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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
was born at Tarsus, the principal city of Cilicia, and was by birth both a Jew and a citizen of Rome, Acts 21:39; Acts 22:25 . He was of the tribe of Benjamin, and of the sect of the Pharisees, Php_3:5 . In his youth he appears to have been taught the art of tent making, Acts 18:3; but we must remember that among the Jews of those days a liberal education was often, accompanied by instruction in some mechanical trade. It is probable that St. Paul laid the foundation of those literary attainments, for which he was so eminent in the future part of his life, at his native city of Tarsus; and he afterward studied the law of Moses, and the traditions of the elders, at Jerusalem, under Gamaliel, a celebrated rabbi, Acts 22:4 . St. Paul is not mentioned in the Gospels; nor is it known whether he ever heard our Saviour preach, or saw him perform any miracle. His name first occurs in the account given in the Acts of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, A.D. 34, to which he is said to have consented, Acts 8:1 : he is upon that occasion called a young man; but we are no where informed what was then his precise age. The death of St. Stephen was followed by a severe persecution of the church at Jerusalem, and St. Paul became distinguished among its enemies by his activity and violence, Acts 8:3 . Not contented with displaying his hatred to the Gospel in Judea, he obtained authority from the high priest to go to Damascus, and to bring back with him bound any Christians whom he might find in that city. As he was upon his journey thither, A.D. 35, his miraculous conversion took place, the circumstances of which are recorded in Acts ix, and are frequently alluded to in his epistles, 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:12-13 .
Soon after St. Paul was baptized at Damascus, he went into Arabia; but we are not informed how long he remained there. He returned to Damascus; and being supernaturally qualified to be a preacher of the Gospel, he immediately entered upon his ministry in that city. The boldness and success with which he enforced the truths of Christianity so irritated the unbelieving Jews, that they resolved to put him to death, Acts 9:23; but, this design being known, the disciples conveyed him privately out of Damascus, and he went to Jerusalem, A.D. 38. The Christians of Jerusalem, remembering St. Paul's former hostility to the Gospel, and having no authentic account of any change in his sentiments or conduct, at first refused to receive him; but being assured by Barnabas of St. Paul's real conversion, and of his exertions at Damascus, they acknowledged him as a disciple, Acts 9:27 . He remained only fifteen days among them, Galatians 1:18; and he saw none of the Apostles except St. Peter and St. James. It is probable that the other Apostles were at this time absent from Jerusalem, exercising their ministry at different places. The zeal with which St. Paul preached at Jerusalem had the same effect as at Damascus: he became so obnoxious to the Hellenistic Jews, that they began to consider how they might kill him, Acts 9:29; which when the brethren knew, they thought it right that he should leave the city. They accompanied him to Caesarea, and thence he went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, where he preached the faith which once he destroyed, Galatians 1:21; Galatians 1:23 .
Hitherto the preaching of St. Paul, as well as of the other Apostles and teachers, had been confined to the Jews; but the conversion of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, A.D. 40, having convinced all the Apostles that "to the Gentiles, also, God had granted repentance unto life," St. Paul was soon after conducted by Barnabas from Tarsus, which had probably been the principal place of his residence since he left Jerusalem, and they both began to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles at Antioch, A.D. 42, Acts 11:25 . Their preaching was attended with great success. The first Gentile church was now established at Antioch; and in that city, and at this time, the disciples were first called Christians, Acts 11:26 . When these two Apostles had been thus employed about a year, a prophet called Agabus predicted an approaching famine, which would affect the whole land of Judea. Upon the prospect of this calamity, the Christians of Antioch made a contribution for their brethren in Judea, and sent the money to the elders at Jerusalem by St. Paul and Barnabas, A.D. 44, Acts 11:28 , &c. This famine happened soon after in the fourth or fifth year of the Emperor Claudius. It is supposed that St. Paul had the vision, mentioned in Acts 22:17 , while he was now at Jerusalem this second time after his conversion.
