PAUL – Encyclopedic Dictionary of Bible and Theology

Act 7:58-28:31

Paul (Gr. Páulos; from the Latin Paulus, a Roman name meaning “little”). The great apostle to the Gentiles. In the Bible he is presented as Saul (Gr. Saulos, from the Heb. Shâzûl, “asked”, or “borrowed”; Act 7:58) and is mentioned by that name in the Acts narrative up to cp 13:9 . There has been much speculation as to why Saul is first called Paul in the middle of Acts, and is thereafter referred to only as Paul, except for his own account of his conversion (22:7, 13; 26). :14). A simple and plausible answer would be that he, like others (Acts 1:23; 13:1; Col 4:11; etc.), had more than one name: a Hebrew name, Saul, and a Greekized Roman name, Páulos. or Paul. He may have used the Hebrew name in his home and in his contacts with the Jews, but his Greco-Roman name would be in harmony with the Hellenistic influence and environment of the city where he was born, and with his enviable status as a citizen. Roman. Later, when he began his work among the Gentiles, it was to his advantage to be known as Paul. It is noteworthy that up to Act_13 Paul is mentioned only in connection with his contact with the Jews. But in that chapter his activities among the Gentiles begin, as well as the use of his Gentile name, Paul. I. Paul, the man. 1. Background. Paul was a Hebrew by birth, education, and sentiments; so much so that, despite his early contacts with Greek and Roman culture and philosophies, he could be called a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phi 3:5). He was from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1), and may have been named after Saul, the 1st king of Israel, who was also a Benjamite (1Sa 9:1, 2; Act 13:21). Little is known about his family. His father was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), and perhaps a Pharisee (23:6). It is not known how his father obtained his Roman citizenship, but there were certain procedures by which a prominent Jew could become a Roman citizen. Presuming that he achieved it in this way, then we can assume that Paul came from a family of some importance. He had at least one sister (23:16). In Rom 16:7 and 21 he refers to various men as his “relatives”, but this term (from the Gr. sunguenes) can simply mean “fellow citizen”, so it is not certain if it really refers to relatives of his. blood. Paul may have been disinherited by his family when he converted to Christianity (cf. Phi 3:8), but if so, he does not mention it. Paul was born in Asia Minor, in the prosperous metropolis of Tarsus (Acts 21:39; fig 485), a city notable for its philosophy, science, education and culture; a culture where Greek, Roman and Jewish elements were mixed. The date of his birth cannot be determined precisely. According to a tradition from the 2nd century AD, Paul’s family had originally lived in Giscala of Galilee, but the city was captured by the Romans and members of his family taken as slaves to Tarsus c 4 BC, where they later obtained their liberty and Roman citizenship. If so, Paul was born after those events, because he was Roman by birth (Acts 22:28). When he first appears (7:58) he is described as “a young man” (Gr. Neanias). However, this term, which was used for men between the ages of 20,867 and 40, offers little help in determining Paul’s age. 2. Education. Paul probably attended a school in connection with the synagogue at Tarsus. In this polyglot city he learned not only Hebrew and the language spoken by his people, Aramaic (Acts 21:40; 22:2), but also Greek (21:37) and perhaps Latin. He also learned to make tents, perhaps from his father, with which he was later able to support himself (Act 18: 1, 3; cf 20:34; 1Co 4:12; 1Th 2: 9; 2Th 3: 8). As a young man he went to Jerusalem (Acts 26:4) and sat at the feet of the most renowned rabbi and Pharisee of his day: Gamaliel (22:3; cf 5:34). Under his instruction, Paul was taught “strictly according to the law of our fathers” (22:3; cf 24:14), and as a result lived “according to the strictest sect of our religion”: the Pharisees (26 : 5). He was such a brilliant student and ardent defender of the doctrines and traditions of Judaism that he surpassed many of his peers in learning and zeal (Gal. 1:14); and in his fanatical hatred of the Christians he surpassed at least his teacher (Acts 8:3; 9:1; cf 5:34-39). There can be little doubt that the leaders of the Jewish nation expected great accomplishments from him. 3. Personal appearance and health. It would seem that although Paul was intellectually impressive, he was not physically outstanding. His enemies said of him that his “feeble bodily presence, and contemptible speech” (2 Cor. 10:10). Tradition describes him as a short man, somewhat hunchbacked and with crooked legs (“crooked”). He appears to have suffered from some kind of chronic illness (2Co 12:7-10; Gal. 4:13); many believe it was a disease related to his eyes, basing his conclusion on the fact that he generally dictated his letters (2Th 3:17), mentions that he wrote with large letters (Gal. 6:11), and says that the Galatian believers were willing to gouge out his eyes to give them to him, if possible (4:15). Some other evils have been suggested, but the biblical evidence is insufficient to know precisely what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. II. Paul, the convert. 