Afflictions, Trials, Hardships
Paul refers frequently to his trials and afflictions, sometimes cataloging them in his letters. He appears to have found persecution at the hands of the Jews the most difficult of his afflictions to bear. Paul's letters nevertheless reflect a positive attitude toward afflictions.
1.1. The Most Comprehensive Catalog. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 Paul's trials and afflictions are listed in great detail. The passage falls into four parts, each reflecting a different aspect of these afflictions:
(1) Verses 23b-25: imprisonments, beatings and being near death, including five occasions when he received the thirty-nine lashes (i.e., the maximum allowed minus one) at the hands of the Jews, three times when he was beaten with rods by Gentiles, one stoning and three shipwrecks.
(2) Verse 26: frequent journeys, with their accompanying dangers of rivers, bandits and Jews as well as Gentiles; dangers in the city, in the wilderness and at sea; and dangers from false Christians.
(3) Verse 27: toil and hardship, including sleepless nights (whether as privations or vigils), hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness.
(4) Verses 28-29: anxiety for all the churches.
1.2. Parallels in Ancient Literature. The attitude reflected in the writings of the Hellenistic moralists (e.g., Epictetus Diss. 3.12.10; 4.8.31; Seneca Ep. Mor. 13.1-3; Dio Chrysostom Diss. 3.3) and in some Jewish writings of the period (e.g, Wis 3:5-6; Sirach 2:1-5; Jdt 8:25-26; Pss. Sol. 16:14-15; T. Jos. 2:7; 4 Macc 17:11-16) is that hardship functions as a test of character.
Lists of afflictions were used by the Hellenistic moralists to depict serenity in the midst of suffering and to provide a model of endurance for their readers. They believed that sufferings played a part in the divine plan. In these respects they parallel Paul's attitude to hardships and his use of lists of afflictions. However, Paul differed radically from those who minimized the impact of afflictions and saw in their triumph over them a demonstration of their own power.* Paul frankly admitted the distress caused by his afflictions (2 Cor 1:8-9), and gloried in the fact that it was God's power, not his own, which enabled him to endure (2 Cor 12:9-10). These similarities and differences suggest that, if Paul was familiar with the lists of the Hellenistic moralists, he adopted and adapted the genre to suit his own purposes. Such adaptation was influenced by OT traditions about the sufferings of the righteous, by Jewish apocalyptic* ideas of end-time woes, and most importantly by Paul's own theology of the cross.*
Of the afflictions which Paul experienced, none receives more attention in his letters than persecution on account of the gospel.* He was persecuted by Jews, Gentiles and false Christians (2 Cor. 11:26), but it was persecution at the hand of the Jews to which he referred most frequently (cf., e.g., Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 11:24, 26; Gal 5:11; 1 Thess 2:14-16), suggesting he found this hardest to bear. Paul's letters provide several hints concerning the reasons for this persecution.
2.1. He Preached the Faith He Once Sought to Destroy. According to Acts 9:1-2, Paul formerly persecuted the church with the backing of the high priest. Following his conversion he switched sides and preached the faith he once sought to destroy (Gal 1:23; see Jealousy, Zeal). It is no wonder that the Jewish leaders felt a great antipathy toward him, leading to his persecution.
2.2. He Regarded Cherished Elements of Judaism as Rubbish. Following his conversion Paul underwent a reversal of values. He now regarded the most cherished elements of Judaism as "rubbish" compared with the excellency of knowing Christ (Phil 3:4-8). If he was known to have adopted such an attitude towards Judaism, and to be promoting a similar attitude among others, it is little wonder he drew down Jewish persecution upon his head.
2.3. He Encouraged Jews to Neglect the Law of. Moses. Paul strongly rebuked Jewish believers for not being prepared to free themselves from the Law's* demands for ritual purity* when these kept them from sharing table fellowship with Gentiles (Gal 2:11-21). Thus it would not be surprising if he fell foul of zealous Jews who persecuted those of their nation who encouraged violations of the Law.
