Saul of Tarsus
Eastern Orthodox Church
January 25 (The Conversion of Paul)February 10 (Feast of Saint Paul's Shipwreck in Malta)June 29 (Feast of Saints Peter and Paul)June 30 (former solo feast day, still celebrated by some religious orders)November 18 (Feast of the dedication of the basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul)
Missions; Theologians; Gentile Christians
Paul the Apostle (Greek: Παῦλος Paulos; c. 5 – c. 67), originally known as Saul of Tarsus (Hebrew: שאול התרסי; Greek: Σαῦλος Ταρσεύς Saulos Tarseus), was an apostle (though not one of the Twelve Apostles) who taught the gospel of Christ to the first-century world. He is generally considered one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age. In the mid-30s to the mid-50s, he founded several churches in Asia Minor and Europe. Paul took advantage of his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to minister to both Jewish and Roman audiences.
- Early life
- Post conversion
- Early ministry
- First missionary journey
- Interval at Antioch
- Council of Jerusalem
- Incident at Antioch
- Second missionary journey
- Interval in Corinth
- Third missionary journey
- Journey to Rome and beyond
- Visits to Jerusalem in Acts and the epistles
- Last visit to Jerusalem and arrest
- His final days spent in Rome
- Traditional manner of execution
- Basic message
- Relationship with Judaism
- World to come
- Role of women
- Views on homosexuality
- Influence on Christianity
- Modern theology
- Church tradition
- Islamic view
- Jewish views
- Writing styles
- Other views
- In art
According to writings in the New Testament Paul, who was originally called Saul, was dedicated to the persecution of the early disciples of Jesus in the area of Jerusalem. In the narrative of the book of Acts, while Paul was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus on a mission to "bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem", the resurrected Jesus appeared to him in a great light. He was struck blind, but after three days his sight was restored by Ananias of Damascus, and Paul began to preach that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God. Approximately half of the book of Acts deals with Paul's life and works.
Fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament have traditionally been attributed to Paul. Seven of the epistles are undisputed by scholars as being authentic, with varying degrees of argument about the remainder. Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews (which is not asserted in the Epistle itself), already doubted in the 2nd and 3rd centuries but almost unquestioningly accepted from the 5th to the 16th centuries, is now almost universally rejected by scholars. The other six are believed by some scholars to have come from followers writing in his name, using material from Paul's surviving letters and letters written by him that no longer survive. Other scholars argue that the idea of a pseudonymous author for the disputed epistles raises many problems.
Today, Paul's epistles continue to be vital roots of the theology, worship, and pastoral life in the Catholic and Protestant traditions of the West, and the Orthodox traditions of the East. Among that of many other apostles and missionaries involved in the spread of the Christian faith, Paul's influence on Christian thought and practice has been characterized as being as "profound as it is pervasive". Augustine of Hippo developed Paul's idea that salvation is based on faith and not "works of the law". Martin Luther's interpretation of Paul's writings influenced Luther's doctrine of sola fide.
Although it has been popularly assumed that his name was changed when he converted from Judaism to Christianity, that is not the case. His Jewish name was "Saul" (Hebrew: שָׁאוּל, Modern Sha'ul, Tiberian Saʼul ; "asked for, prayed for, borrowed"), perhaps after the biblical King Saul, a fellow Benjamite and the first king of Israel. According to the Book of Acts, he inherited Roman citizenship from his father. As a Roman citizen, he also bore the Latin name of "Paul" —in biblical Greek: Παῦλος (Paulos), and in Latin: Paulus.[Acts 16:37] [22:25-28] It was quite usual for the Jews of that time to have two names, one Hebrew, the other Latin or Greek.
In the book of Acts, when he had the vision which led to his conversion on the Road to Damascus, Jesus called him "Saul, Saul", in "the Hebrew tongue". Later, in a vision to Ananias of Damascus, "the Lord" referred to him as "Saul, of Tarsus". When Ananias came to restore his sight, he called him "Brother Saul".
In Acts 13:9, Saul is called "Paul" for the first time on the island of Cyprus — much later than the time of his conversion. The author ("Luke") indicates the names were interchangeable: "...Saul, who also is called Paul...". He thereafter refers to him as Paul, apparently Paul's preference since he is called Paul in all other Bible books where he is mentioned, including those he authored. Adopting his Roman name was typical of Paul's missionary style. His method was to put people at their ease and to approach them with his message in a language and style to which they could relate as in 1 Cor 9:19-23.
A native of Tarsus, the capital city in the Roman province of Cilicia, Paul wrote that he was "a Hebrew born of Hebrews", a Pharisee, and one who advanced in Judaism beyond many of his peers. He also wrote that he was "unmarried," at least as early as his writing of I Corinthians 7:8, however some hold that he may have been married prior to that, due to certain textual analyses of his writings, and other similar rationale. His initial reaction to the newly formed Christian movement was to zealously persecute its early followers and to violently attempt to destroy the movement. Paul's dramatic conversion while on the road to Damascus was clearly a life-altering event for him, changing him from being one of the early movement's most ardent persecutors to being one of its most fervent supporters.
After his conversion, Paul began to preach that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. His leadership, influence, and legacy led to the formation of communities dominated by Gentile groups that worshiped Jesus, adhered to the "Judaic moral code", but relaxed or abandoned the ritual and dietary teachings of the Law of Moses. He taught that these laws and rituals had either been fulfilled in the life of Christ or were symbolic precursors of Christ, though the exact relationship between Paul the Apostle and Judaism is still disputed. Paul taught of the life and works of Jesus Christ and his teaching of a New Covenant established through Jesus' death and resurrection. The New Testament does not record Paul's death.
