Paul the Apostle

Early Life and Training, A.D 1—35: Holman

J E Bradburn


The Predication of Saint Paul LACMA M.2000.179.24.jpgIt would be difficult to overstate the importance of Paul (Saul of Tarsus)to the development of Christianity in the first century. He wrote 13 epistles that comprise almost one fourth of the New Testament. Approximateley 16 chapters of the Book of Acts (13—28) focus on his ministry labours. Thus Paul is the author or subject of nearly one-third of the New Testament and the most important interpreter of the teachings of Christand of the significance of His life,death, and resurection.


Early Life and Training A.D 1—35 (birth and family background)

Paul was born to a Jewish family in Tarsus of Cicilia, probably sometime during the first decade of the first century. Acts 22:3 (KJV) “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.”


According to, Jerome Paul’s family moved to Tarsus from Gischala in Galilee. Paul’s family was of the tribe of Benjamin, and he was named for the most prominent (large and projecting) member of the tribe—King Saul.


Philippians 3:5 (KJV) “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee


Paul probably came from a family of tent makers or leatherworkers and, according to Jewish custom, was taught this trade by his father. Apparently the business thrived, and Paul’s family became moderately wealthy. Paul was a citizen of the city of Tarsus, “an important city.”


Acts 21:39 (KJV) “But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people


According to one ancient writer, the property qualification for Tarsian citizenship was 500 dracmae, eighteen months wages.


Roman Citizenship

More importantly, Paul was born a Roman citezen. Many speculate that Paul’s father or grandfather was honoured with citzenship because of some special service rendered to a milatary proconsul. However, early Christian tradition preserved by Jerome and Photius stated that Paul’s parents had been carried as prisoners of war from Gischala to Tarsus, enslaved to a Roman citizen, then freed and granted citizeship, the Book of Acts states three times that he possessed it, and his citizenship was accompanied by important rights that would benefit him in his missionary labours.The Roman citizen had the right of appeal after a trial, excemption from military imperial service, the right to chooses between a local or Roman trial, and protection from degrading forms of punishment like scourging (a whip that is used for inflicting punishment). Paul might have carried a wax tablet that functioned as a birth certificate or certificate of citizenship in order to prove his Roman citizenship. However, most people who claimed citiezenship were trusted since the penalty for impersonating a Roman citizen was death.

Rabbinic training

Paul grew up in Jerusalem. Acts 22:3 (KJV) “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day


Paul used this fact to prove that he was no Diaspora Jew (the dispersion of the Jews from Palestine following the Babylonians' conquest of the Judaean Kingdom in the 6th century bc and again following the Romans' destruction of the Second Temple in ad 70). Who was more influenced by Gentile culture than Jewish ways. He was educated in Jerusalem in the Jewish religion according to the traditions of ancestors.


The Misnah taught,Content%20and%20purpose,%22)%20that%20guided%20his%20decision. “At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen [for the fulfilling of] the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, (the collection of ancient Jewish writings that forms the basis of Jewish religious law, consisting of the early scriptural interpretations Mishnah and the later commentaries on them Gemara.), at eithteen for the bride chamber, at twenty for pursuing a calling. At thirty for authority.”

This is probably a fairly accurate description of the regimen (a prescribed or recommended programme), of training Paul experienced. Acts 22 says that Paul was trained by Rabbi Gamaliel, the member of the Sanhedrin mentioned in:


Acts 5 :33—39 (KJV) 

33 “When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them

34 “Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space

35 “And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men

36 “For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.”

37 “After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed

38 “And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought

39 “But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”

But if it be God, you cannot hope even to deny it, [whatever it is]; otherwise you fight against God [and you will lose].


Gamaliel was a leading Jewish teacher in Paul’s day.The Mishnah mentions Gamaliel 1 frequently and expresses many of his opinions. (Gamaliel the Elder, or Rabban Gamaliel I, was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early first century AD. He was the son of Simeon ben Hillel and grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder. Gamaliel is thought to have died in 52 AD). Gamaliel was listed among 13 great rabbis whose deaths marked the decline of Judaism: “When Rabbi Gamaliel the elder died the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.” The passage implies that Gamaliel was as renowned for his high moral standards as for his interpretation of the Scriptures. Paul quickley excelled as a Jewish rabbinical student. As Paul says in:


 Galatians 1:14 (KJV) “And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”


In Phillipians 3 Paul describes himself as “circumcised the eighth day; of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews;  as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to the righteousness that is within the law, blameless.” In Acts 26:5 (KJV) Paul again identifies himself himself with the sect of the Pharisees. His father had also been a Pharisee:


Acts 26:5 (KJV) “Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee


Acts 23:6 (KJV) “But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.’”

