian communities, address problems, write letters, etc.
1 Tim, 2 Tim, Tit, and Eph are probably pseudepigraphic (i.e., letters written in his name by his followers after his death).
Ephesus and Colossae remain strong centers of Pauline-style Christianity, possibly led by Timothy and Onesimus, respectively.
Someone begins collecting (and editing) Paul's letters (cf. 2 Pet 3:15-16); by the end of the first century, about 10 letters are circulating together (not yet including 1 Tim, 2 Tim, or Tit), with Ephesians possibly functioning as an introduction or "cover letter."
Eventually, thirteen letters attributed to Paul are recognized as "canonical" (i.e., accepted as part of the NT; in some phases of Christian history, the "Letter to the Hebrews" was also thought to be written by Paul, although most scholars and church leaders today agree that it is not Pauline).
Other legends about Paul develop and are recorded in non-canonical works (e.g., the "Acts of Paul" and the "Acts of Paul and Thecla").
Compare this chronology also with that of Pheme Perkins (Reading the NT, 139) or William Baird's article on "Paul" (HCBD, 814-22).

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