|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:15-24 St. Paul was wonderfully brought to the knowledge and faith of Christ. All who are savingly converted, are called by the grace of God; their conversion is wrought by his power and grace working in them. It will but little avail us to have Christ revealed to us, if he is not also revealed in us. He instantly prepared to obey, without hesitating as to his worldly interest, credit, ease, or life itself. And what matter of thanksgiving and joy is it to the churches of Christ, when they hear of such instances to the praise of the glory of his grace, whether they have ever seen them or not! They glorify God for his power and mercy in saving such persons, and for all the service to his people and cause that is done, and may be further expected from them.
Verse 17. - Neither went I up to Jerusalem (οὐδὲ ἀνῆκλθον εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα) neither went I up (or, away). This "neither" negatives one particular instance of the general notion of "consulting flesh and blood," in reference to which an exception might else have not unnaturally been supposed likely. It forms a sort of climax to the negative. So Romans 9:16, "Not of him that willeth, neither of him that ranneth." It is uncertain whether "went up" or "went away" is the true reading of the Greek text. If the latter, the verb is repeated after the following "but" (ἀλλὰ), as Romans 8:15, "Ye have received;" Hebrews 12:18, 22, "Ye are come." To them which were apostles before me (πρὸς τοὺς πρὸ ἐμοῦ ἀποστόλους). For this "before me," comp. Romans 16:7. Every reader must feel the consciousness of official parity with the twelve which transpires in this expression of St. Paul's. The like consciousness is apparent in 1 Corinthians 15:5-11, strongly as the writer there expresses his sense of comparative personal unworthiness. Why, it may be asked, does the apostle thus particularly refer to the "apostles before him"? The probable answer seems to be, for the purpose of more forcibly illustrating the assured conviction, which from the very first he entertained, of the sufficiency and Divine authority of the gospel which he had already received. But I went into Arabia (ἀλλ ἀπῆλθον εἰς Ἀραβίαν); but I went away into Arabia. It is impossible to determine what was the precise locality to which St. Paul then went. "Arabia" was in those days a geographical term of very wide significance. Damascus itself appertained to Arabia; so Justin Martyr writes ('Dial. c. Tryph.,' 305, A) "that Damascus was of the Arabian country (τῆς-Ἀραβικῆς γῆς), and is, even though now [probably, Bishop Lightfoot suggests, by Hadrian's arrangement of those provinces] it has been assigned to what is called the Syrophoenician country, none even of you are able to deny." So Tertullian, 'Adv. Mare,' 3:13; 'Adv. Judaeos,' 9. At the time of St. Paul's abode at Damascus the city was subject to an "ethnarch of Aretas" (2 Corinthians 11:32); and "Aretas," the King of Petra, is in the case of several successive princes, styled "the King of the Arabians" (2 Macc. 5:8; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 14:01, 4; 'Bell. Jud.,' 1:06, 2; 'Ant.,' 16:10, 8, 9). The apostle's words may, therefore, describe a withdrawal into some district, whether inhabited or uninhabited, not far distant from Damascus. On the other hand, in Galatians 4:25, the apostle refers to "Arabia" in connection with Mount Sinai; so that Arabia Petraea may possibly have been the country visited. And here the imagination is tempted by recollections of Moses and the giving of the Law, and of Elijah, to indulge in speculations with reference to the especial appropriateness of that vicinity for being Saul's place of sojourn at this crisis of spiritual illumination and call to apostleship. But all this is conjectural: there is no solid ground whatever for our believing that it was thither flint his steps were at this season directed, And we cannot but recollect, with reference to the Lord Jesus, that when, after his baptism, "the Spirit drove him forth into the wilderness," with a view, as we may in all reverence believe, to his preparing himself for his high ministry as the Christ, no one imagines that it was into the wilderness of Sinai that he was led. And this suggests the remark that, at this particular juncture in especial, Saul's movements were directed by heavenly guidance. This we seem warranted to infer from our Lord's words to him, "Rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:6). At such a