Lectionary Calendar
Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Paul (St.) the Hermit.
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(Παῦλος , the Greek form of the common Latin name Paulus), originally (see below) Saul (q.v.), the specially appointed "Apostle to the Gentiles." (In the following treatment of this important character, we endeavor to weave in the Scripture narrative whatever illustration may be gathered from modern researches and speculations.

I. Preliminary Inquiries.

1. Original Authorities. Nearly all the authentic materials for the life of the apostle Paul are contained in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Pauline Epistles. Out of a comparison of these authorities the biographer has to construct his account of the really important period of the apostle's life. The early traditions of the Church appear to have left almost untouched the space of time for which we possess those sacred and abundant sources of knowledge; and they aim only at supplying a few particulars in the biography beyond the points at which the narrative of the Acts begins and terminates.

The inspired history and the Epistles lie side by side, and are to all appearance quite independent of one another. It was not the purpose of the historian to write a life of Paul, even as much as the received name of his book would seem to imply. The book called the Acts of the Apostles is an account of the beginnings of the kingdom of Christ on the earth. The large space which the apostle occupies in it is due to the important part which he bore in spreading that kingdom. As to the Epistles, nothing can be plainer than that they were written without reference to the history; and there is no attempt in the canon to combine them with it so as to form what we should call in modern phrase the apostle's "Life and Letters." What amount of agreement and what amount of discrepancy may be observed between these independent authorities is a question of the greatest interest and importance, and one upon which various opinions are entertained. The most adverse and extreme criticism is ably represented by Dr. Baur of Tubingen (Paulus der Apostel Jesu Christi [Stuttg. 1845]), who finds so much opposition between what he holds to be the few authentic Pauline Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles that he pronounces the history to be an interested fiction. But his criticism is the very caricature of captiousness. We have but to imagine it applied to any history and letters of acknowledged authenticity, and we feel irresistibly how arbitrary and unhistorical it is. Putting aside this extreme view, it is not to be denied that difficulties are to be met with in reconciling completely the Acts and the received Epistles of Paul. What the solutions of such difficulties may be, whether there are any direct contradictions, how far the apparent differences may be due to the purpose of the respective writers, by what arrangement all the facts presented to us may best be dovetailed together these are the various questions which have given' so much occupation to the critics and expositors of Paul, and upon some of which it seems to be yet impossible to arrive at a decisive conclusion. We shall assume the Acts of the Apostles to be a genuine and authentic work of Luke. the companion of Paul, and shall speak of the Epistles at the places which we believe them to occupy in the history.

2. Name. There can be no doubt that the apostle's name, as a Jew, was Saul; but when or how he received the Roman name Paul, which he bears in the Acts of the Apostles from Acts 13:9, which he uses in his Epistles, and by which he is called by Peter (2 Peter 3:15), is unknown. It is quite probable that he had borne the name of Paul as a Roman citizen; and it is no objection to this view that then this name would have appeared first, and that of Saul later (Witsius, Meletem. Leid. p. 47). If it is not merely accidental that Luke first calls him Paul in the passage mentioned, the reason may be that the apostle then first commenced his public and separate ministry; and Paul, a Gentile name, was that which the apostle of the Gentiles always on in Church history (Baur, Paul. p. 93). Even if the Jews still used the old Jewish name, there was afterwards no occasion for Luke to mention it. The account of Jerome that Paul assumed this name upon the conversion by him of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7; comp. August. Confess. 8:4; Bengel and Olshausen, on Acts 13:9) is perhaps not a tradition, but a mere suggestion of that father himself, on the ground that the name Paul first appears in the passage following that account. Indeed, Baur (p. 93) would have us believe that this was the view of Luke himself, and that the whole account of the conversion of Sergius Paulus was built up to illustrate this change of name! But if there had been any connection between the two events, it would have been natural for the writer to indicate it (see Neander, p. 108). It is easy to suppose simply that, in becoming a Christian. according to the Eastern custom, (See NAME), he assumed the name Paul, as one common among Greeks and Romans, and quite similar in sound to Saul (comp. Chrysost. and Theophyl. in Suicer, Thesaur. 2:648), perhaps with some reference to the etymological signification of the name (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:9; Paulus, Lat. small, little; comp. Gr. Παῦρος ). Yet we should then expect that Luke would employ the name Paul from Acts 9:19 onward. (For another view, see Kuinol, Comment. ad loc.) (See SERGIUS PAULUS).

