"If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things"
PHL 3:4-8 (NIV) - Paul writes about his own background.
The most influential, arguably the most important disciple of Jesus, was one who never one of the Twelve Disciples, and who never, in Christ's lifetime, met him. Many have claimed1 that he corrupted the pure and simple message of Jesus, but no one can deny that the writings of Saint Paul had a profound effect on Christian doctrine. He was the Church's first missionary and his travels took him all over the Roman Empire founding new churches. He wrote numerous letters to the Christian communities he founded and nearly half of the books of the New Testament are ascribed to him.
He was born Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish native of the Roman province of Cicilia located in the present-day country of Turkey. His father was a tent-maker and although a Jew was also a Roman citizen and Saul inherited that citizenship. As a young man he studied under Gamaliel, one of the great rabbis of the 1st Century. He was a member of the Pharisees, a conservative religious faction which stressed a strict observance of the Law of Moses. By his own account, he was a Pharisee's Pharisee, out-doing his peers in his zealous adherance to the Law.
He was an ardent participant in the efforts of the Jewish authorities to crush the emerging Christian Church, regarding it as blasphemous. He was a witness to , and probably involved in, the stoning of Stephen, and actively arrested other followers of Jesus. When these early persecutions caused the followers of Christ to flee from Jerusalem, Saul gained authority from the Chief Priests of the Temple to go to the city of Damascus to arrest the followers of Jesus there.
On the way to Damascus, something happened. By his account, Jesus appeared to him in a bright light saying "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" The light blinded him, and the experience convinced him that he had been wrong. He went from being a fanatical opponent of Christ, to a fanatical advocate.
A disciple living in Damascus healed him of his blindness and Saul spent some time in the desert, meditating and reassessing his understanding of Scriptures in the light of his new revelation. He traveled to Jerusalem where he met with Peter and the other Disciples, who, although wary of him at first, taught him more about Jesus's teachings.
For a while after this, he established himself in the city of Antioch in the province of Syria, where he worked with the community there, where the name "Christian" was first applied to the followers of Christ. About this time he seems to have changed his name to Paul, perhaps to signify his conversion. It's also possible, though, that he always went by two names and that "Paul" was how he was known among non-Jewish associates. With Antioch as his base, he went on a series of missionary journeys, at first with his close friend Barnabas, later with another friend named Silas.
As Paul was beginning this new phase of his ministry, the Church back in Jerusalem was grappling with the question of how to deal with Greek converts. One faction strongly felt that Gentile converts needed to undergo circumcision and to adhere to the Law of Moses, just as any normal Jew. Another faction, of which Paul was a vocal advocate, held that this was unnecessary. A council was held in Jerusalem to decide the matter and James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, devised a compromise. This made the Church more accessible to Greek and other non-Jewish converts, but created a major rift between the followers of Christ and mainstream Judaism.
In his travels, Paul made a point to always begin his preaching when he would enter a new town in the local synagogue, and only preach to the Gentiles if the local Jewish community rejected him. "If" usually became "when", and before long, Paul settled on a sort of division of labor: Peter would be the Apostle to the Jews, and he would be the Apostle to the Gentiles.
After his third missionary journey, Paul returned to Jerusalem to bring money he had collected to aid the Jerusalem church which was suffering from a famine. While there, some of his enemies resolved to kill him and instigated a riot when he tried to enter the Temple.
He was arrested by the Romans and entered a sort of legal limbo for a couple years. A new governor might have quietly released him, except that Paul demanded that his case be heard by the Emperor, which was his right as a Roman Citizen. His voyage to Rome was a dangerous one; at one point his ship was wrecked in a storm off the island of Malta. When he arrived in Rome, he had to wait a couple more years before his case came to trial.
The Book of Acts, which contains most of the narrative of Paul's life, does not give us the results of that trial. According to tradtion, the Emperor Nero released him, and he went on to make another missionary journey to Spain. Whether he did or not, he eventually wound up back in Rome. Tradition states that when Nero began his persecution of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome, Paul and Peter, who by that time had also relocated to that city, were among the first to be executed.
Tradition gives the date of Peter and Paul's deaths as June 29, possibly in the year of the fire, AD 64 or possibly a couple years later in AD 67. Since Paul was a Roman Citizen, he could not legally be crucified as Peter and other Christians were. According to Tradition, he was beheaded, and for that reason the sword is often depicted as his symbol.
Paul has been criticized in modern times for his attitudes towards women. In one letter he says that women ought to keep silent in the Assembly; in another he says he doesn't allow them to preach and elsewhere he makes the strange statement that women would be "saved through child-bearing". On the other hand, he speaks highly in several of his letters of female co-workers such as Priscilla and Phoebe and a woman named Junias whom he cites as an Apostle. In his Epistle to the Galatians, he makes a strong statement for equality saying that in Christ there is "… neither Jew nor Greek … slave nor free … male nor female…" Paul also wrote a few passages that have been used to condemn homosexuality.
Paul is usually depicted in Christian art as a bald man. In one of his letters he describes an affliction which he calls a "thorn in his flesh" which he prayed for God to relieve. Scholars have speculated that this could have been anything from bad eyesight, to chronic pain (he was beaten on several occasions and once stoned and left for dead by an angry mob, so he undoubtably had a few broken bones), to repressed latent homosexuality. Since God declined to cure him and since Paul never specifies the nature of his thorn, your guess is as good as anybody else's.
Game and Story Use
- In a historical or time travel campaign set during Roman Times, Paul might be an interesting, and perhaps exasperating, person to meet.
- His adventures could serve as a model for a similar traveling preacher.
- Paul's is also virtually the trope namer for Heel-face-turns (viz. "Damascene Conversion").