The two main sources of information by which we have access to the earliest segments of Paul's career are the Bible's Book of Acts and the autobiographical elements of Paul's letters to the early church communities. Paul was likely born between the years of 5 BC and 5 AD. The Book of Acts indicates that Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, more affirmatively describing his father as such, but some scholars have taken issue with the evidence presented by the text.[Acts 16:37][Acts 22:25-29]
He was from a devout Jewish family in the city of Tarsus–one of the largest trade centers on the Mediterranean coast. It had been in existence several hundred years prior to his birth. It was renowned for its university. During the time of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC, Tarsus was the most influential city in Asia Minor.
Paul referred to himself as being "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee".[Phil. 3:5]
The Bible reveals very little about Paul's family. Paul's nephew, his sister's son, is mentioned in Acts 23:16. Acts also quotes Paul referring to his father by saying he, Paul, was "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" (Acts 23:6). Paul refers to his mother in Romans 16:13 as among those at Rome. In Romans 16:7 he states that his relatives, Andronicus and Junia, were Christians before he was and were prominent among the apostles.
The family had a history of religious piety (2 Timothy 1:3) Apparently the family lineage had been very attached to Pharisaic traditions and observances for generations.[Philippians 3:5-6] Acts says that he was in the tent-making profession.[Acts 18:1-3] This was to become an initial connection with Priscilla and Aquila with whom he would partner in tentmaking[Acts 18:3] and later become very important teammates as fellow missionaries.[Rom. 16:4]
While he was still fairly young, he was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel,[Acts 22:3] one of the most noted rabbis in history. The Hillel school was noted for giving its students a balanced education, likely giving Paul broad exposure to classical literature, philosophy, and ethics. Some of his family may have resided in Jerusalem since later the son of one of his sisters saved his life there.[Acts 23:16] Nothing more is known of his background until he takes an active part in the martyrdom of Stephen.[Acts 7:58-60;22:20] Paul confesses that "beyond measure" he persecuted the church of God prior to his conversion.[Gal. 1:13-14] [Phil. 3:6] [Acts 8:1-3] Although we know from his biography and from Acts that Paul could speak Hebrew, modern scholarship suggests that Koine Greek was his first language.
In his letters, Paul reflected heavily from his knowledge of Stoic philosophy, using Stoic terms and metaphors to assist his new Gentile converts in their understanding of the revealed word of God.
He would also rely heavily on the training he received concerning the law and the prophets, utilizing this knowledge to convince his Jewish countrymen of the unity of past Old Testament prophecy and covenants with the fulfilling of these in Jesus Christ. His wide spectrum of experiences and education gave the "Apostle to the Gentiles"[Rom. 1:5] [11:13] [Gal. 2:8] the tools which he later would use to effectively spread the Gospel and to establish the church solidly in the Roman Empire.
Paul's conversion can be dated to 31–36 by his reference to it in one of his letters. In Galatians 1:16 Paul writes that God "was pleased to reveal his son to me." In 1 Corinthians 15:8, as he lists the order in which Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, Paul writes, "last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also."
According to the account in Acts, it took place on the road to Damascus, where he reported having experienced a vision of the resurrected Jesus. The account says that "he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Saul replied, "Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks."[Acts 9:4-5] According to the account in Acts 9:1–22, he was blinded for three days and had to be led into Damascus by the hand. During these three days, Saul took no food or water and spent his time in prayer to God. When Ananias of Damascus arrived, he laid his hands on him and said: "Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost."[Acts 9:17] His sight was restored, he got up and was baptized.[Acts 9:18] This story occurs only in Acts, not in the Pauline epistles.
The author of the Acts of the Apostles, likely learned of his conversion from Paul, from the church in Jerusalem, or from the church in Antioch.
At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" Yet Saul grew more and more influential and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
In the opening verses of Romans 1, Paul provides a litany of his own apostolic appointment to preach among the Gentiles[Gal. 1:16] and his post-conversion convictions about the risen Christ.
Paul is critical both theologically and empirically of claims of moral or lineal superiority [Rom. 2:16-26] of Jews while conversely strongly sustaining the notion of a special place for the Children of Israel.[9-11]
There are debates as to whether Paul understood himself as commissioned to take the gospel to the Gentiles at the moment of his conversion.
After his conversion, Paul went to Damascus, where Acts 9 states he was healed of his blindness and baptized by Ananias of Damascus. Paul says that it was in Damascus that he barely escaped death.[2 Cor. 11:32] Paul also says that he then went first to Arabia, and then came back to Damascus.[Gal. 1:17] Paul's trip to Arabia is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and some suppose he actually traveled to Mt. Sinai for meditations in the desert. He describes in Galatians how three years after his conversion he went to Jerusalem. There he met James and stayed with Simon Peter for 15 days.[Gal. 1:13-24] Paul located Mount Sinai in Arabia in Galatians 4:24-25.
Paul asserted that he received the Gospel not from man, but directly by "the revelation of Jesus Christ".[Gal 1:11-16] He claimed almost total independence from the Jerusalem community, (possibly in the Cenacle), but agreed with it on the nature and content of the gospel.[Gal 1:22-24] He appeared eager to bring material support to Jerusalem from the various budding Gentile churches that he planted. In his writings, Paul used the persecutions he endured, in terms of physical beatings and verbal assaults, to avow proximity and union with Jesus and as a validation of his teaching.