II. Personal History. We purpose under this head to gather together all the information given either directly or incidentally in the Acts and Epistles concerning the apostle's life, relegating to a subsequent head the various disputes that have been raised on some of them.

1. Youth and Early Career. Paul was a native of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia (Acts 22:3, etc.), and was of Jewish descent, of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). 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 (Lardner, Works, 1:228, ed. 1788, 8vo; Grotius, ad Acta 22:28). The supposition that he enjoyed them in virtue of being a native of Tarsus is not well founded; for though that city had been created by Augustus an urbs libera (Dion. Chrysost. 2:36, ed. Reiske; Pliny, Hist. Nat. v. 27), it does not follow from this that all its natives enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship; and besides, from Acts 21:39 compared with Acts 22:24; Acts 22:27, it may be inferred that, as the chief captain knew Paul to be a native of Tarsus, and yet was not aware of his Roman citizenship, the latter of these was not necessarily associated with the former. From his receiving the name Saul it has been supposed that he was the first-born son of his parents, and that they had long desired and often asked for such a favor from God; that he was not their only child, however, appears from the mention made (Acts 23:16) of his "sister's son." Whether Andronicus, Junia, and Herodion, whom he terms, in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:7; Romans 16:11), συγγενεῖς μου, were of the number of his blood relations, or only belonged to the same tribe with him, is a question on which learned men have taken different sides (comp. Lardner, Works, 6:235; Estius, Commn. ad loc.). (See below.)

At that time Tarsus was the rival of Athens and Alexandria as a place of learning and philosophical research (Strabo, 14:5); but to what extent the future "Apostle of the Gentiles" enjoyed the advantage of its schools we have no means of accurately determining. Attempts have been made to show from his writings that he was familiar with Greek literature. and Dr. Bentley has not hesitated to affirm that "as Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, so it is manifest from this chapter alone (Acts xxvii), if nothing else had been now extant, that Paul was a great master in all the learning of the Greeks" (Boyle Lectures, serm. 3, sub init.). An authority like that of Bentley in a question of Greek literature is not to be lightly set aside; yet on referring to the evidence in support of this opinion it will not be found to justify it. It must be allowed, however, that the mere circumstance of his 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. "If even to the meanest citizen," as Eichhorn remarks, "such a circumstance affords unless he be by nature utterly unobservant much information which otherwise he could not have obtained, and in consequence of this a certain activity of mind, how much greater may not its effect be supposed to have been on a great mind like that of Paul? To his birth and early residence in Tarsus may be traced the urbanity which the apostle at no time laid aside, and of which he was frequently a perfect model, many insinuating turns which he gives to his epistles, and a more skillful use of the Greek tongue than a Jew born and educated in Palestine could well have attained" (Einleit. ins N.T. 3:5). (See below.)

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 (Acts 17:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12, etc.). This trade is described by Luke as that of a σκηνοποιός , a word regarding the meaning of which there has been no small difference of opinion. (See below.) It does not follow that the family were in the necessitous condition which such manual labor commonly implies; for it was a wholesome custom among the Jews to teach every child some trade, though there might be little prospect of his depending upon it for his living. (See HANDICRAFT).

