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Paul the Apostle

Paul the apostle (שאול התרסי Šaʾul HaTarsi, meaning "Saul of Tarsus", ), the "Apostle to the Gentiles" (ca 5 - 67 AD) was, together with Saint Peter and James the Just, the most notable of early Christian missionaries. Unlike the Twelve Apostles, there is no indication that Paul ever met Jesus before the latter's crucifixion. According to The Acts of the Apostles, his conversion took place ('conversion' not in the sense of changing religious identity since the early Christians were viewed as members of a sect of Judaism not as members of a different religion, but in the sense of metanoia, also see religious conversion) as he was traveling the road to Damascus, he experienced a vision of the resurrected Jesus. He was temporarily blinded. Paul asserts that he received the Gospel not from man, but by "the revelation of Jesus Christ".

Fourteen epistles in the New Testament are traditionally attributed to Paul, though in some cases the authorship is disputed. Paul had often employed an amanuensis, only occasionally writing himself. As a sign of authenticity, the writers of these epistles sometimes employ a passage presented as being in Paul's own handwriting. These epistles were circulated within the Christian community. They were prominent in the first New Testament canon ever proposed (by Marcion), and they were eventually included in the orthodox Christian canon of Scripture. They are believed to be the earliest-written books of the New Testament.

Paul's influence on Christian thinking arguably has been more significant than any other New Testament author. His influence on the main strands of Christian thought has been demonstrable: from St. Augustine of Hippo to the controversies between Gottschalk and Hincmar of Reims; between Thomism and Molinism; Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Arminians; to Jansenism and the Jesuit theologians, and even to the German church of the twentieth century through the writings of the scholar Karl Barth, whose commentary on the Letter to the Romans had a political as well as theological impact.

Sources of information

In trying to reconstruct the events of Paul's life the main sources are Paul's own letters and the Acts of the Apostles, traditionally attributed to St. Luke. Different views are held as to the reliability of the latter. Some scholars, such as Hans Conzelmann and 20th century theologian John Knox (not the 16th century John Knox), dispute the historical accuracy of Acts. Even allowing for omissions in Paul's own account, which is found particularly in Galatians, there are many differences between his account and that in Acts. (Please see the full discussion in Acts of the Apostles). The Acts of Paul and the Clementine literature also contain information about Saint Paul.

Mission as documented in the gospels

Following his stay in Damascus after his conversion, where he was baptized, Paul says that he first went to Arabia, and then came back to Damascus (). According to Acts, his preaching in the local synagogues got him into trouble there, and he was forced to escape, being let down over the wall in a basket (). He describes in Galatians, how three years after his conversion, he went to Jerusalem, where he met James, and stayed with Simon Peter for 15 days (). According to Acts, he apparently attempted to join the disciples and was accepted only after the intercession of Barnabas — they were all understandably afraid of him as one who had been a persecutor of the Church (). Again, according to Acts, he got into trouble for disputing with "Hellenists" (Koine Greek speaking Jews and Gentile "God-fearers") and so he was sent back to Tarsus.

Paul's narrative in Galatians states that 14 years after his conversion he went again to Jerusalem. It is not known exactly what happened during these so-called "unknown years," but both Acts and Galatians provide some details. At the end of this time, Barnabas went to find Paul and brought him back to Antioch ().

When a famine occurred in Judaea, around 45–46, Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem to deliver financial support from the Antioch community. According to Acts, Antioch had become an alternative centre for Christians, following the dispersion after the death of Stephen. It was in Antioch, Acts reports, that the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians.

First missionary journey

Paul’s first missionary journey begins in in Antioch in approximately 47 CE. During this period the Christian church here grew in prominence partially owing to Jewish Christians fleeing from Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit, speaking through one of the prophets listed in , identifies Barnabas and Saul to be appointed “for the work which I have called them to.” The group then releases the pair from the church to spread the Gospel into the predominantly Gentile mission field. The significance of the Holy Spirit selecting him can be seen in when Paul states that he is made an apostle “not through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”

