St. Paul the Apostle, who has also been known as Saul of Tarsus, was one of the first leaders in Christianity. He is often said to be the second most important person in the history of Christianity. Even though he was a major figure within the small Christian movement at the time, he had many enemies and detractors. Saint Paul didn’t gain as much respect from his contemporaries as Peter and James either.
Paul was compelled to struggle throughout his lifetime and he often referred to his problems as a ‘thorn in his side’. This struggle allowed him to establish his own worth and authority. His surviving letters have had a major impact on Christianity today and have helped to secure Paul’s place as one of the greatest religious leaders of all time.
His Contributions to the Holy Bible
Out of the 27 books that are in the New Testament, 13 of them were attributed by Paul and approximately half of another book Acts of the Apostles, deals with Paul’s life and works. Therefore about half of the New Testament stems from Paul’s history and teachings as well as the people who were influenced by him.
Only 7 of the 13 letters however can be accepted as being entirely authentic or dictated by Paul himself. All others come from followers who were writing in his name, who often used material such as surviving letters or who may have had access to letters that were written by Paul that no longer survive.
Although considered very useful, the information is secondhand and sometimes it is in direct conflict with the letters. The seven undoubted letters constitute the best source of information on Paul’s life and especially his thoughts. The order in which they appear in the New Testament is Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galathians, Phillippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon.
The probable chronological order (leaving aside Philemon, which cannot be dated) is 1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, and Romans. Letters considered “Deutero-Pauline” (probably written by Paul’s followers after his death) are Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians; 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are “Trito-Pauline” (probably written by members of the Pauline school a generation after his death).
The Early Life of Paul
Saul was born about the same time as our Lord, Jesus Christ. His circumcision name was Saul and it is believed that the name Paul was given to him in infancy “for use in the Gentile world,” as “Saul would be his Hebrew home-name. There are others who believe that he wasn’t called “Paul” until he was converted to Christianity and decided to do the Lord’s work. This is typically found in the Baptist faith.
Paul was a native of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, a Roman province in the south-east of Asia Minor. The city stood on the banks of the River Cydnus, which was navigable thus far; hence it became a center of extensive commercial traffic with many countries along the shores of the Mediterranean.
Paul spent his youth in Tarsus, enjoying the best education his native city had to offer. His father was of the straightest sect of Jews, a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, of pure and unmixed Jewish blood. We learn nothing about his mother in the Bible, but there is a reason to conclude that she was a pious woman, and that, like-minded with her husband, she exercised all of her motherly influence in molding the character of her son, so that he could afterwards speak of himself as being from his youth up “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Paul’s Adulthood & Road to Christianity
Paul grew up to be a man of firm conviction and a fiery temperament. He always acted on his beliefs. And therefore when he was confronted with what he took to be a heresy to Judiasm, he worked with everything he had to quell it. This heresy would one day come to be known as Christianity, and Paul was among of the belief’s first persecutors.
Paul was present at the stoning of Stephen, and though he did not participate, he encouraged the violent act that destroyed the first of the martyrs. He then participated in a general persecution including, “going from house to house, he dragged out the believers, both men and women and threw them into jail.”
He then undertook a mission to Damascus. There he intended to continue attacking Christians. However, on the way, he had a vision. This vision is described several times in the Bible, three times in the book of Acts. Paul saw Jesus who asked why Paul persisted in persecuting Him. He then commissioned Paul to preach His message to the Gentiles.
This meeting with Jesus made Paul a Christian. Even so, Paul always insisted that he remained both a Jew and a Roman. But before he could fully accept this message from Jesus, Paul spent some time in Arabia and then Demascus. Searching his soul, he undertook the mission he believed had been given to him directly by Jesus. He preached in Demascus for three years. His enemies were determined to kill him so he had to slip out of the city by night.