Paul's narrative in Galatians states that 14 years after his conversion he went again to Jerusalem.[Gal. 2:1-10] It is not completely known what happened during these 'unknown years', but both Acts and Galatians provide some partial details. At the end of this time, Barnabas went to find Paul and brought him back to Antioch. [Acts 11:26]
When a famine occurred in Judea, around 45–46, Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem to deliver financial support from the Antioch community. According to Acts, Antioch had become an alternative center for Christians following the dispersion of the believers after the death of Stephen. It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians".[Acts 11:26]
First missionary journey
The author of the Acts arranges Paul's travels into three separate journeys. The first journey,[Acts 13-14] led initially by Barnabas, took Paul from Antioch to Cyprus then into southern Asia Minor (Anatolia), and finally returning to Antioch. In Cyprus, Paul rebukes and blinds Elymas the magician[Acts 13:8-12] who was criticizing their teachings. From this point on, Paul is described as the leader of the group.
They sail to Perga in Pamphylia. John Mark leaves them and returns to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas go on to Pisidian Antioch. On Sabbath they go to the synagogue. The leaders invite them to speak. Paul reviews Israelite history from life in Egypt to King David. He introduces Jesus as a descendant of David brought to Israel by God. He said that his team came to town to bring the message of salvation. He recounts the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. He quotes from the Septuagint to assert that Jesus was the promised Christos who brought them forgiveness for their sins. Both the Jews and the 'God-fearing' Gentiles invited them to talk more next Sabbath. At that time almost the whole city gathered. This upset some influential Jews who spoke against them. Paul used the occasion to announce a change in his mission which from then on would be to the Gentiles.[Acts 13:13-48]
Interval at Antioch
Antioch served as a major Christian center for Paul's evangelizing. Paul remained there for 'some time' or 'a long time' in other translations at the conclusion of his first journey. 'Bishop Pearson reckons it a little more than a year'. Lewin estimated it as "about a year;" Renan suggested "several months". The writer of the Pulpit Commentary argues that 'no accurate statement can be gathered from St. Luke's indefinite expression".
Council of Jerusalem
Most scholars agree that a vital meeting between Paul and the Jerusalem church took place some time in the years 48 to 50, described in Acts 15:2 and usually seen as the same event mentioned by Paul in Galatians 2:1. The key question raised was whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. At this meeting, Paul states in his letter to the Galatians that Peter, James, and John accepted Paul's mission to the Gentiles.
Jerusalem meetings are mentioned in Acts, in Paul's letters, and some appear in both. For example, the Jerusalem visit for famine relief[Acts 11:27-30] apparently corresponds to the "first visit" (to Cephas and James only).[Gal. 1:18-20] F. F. Bruce suggested that the "fourteen years" could be from Paul's conversion rather than from his first visit to Jerusalem.
Incident at Antioch
Despite the agreement achieved at the Council of Jerusalem, as understood by Paul, Paul recounts how he later publicly confronted Peter in a dispute sometimes called the "Incident at Antioch", over Peter's reluctance to share a meal with Gentile Christians in Antioch because they did not strictly adhere to Jewish customs.
Writing later of the incident, Paul recounts, "I opposed [Peter] to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong", and says he told Peter, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"[Gal. 2:11-14] Paul also mentions that even Barnabas, his traveling companion and fellow apostle until that time, sided with Peter.
The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain. The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that Paul won the argument, because "Paul's account of the incident leaves no doubt that Peter saw the justice of the rebuke". However Paul himself never mentions a victory and L. Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity draws the opposite conclusion: "The blowup with Peter was a total failure of political bravado, and Paul soon left Antioch as persona non grata, never again to return".
The primary source account of the Incident at Antioch is Paul's letter to the Galatians.
Second missionary journey
Paul left for his second missionary journey from Jerusalem, in late Autumn 49, after the meeting of the Council of Jerusalem where the circumcision question was debated. On their trip around the Mediterranean sea, Paul and his companion Barnabas stopped in Antioch where they had a sharp argument about taking John Mark with them on their trips. The book of Acts said that John Mark had left them in a previous trip and gone home. Unable to resolve the dispute, Paul and Barnabas decided to separate; Barnabas took John Mark with him, while Silas joined Paul.
Paul and Silas initially visited Tarsus (Paul's birthplace), Derbe and Lystra. In Lystra, they met Timothy, a disciple who was spoken well of, and decided to take him with them. The Church kept growing, adding believers, and strengthening in faith daily.[Acts 16:5]
In Philippi, Paul cast a spirit of divination out of a servant girl, whose masters were then unhappy about the loss of income her soothsaying provided (Acts 16:16–24). They turned the city against the missionaries, and Paul and Silas were put in jail. After a miraculous earthquake, the gates of the prison fell apart and Paul and Silas could have escaped but remained; this event led to the conversion of the jailor (Acts 16:25–40). They continued traveling, going by Berea and then to Athens, where Paul preached to the Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogue and to the Greek intellectuals in the Areopagus. Paul continued from Athens to Corinth.
Interval in Corinth
Around 50–52, Paul spent 18 months in Corinth. The reference in Acts to Proconsul Gallio helps ascertain this date (cf. Gallio inscription). In Corinth, Paul met Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2), who became faithful believers and helped Paul through his other missionary journeys. The couple followed Paul and his companions to Ephesus, and stayed there to start one of the strongest and most faithful churches at that time (Acts 18:18-21).
