Paul in Arabia – Gal 1:17

According to Gal 1:17, shortly after his conversion Paul went away to Arabia. Scholars have puzzled over this, as it seems an odd choice. So at least three interrelated questions arise:

1) Where exactly does Paul refer to by Arabia? (Hint: where else is Arabia referred to in Galatians? Does this matter?)

2) Why did Paul choose to go there?

3) What exactly was Paul doing while there?

The floor is open …

31 thoughts on “Paul in Arabia – Gal 1:17”

  1. 1) Base on your hint he could have gone to Mount Sinai (mentioned in 3:25).

    2) Although it’s not specifically stated, I’m not sure it was Paul’s decision to go there. Based on Paul’s later sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit as seen in Acts 16, he may have gone out of obediennce to the Spirit’s lead.

    3)This could have been the period during which he received the personal training in the revelation of the gospel, much like the forty days Christ spent with the disciples between the resurrection and ascension.

    Not sure, just my stab at it.

  2. According to the account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 the Lord stated twice that He would show Paul what to do and what would happen him for the Gospel’s sake. However, Paul immediately began to show from scripture that Jesus was the Christ apparently displaying his capability to communicate to the Jew but his ministry was to the Gentiles as well something that would not go down well for some one trained in the sect of the Pharisees. So if Paul was to go Arabia where would this work into the account in Acts 9. Verse 23 states that “After that many days were fulfilled” the after that would refer to Paul’s showing the Jews that Jesus was the Christ many days past. This would work in very well with Paul’s traveling to Arabia.

    As far as the location of Arabia it is irrelevant something we really do not need to know. It is relevant and clear form Paul’s epistles that he was very intent to be led by the Holy Spirit. With tis being said it would be obvious that Paul went to Arabia, where ever it is, because the Spirit led him there. From the epistle of Galatians there are two key pieces of evidence to help understand what he went there for. First, is the word revealed and that three main areas are accounted for here Gal. 1:15-16 1. God had called him from the womb 2. Jesus was in him 3. He was to preach to the gentiles. Second, is the word confer Paul did not confer with other believers.

    This would indicate that was sent to Arabia by the Spirit to receive revelations relating the purpose of the law, his relation to the law, and the gentiles relation to the law. This was shared in all of his epistles but more so in Galatians 2:16-20. Paul’s statement in verse 20 could be called the main doctrine of Paul’s personal life and ministry.

  3. Some have suggested that there are parallels between Paul and Elijah; zeal for the law in Arabia followed by revelation of a remnant elect and a mission to proclaim a new king in Damascus.

  4. The theme of men retreating into the dessert/wilderness to meet with God (Moses, Elijah, Jesus)and perhaps this was Paul’s purpose. He seems to already have knowledge of the Law, thus instruction in the Law in Arabia seems unlikely. Perhaps he fleshed out his theology of the Law throughout his ministry (research in libraries, dialoging in the synagoges, etc). It is hard to believe that he received this divine revelation in one moment in Arabia. We know that Elijah went to Mt. Horeb in 2 Samuel 19:8 to inquire whether the Law was still in effect in the midst of the idolary occuring in Judah. I think that Paul went into Arabia for an indefinite period of time to pray, reflect upon his conversion, meet with God, read the OT Scriptures, and prepare for the ministry that God called him (as he knew he was called to ministry as evidenced his preaching the Gospel immediately following his conversion). Man must go alone with God before he does great work for God.

  5. The Apostle Paul comments in Galatians 1:16-17 that after first receiving the Lord’s command to preach to the gentiles, he went to Arabia. The Apostle Paul does not explain why. No mention is made of preaching there. If one were to speculate, it seems logical that the Apostle Paul might have been overwhelmed by his supernatural experience with the Lord, and perhaps troubled by what the Lord was requiring of him in spreading the gospel to the gentiles (so aware was he of the great danger of Jewish persecution). Did he temporarily retire to a place far from the persecution of the Jews to fast and pray, to gain certainty and prepare himself for what lay ahead?[Galatians1:17-19]

  6. Pat:
    I think you missed the exact point here. Certainly he was led by the Spirit, which would of course not contradict his going to Mt. Sinai or any other place. And this was very likely the time he received those elements of the Gospel which were uniquely charged to him (Eph. 3:6), since he says he did not receive them from men (precluding the possibility that he learned these things in the Damascus church) and that he seems to say that he had learned them prior to going to Jerusalem (though this is not specifically stated). Certainly he learned something in the time in the desert, and it was almost assuredly not a first missionary trip, since the context is how he learned what he preaches.

