The Apostle Paul has always been one of my favourite historical followers of Jesus. He worked relentlessly in spreading the Good News and left no stone unturned in promoting the Gospel. I really look forward to meeting him when I get to heaven. It’s funny how you can paint a picture in your mind of what an individual is like. He was obviously very intelligent, very logical in unfolding God’s truths, both to the Jews and of course to the Gentiles. He is the author of 13 of the New Testament books and also considered the author of Hebrews by some, although the author of Hebrews does not give his name.
Because of the style of his writing and the manner in which he puts forth his case, I thought of Paul as a good sized man who possessed authoritative speaking skills, totally focused on spreading the truth, yet humble and very loving. Some of that is true and some not so much. One of the things that I love about the Bible is that the Biblical characters including the Apostle Paul are not portrayed as super humans but people that are just like you and I in many ways.
In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth we can see how Paul was worried how they would respond to his first letter to them and the pride that he had in their faith and response to his observations and recommendations. And then, starting in chapter 10 Paul makes a defence for himself with regard to his ministry. And this is where you get a closer look at the man behind the letters. In 2 Corinthians 10: 10 NIV he states, “For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” In chapter 11 at verse 5-6 NIV he states “I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles. I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.” And then Paul gives a summary of some of the things that he has had to endure for spreading the Gospel in verses NIV 23 through 29: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” Here we can see Paul stating his case on what he has endured, in comparison to some of the other Apostles. He admits that he is speaking like a fool by doing this but he wants them to know that they are his children in the Lord and that even though he is not one of the original 12 Apostles, his ministry is just as valid as their’s is. That is a real departure from the norm for Paul and we see a human side of Paul that is not normally exposed to this degree. No one can say that Paul did not give his ministry his best shot.
At age thirteen Saul was sent to Israel to learn from a rabbi named Gamaliel, under whom Saul mastered Jewish history, the Psalms and the works of the prophets. His education would continue for five or six years as Saul learned such things as dissecting Scripture. It was during this time that he developed a question-and-answer style known in ancient times as “diatribe.” This method of articulation helped rabbis debate the finer points of Jewish law to either defend or prosecute those who broke the law. Saul went on to become a lawyer, and all signs pointed to his becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of 71 men who ruled over Jewish life and religion. Saul was zealous for his faith, and this faith did not allow for compromise. It is this zeal that led Saul down the path of religious extremism.
Because of his extremism Saul might have been present at the trial of Stephen. He was present for his stoning and death and he held the garments of those who did the stoning (Acts 7:58). In Acts 5:27-42, Peter delivered his defence of the gospel and of Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin, which Saul heard. Gamaliel was also present and delivered a message to calm the council and prevent them from stoning Peter. From that moment on, Saul became even more determined to eradicate Christians as he watched the Sanhedrin flog Peter and the others. Saul became more ruthless in his pursuit of Christians as he believed he was doing it in the name of God. Arguably, there is no one more frightening or more vicious than a religious terrorist, especially when he believes that he is doing the will of the Lord by killing innocent people. This is exactly what Saul of Tarsus was: a religious terrorist. Acts 8:3 states, “He began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
The pivotal passage in Paul’s story is Acts 9:1-22, which recounts Paul’s meeting with Jesus Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, a journey of about 150 miles. Saul was angered by what he had seen and filled with murderous rage against the Christians. Before departing on his journey, he had asked the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for permission to bring any Christians (followers of “the Way,” as they were known) back to Jerusalem to imprison them. On the road Saul was caught up in a bright light from heaven which caused him to fall face down on the ground. He hears the words, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He says, “Who are you Lord?” Jesus answers directly and clearly, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (vv. 4-5). As an aside, this might not have been Saul’s first encounter with Jesus, as some scholars suggest that young Saul might have known of Jesus and that he might have actually witnessed His death.
As a result of this miraculous transformation, Saul became known as Paul (Acts 13:9). Paul spent time in Arabia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria and his native Cilicia, and Barnabas enlisted his help to teach those in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:25). Interestingly, the Christians driven out of Israel by Saul of Tarsus founded this multiracial church (Acts 11:19-21). Paul took his first of three missionary journeys in the late 40s A.D. Paul wrote many of the New Testament books. Most theologians are in agreement that he wrote Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These 13 “letters” (books) make up the “Pauline Authorship” and are the primary source of his theology. As previously noted, the book of Acts gives us a historical look at Paul’s life and times. The Apostle Paul spent his life proclaiming the risen Christ Jesus throughout the Roman world, often at great personal peril. It is assumed that Paul died a martyr’s death in the mid-to-late 60s A.D. in Rome.
Saul the Pharisee lawyer who went on to become Paul the Apostle, all because of Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus. A special calling for a normal man who became a special Apostle.