When Paul made his defense before his countrymen at Jerusalem (Acts 22), he told them that, though born in Tarsus, he had been "brought up" (ἀνατεθραμμένος ) in Jerusalem. He must, therefore, have been yet a boy when he was removed, in all probability for the sake of his education, to the Holy City of his fathers. We may imagine him arriving there perhaps at some age between ten and fifteen, already a Hellenist, speaking Greek and familiar with the Greek version of the Scriptures, possessing, besides the knowledge of his trade, the elements of Gentile learning to be taught at Jerusalem "according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers." He learned, he says, "at the feet of Gamaliel." He who was to resist so stoutly the usurpations of the law had for his teacher one of the most eminent of all the doctors of the law. Gamaliel 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 (Lightfoot, Horace Hebr. in Act. v. 34; Neander, Apostol. Zeitalter, p. 62; Otho, Lex. Rabbinico-Philippians s.v. Rabbi). 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 (Acts 5:34-39; comp. Neander, l.c.). How much the instructions and the example of such a teacher may have influenced the mind of Paul favorably we may imagine, but cannot affirm. (See GAMALIEL).

It is singular that on the occasion of his well-known intervention in the apostolical history the master's counsels of toleration are in marked contrast to the persecuting zeal so soon displayed by the pupil. The temper of Gamaliel himself was moderate and candid, and he was personally free from bigotry; but his teaching was that of the strictest of the Pharisees, and bore its natural fruit when lodged in the ardent and thoroughgoing nature of Saul. Other fruits, besides that of a zeal which persecuted the Church, may no doubt be referred to the time when Saul sat at the feet of Gamaliel. A thorough training in the Scriptures and in the traditions of the elders under an acute and accomplished master must have done much to exercise the mind of Saul, and to make him feel at home in the subjects in which he was afterwards to be so intensely interested. Nor are we at all bound to suppose that, because his zeal for the law was strong enough to set him upon persecuting the believers in Jesus, he had therefore experienced none of the doubts and struggles which, according to his subsequent testimony, it was the nature of the law to produce (see Romans 7). On the contrary, we can scarcely imagine these as absent from the spiritual life of Saul as he passed from boyhood to manhood. Earnest persecutors are, oftener than not, men who have been tormented by inward struggles and perplexities. The pupil of Gamaliel may have been crushing a multitude of conflicts in his own mind when he threw himself into the holy work of extirpating the new heresy. (See MORAL SENSE).

Paul 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. A.D. 29. He is described at this time (Acts 7:58) as "a young man" (νεανίας ); but this term was employed with so much latitude by the Greeks that it is impossible from the mere use of it to determine whether the party to whom it was applied was under thirty, or between that and forty. The probability is that Paul must have reached the age of thirty at least; for otherwise it is not likely that he would have shared the counsels of the chief priests, or been intrusted by them with the entire responsibility of executing their designs against the followers of Jesus, as we know was the case (Acts 26:10; Acts 26:12). For such a task he showed a painful aptitude, and discharged it with a zeal which spared neither age nor sex (Acts 26:10-11). At that time the Church experienced the sudden expansion which was connected with the ordaining of the Seven appointed to serve tables, and with the special power and inspiration of Stephen. Among those who disputed with Stephen were some "of them of Cilicia." We naturally think of Saul as having been one of these, when we find him afterwards keeping the clothes of those suborned witnesses who, according to the law (Deuteronomy 17:7), were the first to cast stones at Stephenm "Saul," says the sacred writer, significantly, "was consenting unto his death." The angelic glory that shone from Stephen's face, and the divine truth of his words, failing to subdue the spirit of religious hatred now burning in Saul's breast, must have embittered and aggravated its rage. Saul was passing through a terrible crisis for a man of his nature. But he was not one to be moved from his stern purpose by the native refinement and tenderness which he must have been stifling within him. He was the most unwearied and unrelenting of persecutors. As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering into every house (κατὰ τοὺς οἴκους, house by house), and haling men and women, committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3).