    Paul calls Sinai Damascus. The parallel with Elias is intriguing but speculative. What we know is that Paul went for a time, less than three years (and maybe considerably less) into the desert, probably to be alone (since it was unlikely he was led into his first mission to the Gentiles prior to receiving the message for the Gentiles) where it is at least likely he learned the essence of the Good News he would communicate to the Gentiles. Undoubtedly he learned more in the years in Tarsus and even in the ministry in Antioch, but it seems likely that the trip to Arabia was a trip to the desert, similar to that of Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus and others, for preparation time for his future ministry.

    Where in Arabia? That appears to be an unknown, and probably covered in the intimacy of Paul’s experience with Christ, an invitation to us to seek that time alone with the Lord.

    How long has it been since you took a time to hide away from everything else and spend time with the Saviour? How long has it been for me?

  7. Thank you for all your thoughts on this. I was reading this morning through Galations 1 and was seaching for some further insight to Paul’s first chapter. I appreciate Socialized’s insight, though I am not a Bible scholar, It really made the most practical sense to me an what I read this morning. I did a lot of writing in the margins this morning and this discussion clarrified some thoughts I had.

  8. Read the sentence carefully, paying attention to grammer. Cross reference with Acts 9:19-20.

    Remember that Paul was a man of the strictest obedience to the word of God.

    In his conversion experience, it was revealed to him that God’s plan for his life was to Preach Christ to the Gentiles.

    Acts 19 says that upon regaining his sight from his conversion experience that he took food, was strengthened was with the disciples and immediately started to preach in the synagogues.

    He was a man of strict obedience. He was given a command from God and he immediately followed it.

    He then left for Arabia, then came back to Damascus later.

    Let’s look at Galatians

    15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased
    16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
    17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

    Galations 1:10 shows that Paul is trying to show them that he is not trying to prach in order to please men, but to please Christ.

    He then says that he received Christ’s gospel not by man but by Christ himself. Paul is not talking about Arabia yet, but rather his conversion experience on the Damascus road. He received the gospel throguh Christ’s direct revelation when he was blinded on the road. Paul knew about the Christian faith – and did not need to be “taught it” – he was a scholar, and he knew well what he was persecuting.

    Rather, he needed direct revelation from Jesus himself to show that he was indeed the Son of God.

    The gospel, he says is not according to man – but it is trustworthy because God himself revealed this to him in his conversion.

    Jump further forward to verses 15-17

    15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased
    16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
    17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

    Read this carefully, Paul says it was revealed to him that he should preach among the gentiles, he didn’t go talk to someone about it, nor did he speak to the Apostles in Jerusalem about it, but he went immediately to Arabia.

    This is not talking about where he learned about the gospel, or some mystical teaching he received in the desert, but the grammer points to him immediately following through on the direction given to him through the revelation – to go preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

    His methods, and his results, we don’t know, and we cannot be sure of, but given the contexts of Acts 9 and the other verses in Galations, I think we can be fairly sure that Paul went to Arabia to Preach redemption through Christ.



  9. Hello all, my few contributions: The chapter’s main points of Galatian 1 simply show: (1) Paul carries the right “gospel” as an apostle of Christ. (2)to remind the Galatians Audience to the pure or unadulterated “gospel” that Jesus Christ revealed directly to the apostles…The rest are narratives of Paul showing the evidences that he is the apostle to the gentiles and his gospel was not influence by other people particularly the other apostles hence the period 3 years and 15 days are too significant to note… As to the question of what Paul exactly did in the Arabia or what transpired there were but speculations, however, we could speculate safely as what he did but we could not conclusively detailed what exactly transpired over there as compared to what Moses did when he received the tablet of ten commandments. However, the hints from the Chapter itselt shows the hint of the activities of Paul… Perhaps he check the scripture thoroughly and understanding it in light of the prior experienced with the Lord in the road to Damascus or probably he has a direct communication with the Lord… Bottomline, he is an apostle to the gentiles who carried the true and pure gospel, he hid not received the gospel as a second hand information. He received it directly – hence, he is an apostle!… For us, we can only reflect God’s message from the written word…I wonder why many Christians would push hard their interpretations of the word as if they received directly the word – great authority? or arrogance? Thanks I haven’t read one from the thread above… Thank you for this blog. God bless us all.

  10. it is well known that there is no specific reason that paul was led to go to Arabia. if there was a reason then it would have been writtten.

