CLAIM: Scholars have referred to this period of Paul’s life as “Paul’s Lost Years.” Many have held that Paul was reflecting on the Old Testament out in the wilderness somewhere like Elijah. Perhaps, during these so-called “Lost Years,” Paul was studying to become an official minister in the church. Is this the case?
RESPONSE: A careful reading of the text shows us that Paul was busy planting churches during this time before he was “officially commissioned” by the church. In Paul’s first missionary journey, he travelled west to Pamphylia by boat, and he reached the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. However, he didn’t travel through the regions of Cilicia or Syria. In Acts 15:23, we read, “They sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia…” Even though Paul was never in these regions of Cilicia and Syria on his first missionary journey, the Jerusalem Council decided to write their letter to these churches, which existed there. But, who planted these churches? Later, we read, “After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are…’ 41And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:36, 41). This is an interesting verse to ponder, because Paul never went to these regions on his first missionary journey. He must have planted these churches earlier.
In Galatians 1:21, Paul wrote, “I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” Here, Paul explicitly wrote that he was in these regions. Therefore, he must have planted these groups himself. For these reasons, it seems highly unlikely that Paul isolated himself for the purpose of study during these “Lost Years.” Instead, it is clear that Paul immediately began to serve Christ in highly practical ways.