Persecution of Christians

As an ideal Pharisee Paul was probably active as a Jewish missionary winning Gentiles as proselytes (a new convert to a religious faith). He may have been like the Pharisees Jesus described who travelled “over land and sea to make one convert”


Matthew 23:15 (KJV) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves


Paul’s words “If I still preach circumcision” it may allude to his past as a Jewish missionary.


Galatians 5:1 (KJV) “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage


Paul, more than his mentor Gamaliel, recognised the serious threat that the followers of Jesus posed to the traditional Jewish religion.The Mishnah that a Jewish male was ready for a position of authority at the age of 30. Thus Paul was probably in his 30s when he, with authorisation from the chief priest, began to imprison believers first in the synagogues of Jerusalem and then later in Damascus. Perhaps Paul’s clearest description of persecution is found in:


 Acts 26:9—11 (KJV)

09 “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth

10 “Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them

11 “And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities


Some believe this reference to casting a vote (literally “casting a pebble”) (black for no or white for yes) implies that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. However, it is difficult to imagine that Paul would not have explicitly stated this especially on those occasions in which he highlights his devout Jewish pedigree. Most commentators thus take the statement as a metaphor implying Paul consented to the execution of believers or suggest that he was a member of a committee appointed by the Sanhedrin and vested with his authority. Paul’s initial and adamant rejection of Jesus as the Messiah may largely have been motivated by Jesus’ ignoble death. 

Death by crucifixion was indicative of divine curse.


Deuteronomy 21:23 (KJV) “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”


Certainly the Messiah could not have died under the curse of God. However, when Paul wrote his first epistle, this death curse was recognised as the grounds for substitutionary atonement.


Galatians 3:10—14 (KJV)

10 “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them

11 “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith

12 “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them

13 “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree

14 “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith


In 1 Corinthians 1 (KJV) Paul explained that the idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews. Probably  Pal was speaking from his own past experiences.


Paul’s conversion

While Saul [later named Paul by Jesus] was on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison believers there, the ressurected and glorified Christ appeared to him with blinding radiance. This was Christ’s to him: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” which indicate that God had already begun His convicting work earlier. Like an ox kicking against a goad (to prod an animal with a long pointed stick)

In the hand the ox driver, Paul had been resisting divine guidance and leadership resulting in his own harm and pain. At the appearance of Christ, Saul immediatley surrendered to his authority and went into the city to await further orders.There his blindness was healed, received the Holy Spirit and accepted believer’s baptism. No doubt Ananias shared with Pual the message that the lord had given him as a message in a vision:


“This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel (Judah, Ben, I will certainly show him how much he must suffer for My name!” Paul spent a few days with the disciples in Damascus.


It was from Antioch in Turkey that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was launched.


Paul’s Missionary Travels (AD 35—61)

Soon after his conversion, Paul traveled to Arabia where he began evangelization (to convert somebody or the people of an area to Christianity, especially by preaching or missionary work) of the Nabatean  Arabs’


Galatians 1:17 (KJV) “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus


2 Corinthians 11:32—33 (KJV)

32 “In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me

33 “And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands


And probably experienced his first opposition to the gospel from poilitical authorities. He then returned to Demascus where he began to go into the synagogues to preach the message that had been revealed to him on the Damascus road: Jesus (Hebrew Elohim) and the promised Messiah. The Jews in Damascus watched the city gates in order to kill Paul and he had to escape through a window in the wall by being lowered in a basket.


Acts 9:22—25 (KJV)

22 “But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ

23 “And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him

24 “But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him

25 “Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket


Paul then traveled to Jerusalem. Church leaders were initially suspicous of Paul but Barnabas intervened on his behalf.


Acts 9:26—30 (KJV)

26 “And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple

27 “But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus

28 “And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem

29 “And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him

30 “Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus


Galatians 1:18 (KJV) “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days


After 15 days in Jerusalem, visiting Peter and James, the Lord’s brother, Paul returned to Tarsus evangelizing Syria and Cicilia for several years. Doubtless he heard them describe Jesus’ life and teachings, even though Paul’s gospel was clearly defined even before his visit.  While in Syria, Barnabas contacted Paul and invited him to to become involved in the Antioch church. Where large numbers of Gentiles were responding to the gospel. The church at Antioch collected money to carry to the believers who suffered in Judea during a period of famine. Barnabas and Paul were chosen by the church to carry the gift to jerusalem.


