Agape Bible Study

Saint Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles


The Resurrected Jesus to the disciple Ananias: ...for this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before gentiles (ethne goyim) and kings and before the people of Israel.  I myself will show him how much he must suffer for my name.  Acts 9:15


On June the 29th, 2008 the Solemnity of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul launched the Church's first ever celebration of the "Year of Saint Paul."  For the Church, this is a family celebration of a first generation apostle who carried the Gospel of salvation out into the Gentile world.  His impact on the teaching of the Gospel has been an intimate part of the faith formation of every professing Christian, because no other Christian writer has contributed as many Holy Spirit-inspired New Testament letters as St. Paul.  He wrote fourteen letters: nine letters to seven churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome, and four letters to individuals.  The fourteenth letter is the sermon addressed to the Jewish Christians, known as The Letter to the Hebrews.  It is a New Testament letter that some modern Bible scholars dispute was written by St. Paul but which Fathers and Doctors of the Church like Origen, Jerome, and Aquinas accepted as a Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture written by the indomitable St. Paul of Tarsus.


By his own account, St. Paul was born a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin in the city of Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia (Acts 22:3).  Cilicia was located on the southeastern coast of Turkey and its capital city, Tarsus, was strategically built on the Cydnus River about twenty miles from the Mediterranean Sea.  Tarsus was given special recognition by the Roman political leader Marc Antony who gave Tarsus the status of a Roman provincial capital.  It was in Tarsus in 41 BC that Marc Antony had a fateful meeting with Cleopatra VII of Egypt, a meeting that was the beginning of a love story and political alliance that would end in the tragedy of both their suicides eleven years later.  The privileges granted Tarsus by Marc Antony were confirmed and enlarged by his nemesis, Octavian, who adopted the throne name Augustus Caesar (ruled 27 BC - 14 AD) when he was affirmed as emperor by the Roman Senate.  Paul held dual citizenship in both Tarsus and Rome, and he enjoyed the rights and privileges awarded a citizen of both cities (Acts 16:37ff; 21:39; 22:25ff; 25:10ff).  Paul's much prized Roman citizenship would prove to be valuable to him several times in his missionary adventures.


This tenacious soldier of the Gospel of Jesus Christ did not start life with the Latin name "Paulus."  He was instead born with the very Israelite name Sha'ul. (1)   Circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, Paul was given the Hebrew name Sha'ul, in Hebrew meaning "to desire" or "to ask," as which is transliterated into English as "Saul."  He was probably named for the Israelite tribe of Benjamin's most illustrious member, Saul, the first King of Israel (1 Sam 9:1-31:13).  It was not uncommon for Jews in this period to use two names, their Hebrew name for use with fellow Jews and a Gentile name that facilitated their interaction in the pagan community.  Paul probably always used the two names, Sha'ul his Hebrew name and Paulus, his Latin name.  There are several examples of dual names in the New Testament.  John-Mark, the inspired writer of the second Gospel is one example. John-Mark was the son of a Jewish mother and a Roman father and a kinsman of St. Barnabas (Col 4:10).  Yehanan / Yehohanan was his Hebrew name and Marcus his Roman name.  Tabitha/Dorcas in Acts 9:36 and Symeon-Niger in Acts 13:1 are two other examples of Jews who also adopted Gentile names.


By his own account, Paul was an orthodox Jewish Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, who was born a citizen of Rome but who was called from his mother's womb to serve God (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Gal 1:15).  Paul's father must have provided some important service to the Empire to be granted Roman citizenship (Acts 22:27-28).  His wealth and influence probably contributed to Paul having the opportunity to receive a good education.  Paul spoke Greek, the international language of the era, Aramaic, the common language of the region, and Hebrew, the liturgical language of his people.  Paul must have been bright and studious.  As a youth, his father decided to enhance Paul's education by sending him to Jerusalem to study.  Paul must have been one of the brightest young men of his generation to have studied under the guidance of the great Jewish rabbic scholar and Sanhedrin council member, Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39; 22:3).  Paul probably studied with Gamaliel the customary three or four years and was then appointed an officer of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish civil and religious law court.  Paul was probably not lonely in Jerusalem.  His married sister and her family lived in the holy city (Acts 23:16).


