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.