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Did Paul persecute the Church for years, or was the timeframe shorter, as in months? What do most scholars believe regarding this?

Acts 8:3 (BLB) - But Saul was destroying the church. Entering houses after houses and dragging off men and women, he was delivering them to prison.

Acts 9:1, 2 (BSB) - Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord. He approached the high priest and requested letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

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  • We are not told so we do not know.
    – Dottard
    Dec 27, 2023 at 19:26

1 Answer 1

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There is no definite answer to this question. Essentially, the chronology of Saul's persecution of the church revolves around acts 8:1-3 -

And Saul approved of his [Stephen's] execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

We have two possibilities:

  1. Persecution against the Christian church began with the stoning of Stephen

This appears to be what the text of Acts 6-8 implies because

  • nothing before the incident of Stephen's trial suggests widespread persecution apart from the hostility of the Jews
  • Acts 8:2 specifically says that the stoning of Stephen appears to have released much built-up hostility of the Jewish authorities toward Christians

If this is true, then the text of Acts 8:1-3 appears to imply that Saul was one of the instruments of the Jewish authorities hostilities and persecution of the church. This implies that Saul's persecution lasted between the events of Acts 8:1 and Acts 9:3 when Saul was converted to Christianity. The events between these two imply a time period of perhaps one year (??) but we cannot be sure.

  1. Persecution against the Christian Church began before the Stoning of Stephen

I think this less likely but still possible because the verb "destroying" (describing Paul's persecution) is imperfect and thus should be translated "was destroying" implying a continuous action.

If this is true, then perhaps Saul had been on his campaign before the stoning of Stephen for an unknown time. This means that Paul may have been on his persecution mission for perhaps two years (??).

As stated above, I prefer option #1 above; but we cannot be sure.

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