Saint Paul who carried Christ's mission to alien lands and people

Paul the Apostle, also called the Paul of Tarsus, and Saint Paul, was a zealous Jew, who persecuted the early followers of Jesus Christ. However after his "Resurrection experience", he became a Christian and referred to himself as the "Apostle to the Gentiles". Of all the founders of the Church, Paul was perhaps the most brilliant and many-sided, the broadest in outlook, and therefore the best endowed to carry Christianity to alien lands and peoples.

Ananias restores the sight of Saint Paul.
A 1631 painting by Pietro Cortona.

Born into a well-to-do Jewish family of Tarsus, the son of a Roman citizen, Saul (as we shall call him until after his conversion) was sent to Jerusalem to be trained in the famous rabbinical school headed by Gamaliel. Here, in addition to studying the Law and the Prophets, he learned a trade, as was the custom. Young Saul chose the trade of tent-making. The Judaic, Roman, and Greek traditions and cultures all had a part in shaping this great Apostle, who was so different in status and temperament from the humble fishermen of Jesus' initial band of disciples. His missionary journeys were to give him the flexibility and the deep sympathy that made him the ideal human instrument for preaching Christ's Gospel of world brotherhood.

In the year 35 AD, Saul appears as a self-righteous young Pharisee, almost fanatically anti-Christian. He believed that the trouble-making new sect should be stamped out, its adherents punished. He was present, although not a participator in the stoning, when Stephen, the first martyr, met his death.

Transformation of Saul (St. Paul)

Paul experienced the revelation which was to transform his life. On the road to the Syrian city of Damascus, where he was going to continue his persecutions against the Christians, he was struck blind. On arriving in Damascus, there followed in dramatic sequence his sudden conversion, the cure of his blindness by the disciple Ananias, and his baptism. Paul accepted eagerly the commission to preach the Gospel of Christ, but like many another called to a great task he felt his unworthiness and withdrew from the world to spend three years in "Arabia" in meditation and prayer before beginning his apostolate.

From the moment of his return, Paul—for he had now assumed this Roman name—never paused in his labors. It proved to be the most extraordinary career of preaching, writing, and church-founding of which we have record. The extensive travels by land and sea, so replete with adventure, are to be traced by anyone who reads carefully the New Testament letters. He himself tells us he was stoned, thrice scourged, thrice shipwrecked, endured hunger and thirst, sleepless nights, perils and hardships; besides these physical trials, he suffered many disappointments and almost constant anxieties over the weak and widely-scattered communities of Christians.

Paul’s mission and Persecution

  • Paul began his preaching in Damascus. Here the anger of the orthodox Jews against this renegade was so great that he had to make his escape by having himself let down from the city wall in a basket. Going down to Jerusalem, he was there looked on with suspicion by the Jewish Christians, for they could not at first believe that he who had so lately been their persecutor had turned advocate.
  • Many plots were made against Paul in the last years of his life, especially by Jews who would stir the crowd and excite them when Paul was preaching. He was beaten more than once, and put in prison. He was persecuted in every one of his missionary journeys. He was persecuted because of a “lack of understanding, preconceptions, irritations and provocation.” The message of a risen Christ and Savior was aggravating for Jews as well as many pagan believers. During his first missionary journey, Paul was stoned in the city of Lystra for healing a crippled man. Some Jews dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead but when his disciples came around him, he miraculously got up and went into the city. Paul was also put in prison while he was in Philippi and also in Jerusalem.
  • At Antioch, on a Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear his message. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.
  • At Iconium the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against him.  The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat and stone him. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country.
  • In Lystra, Paul healed a man who was lame. But some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But, he got up and went back into the city.
  • At Macedonia, some people seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. The magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison. At about midnight suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.  When it was daylight, the magistrates ordered to release them.
Geography relevant to Paul's life, stretching rom Jerusalem to Rome.

At Jerusalem, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”  The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, some officers and soldiers ran down to the crowd. The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains.

