THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT MAN IN HISTORY
Paul (firstly known as Saul) was a student of the Hebrew language from
Old Testament texts. At home his parents probably spoke the current dialect
- Aramaic. As Paul related to the larger community, he learned the Greek
language and most likely Latin. This experience was paramount in his role
as a chief persecutor and as an Apostle of Christ among the Gentiles. Saul,
Paulís Hebrew name, was a self-proclaimed Hebrew of Hebrews was born of
Roman and Jewish descent. A Hebrew from the tribe of Benjamin and also
born a Roman Citizen in the cosmopolitan outpost Roman city of self- governing,
Tarsus, where he was educated. Paul being his official Roman name, was
probably named after King Saul the first king of Israel also a Benjaminite.Tarsus
was situated in the strategic region of south eastern Asia Minor called
Cilicia, a Roman province that was the most important city in the area,
being situated on a river bank it was a prized location, because of protection
by the Tarsus Mountains. Through an opening in the mountains ran a great
international trading highway. Saul knew Greek philosophy and had a very
good education. Young Saul was the son of a tent maker, a much-needed product
for travelling merchants. At the age of twelve her was taught his fatherís
trade as were all Jewish children required to do, whether male of female.
Prior to this age, it was the duty of his parents to teach Saul the Laws
of Moses, the history of the Jewish race and The Holy Scriptures. His mother
would have had a great role in teaching her children, of which it is known
Saul had at least one sister.
Saul, was a Pharisee by birth and conviction. A religious group, who believed themselves to be better at keeping the laws of tithing and purity, better than other Jewish people. Saul adapted the Scripture according to his day with burdensome laws. He believed in the resurrection of the dead. Pharisees were popular and became representatives on the Sanhedrin dominating the legislative body in Jerusalem.Being a devout Pharisee during his lifetime Saul probably would have heard of or seen John The Baptist, as all Jews believed John to be a prophet of God and heard the talk about the prophet who pointed the way to Christ. No doubt Saul also would have heard of Jesus of Nazareth, who was a few years older, being a miracle worker in the Galilean area, for most Jews and many Gentile areas had come to know of great works being done by His ministry. During his early manhood, Saul was privileged to be tutored under Gamaliel, a wise and intellectual Pharisee Rabbi who was a reflective thinker of the Law and well-learned man who taught scholars. At the Jerusalem Temple, Saul had all the debates of religion recorded to read and study. To be a Pharisee it was important to be a married family man. Saul probably would have been married. It is not know what happened to his wife but a true Pharisee believed in marriage and a family. Planning a great career for himself amongst the Pharisees, a Jewish sect, Saul was most probably a member of the Sanhedrim. He may have already been one, as a few years after the death of Christ he had voted with others for the life of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to be taken. Saul was ambitious for a good career within the Pharisee sect and sought after legal documents from the Temple high priest for himself to have jurisdiction over the Jews who had left Jerusalem and were leaving the Jewish faith as did Stephen, to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Saulís sincerity and enthusiasm was misguided.
Saulís early life of worldly education, being devoted to the writings of Moses, zealous for God and Jewish faith held him in good stead for becoming the Apostle to the Jews and the Gentiles but to be the chief persecutor of the early Christians, Paul would have needed to know as much as possible about Jesus and the church to persecute believers of Christ. He knew the message of Christianity: Jesusí resurrection, His Messiahship, and His availability to all humankind. Because the persecution of many disciples and their truths and faith in Christ, he would have heard many stories about Jesus, as he purposely would make them blaspheme against Jesus. Jesus had said He was The Son of God, and for this reason the Jewish Religious leaders and Teachers of the Law of Moses had Jesus crucified for what they called was blasphemy, because they did not believe Him. As a notable Ďup and comingí Jewish Pharisee, who had marked out his future in being of prominent importance within the Jewish Faith, amongst its Leaders, Paul was well known for his eagerness to imprison those who believed in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Many Christians had fled Jerusalem because of persecution and Paul was determined to pursue them and imprison them all, even to have them killed. The keen Pharisee was on his way to Damascus and a group of men armed with documents with the authority of permission from Jerusalem to seize all Christians living there. This was legally possible since city governments were known to permit the Jewish sector of the city a reasonable degree of self-government. The journey would take at least a week and Paul would have had many probing and perhaps doubting thoughts.