2. Conversion. 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. The persecutor was to be converted. A.D. 30. What the nature of that conversion was we are now to observe. Having undertaken to follow up the believers "unto strange cities," Saul naturally turned his thoughts to Damascus, expecting to find among the numerous Jewish residents of that populous city some adherents of "the way" (τῆς ὁδοῦ ), and trusting, we must presume, to be allowed by the connivance of the governor to apprehend them. What befell him as he journeyed thither is related in detail three times in the Acts, first by the historian in his own person, then in the two addresses made by Paul at Jerusalem and before Agrippa. These three narratives are not repetitions of one another: there are differences between them which some critics choose to regard as irreconcilable. Considering that the same author is responsible for all the accounts, we gain nothing, of course, for the authenticity of their statements by bringing them into agreement; but it seems quite clear that the author himself could not have been conscious of any contradictions in the narratives. He can scarcely have had any motive for placing side by side inconsistent reports of Paul's conversion; and that he should have admitted inconsistencies on such a matter through mere carelessness is hardly credible. Of the three narratives, that of the historian himself must claim to be the most purely historical: Paul's subsequent accounts were likely to be affected by the purpose for which he introduced them. Luke's statement is to be read in Acts 9:3-19, where, however, the words, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," included in the Vulgate and English version, ought to be omitted. The sudden light from heaven; the voice of Jesus speaking with authority to his persecutor; Saul struck to the ground, blinded, overcome; the three days' suspense; the coming of Ananias as a messenger of the Lord; and Saul's baptism these were the leading features, in the eyes of the historian, of the great event, and in these we must look for the chief significance of the conversion.

Let us now compare the historical relation with those which we have in Paul's speeches (Acts 22, 26). The reader will do well to consider each in its place. But we have here to deal with the bare fact of agreement or difference. With regard to the light, the speeches add to what Luke tells us that the phenomenon occurred at mid-day, and that the light shone round, and was visible to Saul's companions as well as to himself. The second speech says that at the shining of this light the whole company ("we all") fell to the ground. This is not contradicted by what is said (Acts 9:7), "The men which journeyed with him stood speechless," for there is no emphasis on "stood," nor is the standing antithetical to Saul's falling down. We have but to suppose the others rising before Saul, or standing still afterwards in greater perplexity, through not seeing or hearing what Saul saw and heard, to reconcile the narratives without forcing either. After the question, Why persecutest thou me?" the second speech adds, "It is hard for thee to kick against the goads." Then both the speeches supply a question and answer "I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus (of Nazareth), whom thou persecutest." In the direction to go into Damascus and await orders there, the first speech agrees with Acts 9. But whereas according to that chapter the men with Saul "heard the voice," in the first speech it is said "they heard not the voice of him that spake to me." It seems reasonable to conclude from the two passages that the men actually heard sounds, but not, like Saul, an articulate voice.

With regard to the visit of Ananias, there is no collision between the ninth chapter and the first speech, the latter only attributing additional words to Ananias. The second speech ceases to give details of the conversion after the words, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand on thy feet." Paul adds, from the mouth of Jesus, an exposition of the purpose for which he had appeared to him. It is easy to say that in ascribing these words to Jesus, Paul or his professed reporter is violating the order and sequence of the earlier accounts. But, if we bear in mind the nature and purpose of Paul's address before Agrippa, we shall surely not suppose that he is violating the strict truth, when he adds to the words which Jesus spoke to him at the moment of the light and the sound, without interposing any reference to a later occasion, that fuller exposition of the meaning of the crisis through which he was passing, which he was not to receive till afterwards. What Saul actually heard from Jesus on the way as he journeyed was afterwards interpreted, to the mind of Saul, into those definite expressions. For we must not forget that, whatever we hold as to the external nature of the phenomena we are considering, the whole transaction was essentially, in any case, a spiritual communication. That the Lord Jesus manifested himself as a living person to the man Saul, and spoke to him so that his very words could be understood, is the substantial fact declared to us.