1. First contacts with Christianity. Paul’s first known contact with Christianity was related to the death of Stephen. Some suppose that Paul was one of the Cilicians who, with others, could not defeat him in debate (Acts 6:9, 10; cf 21:39). He apparently did not throw a stone at Stephen, but “consented to his death” (8:1) and took care of the witnesses’ clothing (7:58). The mass action that resulted in the stoning of Stephen marked the beginning of the 1st period of persecution that devastated the nascent church; and Paul, it seems, excelled in this persecution. In a fit of fanatical hatred against Christians (26:11), intensified by an accusing conscience (v 14), he uprooted them from the houses where he found them and threw them into prison (8:3); he punished them in the synagogues (22:19; 26:11) and consented to his death (22:4; 26:10). Paul accomplished this task first in Jerusalem (8:1, 3; 26:10), but then followed the scattered believers to other cities and “exceededly persecuted” them (Acts 8:4; 26:11; Gal. 1:13 ). 389. Damascus city wall, near Paul’s escape site from the city. The lowest masonry course is very old. 2. the conversion of him. In one such campaign of persecution the course of Paul’s life changed completely and dramatically. Hearing that there were Christians in Damascus, he asked for letters from the high priest – letters of extradition – authorizing him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any Christian he found in that city (Act 9: 1, 2). There are 3 reports of 868 the experience he had on that journey (9:1-9; 22:4-11; 26:9-18); the 1st is in the 3rd person, the other 2 in the 1st person (they were counted by Paul: one to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem, the others to King Agrippa and his sister Berenice). As Paul approached Damascus at noon with a group of men to aid him in his murderous plans, a blinding light, brighter than the sun, surrounded him. Paul and his companions fell to the ground (26:14), and a voice, which He identified himself as Jesus of Nazareth, asked him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”, and added: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” Overwhelmed by this manifestation of Heaven, he asked what he should do. The voice commanded him to be a witness for Christ among the Gentiles (vs 16, 17). He was instructed to enter Damascus, where he would receive further instruction. Meanwhile, her surprised and frightened traveling companions had gotten up from the ground (9:7), but they did not understand what was happening, because although they saw the light and heard the voice, they could not understand what she said (cf 9:7; 22:9). Upon getting up, Pablo discovered that he was blind. Under these conditions, he was led by his companions to the home of a certain Judas, in Damascus, where he spent 3 days without eating or drinking (Act 9: 8, 9, 11). While praying, Jesus appeared in a vision to a Christian named Ananias and directed him to go to the house of Judas, on the street called “the Right”, where he would find Paul, who had received a vision about the visit of the. Ananias respectfully reminded Jesus of Saul’s persecutions, but was informed that the former persecutor had been chosen by God (vs 11-16). Following instructions, Ananias found Saul and laying his hands on him immediately restored his sight, received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and was baptized (vs 17, 18; figs 148, 149). It is not known how long he remained in Damascus. The report seems to indicate that it was brief (v 19). We know that there he associated with the Christians. Also, in keeping with his character—and to the amazement of those who knew him—he began to preach in the synagogues the Christ he had reviled, but now worshiped (vs 19-21). So powerful and convincing was his preaching that none could defeat his logic or deny his power (v 22). 3. Preparation and beginning of his preaching. The following event in Paul’s life is omitted from the Acts account, but he mentions it in Galatians: there he tells that after his conversion and his 1st brief evangelistic campaign, he went to Arabia* (Gal. 1:17) before the journey to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26; Gal. 1:18). The exact region identified as Arabia is unknown (although it was most likely the country of the Nabataeans*), nor is it known how long he was there. This period of retreat gave him time to reflect on the great change that had taken place in his life, and the solitude allowed him to prayerfully and carefully re-examine the entire foundation of his new conviction in the light of the Scriptures, thus affirming for always their faith in Christ and his gospel. After this time of apparent inactivity, he returned again to Damascus (Gal. 1:17), where the narrative of Act_9 is taken up. It seems that he resumed preaching in the synagogues with the same result as before (v 22). Consequently, the Jews made plans to assassinate him (vs 23, 24). In this attempt they were supported by the governor of the city, who served under the Nabataean king Aretas* (2Co 11:32, 33). Since he ruled that region, perhaps between AD 37 and AD 54, the incident must have occurred sometime within that period. However, the soldiers guarding the gates to prevent his escape from the city were frustrated, because some believers lowered Paul in a large basket from a window of a house built on the wall, thus allowing him to escape from his enemies (Act. 9:25; 2Co 11:33; fig 389). 4. The visit to the apostles in Jerusalem. …

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