Saint Paul of Tarsus

Saint Paul of Tarsus (originally Saul of Tarsus) or Saint Paul, the Apostle (c. 3 - c. 66) is considered by many Christians to be the most important disciple of Jesus, and next to Jesus the most important figure in the development of Christianity.

Paul, was born as Saul in Tarsus of Cilicia (AD 3 ? 67) and received a Jewish education. Paul was a Roman citizen - a privilege he used a number of times to defend his dignity, including appealing his conviction in Iudaea Province to Rome. Because Paul never mentions this privilege in the epistles, some scholars have expressed skepticism as to whether Paul actually possessed citizenship - such an honor was uncommon during his lifetime. He was a persistent persecutor of early Christians, almost all of whom were Jewish.

Paul himself admits that he at first persecuted Christians to the death (Philippians 3:6), but later embraced the belief that he had fought against. Acts 9:1 - 9 describe the vision Paul had of Jesus on the Road to Damascus, a vision that led him to dramatically reverse his opinion. Paul himself offers no clear description of the event in any of his surviving letters. However, Paul did write that Jesus appeared to him “last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8 KJV), and frequently claimed that his authority as “Apostle to the Gentiles” came directly from God (Galatians 1:13 ? 16), and ‘not from man’.

Following his stay in Damascus after conversion, Paul first went to live in the Nabataean kingdom (which he called “Arabia") for an unknown period, then came back to Damascus, which by this time was under Nabatean rule. After three more years (Galatians 1:17;20) he was forced to flee from that city, via the Bab Kisan (The Kisan Gate), under the cover of night (Acts 9:23;25; 2 Corinthians 11:32ff.) because of the explosive reaction to his preaching by some of the strict Jews.

Many years after his conversion to Christianity, Paul traveled to Jerusalem, where he met Saint Peter and James the Just. Following this visit to Jerusalem, Paul’s own writings and Acts slightly differ on his next activities. Acts states he went to Antioch, whence he set out to travel through Cyprus and southern Asia Minor to preach of Christ - a labor that has come to be known as his “First Missionary Journey” (13:13, 14:28). Paul merely mentions that he preached in Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:18 ? 20); and though Acts states that Paul later “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41), it does not explicitly state that these were churches founded by Paul on a previous journey. It does not explain who else other than Paul might have founded the churches.

About AD 49, after fourteen years of preaching, Paul traveled to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to meet with the leaders of the Jerusalem church - namely James the Just, Saint Peter, and John the Apostle; an event commonly known as the Council of Jerusalem. The accounts of Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1-10 view this event from different perspectives. Acts states that Paul was the head of a delegation from the Antiochene church that came to discuss whether new converts needed to be circumcised.

Paul spent the next few years traveling through western Asia Minor - this time entering Macedonia - and founded his first Christian church in Philippi, where he encountered harassment. Paul then traveled along the Via Egnatia to Thessalonica, where he stayed for some time before departing for Greece. First he came to Athens, where he gave his legendary speech in Areios Pagos and said he was talking in the name of the “Unknown God” who was already worshipped there (17:16 ? 34); then he traveled to Corinth, where he settled for three years, and wrote 1 Thessalonians, the earliest of his letters to survive.

Again he ran into legal trouble in Corinth: on the complaints of a group of Jews, he was brought before the proconsul Gallio, who decided that it was a minor matter not worth his attention, and dismissed the charges (Acts 18:12 ? 16). From an inscription in Delphi that mentions Gallio, we are able to securely date this hearing as having occurred in the year 52, which aids in an accurate chronology of Paul’s life.

Following this hearing, Paul continued his preaching (usually called his Third Missionary Journey), traveling again through Asia Minor and Macedonia, to Antioch and back. He caused a great uproar in the theatre in Ephesus, where local silversmiths feared loss of income due to Paul’s activities. Their income relied on the sale of silver statues of the goddess Artemis, whom they worshipped; and the resulting mob almost killed him (Acts 19:21 ? 41) and his companions. Later, as Paul was passing near Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem, Paul chose not to stop since he was in haste to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost. The church here, however, was so highly regarded by Paul that he called the elders to Miletus to meet with him (Acts 20:16 - 38).

Upon Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem with the relief funds requested at the Council of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:10), Paul was recognized outside the Jewish Temple and was nearly beaten to death by a mob, who supposed that Paul had brought his traveling companion (a Greek) into the Temple, thus “defiling” it. After Paul’s subsequent rescue by the Roman guard and Paul’s imprisonment, Ananias the High Priest made accusations against Paul that resulted in his continued imprisonment awaiting various trials (Acts 24:1 ? 5). Paul claimed his right, as a Roman citizen, to be tried in Rome; but owing to the inaction of the governor Antonius Felix, Paul languished in confinement at Caesarea Palaestina for two years until a new governor, Porcius Festus, took office, held a hearing, and sent Paul by sea to Rome, where he spent another two years in detention (Acts 28:30).

Acts only recounts Paul’s life until he arrived in Rome, around 61; and although the details are not specific it is clear that he traveled much of the eastern Mediterranean Sea coastal area for twenty years prior (around 40 to 60), in what are often referred to as the Four Missionary Journeys. Some argue Paul’s own letters cease to furnish information about his activities long before then, although others (NIV Study Bibles, for example) date the last source of information being his second letter to Timothy, describing him languishing in a “cold dungeon” and passages indicating he knew that his life was about to come to an end. While Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and to Philemon may have been written while he was imprisoned in Rome (the traditional interpretation), they may have been written during his earlier imprisonments at Caesarea, or at Ephesus.

We are forced to turn to tradition for the details of Paul’s final years. One tradition holds (attested as early as in 1 Clement 5:7, and in the Muratorian fragment) that Paul visited Spain and Britain. While this was his intention (Romans 15:22 ? 7), the evidence is inconclusive. Another tradition places his death in Rome. Eusebius of Caesarea states that Paul was beheaded in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. This event has been dated either to the year 64, when Rome was devastated by a fire, or a few years later, to 67. One Gaius, who wrote during the time of Pope Zephyrinus, mentions Paul’s tomb as standing on the Via Ostensis. While there is little evidence to support any of these traditions, there is no evidence contradicting them, and no alternative traditions of Paul’s eventual fate. It is commonly accepted that Paul died as a martyr in Rome. According to Bede in Ecclesiastical History from Vatican library sources, his mortal remains were given to Oswy, King of Britain, by Pope Vitalian in AD 665.

Paul is venerated as a Saint by all the churches that honor them, including those of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican traditions, and some Lutheran sects. He is the “patron saint” of Malta, the City of London and has also had several cities named in his honor, including S?o Paulo, Brazil, and Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA. He did much to advance Christianity among the Gentiles, and is considered to be one source (if not the primary source) of early Church doctrine, and the founder of Pauline Christianity. His epistles form a fundamental section of the New Testament.

Theologians, especially those aligned with hyperdispensation interpretation, view the “Pauline distinctive” as a key to Biblical interpretation. This line of interpretation believes that Jesus’ earthly ministry was for the Jews, that is, that ministry recorded in the four biographic narratives of Jesus, particularly the Gospel of Matthew. According to this perspective, modern Christians necessarily have a different belief system since Christianity only arose as a result of the rejection by the Jews of Jesus as their Messiah and the opening of the gospel to the Gentiles.