Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Paul, originally Saul, was a native of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia (, etc.), and was of Jewish descent, of the tribe of Benjamin (). From his father he inherited the rights of Roman citizenship, which had probably been earned by some of his ancestry through services rendered to the Roman state. The supposition that he enjoyed them in virtue of being a native of Tarsus is not well founded.
At that time Tarsus was the rival of Athens and Alexandria as a place of learning and philosophical research; but to what extent the future 'Apostle of the Gentiles' enjoyed the advantage of its schools we have no means of accurately determining. It must be allowed, however, that the mere circumstance of having spent his early years in such a city as Tarsus could not but exert a very powerful influence on the mind of such a man as Paul, in the way of sharpening his faculties, refining his tastes, and enlarging the circle of his sympathies and affections.
But whatever uncertainty may hang over the early studies of the Apostle in the department of Greek learning, there can be no doubt that, being the son of a Pharisee, and destined, in all probability, from his infancy to the pursuits of a doctor of Jewish law, he would be carefully instructed from his earliest years in the elements of Rabbinical lore. It is probable also that at this time he acquired his skill in that handicraft trade by which in later years he frequently supported himself (; , etc.); for it was a maxim among the Jews, that 'he who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal.'
At the proper age (supposed to be after he was fourteen years old), the Apostle proceeded to Jerusalem, to prosecute his studies in the learning of the Jews. Here he became a student under Gamaliel, a distinguished teacher of the law, and who is supposed to be the person of that name who is celebrated in the writings of the Talmudists as one of the seven teachers to whom the title 'Rabban' was given. Besides acquaintance with the Jewish law, and a sincere conviction of the supreme excellence of Judaism, Gamaliel appears to have possessed a singularly calm and judicious mind, and to have exercised a freedom of thought as well as pursued a range of study very unlike what was common among the party to which he belonged (). It cannot be doubted that the instructions and example of such a teacher must have exercised a powerful influence on the mind of the future Apostle.
We now approach the period in Paul's history when he becomes a prominent figure on the page of the sacred historian, and when, consequently, the facts of his life can be more confidently narrated. He is introduced to our notice by the sacred historian for the first time in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen, in which transaction he was, if not an assistant, something more than a mere spectator. Immediately after this event he is represented as sharing the counsels of the chief priests, and as entrusted by them with the entire responsibility of executing their designs against the followers of Jesus (; ). For such a task he showed a painful aptitude, and discharged it with a zeal which spared neither age nor sex (; ). But while thus, in his ignorance and unbelief, he was seeking to be 'injurious' to the cause of Christ, the great Author of Christianity was about to make him a distinguished trophy of its power, and one of the most devoted and successful of its advocates. While journeying to Damascus, with a commission from the high priest, to arrest and bring back as prisoners to Jerusalem the Christians who had escaped thither from the fury of their persecutors, and when he had almost completed his journey, he was suddenly arrested by a miraculous vision of Christ, who addressing him from heaven, demanded the reason of his furious zeal, in the remarkable words, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?' Struck to the ground by the suddenness and overwhelming splendor of the vision, and only able to ask by whom it was he was thus addressed, he received for answer, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest; but arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what to do.' This command the confounded and now humble zealot immediately rose to obey, but as the brilliancy of the light which had shone around him had dazzled him to blindness, he had to be led into the city by his attendants. Here he remained for three days and nights in a state of deep mental conflict and dejection, tasting neither meat nor drink, until a person of the name of Ananias appeared at the command of Christ to relieve his distress, and to admit him into the Christian fraternity by baptizing him into the name of the Lord ().
Immediately on his conversion to Christianity Saul seems to have gone into Arabia, where he remained three years (); and where he, in all probability, was chiefly occupied by meditation and study, in preparing himself for the great work to which he had been called. Here also we may venture to suppose he received that Gospel which afterwards he preached 'by revelation' from Christ ().
