Paul (small, little). Nearly all the original materials for the life of St. Paul are contained in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Pauline epistles. Paul was born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia. (It is not improbable that he was born between a.d. 0 and a.d. 5.) Up to the time of his going forth as an avowed preacher of Christ to the Gentiles, the apostle was known by the name of Saul. This was the Jewish name which he received from his Jewish parents. But though a Hebrew of the Hebrews, he was born in a Gentile city. Of his parents we know nothing, except that his father was of the tribe of Benjamin, Phil. 3:5, and a Pharisee, Acts 23:6; that Paul had acquired by some means the Roman franchise (“I was free born,” Acts 22:28), and that he was settled in Tarsus. At Tarsus he must have learned to use the Greek language with freedom and mastery in both speaking and writing. At Tarsus also he learned that trade of “tent-maker,” Acts 18:3, at which he afterward occasionally wrought with his own hands. There was a goat’s-hair cloth called cilicium manufactured in Cilicia, and largely used for tents. Saul’s trade was probably that of making tents of this hair cloth. When St. Paul makes his defence before his countrymen at Jerusalem, Acts 22, he tells them that, though born in Tarsus, he had been “brought up” 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. He learned, says, “at the feet of Gamaliel.” He who was to resist so stroutly the usurpations of the law had for his teacher one of the most eminent of all the doctors of the law. Saul was yet “a young man,” Acts 7:58, when the Church experienced that 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 afterward keeping the clothes of those suborned witnesses who, according to the law, Deut. 17:7, were the first to cast stones at Stephen. “Saul,” says the sacred writer, significantly, “was consenting unto his death.”
Saul’s conversion. a.d. 37.—The persecutor was to be converted. Having undertaken to follow up the believers “unto strange cities,” Saul naturally turned his thoughts to Damascus. 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 St. Paul at Jerusalem and before Agrippa. St. 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 English version, ought to be omitted (as is done in the Revised Version). 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 of the great event, and in these we must look for the chief significance of the conversion. It was in Damascus that he was received into the church by Ananias, and here, to the astonishment of all his hearers, he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, declaring him to be the Son of 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, Gal. 1:17, 18, we learn that the many days were at least a good part of “three years,” a.d. 37–40, 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; but upon his departure from Damascus we are again upon historical ground, and have the double evidence of St. Luke in the Acts and of the apostle in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians. 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. Having escaped from Damascus, Saul betook himself to Jerusalem (a.d. 40), and there “assayed to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.” Barnabas’ introduction removed the fears of the apostles, and Saul “was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.” But it is not strange that the former persecutor was soon singled out from the other believers as the object of a murderous hostility. He was, therefore, again urged to flee; and by way of Cæsarea betook himself to his native city, Tarsus. Barnabas was sent on a special mission to Antioch. As the work grew under his hands, he felt the need of help, went himself to Tarsus to seek Saul, and succeeded in bringing him to Antioch. There they labored together unremittingly for “a whole year.” All this time Saul was subordinate to Barnabas. Antioch was in constant communication with Cilicia, with Cyprus, with all the neighboring countries. The Church was pregnant with a great movement, and the time of her delivery was at hand. 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: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” 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.
Traditional Portraits of Peter and Paul. These portraits are copied, same size as the original, from the bottom of a gilded glass cup found in the catacombs of St. Sebastian at Rome. The earliest interments by the Christians in the Roman catacombs included, besides Christian symbols, some objects of pagan regard. This having been the case in the section in which the glass cup bearing the group of the Savior, Paul, and Peter was discovered, it seems conclusive that the age was probably the fourth, if not the third, century. The absence of the nimbus (glory or circle) about the heads of Peter and Paul, and its presence around the Saviour’s, may indicate the third century or early in the fourth; for the nimbus was generally used around the heads of all saints and divine persons in the latter half of the fourth century. Tertullian speaks of glass cups as used in sacramental services, as also does Eusebius. In this picture the Saviour is represented as presenting a crown of life to the apostles; the inscription is a prayer of the friends of the dead, who was laid in the tomb in the faith of Christ, and may be paraphrased, “Friendship’s blessing; may you live forever with thy (Saviour).”