St. Paul and Barnabas, having executed their commission, returned to Antioch; and soon after their arrival in that city they were separated, by the express direction of the Holy Ghost, from the other Christian teachers and prophets, for the purpose of carrying the glad tidings of the Gospel to the Gentiles of various countries, Acts 13:1 . Thus divinely appointed to this important office, they set out from Antioch, A.D. 45, and preached the Gospel successively at Salamis and Paphos, two cities of the isle of Cyprus, at Perga in Pamphylia, Antioch in Pisidia, and at Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, three cities of Lycaonia. They returned to Antioch in Syria, A.D. 47, nearly by the same route. This first apostolical journey of St. Paul, in which he was accompanied and assisted by Barnabas, is supposed to have occupied about two years; and in the course of it many, both Jews and Gentiles, were converted to the Gospel.
Paul and Barnabas continued at Antioch a considerable time; and while they were there, a dispute arose between them and some Jewish Christians of Judea. These men asserted, that the Gentile converts could not obtain salvation through the Gospel, unless they were circumcised; Paul and Barnabas maintained the contrary opinion, Acts 15:1-2 . This dispute was carried on for some time with great earnestness; and it being a question in which not only the present but all future Gentile converts were concerned, it was thought right that St. Paul and Barnabas, with some others, should go up to Jerusalem to consult the Apostles and elders concerning it. They passed through Phenicia and Samaria, and upon their arrival at Jerusalem, A.D. 49, a council was assembled for the purpose of discussing this important point, Galatians 2:1 . St. Peter and St. James the less were present, and delivered their sentiments, which coincided with those of St. Paul and Barnabas; and after much deliberation it was agreed, that neither circumcision, nor conformity to any part of the ritual law of Moses, was necessary in Gentile converts; but that it should be recommended to them to abstain from certain specified things prohibited by that law, lest their indulgence in them should give offence to their brethren of the circumcision, who were still very zealous for the observance of the ceremonial part of their ancient religion. This decision, which was declared to have the sanction of the Holy Ghost, was communicated to the Gentile Christians of Syria and Cilicia, by a letter written in the name of the Apostles, elders, and whole church at Jerusalem, and conveyed by Judas and Silas, who accompanied St. Paul and Barnabas to Antioch for that purpose.
St. Paul, having preached a short time at Antioch, proposed to Barnabas that they should visit the churches which they had founded in different cities, Acts 15:36 . Barnabas readily consented; but while they were preparing for the journey, there arose a disagreement between them, which ended in their separation. In consequence of this dispute with Barnabas, St. Paul chose Silas for his companion, and they set out together from Antioch, A.D. 50. They travelled through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches, and then came to Derbe and Lystra, Acts 16. Thence they went through Phrygia and Galatia; and, being desirous of going into Asia Propria, or the Proconsular Asia, they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost. They therefore went into Mysia; and, not being permitted by the Holy Ghost to go into Bithynia as they had intended, they went to Troas. While St. Paul was there, a vision appeared to him in the night: "There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help up." St. Paul knew this vision to be a command from Heaven, and in obedience to it immediately sailed from Troas to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis, a city of Thrace; and thence he went to Philippi, the principal city of that part of Macedonia. St. Paul remained some time at Philippi, preaching the Gospel; and several occurrences which took place in that city, are recorded in Acts 17. Thence he went through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica, Acts xvii, where he preached in the synagogues of the Jews on three successive Sabbath days. Some of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles of both sexes, embraced the Gospel; but the unbelieving Jews, moved with envy and indignation at the success of St. Paul's preaching, excited a great disturbance in the city, and irritated the populace so much against him, that the brethren, anxious for his safety, thought it prudent to send him to Berea, where he met with a better reception than he had experienced at Thessalonica. The Bereans heard his instructions with attention and candour, and having compared his doctrines with the ancient Scriptures, and being satisfied that Jesus, whom he preached, was the promised Messiah, they embraced the Gospel; but his enemies at Thessalonica, being informed of his success at Berea, came thither, and, by their endeavours to stir up the people against him, compelled him to leave that city also. He went thence to Athens, where he delivered that discourse recorded in Acts 17. From Athens, Paul went to Corinth, Acts 18, A.D. 51, and lived in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, two Jews, who, being compelled to leave Rome in consequence of Claudius's edict against the