Paulí conversion (AD 35) A few miles away from Damascus, Jesus Himself appeared to Paul and spoke to him; all those in the party saw brilliant light, and heard a voice. Suddenly the Resurrected, Glorified Jesus Christ appeared to him. Paul identified the person and speaker as Jesus - the very one whom Stephen had seen at the right hand of God when Paul witnessed Stephenís stoning. This brightness of Christís presence blinded Paul for three days. Paul now knew that he had been persecuting Christ, The Messiah, for whom the Jewish people had long awaited. Indeed Jesus was The Son of God, and Paul himself now had acknowledged this. In this conversion experience, Paul accepted the claims of Jesus and the church, the very thing he was seeking to destroy. Jesus was truly the Messiah and took priority over the Temple and the Law. The experience was also Paulís call to carry the gospel to the Gentile world. Still blind, Paul was then led into Damascus. Living in the city at this time was a devout observer of Godís Word and a disciple of Christ, Ananias, a well respected Jewish man by the Jewish community dwelling there. Jesus had appeared to Ananias in a vision and told him to go to a certain street and house where Paul was staying, that he had been praying and expecting a man called Ananias to visit him and restore his sight in the Name of Jesus. After Paul received his sight, like other believer before him, he was baptised. God in His Sovereignty and Grace had chosen to use the Churchís chief opponent as His instrument and transform him as one of the greatest leaders and missionary for Christ and for the Body of Christ in both Jews and Gentiles alike in the history of The Church. Both his conversion and call are reflected in Paulís letters. He wrote that Jesus had appeared to him and that the gospel he preached had come by revelation. God had called him. His conversion brought a complete change in the inner controlling power of his life. It was like dying and receiving a new life or being created anew. This experience of radical change and call to the Gentiles provided the motivation to travel throughout the Roman world and to keep legalism from taking hold, especially circumcision for gentiles. If Paul had not cleared up that false teaching the church would not be free from the Jewish Law today.
The first large Jewish and non-Jewish Christian Church was located at Antioch and it was there where the believers were first called Christians, after Christ, Ďthe anointed oneí. News came to the church at Jerusalem and the church council sent Barnabas to Antioch. When her arrived he was thrilled at Godís Grace upon the local church and encouraged them to remain faithful to the Truth of Christ. It was at this time when Barnabas remembered Paul in Tarsus; he travelled there, found him and brought him back to Antioch. From Paulí earliest activities, it became evident that the gospel he preached caused tension between believers and the synagogue. Paul had been called by God to carry the gospel to the Gentiles and this call was recognised by the leaders of the Jerusalem church, the very church in which the most distinguished of the apostles resided - Peter, James and John.
Tradition has recorded that perhaps Paul was beheaded outside Rome by the order of the deranged Roman Emperor, Nero. In most of his letters, Paul identified himself from the beginning as an apostle of Christ Jesus. His certainty of the gospel and his relationship to Christ was the grounds of his alliance to the churches. He knew the mystery of Christ, which is simply that the gospel is for the Gentiles without any restriction. Very few disciples become such a famous, useful, willing instrument of The Lord Jesus Christ like Paul. Paulís writings are the major source of Christian Doctrine both because of the amount of material and because of Paulís intensively theological knowledge. Although Paul expected worthy Christian conduct, he was not legalistic. Legalism means keeping rules for ruleís sake. Rules are essential for Christian training. In as extended discussion about Christian conduct he emphasised that a believer will be sensitive to the effect his conduct will have on a fellow believer. The ultimate standard of Christian conduct is Christ Himself.
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