Traveling via the port of Seleucia Pieria, Barnabas and Saul’s initial destination is the island of Cyprus of which Barnabas had intimate knowledge, as he grew up there . Preaching throughout the island, it is not until reaching the city of Paphos that they meet the magician and false prophet Bar-Jesus, described by Luke as “full of deceit and all fraud”. The two rebuke the magician, causing him to go blind and, upon seeing this Sergius Paulus, is astonished at the teaching of the Lord. Once having left Cyprus, Saul exchanges his Hebrew name for the more appropriate Greco-Roman name of Paul for ministering to the Gentiles. It is also here that their helper John Mark departs from them - an act which later becomes a source of much tension between Paul and Barnabas and ultimately leading to their split in . The two then set about strategically preaching to major cities as they make their way across the provinces of Asia Minor. Traveling on to Lystra where no mention is made of any God fearing gentiles, it can be assumed that there was most likely no synagogue here. With no formal place to preach in they come across a man who has been crippled from birth. Seeing that the man has faith enough to be healed at Paul's instruction, he gets up and walks. In spite of this the Lystrians are now convinced that the two are the human incarnation of Zeus and Hermes and proceed to sacrifice oxen before them. Paul and Barnabas are so distraught at this that they tear off their clothes and cry out to the people. Pleading with the crowd, the style of preaching becomes more basic as Lystra has no knowledge of God. Paul starts from the basics by stating that God is a living God who made the heavens, earth and seas ().

Paul is then hunted by disgruntled Jews from Antioch and Iconium and is stoned to the point where he is thought to be dead. Amazingly he gets to his feet and flees to Derbe and preaches there. He then opts to return to the cities he visited to encourage disciples, establish churches and appoint elders. This emphasis on the role of the whole church is strengthened once at home in Antioch where he finally gathers together the unified church to report to them on all his experiences. Here he summarises the aim of his journey well, to “give God the honor and the glory” ()

Part of this first missionary journey can be walked today in the Saint Paul Trail, a long-distance footpath in Turkey.

Council of Jerusalem

According to , Paul attended a meeting of the apostles and elders held in Jerusalem where they discussed the question of circumcision of Gentile Christians and whether Christians should follow the Mosaic law. Traditionally, this meeting is called the Council of Jerusalem, though nowhere is it called so in the text of the New Testament. Paul and the apostles apparently met at Jerusalem several times. Unfortunately, there is some difficulty in determining the sequence of the meetings and exact course of events. Some Jerusalem meetings are mentioned in Acts, some meetings are mentioned in Paul's letters, and some appear to be mentioned in both. For example, it has been suggested that the Jerusalem visit for famine relief implied in corresponds to the "first visit" (to Cephas and James only) narrated in . In , Paul describes a "second visit" to Jerusalem as a private occasion, whereas Acts 15 describes a public meeting in Jerusalem addressed by James at its conclusion. Thus, while most think that Galatians 2:1 corresponds to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, others think that Paul is referring here to the meeting in (the "famine visit"). Other conjectures have been offered: the "fourteen years" could be from Paul's conversion rather than the first visit; If there was a public rather than a private meeting, it seems likely that it took place after Galatians was written.

According to Acts, Paul and Barnabas were appointed to go to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles and elders and were welcomed by them. The key question raised (in both Acts and Galatians and which is not in dispute) was whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised (ff; ff). Paul states that he had attended "in response to a revelation and to lay before them the gospel that I preached among the Gentiles" (). Peter publicly reaffirmed a decision he had made previously proclaiming: "[God] put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" echoing an earlier statement: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons" (). James concurred: "We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who are turning to God" and a letter (later known as the Apostolic Decree) was sent back with Paul to the Gentiles who Honoured God's name enjoining them from idolatry, from bloodshed, from unkashered meat, and from sexual immorality which some consider related to Noahide Law while others instead see a connection to and 18.

Despite the agreement they achieved at the meeting as understood by Paul, Paul recounts how he later publicly confronted Peter, also called the "Incident at Antioch over his reluctance to share a meal with Gentile Christians in Antioch. Paul later wrote: "I opposed [Peter] to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong" and said to the apostle: "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?" (). Paul also mentioned that even Barnabas sided with Peter. On the incident, the Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers: The Incident at Antioch states: "St. Paul's account of the incident leaves no doubt that St. Peter saw the justice of the rebuke." However, L. Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity states: "The blowup with Peter was a total failure of political bravado, and Paul soon left Antioch as persona non grata, never again to return. (see also Pauline Christianity). Acts does not record this event, saying only that "some time later," Paul decided to leave Antioch (usually considered the beginning of his "Second Missionary Journey," with the object of visiting the believers in the towns where he and Barnabas had preached earlier, but this time without Barnabas. At this point the Galatians witness ceases.