Jews, had lately settled at Corinth. St. Paul was induced to take up his residence with them, because, like himself, they were tent makers. At first he preached to the Jews in their synagogue; but upon their violently opposing his doctrine, he declared that from that time he would preach to the Gentiles only; and, accordingly, he afterward delivered his instructions in the house of one Justus, who lived near the synagogue. Among the few Jews who embraced the Gospel, were Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and his family; and many of the Gentile Corinthians "hearing believed, and were baptized." St. Paul was encouraged in a vision, to persevere in his exertions to convert the inhabitants of Corinth; and although he met with great opposition and disturbance from the unbelieving Jews, and was accused by them before Gallio, the Roman governor of Achaia, he continued there a year and six months, "teaching the word of God." During this time he supported himself by working at his trade of tent making, that he might not be burdensome to the disciples. From Corinth St. Paul sailed into Syria, and thence he went to Ephesus: thence to Caesarea; and is supposed to have arrived at Jerusalem just before the feast of pentecost. After the feast he went to Antioch, A.D. 53; and this was the conclusion of his second apostolical journey, in which he was accompanied by Silas; and in part of it, Luke and Timothy were also with him.
Having made a short stay at Antioch, St. Paul set out upon his third apostolical journey. He passed through Galatia, and Phrygia, A.D. 54, confirming the Christians of those countries; and thence, according to his promise, he went to Ephesus, Acts 19. He found there some disciples, who had only been baptized with John's baptism: he directed that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus, and then he communicated to them the Holy Ghost. He preached for the space of three months in the synagogue; but the Jews being hardened beyond conviction, and speaking reproachfully of the Christian religion before the multitude, he left them; and from that time he delivered his instructions in the school of a person called Tyrannus, who was probably a Gentile. St. Paul continued to preach in this place about two years, so that all the inhabitants of that part of Asia Minor "heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." He also performed many miracles at Ephesus; and not only great numbers of people were converted to Christianity, but many also of those who in this superstitious city used incantations and magical arts, professed their belief in the Gospel, and renounced their former practices by publicly burning their books. Previous to the disturbance raised by Demetrius, Paul had intended to continue at Ephesus till Titus should return, whom he had sent to inquire into the state of the church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 12:18 . He now thought it prudent to go from Ephesus immediately, Acts 20, A.D. 56; and having taken an affectionate leave of the disciples, he set out for Troas, 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 , where he expected to meet Titus. Titus, however, from some cause which is not known, did not come to Troas; and Paul was encouraged to pass over into Macedonia, with the hope of making converts. St. Paul, after preaching in Macedonia, receiving from the Christians of that country liberal contributions for their poor brethren in Judea, 2 Corinthians 8:1 , went to Corinth, A.D. 57, and remained there about three months. The Christians also of Corinth, and of the rest of Achaia, contributed to the relief of their brethren in Judea. St. Paul's intention was to have sailed from Corinth into Syria; but being informed that some unbelieving Jews, who had discovered his intention, lay in wait for him, he changed his plan, passed through Macedonia, and sailed from Philippi to Troas in five days, A.D. 58. He stayed at Troas seven days, and preached to the Christians on the first day of the week, the day on which they were accustomed to meet for the purpose of religious worship. From Troas he went by land to Assos; and thence he sailed to Mitylene; and from Mitylene to Miletus. Being desirous of reaching Jerusalem before the feast of pentecost, he would not allow time to go to Ephesus, and therefore he sent for the elders of the Ephesian church to Miletus, and gave them instructions, and prayed with them. He told them that he should see them no more, which impressed them with the deepest sorrow. From Miletus he sailed by Cos, Rhodes, and Patara in Lycia, to Tyre, Acts 21. Finding some disciples at Tyre, he stayed with them several days, and then went to Ptolemais, and thence to Caesarea. While St. Paul was at Caesarea, the Prophet Agabus foretold by the Holy Ghost, that St. Paul, if he went to Jerusalem, would suffer much from the Jews. This prediction caused great uneasiness to St. Paul's friends, and they endeavoured to dissuade him from his intention of going thither. St. Paul, however, would not listen to their entreaties, but declared that he was ready to die at Jerusalem, if it were necessary, for the name of the Lord Jesus. Seeing him thus resolute, they desisted from their importunities, and accompanied him to Jerusalem, where he is supposed to have arrived just before the feast of pentecost, A.D. 58. This may be considered as the end of St. Paul's third apostolical journey.