At some time, Paul had taken a vow (probably a Nazirite vow). In 52, departing from Corinth, he stopped at the nearby village of Cenchreae to have his hair cut off, because of the vow. With Priscilla and Aquila, the missionaries sailed to Ephesus and then Paul alone went on to Caesarea to greet the Church there. He then traveled north to Antioch, where he stayed for some time (Greek: ποιησας χρονον, perhaps about a year), before leaving again on a third missionary journey. Some New Testament texts suggest that he also visited Jerusalem during this period for one of the Jewish feasts, possibly Pentecost. Textual critic Henry Alford and others consider the reference to a Jerusalem visit to be genuine and it accords with Acts 21:29, according to which Paul and Trophimus the Ephesian had 'previously' been seen in Jerusalem.
Third missionary journey
According to the Book of Acts, Paul began his third missionary journey by travelling all around the region of Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen, teach and rebuke the believers. Paul then traveled to Ephesus, an important center of early Christianity, and stayed there for almost three years, probably working there as a tentmaker, as he had done when he stayed in Corinth. He is claimed to have performed numerous miracles, healing people and casting out demons, and he apparently organized missionary activity in other regions. Paul left Ephesus after an attack from a local silversmith resulted in a pro-Artemis riot involving most of the city. During his stay in Ephesus, Paul wrote four letters to the church in Corinth.
Paul went through Macedonia into Achaea (Acts 20:1-2) and stayed in Greece, probably Corinth, for three months (Acts 20:1-2) during 56-57 AD. He then made ready to continue on to Syria, but he changed his plans and traveled back through Macedonia because of Jews who had made a plot against him.
In Romans 15:19 Paul wrote that he visited Illyricum, but he may have meant what would now be called Illyria Graeca, which lay in the northern part of modern Albania, but was at that time a division of the Roman province of Macedonia.
Paul and his companions visited other cities on their way back to Jerusalem such as Philippi, Troas, Miletus, Rhodes, and Tyre. Paul finished his trip with a stop in Caesarea, where he and his companions stayed with Philip the Evangelist before finally arriving at Jerusalem. [Acts 21:8-10] [21:15]
Journey to Rome and beyond
After Paul's arrival in Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, he became involved in a serious conflict with some "Asian Jews" (most likely from Roman Asia). The conflict eventually led to Paul's arrest and imprisonment in Caesarea Maritima for two years. Finally, Paul and his companions sailed for Rome where Paul was to stand trial for his alleged crimes. Acts states that Paul preached in Rome for two years from his rented home while awaiting trial. It does not state what happened after this time, but some sources state that Paul was freed by Nero and continued to preach in Rome, even though that seems unlikely based on Nero's historical cruelty to Early Christians. See His final days spent in Rome section below.
Among the writings of the early Christians, Clement of Rome said that Paul was "Herald (of the Gospel of Christ) in the West", and that "he had gone to the extremity of the west". Chrysostom indicated that Paul preached in Spain: "For after he had been in Rome, he returned to Spain, but whether he came thence again into these parts, we know not". Cyril of Jerusalem said that Paul, "fully preached the Gospel, and instructed even imperial Rome, and carried the earnestness of his preaching as far as Spain, undergoing conflicts innumerable, and performing Signs and wonders". The Muratorian fragment mentions "the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] [5a] (39) when he journeyed to Spain".
Visits to Jerusalem in Acts and the epistles
This table is adapted from White, From Jesus to Christianity. Note that the matching of Paul's travels in the Acts and the travels in his Epistles is done for the reader's convenience and is not approved of by all scholars.
Last visit to Jerusalem and arrest
Paul arrived in Jerusalem on his fifth and final visit [Acts 21:17ff] in 57 with a collection of money for the community there. Acts reports that he was warmly received. But Acts goes on to recount how Paul was warned by James and the elders that he was gaining a reputation for being against the Law, saying "they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs".[Acts 21:21] Paul underwent a purification ritual in order to give the Jews no grounds to bring accusations against him for not following their law. Paul caused a stir when he appeared at the Temple, and he escaped being killed by the crowd by voluntarily being taken into Roman custody. When a plot to kill Paul on his way to an appearance before the Jews was discovered, he was transported by night to Caesarea Maritima. He was held as a prisoner there for two years, until a new governor reopened his case in 59. When the governor suggested that he be sent back to Jerusalem for further trial, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to "appeal unto Caesar".
His final days spent in Rome
Acts recounts that on the way to Rome for his appeal as a Roman citizen to Caesar, Paul was shipwrecked on "Melita" (Malta),[Acts 28:1] where he was met by Publius[Acts 28:7] and the islanders who showed him "unusual kindness".[Acts 28:2] He travelled to Rome via Syracuse, Rhegium and Puteoli [Acts 28:12], arriving in Rome around 60 AD, and spent another two years there under house arrest (beyond his two years in prison in Caesarea).[Acts 28:16]
Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century wrote that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the church in Rome and had appointed Linus as succeeding bishop. Paul was not a bishop of Rome, nor did he bring Christianity to Rome since there were already Christians in Rome when he arrived there.[Acts 28:14-15] Also, Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome before he had visited Rome.[Romans 1:1,7,11-13;15:23-29] Paul only played a supporting part in the life of the church in Rome.
The Bible does not say how or when Paul died. There is an early tradition by Ignatius, probably around 110 AD, that Paul was martyred. Dionysius of Corinth in a letter to the Romans (166–174 AD), stated that Paul and Peter were martyred in Italy. Eusebius also cites the Dionysius passage.