Paul's visits to Jerusalem in Acts and the epistles

This table is adapted from White, From Jesus to Christianity.

Acts Epistles

  • First visit to Jerusalem ()
    • after Damascus conversion
    • preaches openly in Jerusalem with Barnabas
  • Second visit to Jerusalem ()
    • For famine relief
  • Third visit to Jerusalem ()
    • With Barnabas
    • "Council of Jerusalem"
  • Fourth visit to Jerusalem ()
    • To "keep the feast" ()
  • Fifth visit to Jerusalem (ff)
    • Paul arrested

  • No visit to Jerusalem immediately after conversion ()
  • First visit to Jerusalem ()
    • Sees only Cephas (Peter) and James
  • Second visit to Jerusalem ()
    • With Barnabas and Titus
    • Possibly the "Council of Jerusalem"
    • Paul agrees to "remember the poor"
    • Followed by confrontation with Peter in Antioch ()
  • Third visit to Jerusalem (ff, , )
    • Paul delivers the collection for the poor

Second missionary journey

And following a dispute between Paul and Barnabas over whether they should take John Mark with them, they go on separate journeys — Barnabas with John Mark, and Paul with Silas.

Following , Paul and Silas go to Derbe and then Lystra. They are joined by Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman and a Greek man. According to , Paul circumcises Timothy before leaving.

They continue to Phrygia and northern Galatia to Troas, when, inspired by a vision they set off for Macedonia. At Philippi they meet and bring to faith a wealthy woman named Lydia of Thyatira, they then baptize her and her household; there Paul is also arrested and badly beaten. According to Acts, Paul then sets off for Thessalonica. This accords with Paul's own account though, given that he had been in Philippi only "some days," the church must have been founded by someone other than Paul. According to Acts, Paul then comes to Athens where he gives his speech in the Areopagus; in this speech, he tells Athenians that the "Unknown God" to whom they had a shrine is in fact known, as the God who had raised Jesus from the dead. ()

Thereafter Paul travelled to Corinth, where he settled for three years and where he may have written 1 Thessalonians which is estimated to have been written in 50 or 51. At Corinth, the "Jews united" and charged Paul with "persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law"; the proconsul Gallio then judged that it was an internal religious dispute and dismissed the charges. "Then all of them (Other ancient authorities read all the Greeks) seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things. From an inscription in Delphi that mentions Gallio held office from 51–52 or 52–53, the year of the hearing must have been in this time period, which is the only fixed date in the chronology of Paul's life.

Third missionary journey

Following this hearing, Paul continued his preaching, usually called his "third missionary journey" traveling again through Asia Minor and Macedonia, to Antioch and back. He caused a great uproar in the theatre in Ephesus, where local silversmiths feared loss of income as a result of Paul's activities. Their income relied on the sale of silver statues (idols) of the goddess Artemis, whom they worshipped; the resulting mob almost killed Paul and his companions. Later, as Paul was passing near Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem, Paul chose not to stop, since he was in haste to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost. The church here, however, was so highly regarded by Paul that he called the elders to Miletus to meet with him ().

Arrest and death

According to , upon his arrival in Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul provided a detailed account to James regarding his ministry among the Gentiles, it states further that all the Elders were present. James and the Elders praised God for the report which they received. Afterward the elders informed him of rumors that had been circulating, which stated that he was teaching Jews to forsake observance of the Mosaic law, and the customs of the Jews; including circumcision. To rebut these rumors, the elders asked Paul to join with four other men in performing the vow of purification according to Mosaic law, in order to disprove the accusations of the Jews. Paul agreed, and proceeded to perform the vow. See Also: Relationship with Judaism

Some of the Jews had seen Paul accompanied by a Gentile, and assumed that he had brought the Gentile into the temple, which if he had been found guilty of such, would have carried the death penalty. The Jews were on the verge of killing Paul when Roman soldiers intervened. The Roman commander took Paul into custody to be scourged and questioned, and imprisoned him, first in Jerusalem, and then in Caesarea.

Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome, but owing to the inaction of the governor Antonius Felix, Paul languished in confinement at Caesarea for two years. When a new governor (Porcius Festus) took office, Paul was sent by sea to Rome. During this trip to Rome, Paul was shipwrecked on Malta, where Acts states that he preached the Gospel, and the people converted to Christianity. The Roman Catholic church has named the Apostle Paul as the patron saint of Malta in observance of his work there. It is thought that Paul continued his journey by sea to Syracuse, on the Italian island of Sicily before eventually going to Rome. According to , Paul spent another two years in Rome under house arrest, where he continued to preach the gospel and teach about Jesus being the Christ.

Of his detention in Rome, Philippians provides some additional support. It was clearly written from prison and references to the "praetorian guard" and "Caesar's household," which may suggest that it was written from Rome.

Whether Paul died in Rome, or was able to go to Spain as he had hoped, as noted in his letter to the Romans is uncertain. 1 Clement reports this about Paul:

"By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance."
Commenting on this passage, Raymond Brown writes that while it "does not explicitly say" that Paul was martyred in Rome, "such a martydom is the most reasonable interpretation. Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote in the fourth century, states that Paul was beheaded in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. This event has been dated either to the year 64, when Rome was devastated by a fire, or a few years later, to 67. A Roman Catholic liturgical solemnity of Peter and Paul, celebrated on June 29, may reflect the day of his martyrdom, other sources have articulated the tradition that Peter and Paul died on the same day (and possibly the same year). Some hold the view that he could have revisited Greece and Asia Minor after his trip to Spain, and might then have been arrested in Troas, and taken to Rome and executed (). A Roman Catholic tradition holds that Paul was interred with Saint Peter ad Catacumbas by the via Appia until moved to what is now the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome (now in the process of being excavated). Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, writes that Pope Vitalian in 665 gave Paul's relics (including a cross made from his prison chains) from the crypts of Lucina to King Oswy of Northumbria, northern Britain. However, Bede's use of the word "relic" was not limited to corporal remains.



Saint Paul is the second most prolific contributor to the New Testament (after Luke, whose two books amount to nearly a third of the New Testament). Fourteen letters are attributed to him with varying degrees of confidence. The letters are written in Koine Greek and it may be that he employed an amanuensis, only occasionally writing himself. The undisputed Pauline epistles contain the earliest systematic account of Christian doctrine, and provide information on the life of the infant Church. They are arguably the oldest part of the New Testament. Paul also appears in the pages of the Acts of the Apostles, attributed to Luke, so that it is possible to compare the account of his life in the Acts with his own account in his various letters. His letters are largely written to churches which he had founded or visited; he was a great traveler, visiting Cyprus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Macedonia, mainland Greece, Crete, and Rome bringing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth with him. His letters are full of expositions of what Christians should believe and how they should live. He does not tell his correspondents (or the modern reader) much about the life of Jesus; his most explicit references are to the Last Supper and the crucifixion and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). His specific references to Jesus' teaching are likewise sparse raising the question, still disputed, as to how consistent his account of the faith is with that of the four canonical Gospels, Acts, and the Epistle of James. The view that Paul's Christ is very different from the historical Jesus has been expounded by Adolf Harnack among many others. Nevertheless, he provides the first written account of what it is to be a Christian and thus of Christian spirituality.

Of the thirteen letters traditionally attributed to Paul and included in the Western New Testament canon, there is little or no dispute that Paul actually wrote at least seven, those being Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon. Hebrews, which was ascribed to him in antiquity, was questioned even then, never having an ancient attribution, and in modern times is considered by most experts as not by Paul (see also Antilegomena). The authorship of the remaining six Pauline epistles is disputed to varying degrees.

The authenticity of Colossians has been questioned on the grounds that it contains an otherwise unparalleled description (among his writings) of Jesus as 'the image of the invisible God,' a Christology found elsewhere only in St. John's gospel. On the other hand, the personal notes in the letter connect it to Philemon, unquestionably the work of Paul. More problematic is Ephesians, a very similar letter to Colossians, but which reads more like a manifesto than a letter. It is almost entirely lacking in personal reminiscences. Its style is unique; it lacks the emphasis on the cross to be found in other Pauline writings, reference to the Second Coming is missing, and Christian marriage is exalted in a way which contrasts with the grudging reference in . Finally it exalts the Church in a way suggestive of a second generation of Christians, 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets' now past. The defenders of its Pauline authorship argue that it was intended to be read by a number of different churches and that it marks the final stage of the development of Paul of Tarsus's thinking.