St. Paul was received by the Apostles and other Christians at Jerusalem with great joy and affection; and his account of the success of his ministry, and of the collections which he had made among the Christians of Macedonia and Achaia, for the relief of their brethren in Judea, afforded them much satisfaction; but not long after his arrival at Jerusalem, some Jews of Asia, who had probably in their own country witnessed St. Paul's zeal in spreading Christianity among the Gentiles, seeing him one day in the temple, endeavoured to excite a tumult, by crying out that he was the man who was aiming to destroy all distinction between Jew and Gentile; who taught things contrary to the law of Moses; and who had polluted the holy temple, by bringing into it uncircumcised Heathens. This representation did not fail to enrage the multitude against St. Paul; they seized him, dragged him out of the temple, beat him, and were upon the point of putting him to death, when he was rescued out of their hands by Lysias, a Roman tribune, and the principal military officer then at Jerusalem. What followed,—his defence before Felix and Agrippa,—his long detention at Caesarea, and his appeal to the emperor, which occasioned his voyage to Rome, are all circumstantially stated in the latter chapters of the Acts. Upon his arrival at Rome, St. Paul was committed to the care of the captain of the guard, A.D. 61. The Scriptures do not inform us whether he was ever tried before Nero, who was at this time emperor of Rome; and the learned are much divided in their opinion upon that point. St. Luke only says, "Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him. And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." During his confinement he converted some Jews resident at Rome, and many Gentiles, and, among the rest, several persons belonging to the emperor's household, Php_4:22 .
The Scripture history ends with the release of St. Paul from his two years' imprisonment at Rome, A.D. 63; and no ancient author has left us any particulars of the remaining part of this Apostle's life. It seems probable, that, immediately after he recovered his liberty, he went to Jerusalem; and that afterward he travelled through Asia Minor, Crete, Macedonia, and Greece, confirming his converts, and regulating the affairs of the different churches which he had planted in those countries. Whether at this time he also preached the Gospel in Spain, as some have imagined, is very uncertain. It was the unanimous tradition of the church, that St. Paul returned to Rome, that he underwent a second imprisonment there, and at last was put to death by the Emperor Nero. Tacitus and Suetonius have mentioned a dreadful fire which happened at Rome in the time of Nero. It was believed, though probably without any reason, that the emperor himself was the author of that fire; but to remove the odium from himself, he chose to attribute it to the Christians; and, to give some colour to that unjust imputation, he persecuted them with the utmost cruelty. In this persecution St. Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom, probably, A.D. 65; and if we may credit Sulpitius Severus, a writer of the fifth century, the former was crucified, and the latter beheaded.