2.4. He Did Not Preach Circumcision. The reasons why Paul suffered Jewish persecution mentioned so far can only be inferred from hints found in his letters. For this fourth reason we have the evidence of an explicit statement: "Why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed" (Gal 5:11 NRSV; see Circumcision).
2.5. He Relaxed Ethical Demands. While Paul would have pleaded guilty to the charges lying behind the reasons for persecution suggested above, he strongly denied the charge that he relaxed ethical demands. It was, as far as he was concerned, a piece of blasphemous slander (Rom 3:7-8). Nevertheless, because this was what his Jewish opponents believed of him, it probably contributed to the reasons why he suffered persecution at their hands.
The apostle did not offer a comprehensive solution to the problem of suffering. However his letters do reveal something of the ways in which he came to understand its meaning.
3.1. The Destiny and Privilege of Believers. When seeking to encourage his converts, Paul reminded them that they had been granted the privilege "not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well" (Phil 1:29 NRSV). This was something for which they had been destined (1 Thess 3:3-4; cf. 2 Tim 3:12).
3.2. Sharing Christ's Sufferings. Paul believed that his sufferings* filled up what was lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of the church (Col 1:24). This should not be taken to mean that there was something lacking in Christ's atoning sacrifice.* Rather Paul shared the sufferings of the Servant-Messiah (see Christ) inasmuch as he too suffered for. the sake of the elect in bringing the gospel to them (cf. 2 Tim 2:10).
3.3. The Discipline of Afflictions. One of the fruits of justification* is that believers are enabled to rejoice in afflictions (Rom 5:3). Believers do not find affliction less hurtful than others, but they know that under God's good hand it produces endurance, character and hope* in God* (Rom 5:3-4). It was through despair of life itself that Paul learned not to rely on himself but on God (2 Cor 1:8-9).
3.4. Suffering and Comfort. During the struggle with his "thorn in the flesh" Paul was comforted when the Lord told him that the power of Christ is made perfect in human weakness* (2 Cor 12:8-9). Paul came to understand that one of the reasons why he suffered was that, as he experienced the comfort of God in the midst of his sufferings, so he might be able to comfort others (2 Cor 1:3-7).
Bibliography. J. T. Fitzgerald, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel: An Examination of the Catalogue of Hardships in the Corinthian Correspondence (SBLDS 99; Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1988); A. Fridrichsen, "Zum Stil des paulinischen Peristasenkatalogs. 2 Cor. 11, 23ft," SO 7 (1928) 25-29; idem, "Peristasenkatalog und res gestae: Nachtrag zu 2 Cor. 11, 23ff," SO 8 (1929) 78-82; S. R. Garrett, "The God of this World and the Affliction of Paul: 2 Cor 4:1-12," in Greeks, Romans, and Christians: Essays in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe, ed. D. L. Balch, et al. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 99-117; E. Kamlah, "Wie beurteilt Paulus sein Leiden?" ZNW 54 (1963) 217-32; C. G. Kruse, "The Price Paid for a Ministry Among Gentiles: Paul's Persecution at the Hands of the Jews," in Worship, Theology and Ministry in the Early Church: Essays in Honor of Ralph P. Martin, ed. M. J. Wilkins and T. Paige (Sheffield: JSOT, 1992) 260-72; W. Schrage, "Leid, Kreuz und Eschaton: Die Peristasenkatologe als Merkmale paulinischer theologia crucis und Eschatologie," EvT 34 (1974) 141-75.
C. G. Kruse
—Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
Itineraries, Travel, Plans, Journeys, Apostolic Parousia
Paul traveled extensively in the ancient world in fulfillment of his commission from the risen Christ* to be an apostle* to the Gentiles.* Our sources are sufficient for us to outline much of his itinerary and to discuss Paul's motivation for his journeys.