The purport of the three narratives is that an actual conversation took place between Saul and the Lord Jesus. It is remarkable that in none of them is Saul said to have seen Jesus. The grounds for believing that he did so are the two expressions of Ananias (Acts 9:17), " The Lord Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way," and (Acts 22:14) That thou shouldest see the Just One," and the statement of Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8), "Last of all he was seen of me also." Comparing these passages with the narratives, we conclude either that Saul had an instantaneous vision of Jesus as the flash of light blinded him, or that the "seeing" was that apprehension of his presence which would go with a real conversation. How it was that Saul "saw" and "heard," we are quite unable to determine. That the light, and the sound or voice, were both different from any ordinary phenomena with which Saul and his companions were familiar, is unquestionably implied in the narrative. It is also implied that they were specially significant to Saul, and not to those with him. We gather therefore that there were real outward phenomena, through which Saul was made inwardly sensible of a presence revealed to him alone. (See below.) Externally, there was a flash of light. Spiritually, "the light of the Gospel of the glory of the Christ, who is the image of God," shone upon Saul, and convicted the darkness of the heart which had shut out love and knew not the glory of the cross. Externally, Saul fell to the ground. Spiritually, he was prostrated by shame, when he knew whom he had been persecuting. Externally, sounds issued out of heaven. Spiritually, the Crucified said to Saul, with tender remonstrance, "I am Jesus. why persecutest thou me?" Whether audibly to his companions, or audibly to the Lord Jesus only, Saul confessed himself in the spirit the servant of him whose name he had hated. He gave himself up, without being able to see his way, to the disposal of him whom he now knew to have vindicated his claim over him by the very sacrifice which formerly he had despised. The Pharisee was converted, once for all, into a disciple of Jesus the Crucified.

The only mention in the Epistles of Paul of the outward phenomena attending his conversion is that in 1 Corinthians 15:8," Last of all he was seen of me also." But there is one important passage in which he speaks distinctly of his conversion itself. Dr. Baur (Paul. p. 64), with his readiness to find out discrepancies, insists that this passage represents quite a different process from that recorded in the Acts. It is manifestly not a repetition of what we have been reading and considering, but it in the most perfect harmony with it. In the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 1:15-16) Paul has these words, "When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen" ... (ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί ). What words could express more exactly than these the spiritual experience which occurred to Saul on the way to Damascus? The manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God is clearly the main point in the narrative. This manifestation was brought about through a removal of the veils of prejudice and ignorance which blinded the eyes of Saul to a crucified Deliverer conquering through sacrifice. Whatever part the senses may have played in the transaction, the essence of it in any case must have been Saul's inward vision of a spiritual Lord close to his spirit, from whom he could not escape, whose every command he was henceforth to obey in the spirit.

It would be groundless to assume that the new convictions of that mid-day immediately cleared and settled themselves in Saul's mind. It is sufficient to say that he was then converted, or turned round. For a while. no doubt, his inward state was one of awe and expectation. He was "led by the hand" spiritually by his Master, as well as bodily by his companions. Thus entering Damascus as a servant of the Lord Jesus, he sought the house of one whom he had, perhaps, intended to persecute. Judas may have been known to his guest as a disciple of the Lord. Certainly the fame of Saul's coming had preceded him; and Ananias, "a devout man according to the law," but a believer in Jesus, when directed by the Lord to visit him, wonders at what he is told concerning the notorious persecutor. He obeys, however; and going to Saul in the name of the Lord Jesus, who had appeared to him in the way," he puts his hands on him that he may receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Thereupon Saul's eyes are immediately purged, and his sight is restored. "The same hour," says Paul (Acts 22:13), "I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see the Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard." Every word in this address strikes some chord which we hear sounded again and again in Paul's Epistles. The new convert is not, as it is so common to say, converted from Judaism to Christianity of the God of the Jewish fathers chooses him. He is chosen to know God's will. That will is manifested in the Righteous One. Him Saul sees and hears, in order that he may be a witness of him to all men. The eternal will of the God of Abraham; that will revealed in a righteous Son of God; the testimony concerning him, a Gospel to mankind-these are the essentially Pauline principles which are declared in all the teaching of the apostle, and illustrated in all his actions.

3. Sojourn in Damascus and Arabia. After the recovery of his sight, Saul received the external symbol of the washing away of his sins in baptism. He then broke his three days' fast, and was strengthened an image, again, of the strengthening of his faint and hungering spirit through a participation in the divine life of the Church at Damascus. He was at once received into the fellowship of the disciples, and began without delay the work to which Ananias had designated him; and to the astonishment of all his hearers he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, declaring him to be the Son of God. This was the natural sequel to his conversion: he was to proclaim Jesus the Crucified, first to the Jews as their own Christ, afterwards to the world as the Son of the living God.