St. Paul was a person of great natural abilities, of quick apprehension, strong feelings, firm resolution, and irreproachable life. He was conversant with Grecian and Jewish literature; and gave early proofs of an active and zealous disposition. If we may be allowed to consider his character independent of his supernatural endowments, we may pronounce that he was well qualified to have risen to distinction and eminence, and that he was by nature peculiarly adapted to the high office to which it pleased God to call him. As a minister of the Gospel, he displayed the most unwearied perseverance and undaunted courage. He was deterred by no difficulty or danger, and endured a great variety of persecutions with patience and cheerfulness. He gloried in being thought worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus, and continued with unabated zeal to maintain the truth of Christianity against its bitterest and most powerful enemies. He was the principal instrument under Providence of spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles; and we have seen that his labours lasted through many years, and reached over a considerable extent of country. Though emphatically styled the great Apostle of the Gentiles, he began his ministry, in almost every city, by preaching in the synagogue of the Jews, and though he owed by far the greater part of his persecutions to the opposition and malice of that proud and obstinate people, whose resentment he particularly incurred by maintaining that the Gentiles were to be admitted to an indiscriminate participation of the benefits of the new dispensation, yet it rarely happened in any place, that some of the Jews did not yield to his arguments, and embrace the Gospel. He watched with paternal care over the churches which he had founded; and was always ready to strengthen the faith, and regulate the conduct of his converts, by such directions and advice as their circumstances might require.
The exertions of St. Paul in the cause of Christianity were not confined to personal instruction: he also wrote fourteen epistles to individuals or churches which are now extant, and form a part of our canon. These letters furnish evidence of the soundness and sobriety of his judgment. His caution in distinguishing between the occasional suggestions of inspiration, and the ordinary exertions of his natural understanding, is without example in the history of enthusiasm. His morality is every where calm, pure, and rational; adapted to the condition, the activity, and the business of social life, and of its various relations; free from the overscrupulousness and austerities of superstition, and from, what was more perhaps to be apprehended, the abstractions of quietism, and the soarings or extravagancies of fanaticism. His judgment concerning a hesitating conscience, his opinion of the moral indifferency of many actions, yet of the prudence and even the duty of compliance, where non-compliance would produce evil effects upon the minds of the persons who observed it, are all in proof of the calm and discriminating character of his mind; and the universal applicability of his precepts affords strong presumption of his inspiration. What Lord Lyttleton has remarked of the preference ascribed by St. Paul to rectitude of principle above every other religious accomplishment, is weighty: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal," &c, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 . Did ever enthusiast prefer that universal benevolence, meant by charity here, (which, we may add, is attainable by every man,) to faith, and to miracles, to those religious opinions which he had embraced, and to those supernatural graces and gifts which he imagined he had acquired, nay, even to the merit of martyrdom? Is it not the genius of enthusiasm to set moral virtues infinitely below the merit of faith; and of all moral virtues to value that least which is most particularly enforced by St. Paul, a spirit of candour, moderation, and peace? Certainly, neither the temper nor the opinions of a man subject to fanatic delusions are to be found in this passage. His letters, indeed, every where discover great zeal and earnestness in the cause in which he was engaged; that is to say, he was convinced of the truth of what he taught; he was deeply impressed, but not more so than the occasion merited, with a sense of its importance. This produces a corresponding animation and solicitude in the exercise of his ministry. But would not these considerations, supposing them to have been well founded, have holden the same place, and produced the same effect, in a mind the strongest and the most sedate? Here, then, we have a man of liberal attainments, and in other respects of sound judgment, who had addicted his life to the service of the Gospel. We see him in the prosecution of his purpose, travelling from country to country, enduring every species of hardship, encountering every extremity of danger, assaulted by the populace, punished by the magistrates, scourged, beaten, stoned, left for dead; expecting, wherever he came, a renewal of the same treatment, and the same dangers; yet, when driven from one city, preaching in the next; spending his whole time in the employment; sacrificing to it his pleasures, his ease, his safety; persisting in this course to old age, unaltered by the experience of perverseness, ingratitude, prejudice, desertion; unsubdued by anxiety, want, labour, persecutions; unwearied by long confinement; undismayed by the prospect of death. Such was St. Paul; and such were "the proofs of Apostleship found in him."
