Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles
Saint Paul was born Saul, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5; Rom. 11:1), in Tarsus, an important city and trade center in the province of Cilicia in Asia Minor, today’s Turkey (Acts 21:39; 22:3). Paul was a Pharisee like his father (Phil. 3:5; Acts 23:6). He studied Jewish law in Jerusalem under the famous rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He and his parents were Roman citizens, thus having special rights and privileges. Roman citizens could not be imprisoned without a trial nor could they be scourged or crucified. His Roman citizenship saved Paul many times during his ministry.
Saul Persecutes the Church
Saul witnessed the stoning and death of Stephen the first Christian martyr, and guarded the clothes of his executioners (Acts 7:58). He then started persecuting the Christians and imprisoned many of them (Acts 8:3). The followers of Jesus Christ were regarded as heretics by the Pharisees. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the believers to disperse abroad and preach the Word everywhere they went (Acts 8:4).
Saul planned to persecute Christians even abroad. He obtained letters from the high priest in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus, and set out to bring Christians bound from there to Jerusalem. On the road to Damascus did the most famous conversion in the history of Christianity take place, which is described in Acts, chapters 9, 22 and 26. At midday, light suddenly shone down from heaven, encompassing Saul. He heard Jesus Christ’s voice, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” This man, who hated Christ and all Christians, capitulated in front of the living God. Jesus then told him to go to Damascus, and there he would be told what to do. Paul became blind and did not eat or drink for three days. In Damascus, the Lord sent a disciple called Ananias to him, who restored his vision, filled him with the Holy Spirit and baptized him. (After his conversion, Saul is mentioned in the Bible by his Latin name, Paul.) He then began to preach about Jesus in the synagogues in Damascus. The Jews wanted to kill him, but he escaped with the help of some Christians who lowered him in a basket from the top of the city wall.
The Beginning of Paul’s Ministry
Paul went away to Arabia for a period of time, then returned to Damascus (Gal. 1:17), and after three years, he journeyed to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18). The disciples knew that Paul had persecuted the Christians before, and they did not trust him, but Barnabas took him to the apostles who were staying in Jerusalem at that time (Gal. 1:18–19; Acts 9:26–27). After this, Paul preached the Gospel in Jerusalem for 15 days, but he had to flee again. This time he went to Tarsus (Acts 9:29–30).
In Antioch, the capital of Syria, many Gentiles were turning to Jesus Christ. The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to instruct these new believers. Barnabas in turn took Paul from Tarsus to be his companion (Acts 11:19–25). The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Christians in Antioch sent relief funds by Barnabas and Paul back to Christians in Judea (Acts 11:27–30). Barnabas and Paul returned with young John Mark, Barnabas’ nephew from there (Acts 12:25).
Paul’s Missionary Journeys
At the instruction of the Holy Ghost, the leaders of the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Paul as missionaries (Acts 13:1–3). Paul’s missionary trips are described in the Book of Acts and are divided into three separate journeys plus a last journey to Rome. Many Bibles and Christian books contain a map of Paul’s journeys.
The First Journey with Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 13:4–14:28)
Paul, Barnabas and John Mark departed to Seleucia, from where they sailed to Cyprus. On Cyprus they preached in Salamis and Paphos. In Paphos a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Barjesus turned against them before the Roman deputy of the island, but God blinded him. As a result, the deputy became a believer in Jesus Christ. From Cyprus the three men sailed back to the mainland of Asia Minor, to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Antioch in Pisidia. After hearing them preach, many Jews and Gentiles there accepted the Word of God and believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them out of their coasts. The same thing happened in Iconium, where unbelieving Jews and Gentiles planned to stone them. They fled to Lystra, where Paul healed a crippled man. As a result, the people thought they were gods and wanted to sacrifice to them, but Barnabas and Paul managed to stop them. The same crowd later stoned Paul and left him to die, when certain Jews arrived in the city from Antioch and Iconium and stirred up the people against the apostles. Paul survived and departed with Barnabas to Derbe the next day. Then they returned again to Lystra, Iconium, Antioch and Perga to strengthen the believers and ordain elders in every church. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they gathered the believers to tell them about their experiences and how God “opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles”.
The Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1–32)
Some Jewish Christians from Judea told Gentile Christians in Antioch, that they should circumcise themselves and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. To decide this fundamental question, Paul, Barnabas and some other Christians were sent from Antioch to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders. A conference was held in Jerusalem, where the church leaders, inspired by God, declared that Gentile Christians are equal to Jewish Christians and they do not have to be circumcised or keep the law to be saved, because faith in Jesus Christ is sufficient, but they should abstain from meats offered to idols, blood, strangled animals, and from fornication. A letter about these decisions was taken by Paul, Barnabas and two prophets, Judas Barsabas and Silas, to the Christians in Antioch.
The Second Journey with Silas (Acts 15:36–18:22)
Paul and Barnabas planned to visit the churches they planted on their first journey. Barnabas wanted John Mark to accompany them, but Paul disagreed, so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches everywhere. Paul and Silas then visited Derbe and Lystra, where Paul chose a young Christian named Timothy to accompany them. They went through Phyrgia and Galatia and arrived in Troas, where the Lord told Paul in a vision to go to Macedonia to preach.
Luke the evangelist probably joined them in Troas, for from this point on he begins referring to the missionaries as “we”. The four men sailed to Europe to Samothracia, Neapolis and Philippi, where a godly woman named Lydia invited them into her house after she and her household was baptized. In Philippi, Paul healed a demon-possessed slave girl, who made profit for her masters by soothsaying. As she was not able to make money after this, her masters brought Paul and Silas to the magistrates. They were beaten and cast into prison, but at midnight, as they prayed and sang praises to God, an earthquake shook the prison, all the doors opened and everyone’s bands were loosened. Paul and Silas then preached the Gospel to the frightened jailer and his household, and all of them became believers and were baptized on the same night. Paul and Silas were publicly freed by the magistrates themselves the next day.
The four men then passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia and went to Thessalonica, a main seaport and an important commercial center in Macedonia, where Paul spoke in the synagogue of the Jews on three sabbath days. Some of the Jews and many Greeks believed, but the unbelieving Jews stirred up some crowds against them, so Paul and Silas had to leave the city by night. They moved on to Berea, where the Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word and searched the Scriptures to see if those things were so. Many Jews and Greeks in Berea believed, but the Jews of Thessalonica came to Berea and stirred up the people again. Afterwards Paul went to Athens, a city full of idolatry and pagan philosophers. He disputed in the synagogue and in the market daily, and preached on the Areopagus. A few Greeks believed him but the others mocked.
Paul then journeyed to Corinth, one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire, where he convinced many Jews and Greeks, among them the chief ruler of the synagogue and his household. Lord Jesus encouraged Paul in a night vision to continue to speak in Corinth, so he preached in the city for a year and a half. The Jews there stirred up persecution against Paul and tried to indict him in front of Gallio, the Roman deputy, but Gallio did not listen to them. Paul then sailed to Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, where he stayed for a short time. He travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover, then back to Antioch.
The Third Journey (Acts 18:23–21:16)
After spending some time in Antioch, Paul revisited the churches in Galatia and Phyrgia to strengthen the disciples, then went to Ephesus. In Ephesus Paul found twelve followers of John the Baptist and baptized them in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. He laid his hands on them, then the Holy Ghost came on them and they spake with tongues and prophesied. Paul preached in the synagogue for three months, but when some hardened unbelievers spake evil before the multitude, he separated the disciples from them and chose another place to teach daily. He continued this for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks in the Roman province of Asia (part of Asia Minor) heard the Gospel of Christ. God performed special miracles in Ephesus through Paul, as even the garments worn by him healed the sick and the demon-possessed. In Ephesus many believed, and many who practiced magic before brought their books together and burned them publicly. As many pagans turned to Christianity in Ephesus, formerly a center of pagan Diana worship, craftsmen and silversmiths, who manufactured idols and shrines, saw their profit diminishing. These craftsmen stirred up the pagans against Paul and his companions, but nobody was hurt in the end.