The Sanhedrin was the same Jewish law court which condemned Jesus the night He was arrested in the Gethsemane garden.  It was also the court which ordered the arrest and beating of St. Peter, and the official body of Jewish civil law which permitted the unlawful stoning of St. Stephen (only Rome had the right to condemn a man to death).  Paul was serving as an officer in the Sanhedrin when he was the court's witness to the martyrdom of St. Stephen in circa 37AD (Acts 7:58-8:1). After St. Stephen's martyrdom, it was Paul's assignment as an officer of the Sanhedrin to hunt down, arrest, and persecute suspected follows of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 6:12-8:1; 22:3-5).  It was in this official role that Paul requested the High Priest send him to Damascus, Syria, with authorization to arrest Jewish-Christians who had fled persecution in Jerusalem. The turning point in Paul's life occurred when he encountered the risen Savior on the road to Damascus.  It is a story that is repeated three times by St. Luke in Acts of Apostles (9:1-19; 22:4-16; and 26:1-23).


Paul's encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road was not a gentle spiritual experience, it was a physical battering to the ground by the power of the divine Savior that left Paul both terrified and completely blind. Paul and his escort were within sight of the city of Damascus when a brilliant light from heaven engulfed them.  Paul and his companions collapsed to the ground, and Paul heard a voice saying to him in Hebrew: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?  It is hard for you, kicking against the goad (Acts 26:13-14). Realizing he was having an encounter with the divine, Paul asked: Who are you, Lord?  And the voice answered: I am the Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles, to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:15-18). 


The experience of the vision of light left Paul both dazed and in utter darkness.  It was necessary for his companions to lead a blind Paul to a house in Damascus where he remained, neither eating nor drinking, for three days (Acts 9:7-9).  For three days Paul suffered both physically and emotionally, realizing that in persecuting the New Covenant Church of Jesus of Nazareth that he had personally persecuted the Messiah, for the Resurrected Jesus of Nazareth made it clear in His accusation against Paul that the Church and the Messiah are One. 


On the third day, the Lord sent His servant Ananias to lay hands on Paul, to call down the power of God the Holy Spirit upon him, to restore his sight, and to admit Paul into the family of God through the rebirth of baptism by water and the spirit.  After he recovered his health, Paul withdrew to Arabia (Gal 1:16-17).  He may have settled in Petra, the capital of the kingdom of the Nabataean Arabs to the south of Damascus.  In Arabia, he prayed and studied for three years in preparation for the mission the Messiah gave him to spread the Gospel of salvation to the pagan Gentiles, to kings and to his own people (Acts 9:15).  After three years, Paul felt prepared to return to Damascus. 


In Damascus, Paul proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Jewish Synagogues, using his knowledge of Sacred Scripture together with all the skills of rhetoric by which the great Gamaliel had trained him: He confounded the Jews of Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:22).  Paul was drawing such a following and bringing so many Jews to profess Jesus as the Messiah that the opposing Jews formulated a plot to kill him.  The governor of Damascus, who was a servant of Nabataean King Aretas, sent guards throughout the city to capture Paul (2 Cor 11:32). To save Paul's life, it became necessary for his friends to help him escape from Damascus by lowering him over the walls of the city in a large basket (Acts 9:23; 2 Cor 11:33). (2)


Escaping from Damascus, Paul journeyed to Jerusalem and attempted to join the disciples of Jesus.  However, the members of the Jerusalem community remembered how vigorously Paul had persecuted the Church in the past and they were too afraid of him to believe his conversion experience.  The exception was Joseph Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus and a member of the Jerusalem faith community (Acts 4:36-37; 9:27).  With Barnabas' help, Paul was able to meet the Apostles (Gal 1:18ff).  Paul relates the experience of his first meeting with the leaders of the New Covenant Church and the more than two weeks he spent with St. Peter in his letter to the Church in Galatia: Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas (Kepha/Peter), and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother (Gal 1:18-19).  St. James was the Bishop of Jerusalem and a kinsman of the Lord Jesus who was martyred 62 AD.  But the community of Jesus' followers in Jerusalem was not ready to completely embrace him and Paul decided to return to his family in Tarsus. 


Paul was rescued from oblivion by Joseph Barnabas, who was selected by the Apostles to teach the faith community of Antioch, Syria.  Barnabas went to Paul in Tarsus and convinced him to come with him and to share in the mission to spread the Gospel as a teacher in the Church at Antioch, the first faith community to adopt the name "Christian." While they were serving the Church at Antioch, word was received from a Christian prophet that the Christian community in Jerusalem would soon be suffering from a universal famine.  The Christians of Antioch decided to send relief to their brothers living in Judea and chose Barnabas and Saul to deliver their contributions (Acts 11:27-30).  In returning from this trip to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas brought Barnabas' young kinsman, John-Mark, back to Antioch with them (Acts 12:24-25).