The following remarks of Hug on the character of this Apostle are equally just and eloquent: This most violent man, having such terrible propensities, whose turbulent impulses rendered him of a most enterprising character, would have become nothing better than a John of Gishala, a blood- intoxicated zealot, εμπνεων απειλης και φονου , breathing out threatenings and slaughter, Acts 9:1 , had not his whole soul been changed. The harsh tone of his mind inclined him to the principles of Pharisaism, which had all the appearance of severity, and was the predominant party among the Jews. Nature had not withholden from him the external endowments of eloquence, although he afterward spoke very modestly of them. At Lystra he was deemed the tutelar god of eloquence. This character, qualified for great things, but, not master of himself from excess of internal power, was an extreme of human dispositions, and, according to the natural course, was prone to absolute extremities. His religion was a destructive zeal, his anger was fierceness, his fury required victims. A ferocity so boisterous did not psychologically qualify him for a Christian nor a philanthropist; but, least of all, for a quietly enduring man. He, nevertheless, became all this on his conversion to Christianity and each bursting emotion of his mind subsided directly into a well regulated and noble character. Formerly hasty and irritable, now only spirited and resolved; formerly violent, now full of energy and enterprising: once ungovernably refractory against every thing which obstructed him, now only persevering; once fanatical and morose, now only serious; once cruel, now only firm; once a harsh zealot, now fearing God; formerly unrelenting, deaf to sympathy and commiseration, now himself acquainted with tears, which he had seen without effect in others. Formerly the friend of none, now the brother of mankind, benevolent, compassionate, sympathizing; yet never weak, always great; in the midst of sadness and sorrow manly and noble; so he showed himself at his deeply moving departure from Miletus, Acts 20 : it is like the departure of Moses, like the resignation of Samuel, sincere and heart-felt, full of self-recollection, and in the midst of pain full of dignity. His writings are a true expression of this character, with regard to the tone predominant in them. Severity, manly seriousness, and sentiments which ennoble the heart, are interchanged with mildness, affability, and sympathy: and their transitions are such as nature begets in the heart of a man penetrated by his subject, noble and discerning. He exhorts, reproaches, and consoles again; he attacks with energy, urges with impetuosity, then again he speaks kindly to the soul; he displays his finer feelings for the welfare of others, his forbearance and his fear of afflicting any body: all as the subject, time, opposite dispositions, and circumstances require. There prevails throughout in them an importuning language, an earnest and lively communication. Romans 1:26-32 , is a comprehensive and vigorous description of morals. His antitheses, Romans 2:21-24; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 9:29-30; his enumerations, 1 Corinthians 13:4-10; 2 Corinthians 6:4-7; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Ephesians 4:4-7; Ephesians 5:3-6; his gradations, Romans 8:29-30; Titus 3:3-4; the interrogations, exclamations, and comparisons, sometimes animate his language even so as to give a visible existence to it. That, however, which we principally perceive in Paul, and from which his whole actions and operations become intelligible, is the peculiar impression which the idea of a universal religion has wrought upon his mind. This idea of establishing a religion for the world had not so profoundly engrossed any soul, no where kindled so much vigour, and projected it into such a constant energy. In this he was no man's scholar; this he had immediately received from the Spirit of his Master; it was a spark of the divine light which enkindled him. It was this which never allowed him to remain in Palestine and in Syria, which so powerfully impelled him to foreign parts.
The portion of some others was Judea and its environs: but his mission was directed to the nations, and his allotment was the whole of the Heathen world. Thus he began his career among the different nations of Asia Minor, and when this limit became also too confined for him, he went with equal confidence to Europe, among other nations, ordinances, sciences, and customs; and here likewise he finally with the same indefatigable spirit circulated his plans, even to the pillars of Hercules. In this manner Paul prepared the overthrow of two religions, that of his ancestors, and that of the Heathens.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Paul'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/p/paul.html. 1831-2.