Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, is more commonly known as St. Paul and is potentially the most important missionary of early Christendom. He was born around 5 AD or perhaps as early as 10 BCE and lived until approximately 67 AD. He is also known as Saul of Tarsus because this was his name before his conversion to Christianity (Acts 9:11). Paul was born in Cilicia in what is now Turkey and eventually became a great follower of Christianity and would spread the word of Jesus Christ far and wide. At that time, Cilicia was part of the Roman Empire and thus Paul was born a Roman citizen (Borg 2012,-page 67). Despite being a Roman citizen, Paul’s early life was controlled by his Jewish views and indeed he held opinions that the members of the Jewish population were ethnically superior to all other people (Horrell 2006,-page 30). Very little information is known about Paul’s early life or his family. His father is referenced briefly when he is called “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6). Later in the book of Acts, a reference is made to Paul’s “sister’s son” which indicates both that he had a sister at some point and that she bore a boy which was Paul’s nephew (Acts 23:16). His conversions of non-Christians led to the spread of the religion throughout the world.
The man who became known as St. Paul was a man who started life hating the Christians. He was born into a strict Jewish family who practiced the orthodox religion and demanded that their son be instilled with the same beliefs as his parents and ancestors, all of whom were Jewish. As a young man he contributed to the torture and abuse of the followers of Jesus (Acts 8:1). It is assumed that Paul belonged to the Shammaite School which was a group who often committed atrocities against Christians (Wright, page 694). His hatred of Christians is ironic when examining what he was to do for the religion later in the life. During his years of hate mongering he even contributed to the stoning to St. Stephen one of the early martyrs of Christendom. It is said that one day between 31 and 36 AD, Paul was on his way to Damascus where he was intent to hunt down more of Jesus’ followers. However on the way he was witness to a miracle (Barnett 2002,-page 21). There was light all around him which made him blind and then the voice of Jesus Christ spoke to him and encouraged him to go to Damascus for his conversion and he would be given back his sight. He later claimed that what he envisioned was the resurrected Jesus who came to him with a specific quest which was to spread the word. After his experience he relinquished his Jewish faith and instead began preaching to all that would hear him that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God (Acts 9:20). From a person who had once hated Christianity, Paul became the religion’s greatest supporter, becoming known as the second founder of Christianity.
There was a great difference between the teachings of Jesus Christ and those of Paul. Whereas Jesus’ word was dedicated to spreading love and affection based on the ancient tenements of Judaism, Paul was interested and insistent on changing the behaviors of all Christians. Part of his version of the religion was a walking away from the traditions of the Jewish ancestors and an embracing of completely new ideas.
During his time as a missionary, Paul travelled to far away nations such as Greece, Turkey, and Syria. Before Paul, Christianity was taught only to Jewish people and they only tried to convert those who belonged to the Jewish faith. Paul was the first missionary to try to convert people of different faiths, such as the Romans who controlled much of the world at the time. Paul also initiated new practices into what would become established Christian beliefs such as actions which would come to define “Christian charity” or Christian behaviors. Paul told others that they should not tell lies, steal, or cheat others in trade or bartering. He said that love was the most important component of Jesus’ teachings. Also, he made demands regarding marriage which would become Christian principle, that divorced people were forbidden to remarry and that men and women should be monogamous and have only one spouse rather than the multiple wives of the more extravagant Romans.
Several times enemies of Christianity tried to assassinate Paul after he began converting people to the religion. When Paul was a very old man he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for his work spreading the word of Jesus in the year 57 AD (Paul 2005). At that time, he was warned that the Jews of Jerusalem were angry at Paul for telling other Jewish people not to circumcise their children and to stop following the laws of the Jewish religion. He appeared at the sacred Jewish temple in Jerusalem which angered the Jewish population and he had to be hidden away for two years to avoid being murdered. In 60 AD, Paul arrived in Rome where he was under house arrest for another several years (Acts 28:16). It is said that Paul was then sentenced to death but that the specifics are not given of how or when his death came. What is known is that he was martyred at some point. If he was killed as a Roman citizen then he was likely beheaded, but it is likely that since he was not a Roman citizen, Paul may have died a more painful death, getting crucified upside down (Lashway). However, Paul was not afraid and said he was happy to die for his Savior.
Barnett, P. (2002). Jesus, the Rise of Early Christianity: a History of the New Testament Times.
The Bible. Chelsea House: New York, NY.
Borg, M (2012). The first Paul. Harper One. 67.
Horrell, D. (2006). An Introduction to the Study of Paul. T&T Clark: New York, NY.
Lashway, C. How and where did the apostle Paul die?. Retrieved from http://www.biblestudy.org/question/sauldie.html
Paul, St. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford: New York, NY.
Wright, N.T. Paul, Arabia, and Elijah. Journal of Biblical Literature. 115. 683-92.
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