The Pastoral Epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus have likewise been put in question as Pauline works. Three main reasons are advanced: first, their difference in vocabulary, style and theology from Paul's acknowledged writings; secondly, the difficulty in fitting them into Paul's biography as we have it. They, like Colossians and Ephesians, were written from prison but suppose Paul's release and travel thereafter. Finally, the concerns expressed are very much the practical ones as to how a church should function. They are more about maintenance than about mission.

2 Thessalonians, like Colossians, is questioned on stylistic grounds, with scholars noting, among other peculiarities, a dependence on 1 Thessalonians yet a distinctiveness in language from the Pauline corpus.

Paul and Jesus

Little can be deduced about the historical life of Jesus from Paul's letters. He mentions specifically the Last Supper (ff), his death by crucifixion and his resurrection (). In addition, Paul states that Jesus was a Jew of the line of David who was betrayed (). Paul concentrates instead on the nature of Christians' relationship with Christ and, in particular, on Christ's saving work. In Mark's gospel, Jesus is recorded as saying that he was to "give up his life as a ransom for many. Paul's account of this idea of a saving act is more fully articulated in various places in his letters, most notably in his letter to the Romans.

What Christ has achieved for those who believe in him is variously described: as sinners under the law, they are "justified by his grace as a gift"; they are "redeemed" by Jesus who was put forward by God as expiation; they are "reconciled" by his death; his death was a propitiatory or expiatory sacrifice or a ransom paid. The gift (grace) is to be received in faith ().

Justification derives from the law courts. Those who are justified are acquitted of an offence. Since the sinner is guilty, he or she can only be acquitted by someone else, Jesus, standing in for them, which has led many Christians to believe in the teaching known as the doctrine of penal substitution. The sinner is, in Paul's words "justified by faith" that is, by adhering to Christ, the sinner becomes at one with Christ in his death and resurrection (hence the word "atonement"). Acquittal, however, is achieved not on the grounds that we share in Christ's innocence, but on the grounds of his sacrifice (crucifixion), i.e., his innocent undergoing of punishment on behalf of sinners who should have suffered divine retribution for their sins. They deserved to be punished and he took their punishment. They are justified by his death, and now "so much more we are saved by him from divine retribution" ().

For an understanding of the meaning of faith as that which justifies, Paul turns to Abraham, who trusted God's promise that he would be father of many nations. Abraham preceded the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Abraham could not, of course, have faith in the living Christ but, in Paul's view, "the gospel was preached to him beforehand" (); this is in line with Paul's belief in the pre-existence of Christ (cf. .

Within the last three decades, a number of theologians have put forward a "new perspective" on Paul's doctrine of justification, and even more specifically on what he says about justification by faith. Justification by faith means God accepts Gentiles in addition to Jews, since both believe in God. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith" (Romans 3:28-30). Faith is the central component of Paul's doctrine of justification -- it means that Gentiles don't need to become Israelites when they convert to Christianity, because God is not just the God of one nation, but Gentile and Jew alike.

Redemption has a different origin, that of the freeing of slaves; it is similar in character as a transaction to the paying of a ransom, (cf. ) though the circumstances are different. Money was paid in order to set free a slave who was in the ownership of another. Here the price was the costly act of Christ's death. On the other hand, no price was paid to anyone — Paul does not suggest, for instance, that the price be paid to the devil — though this has been suggested by learned writers, ancient and modern, such as Origen and St. Augustine, as a reversal of the Fall by which the devil gained power over humankind.

A third expression, reconciliation, is about the making of peace (and ), another variant of the same theme. Elsewhere he writes of Christ breaking down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, which the law constituted.

Sacrifice is an idea often elided with justification, but carries with it either the notion of appeasing the wrath of God (propitiation) or dealing with sin (expiation).

As to how a person appropriates this gift, Paul writes of a mystical union with Christ through baptism: "we who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death" (). He writes also of our being "in Christ Jesus" and alternately, of "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Thus, the objection that one person cannot be punished on behalf of another is met with the idea of the identification of the Christian with Christ through baptism.

