Murder approver, persecutor, judge, Shipwrecked 3 times, floated for 24 hours (SHARK!!!), attacked by murderous mobs, beaten, starved, imprisoned, and betrayed by friends, stoned and left for dead, thrown from a cliff, beaten with rods, whipped with 39 five times, and to top it all off bitten by a snake!! (I hate snakes) …
Whew, that’s quite the resume for two men let alone one! So who is this guy with two names?
Acts tells us that Paul was actually born Saul. Scholars think he was probably a few years younger than Jesus, which means he was in his 30s when he first appears as a “young man” (7:58) in Acts. Paul was raised in a nice Jewish home in Tarsus, which is located in modern day Turkey (21:39). He tells a crowd that he was “brought up in [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to [Jewish] ancestral law.” Later he tells the Sanhedrin that he’s “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (23:6). So, yeah. He’s got some pretty sweet credentials.
Paul was part of the Jewish Diaspora around the Roman Empire. In addition to his great Jewish education, he would have also been exposed to Greek in the universities in Tarsus. In fact, Acts says that Paul speaks Greek (21:37) and Hebrew (21:40), which really comes in handy when trying to convert both Jews and Gentiles.
So in the beginning, Saul is a Jew who really loves God and all things Jewish. Naturally, when some guys start talking about how this crucified peasant is the Jewish Messiah, it really boils Saul’s blood. In fact, the first time we meet Saul is during the stoning of Stephen. He’s the guy in the back holding everyone’s coats (7:58). We hope he at least had a tip jar out.
Saul might not have thrown the first stone, but Luke does say he “approved of their killing him” (8:1). And later on, he starts persecuting Christians full time (8:3, 9:1). It’s not exactly the kind of thing you can do as a hobby. Dude, looks like it’s a one-way ticket to damnation for you.
Quite the guy huh! Before you cast judgement though remember we are talking about a multiple personality dude! Saul is just part of the story! He becomes a poster child to the redemptive and transforming work God desires for all of us. In our next blog we will learn about the other side of Saul…
…Paul (a sneak peak below of episode 3 in our Philippians blog series)
Jesus and Peter might start out the story, but it’s Paul who takes center stage. From the moment he’s introduced in Chapter 7, Paul grabs the spotlight and refuses to return it. Counting Acts, 15 of the 27 books of the New Testament are written by or about Paul, which makes him a serious contender for the second most important person in the Bible.