Early Life :
Paul was a Pharisee, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia . His family probably originated from Galilee, from the tribe of Benjamin. He was given the name of Saul at his circumcision.
He was a tent maker by trade, and spent his early years at the School of Gamaliel
( Acts 22: 1-3).
His father was a Roman Citizen and so he inherited his citizenship by birth (Acts 22:29 ).As a Roman Citizen he also bore the Latin name Paul.
It is probable that some of his family lived in Jerusalem .
Paul is recognised as the ‘Apostle of the Gentiles.' (Galatians 2:1-9)
He says he shook hands with James, Peter and John, agreeing that he and Barnabas “should go to the Gentiles while they went to the Jews.”
Paul was a short man, broad shouldered, bald, with a thick grey beard and fair complexion. He had a pleasing manner. He had some kind of illness as he says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 –
“ I was given a sharp physical pain which came as satan's messenger to bruise me.” He had great physical strength however, as borne witness by the great labours he did .
The Martyrdom of Saint Stephen:
Saint Paul or Saul , as he was first known, was one of the most zealous persecutors of the early Christians. He was present at the murder (stoning) of Saint Stephen (Acts 7:54 -8:1) who is celebrated after Christmas on 27th December in the Orthodox calendar. Stephens murderers laid their cloaks at the feet of Saul “who approved of his murder” (Acts 8:1)
The Conversion on the Road to Damascus :
On the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19) “a light flashed from the sky all around him “ and he heard the voice of the Lord saying “ Saul, Saul,why do you persecute me?” Saul said “tell me, Lord,who you are, “ and Jesus explained it all to him. The men around Saul could hear the voice but could see nothing. When the light vanished , Saul got up from the ground. He could see nothing, and was led to Damascus by the men with him. He remained blind for three days.
In Damascus a disciple called Ananias had a vision. He was told to go and find Saul ( Acts 9: 10 -16) and lay his hands on him to restore his sight. Ananias did this and Saul regained his sight . he was baptised and started to preach to the Jews in Damascus (Acts 19:20 -22) .
From then Saul became a Christian and ultimately was martyred like Saint Stephen. He saw everything from that time in a clear and blinding light. Saint Pauls conversion probably did not occur before 34 AD. It was probably around the year 35 AD . As he says in 1 Corinthians:8 “in the end ,“ the Lord “appeared even to me .”
He then withdrew to Arabia (Galatians 1:17 ) south of Damascus . After this he returned to Damascus.
Paul becomes a devout Christian
The Jews in Damascus hatched a plot to kill him, and when Saul's followers heard about it they let him out of the City by lowering him down the walls in a basket ( Acts 9:25). He went to Jerusalem but there the disciples were afraid of him. Barnabas took him by the hand and introduced him to the others and told them the whole story of how the Lord had appeared to Paul. Paul then started to preach freely in Jerusalem until another plot was hatched to kill him. When the disciples heard about this he was sent off to Tarsus .
Barnabas sent to find Paul.
Barnabas was sent to Tarsus to find Paul (Acts 11:25 ). He brought him to Antioch . It was at this time that the disciples first got the name of Christians. Paul lived in Antioch for about a year preaching to the people. Paul then went back to Jerusalem with Barnabas to carry alms to the people in a time of famine(Acts 11:30 )
The First Mission 45-57 ? or 45-49? AD:
Pauls first mission was the most fruitful of his life. It is written down in Acts 13:1- 14:28 . He and Barnabas went to Cyprus and preached at Salamina. (Acts 13:4) They went through the whole island as far as Paphos. They converted the Proconsul
Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:12 ). They then went to Perga in Pamphylia in Asia Minor . Paul and Barnabas laboured alone after John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, left them and returned to Jerusalem . Paul and Barnabas continued as far as Antioch where they preached the Word of the Lord (Acts 13:14).
The Jews,however, contradicted everything that Paul and Barnabas said with violent abuse. Paul and Barnabas were outspoken in their response. “It was necessary,” they said, “that the Word of God should be declared to you first. But since you reject it and thus condemn yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:46 -47) .
Paul and Barnabas told them that they had received these instructions from the Lord:
” I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, and a means of salvation to the earth's farthest bounds.” (Acts 13:48 )
When the Gentiles heard this they were overjoyed and accepted the Word of the Lord. The Jews hated Paul and Barnabas and stirred up ill feeling against them among the women who were worshippers, forcing them to leave the district.
The Word spread “far and wide through the region” (Acts 13:50 ). As they left they shook the dust off their feet in protest and went to Iconium.