The first missionary journey. a.d. 45–49.—As soon as Barnabas and Saul reached Cyprus, they began to “announce the word of God,” but at first they delivered their message in the synagogues of the Jews only. When they had gone through the island, from Salamis to Paphos, they were called upon to explain their doctrine to an eminent Gentile, Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, who was converted. Saul’s name was now changed to Paul, and he began to take precedence of Barnabas. From Paphos “Paul and his company” set sail for the mainland, and arrived at Perga in Pamphylia. Here the heart of their companion John failed him, and he returned to Jerusalem. From Perga they travelled on to a place obscure in secular history, but most memorable in the history of the kingdom of Christ—Antioch in Pisidia. Rejected by the Jews, they became bold and outspoken, and turned from them to the Gentiles. At Antioch now, as in every city afterward, the unbelieving Jews used their influence with their own adherents among the Gentiles to persuade the authorities or the populace to persecute the apostles and to drive them from the place. Paul and Barnabas now travelled on to Iconium, where the occurrences at Antioch were repeated, and from thence to the Lycaonian country which contained the cities Lystra and Derbe. Here they had to deal with uncivilized heathen. At Lystra the healing of a cripple took place. Thereupon these pagans took the apostles for gods, calling Barnabas, who was of the more imposing presence, Jupiter, and Paul, who was the chief speaker, Mercurius. Although the people of Lystra had been so ready to worship Paul and Barnabas, the repulse of their idolatrous instincts appears to have provoked them, and they allowed themselves to be persuaded into hostility by Jews who came from Antioch and Iconium, so that they attacked Paul with stones, and thought they had killed him. He recovered, however, as the disciples were standing around him, and went again into the city. The next day he left it with Barnabas, and went to Derbe, and thence they returned once more to Lystra, and so to Iconium and Antioch. In order to establish the churches after their departure they solemnly appointed “elders” in every city. Then they came down to the coast, and from Attalia they sailed home to Antioch in Syria, where they related the successes which had been granted to them, and especially the “opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles.” And so the first missionary journey ended.
The council at Jerusalem.—Upon that missionary journey follows most naturally the next important scene which the historian sets before us—the council held at Jerusalem to determine the relations of Gentile believers to the law of Moses. Acts 15:1-29; Gal. 2.
Second missionary journey. a.d. 50–54.—The most resolute courage, indeed, was required for the work to which St. Paul was now publicly pledged. He would not associate with himself in that work one who had already shown a want of constancy. This was the occasion of what must have been a most painful difference between him and his comrade in the faith and in past perils, Barnabas. Acts 15:35-40. Silas, or Silvanus, becomes now a chief companion of the apostle. The two went together through Syria and Cilicia, visiting the churches, and so came to Derbe and Lystra. Here they find Timotheus, who had become a disciple on the former visit of the apostle. Him St. Paul took and circumcised. St. Luke now steps rapidly over a considerable space of the apostle’s life and labors. “They went throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia.” Acts 16:6. At this time St. Paul was founding “the churches of Galatia.” Gal. 1:2. He himself gives some hints of the circumstances of his preaching in that region, of the reception he met with, and of the ardent though unstable character of the people. Gal. 4:13-15. Having gone through Phrygia and Galatia, he intended to visit the western coast; but “they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the word” there. Then, being on the borders of Mysia, they thought of going back to the northeast into Bithynia; but again the Spirit of Jesus “suffered them not,” so they passed by Mysia and came down to Troas. St. Paul saw in a vision a man of Macedonia, who besought him, saying, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” The vision was at once accepted as a heavenly intimation; the help wanted by the Macedonians was believed to be the preaching of the gospel. It is at this point that the historian, speaking of St. Paul’s company, substitutes “we” for “they.” He says nothing of himself; we can only infer that St. Luke, to whatever country he belonged, became a companion of St. Paul at Troas. The party, thus reinforced, immediately set sail from Troas, touched at Samothrace, then landed on the continent at Neapolis, and thence journeyed to Philippi. The first convert in Macedonia was Lydia, an Asiatic woman, at Philippi. Acts 16:13, 14. At Philippi Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten and put in prison, having cast out the spirit of divination from a female slave who had brought her masters much gain by her power. This cruel wrong was to be the occasion of a signal appearance of the God of righteousness and deliverance. The narrative tells of the earthquake, the jailer’s terror, his conversion and baptism. Acts 16:26-34. In the morning the magistrates sent word to the prison that the men might be let go; but Paul denounced plainly their unlawful acts, informing them moreover that those whom they had beaten and imprisoned without trial were Roman citizens. The magistrates, in great