Returning from Arabia to Damascus the Apostle commenced his public efforts in the service of Christ, by boldly advocating in the synagogues of the Jews the claims of Jesus to be venerated as the Son of God. At first astonished, the Jews were afterwards furiously incensed at this change in the opinions and conduct of Saul, and in consequence of their attempts upon his liberty and life, he was obliged to make his escape from Damascus. This he effected with difficulty by the aid of the Christians, some of whom let him down in a basket from the window of a dwelling erected upon the outer wall of the city (, etc.; ). After this he went up to Jerusalem (for the first time after his conversion), where, on the testimony of Barnabas, he was acknowledged as a Christian brother, and admitted by the Apostles to that place in their fraternity which had been assigned to him by Christ. From Jerusalem he was soon driven by the hostility of the Jews; when, after visiting Cæsarea, he went to his native town Tarsus, where he abode several years (). From this retreat he was summoned by Barnabas, who, having been appointed by the Apostles at Jerusalem to visit the church at Antioch, where accessions had been made to the number of the followers of Jesus from among the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and finding the need of counsel and cooperation in his work, went to Tarsus to procure the assistance of Saul (). After residing and laboring for a year in Antioch, these two distinguished servants of Christ were sent up to Jerusalem with certain contributions which had been made among the Christians at Antioch, on behalf of their brethren in Judea, who were suffering from the effects of a dearth (). This, as commonly received, was the Apostle's second visit to Jerusalem after his conversion.
Having discharged this commission, they returned to Antioch, accompanied by John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, and were shortly afterwards dispatched by that church, in obedience to an injunction from heaven, on a general missionary tour. In the course of this tour, during the earlier part only of which they were accompanied by Mark, in consequence of his shrinking from the toils and dangers of the journey and returning to Jerusalem, they visited Seleucia, Cyprus, Perga in Pamphylia, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia (in the former of which the fickle populace, though at first they had with difficulty been prevented from offering them Divine honors, were almost immediately afterwards, at the instigation of the Jews, led to stone the Apostle until he was left for dead); and then they returned by way of Attalia, a city of Pamphylia, by sea to Antioch, where they rehearsed to the church all that God had done by them (Acts 13-14). This formed the Apostle's first great missionary tour.
In the narrative of this journey, given by Luke, the historian, without assigning any reason for so doing, drops the name Saul, and adopts that of Paul, in designating the Apostle. It is probable from this, that it was during this journey that the Apostle's change of name actually took place. What led to that change we can only conjecture; and of conjectures on this point there has been no lack. The most probable opinion is, that as the Romans and Greeks were in the habit of softening the Hebrew names in pronunciation, and accommodating their form to that of the Latin or Greek, they substituted Paul for Saul, and the Apostle henceforward adopted the substituted name as his usual designation.
Not long after Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch, they were deputed by the church there again to visit Jerusalem, to consult the Apostles and elders upon the question, which certain members of the church at Jerusalem had raised in that at Antioch, whether converts from heathenism required to be circumcised, and so become Jews before they could be saved? The Apostle on this occasion visited Jerusalem for the third time after his conversion; and after the question had been settled by the parties in that city with whom the power to do so lay, he and his companion returned to Antioch. After restoring peace to the church there, Paul proposed to Barnabas to undertake another missionary tour, to which the latter cordially assented; but, unhappily, on the very eve of their departure a contention arose between them, in consequence of Barnabas being determined to take with them his nephew John Mark; and Paul being equally determined that one, who had on a former occasion ingloriously deserted them, should not again be employed in the work. Unable to come to an agreement on this point, they separated; and Paul, accompanied by Silas, commenced his second missionary journey, in the course of which, after passing through Syria and Cilicia, he revisited Lystra and Derbe. At the former of these places he found Timothy, whom he associated with Silas, as the companion of his further travels, after he had been ordained by the Apostle and the presbytery of the church of which he was a member (). Paul then passed through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, and avoiding Asia, strictly so called, and Bithynia, he came with his companions by way of Mysia to Troas, on the borders of the Hellespont. Hence they crossed to Samothracia, and thence to Neapolis, and so to Philippi, whither he had been summoned in a vision by a man of Macedonia saying, 'Come over and help us.' After some time spent in this city, they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, cities of Macedonia, and came to Thessalonica, where, though they abode only a short time, they preached the Gospel with no small success. Driven from that city by the malice of the Jews, they came by night to Berea, another city of Macedonia, where at first they were favorably received by the Jews, until a party from Thessalonica, which had followed them incited the Bereans against them. Paul, as especially obnoxious to the Jews, deemed it prudent to leave the place, and accordingly retired to Athens, where he determined to await the arrival of Silas and Timothy. While residing in this city, and observing the manners and religious customs of its inhabitants, his spirit was stirred within him, when he saw how entirely they were immersed in idolatry; and, unable to refrain, he commenced in the synagogues of the Jews and in the market-place to hold discussions with all whom he encountered. This led to his being taken to the Areopagus, where, surrounded by perhaps the shrewdest, most polished, most acute, most witty, and most scornful assemblage that ever surrounded a preacher of Christianity, he, with exquisite tact and ability, exposed the folly of their superstitions, and unfolded the character and claims of the living and true God. For the purpose of more effectually arresting the attention of his audience, he commenced by referring to an altar in their city, on which he had read the inscription, to an unknown God; and, applying this to Jehovah, he proposed to declare to them that Deity whom thus, without knowing him, they were worshipping.
