• David Lee Brown

Paul – His Early Years



The author Raymond E. Brown has rightfully stated, “Next to Jesus Paul has been the most influential figure in the history of Christianity…” [1]

Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia in Modern day Turkey. His Jewish parents gave him the Hebrew name Saul (סול), which translated into Greek is, Paul (Ο Παύλος). He was named after his ancestor King Saul of the tribe Benjamin, the first King of Israel. [2] According to Christian History Today, Paul was born in 6 AD. [3] According to Smith, Saul was also born a Roman Citizen, which meant his family was either wealthy or important for some reason that is not clearly defined in scripture or extra-Biblical sources. [4]

When Saul was a young man probably in his teens, he traveled to Jerusalem to be taught under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Gamaliel was the greatest teacher of his time in the subjects of Jewish scripture and religious law. Saul was getting an expensive premier education – another indication of his family’s wealth. Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin or Jewish Ruling Council and a Pharisee. Saul was being trained as a Pharisee and as he learned from the teachings of Gamaliel, he became a very learned Pharisee in his own right. Saul was about 24 when he completed his training.

Gamaliel was a moderate and when the Sanhedrin was up-in-arms about Jesus and his teachings Gamaliel advocated moderation, but according to Smith, Saul did not become a moderate like his Rabbi (teacher), but joined the Jewish leaders that advocated violence against this new messianic sect referred to as “The Way”. [5] In John 14:6, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The fact that Jesus himself said he was “The Way” and that no one comes unto the Father except by him, was one of the primary reasons he was rejected by hardline Jews like Saul. Saul was all about the Law of Moses – passionate about the law like all of the Pharisees.

At one gathering of the Sanhedrin, one of these messianic Jews that was a member of “The Way” appeared before the Council. When they heard what Stephen had to say, they started taking off their cloaks and gathering rocks in order to stone Stephen. Saul offered to watch their cloaks as the rest of them stoned Stephen to death. Saul wasn’t such a great guy at this time. Saul was about 27 at the time Stephen was stoned to death, but instead of assisting in the stoning, he just stood there and watched. Saul participated in the persecution of the followers of “The Way” from about 30-33 AD (They were not called Christians until about 44-46 AD when they were in Antioch).

Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute more followers of “The Way”. That’s when Saul encountered Jesus. Saul was struck blind and Saul said, “And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.” Acts 22:7-8 Then he, with his companions leading him, made it to Damascus. While there, a man named Ananias said to Saul, “…Brother Saul, receive thy sight...” Acts 22:13 and Saul regained his sight. This conversion changed Saul’s life, and after he was Baptized, he departed for Arabia.

Arabia, which is the land south of Damascus including parts of modern Jordan and Saudi Arabia, were also know at that time as the Nabatean Kingdom. [6] No one knows what he did in Arabia from 33-36 AD, but when he returned to Damascus he was preaching Jesus as Lord and Savior, the only way to the Father. After he was chased out of Damascus, due to persecution [oh, how the tables have turned] he traveled to Tarsus to preach from 36-44 AD.

These were the early years of Saul or Paul in Greek. Many have claimed a name change took place on the date of his conversion, when he met Jesus, but there is no change noted in Acts 22. It is just the same name written in two different languages. This supposed name change is more of a belief than a scripturally based fact.

After these early missionary tasks to Damascus, Tarsus and Antioch, he started his missionary journeys. Most people only talk about his conversion and his missionary journeys, but Paul was a seasoned preacher and teacher by the time he went on those amazing and fruitful missionary journeys.

References

[1] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (Newhaven/London: Doubleday, 1997), 422.

[2] James D. Smith III, "Boundary Breaker," Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, accessed August 11, 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-47/boundary-breaker.html.

[3] Janet M. Everts, "The Apostle Paul and His Times: Christian History Timeline," Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, accessed August 11, 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-47/apostle-paul-and-his-times-christian-history-timeline.html.

[4] Smith III, "Boundary Breaker".

[5] Smith III, "Boundary Breaker".

[6] Jeffrey Weima, "Videos - 'Paul the Missionary'," Dr. Jeffrey A. D. Weima, accessed August 11, 2018, http://www.jeffweima.com/p/videos.html.


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