For N.T. Character Study 5, Paul (31 minutes), click on the play button below:
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- Jesus and Paul are beyond question the two persons in the NT about whom we know most. Paul wrote 13 of the 27 NT documents (87 chapters, nearly as many as the 89 of the four gospels). But there is a major difference between him and Jesus. Jesus left nothing directly to us in writing. In Paul’s case, we are able to coordinate his missionary activities (in Acts) with his writing and follow-up ministry (the letters). This affords a kind of triangulation; with such perspective the man comes to life.
- In this podcast we will not be examining the letters of Paul. For that, please see the NT chapter studies…
- Paul was a Jew, though not from Palestine. He was a citizen of Tarsus, capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, modern southern Turkey (Acts 9:11, 21:39, 22:3).
- Would have grown up speaking Greek, though fluent too in Hebrew, Aramaic, and possibly Latin.
- He was trained as a rabbi under the distinguished Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).
- His secular profession was tent-making (Acts 18:3; see also 9:43, 20:34-35; 2 Corinthians 5:1).
- Paul was also born of the purest Jewish blood, a descendant of the patriarch Benjamin (Philippians 3:5)—at a time when few Jews would have been able to trace their descent, given the confusion of the exiles. He was named after Israel’s first king, Saul.
- Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37, 22:25-28)—when only a minority of those residing within the Roman Empire were given this privilege.
- He was an intensely focused Pharisee (Acts 22:3, 23:6, 26:5; Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:5. A driven man, Paul claims to have advanced beyond many of his contemporaries (Galatians 1:13-14). Certain that the Christians were dangerous heretics, he hounded them, imprisoned them, tortured and killed them (1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9).
- Sometimes it is asserted that Saul was troubled during his pre-Christian days by his active persecution of the Christians (Acts 7:58, 8:1,3; 9:1; 22:4,20), but he himself insists that he always had a clear conscience (Acts 23:1, 24:16).
- His training as a Pharisee would have equipped Paul to think long and hard about the relationship of Torah to believers in Christ—appropriate for the one who was divinely appointed to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13; Galatians 2:8).
- Paul was baptized within a few years of the resurrection, between 32 and 34 AD (Acts 9:18, 22;16). This is a deduction from Galatians 2:1. Paul wrote Galatians, his first epistle, in 48 AD, and so 34 AD would be the latest possible date for his second Jerusalem visit.
- If Paul can call himself an “old man” by the time of Philemon 9 (c.60 AD)—presumably 60 years of age—then he was born by 1 AD. Note: Saul could easily be called a “young man” at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom [Acts 7:58; cp. John 8:57], as he was not yet 40.
- Phases of his life
- Phase I – Pharisaic roots
- 1 BC-AD 1 - Birth in Tarsus
- 13-16 - Trained by Gamaliel in Jerusalem
- 31- Presides over martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8)
- Phase II – Church planting
- 32 - Baptism in Damascus
- 33-36 - Ministers in Damascus and Arabia; receives further revelation from Jesus Christ in Arabia (Acts 9:19-22, 26:20; Galatians 1:16-18)
- 36 - First Jerusalem visit (Galatians 1:18; Acts 9:26-30)
- 36-45 - Ministers in Syria and Cilicia (Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21)
- 46 - Second Jerusalem visit (Acts 11:27-30; Galatians 2:1-10), the return to Tarsus
- 47 - Return to Antioch (required by Acts 11:25)
- 48 - First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:1-14:28)
- 49 - Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35)
- 50 - Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36-18:22)
- 57- Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23-21:16)
- Phase III – Imprisonment
- 56-58- In custody in Caesarea
- 58-60 - Roman imprisonment
- 60 - Released, resumes mission
- 64 - Fire of Rome, many Christians seized and killed. Paul rearrested.
- 67/68 - Execution
- Phase I – Pharisaic roots
Some things we learn from the life of Paul
- Sincerity does not equate with truth (Romans 9:1-5).
- Grace has an impact (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
- Suffering is the mark of true leadership (2 Corinthians; Galatians 6:17)
- When we become Christians, we should harness all our energy and momentum and put it in the service of Christ (Galatians 1:13-15; Philippians 3:3-14)
Main scriptures in this podcast
- Pre-Christian past: Galatians 1:13-15 (Acts 22:3, 23:6, 26:5)
- Philippians 3:3-7
- Progression in humility: 1 Corinthians 15:9; 2 Corinthians 12:5,10; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 2:3-4; 1 Timothy 1:15-16—passages written about 55, 56, 58, 60, and 63 AD, respectively.
- Romans 10:2
- 1 Corinthians 9:19-22
- 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
- Romans 9:1-5
- 1 Corinthians 15:10
- Galatians 6:17
For further thought:
- A legacy of the Protestant Reformation is the conclusion “Paul is the key to understanding Jesus.” But surely this is backwards; Jesus’ life and teaching form the filter through which we understand Paul, not the other way around. Paul himself would be outraged with this teaching (1 Corinthians 1:13-17). After all he had a brilliant mind—but not in comparison to Jesus. And as passionately as he strove to live a holy life, he admits to frequent failure. Jesus is the key to understanding Paul, which means that the gospels, not Paul, are the entrance point to grasping the message of the NT.
- Paul was executed under Nero, who himself committed suicide in 68 AD, which is therefore the latest date for Paul’s death. One tradition says he was beheaded—decapitation was the standard form of execution for Roman citizens—at Aquae Salviae, along the Appian Way just outside Rome. Death is imminent when he writes 2 Timothy 4, likely his last letter.
- Further: A Quick Overview of the Bible: How All the Pieces Fit Together (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2012), chapter 21.
Next podcast: Felix