On being rejoined by Timothy (), and perhaps also by Silas, the Apostle sent them both back to Macedonia, and went alone to visit Corinth, whither they soon after followed him (). Here he abode for a year and a half preaching the Gospel, and supporting himself by his trade as a tent-maker, in which he was joined by a converted Jew of the name of Aquila, who, with his wife Priscilla, had been expelled from Rome by an edict of the emperor, forbidding Jews to remain in that city. Driven from Corinth by the enmity of the Jews, he, along with Aquila and Priscilla, betook himself to Ephesus, whence, after a residence of only a few days, he went up to Jerusalem, being commanded by God to visit that city, at the time of the approaching Passover. His visit on this occasion—the fourth since his conversion—was very brief; and at the close of it he went down to Antioch, thereby completing his second great apostolic tour.
At Antioch he abode for some time, and then, accompanied, as is supposed, by Titus, he commenced another extensive tour, in the course of which, after passing through Phrygia and Galatia, he visited Ephesus. The importance of this city, in relation to the region of Hither Asia, determined him to remain in it for a considerable time; and he accordingly continued preaching the Gospel there for three years, with occasional brief periods of absence, for the purpose of visiting places in the vicinity. With such success were his efforts crowned, that the gains of those who were interested in supporting the worship of Diana, the tutelar goddess of the city, began to be seriously affected; and at the instigation of one of these, by name Demetrius, a silversmith, who had enjoyed a lucrative traffic by the manufacture of what appear to have been miniature representations of the famous temple of Diana, a popular tumult was excited against the Apostle, from the fury of which he was with difficulty rescued by the sagacity and tact of the town-clerk, aided by others of the chief men of the place, who appear to have been friendly towards Paul. By this occurrence the Apostle's removal from Ephesus, on which, however, he had already determined (), was in all probability expedited; and, accordingly, he very soon after the tumult went by way of Troas to Philippi, where he appears to have resided some time, and from which, as his head-quarters, he made extensive excursions into the surrounding districts, penetrating even to Illyricum, on the eastern shore of the Adriatic (). From Philippi he went to Corinth, where he resided three months, and then returned to Philippi, having been frustrated in his design of proceeding through Syria to Jerusalem by the malice of the Jews. Sailing from Philippi, he came to Troas, where he abode seven days; thence he journeyed on foot to Assos; thence he proceeded by sea to Miletus, where he had an affecting interview with the elders of the church at Ephesus (, sq.); thence he sailed for Syria, and, after visiting several intermediate ports, landed at Tyre; and thence, after a residence of seven days, he traveled by way of Ptolemais and Cesarea to Jerusalem. This constituted his fifth visit to that city after his conversion.
On his arrival at Jerusalem he had the mortification to find that, while the malice of his enemies the Jews was unabated, the minds of many of his brother Christians were alienated from him on account of what they deemed his too lax and liberal notions of the obligations of the Mosaic ritual. To obviate these feelings on their part, he, at the suggestion of the Apostle James, joined himself to four persons who had taken on them the vows of a Nazarite, and engaged to pay the cost of the sacrifices by which the Mosaic ritual required that such should be absolved from their vows. But this somewhat questionable act of the Apostle had no effect whatever in securing for him any mitigation of the hatred with which he was regarded by the unconverted Jews; on the contrary, his appearance in the temple so much exasperated them, that, before his vow was accomplished, they seized him, and would have put him to death had not Lysias, the commander of the Roman cohort in the adjoining citadel, brought soldiers to his rescue. Under the protection of Lysias, the Apostle addressed the angry mob, setting forth the main circumstances of his life, and especially his conversion to Christianity, and his appointment to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Up to this point they heard him patiently; but no sooner had he insinuated that the Gentiles were viewed by him as placed on a par with the Jews, than all their feelings of national bigotry burst forth in a tempest of execration and fury against the Apostle. Lysias, ignorant of what Paul had been saying, from his having addressed the people in Hebrew, and suspecting from these vehement demonstrations of the detestation in which he was held by the Jews that something flagrantly vicious must have been committed by him, gave orders that he should be examined, and forced by scourging to confess his crime. From this indignity Paul delivered himself by asserting his privileges as a Roman citizen, whom it was not lawful to bind or scourge. Next day, in the presence of the Sanhedrim, he entered into a defense of his conduct, in the course of which, having avowed himself a