Saint Paul arrested

Arrest and death

  • He arrived in Rome c 60 and spent two years under house arrest. All told, during his ministry the Apostle Paul spent roughly 5½ to 6 years as a prisoner or in prison. Neither the Bible nor other history says how or when Paul died. According to Christian tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero around the mid-60s at Three Fountains Abbey. By comparison, tradition has Peter being crucified upside-down. Paul's Roman citizenship accorded him the more merciful death by beheading.
  • In Christian art St. Paul is usually depicted as a bald man with a black beard, rather stocky, but vigorous and intense. His relics are venerated in the basilica of St. Paul and in the Lateran Church at Rome.
Saint Paul's beheading. Painting by Enrique Simonet in 1887

In June 2009, Pope Benedict announced excavation results concerning the tomb of Paul at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The sarcophagus itself was not opened but was examined by means of a probe. It revealed pieces of incense and purple and blue linen as well as small bone fragments. The bone was radiocarbon dated to the 1st to 2nd century. According to the Vatican, this seems to confirm the tradition of the tomb being Paul's.

The Speciality of St. Paul

  • He risked his life a couple times to perform these miracles and show God’s glory. Not all the miracles he performed were to proclaim the Gospel, some of them were to comfort the people, and to meet their physical needs. He followed Jesus’ method of meeting people’s physical needs when that was what they needed before everything, and meeting their spiritual needs when it was what was needed. Paul did not use the miracles to attract people to Christianity, he was giving an example of what Christian love should be.
  • Contrary to a lot of missionaries from today, he didn’t seek financial support for himself. Paul didn’t want to create the confusion that religion was a sort of trade by asking for money. He didn’t want to burden his disciples by demanding financial support. He did receive gifts sometimes but never sought for it. He knew how to be content with what he had.
  • He preached in the synagogue to Jews, and also preached to Gentiles. There are four characteristics particular to Paul and his way of preaching:
    1. Great compassion toward the hearers, their difficulties, theirs needs, their beliefs and their doctrines.
    2. Courage in acknowledging that there are difficulties that cannot be avoided.
    3. Respect for the audience. He treated them like humans who are in spiritual need as much as him and as Christians in general.
    4. Confidence in the Truth of his message and its power.
  • Even though Paul was persecuted and had a lot of reasons to abandon, he didn’t. He “finished the race and fought the good fight.” His method as a missionary are used and studied a lot by today’s missionaries. He set an example for missionaries today.
  • Paul has given us a wealth of counsel, aphorisms, and ethical teachings; he had the power of expressing spiritual truths in the simplest of words, and this, rather than the building up of a systematic theology, was his contribution to the early Church. A man of action, Paul reveals the dynamic of his whole career when he writes, "I press on towards the goal, to the prize of God's heavenly calling in Christ Jesus." Although he himself was forever pressing onwards, his letters often invoked a spirit of quiet meditation, with the beautiful lines: "Whatever things are true, whatever honorable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovable, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything worthy of praise, think upon these things."

Paul and Jesus

Instead of describing Christ, Paul's work concentrated on the nature of Christians' relationship with Christ and, in particular, on Christ's saving work (to give up His own life to safeguard others' life). Some of the life incidents of Jesus Christ, mentioned by Paul, are the Last Supper, His death by crucifixion and His resurrection.
St Paul had written three doctrines - Justification, Redemption and Reconciliation. Paul said that Christ took the punishment on behalf of sinners, so that they are relieved off their divine retribution. In the doctrine of 'Justification', faith is regarded as the most vital constituent. A person having faith will achieve salvation on the ground of sacrifice of Jesus.

'Redemption' is themed on freeing of slaves. Just as a specific price was paid to relieve a slave from the ownership of another, in the same way, Christ paid the price of His death, as a ransom, to relieve the common man from their sins.

'Reconciliation' deals with the fact that Christ brought down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles (peoples in all nations), created by law. The doctrine basically deals with the making of peace.

The message of St. Paul

Let your love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."

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