These expressions, some of which are to be found in the course of the same exposition, have been interpreted by some scholars, such as the mediaeval teacher Peter Abelard and, much more recently, Hastings Rashdall, as metaphors for the effects of Christ's death upon those who followed him. This is known as the "subjective theory of the atonement." On this view, rather than writing a systematic theology, Paul is trying to express something inexpressible. According to Ian Markham, on the other hand, the letter to the Romans is "muddled."

But others, ancient and modern, Protestant and Catholic, have sought to elaborate from his writing objective theories of the Atonement on which they have, however, disagreed. The doctrine of justification by faith alone was the major source of the division of western Christianity known as the Protestant Reformation which took place in the sixteenth century. Justification by faith was set against salvation by works of the law — in this case, the acquiring of indulgences from the Church and even such good works as the corporal works of mercy. The result of the dispute, which undermined the system of endowed prayers and the doctrine of purgatory, contributed to the creation of Protestant churches in Western Europe, set against the Roman Catholic Church. Solifidianism (from sola fide, the Latin for "faith alone"), the name often given to these views, is associated with the works of Martin Luther (1483 — 1546) and his followers.

The various doctrines of the atonement have been associated with such theologians as Anselm; John Calvin; and more recently Gustaf Aulén; none found their way into the Creeds. The substitutionary theory (above), in particular, has fiercely divided Christendom; some pronouncing it essential and others repugnant. (In law, no one can be punished instead of another and the punishment of the innocent is a prime example of injustice — which tells against too precise an interpretation of the atonement as a legal act.)

Further, because salvation could not be achieved by merit, Paul lays some stress on the notion of its being a free gift, a matter of Grace. Whereas grace is most often associated specifically with the Holy Spirit, in St. Paul's writing, grace is received through Jesus from God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (and especially in ). On the other hand, the Spirit he describes is the Spirit of Christ (see below). The notion of free gift, not the subject of entitlement, has been associated with belief in predestination and, more controversially, double predestination: that God has chosen whom He wills to have mercy on and those whose will He has hardened (f.).

Paul's concern with what Christ had done, as described above, was matched by his desire to say also who Jesus was (and is). At the beginning of his letter to the Romans, he describes Jesus as the "Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead"; in the letter to the Colossians, he is much more explicit, describing Jesus as "the image of the invisible God," as rich and exalted a picture of Jesus as can be found anywhere in the New Testament (which is one reason why some doubt its authenticity) On the other hand, in the undisputedly Pauline letter to the Church at Philippi, he describes Jesus as "in the form of God" who "did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross…" ().

Holy Spirit

In considering the manifestations of the Spirit, Paul is varied in his instructions. Thus, when discussing the gift of tongues in his first letter to the Corinthians as against the unintelligible words of ecstasy, he commends, by contrast, intelligibility and order.

Paul argues that not all things permissible are good; he condemns eating meats that have been offered to pagan idols, frequenting pagan temples, and orgiastic feasting. On the contrary, he calls the Spirit a uniting force, manifesting Himself through the common purpose expressed in the exercise of their different gifts He compares the Christian community to a human body, with its different limbs and organs, and the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. The gifts range from administration to teaching, encouragement to healing, prophecy to the working of miracles. The fruits are the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (). Love is the "most excellent" of all ().

Furthermore, the new life is the life of the Spirit, as against the life of the flesh, which Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, so that one becomes a son of God. God is our Father and we are fellow heirs of Christ ().

Relationship with Judaism

Paul, himself a circumcised Jew, appeared to praise Jewish circumcision in , but says in that circumcision doesn't matter. In Galatians, meanwhile, he accuses those who promote circumcision of wanting to make a good showing in the flesh and boasting or glorying in the flesh in . He also questions the authority of the law. Though he may have opposed observance by Gentiles, he also opposed Peter for his partial observance. In a later letter, , he is reported as warning Christians to beware the "mutilation and to "watch out for those dogs." He writes that there is neither Jew nor Greek, but Christ is all and in all. On the other hand, in Acts, he is described as submitting to taking a Nazirite vow, and earlier to having had Timothy circumcised to placate "certain Jews." He also wrote that among the Jews he became as a Jew in order to win Jews and to the Romans: "So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" ().

However, considerable disagreement at the time and subsequently has been raised as to the significance of Works of the Law. In the same letter in which Paul writes of justification by faith, he says of the Gentiles: "It is not by hearing the law, but by doing it that men will be justified (ame word) by God." Those who think Paul was consistent have judged him not to be a Solifidianist himself; others hold that he is merely demonstrating that both Jews and Gentiles are in the same condition of sin.

