By Bill Warren, NOBTS
Question: What do we know about the Apostle Paul, one of my favorite Bible characters?
Bill Warren responds: Paul, what a giant of a Christian! Paul wrote a large portion of the New Testament, was a major Christian leader in Acts, and has continued to impact Christianity throughout the centuries. “Paul” was his Greco-Roman name, while “Saul” was his Jewish name.
He was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38), having been born in Tarsus, a major center of learning in the Roman world. His education may have included training there, but the evidence is not sufficient to be certain.
The norm, however, was for young boys to finish their primary training before shifting often to a different setting for secondary training, so perhaps Paul studied in Tarsus before moving to Jerusalem to study under the leading Rabbi of the time, Gamaliel. Paul knew Greek well, understood the non-Jewish world and its customs, and interacted easily with non-Jewish people, so regardless of how and where, he was well educated by both Greco-Roman and Jewish standards.
God used this training as Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was used to open the door fully for non-Jews to become followers of Jesus without converting to Judaism (a door first opened when Cornelius responded to Peter’s preaching).
As for Paul’s life, the existing information and deductions we can make from it indicate that he was born in Tarsus around A.D. 5 to 10.
Shortly after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), he began persecuting the church. But while doing this, Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and Paul was never the same again.
He became an ardent follower of Jesus. His three missionary journeys in Acts propelled the church forward into the Greco-Roman world, especially in terms of Gentiles coming into the church.
The first journey likely happened between A.D. 47-48, with the Acts 15 council about the Gentile question that surfaced due to that first journey’s results probably happening in A.D. 49.
Paul’s second journey was from about A.D. 50-52, with his third journey covering approximately A.D. 53-57. Paul then spent two years in prison in Caesarea by the Sea before going to Rome about A.D. 59 or 60.
According to our earliest tradition from Irenaeus, a late second-century Church Father, Paul died in Rome sometime between A.D. 63-67.
A true giant in Christian history, Paul’s commitment to Christ, unique preparation and talents, and lasting legacy through his letters continue to be used by God in powerful ways today.
Bill Warren, PhD., Professor of New Testament and Greek in the Landrum P. Leavell, II, Chair of NT Studies, founding Director of the H. Milton Haggard Center at NOBTS