I am currently blogging about contextualisation and culture. I wanted to look at this subject through the life of the Apostle Paul. To do that affectively I thought it would be helpful to look at some of the events earlier in Pauls life.
Saul was born around 5AD in Tarsus, a major university town in Cilicia (eastern Turkey). His father or grandfather must have performed some noble task for the Roman Empire as Paul was born a Roman citizen, an honour that many would have had to purchase. When he was a young boy, around 5 to 10, his family moved to Jerusalem and he studied in the school of Gamaliel, the foremost Jewish teacher of the time.
He stayed in Jerusalem and joined the Pharisee party, probably one of the more extreme varieties and it may well have been the “missionary” group who Jesus refers to in Matthew 23:15. Although he was a Hebrew speaker he may also have associated with the Greek speaking synagogue of the “freedman”, who also came from Cilicia. They rose up against Stephen for speaking against the temple and after hearing his preach they stoned him with Saul accepting responsibility.
Under the authority of the council Saul led a vicious persecution of Christians, causing many to flee Jerusalem. However Jerusalem had an extradition agreement for those from Judea in Damascus and elsewhere which had been granted to the Jewish priests by Julius Caesar which he planned to use to full effect in Damascus which he departed towards.
On his journey a light from heaven shone around him and he heard a voice speaking to him in his mother tongue. The experience left him blinded such that he had to be lead into the city by the men traveling with him where after 3 days an otherwise unknown believer called Ananias came and laid hands upon him, seeing him healed, baptised in the Holy Spirit and commissioned to take the gospel to the nations.
Paul chose not to return to Jerusalem; instead he went to the country of the Nabatean Arabs for 3 years and preached the gospel away from the mainstream Christian development. He preached to the nations well before he met the Jerusalem church or its leaders. The first people group he preached to were Arabs. I used to think that Paul’s references to spending time in Arabia was to meditate on truth but I now think it more likely that he was working out his understanding of the revelation that had come to him in preaching already to the Gentiles. We don’t know how effective he was during this time but we do know that he incurred the anger of king Aretas IV, who pursued him to Damascus where he had to escape in a basket from the governor.