Some scholars find that Paul's agreement to perform the vow of purification noted in and his circumcision of Timothy noted in , are difficult to reconcile with his personally expressed attitude to the Law in portions of Galatians and Philippians. For example, J. W. McGarvey's Commentary on Acts 21:18–26 states:

This I confess to be the most difficult passage in Acts to fully understand, and to reconcile with the teaching of Paul on the subject of the Mosaic law.

And his Commentary on Acts 16:3 states:

The circumcision of Timothy is quite a remarkable event in the history of Paul, and presents a serious injury as to the consistency of his teaching and of his practice, in reference to this Abrahamic rite. It demands of us, at this place, as full consideration as our limits will admit.

This is generally reconciled by arguing that Paul's attitude to the Law was flexible, for instance the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia writes:

Paul, on the other hand, not only did not object to the observance of the Mosaic Law, as long as it did not interfere with the liberty of the Gentiles, but he conformed to its prescriptions when occasion required (

The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article on Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah notes the following reconciliation:

R. Emden, in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam" (pp. 32b-34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law — which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath.

E. P. Sanders in 1977 reframed the context to make law-keeping and good works a sign of being in the Covenant (marking out the Jews as the people of God) rather than deeds performed in order to accomplish salvation (so-called Legalism (theology)), a pattern of religion he termed "covenantal nomism." If Sanders' perspective is valid, the traditional Protestant understanding of the doctrine of justification may have needed rethinking, for the interpretive framework of Martin Luther was called into question.

Sanders' work has since been taken up by Professor James Dunn and N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, and the New Perspective. Wright, noting the apparent discrepancy between Romans and Galatians, the former being much more positive about the continuing covenantal relationship between God and his ancient people, than the latter, contends that works are not insignificant (ff) and that Paul distinguishes between works which are signs of ethnic identity and those which are a sign of obedience to Christ.


Paul appears to develop his ideas in response to the particular congregation to whom he is writing (). He writes of the hope given to all who belong to Christ, including those who have already died and been baptised vicariously by others on their behalf so that they may be included among the saved (whether or not Paul of Tarsus approved of the practice, he was apparently prepared to use it as part of his argument in favour of the resurrection of the dead).

The World to come

Paul's teaching about the end of the world is expressed most clearly in his letters to the Christians at Thessalonica. Heavily persecuted, it appears that they had written asking him first about those who had died already, and, secondly, when they should expect the end. Paul regarded the age as passing and, in such difficult times, he therefore encouraged marriage as a means of happiness. He assures them that the dead will rise first and be followed by those left alive (ff). This suggests an imminence of the end but he is unspecific about times and seasons, and encourages his hearers to expect a delay. The form of the end will be a battle between Jesus and the man of lawlessness (ff) whose conclusion is the triumph of Christ.

The delay in the coming of the end has been interpreted in different ways: on one view, Paul of Tarsus and the early Christians were simply mistaken; on another, that of Austin Farrer, his presentation of a single ending can be interpreted to accommodate the fact that endings occur all the time and that, subjectively, we all stand an instant from judgement. The delay is also accounted for by God's patience (().

As for the form of the end, the Catholic Encyclopedia presents two distinct ideas. First, universal judgement, with neither the good nor the wicked omitted nor even the angels (). Second, and more controversially, judgment will be according to faith and works, mentioned concerning sinners the just and men in general ().

Speculative views

Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton and an authority on Gnosticism, argues that Paul was a Gnostic and that the anti-Gnostic Pastoral Epistles were "pseudo-Pauline" forgeries written to rebut this. Pagels maintains that the majority of the Christian churches in the second century went with the majority of the middle class in opposing the trend toward equality for women. By the year 200, the majority of Christian communities endorsed as canonical the "pseudo-Pauline" letter to Timothy. That letter, according to Pagels, stresses and exaggerates the antifeminist element in Paul's views: "Let a woman learn in silence in all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent." She believes the letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians, which order women to "be subject in everything to their husbands," do not express what she says were Paul's very favorable attitudes toward women, but also were "pseudo-Pauline" forgeries.