alarm, saw the necessity of humbling themselves. They came and begged them to leave the city. Paul and Silas consented to do so, and, after paying a visit to “the brethren” in the house of Lydia, they departed. Leaving St. Luke, and perhaps Timothy for a short time, at Philippi, Paul and Silas travelled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and stopped again at Thessalonica. Here again, as in Pisidian Antioch, the envy of the Jews was excited, and the mob assaulted the house of Jason, with whom Paul and Silas were staying as guests, and, not finding them, dragged Jason himself and some other brethren before the magistrates. After these signs of danger the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night. They next came to Berca. Here they found the Jews more noble than those at Thessalonica had been. Accordingly they gained many converts, both Jews and Greeks; but the Jews of Thessalonica, hearing of it, sent emissaries to stir up the people, and it was thought best that Paul should himself leave the city, whilst Silas and Timothy remained behind. Some of the brethren went with St. Paul as far as Athens, where they left him, carrying back a request to Silas and Timothy that they would speedily join him. Here the apostle delivered that wonderful discourse reported in Acts 17:22-31. He gained but few converts at Athens, and soon took his departure and went to Corinth. He was testifying with unusual effort and anxiety, when Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia and joined him. Their arrival was the occasion of the writing of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. The two epistles to the Thessalonians—and these alone—belong to the present missionary journey. They were written from Corinth a.d. 52, 53. When Silas and Timotheus came to Corinth, St. Paul was testifying to the Jews with great earnestness, but with little success. Corinth was the chief city of the province of Achaia, and the residence of the proconsul. During St. Paul’s stay the proconsular office was held by Gallio, a brother of the philosopher Seneca. Before him the apostle was summoned by his Jewish enemies, who hoped to bring the Roman authority to bear upon him as an innovator in religion. But Gallio perceived at once, before Paul could “open his mouth” to defend himself, that the movement was due to Jewish prejudice, and refused to go into the question. Then a singular scene occurred. The Corinthian spectators, either favoring Paul or actuated only by anger against the Jews, seized on the principal person of those who had brought the charge, and beat him before the judgment-seat. Gallio left these religious quarrels to settle themselves. The apostle, therefore, was not allowed to be “hurt,” and remained some time longer at Corinth unmolested. Having been the instrument of accomplishing this work, Paul departed for Jerusalem, wishing to attend a festival there. Before leaving Greece, he cut off his hair at Cenchreæ, in fulfillment of a vow. Acts 18:18. Paul paid a visit to the synagogue at Ephesus, but would not stay. Leaving Ephesus, he sailed to Cæsarea, and from thence went up to Jerusalem, spring, a.d. 54, and “saluted the church.” It is argued, from considerations founded on the suspension of navigation during the winter months, that the festival was probably the Pentecost. From Jerusalem the apostle went almost immediately down to Antioch, thus returning to the same place from which he had started with Silas.
Third missionary journey, including the stay at Ephesus. a.d. 54–58. Acts 18:23–21:17.—The great epistles which belong to this period, those to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, show how the “Judaizing” question exercised at this time the apostle’s mind. St. Paul “spent some time” at Antioch, and during this stay, as we are inclined to believe, his collision with St. Peter, Gal. 2:11-14, took place. When he left Antioch, he “went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples,” and giving orders concerning the collection for the saints. 1 Cor. 16:1. It is probable that the Epistle to the Galatians was written soon after this visit—a.d. 56–57. This letter was in all probability sent from Ephesus. This was the goal of the apostle’s journeyings through Asia Minor. He came down to Ephesus from the upper districts of Phrygia. Here he entered upon his usual work. He went into the synagogue, and for three months he spoke openly, disputing and persuading concerning “the kingdom of God.” At the end of this time the obstinacy and opposition of some of the Jews led him to give up frequenting the synagogue, and he established the believers as a separate society, meeting “in the school of Tyrannus.” This continued for two years. During this time many things occurred of which the historian of the Acts chooses two examples, the triumph over magical arts and the great disturbance raised by the silversmiths who made shrines for Diana—among which we are to note further the writing of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, a.d. 57. Before leaving Ephesus Paul went into Macedonia, where he met Titus, who brought him news of the state of the Corinthian church. Thereupon he wrote the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, a.d. 57, and sent it by the hands of Titus and two other brethren to Corinth. After writing this epistle, St. Paul travelled through Macedonia, perhaps to the borders of Illyricum, Rom. 15:19, and then went to Corinth. The narrative in the Acts tells us that “when he had gone over those parts (Macedonia), and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece, and there abode three months.” ch. 20:2, 