Traditional manner of execution
Christian tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero around the mid-60s at Tre Fontane Abbey (English: Three Fountains Abbey).
Caius in his Disputation Against Proclus (198 AD) mentions this of the places in which the remains of the apostles Peter and Paul were deposited: "I can point out the trophies of the apostles. For if you are willing to go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way, you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church".
Jerome in his De Viris Illustribus (392 AD) writing on Paul's biography, mentions that "Paul was buried in the Ostian Way at Rome".
In June 2009, Pope Benedict XVI announced excavation results concerning the tomb of Paul at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The sarcophagus was not opened but was examined by means of a probe, which revealed pieces of incense, purple and blue linen, and small bone fragments. The bone was radiocarbon dated to the 1st or 2nd century. According to the Vatican, these findings are consistent with the tradition that the tomb is Paul's. The sarcophagus was inscribed in Latin saying, "Paul apostle martyr".
Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 14 have been attributed to Paul; 7 of these are widely considered authentic and Paul's own, while the authorship of the other 7 is disputed. The undisputed letters are considered the most important sources since they contain what everyone agrees to be Paul's own statements about his life and thoughts. Theologian Mark Powell writes that Paul directed these 7 letters to specific occasions at particular churches. As an example, if the Corinthian church had not experienced problems concerning its celebration of the Lord's Supper,[1 Cor. 11:17-34] today we would not know that Paul even believed in that observance or had any opinions about it one way or the other. He asks if we might be ignorant of other matters simply because no crises arose that prompted Paul to comment on them.
Although approximately half of the Book of Acts deals with Paul's life and works, the Book of Acts does not refer to Paul writing letters. Historians believe that the author of Acts did not have access to any of Paul's letters. One piece of evidence suggesting this is that Acts never directly quotes from the Pauline epistles. Discrepancies between the Pauline epistles and Acts would further support the conclusion that the author of Acts did not have access to those epistles when composing Acts.
In Paul's writings, he provides the first written account of what it is to be a Christian and thus a description of Christian spirituality. His letters have been characterized as being the most influential books of the New Testament after the Gospels of Matthew and John.
Paul...only occasionally had the opportunity to revisit his churches. He tried to keep up his converts' spirit, answer their questions, and resolve their problems by letter and by sending one or more of his assistants (especially Timothy and Titus).
Paul's letters reveal a remarkable human being: dedicated, compassionate, emotional, sometimes harsh and angry, clever and quick-witted, supple in argumentation, and above all possessing a soaring, passionate commitment to God, Jesus Christ, and his own mission. Fortunately, after his death one of his followers collected some of the letters, edited them very slightly, and published them. They constitute one of history's most remarkable personal contributions to religious thought and practice.
E. P. Sanders finds three major emphases in Paul's writings:
Sanders concludes that Paul's writings reveal what he calls the essence of the Christian message:
- God sent his Son.
- The Son was crucified for the sins of humanity.
- After being dead three days, the Son was raised from the dead, defeating death.
- The Son would soon return.
- Those in Christ will live with him forever.
- Followers are urged to live by a set apart (sanctified) standard—"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ".[1 Thes. 5:23]
Seven of the 13 letters that bear Paul's name – Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon – are almost universally accepted as being entirely authentic (dictated by Paul himself). They are considered the best source of information on Paul's life and especially his thought.
Four of the letters (Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are widely considered pseudepigraphical, while the authorship of the other two is subject to debate. Colossians, and 2nd Thessalonians are thought by some to be "Deutero-Pauline" meaning they may have been written by Paul's followers after his death. Similarly, 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, and Titus may be "Trito-Pauline" meaning they may have been written by members of the Pauline school a generation after his death. According to their theories, these disputed letters may have come from followers writing in Paul's name, often using material from his surviving letters. These scribes also may have had access to letters written by Paul that no longer survive.
Paul's letters were largely written to churches which he had visited; he was a great traveler, visiting Cyprus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), mainland Greece, Crete, and Rome. His letters are full of expositions of what Christians should believe and how they should live. His most explicit references to the life of Jesus are of the Last Supper[1 Cor. 11:17-34] and the crucifixion and resurrection.[1 Cor. 15]
He provides few references to Jesus' teachings,[1 Cor. 7:10-11] [9:14] leading some theologians to question how consistent was his account of the faith with that of the four canonical Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the Epistle of James.
The authenticity of Colossians has been questioned on the grounds that it contains an otherwise unparalleled description (among his writings) of Jesus as "the image of the invisible God", a Christology found elsewhere only in John's gospel. However, the personal notes in the letter connect it to Philemon, unquestionably the work of Paul. Internal evidence shows close connection with Philippians.
Ephesians is a letter that is very similar to Colossians, but is almost entirely lacking in personal reminiscences. Its style is unique. It lacks the emphasis on the cross to be found in other Pauline writings, reference to the Second Coming is missing, and Christian marriage is exalted in a way which contrasts with the reference in 1 Cor. 7:8-9. Finally, according to R.E. Brown, it exalts the Church in a way suggestive of a second generation of Christians, 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets' now past. The defenders of its Pauline authorship argue that it was intended to be read by a number of different churches and that it marks the final stage of the development of Paul's thinking. It has been said, too, that the moral portion of the Epistle, consisting of the last two chapters, has the closest affinity with similar portions of other Epistles, while the whole admirably fits in with the known details of Paul's life, and throws considerable light upon them.
Three main reasons have been advanced by those who question Paul's authorship of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus—also known as the Pastoral Epistles.