Sometime after his conversion to Christianity, Paul decided to only use the Latin patrician name Paulus (Acts chapter 13ff) in his work to spread the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles. It was Paul's home Church in Antioch, Syria that would help Paul fulfill his mission to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles by generously funding three of Paul's missionary journeys to Asia Minor and Greece, but he supplemented his income with his skill as a tent or prayer shawl maker (the Hebrew word for prayer shawl "talit" can also be translated as "tent"; see Acts 18:3).  It was the custom for all Jewish boys, no matter what their station in life, to learn a trade, and Paul had learned this trade as a youth to be able to support himself when necessary. 


The energetic faith community at Antioch launched the first missionary journey by commissioning Barnabas and Paul to undertake a journey that would carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to where the message of salvation had not yet been preached.  Barnabas' and Paul's first missionary journey took them to Cyprus (Barnabas' former home), Perga, Antioch Pisidia, and the cities of the province of Lycaonia during the years 45-49 AD (Acts 13-14).  It became their practice to first preach in the Jewish Synagogues before carrying their Gospel message to the Gentiles.  In most cases, the Jews rejected their message and even physically abused them, but the Gentiles warmly received them and embraced the message they preached that promised eternal life for those who believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.


Returning from their first successful missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas discovered that Jewish-Christian Pharisees visiting the Antioch community from Jerusalem had stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble.  The Antioch Church was a mixed Jewish and Gentile Christian assembly that functioned as a unified, faith-filled community.  The Jewish-Christian Pharisees from Jerusalem, however, informed the Gentile Christians of Antioch that unless they were circumcised and observed the other commands and prohibitions of Old Covenant law, they were not members of the New Covenant.  Paul and Barnabas were outraged, as was the entire Antioch community.  To clarify the matter, the community decided to send Paul and Barnabas as their representatives to Jerusalem to seek a decision by the Apostles as to what was required for conversion to the New Covenant faith. 


Many other Christian communities also sent representatives, and this meeting became the first great council of the Church.  Assembling in Jerusalem in 49-50 AD, the Apostles and the council met under the leadership of Christ's Vicar, St. Peter, and the presiding local bishop, St. James of Jerusalem.  The Council decided that circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses were not necessary: that those candidates for baptism must only refrain from eating meat sacrificed to idols, reject sexual immorality, avoid the meat of strangled animals, and not drink blood.  This decision of the universal Church at the Council of Jerusalem required of Gentiles what the Noachide Covenant had required in the time of Noah.  It was a covenant God made with all creation before Israel existed and thus included all Gentile peoples. (3)  Paul and Barnabas carried a letter with these instructions from the Council back to their faith community in Antioch.


This second visit to Jerusalem was, according to St. Paul, fourteen years after his first meeting with St. Peter: Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  Speaking of the Apostles he writes: ...and when they perceived the grace that was given me, James and Cephas (Peter) and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised... (Gal 2:1, 9).  Paul received the acceptance he had been denied fourteen years earlier.  He was welcomed and trusted by the Twelve and the Christians of Jerusalem and was recognized as an apostle of the Lord.


Shortly after their return from Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the Antioch community to take a second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-18:21).  However, the friendship previously enjoyed between Paul and Barnabas was marred by a falling out over Barnabas' young kinsman, John-Mark, the inspired writer of the second Gospel, who had accompanied them only part-way on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5, 13).  Mark and Barnabas left Paul and continued on their own mission back to Cyprus.  Paul chose Silas to accompany him as he continued his journey (Acts 15:37-40).  This second missionary journey lasted from circa 50-52 AD and was the most successful of Paul's missionary journeys.  This time Paul carried the Gospel from Asia Minor to Europe, founding Christian faith communities in Greece. 