Theologian Robert Cramer agrees that the "pseudo-Pauline" epistles were written to marginalize women, especially in the church and in marriage:

Since it is now widely concluded that the Pastoral Epistles were written around 115 AD, these words were written most likely about 50 years after Paul's martyrdom. Considering the similarity between and , conclusions that I and others continue to draw are:
# that Paul wrote the bulk of what was in 1 Corinthians but that he did not write 1 Timothy, and
# that around 115 AD, the writer of 1 Timothy or a group associated with him added the pericope to the body of letters that later became 1 Corinthians.
In this scenario this would have been done in part to lend further authority to a later (or more culturally acceptable) teaching that marginalized women.

Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, agrees that the verses not favorable to women were "post-Pauline interpolations":

are not a Corinthian slogan, as some have argued…, but a post-Pauline interpolation…. Not only is the appeal to the law (possibly ) un-Pauline, but the verses contradict . The injunctions reflect the misogyny of and probably stem from the same circle. Some mss. place these verses after 40.

Talmudic scholar Hyam Maccoby contends that the Paul as described in the Book of Acts and the view of Paul gleaned from his own writings are very different people. Some difficulties have been noted in the account of his life. Additionally, the speeches of Paul, as recorded in Acts, have been argued to show a different turn of mind. Paul as described in the Book of Acts is much more interested in factual history, less in theology; ideas such as justification by faith are absent as are references to the Spirit.

On the other hand, according to Maccoby, there are no references to John the Baptist in the Pauline Epistles, but Paul mentions him several times in the Book of Acts. F.C.Baur (1792–1860), professor of theology at Tübingen in Germany and founder of the so-called Tübingen School of theology, argued that Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, was in violent opposition to the older disciples. Baur considers the Acts of the Apostles were late and unreliable. This debate has continued ever since, with Adolf Deissmann (1866–1937) and Richard Reitzenstein (1861–1931) emphasising Paul's Greek inheritance and Albert Schweitzer stressing his dependence on Judaism.

Maccoby theorizes that Paul synthesized Judaism, Gnosticism, and mysticism to create Christianity as a cosmic savior religion. According to Maccoby, Paul's Pharisaism was his own invention, though actually he was probably associated with the Sadducees. Maccoby attributes the origins of Christian anti-Semitism to Paul and claims that Paul's view of women, though inconsistent, reflects his Gnosticism in its misogynist aspects.

Professor Robert Eisenman of California State University at Long Beach argues that Paul was a member of the family of Herod the Great. Professor Eisenman makes a connection between Paul and an individual identified by Josephus as "Saulus," a "kinsman of Agrippa. Another oft-cited element of the case for Paul as a member of Herod's family is found in where Paul writes, "greet Herodion, my kinsman." This is a minority view in the academic community.

Among the critics of Paul the Apostle was Thomas Jefferson who wrote that Paul was the "first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." Howard Brenton's play Paul also takes a skeptical view of his conversion.

See also



  • Aulén, Gustaf, Christus Victor (SPCK 1931)
  • Brown Raymond E. The Church the Apostles left behind(Chapman 1984)
  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible Series, 1997. ISBN 0–385–24767–2.
  • Bruce, F.F., Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (ISBN 0–8028–4778–1)
  • Bruce, F.F. 'Is the Paul of Acts the Real Paul?' Bulletin John Rylands Library 58 (1976) 283–305
  • Conzelmann, Hans, the Acts of the Apostles — a Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Augsburg Fortress 1987)
  • Davies, W. D. Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. third edition, S.P.C.K..
  • Dunn, James D.G., 1990, Jesus, Paul and the Law Louisville,KY: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0664250955
  • Hanson, Anthony Tyrrell Studies in Paul's Technique and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Irenaeus, Against Heresies, i.26.2
  • Maccoby, Hyam. The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. ISBN 0–06–015582–5.
  • MacDonald, Dennis Ronald, 1983. The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome, Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1995) ISBN 0814658458
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome, Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) ISBN 0-19-826749-5
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome, Jesus and Paul: Parallel lives (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007) ISBN 0814651739
  • Rashdall, Hastings, The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology (1919)
  • John Ruef, Paul's First letter to Corinth (Penguin 1971)
  • Sanders, E.P., Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977)
  • Segal, Alan F., "Paul, the Convert and Apostle" in Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World (Harvard University Press 1986).
  • Segal, Alan F., Paul, the Convert, (New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1990) ISBN 0-300-04527-1.

External links

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