Paul wrote down much of the theology of atonement. Paul taught that Christians are redeemed from sin by Jesus' death and resurrection. His death was an expiation as well as a propitiation, and by Christ's blood peace is made between God and man. By grace, through faith, a Christian shares in Jesus' death and in his victory over death, gaining as a free gift a new, justified status of sonship.
Relationship with Judaism
Some scholars see Paul (or Saul) as completely in line with 1st-century Judaism (a Pharisee and student of Gamaliel as presented by Acts), others see him as opposed to 1st-century Judaism (notably Marcionism), while the majority see him as somewhere in between these two extremes, opposed to "Ritual Laws" (for example the circumcision controversy in early Christianity) but in full agreement on "Divine Law". These views of Paul are paralleled by the views of Biblical law in Christianity.
Paul's theology of the gospel accelerated the separation of the messianic sect of Christians from Judaism, a development contrary to Paul's own intent. He wrote that faith in Christ was alone decisive in salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike, making the schism between the followers of Christ and mainstream Jews inevitable and permanent. He argued that Gentile converts did not need to become Jews, get circumcised, follow Jewish dietary restrictions, or otherwise observe Mosaic laws to be saved. Nevertheless, in Romans he insisted on the positive value of the Law, as a moral guide.
E. P. Sanders' publications have since been taken up by Professor James Dunn who coined the phrase "The New Perspective on Paul". N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, notes a difference in emphasis between Galatians and Romans, the latter being much more positive about the continuing covenant between God and his ancient people than the former. Wright also contends that performing Christian works is not insignificant but rather proof of having attained the redemption of Jesus Christ by grace (free gift received by faith).[Rom. 2:13ff] He concludes that Paul distinguishes between performing Christian works which are signs of ethnic identity and others which are a sign of obedience to Christ.
World to come
According to Ehrman, Paul believed that Jesus would return within his lifetime. He states that Paul expected that Christians who had died in the mean time would be resurrected to share in God's kingdom, and he believed that the saved would be transformed, assuming supernatural bodies.
Paul's teaching about the end of the world is expressed most clearly in his letters to the Christians at Thessalonica. Heavily persecuted, it appears that they had written asking him first about those who had died already, and, secondly, when they should expect the end. He assures them that the dead will rise first and be followed by those left alive.[1 Thes. 4:16ff] This suggests an imminence of the end but he is unspecific about times and seasons, and encourages his hearers to expect a delay. The form of the end will be a battle between Jesus and the man of lawlessness[2 Thess. 2:3] whose conclusion is the triumph of Christ.
Role of women
The second chapter of the first letter to Timothy—one of the six disputed letters—is used by many churches to deny women a vote in church affairs, reject women from serving as teachers of adult Bible classes, prevent them from serving as missionaries, and generally disenfranchise women from the duties and privileges of church leadership.
The KJV translation of this passage taken literally says that women in the churches are to have no leadership roles vis-a-vis men. Whether it also forbids women from teaching children and women is dubious as even those Catholic churches that prohibit female priests permit female abbesses to teach and exercise authority over other females.
Fuller Seminary theologian J. R. Daniel Kirk finds evidence in Paul's letters of a much more inclusive view of women. He writes that Romans 16 is a tremendously important witness to the important role of women in the early church. Paul praises Phoebe for her work as a deaconess and Junia who is described by Paul in Scripture as being respected among the Apostles.[Romans 16:7] It is Kirk's observation that recent studies have led many scholars to conclude that the passage in 1 Corinthians 14 ordering women to "be silent" during worship was a later addition, apparently by a different author, and not part of Paul's original letter to the Corinthians.
Other scholars, such as Giancarlo Biguzzi, believe that Paul's restriction on women speaking in 1 Corinthians 14 is genuine to Paul but applies to a particular case where there were local problems of women—who were not allowed in that culture to become educated—asking questions or chatting during worship services. He does not believe it to be a general prohibition on any woman speaking in worship settings since in 1 Corinthians Paul affirms the right (responsibility) of women to prophesy.[1 Cor. 11]
Biblical prophecy is more than "fore-telling": two-thirds of its inscripturated form involves "forth-telling", that is, setting the truth, justice, mercy, and righteousness of God against the backdrop of every form of denial of the same. Thus, to speak prophetically was to speak boldly against every form of moral, ethical, political, economic, and religious disenfranchisement observed in a culture that was intent on building its own pyramid of values vis-a-vis God's established system of truth and ethics.
There were women prophets in the highly patriarchal times throughout the Old Testament. The most common term for prophet in the Old Testament is nabi [ayib"n] in the masculine form, and nab""a(h) [h'ayibn] in the Hebrew feminine form, is used six times of women who performed the same task of receiving and proclaiming the message given by God. These women include Miriam, Aaron and Moses' sister,[Exod 15:20] Deborah,[Judges 4:4] the prophet Isaiah's wife,[Isa. 8:3] and Huldah, the one who interpreted the Book of the Law discovered in the temple during the days of Josiah.[2 Kings 22:14] [2 Chron. 34:22] There were false prophetesses just as there were false prophets. The prophetess Noadiah was among those who tried to intimidate Nehemiah.[Neh 6:14] Apparently they held equal rank in prophesying right along with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elisha, Aaron, and Samuel.
Kirk's third example of a more inclusive view is Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In pronouncing an end within the church to the divisions which are common in the world around it, he concludes by highlighting the fact that "...there were New Testament women who taught and had authority in the early churches, that this teaching and authority was sanctioned by Paul, and that Paul himself offers a theological paradigm within which overcoming the subjugation of women is an anticipated outcome".