The Christian community at Antioch sent Paul on a third missionary journey from 53-58 AD.  He established more Christian churches in Asia Minor and Greece, including the very important faith community in the city of Ephesus, the third most important city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, Egypt.  The Christian community founded at Ephesus would later become the Episcopal seat of St. John the Apostle. (3)


St. Paul did not return immediately to Antioch after completing his third missionary journey.  Instead, he proceeded on to Jerusalem to deliver contributions from the Gentile-Christians of Asia Minor and Greece for the care of the financially depressed Christian community in Jerusalem.  The gift of alms from the Gentile-Christians to the Jewish-Christians of Jerusalem must have been especially symbolic for this Jewish apostle to the Gentiles. Unfortunately, Paul's very successful work among the Gentiles was cause for concern among some of the Jewish-Christian community, fearing that the Church was loosing her Jewish ethnic character and that Paul had totally abandoned his respect for the Law of Moses.  To appease these Jewish-Christians, St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, requested that Paul personally fund the necessary sacrifices for four Jewish-Christian men who had completed Nazarite vows (Num 6:1-21).  Paul realized that the animal sacrifices that were prescribed for accompanying the completion of a Nazarite vow were all null and void in the New Covenant in Christ (Heb 10:4-10), but in submission to the Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, Paul agreed to pay for the sacrifices, a rather expensive undertaking.  Unfortunately, what the Bishop hoped would foster reconciliation between Paul and the Jews blew up into a riot when Paul was accused of bringing Gentiles into the sacred area of the Temple limited only to those of the Sinai Covenant.  It was necessary for the Roman soldiers to rescue Paul before he was killed by the Jewish crowd (Acts 21:22-29; 22:22-24).


This was another occasion where Paul's Roman citizenship proved a valuable asset.  In demanding his rights to appeal to the Roman authority, Paul was taken to the Roman governor Marcus Antonius Felix (governor of Judea 52-60 AD) in Caesarea Maritima.    St. Paul's appearance before the Roman governor gave him the opportunity to share the Gospel of salvation with Felix and his wife, the Jewish princess Drusilla (Acts 21-24).  Felix would not release Paul without a bribe (Acts 24:26), therefore, Paul spent two years under house arrest in Caesarea.  However, these were not wasted years. Christians from all over Judea and beyond visited Paul in prison and benefited from his sound teaching on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul was still imprisoned in Caesarea when Felix was recalled to Rome and Porcius Festus was appointed procurator of Judea by the Emperor Nero in 60 AD (Acts 24:27). Appearing before Festus and his distinguished visitors, Paul preached the Gospel to the Roman governor, to King Agrippa II to and his sister Bernice (Acts 25-26).  Fearing the Jews were going to demand he be returned for trial in Jerusalem, Paul appealed to Caesar, his right as a Roman citizen.  Festus granted the request and Paul was send to Rome in 60 AD.


Paul spent two years under house arrest in Rome, teaching from his residence.  St. Peter founded the Church in Rome circa 42 AD, but it was the brilliance of Paul's teaching during this period that helped to solidly establish the universal Church in the capital of the Roman Empire, even though St. Peter confessed that some people found Paul's teachings difficult.  In his letter to the universal Church, St. Peter strongly emphasized that interpretation of Paul's letters was not for the individual but belonged to the teaching authority of the Church (2 Pet 3:15-18).  It was during Paul's Roman captivity that his friendship with St. Mark was restored. St. Mark was serving as St. Peter's secretary in Rome.  Paul called Mark a "fellow worker for the kingdom" in Philemon 24 and Paul mentions Mark in his letter to the Colossians (4:10) and in a letter to St. Timothy (2 Tm 4:11). (5)


Paul was evidently released from his confinement circa 62 AD.  We know from a letter he wrote to the Church in Rome from Corinth, before his first captivity circa 58 AD, that he was planning a fourth missionary journey to Spain (Rom 15:28).  In writing the letter, Paul was hoping to establish a relationship with the Roman Christians, whose faith communities stood at the geographic center of the Roman Empire.  His hope was that he might be able to offer some pastoral advice to this mixed Jewish and Gentile-Christian population and that perhaps he would be able, at some point, to count on them to help fund his missionary journey. 


Paul zealously dedicated his life to fulfilling Jesus' commission to be His Apostle to the Gentiles with the same kind of tenacity he had first exhibited in prosecuting New Covenant believers.  He was unrelenting in his pursuit of the harvest of souls, founding more Christian communities than any other apostle.  It is possible that he may have traveled to Spain and perhaps even farther into Europe.  There are accounts which claim Paul spread the Gospel as far away as Roman Britain.