Paul revisited the churches in Macedonia, then went to Greece, where he stayed for three months. As he was about to sail to Syria, some Jews laid wait for him, so he returned through Macedonia. In Troas he raised up a young man from the dead, who died after falling down from the third floor of a house where Christians were gathered. Paul departed to Assos, from where he sailed with other disciples to Miletus via Mitylene, Chios, Samos and Trogyllium. In Miletus he met with the elders of the Church from Ephesus and in his moving speech he bid farewell to them, knowing he would not see them again. He charged them to feed the flock, and warned them that wolves would enter their congregation and men would speak perverse things to draw away disciples.
From Miletus they sailed to Coos, Rhodes, Patara and Tyre, Syria, where disciples inspired by the Holy Spirit warned Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Paul and his companions departed to Ptolemais, then to Caesarea, where a Judean prophet named Agabus prophesied that Paul will be bound by the Jews in Jerusalem and will be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. The disciples tried to persuade Paul not to go up to Jerusalem, but Paul answered that he is ready not only to be bound, but also to die for Jesus Christ.
Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17–23:30)
Christians in Jerusalem received Paul and his companions gladly, but some Jews from Asia stirred up the people against him and accused him of bringing Gentiles into the Temple. The people wanted to beat and kill Paul. The Roman guards saved Paul, but at the same time took him into custody. Paul gave a speech in his defense and a testimony of his conversion in Hebrew on the stairs of the castle. When he said he was sent by Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, the Jews made such an uproar, that the captain wanted to interrogate him by scourging. Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship so they did not dare touch him. The next day, the captain led Paul before the Sanhedrin, where Paul told he was a Pharisee and believed in the resurrection of the dead. This divided the Pharisees and Sadducees in the council; a great dissension arose and the Romans had to rescue Paul again. Hearing that more than 40 Jews made a vow and conspired to kill Paul, the chief captain sent him by night to Felix the governor in Caesarea.
Paul In Caesarea (Acts 23:31–26:32)
After five days, the elders and the chief priest arrived in Caesarea and accused Paul before the governor of profaning the Temple, but couldn’t prove anything, so Felix deferred them but left Paul in custody. After two years Felix was replaced by Festus, who asked Paul’s accusers to come to Caesarea again. They couldn’t prove any of their many complaints against Paul. Then as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed to Caesar. While he was waiting to go to Rome, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea, and Festus brought Paul before them one day. Acts, chapter 26 records Paul’s speech, where he tells his upbringing, his former madness against Christians, his conversion on the road to Damascus and his preaching of the Gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles. Here we find the most complete version of what Jesus Christ said to Paul on the road to Damascus. King Agrippa said to Festus that Paul had done nothing wrong and he could have been set free, had he not appealed unto Caesar.
Journey to Rome (Acts 27:1–28:31)
Festus then sent Paul with other prisoners and soldiers on a ship to Rome. This journey is described in Acts, chapters 27 and 28. After many dangers and a storm, during which God’s angel informed Paul in a vision that everybody on the ship would survive, the ship was wrecked on the island of Melita (Malta), but nobody was hurt. Many miracles happened during their three-month stay on the island. Paul healed many diseased people, and he got bitten by a viper but it did not harm him. After three months, they boarded another ship and arrived in Rome. The Christians in Rome received Paul warmly. In Rome Paul was placed under house arrest. He lived in a rented house for two years and could receive visitors, so he could continue teaching and preaching God’s kingdom. He invited the chiefs of the Jews to hear the Gospel, after which some of them believed but some not. Paul ended his speech with the following words: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”
Paul’s Last Years
The Book of Acts says nothing about what happened to Paul after these two years in Rome, but it is evident from his own epistles and other early church writings that he was freed and went on other missionary journeys. He returned to Rome to preach during Nero’s persecutions against the Christians. It is said he was beheaded in Rome the same day Peter was crucified, around AD 68.
The New Testament contains thirteen Epistles written by Paul to Christian congregations and individuals: Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon.
|1.||The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, King James Version|
|2.||J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, William White, Jr.; Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts; 1995|
|3.||John Foxe, The Book of Martyrs|
|4.||The HarperCollins Concise Atlas of the Bible, 1991|
|5.||Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe, 1999|
|6.||Christian Bible Encyclopedia, Hungarian Edition, 1993|
|7.||György Szikszai, Pillar of Martyrs (Mártírok oszlopa), 1789|