season, indeed, the unceasing cry of his whole soul - a cry at, rely not unresponded to - must have been, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" For further description of the geographical question,see Conybeare and Howson, ch. 3; 'Dictionary of the Bible' articles "Arabia" and "Aretus;" Lightfoot's 'Galatians: Excursus,' pp. 87-92, 6th edit. And returned again unto Damascus (καὶ πάλιν ὑπέστρεψα εἰς Δαμασκόν). That is, "without going elsewhere or to any place where I could meet with men who could be my instructors in the gospel." This must be supposed to be implied; otherwise the narrative would be illusive. As above stated, the "immediately" appears intended to qualify this clause as well as the preceding. The evidential value of this reference to Damascus, by implication indicated as the scene of his previously mentioned conversion, is strikingly illustrated by Paley in his 'Heros Paulinae (Galatians), cited by Dean Howson, in loc. "A casual expression at the end, and an expression brought in for a different purpose, alone fixes it to have been at Damascus. Nothing can be more like simplicity and undesignedness than this." At the risk of repeating some remarks already made, I venture to propose the following as a just paraphase of the whole passage, beginning with ver. 12. "My gospel which ye are swerving from I did not in any degree receive from men, but solely through the revelation of Jesus Christ which God himself made to me. It is evident that before I knew Christ, during the time that I was persecuting God's own Church with fanatical fury, my whole heart and soul devoted to the strictest Judaism of the Pharisees, I was removed poles asunder from all possible sympathetic contact with this doctrine. That God's love was ready to embrace every believer in Christ, whether obeying Moses' Law or not obeying it, - this was a truth that in those days could not possibly have gained access to my mind. And after this, when God graciously illuminated my soul with the sight of his Son, in order that I might become the joyful herald of his grace to the Gentiles, to no mortal man, whether at Damascus or elsewhere, did I apply for further light; neither did I even repair to Jerusalem to seek instruction from Christ's own former apostles: I at once departed in a direction which took me where I was still far away [or, perhaps, "which took me farther and farther away"] from Jerusalem, into Arabia: and who should teach me this doctrine in Arabia? And then, forthwith, I came hack straight to Damascus, Damascus being my first appointed sphere of labour."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Neither went I up to Jerusalem,.... That is, immediately, as soon as he was converted, not till three years after, as follows; though by the account which Luke gives of him, Acts 9:23 and by that which the apostle gives of himself, Acts 22:17 it looks as if he went to Jerusalem some little time after his conversion, and before the date here given: and therefore some have thought that he did go up to Jerusalem pretty quickly, when, praying in the temple, he fell into a trance, and was ordered to make haste from thence, and go far hence unto the Gentiles and accordingly he made no stay, did not go to any of the apostles, and neither saw nor conversed with any of them, which is what he here says,
to them which were apostles before me. The twelve, who were called, ordained, and sent forth as apostles before he was; for last of all Christ appeared to him, and was seen by him as one born out of due time: his meaning is, not that he was a successor of the apostle's, but that they were instated in the office of apostleship before him; and this he mentions to show that he did not receive the Gospel from men, no not from the apostles themselves; since, upon his conversion, he did not go up to Jerusalem to see any of them, and talk with them; nor did he stand in need of any instructions from them, being immediately furnished sufficiently by Christ himself; nor did his work lie at Jerusalem, nor so much among the Jews as among the Gentiles, and therefore to them he went:
but I went into Arabia. This journey of the apostle is wholly omitted by Luke, nor should we have known anything of it, had it not been for this account: how long he stayed there, what he did, and what success he met with among the Arabs are no where related; no doubt but he preached the Gospel to them, and as his ministry everywhere was owned and blessed by God, it may be very reasonably thought it was here at his first setting out in it. The Arabic version reads it, "I went to Balcam", which was a city in Syria; but without any foundation for it; for it was not Syria, but Arabia to which he went. There are three countries which bear the name of Arabia, and which are called to distinguish them from one another, Arabia Petraea, Arabia Deserta, and Arabia Felix; of which See Gill on Acts 2:11. It is very likely it was the former of these which the apostle went to, as being nearest to Syria, since from Damascus, the metropolis of Syria, he went thither; and Damascus itself was at this time under the government of an Arabian king, see 2 Corinthians 11:32. So Pliny frequently speaks of Arabia as near to Syria, Palestine, and Judea: in one place he says (l), Arabia divides Judea from Egypt; and elsewhere (m) observes, that Syria is distinguished by many names; for it is called Palestina, where it touches the Arabians, and Judea, and Coele, and Phenice; and Peraea, or the country beyond Jordan, he says, is next to Arabia and Egypt; and on the east of the lake of Asphaltites he places Arabia, that belongs to the Nomades; so likewise Josephus (n) places Arabia at the east of Peraea, or the country beyond Jordan; and says (o) in another place, that Arabia borders on Judea, the metropolis of which was Petra, where Aretas the king had his royal palace: Jerom (p) likewise observes, that the river Jordan divides Judea and Arabia; so that this country into which the apostle went was not a great way off of Syria and Judea, whither he returned again after some time; which seems to be about the space of three years, by what follows in the next verse, and when he had done the work and will of God in those parts; where doubtless he was the instrument of converting souls, and planting churches, and here it is certain were churches in ages following: in the "third" century were churches in Arabia, mentioned along with the churches in Syria, by Eusebius (q); in which age lived two famous Arabian bishops, Beryllus and Maximus; and the same historian (r) reports, that in the times of Dioclesian there were some wonderful martyrs in Arabia, who suffered the most cruel tortures and death, for the sake of Christ: and in the "fourth" century there were Arabian bishops in the Nicene council, and in other synods, as at Jerusalem and Sardica; and in the same century there were bishops of Arabia Petraea, at the synod in Antioch, whose names were Nicomachus and Cyrion: and also in the "fifth" century there were churches and bishops in the same country (s), not to trace them any further:
and returned again unto Damascus; and then it was, that being increased in spiritual strength and knowledge, he proved that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, to the confusion of the Jews there; which drew upon him their resentment and indignation, so that they took counsel and lay in wait to kill him; but the disciples let him down through a window, by the wall of the city in a basket, and so he escaped them.
(l) Nat. Hist. l. 12. c. 21. (m) lb. l. 5. c. 12, 14, 16. (n) De Bello Jud. l. 3. c. 3. sect. 3.((o) Antiqu. l. 14. c. 1. sect. 4. & l. 4. c. 4. sect. 7. (p) De locis Hebraicis, fol. 92. G. (q) Eccl. Hist. l. 7. c. 5. (r) lb. l. 8. c. 12. (s) Hist. Eccl. Magdeburgh. cent. 4. c. 9. p. 350, 390, 405, 425. cent. 5. c. 2. p. 2. c. 10. p. 552.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
17. went I up—Some of the oldest manuscripts read, "went away."
to Jerusalem—the seat of the apostles.
into Arabia—This journey (not recorded in Acts) was during the whole period of his stay at Damascus, called by Luke (Ac 9:23), "many [Greek, a considerable number of] days." It is curiously confirmatory of the legitimacy of taking "many days" to stand for "three years," that the same phrase exactly occurs in the same sense in 1Ki 2:38, 39. This was a country of the Gentiles; here doubtless he preached as he did before and after (Ac 9:20, 22) at Damascus: thus he shows the independence of his apostolic commission. He also here had that comparative retirement needed, after the first fervor of his conversion, to prepare him for the great work before him. Compare Moses (Ac 7:29, 30). His familiarity with the scene of the giving of the law, and the meditations and revelations which he had there, appear in Ga 4:24, 25; Heb 12:18. See on Ga 1:12. The Lord from heaven communed with him, as He on earth in the days of His flesh communed with the other apostles.
returned—Greek "returned back again."
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