His name was Paul. His name was Saul. Paul was his Roman name. It comes form a family name of Paulus meaning "humble". Saul was the name Jewish people would have known him by. But the real translation in Hebrew is Sha'ul.
He was born in the Greek region known as Tarsus. He was also of course Jewish (Acts 22:3). And not only was he Jewish, he was in the top of his class. He calls himself a Pharisee among Pharisees. (Acts 26:4-8). Yet, he was Roman citizen (Acts 22:27). How could someone so devoutly given to Judaism also be a Roman citizen. Only by one of three ways 1) You could buy your way into it. 2) Do a great deed for Rome or 3) you were born into it. Paul was born into it. (Acts 22:8). But how was he born into it? By speculation his family must have done a great deed for Rome such as help their military. By profession he was a tent maker (Acts 18:3). If he like so many of the culture followed in his family's ways then his father and perhaps grandfather were tent makers as well. Maybe they built tents for the Roman army. His family is never mentioned. No one knows if he had children or even a wife. But there is hints to him being married at one time. (1 Corinthians 9:5). But probably by the time he was converted somehow he either lost his wife in death, by divorce, or they were just never together. Scripture says he was celibate because he was unmarried (at the time of the writing in 1 Corinthians 7:1-9). He also mentions how important it is to take care of the widow, which could be a hint that he was widowed himself. Since he was Greek, Jewish and Roman he undoubtedly knew all three languages and knew them well, which makes his writings even more intriguing.
At first he was a Jew who hated Christianity. Being raised as a Jew, he probably did what was customary of his time; he left his home of Tarsus and went to study in Jerusalem at a young age, perhaps even as young as 13. He may have been mentored under the teacher Gamaliel, a famous teacher in the line of Jewish teachers called Hillel. (Acts 22:3) This Gamaliel has had rumors of becoming Christian himself by some historians. It would fit his character since he actually stood up for the Apostles in Acts 5:34-39
- 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.
- 35 Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.
- 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
- 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
- 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.
- 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
Paul was part of the Sanhedrin that Gamaliel was in charge of and may have heard this speech. He was later hired by the same Jewish council to find Christians and bring them to trial so they could execute them. He was well on his way to find Christians when Jesus came to him and changed his life and purpose.
He was a very educated man. As already stated he learned from the Hillel and his training cause him to be very fluent with scripture (Galatians 1:14). He knew the Torah and Prophets like the back of his hand (Philp 3:4-6). At one time the man whom we have learned to love was filled with hate and violence (1 Timothy1:13) , which is probably why the council chose him to go after Christians: they knew he would do it! Paul gave orders to kill hundreds perhaps thousands of Christians. He was even there to see the first martyr of Christianity, Stephen. In fact he was the one who gave the order to stone him (Acts 8:1). However, this attitude did give him the edge when he had his transformation. His upbringing and zeal for Judaism was turned into an immovable object when it came to Christianity as well. He was bold. He didn't back down. One time he was stoned and left for dead and after he was helped back to his feet he ran back to those who stoned him (Acts 14:19-20) probably to argue some more.
His Life Changing Experience:
Acts 9 says it all.
- 1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest
- 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
- 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
- 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
- 5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.
- 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
- 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
- 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.
- 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
- 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered.
- 11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.
- 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
- 13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.
- 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."
- 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.
- 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
- 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
- 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,
- 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
- 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
- 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?"
- 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
- 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him,
- 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him.
- 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
- 26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.
- 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
- 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord
From here on he was a changed man.
Paul was the one chosen by God to be the one to carry the message to the Gentile. All of the others were mostly for those who had heard Judaism and tried to convert them. But Paul, even though he always wanted to try and convert his fellow Jews, was not picked for that calling. He was chosen to go to far away places deep into the enemy's territory; Rome, the pagan among pagans. It is there we will meet his maker. It is there he will be called home. But not until he had ran the race and wrote most of what we know as the New Testament. It is mostly accepted that Paul was beheaded by an anti-Christ figure, Nero. Josephus claims that when Paul was led to the chopping block, he did not go with resistance. He writes that when Paul saw the actual place where he was to be beheaded, he broke free from the Roman guards and ran to the block. He placed his head down and waited. It is thought that without a doubt he preached all the way while he was running. Paul is a symbol of what it means to persevere.
One thing we all need to understand and remember, Paul was not perfect. We all say I wish I had the faith of Paul but sometimes you may not want to be like him. He suffered with his own insecurities. His sin tormented him. His past caught up to him many times. God put a "thorn" in his side to remind him of his job and his cross he had to bear. But one thing we never study for some reason and so many never think about it is Paul struggled with the same things we do. He couldn't stand the fact that he had troubles like you and me. Romans 7:15
- 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do...I do not do, but what I hate...I do.
Paul sinned just like you and me.