Biography of Paul of Tarsus

Paul of Tarsus helped make Christianity what it is today.

Paul of Tarsus - St. Paul
Paul of Tarsus - St. Paul. Public Domain - Courtesy of Wikipedia

Paul was a historical figure who set the tone for Christianity. It was Paul, and not Jesus, whose writing emphasized celibacy and the theory of divine grace and salvation, and it was Paul who eliminated the circumcision requirement. It was Paul who used the term euangelion, 'the gospel' in connection with the teaching of Christ [Acts.20.24 τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς χάριτος; Romans1.1 εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ].

Paul met James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter, the Apostle, in Jerusalem. He then went on to Antioch where he converted Gentiles. This helped make Christianity a universal religion.

Dates of Paul of Tarsus

Paul of Tarsus, in Cilicia, in what is now Turkey, was also known by the Jewish name of Saul. Paul, a name he may have had thanks to his Roman citizenship, was born early in the first century A.D. or late in the last century B.C. in a Greek-speaking area of the Roman Empire. His parents came from Gischala, in Galilee, according to Jerome. Paul was executed in Rome, under Nero, in about A.D. 67.

Conversion of St. Paul

Paul or Saul, as he was originally called, a tent-maker, was a Pharisee who was educated and spent many years in Jerusalem (until about A.D. 34, according to PBS). He was on his way to Damascus to continue his mission of stamping out converts to the new Jewish sect of Christians when he experienced a vision of Jesus, which he describes in Acts 9:1 – 9 (also Gal. 1:15–16). From then on he became a missionary, spreading the message of Christianity. He also wrote a large part of the New Testament.

Contributions of St. Paul

Writings of St. Paul include ones that are disputed and ones that are generally accepted. The accepted ones are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Those of disputed authorship are Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 3 Corinthians, and Epistle to the Laodiceans. Paul's letters are the earliest surviving Christian literature.

In an otherwise negative review of The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book on Paul, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor quotes what the authors say about the writing of Paul:

" The "First Paul" is the author of the Pauline letters generally accepted as authentic. Historically, according to Borg and Crossan, he was followed by "Conservative Paul" (the author of Colossians, Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians) and by "Reactionary Paul" (the author of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus)."

Paul and St. Stephen

When Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred, was killed by being stoned to death, Paul was present. Paul supported the killing and was, at the time, attempting to stamp out the new Jewish, Christ-worshiping sect.

Paul's Imprisonment

Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem but then sent to Caesarea. Two years later, Paul was to be sent to Jerusalem for trial, but preferred, instead, to be sent to Rome, where he arrived in A.D. 60. He spent two years there under arrest.

Sources and Death

The sources on Paul come mainly from his own writing. Although we do not know what happened, Eusebius of Caesarea reports that Paul was beheaded under Nero in either A.D. 64 or 67.