  11. Has anyone read ? Can you really imagine that Paul wouldn’t consult with Peter, James, and John, those who actually lived with Yahushua? Why does Paul first say that he went “immediately” preaching Christ, and then in other places say that he went to Arabia? Who is the ravening Benjamite wolf in Genesis 49:17? Who is the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” that Yahushua specifically warns Peter of? Why does Paul say that the Torah was “administered by angels” when it was given directly by God to Moses? Why does Paul say there are “two” covenants; one through Isaac and one through Hagar? Hagar and Ishmael had NO PART in the Covenant. Hagar was given her freedom, and sent away. Why does Paul call the elders of the Assembly in Galatia “judiazers who crept in unawares”? Why does Paul belittle Peter, the lead Apostle in front of everyone? Maybe Peter didn’t want to eat “unclean” food, or food “offered to idols.”

    Every time Paul quotes Scripture, he MISQUOTES it. Why does Paul never quote Yahushua? Why does Jesus say to the church at Ephesus that they have correctly tested “false apostles” when Paul and his companions were the only ones claiming to be “apostles” at the Ephesus church within the past 7 years of the writing of Revelation? Why does Jesus tell the churches not to “eat meat offered to idols” when Paul said it was OK? Why was Paul on trial at Ephesus? Why does the Epistle of James refute what Paul is saying? Why does Paul allow an uncircumcised Gentile into the inner court of the Temple? Why doesn’t James defend Paul at that point for a “misunderstanding”? Why does God say in Ezekiel that to stay in the Millennial Temple and the eternal city, one must be circumcised “in the flesh AND in the heart?”

  12. Questioning Paul, eh? Interesting to see that those legalists who hated Paul during his days are still at work, preaching against Paul’s teaching of grace through faith. However, the apostle Peter accepted Paul as a “dear brother” with wisdom from God.

    2 Peter 3:15 “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.”

    As for Paul going into Arabia, we are not told why. We can only speculate. Speculation is fine, and asking questions and wondering is a good thing. But it’s important to understand that if we needed to know the answer, we would have been told.

    As for the Muslim friend who posted that Paul went into Arabia because he knew that the comforter would come from there, I am curious what ancient source pre-dating Paul indicates any such thing. No ancient prophet said that the comforter would come from Arabia, as far as I know. Jesus himself declared that the comforter came from the Father.

  13. In view of the context and intent within this section of Paul’s letter, the answer to all of the questions is to further ephasize the fact that his revelation of the Gosple was all delivered to him by God alone.

    Even the generic nature of the setting seeks to remove it from human influence.

    Paul would no doubt smack his head and mumble “oye vey” upon hearing any speculation that he went to mount Sinai.

  14. I think that Paul went to Arabia (to the desert, to the wilderness or however you look at AWAY from civilization) because at this point in his life, he could not see how he would be used by God. After all, he had been the one instrumental in Stephen’s martyrdom as well as responsible for plenty of havoc and suffering in the Church. I believe that he needed the time in the desert to understand God’s mercy and grace before he could come back and really be used by God FOR the Church. The Law that he learned under Gamaliel painted God as a judgmental God – not a God of mercy and grace. That whole part of his being needed to be transformed.

  15. Maybe Paul went to learn in the desert from the Children of the East, the descendants of Ishmael and Abraham’s son’s by Keturah including the Rechabites who in Jeremiah 35 God promised would always have someone before Him to serve Him. It seems that the Rechabites and the Nabataeans were the same people and worshippers of God. Paul had contact with King Aretas’ of Petra (Nabataean capital) who had placed one of his men as governor of Damascus when Paul escaped from their shortly after his conversion (2 Corinthians 11:30-33). So Paul probably went to Petra in Arabia to hide out and study with the other line of Abrahamic believers in the one true God to complete his education that he had started under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) by studying the Hebrew scriptures. Just like Moses studied under his father-in-law Jethro, priest of Midian, Paul studied under the Rechabites or Nabataeans before going up to Jerusalem and meeting with Peter, James and the other pillars of the Jewish church. This allowed him to be more well-rounded in his knowledge of God than those who had only studied under Jewish teachers. Plus, his time in the desert was consistent with the other great prophets, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus.

  16. From BROWN COUNTY PRESS, Letter to Editor, Georgetown, OH, June 12, 2011, p.5:

    Denominational Flavors Of Salvation – Take Your Incorrect Pick!

