Story of Paul in the Bible

Biography and Childhood

The Acts of the Apostles and the autobiographical sections of Paul’s letters to the early Christian communities are the two primary sources of material that provide access to the first chapters of Paul’s career.

Paul was most likely born between the years of 5 BC and 5 AD. The Acts of the Apostles show that Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, although Helmut Koester questions the textual evidence.

martyr gorazd of prague, st. paul the apostle orthodox church, dayton, ohio
Martyr Gorazd of Prague, St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church, Dayton, Ohio

He came from a religious Jewish household in Tarsus. Tarsus, one of the largest trading hubs on the Mediterranean coast and famed for its university, had been one of the most significant towns in Asia Minor since the reign of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC.

Paul identified himself as “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; according to the law, a Pharisee.” The Bible says relatively little about Paul’s family.

Acts cite Paul as declaring he was “a Pharisee, born of Pharisees.” Acts 23:16 mentions Paul’s nephew, the son of his sister. In Romans 16:7, Paul adds that his relatives, Andronicus and Junia, were Christians before him and were prominent among the Apostles.

The family has a religious background. The family lineage had been deeply dedicated to Pharisaic rituals and observances for decades. According to Acts, he was a leather craftsman or tentmaker.

This was to be his first contact with Priscilla and Aquila, with whom he would work on tents and ultimately become extremely significant partners as fellow missionaries.

luca signorelli sermon and deeds of the antichrist wga21202 1024x837 1

Persecutors of early Christians

Before his conversion, Paul claims he persecuted early Christians “beyond measure,” notably Hellenised diaspora Jewish members who had returned to the Jerusalem region.

According to James Dunn, the Jerusalem community was made up of “Hebrews,” Jews who spoke both Aramaic and Greek, and “Hellenists,” Jews who spoke solely Greek, probably diaspora Jews who had relocated to Jerusalem.

Due to their anti-Temple stance, Paul’s earliest persecution of Christians was most likely focused against these Greek-speaking “Hellenists.” This also distinguished the early Jewish Christian group from the “Hebrews” and their continued involvement in the Temple ritual.

Apostle Paul’s Conversion

Paul’s conversion may be dated to 31–36 AD based on a mention of it in one of his letters. In Galatians 1:16, Paul states that God “was pleased to disclose his son to me.” In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul says, “last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me likewise.”

According to the story in the Acts of the Apostles, it happened on the journey to Damascus, when he reported seeing an ascended Jesus.

According to the narrative “He collapsed to the ground and heard a voice speak to him,

‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

‘Who are you, Lord?’

he inquired.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’

was the reply.”

According to Acts 9:1-22, he was blinded for three days and had to be brought into Damascus by hand.

During these three days, Saul fasted and prayed to God.

When Ananias of Damascus arrived, he put his hands on him and said,

“Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, who appeared unto thee on the path as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”

After his sight was restored, he stood up and was baptized. This tale appears solely in Acts, not in the Pauline epistles.

an orthodox icon of apostle paul. source: icon of 16 century, mount athos monastery of stavronikita.

Apostle Paul Early ministry

After his conversion, Paul traveled to Damascus, where he was cured of his eyesight and baptized by Ananias of Damascus, according to Acts 9.

Paul claims that he narrowly avoided death at Damascus. Paul also claims to have gone to Arabia before returning to Damascus.

Paul’s journey to Arabia is not recorded anywhere else in the Bible, and others believe he went to Mount Sinai for desert contemplation.

In Galatians, he recalls his trip to Jerusalem three years after his conversion.

He met James and remained with Simon Peter for 15 days. In Galatians 4:24–25, Paul describes Mount Sinai as being in Arabia.

Paul said that he received the Gospel not through men, but directly from “the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

He claimed nearly entire independence from the Jerusalem group (perhaps at the Cenacle) but agreed with it on the nature and substance of the gospel.

He was anxious to provide financial assistance to Jerusalem from the several flourishing Gentile churches he established. In his writings, Paul exploited his persecutions to claim intimacy and connection with Jesus and to validate his message.

According to Paul’s account in Galatians, he returned to Jerusalem 14 years after his conversion.

It is unknown what transpired during this period, however Acts and Galatians both give some information.

Though some believe Paul spent 14 years studying the scriptures and maturing in his beliefs.

After this period, Barnabas went to locate Paul and brought him to Antioch.

The Christian community in Antioch was founded by Hellenised diaspora Jews residing in Jerusalem, who played a vital role in reaching a Gentile, Greek audience, particularly at Antioch, which had a substantial Jewish community and a considerable number of Gentile “God-fearers.”

The outreach to the Gentiles began in Antioch, significantly changing the nature of the early Christian movement and ultimately transforming it into a new, Gentile religion.

story of paul in the bible

The first missionary journey of Apostle Paul

The author of Acts divides Paul’s voyage into three parts.

The first voyage, commissioned by the Antioch community and headed first by Barnabas, carried Barnabas and Paul from Antioch to Cyprus, then through southern Asia Minor, and ultimately back to Antioch.

In Cyprus, Paul rebukes and blinds Elymas the magician for rejecting their teachings.

They sailed to Perga in Pamphylia.

John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas continued to Pisidian Antioch.

