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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary

Paul

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The distinguished "apostle of the Gentiles;" also called SAUL, a Hebrew name. He is first called Paul in Acts 13:12 ; and as some think, assumed this Roman name according to a common custom of Jews in foreign lands, or in honor of Sergius Paulus, Acts 13:7 , his friend and an early convert. Both names however may have belonged to him in childhood. He was born at Tarsus in Cilicia, and inherited from his father the privileges of a Roman citizen. His parents belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, and brought up their son as "a Hebrew of the Hebrews," Philippians 3:5 . Tarsus was highly distinguished for learning and culture, and the opportunities for improvement it afforded were no doubt diligently improved by Paul. At a suitable age he was sent to Jerusalem to complete his education in the school of Gamaliel, the most distinguished and right-minded of the Rabbis of that age. It does not appear that he was in Jerusalem during the ministry of Christ; and it was perhaps after his return to Tarsus that he learned the art of tent-making, in accordance with a general practice among the Jews, and their maxim, "He that does not teach his son a useful handicraft, teaches him to steal," Acts 18:3 20:34 2 Thessalonians 3:8 .

We next find him at Jerusalem, apparently about thirty years of age, high in the confidence of the leading men of the nation. He had profited by the instructions of Gamaliel, and became learned in the law; yielding himself to the strictest discipline of the sect of the Pharisees, he had become a fierce defender of Judaism and a bitter enemy of Christianity, Acts 8:3 26:9-11 . After his miraculous conversion, of which we have three accounts, Acts 9:22,26 , Christ was all in all to him. It was Christ who revealed himself to his soul at Damascus, Acts 26:15 1 Corinthians 15:8 ; to Christ he gave his whole heart, and soul, mind, might, and strength; and thenceforth, living or dying, he was "the servant of Jesus Christ." He devoted all the powers of his ardent and energetic mind to the defense and propagation of the gospel of Christ, more particularly among the Gentiles. His views of the pure and lofty spirit of Christianity, in its worship and in its practical influence, appear to have been peculiarly clear and strong; and the opposition which he was thus led to make to the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish worship, exposed him everywhere to the hatred and malice of his countrymen. On their accusation, he was at length put in confinement by the Roman officers and after being detained for two years or more at Caesarea, he was sent to Rome for trial, having himself appealed to the emperor.

There is less certainty in respect to the accounts, which are given of Paul afterwards by the early ecclesiastical writers. Still it was a very generally received opinion in the earlier centuries, that the apostle was acquitted and discharged from his imprisonment at the end of two years; and that he afterwards returned to Rome, where he was again imprisoned and put to death by Nero.

Paul appears to have possessed all the learning which was then current among the Jews, and also to have been acquainted with Greek literature; as appears from his mastery of the Greek language, his frequent discussions with their philosophers, and his quotations from their poets-Aratus, Acts 17:28 ; Meander, 1 Corinthians 15:33 ; and Epimenides, Titus 1:12 . Probably, however a learned Greek education cannot with propriety be ascribed to him. But the most striking trait in his character is his enlarged view of the universal design and the spiritual nature of the religion of Christ, and of its purifying and ennobling influence upon the heart and character of those who sincerely profess it. From the Savior himself he had caught the flame of universal love, and the idea of salvation for all mankind, Galatians 1:12 .

Most of the other apostles and teachers appear to have clung to Judaism, to the rites, ceremonies, and dogmas of the religion in which they had been educated, and to have regarded Christianity as intended to be engrafted upon the ancient stock, which was yet to remain as the trunk to support the new branches. Paul seems to have been among the first to rise above this narrow view, and to regard Christianity in its light, as a universal religion. While others were for Judaizing all those who embraced the new religion by imposing on them the yoke of Mosaic observances, it was Paul's endeavor to break down the middle wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles, and show them that they were all "one in Christ." To this end all his labors tended; and, ardent in the pursuit of this great object, he did not hesitate to censure the time-serving Peter, and to expose his own life in resisting the prejudices of is countrymen. Indeed, his five years' imprisonment as Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome arose chiefly from this cause.

These various journeys of St. Paul, many of them made on foot, should be studied through on a map; in connection with the inspired narrative, in Acts, and with his own pathetic description of his labors, 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 , wherein nevertheless the half is not told. When we review the many regions he traversed and evangelized, the converts he gathered, and the churches he founded, the toils, perils, and trials he endured, the miracles he wrought, and the revelations he received, the discourses, orations, and letters in which he so ably defends and unfolds Christianity, the immeasurable good which God by him accomplished, his heroic life, and his martyr death, he appears to us the most extraordinary of men.

The character of Paul is most fully portrayed in his epistles, by which, as Chrysostom says he, "still lives in the mouths of men throughout the whole world. By them, not only is own converts, but all the faithful even unto this day, yea, and all the saints who are yet to be born until Christ's coming again, both have been and shall be blessed." In them we observe the transforming and elevating power of grace in one originally turbulent and passionate-making him a model of many and Christian excellence; fearless and firm, yet considerate, courteous, and gentle; magnanimous, patriotic, and selfsacrificing; rich in all noble sentiments and affections.

EPISTLES OF PAUL. -There are fourteen epistles in the New Testament usually ascribed to Paul, beginning with that to the Romans, and ending with that to the Hebrews. Of these the first thirteen have never been contested; as to the latter, many good men have doubted whether Paul was the author, although the current of criticism is in favor of this opinion. These epistles, in which the principles of Christianity are developed for all periods, characters, and circumstances, are among the most important of the primitive documents of the Christian religion, even apart from their inspired character; and although they seem to have been written without special premeditation, and have reference mostly to transient circumstances and temporary relations, yet they everywhere bear the stamp of the great and original mind of the apostle, as purified, elevated, and sustained by the influences of the Holy Spirit.

It is worthy of mention here, that an expression of Peter respecting "our beloved brother Paul" is often a little misunderstood. The words "in which" in 2 Peter 3:16 , are erroneously applied to the "epistles" of Paul; and not to "these things" immediately preceding, that is, the subjects of which Peter was writing, as the Greek shows they should be. Peter finds no fault, either with Paul, or with the doctrines of revelation.

The arrangement of Hug is somewhat different; and some critics who find evidence that Paul was released from his first imprisonment and lived until the spring of A. D. 68, assign the epistles Hebrews, 1Timothy, Titus, and 2Timothy to the last year of his life. See TIMOTHY.


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These files are public domain and are a derivative of the topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859.

Bibliography Information
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'Paul'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ats/p/paul.html. 1859.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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