The narrative in the Acts tells us simply that he was occupied in this work, with increasing vigor, for "many days," up to the time when imminent danger drove him from Damascus. From the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 1:17-18) we learn that the many days were at least a good part of "three years," and that Saul, not thinking it necessary to procure authority to preach from the apostles that were before him, went after his conversion into Arabia, and returned from thence to Damascus. We know nothing whatever of this visit to Arabia to what district Saul went, how long he stayed, or for what purpose he went there. (Stanley suggests, Sin. and Pal. p. 50, that he may even have visited Mount Sinai.) From the antithetical way in which it is opposed to a visit to the apostles at Jerusalem, we infer that it took place before he deliberately committed himself to the task of proclaiming Jesus as the Christ; and also, with some probability, that he was seeking seclusion, in order that, by conferring "not with flesh and blood," but with the Lord in the Spirit, he might receive more deeply into his mind the commission given him at his conversion. That Saul did not spend the greater portion of the "three years" at Damascus seems probable, for these two reasons:

(1) that the anger of the Jews was not likely to have borne with two or three years of such a life as Saul's now was without coming to a crisis; and

(2) that the disciples at Jerusalem would not have been likely to mistrust Saul as they did if they had heard of him as preaching Jesus at Damascus for the same considerable period. We can hardly resist the conviction that the time was spent in private preparation, perhaps in receiving those remarkable disclosures which he afterwards called "my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8), analogous to the corresponding period of the other apostles personal intercourse with the Lord. Thus we may venture to suppose he received that Gospel which afterwards he preached "by revelation" from Christ (Galatians 1:12). Neander (l.c. sec. 121) and Anger (De Tempp. in Actis App. Ratione. p. 123) have endeavored to show that Paul went into Arabia to preach the Gospel; but the reasons they adduce have little weight (comp. Olshausen, on Acts 9:20-25).

Now that we have arrived at Saul's departure from Damascus, we are again upon historical ground (A.D. 33), and have the double evidence of Luke in the Acts (Acts 9:21 sq.) and of the apostle in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:32). According to the former, the Jews lay in wait for Saul, intending to kill him, and watched the gates of the city that he might not escape from them. Knowing this, the disciples took him by night and let him down in a basket from the wall. According to Paul (2 Corinthians 11:32), it was the ethnarch under Aretas the king who watched for him, desiring to apprehend him. There is no difficulty in reconciling the two statements. We might similarly say that our Lord was put to death either by the Jews or by the Roman governor. There is more difficulty in ascertaining how an officer of king Aretas should be governing in Damascus, and why he should lend himself to the designs of the Jews. But we learn from secular history that the affairs of Damascus were, at the time, in such an unsettled state as to make the narrative not improbable. (See ARETAS).

Having escaped from Damascus, Saul betook himself to Jerusalem, and there "assayed to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple." In this natural but trying difficulty Saul was befriended by one whose name was henceforth closely associated with his. Barnabas became his sponsor to the apostles and Church at Jerusalem. assuring them-from some personal knowledge, we must presume-of the facts of Saul's conversion and subsequent behavior at Damascus. It is noticeable that the seeing and hearing are still the leading features in the conversion, and the name of Jesus in the preaching. Barnabas declared how "Saul had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how that he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus." Barnabas's introduction removed the fears of the apostles, and Paul "was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem." His Hellenistical education made him. like Stephen, a successful disputant against the "Grecians;" and it is not strange that the former persecutor was singled out from the other believers as the object of a murderous hostility. He was therefore again urged to flee; and by way of Caesarea took himself to his native city, Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30. In Galatians 1:20, the order of the localities is not strictly observed).

