St. Paul has been a controversial figure throughout history. He was born in a peaceful enough city – Tarsus, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). His parents belonged to the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and held Roman citizenship (which included civil rights), into which Saul (his Jewish name) was born and which he would need to claim during the frequent crises of his adult life (Acts 22:25-28). However, as members of the Pharisee party of Jews (Phil 3:5), they sent Saul to study in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), a scholar so highly esteemed that when died it was written that “the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died” (Mishnah, Sotah 9:15).
Saul excelled among the rabbinical students of his time (Gal 1:14), which apparently motivated him to actively persecute the early Church in the A.D. 30s. He participated in the execution of St. Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7:58:8:1), and then in the subsequent persecution of the whole Church. With authorization from the chief priests, he went to arrest Christians in Damascus. However, on the road he was stopped by a vision of light that asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul did not recognize the voice and was then told, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4,5). Upon Jesus’ instructions, Saul, now blinded by the apparition, was led into Damascus, where he was baptized by Ananias (Acts9:17-18).
Saul began preaching about Jesus so fervently that his life was at risk (Acts 9:22-25). He went to Jerusalem, where again his preaching evoked threats against his life (Acts 9:26-30).
From there he went to Tarsus, where he remained until Barnabas called for him to help teach new Gentile converts in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). Christian prophets were inspired to have the Church send Saul and Barnabas on a mission to other Gentile cities and regions, first to Cyprus and Asia Minor, and on a second trip to Asia Minor and Europe. A third journey followed, with a probable fourth trip, which occurs after the Acts of the Apostles ends its history of the early Church in A.D. 62, with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial by Nero.
Excerpted from St. Paul: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics, by Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J. Copyright © 2008, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. All rights reserved. This 96-page paperback can be ordered by clicking here»
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