I got into a debate over this topic recently and wasn’t doing well based on what scripture says. I had claimed that Paul had stayed in Arabia for many years soon after his conversion. But to my dismay, this is not what I found in scripture.
Informing Texts: Galatians 1:16-18, Acts 9:8-26
The chronology looks like this:
1. Paul is converted on the way to Damascus
2. Paul goes to Damascus
3. After three days Paul’s eyes are opened
4. Paul preaches in Damascus
5. Paul flees Damascus under threat
6. Paul goes to Arabia
7. Paul comes back Damascus
8. After three years Paul goes to Jerusalem
From this chronology it appears that there is no way to know how long Paul was in Arabia. It appears that Paul went to Arabia to avoid the death threat over him. Once this threat subsided one would expect that he then returned. Looking at maps pertaining to this time period, Arabia was not very far away from Damascus. Paul may have only been in Arabia for a few weeks. He may have been there for years. We can’t be sure.
My issue is that Sellers would use the concept of Paul spending years in Arabia as a defense for Christian Individualism. What is your stance on this matter?
I agree that there is no way to tell how long Paul spent in Arabia. He spent part of three years in Damascus in Syria, and part of that same three years in Arabia. What the split was or how long he remained in one place versus the other is impossible to say from the record. Some have suggested that Paul spent three years on Mount Sinai in Arabia, learning directly from the risen Christ. They say this corresponds with the three years the twelve spent with Christ, learning from Him prior to His death and resurrection. As far as I can tell, though, this idea is just plain speculation, and there is no way of proving it Biblically.
I am not sure what statement Mr. Sellers made that is concerning you. Mr. Sellers had a Seed and Bread issue, a newspaper article, and a pamphlet, all entitled, “Christian Individualism.” I am not sure which you are referring to. Assuming you mean the Seed and Bread, are you referring to the following statements?
“The Christian faith was from the very first the personal faith of individuals. This is clearly seen in the declaration of Paul who tells us that after God’s dealings with him on the Damascus road, he did not confer with any human being. Neither did he go up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before him; but he went into Arabia, then later came back to Damascus (see Gal. 1:15-19).
“The believers of the Acts period were not always scattered; and wherever possible, they moved and acted as a fellowship of individuals. But when one of them found himself cut off from all others, he stood alone, finding his all in Christ.”
I think Mr. Sellers is trying to make the same point that Paul was trying to make. Paul did not go to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before him, and receive the doctrine he taught from them. Instead, he spent years on his own, receiving the things he taught directly from Christ. He mentions Arabia since that was the only place he traveled to during that time other than Damascus. I do not think Arabia has any particular significance other than that. Whether he went on Mount Sinai or received his revelations in Arabia instead of in Damascus, I cannot say.
In other words, he is saying that Paul’s faith was the personal faith of an individual, and was focused on his relationship with Christ and the revelations Christ made to him. Paul argues that he did not immediately run to Jerusalem to be taught by those who were already apostles there. He was not a student of theirs, but a student of the Lord’s. I think Mr. Sellers is making the same point.
Not sure what else you thought you saw in the fact that Paul was in Arabia. That is about all I can say about it. Paul was proving the point that he did not make any secret trips to Jerusalem to learn what he taught, but got it directly from the Lord. “For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 1:12.
Keep studying the Word!