Many Christian historians believe he made this last missionary journey circa 62-63 AD before returning to Rome and being re-arrested by the Roman authorities circa 66 or 67 AD.  By that time the Roman government was vigorously persecuting Christians whereas before they had been more or less ambivalent toward Christians.  The fire that devastated Rome in 64 AD and the subsequent blaming of the disaster on Christians had changed the ambivalence to aggressive persecution.  Many Christians were arrested and were martyred for defending their faith in Jesus Christ.  Sts. Paul and Peter were both arrested, and they were martyred on the same day.  St. Peter was crucified, but since St. Paul was a Roman citizen he could not be crucified and was therefore beheaded just outside the walls of Rome on June 29th, 67 AD, on the Roman road known as the Ostian Way.  Paul, the courageous and fiercely loyal servant of Jesus the Messiah, was about 57 years old when he was martyred. (6)


An account of the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul is attributed to the third century Christian scholar Lactantius: When Nero was already reigning Peter came to Rome, where, in virtue of the performance of certain miracles which he worked by that power of God which had been given to him, he converted many to righteousness and established a firm and steadfast temple to God.  When this fact was reported to Nero, he noticed that not only at Rome but everywhere great multitudes were daily abandoning the worship of idols, and, condemning their old ways, were going over to the new religion. Being that he was a detestable and pernicious tyrant, he sprang to the task of tearing down the heavenly temple and of destroying the righteousness.  It was he that first persecuted the servants of God.  Peter, he fixed to a cross; and Paul, he slew. (7)  


In the beginning of Paul's faith journey, three days after Paul's conversion experience, the Lord Jesus appeared to His servant Ananias and told him about His plans for Paul: for this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.  I myself will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:15).  St. Paul fulfilled that mission, bringing the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles, to kings and to his own people.  And he suffered for his Savior, but he suffered gladly in the knowledge that if he died in Christ he would also be raised up by Him to eternal life.  St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, pray for us!


Appendix I:

Paul's life can be related to five dates fixed by external historical data:

1.      The death of King Aretas of Nabataea in 40AD

2.      The death of Herod Agrippa I in 44AD

3.      The administration of Roman governor Gallio at Corinth in 50/51 – 51/52 AD

4.      The administration of Roman governor Felix at Caesarea in 52-60 AD

5.      The administration of Roman governor Festus at Caesarea 61-62 AD

Paul himself puts fourteen years between his conversion experience and his second visit to Jerusalem at the time of the Council of Jerusalem in 49/50 AD.


Although there is no detailed description of Paul's personal appearance in the New Testament, his Latin name may suggest his physical statue since Paulus in Latin means "little."  Scripture, however, does provide some glimpses of his appearance and his demeanor.  Paul quotes his adversaries as calling him "unimpressive" in 2 Corinthians 10:10.  Paul speaking of himself writes: Someone said, 'His letters are weighty enough, and full of strength, but when you see him in person, he makes no impression and his powers of speaking are negligible.' I should like that sort of person to take note that our deeds when we are present will show the same qualities as our letters when we were at a distance. 


We also know that he suffered physically for Christ, from the many beatings he received and from some other illness or affliction to which he refers in his letters (2 Cor 4:10; 11:23-27; Gal 6:17).  Paul writes of "the sting of the flesh" he suffered in 2 Corinthians 12:7: Wherefore, so that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself.  About this, I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me; but he has answered me, 'My Grace is enough for you: for power is at full strength in weakness.'  It is, then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me, and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ's sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.  And in Galatians 4:13-15 he writes: ...indeed you remember that it was an illness that first gave me the opportunity to preach the gospel to you, but though my illness was a trial to you, you did not show any distaste or revulsion; instead , you welcomed me as a messenger of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.  Allusions to the "marks" he bore on his body (I carry branded on my body the marks of Jesus) may have been to the scars left by his persecutors, or perhaps the scars from the stoning he received at Lystra that was so severe the perpetrators thought they had killed him (Acts 14:19), or as some scholars have suggested, these "marks of Jesus" may refer to the stigmata, which duplicate the wounds Jesus bore on the Cross (Gal 6:17).


There are physical descriptions of Paul that are found outside of Sacred Scripture.  My favorite description of St. Paul is found in the third century apocryphal document, The Acts of Paul which testifies that Paul was a man low statue, bald (or shaved on the head), crooked thighs, handsome legs, hollow eyed; had a crooked nose; full of grace; for sometimes he appeared as a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel (The Acts of Paul and Thecla, 1.7).  And John of Antioch, writing in the sixth century, confirms other descriptions of the Apostle when he records that Paul was round shouldered, with a sprinkling of gray on his head and beard, with an aquiline nose, grayish eyes, meeting eyebrows, with a mixture of pale and red in his complexion (The Search for the Twelve Apostles, William McBirnie, page 291).


