Paul of Tarsus,
and Paul the Apostle
No Bible writer taught us more, no apostle traveled farther and no person lays it on the line more than Paul.
1) What’s the most important thing you know about Paul?
Saul was born in Tarsus, which was in the country we now call Turkey, about 400 miles from Jerusalem. (Pretty far back then.) Even though he was a Jew, he was also a Roman citizen, which was unusual. He was learned in scriptures and very serious about his religion. So serious that…
Acts 7:56-8:3 (Stephen is on trial for teaching about Jesus)
“Look,” Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at Stephen, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
2) Why would Saul be happy that Stephen was killed? Or at least approve of it? Whom would many people approve of killing today?
But then there is an amazing story in Acts 9:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
3) Why would Jesus choose Saul? How hard was it for Ananias to help him?
Acts 9, continued:
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
4) Have you ever had to admit you were wrong? About something big?
5) How would you describe Paul so far?
Since Jesus was a Jew, and all the first apostles were Jews, at first that was all who heard about Jesus. Which makes sense – they had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time! On Paul’s first travels he started preaching to the non-Jews, called Gentiles. Us!
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Then the people who didn’t believe had Paul and Barnabbas chased out of town. Again. This becomes a pattern. Paul goes somewhere, preaches about Jesus, convinces many people, other people get mad and want to arrest him or kill him. He spends years in jail. He had four major missionary journeys, traveling for years preaching the Gospel. He wrote many letters to these people once he had left, and some of these letters became the heart of the Bible after the gospels. He mentored Mark, one of the gospel writers. (Called John Mark in the Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas’ nephew.)
He wrote (in chronological order)
- 1st and 2nd Thessalonians
- 1st and 2nd Corinthians
- 1st Timothy
- 2nd Timothy
As he was waiting to be executed in Rome, he wrote his last to Timothy, his greatest friend.
2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
6) Given how Paul had suffered to spread the gospel, and was even then being killed for it, do you think he was glad he had been called or not? How can you tell?
Paul’s writing includes some of the most famous phrases in any language. Which have you heard of? Which is powerful to you now?
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
- “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
- If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1st Corinthians 13:1-2)
- “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor 13:4)
- When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1st Corinthians 13: 11-13)
- While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2nd Corinthians 4:18)
- For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
- “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28)
- If God is for us, who is against us? (Romans 8:31)
- “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39)
- For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
- “Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph 6:13)
- Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)
- I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
- Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
- I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2nd Timothy 4:5)
This study started because we were about to study 1 Corinthians, which is an amazing book in the Bible. It occurred to me that we hadn't been properly introduced to Paul. His story is far too massive to fit in one study, but at least it's an introduction.
Scientists' reconstruction of Paul's possible likeness. Clues from the bible, archaeology, genetics and ethnic studies. Just a guess, but interesting.
A map of Paul's three journeys. The fourth, his one way trip to Rome, ventured even farther.
Paul's timeline, Part I
Paul's timeline, Part II