    It is not difficult to read and plot the chronological trajectory of Paul’s travels in the Book of Acts by connecting the “dots” of his travels from one geographic location to another. Use two dependent variables that do not change throughout the whole Book – time and geographic location – both are totally independent of specific denominational false doctrines. Yes, it takes some time, but not really that long when compared to how long you will be dead – as in FOREVER.

    The only secure assurance of salvation you will ever find here on earth is contained within the pages of that Book, not any denomination, especially those claiming to be “Christian” today.

    Make your own chronological trajectory map of Paul’s [Saul’s] travels from Acts 7 through 28, using the King James Bible text. You won’t be able to connect the dots once you get to Acts 9:30 through Acts 11:25, but you’ll find those “dots” to connect, in between those two verses, in Galatians chapter 1, from Arabia back to Tarsus [Cilicia]. [You have to draw in the line from Tarsus to Arabia to complete the overall trajectory line with that short trajectory described in Galatians 1]. Once you take the time to do that, you will discover the “key” that proves all these “Christian” denomination doctrines [as in Baptist, Church of Christ, Roman Catholic, etc.] to be false doctrine teachings. You will realize that Paul did not get “his gospel” [as described in Galatians 1] until a chronological point in time contemporaneous with Acts 10:10-16, when Peter was in a trance in Joppa the exact same time Paul was in heaven getting “his gospel” directly from the Lord Himself.

    From this study you will find that Paul first accepted the gospel being preached by Peter, James, and John, back in Acts 9 time frame. That gospel included “calling” and/or “believing” on Jesus Christ, repenting, and getting water baptized. You can even see Paul immediately preaching repentance and works after accepting that gospel in Acts 9 [see also Acts 22 and 26, where Paul was a “minister and witness” of two things – two gospels – verse 26:16], but you won’t find Paul preaching repentance, works, or water baptism in conjunction with the gospel he received while in Arabia, contemporaneous with Acts 10 time frame. Paul’s “his gospel” only included faith, no works at all, and no water baptism. Adding water today to a dead “Christian” will only result in more steam being produced as the volcano erupts to make room for that poor soul who went to hell believing a false denominational preacher instead of the Book. There were two gospels in play back in the Book of Acts, not just one. This preaching of both gospels is clearly delineated in Acts 18:1-13, where Paul only baptized Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas and his household at Corinth [1 Cor. 1:14-17], reverting back to Peter’s gospel after attempting to preach “his gospel” a couple of verses earlier to those blasphemers in the synagogue, but finally ending his stint there with “his gospel.”

  17. When you say that the Bible
    doesn’t tell us something,
    you’ve probably not studied
    the Greek New Testament.

    The Lord says: “I will show
    him (Paul) great things he
    must suffer for my sake.”
    Acts 9:16.

    The Lord taught Paul – in
    Arabia – at least 3 things.

    1. Paul must get rid of his
    Jewish snobbery, and learn
    to get along with many kinds of people.

    a. The word “Arabia” is
    related to the Hebrew word
    “ah-rev” – which means
    “to mingle, so that you
    can advertise what you
    have to offer.”

    b. The Arabs – with their
    caravans and market-places
    – were good in this.

    c. Paul – in I Cor. 9:19-23
    – says that he has become
    all things to all men – so
    that he can win some.

    2. “ah-rev” means “to be
    dark” – pertaining to skin

    a. This relates to the Arabs. It relates to
    Paul’s mission to the
    Gentiles of various races
    and cultures.

    3. “ah-rev” pertains to
    weather conditions: both
    the coolness of evening,
    which saves from the heat
    of the desert. “ah-rev”
    is related to both coolness
    and heat.

    a. This is related to the

    b. Paul speaks of the
    hardships of his journeys
    in II Cor. 11:26. His
    main weather adversary
    was the sea wind in Acts
    24:17 – when he suffered

    4. To be practical:
    a. Does your ego get in
    the way of your sharing
    the gospel?

    b. Do you share the gospel
    with people of different
    races and cultures?

    c. Do you share the gospel
    – rain or shine?

    I have found that I need
    the Bible in front of me;
    Strong’s Hebrew and Greek
    Concordance to my right;
    and the American Dictionary
    on my left. Bill S.

  18. This is shortly after the Apostle Paul’s conversion (Acts 9).

    It is likely that the Apostle Paul went to Arabia to commune with God (Galatians 1:17). The passages in Galatians 1:15 & 1:16 indicates, “was pleased to reveal His Son in me”. The first thing Paul wanted to do is to draw near and commune with the Creator as He has revealed His Son in him and not to immediately consult with people. Thus he did not “immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did he go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him; but he went away to Arabia” (Galatians 1:16 & 17).

