Philip Kern reviews Paul Barnett's Paul in Syria: The Background to Galatians

Paul Barnett, a leading historian of early Christianity, investigates the period sometimes labelled the “unknown years” of Paul’s ministry (i.e. the 14 years between his Damascus Road experience and first missionary journey), in order to provide a foundation for interpreting Galatians. He convincingly accounts for Paul’s activities during that span, and offers a compelling interpretation of sections of Galatians based on his reconstruction.

Barnett refutes the assumption that Paul spent those years in Antioch and was formed by his experiences there. Where many assert that Paul’s view of the Christ was shaped by his interaction with pagans in Antioch (and so distorts a simpler, early Jewish faith), Barnett argues that Paul worked for eight of the 14 years in Tarsus, with hardly more than 12 months in Antioch. And during his extended time in Tarsus and Cilicia, preceding both Antioch and the first missionary journey, Paul was already preaching to Gentiles.

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