Classicist Evelyn Stagg and theologian Frank Stagg believe that Paul was attempting to "Christianize" the societal household or domestic codes that significantly oppressed women and empowered men as the head of the household. The Staggs present a serious study of what has been termed the New Testament domestic code, also known as the Haustafel. The two main passages that explain these "household duties" are Paul's letters to the Ephesians 5:22-6:5 and to the Colossians 3:18-4:1. An underlying Household Code is also reflected in four additional Pauline letters and 1 Peter: 1 Timothy 2:1ff., 8ff.; 3:1ff., 8ff.; 5:17ff.; 6:1f.; Titus 2:1-10 and 1 Peter 2:13-3:9. Biblical scholars have typically treated the Haustafel in Ephesians as a resource in the debate over the role of women in ministry and in the home.
Margaret MacDonald argues that the Haustafel, particularly as it appears in Ephesians, was aimed at "reducing the tension between community members and outsiders".
E. P. Sanders has labeled the Apostle's remark in 1 Cor. 14:34-36 about women not making any sound during worship as "Paul's intemperate outburst that women should be silent in the churches". Women, in fact, played a very significant part in Paul's missionary endeavors:
Views on homosexuality
Most Christian traditions say Paul clearly portrays homosexuality as sinful in two specific locations: Romans 1:26-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Another well-known passage addresses the topic more obliquely: 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Since the nineteenth century, however, some scholars have concluded that First Timothy, along with Second Timothy and Titus, are not original to Paul, but rather an unknown Christian writing in Paul's name some time in the late-first-to-mid-2nd century.
Influence on Christianity
Paul's influence on Christian thinking arguably has been more significant than any other New Testament author. Paul declared that "Christ is the end of the law", exalted the Christian church as the body of Christ, and depicted the world outside the Church as under judgment. Paul's writings include the earliest reference to the "Lord's Supper", a rite traditionally identified as the Christian communion or Eucharist. In the East, church fathers attributed the element of election in Romans 9 to divine foreknowledge. The themes of predestination found in Western Christianity do not appear in Eastern theology. Augustine's foundational work on the gospel as a gift (grace), on morality as life in the Spirit, on predestination, and on original sin all derives from Paul, especially Romans.
In his commentary The Epistle to the Romans (Ger. Der Romerbrief; particularly in the thoroughly re-written second edition of 1922) Karl Barth argued that the God who is revealed in the cross of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions. Some theologians believe this work to be the most important theological treatise since Friedrich Schleiermacher's On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers.
In addition to the many questions about the true origins of some of Paul's teachings posed by historical figures as noted above, some modern theologians also hold that the teachings of Paul differ markedly from those of Jesus as found in the Gospels. Barrie Wilson states that Paul differs from Jesus in terms of the origin of his message, his teachings and his practices. Some have even gone so far as to claim that, due to these apparent differences in teachings, that Paul was actually no less than the "second founder" of Christianity (Jesus being its first).
Robert M. Price, in his book The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul, says "the Pauline epistles reveal themselves to the discerning reader to have exactly the same sort of limitation as the Gospels do: both are collections of fragments and pericopae contributed and fabricated by authors and communities of very different theological leanings".
As in the Eastern tradition in general, Western humanists interpret the reference to election in Romans 9 as reflecting divine foreknowledge.
Various Christian writers have suggested more details about Paul's life.
1 Clement, a letter written by the Roman bishop Clement of Rome around the year 90, reports this about Paul:
"By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance".
Commenting on this passage, Raymond Brown writes that while it "does not explicitly say" that Paul was martyred in Rome, "such a martyrdom is the most reasonable interpretation".
Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote in the 4th century, states that Paul was beheaded in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. This event has been dated either to the year 64, when Rome was devastated by a fire, or a few years later, to 67. According to one tradition, the church of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane marks the place of Paul's execution. A Roman Catholic liturgical solemnity of Peter and Paul, celebrated on June 29, commemorates his martyrdom, and reflects a tradition (preserved by Eusebius) that Peter and Paul were martyred at the same time. The Roman liturgical calendar for the following day now remembers all Christians martyred in these early persecutions; formerly, June 30 was the feast day for St. Paul. Persons or religious orders with special affinity for St. Paul can still celebrate their patron on June 30.
The apocryphal Acts of Paul and the apocryphal Acts of Peter suggest that Paul survived Rome and traveled further west. Some think that Paul could have revisited Greece and Asia Minor after his trip to Spain, and might then have been arrested in Troas, and taken to Rome and executed.[2 Tim. 4:13] A tradition holds that Paul was interred with Saint Peter ad Catacumbas by the via Appia until moved to what is now the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, writes that Pope Vitalian in 665 gave Paul's relics (including a cross made from his prison chains) from the crypts of Lucina to King Oswy of Northumbria, northern Britain. Paul is considered the patron saint of London.
The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul is celebrated on January 25.
Muslims have long believed that Paul purposefully corrupted the original revealed teachings of Jesus, through the introduction of such elements as paganism, the making of Christianity into a theology of the cross, and introducing original sin and the need for redemption.
In Sunni polemics, Paul plays the same role (of deliberately corrupting the early teachings of Jesus) as a later Jew, Abdullah ibn Saba', would play in seeking to destroy the message of Islam from within (by introducing proto-Shi'ite beliefs). Among those who supported this view were scholars Ibn Taymiyyah (who believed while Paul ultimately succeeded, Ibn Saba failed) and Ibn Hazm (who claimed that the Jews even admitted to Paul's sinister purpose).