3. There is only one incident which we can connect with this visit to Greece, but that is a very important one—the writing of his Epistle to the Romans, a.d. 58. That this was written at this time from Corinth appears from passages in the epistle itself, and has never been doubted. The letter is a substitute for the personal visit which he had longed “for many years” to pay. Before his departure from Corinth, St. paul was joined again by St. Luke, as we infer from the change in the narrative from the third to the first person. He was bent on making a journey to Jerusalem, for a special purpose and within a limited time. With this view he was intending to go by sea to Syria. But he was made aware of some plot of the Jews for his destruction, to be carried out through this voyage; and he determined to evade their malice by changing his route. Several brethren were associated with him in this expedition, the bearers, no doubt, of the collections made in all the churches for the poor at Jerusalem. These were sent on by sea, and probably the money with them, to Troas, where they were to await Paul. He, accompanied by Luke, went northward through Macedonia. Whilst the vessel which conveyed the rest of the party sailed from Troas to Assos, Paul gained some time by making the journey by land. At Assos he went on board again. Coasting along by Mitylene, Chios, Samos, and Trogyllium, they arrived at Miletus. At Miletus, however, there was time to send to Ephesus, and the elders of the church were invited to come down to him there. This meeting is made the occasion for recording another characteristic and representative address of St. Paul. Acts 20:18-35. The course of the voyage from Miletus was by Coos and Rhodes to Patara, and from Patara in another vessel past Cyprus to Tyre. Here Paul and his company spent seven days. From Tyre they sailed to Ptolemais, where they spent one day, and from Ptolemais proceeded, apparently by land, to Cæsarea. They now “tarried many days” at Cæsarea. During this interval the prophet Agabus, Acts 11:28, came down from Jerusalem, and crowned the previous intimations of danger with a prediction expressively delivered. At this stage a final effort was made to dissuade Paul from going up to Jerusalem, by the Christians of Cæsarea and by his travelling companions. After a while they went up to Jerusalem and were gladly received by the brethren. This is St. Paul’s fifth and last visit to Jerusalem.
St. Paul’s imprisonment: Jerusalem. Spring, a.d. 58.—He who was thus conducted into Jerusalem by a company of anxious friends had become by this time a man of considerable fame among his countrymen. He was widely known as one who had taught with pre-eminent boldness that a way into God’s favor was opened to the Gentiles, and that this way did not lie through the door of the Jewish law. He had thus roused against himself the bitter enmity of that unfathomable Jewish pride which was almost as strong in some of those who had professed the faith of Jesus as in their unconverted brethren. He was now approaching a crisis in the long struggle, and the shadow of it has been made to rest upon his mind throughout his journey to Jerusalem. He came “ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus,” but he came expressly to prove himself a faithful Jew, and this purpose is shown at every point of the history. Certain Jews from “Asia,” who had come up for the pentecostal feast, and who had a personal knowledge of Paul, saw him in the temple. They set upon him at once, and stirred up the people against him. There was instantly a great commotion; Paul was dragged out of the temple, the doors of which were immediately shut, and the people, having him in their hands, were proposing to kill him. Paul was rescued from the violence of the multitude by the Roman officer, who made him his own prisoner, causing him to be chained to two soldiers, and then proceeded to inquire who he was and what he had done. The inquiry only elicited confused outcries, and the “chief captain” seems to have imagined that the apostle might perhaps be a certain Egyptian pretender who had recently stirred up a considerable rising of the people. The account in Acts 21:34-40 tells us with graphic touches how St. Paul obtained leave and opportunity to address the people in a discourse which is related at length. Until the hated word of a mission to the Gentiles had been spoken, the Jews had listened to the speaker. “Away with such a fellow from the earth,” the multitude now shouted; “it is not fit that he should live.” The Roman commander, seeing the tumult that arose, might well conclude that St. Paul had committed some heinous offence; and carrying him off, he gave orders that he should be forced by scourging to confess his crime. Again the apostle took advantage of his Roman citizenship to protect himself from such an outrage. The chief captain set him free from bonds, but on the next day called together the chief priests and the Sanhedrin, and brought Paul as a prisoner before them. On the next day a conspiracy was formed, which the historian relates with a singular fullness of detail. More than forty of the Jews bound themselves under a curse neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. The plot was discovered, and St. Paul was hurried away from Jerusalem. The chief captain, Claudius Lysias, determined to send him to Cæsarea to Felix, the governor or procurator of Judea. He therefore put him in charge of a strong guard of soldiers, who took him by night as far as Antipatris. From thence a smaller detachment conveyed him to Cæsarea, where they delivered up their prisoner into the hands of the governor.
