Saint Paul

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Saint Paul (died c. 64 CE) was a Christian apostle - though not one of the twelve apostles who were Jesus’ companions and whom he sent out to preach. After his conversion to Christianity (sometime between 31 and 36 CE), Paul became an energetic seeker after new converts, making a number of missionary journeys to various parts of the Mediterranean world. He is also the author of a number of books of the New Testament. He is believed to have died a martyr in Rome (where he was detained to answer certain legal charges against him) in the mid-60s during one of the emperor Nero’s persecutions of the Christians. Paul is sometimes referred to as the Apostle to the Gentiles on account of his concern to convert non-Jews to Christianity.

Paul has two names – ‘Saul’ as well as ‘Paul’. Paul was both a Jew and a Roman citizen, having inherited Roman citizenship from his father, who was a Roman citizen. ‘Saul’ is Paul’s Jewish name, and is by convention the name used to refer to him during the period of his life before his conversion to Christianity. What follows on this page observes this convention – as do other AWE pages.

Conversion to Christianity

Saul was born, sometime in the decade from 5 BCE to 5 CE, in Tarsus, a city in south-central Asia Minor, then the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, now part of the Adana-Mersin Metropolitan Area in Turkey. As the son of a Jew, he was brought up strictly in the Jewish faith and was sent to Jerusalem to complete his education. He also learnt the craft of tent-making. In his earlier years he was fiercely hostile to Christianity and was active in rooting out Christians and having them brought before the Jewish authorities. Indeed it was with the intention of persecuting the Christians in Damascus that, sometime between 31 and 36 CE, he was travelling to that city when he had a vision in which he believed he heard Jesus speaking to him saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He fell to the ground, blinded, and when sufficiently recovered, though still blind, was led by hand to Damascus, where after three days his sight was restored and he was baptized into the Christian faith. (See further Pauline conversion.)

From having been a fierce opponent of Christianity Paul became one of its most powerful defenders and most active proselytizers. He sought, moreover, to convert to Christianity not only Jews but Gentiles (i.e., those who were not Jews), insisting that some of the ritual practices of Judaism (such as male circumcision and certain dietary restrictions) were not binding on Christians – an insistence which on occasion brought him into conflict with other more traditionally minded Christians. Paul conceived of Christianity as a faith open to all human beings, and not just as a development within Judaism or a community to which only Jews could belong - hence his sometimes being referred to as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Missionary Journeys

Paul’s missionary journeys were motivated by his desire to bring Christianity to non-Jews. His first journey (c45-c48 CE) took him to Antioch in Syria, thence to Cyprus, and from there to various cities in south and central Asia Minor (to the cities of Perga in Pamphylia and (another) Antioch in Pisidia). His second journey (c49-c52 CE) took him even further - from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch, thence to his birthplace, Tarsus, and through south-central Asia Minor (visiting the cities of Derbe and Lystra), northwards to Philippi in Macedonia, and finally southwards to Athens, where, famously, he was allowed to preach before the Areopagus (sometimes said to be the Athenian equivalent of the (British) House of Lords). After that he spent a year-and-a-half in neighbouring Corinth and then returned home by way of Ephesus on the western coast of Asia Minor, arriving at Caesarea in Samaria (on the coast of the Eastern Mediterranean) and travelling north to Antioch. The third journey (53-c58 CE) followed a broadly similar pattern to the second: Paul travelled through central Asia Minor (Galatia and Phrygia) to Ephesus, from there to Macedonia and then south, staying in Corinth for three months, and returning by a round-about route, visiting Philippi in Macedonia, various cities on the western coast of Asia Minor (Troas and Miletus), the island of Rhodes, then Tyre in Phoenicia and Caesarea in Samaria.

Final Years and Martyrdom

In Jerusalem after his third missionary journey Paul faced bitter and violent hostility from some members of the Jewish community, who brought legal charges against him. So, when he was attacked by an angry mob, he handed himself over for his own safety to the Roman authorities, who transferred him to the prison in Caesarea, where he was held for two years until, rather than stand trial in Jerusalem, he decided to exercise his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome. He was transported by sea to Rome, where he had to wait a further two years for his case to come to trial, during which time he was not held in prison and was free to associate with his fellow-Christians and to preach. The date and manner of Paul’s death are uncertain. Some later writers say that he suffered martyrdom by beheading during the reign of the emperor Nero (reigned 54-68 CE), possibly in 64 or a year or so later. It is also said that Paul made a final missionary journey from Rome to the western Mediterranean and Spain – but this is highly doubtful and no mention of it is to be found in the New Testament.

The Epistles

Traditionally Paul has been regarded as the author of 14 of the 27 ‘books’ which make up the New Testament – namely, Romans, Corinthians I & II, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians I & II, Timothy I & II, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews – though modern scholarship has challenged Paul’s authorship of about half of them. All these ‘books’, whether or not written by Paul, have the form of epistles or letters, and, with the exception of Hebrews (which is addressed to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem), appear to have been written to Christian communities or individual Christians with whom Paul had come into contact in the course of his missionary journeys. These letters collectively present a distinctive interpretation of Christianity - one which emphasises both that human nature is inherently sinful and that salvation from sin depends solely on faith (i.e., belief in the redemptive power of Jesus’ death and resurrection). It was this interpretation of Christianity which was adopted by the Protestant reformers at the time of the Reformation. See further Luther and Calvin.