Updated: Feb 20, 2022
The apostle Paul wrote more books of the Bible than anyone. 13 in all. The books Paul wrote are called epistles which is just a fancy name for letters. He wrote letters to churches and to individuals.
Paul was the greatest missionary of all time. But he didn’t start out that way. He didn’t even start out with the name Paul. His Hebrew birth name was Saul.
We first come across Saul at the end of Acts chapter 7. He was standing there watching the Jews stone Stephen. (See also Acts 22:20.) On that day a “great persecution” against the church began. Who was the leader of this persecution? None other than Saul. He went from place to place and imprisoned and beat those who believed in Jesus. Paul cast his vote to have believers put to death.
In Acts chapter 9 we read about Saul’s conversion. Saul had received permission from the Jewish high priest to go to Damascus and arrest any believers he found there and return them to Jerusalem. (Damascus was then and still is in Syria.)
As Saul neared Damascus he had a life-changing encounter with the risen Christ.
This enemy of Christianity became a believer himself.
What do we know about Paul?
Born Saul (Jewish name) in Tarsus (modern day Turkey)
Born a Roman citizen
Jewish – a devout Pharisee
From the tribe of Benjamin
A tentmaker by trade
Superior education under Gamaliel
At first, fiercely anti-Christian
Present at the stoning of Stephen
Converted through encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus
Became known as Paul in Acts 13:9
Called to reach the Gentiles with the Gospel
Defended authenticity of Gentile Christians’ faith
Was an apostle
A Roman citizen – This has significance in a couple places as you read the New Testament. A Roman citizen had special rights and privileges. They could not be tortured or whipped. It was required to give a Roman citizen a fair trial. Paul was a Roman citizen by birth. Somehow his father or grandfather acquired citizenship. We don’t know how. It was highly unusual for someone to be Jewish and a Roman citizen. In Acts 21 Paul is put in chains for causing a ruckus in Jerusalem. In Acts 22:23-29 his Roman citizenship kept him from being scourged.
Later Paul was arrested by the Jews and they conspired to have him killed. Because he was a Roman citizen he was guarded by Roman soldiers and sent to the governor, Felix. See Acts 23:27. Felix keeps Paul in prison for a couple years. Then Festus takes over for Felix. Poor Festus has to deal with the last guy’s problem. Paul appeals to Caesar. Festus takes the case to King Agrippa and because Paul appealed to Caesar (Paul’s right as a Roman citizen), he sends Paul to Rome for trial.
All of this because it was God’s purpose for Paul to witness to Rome.
The Lord told Paul, "Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also." Acts 23:11
Do you see what happened?
God purposed for Paul to be born a Roman citizen in order that decades later Paul could take the good news to Rome!
And even in death, Paul’s Roman citizenship came into play. The apostle Paul was reportedly beheaded around A.D. 67 on the orders of Emperor Nero. Roman citizens were exempt from a death by lingering torture such as crucifixion or stoning. Maybe as many as 6 of the apostles and many disciples died by crucifixion. (See Would You Die for a Lie?) The Romans used crucifixion as a means of putting to death slaves and non-citizens. Crucifixion was a brutal tortuous way to die. Our Savior was crucified.
Jewish, a devout Pharisee – Not only was Paul Jewish, he was a Pharisee. The name “Pharisees” means “set apart, be separated.” Pharisees were the teachers of the Law.
were highly educated
had extensive training
had a high view of Scripture
and adhered to strict obedience to the written commands and the oral traditions of Judaism. Very legalistic
Paul was trained under the tutelage of Gamaliel, one of the leading Jewish rabbis of his day.
Paul was as Jewish as you could be.
Looking at the bigger picture – God took a Pharisee who hated Christians and used him as the “apostle to the Gentiles” (non-Jewish people.) A Pharisee would have had nothing to do with a Gentile. And yet Paul took the gospel to them and defended the authenticity of their faith.
Paul is a fascinating person. He was zealous for Christ. On three missionary journeys he carried the gospel far and wide. He suffered greatly for the Lord. In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul tells about what he has endured. Imprisoned. Beaten. Scourged. Stoned. Shipwrecked. Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.
Paul gave his energy, his life, his all to Jesus.
What would make a man change so drastically?
Only an encounter with Christ.