The most important early Christian thinker and missionary. Thanks to his development of a basic theology as well as his presentation of a number of ethical guidelines, Paul is commonly considered to be the second founder of Christianity after Jesus of Nazareth. His efforts greatly aided the establishment of Christianity as a faith separate from Judaism. Most of what is known of Paul’s life is contained in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles as well as in its Epistles, or letters, many of which are credited to Paul, who never personally knew or saw Jesus. Paul was born as Saul, a member of a prominent Jewish family living in Tarsus. Unlike most Jewish families, his had been granted full Roman citizenship. Paul also spoke Greek, the vernacular, or common language, of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. He was trained as a rabbi in Jerusalem, according to tradition, and belonged to the Pharisee sect, which urged complete fidelity to the laws of Moses. As such, he was much opposed to the teachings of Jesus at first. While traveling to the city of Damascus around the year 33, apparently in order to arrest unruly Christians there, Paul experienced a conversion in the form of a vision of the risen Christ ascended to heaven. The vision convinced him that he must take up Jesus’ message and to prepare humanity for Christ’s return. He then began a long career of evangelizing, with his primary audiences being gentiles and Jews who did not live in Palestine. His fluency in Greek was no doubt a major advantage in this effort. Paul was accepted as a full apostle, a status equivalent to the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus, during a visit to Jerusalem where he met the apostle Peter and Jesus’ brother James. Missionary Work Among the Gentiles Paul’s missionary work began fully in Antioch, then the capital of Syria, in the 40s. There, Paul encouraged a clear break from Judaism by opposing other early Chris- tians who had converted from the earlier faith.
Some of these Jewish converts refused to share the Eucharist with gentile converts for fear of breaking Jewish purity laws. They also insisted on circumcision and on the adherence to other Jewish laws. Paul rejected these views. Using Antioch as a base, Paul went out to establish congregations on the island of Cyprus and in Greece, Turkey, and Syria. Most members of those congregations were gentiles. When Jerusalem Christians sent word to Paul that these converts should be circumcised and otherwise follow Jewish traditions, Paul went to Jerusalem to convince the locals that such measures were inappropriate for gentiles, that Christianity was in fact a separate faith from Judaism. Paul then returned to his missionary work and wrote some of his most important letters. In these he described further the ways in which Christianity was different from Judaism as well as ways in which Christians might seek to live their daily lives. On a final visit to Jerusalem Paul was arrested for the crime of violating the Temple by allowing a gentile to accompany him inside. Local Jewish leaders treated him reasonably well on account of his Roman citizenship. But Paul did not want to be tried in Jerusalem as he had been harassed by Jewish authorities throughout his travels. He appealed to the Roman emperor for a trial in the capital, where he arrived in A.D. 60. He spent two years under house arrest, where he wrote further letters to early Christian communities, but little is known of his fate after that. One tradition holds that he was indeed tried but acquitted, and afterward went to preach in Spain before returning to Rome to be executed by the emperor Nero. The more common assumption, however, is that he was tried, found guilty, and then executed. A Roman church known as the Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls was built on his alleged burial site. Paul’s theology likely developed from both his original vision of Christ and his differences with conservative Jewish converts who disapproved of Paul’s rejection of Jewish laws, which they thought would lead to immoral behavior. Paul argued that the sins of humanity had been redeemed by the grace of God, and that the intermediation of Jesus Christ his teachings, suffering on the cross, death, and resurrection was a manifestation of God’s grace. Human beings must maintain faith in Christ’s act of redemption rather than uphold Jewish laws. Christ had indeed replaced the Jewish law by introducing the Holy Spirit, and Christianity would be a new Israel. Paul also believed that the return of Christ to earth was imminent. Paul’s emphasis on God’s grace and on justification by faith went on to be fundamental to Christianity, forcefully restated by Christian thinkers ranging from Augustine to Martin Luther.
Paul -ca. 65 A.D. Photo Gallery
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