Imprisonment at Cæsarea. a.d. 58–60.—St. Paul was henceforth, to the end of the period embraced in the Acts, if not to the end of his life, in Roman custody. This custody was in fact a protection to him, without which he would have fallen a victim to the animosity of the Jews. He seems to have been treated throughout with humanity and consideration. The governor before whom he was now to be tried, according to Tacitus and Josephus, was a mean and dissolute tyrant. After hearing St. Paul’s accusers and the apostle’s defence, Felix made an excuse for putting off the matter, and gave orders that the prisoner should be treated with indulgence, and that his friends should be allowed free access to him. After a while he heard him again. St. Paul remained in custody until Felix left the province. The unprincipled governor had good reason to seek to ingratiate himself with the Jews; and to please them, he handed over Paul, as an untried prisoner, to his successor, Festus. Upon his arrival in the province, Festus went up without delay from Cæsarea to Jerusalem, and the leading Jews seized the opportunity of asking that Paul might be brought up there for trial, intending to assassinate him by the way. But Festus would not comply with their request. He invited them to follow him on his speedy return to Cæsarea, and a trial took place there, closely resembling that before Felix. “They had certain questions against him,” Festus says to Agrippa, “of their own superstition (or religion), and of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And being puzzled for my part as to such inquiries, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem to be tried there.” This proposal, not a very likely one to be accepted, was the occasion of St. Paul’s appeal to Cæsar. The appeal having been allowed, Festus reflected that he must send with the prisoner a report of “the crimes laid against him.” He therefore took advantage of an opportunity which offered itself in a few days to seek some help in the matter. The Jewish prince Agrippa arrived with his sister Berenice on a visit to the new governor. To him Festus communicated his perplexity. Agrippa expressed a desire to hear Paul himself. Accordingly Paul conducted his defence before the king; and when it was concluded Festus and Agrippa, and their companions, consulted together, and came to the conclusion that the accused was guilty of nothing that deserved death or imprisonment. And Agrippa’s final answer to the inquiry of Festus was, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Cæsar.”
The voyage to Rome and shipwreck. Autum, a.d. 60.—No formal trial of St. Paul had yet taken place. After a while arrangements were made to carry “Paul and certain other prisoners,” in the custody of a centurion named Julius, into Italy; and amongst the company, whether by favor or from any other reason, we find the historian of the Acts, who in chapters 27 and 28 gives a graphic description of the voyage to Rome and the shipwreck on the island of Melita or Malta. After a three-months stay in Malta the soldiers and their prisoners left in an Alexandria ship for Italy. They touched at Syracuse, where they stayed three days, and at Rhegium, from which place they were carried with a fair wind to Puteoli, where they left their ship and the sea. At Puteoli they found “brethren,” for it was an important place, and especially a chief port for the traffic between Alexandria and Rome; and by these brethren they were exhorted to stay a while with them. Permission seems to have been granted by the centurion; and whilst they were spending seven days at Puteoli news of the apostle’s arrival was sent to Rome. (Spring, a.d. 61.)
First imprisonment of St. Paul at Rome. a.d. 61–63.—On their arrival at Rome the centurion delivered up his prisoners into the proper custody, that of the prætorian prefect. Paul was at once treated with special consideration, and was allowed to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him. He was now therefore free “to preach the gospel to them that were at Rome also”; and proceeded without delay to act upon his rule—“to the Jews first.” But as of old, the reception of his message by the Jews was not favorable. He turned, therefore, again to the Gentiles, and for two years he dwelt in his own hired house. These are the last words of the Acts. But St. Paul’s career is not abruptly closed. Before he himself fades out of our sight in the twilight of ecclesiastical tradition, we have letters written by himself which contribute some particulars to his biography. Period of the later epistles.—To that imprisonment to which St. Luke has introduced us—the imprisonment which lasted for such a tedious time, though tempered by much indulgence—belongs the noble group of letters to Philemon, to the Colossians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians. The three former of these were written at one time, and sent by the same messengers. Whether that to the Philippians was written before or after these we cannot determine; but the tone of it seems to imply that a crisis was approaching, and therefore it is commonly regarded as the latest of the four. In this epistle St. Paul twice expresses a confident hope that before long he may be able to visit the Philippians in person. Phil. 1:25; 2:24. Whether this hope was fulfilled or not has been the occasion of much controversy. According to the general opinion the apostle was liberated from imprisonment at the end of two years, having been acquitted by Nero a.d. 63, and left Rome soon after writing the letter to the Philippians. He spent some time in visits to Greece, Asia Minor and Spain, and during the latter part of this time wrote the letters (first epistles) to Timothy and Titus from Macedonia, a.d. 65. After these were written he was apprehended again and sent to Rome.
Second imprisonment at Rome. a.d. 65–67.—The apostle appears now to have been treated not as an honorable state prisoner, but as a felon, 2 Tim. 2:9; but he was allowed to write the second letter to Timothy, a.d. 67. For what remains we have the concurrent testimony of ecclesiastical antiquity that he was beheaded at Rome, by Nero, in the great persecutions of the Christians by that emperor, a.d. 67 or 68.