They went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.

The leaders invited them to speak.

From life in Egypt to King David, Paul examined Israelite history.

He presented Jesus as a descendant of David who had been sent by God to Israel.

He said that his team came to town to offer the gospel of salvation.

He told the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

He used the Septuagint to claim that Jesus was the prophesied Christos who would atone for their sins.

Both the Jews and the “God-fearing” Gentiles urged them to continue their discussion on the next Sabbath.

Almost the whole city assembled at that moment.

This enraged several powerful Jews, who spoke out against them.

Paul utilized the opportunity to proclaim a shift in his mission, which would now be to Gentiles.

St. Paul’s missionary trips are shown on a map.

Antioch was a key Christian home base for Paul’s early missionary work, and he stayed there for “a long time with the disciples” near the end of his first tour.

The actual length of Paul’s stay at Antioch is uncertain, with estimates varying from nine months to eight years.

Antioch Incident

Despite the agreement reached by the Council of Jerusalem, Paul recalls how he subsequently publicly faced Peter in a debate known as the “Incident at Antioch” over Peter’s refusal to share a meal with Gentile Christians in Antioch because they did not fully conform to Jewish traditions.

Paul remembers the event later in writing,

“I confronted [Peter] since he was plainly in the wrong,”

he says, adding,

“You are a Jew, but you live like a Gentile, not like a Jew.”

So how can you compel Gentiles to adopt Jewish customs?”

Paul also writes that Barnabas, his traveling partner, and a fellow apostle at the time, stood with Peter.

The incident’s result is yet unknown.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Paul won the debate because “Paul’s recounting of the occurrence leaves no doubt that Peter understood the righteousness of the censure.”

However, Paul never cites a triumph, and L. Michael White’s From Jesus to Christianity concludes that “the blowup with Peter was a complete failure of political bravado, and Paul soon departed Antioch as persona non grata, never to return.”

The main source account of the Antioch Incident is Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.

Interval in Corinth

Paul spent 18 months at Corinth between 50 and 52 CE. The mention of Proconsul Gallio in Acts aids in determining this date.

In Corinth, Paul met Priscilla and Aquila, who became committed Christians and assisted Paul on his subsequent missionary missions.

The couple accompanied Paul and his friends to Ephesus and remained to establish one of the strongest and most devoted churches at the time.

Paul stopped in the adjacent hamlet of Cenchreae on his way out of Corinth in 52 CE to get his hair chopped off according to a pledge he had signed previously.

It’s conceivable that this was his last haircut before completing his promise to become a Nazirite for a certain amount of time.

The missionaries then sailed to Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila, while Paul traveled alone to Caesarea to welcome the Church there.

He next journeyed north to Antioch, where he remained for a while (Ancient Greek: v, “probably around a year”) before embarking on his third missionary journey.

Some New Testament writings indicate that he also visited Jerusalem around this time for one of the Jewish feasts, likely Pentecost.

Textual scholar Henry Alford and others believe the allusion to a Jerusalem journey is real, and it corresponds with Acts 21:29, which says Paul and Trophimus the Ephesian were previously seen in Jerusalem.

The journey from Rome to Spain

Among the writings of the early Christians, Pope Clement I said that Paul was the

“Herald (of the Gospel of Christ) in the West”

and that

“he had gone to the furthest of the west.”

According to John Chrysostom, Paul preached in Spain:

“For when he had been at Rome, he returned to Spain, but whether he came thence again into these regions, we do not know.”

According to Cyril of Jerusalem, Paul “completely preached the Gospel, educated even imperial Rome, and pushed the intensity of his preaching as far as Spain, enduring numerous struggles, and producing Signs and wonders.”

The Muratorian fragment recalls “Paul’s departure from the city [of Rome] when he traveled to Spain.”

Apostle Paul’s Death

The date of Paul’s death is thought to have happened after the Great Fire of Rome in July 64 AD, but before Nero’s last year in power, in 68AD.

The Second Epistle to Timothy indicates that Paul was seized in Troad and carried back to Rome, where he was imprisoned and tried; the Epistle was historically credited to Paul, but many academics now believe it to be pseudepigrapha, perhaps written by one of Paul’s students.

In his Epistle to the Corinthians, Pope Clement I states that when Paul

“had spoken his witness before the authorities,”

he

“departed from the world and withdrew into the holy place, having been found a noteworthy example of patient endurance.”

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius of Antioch mentions that Paul was martyred but provides no additional details.

saint paul rembrandt van rijn c 1657

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Eusebius claims that Paul was murdered during the Neronian Persecution and, paraphrasing Dionysius of Corinth, claims that Peter and Paul were executed “at the same time.”

Tertullian claims that Paul was beheaded like John the Baptist, a detail shared by Lactantius, Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Sulpicius Severus.

His martyrdom was eventually attributed to the Aquae Salviae on the Via Laurentina, according to mythology.

According to mythology, when Paul was beheaded, his severed head bounced three times, creating a stream of water each time it impacted the ground, which is how the location got the name “San Paolo alle Tre Fontane” (“St Paul at the Three Fountains”).

The apocryphal Acts of Paul also detail Paul’s martyrdom and burial, but their tale is extremely imaginative and mostly unhistorical.

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