Jewish interest in Paul is a recent phenomenon. Before the so-called Jewish reclamation of Jesus (as a Jew) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he had hardly featured in the popular Jewish imagination and little had been written about him by the religious leaders and scholars. Arguably, he is absent from the Talmud and rabbinical literature, although he makes an appearance in some variants of the medieval polemic Toledot Yeshu (as a spy for the rabbis). But with Jesus no longer regarded as the paradigm of gentile Christianity, Paul's position became more important in Jewish historical reconstructions of their religion's relationship with Christianity. He has featured as the key to building barriers (e.g. Heinrich Graetz and Martin Buber) or bridges (e.g. Isaac Mayer Wise and Claude G. Montefiore) in interfaith relations, as part of an intra-Jewish debate about what constitutes Jewish authenticity (e.g. Joseph Klausner and Hans Joachim Schoeps), and, on occasion, as a dialogical partner (e.g. Richard L. Rubenstein and Daniel Boyarin). He features in an oratorio (by Felix Mendelssohn), a painting (by Ludwig Meidner) and a play (by Franz Werfel), and there have been several novels about Paul (by Shalom Asch and Samuel Sandmel). Jewish philosophers (including Baruch Spinoza, Leo Shestov, and Jacob Taubes) and Jewish psychoanalysts (including Sigmund Freud and Hanns Sachs) have engaged with the apostle as one of the most influential figures in Western thought. Scholarly surveys of Jewish interest in Paul include those by Hagner (1980), Meissner (1996), and Langton (2010, 2011).
British Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby contended that the Paul as described in the book of Acts and the view of Paul gleaned from his own writings are very different people. Some difficulties have been noted in the account of his life. Paul as described in the Book of Acts is much more interested in factual history, less in theology; ideas such as justification by faith are absent as are references to the Spirit, according to Maccoby. He also pointed out that there are no references to John the Baptist in the Pauline Epistles, although Paul mentions him several times in the book of Acts.
Others have objected that the language of the speeches is too Lukan in style to reflect anyone else's words. Moreover, George Shillington writes that the author of Acts most likely created the speeches accordingly and they bear his literary and theological marks. Conversely, Howard Marshall writes that the speeches were not entirely the inventions of the author and while they may not be accurate word-for-word, the author nevertheless records the general idea of them.
F. C. Baur (1792–1860), professor of theology at Tubingen in Germany, the first scholar to critique Acts and the Pauline Epistles, and founder of the Tubingen School of theology, argued that Paul, as the "Apostle to the Gentiles", was in violent opposition to the original 12 Apostles. Baur considers the Acts of the Apostles were late and unreliable. This debate has continued ever since, with Adolf Deissmann (1866–1937) and Richard Reitzenstein (1861–1931) emphasising Paul's Greek inheritance and Albert Schweitzer stressing his dependence on Judaism.
In the second and, possibly, late first century, Gnosticism was a competing religious tradition to Christianity which shared some elements of theology.
Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University and an authority on Gnosticism, declined to judge (in her book The Gnostic Paul) whether Paul was actually a Gnostic. Instead, she concentrated on how the Gnostics interpreted Paul's letters and how evidence from gnostic sources may challenge the assumption that Paul wrote his letters to combat "gnostic opponents" and to repudiate their statement that they possess secret wisdom.
Professor Robert Eisenman of California State University, Long Beach argues that Paul was a member of the family of Herod the Great. Eisenman makes a connection between Paul and an individual identified by Josephus as "Saulus", a "kinsman of Agrippa". Another oft-cited element of the case for Paul as a member of Herod's family is found in Romans 16:11 where Paul writes, "Greet Herodion, my kinsman".
According to Timo Eskola, early Christian theology and discourse was influenced by the Jewish Merkabah tradition. Similarly, Alan Segal and Daniel Boyarin regard Paul's accounts of his conversion experience and his ascent to the heavens as the earliest first person accounts we have of a Merkabah mystic in Jewish or Christian literature. Conversely, Timothy Churchill has argued that Paul's Damascus road encounter does not fit the pattern of Merkabah.
Among the critics of Paul the Apostle was Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, who wrote that Paul was the "first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." Christian anarchists, such as Leo Tolstoy and Ammon Hennacy, take a similar view.
F.F. Powell argues that Paul, in his epistles, made use of many of the ideas of the Greek philosopher Plato, sometimes even using the same metaphors and language. For example, in Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates saying that the heavenly ideals are perceived as though "through a glass dimly", Paul's language closely mirrors this phrase 1 Corinthians 13.
The latest research into the life of Paul disputes his claim of conversion. In 2015, independent researchers P.J. Gott and Logan Licht reported evidence they discovered that suggests the books of the New Testament were written in "enigmatical modes of expression," the method Philo the Alexandrian Jew attributes to the Essene sect of Judaism. Josephus the Jewish historian writes, "The Essenes also, as we call a sect of ours…live the same kind of life as do those whom the Greeks call Pythagoreans…" " The Greek historian Plutarch ties "Pythagoreans" and "enigmatical modes of expression" together: "Pythagoras greatly admired the Egyptian priests, and, copying their symbolism and secret teachings, incorporated his doctrines in enigmas." After testing Philo's "Essene" method as reconstructed by heresy-hunters in the 17th century, they conclude that Acts' "Paulus also known as Saulus" was the same "Saulus" Josephus blames for the events that led to the destruction of the Temple in 70.