It cannot be denied that Saint Paul's frail body housed a tremendous spirit that was consumed with a passion for the mission given him by his Lord and Savior. Many times in his letters he strenuously defends his title as an apostle, reminding us that he was personally chosen by Jesus Christ to serve the Church, All the marks characteristic of a true apostle have been at work among you: complete perseverance, signs, marvels, demonstrations of power.  Is there any way in which you have been given less than the rest of the churches...? (2 Cor 12:12).  In his writings we see his complete determination to identify himself with the Jesus Christ of whom he preached and served tirelessly.  It is clear from his letters that he was a man of strong passions and a fiery personality who possessed a keen mind.  His zeal is impressive but even more impressive is Paul's assurance that he can successful preach the Gospel anywhere and to anyone because he founds his faith and hope on Christ Jesus, But thanks be to God who always gives us in Christ a part in his triumphal procession, and through us is spreading everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of himself.  To God we are the fragrance of Christ, both among those who are being saved and among those who are on the way to destruction... (2 Cor 2:14-15).


The account of Saul/Paul's life in his own words:

·        Philippians 3:5-6: Circumcised on the eighth day of my life, I was born of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents.  In the matter of the Law, I was a Pharisee; as for religious fervor, I was a persecutor of the Church; as for the uprightness embodied in the Law, I was faultless.  Also see Acts 13:21; 23:6; 26:5; Rom 11:1.


·        Acts 22:3-5:'I am a Jew,' Paul said, 'and was born at Tarsus in Cilicia.  I was brought up here in this city.  It was under Gamaliel that I studied and was taught the exact observance of the Law of our ancestors.  In fact, I was as full of duty towards God as you all are today.  I even persecuted this Way to the death and sent women as well as men to prison in chains as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify.  I even received letters from them to the brothers in Damascus, which I took with me when I set off to bring prisoners back from there to Jerusalem for punishment.  ("The Way" one of the earliest titles for the New Covenant Church; "the council of elders" is the Sanhedrin, the Jewish law court that condemned Jesus; also see Acts 21:39).


·        Acts 22:25-29: But when they had strapped him down Paul said to the centurion on duty, 'Is it legal for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and has not been brought to trial?'  When he heard this the centurion went and told the tribune; 'Do you realize what you are doing?'  he said. 'This man is a Roman citizen.'  So the tribune came and asked him, 'Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?'  Paul answered, 'Yes'.  To this the tribune replied. 'It cost me a large sum to acquire this citizenship.'  'But I was born to it,' said Paul.  Then those who were about to examine him hurriedly withdrew, and the tribune himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put a Roman citizen in chains.


·        Galatians 1:13-15: You have surely heard how I lived in the past, within Judaism, and how there was simply no limit to the way I persecuted the Church of God in my attempts to destroy it; and how, in Judaism, I outstripped most of my Jewish contemporaries in my limitless enthusiasm for the traditions of my ancestors.  But when God, who had set me apart from the time when I was in my mother's womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I should preach him to the gentiles...  (read the complete passage in Gal 1:11- 2:10).


Appendix II:





Witnessed St. Stephen's martyrdom

Acts 8:1

Mission to arrest Christians for the Sanhedrin

Acts 8:3

Conversion experience on the Road to Damascus

Acts 9:1-19

Paul preaches in Damascus

Acts 9:20-25

Spends 3 years in Arabia

Galatians 1:17-18

Returns to Damascus

Galatians 1:17

Meets with the Apostles Peter, James (Bishop of Jerusalem) , and John in Jerusalem

Acts 9:26-30; Galatians 1:17-19

Goes to Caesarea and from there home to Tarsus

Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21

Called by Barnabas to join him in Antioch, Syria

Acts 11:26

Takes a famine relief contribution to Jerusalem

Acts 11:3

Returns to Antioch, Syria

Acts 12:25




Approximate dates: 45 – 49 AD

Companions: Barnabas, John Mark

Mission field: Cyprus and Asia Minor (Turkey)

Approximate miles traveled: 1,400 miles

Sent by Church of Antioch, Syria

Mission to Cyprus by way of Seleucia

Acts 13:4-12

Antioch in Pisidia

Acts 13:13-51


Acts 14:1-5

Lystra  in Lycaonia

Acts 14:6-19


Acts 14:20

Back through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch Pisidia

Acts 14:21-26

Return to home church at Antioch, Syria

Acts 14:27-28

Council of Jerusalem

Acts 15



Approximate dates: 50 – 52 AD

Companions: Silas, Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, Luke

Mission field: Syria, Turkey, Greece

Approximate miles traveled: 2,800 miles

Sent by Church of Antioch, Syria

Syria and Cilicia (Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia was Paul's hometown)