At Iconium many accepted the Word, both Jews and Gentiles, but the unconverted Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the Christians. The whole town was divided, some siding with the Jews and others with the Apostles. When, however, a move was made to maltreat and stone Paul and Barnabas by some Jews and Gentiles, with the blessing of the city authorities, the Apostles fled to Lystra. (Acts 14) At Lystra Paul cured a crippled man who had never walked in his life (Acts 14:10) . The people were so enthused that they treated the Apostles like gods and were about to offer sacrifice, when Paul and Barnabas heard about it. They tore their clothes off and rushed into the crowd, telling then to stop this folly and that they were mere human beings preaching the word of the Lord. They just about managed to stop the crowd from offering sacrifice. It was then that Jews from Iconium came onto the scene, won over some of the crowds and stoned Paul, dragging him out of the city and leaving him for dead. He was helped by the new converts to the faith and he fled to Derbe with Barnabas.
The question of circumcision:
There were some Jews who wanted the Gentiles to submit to circumcision because they believed that those who did not submit to Mosaic Law could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with this, and so a meeting was held in Jerusalem .
Peter spoke for the Gentiles when he said
“ …..we should impose no irksome restrictions on those who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19-20).
This view was accepted and a letter was sent to Antioch to this effect (Acts 15:22 ).
“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and our decision, to lay no further burden upon you beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from meat that has been offered to idols, from blood, from anything that has been strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves free from these things you will be doing right.” (Acts 15:28-29).
Problems still arose between the Gentiles and Jewish Christians with regards to observance of the law. Paul and Peter had a dispute in Galatians 2:11. Paul taught that the Law was abolished for Jews too. Peter believed this too .The only thing that mattered now was faith in Christ. Peter thought it was wise not to offend the Jewish Christians though, and avoided eating with the Gentiles who did not observe the law,when Jewish Christians were present. Peter thus, inadvertently influenced the Gentiles to live like Jews. Paul told him off for this “ If you, a Jew born and bred, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you insist that Gentiles must live like Jews ? “ (Acts 2:14 )
As Paul said later on in Galatians “Circumcision is nothing; uncircumcision is nothing; the only thing that counts is new creation.” (Acts 6:15 )
The Second Mission :
Paul and Barnabas parted company after a dispute about John Mark. Barnabas wanted to take him with them to go back to the areas where they had preached the Word of God. Paul refused as he was upset with John Mark because he had abandoned them in Pamphylia. As a result, Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas with him to Syria and Cilicia .
From then they went on to Lystra, Phrygia and Galatia . They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach in Asia (Acts 16:6) and Mysia (Acts 16: 8), so they journeyed on to Troas and on to Macedonia . At Phillipi they baptised Lydia , a dealer in purple fabric, and her household( Acts 16:11 ) .
Trouble at Phillipi:
At Phillipi they was a slave girl who was possessed by an evil spirit and she made money for her owners by telling fotrtunes.
When she saw Paul and his company she followed them shouting “ These men are servants of the Supreme God.” She did this day after day until Paul could bear it no longer. In the end he rebuked the spirit and commanded it in the name of the Lord to leave the girl. The spirit did this. When the owners of the slave girl saw that she could no longer tell fortunes and that their source of income had dried up, they seized Paul and his company and dragged them to the city authorities. They accused them of preaching doctrines which were illegal for Romans to follow. The magistrates tore off the prisoners clothes and had them severely flogged and flung into prison in the stocks
(Acts 16:19-24).About midnight there was a violent earthquake. All the prison doors were flung open and all the prisoners chains were smashed. The jailer thinking that all the prisoners had escaped intended to kill himself. Paul rebuked him for this and assured him that no one had escaped. The jailer believed immediately and asked Paul how he could be saved. He was baptised along with all his household. He took the prisoners home and washed their wounds. When daylight came the magistrates ordered the release of the prisoners. The jailer reported this to Paul. Paul refused to leave and requested that the magistrates come and escort the prisoners out. This they did and when they found out that Paul was a Roman Citizen they apologised and sent them on their way.
At Thessalonica things went quite well and also at Borea. At Athens he converted Dionysios of the court of Aeropagus (Acts 17:32).
At Corinth the mission was different. Paul preached in the synagogue but the Jews were abusive. He left and moved into the house of Titus Justus which was next door to the synagogue and preached there for 18 months. The Jews stormed against him and took him to the Proconsul Gallio. The Proconsul was impartial and favoured Paul. He sent him on his way ( Acts 18:12 )
Third Mission :
This is covered in Acts 18:23 -Acts 21:26.
After the incident with the Proconsul Gallio, Paul set sail for Syria . He travelled on to Ephesus,Caesarea,Antioch and Phrygia .
At Ephesus he baptised a number of people. For three months he spoke the Word of the Lord there in the synagogue. When some refused to listen and became obdurate he withdrew to the lecture hall in Tyrannus . For two years he preached there. Many miracles were performed there through Paul. When scarves and handkerchiefs that had been in contact with his skin were placed on the sick they were cured. (Acts 19:8-12).
Some Jewish exorcists tried their hand at using the name of the Lord on those possessed by evil spirits,using the name of Jesus and Paul. One time the evil spirit answered them back saying “ Jesus I acknowledge, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15-16). There were seven sons of a priest called Sceva doing this. The man they were trying to exorcise flew into such a rage and he beat them all up. They fled the house terrified. This incidenet became known in all Ephesus and the name of the Lord spread throughout the region. Many who had become believers openly confessed that they had been using sorcery and burnt their books in public. The Word of God spread more and more.
