Short History of Paul

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This short history is about the life and mission of Saint Paul.

Paul was a diaspora Jew, meaning he was a Jew that lived outside of Palestine. Paul was born in Tarsus--which is modern day Turkey--at the beginning of the Christian era. Tarsus was a large and prosperous city of the Roman Empire and the capital city of the region and Roman province of Cilicia. It is situated close to the Mediterranean Sea at the foot of the Taurus Mountains and was on a road leading over high passes from Asia Minor to Syria. Although it is insignificant today, in Paul's time Tarsus's favorable location for trade and commerce had made it a flourishing city. Tarsus was also particularly renowned as a center of Greek culture. From all indications Paul was well educated in the secular system offered in Tarsus and also in Judaism as a student of the renowned rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem (Acts 23:3).

We first meet Paul around the year 35 A.D. in his pursuit of persecuting the new Christian Church. Armed with orders from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, Paul set out for Damascus to arrest and jail all those who were followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul had a remarkable experience of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. The risen Jesus appeared to Paul and asked Paul to stop persecuting him. (Acts 9:1-19). Paul speaks of this encounter as a "call" or "commission" from Jesus to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Because of this experience Paul considered himself an "apostle," one who has been called and sent by the Christ himself for a special mission. His mission was to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Paul traveled extensively establishing Christian churches in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. Paul was martyred during his imprisonment in Rome, probably around 62-64 A.D. This was during the Christian persecutions conducted by the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.).

Paul was a multi-faceted man. A devote Jew who was a Roman citizen raised in a city with strong Greek influence.

Paul the Roman Citizen
Paul lived during a time in history that is called the Pax Romana (Roman Peace).This meant that travel on the extensive Roman roadway system and the shipping commerce on the Mediterranean was fairly safe.Paul took advantage of the Roman transportation system in his extensive apostolic journeys of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. And when some people wanted to harm or kill Paul, he used his Roman citizenship to demand a trial in Rome and the protection of Roman soldiers.

Paul the Greek
Having grown up in Tarsus Paul's life was heavily influenced by Greek culture.In Paul's day Koine Greek (common Greek) was the main language. Paul was obviously conversant in it for he wrote all his letters using this language. Along with language came the impact of Greek culture.Hellenistic language and culture had a huge impact on life in Paul's day.

Paul the Apostle
Paul is transformed by his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul saw this encounter with the risen Jesus as his calling to be an apostle. In the Acts, Luke makes Paul's conversion experience as central point of the story of Paul, whereas in Paul's letters he claims to be an apostle based on the encounter. Even though he did not have the credentials of living with and following Jesus before Christ's Resurrection, none the less Paul saw himself as an authentic apostle, one who Christ appointed to be an interpreter of the gospel. In Romans 1:1-5 Paul writes, "Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, set a part for the gospel . . . About his Son . . . Through whom we have received grace and apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith . . . Among all the Gentiles". Paul claimed himself to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, "But when (God), who from my mother's womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles . . . " (Gal 1:15-16) Then in Romans, "Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am the apostle to the Gentiles . . . " (Romans 11:13) For Paul his conversion was his commission by the resurrected Christ to proclaim the gospel, to serve Christ among the Gentiles. Paul's preaching speaks of the righteousness of God that dawned with the death and resurrection of Christ. It was Paul's lifelong conviction that this good news had to be conveyed to all people as God' s liberating act for all creation.


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Published July 31, 2008.