Chapter 4: Paul Disbelieved Continued. First of His Four Visits to Jerusalem After His Conversion—Say Jerusalem Visit I. or Reconciliation Visit.—Barnabas Introducing Him From Antioch to the Apostles
Section 4: Occasion, As per Acts Account Compared With Paul's
Such as hath been seen is Paul's account of the matter:—Paul's own account, of the interval that elapsed, between his conversion, and the first of his subsequent visits to Jerusalem:—to the residence of the Christians, whom he had been persecuting, and of the rulers, under and by the authority of whom, the persecution had been carried on. Such, loose as it is, is his account, of the interval between these two events: and of the place, in which, either almost the whole, or at any rate the greatest part of it, was passed.
Such was Paul's own account of his own proceedings,—at the distance of twenty-five years and more. Compare with it, now, the account, given by his historiographer—given, of the interval, that, according to him, had place, between these same two events.(Acts 9:19-29.)
Here, no three years' sojournment in Arabia: no visit to that country: no notice, of any place, other than Damascus, as being a place, in which the whole, or any part, of the time in question, was passed. In a position, with respect to each other, scarcely different from that of contiguity,—are the two events brought together. The blood of their disciples scarce washed from off his hands, when, with Barnabas for his introducer, he presents himself to the Apostles!
At the very time, when the Jerusalem rulers, would have been expecting to receive from him, the proofs of his punctuality, in the execution of the important plan, of official oppression, of which, at his own instance, he had been solemnly constituted and appointed the instrument; when, after going over to and forming a league with the criminals, for such they must have been called, whom he had been commissioned by these rulers to bring to justice;—at this very time it is, that he returns to the seat of their dominion:—to the place in which, at that very time, his return to them, with the intended victims in captivity, could not but be the subject of universal expectation!
Let any one now judge, whether, in any state of things, natural or supernatural, the sort of conduct thus supposed is credible.
At Damascus, instead of presenting himself to the Damascus rulers, to whom the commission of which he was the bearer was addressed,—the first persons, whom, according to this account, Acts 9:19, he sees, are "the disciples," i.e., the persons whom, by that commission, he was to arrest: and, with them, instead of arresting them, he passes "certain days."
These certain days ended,—does he thereupon, with or without an apology, present himself to these same rulers? Not he, indeed. Not presenting himself to them, does he, by flight or otherwise, take any measures, for securing himself, against their legitimate and necessarily intended vengeance? No such thing:—instead of doing so, he runs in the very face of it. He shows himself in the Jewish synagogues, in the public places of worship: and there, instead of preaching Moses and his law, he preaches Christ,—that Christ, whose disciples he was commissioned to extirpate.
This breach of trust—this transgression, which, however commendable in itself, could not but,—in the eyes of all those by whom, or for whom, he was in trust,—be a most flagitious and justly punishable act of treachery,—could it even from the first, for so much as two days, together, remain unknown? Not it, indeed: if, in this particular, to this same conversion story, as related by this same author, any credit is due. For, according to this same account,—in this same journey, and at the very time of his conversion vision, was he alone? No; he had companions: companions, who, whatsoever became of him, would, at the very time of his entrance, unless any cause can be shown to the contrary, have entered thither in due course. Well, then—ask the men in authority,—"This Paul, in whose train you came,—where is he, what has become of him?" Such would of course have been the questions put to these, his companions, even on the supposition, that by these same companions, no visit had, of their own accord, been paid to these same rulers, under whose authority they went to place themselves.
At length,—and the days which by this time had elapsed were "many,"—he finds it expedient to quit Damascus. He is driven from thence: but by what force? By the exercise of the legal authority of the offended rulers? in a word, by public vengeance? No: but by a private conspiracy—nothing more: for, to these rulers,—so different are they from all other rulers,—whether their authority is obeyed or contemned, has, all the while, been matter of indifference.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
In the above account—a remarkable incident is presented, by the occasion and manner of his escape from Damascus. In part, it has for its support an assertion made by Paul himself; but, as usual, as to part it is scarcely reconcileable with the account he gives of it. In respect of the adventure of the basket, the two accounts agree: and thus the occasion is identified and fixed. It is in respect of the description of the persons, by whom the attack upon him was made or meditated, that the accounts differ. According to the Acts, the hostile hands are those of the Jews, who are spoken of as so many unauthorized and criminal conspirators: but, according to Paul, they are those of the constituted authorities—a governor acting under a king.