In the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 1:17-23) Paul adds certain particulars, in which only a perverse and captious criticism could see anything contradictory to the facts just related. He tells us that his motive for going up to Jerusalem rather than anywhere else was that he might see Peter; that he abode with him fifteen days; that the only apostles he saw were Peter and James the Lord's brother; and that afterwards he came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, remaining unknown by face, though well known for his conversion, to the churches in Judaea which were in Christ. Paul's object in referring to this connection of his with those who were apostles before him was to show that he had never accepted his apostleship as a commission from them. On this point the narrative in the Acts entirely agrees with Paul's own earnest asseverations in his Epistles. He received his commission from the Lord Jesus, and also mediately through Ananias. This commission included a special designation to preach Christ to the Gentiles. Upon the latter designation he did not act until circumstances opened the way for it. But he at once began to proclaim Jesus as the Christ to his own countrymen. Barnabas introduced him to the apostles, not as seeking their sanction, but as having seen and heard the Lord Jesus, and as having boldly spoken already in his name.

4. Ministry at Antioch. During this stay of Paul at Tarsus, which lasted several years, occupied doubtless with those elsewhere unrecorded labors to some of which he occasionally alludes (2 Corinthians 11:24-25), a movement was going on at Antioch which raised that city to an importance second only to that of Jerusalem itself in the early history of the Church. In the life of the apostle of the Gentiles Antioch claims a most conspicuous place. It was there that the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles first took root, and from thence that it was afterwards propagated. Its geographical position, its political and commercial importance, and the presence of a large and powerful Jewish element in its population, were the more obvious characteristics which adapted it for such a use. There came to Antioch, when the persecution which arose about Stephen scattered upon their different routes the disciples who had been assembled at Jerusalem, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, eager to tell all who would hear them the good news concerning the Lord Jesus. Until Antioch was reached, the word was spoken "to none but unto Jews only" (Acts 11:19). But here the Gentiles also (οἱ ῞Ελληνες ) not, as in the A.V., "the Grecians" were among the hearers of the word.

A great number believed; and when this was reported at Jerusalem, Barnabas was sent on a special mission to Antioch. As the work grew under his hands, and "much people was added unto the Lord," Barnabas felt the need of help, and went himself to Tarsus to seek Saul. Possibly at Damascus, certainly at Jerusalem, he had been a witness of Saul's energy and devotedness, and skill in disputation. He had been drawn to him by the bond of a most brotherly affection. He therefore longed for him as a helper, and succeeded in bringing him to Antioch. There they labored together unremittingly for "a whole year," mixing with the constant assemblies of the believers, and "teaching much people." All this time, as Luke would give us to understand, Saul was subordinate to Barnabas. Until "Saul" became "Paul," we read of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11:30; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:2; Acts 13:7). Afterwards the order changes to "Paul and Barnabas." It seems reasonable to conclude that there was no marked peculiarity in the teaching of Saul during the Antioch period. He held and taught, in common with the other Jewish believers, the simple faith in Jesus the Christ, crucified and raised from the dead. Nor did he ever afterwards depart from the simplicity of this faith. But new circumstances stirred up new questions; and then it was to Saul of Tarsus that it was given to see, more clearly than any others saw, those new applications of the old truth, those deep and world-wide relations of it, with which his work was to be permanently associated. In the mean time, according to the usual method of the divine government, facts were silently growing, which were to suggest and occasion the future developments of faith and practice, and of these facts the most conspicuous was the unprecedented accession of Gentile proselytes at Antioch.

An opportunity soon occurred, of which Barnabas and Saul joyfully availed themselves, for proving the affection of these new disciples towards their brethren at Jerusalem, and for knitting the two communities together in the bonds of practical fellowship. A manifest impulse from the Holy Spirit began this work. There came "prophets" from Jerusalem to Antioch: "and there stood up one of them, named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world." The "prophets" who now arrived may have been the Simeon and Lucius and Manaen mentioned in 13:1, besides Agabus and others. The prediction of the dearth need not have been purposeless; it would naturally have a direct reference to the needs of the poorer brethren and the duty of the richer. It is obvious that the fulfillment followed closely upon the intimation of the coming famine. For the disciples at Antioch determined to send contributions immediately to Jerusalem; and the gift was conveyed to the elders of that Church by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. The time of this dearth is vaguely designated in the Acts as the reign of Claudius. It is ascertained from Josephus's history that a severe famine did actually prevail in Judaea, and especially at Jerusalem, at the very time fixed by the event recorded in Acts 12, the death of Herod Agrippa. This was in A.D. 44. (See AGABUS).