The primary source for Paul's itinerary must be his letters as these provide firsthand evidence. Since Paul's letters are occasional documents and do not cover all of his career, they do not tell us of all of Paul's travels. On the other hand, Acts, our main secondary source, describes Paul's travels in detail. Methodologically it is important to examine Paul's letters first and ascertain what information they provide. Second, we will outline the evidence of Acts and, finally, we will see to what extent the evidence can be integrated.
2.1. The Early Years. The revelation of Christ to Paul
occurred in or near
Paul then returned to
After fourteen years Paul went up again to
2.2. Founding the Galatian Churches. Paul first preached the gospel* to the Galatians because of an illness (Gal 4:13; see Healing); he does not relate this founding visit to any other event. That he first visited Galatia before he wrote 1 Corinthians (see 2.4 below) is clear from 1 Corinthians 16:1, but Paul gives us no more information about when this was. It is debated whether Paul visited places like Ancyra and Pessinus (the North Galatian view) or Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (the South Galatian view). Whether to proteron (Gal 4:13, "earlier" or "the first time") indicates that Paul made a second visit before he wrote Galatians is also debated (see Galatians).
2.4. Ministry in
Paul outlines his future travel plans in 1 Corinthians
16:1-8. He hoped to go to
Paul then went to
Before Paul wrote Romans he had preached the gospel in
2.6. Letters from Prison. Paul is in prison as he writes
10, 18) and Philemon*
(1). From Philippians
we know that Paul, planned a visit to
2.7. The Pastoral Letters. G. D. Fee (3-5), arguing that the
Pastorals* are genuinely Pauline and come from a period after Paul's release
from prison in
This outline of events cannot easily be fitted into Paul's ministry as it
can be reconstructed from his other letters and Acts, and requires us to assume
that Paul undertook further travels after release from Rome, for which we have
no other clear evidence. Further, it is noted that if Paul was released from
2.8. Other Travels. On a number of occasions Paul lists some of the hardships he has endured, and often these refer to his experiences while traveling.* For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:25b-27 he says:
Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, . . . in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. (NRSV; see also 1 Cor 4:11; 2 Cor 6:4-5)
Since many of these experiences are unknown to us, these passages serve to remind us of how many gaps there are in our knowledge of Paul's life.
2.9. Summary. From Paul's occasional letters, which do not cover all of his career, we are able to arrive at the following itinerary (excluding evidence for travel after Paul's Roman imprisonment, since this is debated):
(2) Founding visit to Galatian churches at some point
3.1. Definition. Certain passages in Paul's letters have been identified by Funk on the basis of their form and content as literary units concerned with the theme of the "apostolic parousia," that is, the presence of apostolic authority* and power.* In these passages Paul reminds readers of his apostolic authority by making his presence felt through the letter itself, by reference to the visit of an emissary or to Paul's coming visit. The letter and the envoy are anticipatory substitutes for Paul's own personal presence when he cannot travel, but both function as a means of conveying his apostolic presence.
Thus, these apostolic parousia sections remind the readers of Paul's apostolic authority by making his presence felt in these three related ways. The presence of Paul in person was the primary medium by which he made his apostolic authority effective (1 Cor 4:19; Phil 1:24-25), and he would rather have conveyed his information in person than by letter or via an emissary, but these two substitutes were sometimes necessary. An envoy did not have the same power as Paul himself had, as he implied in 1 Corinthians 4:17-20: Timothy would remind them, whereas Paul himself would put their power to the test.
3.2. Form. Funk identified the following passages as concerned with the apostolic parousia: Romans 1:8-15; 15:14-33; 1 Corinthians 4:14-21; 2 Corinthians 12:14-13:13; Galatians 4:12-20; Philippians 2:19-24; 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13; Philemon 21-22. Funk (252-53) suggested that the apostolic parousia had five formal units; however, Jervis (113-14) has since proposed that there are in fact only three functional units of the apostolic parousia. These concern:
(1) Paul's writing of the letter* (including the manner in which he is writing) a reference to Paul's apostolic authority to write, and an appeal to fall into line with his teaching.