Now, supposing the adverse force to have been that of a band of conspirators, it was natural for them to watch the "city gates": a more promising resource they could scarcely have had at their command. But, suppose it to have been that of the governor,—what need had he to watch the gates? he might have searched houses. By the reference made, to a matter of fact, which, supposing it real, must in its nature have been notorious—to wit, the existence of a king, of the name in question, in the country in question, at the time in question—a comparative degree of probability seems to be given to Paul's account. A curious circumstance is—that, in this Epistle of Paul's, this anecdote of the Basket stands completely insulated; it has not any the slightest connection with anything that precedes or follows it.
In the Acts' account, as already observed, Chap. 4, it looks as if it was immediately after the adventure of the basket, that he went on this his first visit to the Apostles at Jerusalem: for, as we see, it is immediately thereupon that his arrival at that city is mentioned. If so, the abode he had then been making at Damascus, was probably after his return from Arabia: that return from Arabia, which we have seen him speaking of in his Epistle to the Galatians,
"After three years?"—three years, reckoning from what time? Here we see the ambiguity, and along with it the difficulty. If reckoning from his conversion,—then we have the three years, to be spent—partly in Damascus, partly in Arabia: in Damascus, in obtaining, perhaps, from the Christianized Jews—in return for the impunity given to them by the breach of the trust committed to him by the Jerusalem rulers—money, for defraying his expenses while in Arabia. If, reckoning from his escape from Damascus in a basket, then we have three years, during which not so much as any the faintest trace of him is perceptible. All, therefore, that is clear is—that according to his account of the matter, there was an interval of at least three years between his conversion, and this first of his subsequent Jerusalem visits—this visit of his to Jerusalem, to see the Apostles.
Between the two interpretations,—in respect of length of time, observe here the difference. According to one of them, between the conversion and the first Jerusalem visit, we have an interval of three years, and no more: and, in this interval, three lengths of time—one passed in Damascus, another in Arabia, a third, terminated by the basket adventure, passed also in Damascus, are all included: the entire interval determinate: but its parts, all of them, indeterminate. According to the other interpretation, we have also three lengths of time: the first, indeterminate, passed in Damascus; the second, as indeterminate, passed in Arabia; the third, passed in Damascus, and this a determinate one—namely, the three years. Thus, upon the first supposition, the interval consists of three years, and no more: upon the second supposition, it consists of three years, preceded by two lengths of time, which are both indeterminate, but one of which—that passed in Arabia—may have been to any amount protracted.
Upon either supposition,—it seems not unlikely, that it was immediately after his escape from Damascus, that this first visit of his to Jerusalem took place. And, the greater the preceding interval of time, whether passed in Arabia or Damascus, the less unpromising his prospect, that the resentments, produced by the provocations given by him to the Christians, by his persecution of them,—and to the Jewish rulers, by his treachery towards them,—should, both, have to such a degree subsided, as to render even so short a stay, as that of fifteen days which he mentions, consistent with personal safety. Yet, as we see in the Acts, are these two events spoken of as if they had been contiguous: at any rate, it is in contiguity that they are spoken of.
Uncertainties crowd upon uncertainties. At the time of Paul's conversion,—had Damascus already this same king, named Aretas, with a governor under him? If so, how happens it, that, of this state of the government, no intimation is perceptible, in the account given of that conversion in the Acts? Was it—that, at that time, there existed not any such monarchical personage? but that, before the adventure of the basket, some revolution had placed him there?
According to Paul's account,—the state of things, produced in Damascus by his exertions, was somewhat curious. On the face of this account, in ordinary there was no garrison in Damascus: it was only by special order from the monarch, and for no other purpose than the bringing to justice—or what was called justice—the person of the self-constituted Apostle,—that a garrison was put into the town, with a governor for the command of it.
What a foundation all this for credence! and, with it, for a system of religious doctrine to build itself upon!—religious doctrine—with the difference between eternal happiness and eternal misery depending upon it!