    Paul’s relationship with God was everything to him and all else was “loss and rubbish”. Philippians 3:8, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

  19. because there is the mountain of God….in arabia,,,in median region of now a days called Saudi Arabia….in a place called jethro son of Mosesfrom a Woman in Arabian Desert.

  20. He went into the desert to die to the old self. The discples also were trained for three years. There’s nothing in the desert, that’s why you don’t read any info. the same with John the Baptist. It is to deal with sin and made holy and ready for the Lord.

  21. Paul went to be taught by Christ Jesus himself as to the Mystery of the Church which had been revealed to Paul, for the first time.
    Paul was also instructed as the other disciples were so instructed..
    Col 1:26+
    Here was given the mystery hidden in God, then he was taught..

  22. I know that this conversation was posted in 2007 and now it is 2012 – but I was just doing some research on “Paul’s Mission, or Commission.”

    Now, this is based upon a Theory… Just like many of the other posts that I have viewed, but if we return to the Torah – during the Exodus, there is a “possible” parting of ways with “Hobab” (Moses’ brother-in-law – Son of Jethro). Hobab wishes to return to his own land. (Numbers 10:29-32)

    Now, History would have it that in the city of Medina (Arabia), there was a Large “Jewish” Community.

    In fact, in the story of Mohammad, he runs to Medina to “Other Mono-theists” for support, but the Jews of Medina reject his coaxing to join him to battle the Pagans of Mecca. (This, and not from Ishmael, is where the animosity begins, as is so commonly accepted).

    Now, WHY-OH-WHY, is there a large Jewish Community in Medina of Arabia?

  23. My Theory is that this is the land of Ra’uel, the descendants of Jethro. It is my belief that THIS is where Paul went, sent by the LORD into the “Galut” (Outside of the land of Israel) to share the Gospel with His Children in Arabia.

    There is a hierarchical order within “The Great Commission.” 1) Jerusalem (The Heart) – Judea (The Home Country) – Samaria (The outer part within) and the Outer Most parts of the World.

    Notice how Paul always visits the Synagogues first? “To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” Romans 1:16 – This was the meaning of the Great Commission, and WHY it was presented this way.

    Therefore, Paul – Although he may have visited Horeb – this was not the target of his stay. He spent time in Medina sharing Messiah Yeshua with His Jewish breather, and I’m sure the Gentiles amongst them, as well.

  24. I stumbled across this discussion, while doing research on Paul’s so-called “Special Gospel.” Re: Daniel Lancaster’s book “Galatians.”

    I do not believe for a moment that Paul was teaching a different Gospel than what was ordained by the Church in Jerusalem. Even though he says that He was not a “Sheliach” of men, but of Messiah Yeshua Himself, Paul wasn’t teaching something contrary to the Church in Jerusalem.

    However, what my study is bringing me to, is that Paul was not breaking the Law, in order to do this, but rather that He was working under a “Special Dispensation.”

    This special dispensation is revealed by Yeshua in Matthew 9:9-13, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    This is to say, that it was against Torah for a Jew to associate with those outside the Law. (Acts 10:28) – But Paul received this same revelation as Peter, and this is why he rebukes him in Galatians 2.

  25. Never the less, as much as I do not “Bash” Paul for his outreach to the Gentiles, I strongly appose the point of view that Paul taught that The Law was “Finished.” If there is “No Law,” or we are “No longer under the Law,” this would be to state that we are “Above the Law.”

    Simple Logic would dictate that without the Law, there is no Sin, and if there is no Sin, then there is no need of Salvation from it.

    Therefore, Yeshua hasn’t done away with ‘The Law,’ but rather the condemnation that comes with The Law.

    The Law is still the Law. Paul was simply teaching that “Salvation,” is not “Achieved” by The Law, but rather it is “Given” through “Faith” in God’s Promise, which is Messiah Yeshua.

    That being said, “Faith without Works is dead,” and to “Sin, because we are Saved anyway,” is not the purpose of Paul’s Message.

    The so-called “Old Testament” as some of us still call “The Torah,” is still alive and well. It is God’s Eternal Word — That same Word that became Flesh to dwell among us. There is so much hidden within these words – In Hebrew – Hidden FOR us, not FROM us. (Matthew 13:11)

    Either way – Keep studying and drawing closer to the heart of HaShem, and “Shabbat Shalom,” or was that Yesterday? Blessings…

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