Problems arose from Jews and Gentiles who lost trade in the sale of facsimiles of the temple of Diana and her statue. (Acts 19:23 ) This was quelled by the town clerk.
After two and a half years in Ephesus Paul journeyed to Macedonia and Corinth . He was about to depart for Syria when he learnt that the Jews had hatched a plot against him so he decided to return via Macedonia . He also visited Phillipi,Troas,Assos,Mytilene,Chios,Samos,Miletus,Cos,Rhodes,Patara,Tyre,Ptolemais ,Ceasarea and Jerusalem .
At Troas , he resuscitated a youth called Eutychus who had fallen from a third story building while Paul preached (Acts 20:8-12). At Miletus he gave his touching speech to the Ephesians which can be read in Acts 20:18-38:
“I know that none of you will see my face again.”
At Caesarea the Holy Spirit speaking through the mouth of Agabus predicted Paul's arrest in Jerusalem . Paul refused to listen to his followers who wanted him to stay away from the Holy City and he pressed on with his mission. His four great epistles were written during this Third Mission -the First and Second Letters to the Corinthians, Romans and Galatians.
This can be read in Acts 21:27- 28:31. Paul was accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. He was seized and dragged out of the temple.Jerusalem was in uproar. He was beaten . Everyone was calling for his death. The commandant of Jerusalem heard what was happening and went to investigate. As soon as the mob saw him, they stopped beating Paul, The commandant arrested him and had him chained. The commandant asked what was going on. He could not get the truth of the matter so he took Paul to the barracks. The mob followed the soldiers, all demanding his death.
Paul asked the commandant if he could address the crowd. The crowd quietened down and they listened to him for a while as he spoke of how he persecuted the early Christians and how the Lord had chosen to reveal himself to him on the road to Damascus . Up to then they listened to him but they soon started yelling and shouting again. The commandant decided to bring Paul into the barracks and have him flogged. When Paul explained that he was a Roman Citizen and had a right to a fair trial the commandant was alarmed. He was taken before the High Priest the next day where he confounded his accusers with no great problems. When Claudius Lysias,the commandant, learnt that the Jews were going to ambush Paul and kill him, he sent him under strong escort to Caesarea under the Procurator Felix. Felix kept him chained for two years in prison to please the Jews.
Felix was persuaded by Paul's accusers to send Paul to Jerusalem to be tried. They had hatched a plan to ambush him and kill him on the way.
Paul knew how the law worked and appealed direct to Caesar. His case could only be tried in Rome now.
Before Paul was transported to Rome, he was asked to explain his views in front of King Agrippa in Acts 26.The King and his company listened and when he withdrew ,he said that “the fellow could have been discharged,if he had not appealed to the emperor.” (Acts 26-32)
Thus Paul was put in the hands of a Centurian called Julius (Acts 27) and the epic journey to Rome began. The journey was beset with many hardships. Food nearly ran out and after many storms and problems the ship ran aground off the coast of Malta . The crew and the prisoners made it ashore, and the inhabitants treated them well. They lit bonfires to keep them warm and welcomed them. Paul healed the the father of the magistrate Publius who was suffering from fever and dysentery after laying his hands on him and praying ( Acts 28: 7-10).Many others came to Paul to be healed. The voyage resumed after three months. Eventually they reached Rome where Paul stayed for two years in his own hired lodging. His so called trial collapsed because the Jews in Jerusalem had failed to advise the Jews in Rome of the charges against him.
Paul taught openly about the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus and welcomed all who came to him.
His last years:
During the last years of Paul's life he probably visited Spain ( Romans 15:24 ) He also went to Lycus,Laodicea,Collusus and Hierapolis .
He went to Crete and founded a new church there which he left in the hands of Titus (Titus 1:5) He then went to Ephesus and Macedonia .he also visited the Phillipians and the Thessalonians.
He visited Nicopolis of Epirus (Titus 3:12 ) .He asked Titus to join him there.
He was sent to Rome for trial .Paul believed that all hope was lost -
“As for me,already my life is being poured out on the altar, and the hour for my departure is upon me” ( 2 Timothy 4:6-8).
St Paul begged Timothy to join him quickly at Rome .
“Do your best to join me soon.” ( 2 Timothy 4:9-10)
It is not known if Timothy made it there before St Paul was martyred.
The death of St Paul:
St Paul was martyred near Rome at the Aquae Silviae about two miles from San Paulo Fuon Le Mura Basilica which marks his burial place. His death took place near the end of Nero's reign. The oldest witness to his death St Dionysios the Corinthian says St Paul and St Peter were martyred at “about the same time.”
Their memory is celebrated on 29 June each year. It is believed that St Paul died aged 68 having served the Lord for some 35 years.