believer in the doctrine of a bodily resurrection, he awakened so fierce a controversy on this point between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the council, that Lysias, fearing he might be torn to pieces among them, gave orders to remove him into the fort. From a conspiracy into which above forty of the Jews had entered to assassinate him he was delivered by the timely interposition of his nephew, who, having acquired intelligence of the plot, intimated it first to Paul, and then to Lysias. Alarmed at the serious appearance which the matter was assuming, Lysias determined to send Paul to Cesarea, where Felix the procurator was residing, and to leave the affair to his decision. At Cesarea Paul and his accusers were heard by Felix; but though the Apostle's defense was unanswerable, the procurator, fearful of giving the Jews offence, declined pronouncing any decision, and still retained Paul in bonds. Sometime after he was again summoned to appear before Felix, who, along with his wife Drusilla, expressed a desire to hear him 'concerning the faith in Christ;' and on this occasion the faithful and fearless Apostle discoursed so pointedly on certain branches of good morals, in which the parties he was addressing were notoriously deficient, that Felix trembled, and hastily sent him from his presence. Shortly after this Felix was succeeded in his government by Porcius Festus, before whom the Jews again brought their charges against Paul; and who, when the cause came to be heard, showed so much of a disposition to favor the Jews, that the Apostle felt himself constrained to appeal to Caesar. To gratify King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, who had come to Cesarea to visit Festus, and whose curiosity was excited by what they had heard of Paul, he was again called before the governor, and 'permitted to speak for himself.' On this occasion he recapitulated the leading points of his history, and gave such an account of his views and designs, that a deep impression was made on the mind of Agrippa favorable to Christianity and to the Apostle; so much so that, but for his having appealed to Caesar, it is probable he would have been set at liberty. His cause, however, having by that appeal been placed in the hands of the emperor, it was necessary that he should go to Rome, and thither accordingly Festus sent him. His voyage was long and disastrous. Leaving Cesarea when the season was already considerably advanced, they coasted along Syria as far as Sidon, and then crossed to Myra, a port of Lycia; thence they sailed slowly to Cnidus; and thence, in consequence of unfavorable winds, they struck across to Crete, and with difficulty reached a port on the southern part of that island called 'The Fair Haven,' near the town of Lasea. There Paul urged the centurion, under whose charge he and his fellow-prisoners had been placed, to winter; but the place not being very suitable for this purpose, and the weather promising favorably, this advice was not followed, and they again set sail, intending to reach Phœnice, a port in the same island, and there to winter. Scarcely had they set sail, however, when a tempest arose, at the mercy of which they were driven for fourteen days in a westerly direction, until they were cast upon the coast of Malta, where they suffered shipwreck, but without any loss of life. Hospitably received by the natives, they abode there three months, during which time Paul had a favorable opportunity of preaching the Gospel, and of showing the power with which he was endued for the authentication of his message by performing many miracles for the advantage of the people. On the approach of spring they availed themselves of a ship of Alexandria which had wintered in the island, and set sail for Syracuse, where they remained three days; thence they crossed to Rhegium, in Italy; and thence to Puteoli, from which place Paul and his companions journeyed to Rome. Here he was delivered by the centurion to the captain of the guard, who permitted him to dwell in his own hired house under the surveillance of a soldier. And thus he continued for two years, 'receiving all that came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him' (; ).
At this point the evangelist abruptly closes his narrative, leaving us to glean our information regarding the subsequent history of the Apostle from less certain sources. Tradition stedfastly affirms that he suffered martyrdom at Rome, and that the manner of his death was by beheading; but whether this took place at the close of the imprisonment mentioned by Luke, or after a second imprisonment incurred subsequent to an intervening period of freedom and active exertion in the cause of Christianity, has been much discussed by modern writers.
If, on the evidence furnished by the allusions in the Second Epistle to Timothy, we adopt the latter hypothesis, it will follow that Paul, during the interval between his first and second imprisonments, undertook an extensive apostolic tour, in the course of which he visited his former scenes of labor in Asia and Greece, and perhaps also fulfilled his purpose of going into Spain (). He probably also visited Crete and Dalmatia.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Paul'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/p/paul.html.