(2) Paul's dispatch of an emissary, including the credentials of the emissary and what Paul expects the emissary to do.
(3) Paul's visit and its purpose, along with either (a) the announcement of a visit, including Paul's submission to God's will in this matter, or (b) the desire to visit, including his desire and prayer to see his readers, a recognition that he has been hindered from coming and an expression of love* or concern for the readers.
Each of these units or sub-units need not be present in each passage. In fact the visit unit is the only one that occurs in every letter and only 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 contains all three units.
3.3. Significance. Clearly Paul attached great significance to his presence with his congregations and hence to his visits, and this is clear in the content of the apostolic parousia sections and elsewhere. In Galatians 4:20 he writes "How I wish I were present with you now and could exchange my voice [for this letter]." Paul can also speak of his presence in terms of power. In 1 Corinthians 4:19-21 he writes:
"I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I
will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the
Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? (NRSV)
In response to the charge that he wrote bold letters but his bodily presence was weak* he replies: "Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present" (2 Cor 10:11 NRSV; cf. 2 Cor 13:10). As Funk (265) comments:
"Paul's power is bound to the weakness of Christ, it is true, but that
power, even in weakness, is capable of making itself felt." Hence he
promises to show no leniency when he arrives in
We see then the significance Paul attached to his actual presence and to the oral word. This is one of the reasons he often prays that he may be able to visit (1 Thess 3:10-11; Rom 1:10; 15:30-32). It is because of his understanding of the significance of his presence that he gathers the items which concern his presence, either in person or via the substitute of a letter or an envoy, into discreet sections in his letters and thus uses the form which has been called the "apostolic parousia."
As apostle to the Gentiles, Paul traveled to proclaim the gospel. As he
writes in 1
Corinthians 9:16: "An obligation is laid on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." This compulsion led Paul to
travel across the ancient world to preach the gospel and establish churches (Rom 10:14-15; 2 Cor
often while enduring great hardship (2 Cor 11:23-27). In Romans 15:19-20
we see the vision that motivated Paul's travels. He has preached from
Yet Paul traveled not only to preach the gospel and establish churches, but
also to nurture and encourage his churches that they might be firmly established.
Thus Paul often expressed his longing to see a congregation that he may, for
example, supply what was lacking in their faith* (1 Thess
3:10; see also 1 Cor 16:5-7; 2 Cor 13:9-10). This accords well with Acts where Paul
regularly revisits congregations to strengthen and encourage them (Acts 14:21-23;
15:36, 41; 16:1-5; 18:23; 20:1-2). Paul
also traveled extensively because of the need to attend to difficult situations
in his congregations, particularly at
Paul traveled extensively in connection with the Collection* to which he devoted much time and energy (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:25-26). For Paul the Collection symbolized the unity of the churches and the validity of the salvation* of the Gentiles. That Paul was willing to risk his life to deliver the Collection (Rom 15:31) indicates the strength of his motivation in this regard.
There was a good deal of flexibility and change in Paul's travel plans,
sometimes because of necessity. He notes his plans were hindered by Satan (1 Thess 2:17-18) and that he was unable to travel to
Paul knew that his travel plans were subject to God's will. To the Corinthians he says: "I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills" (1 Cor 4:19; cf. 16:7; Rom 1:10; 15:32). In Acts the Spirit guides Paul in various ways in his travels, and particularly initiates new phases of mission (Acts 11:27-30; 13:1-3; 16:6-10; 18:9-10).
5.1. The Sequence of Paul's Travels in Acts.
5.2. Issues Arising from the Account in Acts. Acts is often
taken to imply that Paul undertook three "journeys" during which he
was continually on the move. However, this is a misleading modern deduction.
The account in Acts is too complex to be analyzed simply in terms of three
journeys, since Paul actually "settles down" for an extended period