Acts 15:23

Derbe and Lystra in Lycaonia (Timothy's home)

Acts 16:1-5

Phrygia and Galatia

Acts 16:6

Mysia to Troas

Acts 16:10

Samonthrace and Neapolis

Acts 16:11

Philippi in Macedonia

Acts 16:12-40

Amphipolis and Apollonia

Acts 17:1


Acts 17:1-9

Beroea (Berea)

Acts 17:10-15


Acts 17:16-34


Acts 18:1-18

Cenchrea (Cenchreae)

Acts 18:18


Acts 18:19-21


Acts 18:22


Acts 18:23

Antioch, Syria

Acts 18:23




Approximate dates: 53 – 58 AD

Companions: Timothy, Luke, and other disciples

Mission field: Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Judea-Samaria-Galilee

Approximate miles traveled 2,700

Sent by Church of Antioch, Syria

Galatia and Phrygia

Acts 18:23


Acts 19:1-20; 23-40


Acts 19:21; 20:1

Greece (Achaia)

Acts 20:2-3

Macedonia, Philippi, and Troas

Acts 20:3-12

Assos, Mitylene; near Chios, Samos, Trogyllium, Miletus

Acts 20:13-38

Cos, Rhodes, Patara

Acts 21:1-2

Tyre and Ptolemais

Acts 21:3-7


Acts 21:8-16


Acts 21:17-23:22

Caesarea (imprisoned 2 years)

Acts 23:23-26:32



Approximate date: 60/61 AD

Companions: Luke, Roman guards, others

By way of Lebanon, Turkey, Crete, Malta, and Sicily

Approximate miles traveled: 2,250 miles

Sent by Roman Governor Festus


Acts 27:1-3

Sidon, Myra, Cnidus

Acts 27:4-7

Fair Havens (Crete)

Acts 27:8

Clauda (Cauda)

Acts 27:15

Malta (Melita)

Acts 28:1-10

Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli

Acts 28:11-13

Forum of Appius and Three Taverns

Acts 28:15


Acts 28:16

Michal Hunt copyright 1998



Macedonia to Illyricum: 1 Timothy 1:3

Troas and Miletus: 2 Timothy 4:13 20

Crete: Titus 1:5

Mission to Spain: circa 63-66AD; Romans 15:28

Nicopolis: Titus 3:12


Back to Rome and martyrdom: 2 Timothy 1; death June 29, 67AD




THE LIFE OF SAINT PAUL: Apostle to the Goyim (Gentiles)


Year AD

(all dates are approximate)

Born at Tarsus (in modern Turkey) of Jewish parents of the tribe of Benjamin and who are Roman citizens, a status also given Saul/Paul (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5)


Arrival in Jerusalem to study with the scholar Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)

Becomes a Pharisees (Acts 23:6; 1 Co 15:9; Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6)


Sent as an officer of the Sanhedrin to arrest Christians in Damascus

Encounter with Christ and conversion on the road to Damascus


3 year sojourn in Arabia and mission to Damascus (Gal 1:17)


Visit to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles (Gal 1:18)


Return to home in Tarsus (Acts 9:30)


Barnabas brings Saul to the church in Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:25)


1st Missionary journey to Cyprus and Asia Minor

Changes his Hebrew name to the Latin name "Paulus" (Acts 13-14)


A delegate to Jerusalem for the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15)


2nd Missionary journey (Acts 15:36-18:21)

-speaks at Athens & Corinth in Greece.  Meets the Roman Gallio+

-writes the letters 1 & 2 Thess




3rd Missionary journey (Acts 18:23-21:14)

-mission to Phrygia & Galatia

-mission to Ephesus and stays two years

-wrote first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus

-mission to northern Greece (Macedonia)

-wrote letter to the Galatians while at Ephesus or Macedonia

-wrote second letter to the Corinthians written from Macedonia

-mission to Corinth (Greece)

-wrote letter to the Roman Christians from Corinth









Winter 58

Return to Jerusalem with offering from the Gentile Christian churches

(Acts 21:15-23:22). Attacked by the Jew and rescued by Romans

Spring 58

Imprisoned by the Romans in Caesarea for two years (Acts

-Preaches the Gospel to Roman governor Felix and his wife

-Preaches the Gospel to Roman governor Festus & King Agrippa II

Spring 58



As a Roman citizen he appeals to the tribunal in Rome.  Sent to Rome

-Ship wrecked off Malta (Acts 27); arrives in Rome the following spring (Acts 28:11-14)