It could not have been necessary for the mere safe conduct of the contribution that Barnabas and Saul should go in person to Jerusalem. We are bound to see in the relations between the Mother-Church and that of Antioch, of which this visit is illustrative, examples of the deep feeling of the necessity of union which dwelt in the heart of the early Church. The apostles did not go forth to teach a system, but to enlarge a body. The spirit which directed and furthered their labors was essentially the spirit of fellowship. By this spirit Saul of Tarsus was practically trained in strict cooperation with his elders in the Church. The habits which he learned now were to aid in guarding him at a later time from supposing that the independence which he was bound to claim should involve the slightest breach or loosening of the bonds of the universal brotherhood.

Having discharged their errand, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, bringing with them another helper, John surnamed Mark, sister's son to Barnabas. The work of prophesying and teaching was resumed. Several of the oldest and most honored of the believers in Jesus were expounding the way of God and organizing the Church in that busy metropolis. Travelers were incessantly passing to and fro. Antioch was in constant communication with Cilicia, with Cyprus, with all the neighboring countries. The question must have forced itself upon hundreds of the "Christians" at Antioch, "What is the meaning of this faith of ours, of this baptism, of this incorporation, of this kingdom of the Son of God, for the world? The Gospel is not for Judaea alone: here are we called by it at Antioch. Is it meant to stop here?" The Church was pregnant with a great movement, and the time of her delivery was at hand. We forget the whole method of the divine work in the nurture of the Church if we ascribe to the impulses of the Holy Ghost any theatrical suddenness, and disconnect them from the thoughts which were brooding in the minds of the disciples. At every point we find both circumstances and inward reasonings preparing the crisis. Something of direct expectation seems to be implied in what is said of the leaders of the Church at Antioch, that they were "ministering to the Lord, and fasting," when the Holy Ghost spoke to them. Without doubt they knew it for a seal set upon previous surmises, when the voice came clearly to the general mind, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." That "work" was partially known already to the Christians of Antioch: who could be so fit for it as the two brothers in the faith and in mutual affection, the son of exhortation, and the highly accomplished and undaunted convert who had from the first been called "a chosen vessel, to bear the name of the Lord before the Gentiles, and kings, and the people of Israel?"

When we look back, from the higher ground of Paul's apostolic activity, to the years that passed between his conversion and the first missionary journey, we cannot observe without reverence the patient humility with which Saul waited for his Master's time. He did not say for once only, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Obedience to Christ was thenceforth his ruling principle. Submitting, as he believed, to his Lord's direction, he was content to work for a long time as the subordinate colleague of his seniors in the faith. He was thus the better prepared, when the call came, to act with the authority which that call conferred upon him. He left Antioch, however, still the second to Barnabas. Everything was done with orderly gravity in the sending forth of the two missionaries. Their brethren, after fasting and prayer, laid their hands on them, and so they departed. A.D. 44.

5. First Missionary Journey. Much must have been hidden from Barnabas and Saul as to the issues of the journey on which they embarked. But one thing was clear to them, that they were sent forth to speak the Word of God. They did not go in their own name or for their own purposes; they were instruments for uttering what the Eternal God himself was saying to men. We shall find in the history a perfectly definite representation of what Paul announced and taught as he journeyed from city to city. But the first characteristic feature of his teaching was the absolute conviction that he was only the bearer of a heavenly message. It is idle to discuss Paul's character or views without recognising this fact. We are compelled to think of him as of a man who was capable of cherishing such a conviction with perfect assurance. We are bound to bear in mind the unspeakable influence which that conviction must have exerted upon his nature. The writer of the Acts proceeds upon the same assumption. He tells us that as soon as Barnabas and Saul reached Cyprus, they began to "announce the Word of God."

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Paul'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​p/paul.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
Ads FreeProfile