Acts 11:27—30 (KJV)

27 “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch

28 “And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth [lack] throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar

29 “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea

30 “Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul


This probably was the occasion of the conference described by Paul in:  


Galatians  2:1—10 (KJV)

01  “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also

02 “And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain

03 “But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised

04 “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage

05 “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you

06 “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me

07 “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter

08 “(For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)”

09 “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision

10 “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do


 Many equate this with the Jerusalem Council, but if Galatians were written after an official ruling by the apostles, Paul would only have to display the letter from the apostles to discredit the Judah officials. Furthermore, this conference appears to have been a private meeting rather than a public one. The pillars of the Jerusalem church, Peter, John, and James the brother of Jesus, approved the no law gospel preached by Paul, and his focus on Gentile evangelism.    

  Paul and Barnabas soon began their first missionary journey, travelling through Cyprus and Anatolia probably during the years AD 47—48. The missionary team carried the gospel to the cities of Pisidia,

Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. These cities were located in the Roman province of Galatia, and it is probable the church in south Galatia to which the epistle to the Galatians was probably addressed. Galatians was probably written during this journey.


Jerusalem Council

When Paul returned to Antioch from the first missionary journey, he found himself embroiled in controversy over requirements for Gentile salvation Peter and Barnabas were facilitating (to make something easy or easier to do) on the issue of Jew – Gentile relaionships.    


Map of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah Even worse, some false teachers rom the Jerusalem church had infiltrated congregations in Antioch and was teaching “unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (is a load of rubbish taught by the Pharisee’s) The church appointed Paul and Barnabas to go to Jerusalem and settle the matter. A council was convened in AD 49 that included the missionary team, those who insisted upon circumcision as a requirement of for salvation (the saving of somebody or something from harm, destruction, difficulty, or failure) and the apostles. The Apostle Peter and James the brother of Jesus spoke in defence of Paul’s Law free gospel, and a letter was sent to the Gentile churches confirming the official view. Paul returned to Antioch and remained there from 49—51.


Second Missionary Journey

The second missionary journey carried Paul through Macedonia and Achaia in AD 50—52. Paul and Barnabas parted company early in this journey in a disagreement about the participation of Barnabas’s nephew John Mark. Mark had abandoned the team on the first journey.


Acts 15:38 (KJV) “But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work


Paul took Silas and established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Barnabas went with John Mark. Paul also spent 18 months in Corinth strengthening a fledgling church there. Four of Paul’s letters are addressed to churches known from the second journey. Most scholars believe that 1 and 2 Thessalonians was written during this this journey.


Third Missionary Journey

Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 53—57) focused on the city of Ephesus where Paul spent the better part of three years. Toward the end of this journey Paul worked hard to collect another relief offering for Jerusalem believers. Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans during this journey.


The Final years

Paul carried the relief offering to Jerusalem. While in the temple performing ritual to demonstrate his Jewish faithfulness to some of the Jerusalem believers, Jewish opponents incited a riot, and Paul was arrested (AD 57). Paul was sent to Caesarea to stand trial before the procurator Felix. After two years of procrastination on the part of his detainers, Paul finally appealed to the Roman emperor for trial.  After arriving in Rome Paul spent two years under house arrest awaiting his trial. Paul wrote Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians during this first Roman imprisonment.

  The record of acts ends at this point so information as to the outcome of the trial is sketchy. Early church tradition suggests that Paul was acquitted (ca AD 63) or exiled and fulfilled the dream expressed in: Romans of carrying the gospel to Spain in AD (63—67)


Romans 15:23—29 (KJV) 

23 “But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you

24 “Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company

25 “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints

26 “For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem

27 “It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things

28 “When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain

29 “And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ


Paul probably wrote 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus during the period between his acquittal and a second Roman imprisonment. According to church tradition Paul was arrested again and subjected to a harsher imprisonment. He was condemned by the emperor Nero and beheaded with the sword at the third milestone on the Ostain way, at a place called Aquae Salviae, and lies buried on the site covered by the basilica of St Paul outside the Walls. His execution probably occurred in AD 67.No biblical record of the appearance of Paul or his physical condition exists. We know that he must have been a hearty individual to endure the abuses and trials that he suffered as an apostle.