Under Roman "house arrest" for two years and preaches to all visitors

-writes letters to Christian churches in Colossus, Ephesus, Philippi and to the Christian Philemon (Acts 28:30-31)


Released by the Romans and probably makes 2 missionary journeys: one to the East and another to the West (Rom 15:24, 28)


Arrested upon his return to Rome.  Martyrdom by beheading

June 29th, 67

M. Hunt copyright 2002, revised 2007



1.  According to St. Jerome (347-420 AD), there was a tradition in the Holy Land among Christians that St. Paul's parents were immigrants to Tarsus from the Judean city of Gischala: They say that the parents of the apostle Paul were from Gischala, a region of Judea and that, when the whole province was devastated by the hand of Rome and the Jews scattered throughout the world, they were moved to Tarsus a town of Cilicia; the boy Paul inherited the lot of his parents (St. Jerome, Commentary on Philemon, vs. 23-24).  Jerome repeated this claim in his biographical dictionary entitled Famous Men, in which he writes: Paul, an apostle, previously called Saul, was not one of the Twelve Apostles.  He was of the tribe of Benjamin and of the town of Gischala in Judea.  When the town was captured by the Romans, he migrated with his parents to Tarsus in Cilicia.  However, in this passage, Jerome contradicts Paul's own testimony that he was born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3nd was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28; Gal 3:15 Whenever the Romans faced rebellion in a province, it was their custom to remove parts of the population to other regions under Roman rule.  However, Roman citizens were not forced into exile with other members of provincial populations.  When a provincial Roman citizen was involved in an insurrection, he was executed as a traitor along with his family.  If what Jerome was told is true, it is unknown when the forced immigration of Paul's parents could have taken place, but since Paul's father had established himself as a Roman citizen, the dislocation must have taken place years before Paul's birth, perhaps when his parents were children or young adults in the unsettling and violent years when Herod the Great was trying, with Roman help, to establish order in Judea (40-37 BC).


2. Paul may have been living in the Nabataean capital of Petra.  Aretas of Nabataea ruled from 9 – 40 AD.  He was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas who repudiated Aretas' daughter in favor of Antipas' niece who was the wife of his own half-brother Philip.  When his daughter fled and returned to Petra, Aretas declared war with Antipas and defeated him.  Herod Antipas was rescued by the Roman legions.  Aretas was somewhat in disgrace with the Romans until Caligula came to power (37-41 AD), and it was probably shortly after Caligula came to power that Aretas received Damascus from Caligula.  This helps to date the time in which Paul was expelled from Damascus, sometime between 37 AD, when Caligula became Roman Emperor and 40 AD when Aretas died.


3. According Jewish oral tradition, there were seven Noachide laws: (1) Do not murder; (2) Do not steal; (3) Do not worship false gods; (4) Do not practice sexual immorality; (5) Do not eat the limb of an animal before it is killed (do not eat raw flesh or blood); (6) Do not curse God; (7) Establish courts and bring offenders to justice (The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, pg 636-637).


4.  According to the writings of early Church Fathers, St. John the Apostle became the Bishop of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  St. Irenaeus (140-202 AD) records that St. John wrote his Gospel while he was at Ephesus ( Against Heresies, 3,1,1).  St. Clement of Alexandria (150-211/216 AD) writes: After the death of the tyrant, the [Apostle John] came back again to Ephesus from the Island of Patmos; and, upon being invited, he went even to the neighboring cities of the pagans, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order the whole Churches, and there to ordain to the clerical estate such as were designated by the Spirit (Hypotyposeis, 42, 2).


5. Eusebius, Church History, Book III.xxxix.15


6. Eusebius, Church History, Book II.xxv.1-8.


7. Deaths of the Persecutors 2.5; The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol I, page 272.



1. A Guide to the Ancient World, Michael Grant, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1986.


2. Ante-Nicene Fathers, series I, vol 2, Clement of Alexandria, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.


3. Jesus and Paul: Parallel Lives, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Liturgical Press, 2007.


4. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, Ronald L. Eisenberg, The Jewish Publication Society, 2004.


5. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series II, vol 1, Eusebius, Church History, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.


6. The Search for the Twelve Apostles, William McBirnie, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1973.


7. The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol I, William Jurgens editor, Liturgical Press, 1970.


8. New Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday, 1985.



Michal Hunt © 2008 on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved