Paul’s Life – Background and Chronology

The Pharisee Saul, better known as Paul, laid the foundation for the Church. What can we learn from him?

Paul, possibly the most famous of the apostles of Jesus Christ, was a scion of Jews of the Diaspora.  Until the Babylonian exile beginning in 605-586 BC, Israelites of the tribe of Judah were concentrated in Southern Palestine.  Afterwards, they were scattered all over the ancient Near East, with large communities thriving in Alexandria and Rome.  A sizeable community arose in Tarsus of Cilicia, a province in what is now southeastern Turkey close to the border of Syria.  Tarsus was a major Roman city of trade and learning, and Cilicia was famous for its cloth products.  Both influences can be clearly seen in Paul’s later life as an educated traveler and scholar who made tents to support himself.

Jews of the Diaspora formed communities wherever they lived and so were able to maintain much of their religion and culture, including attending synagogues and observing dietary laws.  Paul, the son of observant Jewish parents, was raised as a “Hebrews of Hebrews” in this environment.  Paul’s parents were also Roman citizens, a rare honor, and so Paul inherited citizenship, which greatly helped his ministry.   At some point in his childhood he traveled to Jerusalem and learned Judaism at the feet of Gamaliel, the famous 1st century Jewish teacher.  Passionate for his Hebrew faith, Paul became a Pharisee, and excelled among his peers in every way.

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Paul’s Missionary Journeys

A brief summary of the missionary trips of the Apostle Paul.

As Christians read the New Testament, it is easy to forget how much time elapsed between Matthew and Revelation, almost 100 years.  Jesus died and rose again around 30 AD, and for two years the church grew, rapidly and in relative peace.  The persecution began about 32 AD, and Paul became a Christian in that year.  He spent years preaching in Damascus, and then spent quite a bit more time in Arabia before returning to his hometown in Tarsus, Asia Minor.  His first missionary journey did not begin until AD 47, covering many cities in Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, and others.  After a short return to Jerusalem in AD 49 to help with the Jerusalem Council, Paul left on his second missionary journey.  During this mission he wrote Galatians and probably Thessalonians.  He began in Asia Minor, but received the call to Macedonia and crossed over into Europe.  Paul and his companions ministered in Philippi, where he was imprisoned and beaten, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, where he spoke at the Aeropagus, and Corinth.  In 52 AD Paul returned to Syrian Antioch to complete his second journey.

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Paul’s Conversion – Why Three Accounts, and How Do They Differ?

Paul’s conversion was seminal in the church, but the stories differ. Are they false, or true?

The story of Paul’s conversion from a devout Jew, violently persecuting believers in Jesus, to a devout Christian, fearlessly spreading the Gospel against all opposition, is found three times in Acts.  The stories differ slightly.

The first account, in Acts 9, narrated Paul’s conversion when it actually happened.  After being a ringleader in persecuting Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul obtained permission from the high priest, and then set out for Damascus, hoping to find and arrest Christians who had fled his persecution.    While enroute, Paul and his companions suddenly saw a great light. Paul fell to the ground and heard Jesus’ voice, asking why he was persecuting Him.  The voice then told him what to do (v6).  Paul had been blinded by the light, and his companions led him to Damascus where he had nothing by mouth for three days (v9).  Meanwhile, the Lord commanded a believer named Ananias to meet Saul and minister to him.  Despite his fear at revealing himself to the feared Pharisee and persecutor of Christians Saul of Tarsus, Ananias obeyed. Saul, soon to be known as Paul, regained his sight and began his ministry. Something like scales fell from his eyes, he regained his sight, he was baptized (v18), and he took food and water (v19).

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