Paul – The Man

His Life and Times

Paul was born to Jewish parents in Tarsus, located in what is now South-East Turkey. The city was an important part of the Roman Empire, serving as the ancient equivalent to our major university city. Being born in Tarsus gave Paul notable advantages, making him a Roman Citizen, a status that would provide a variety of benefits during his later missionary life. He also gained an insight into the Greek language and culture which were prominent in the city. Nevertheless, in Acts 22v3 Paul testifies to having been brought up and educated in Jerusalem under the guidance of the prominent Jewish teacher Gamaliel. These early experiences helped shape Paul’s later life, helping him to effectively and authoritatively communicate the truth about Jesus among both the Jewish and Non-Jewish communities across the Roman world.

Much of his later life is covered in the book of Acts, so we won’t spoil it here, as you’ll get to it in Season One – Part Two. However, one interesting element that you might have noticed from the timeline above is that there was a long gap between Paul’s conversion and his departure on the first of his famous “missionary journeys.” In fact, although just a couple of chapters separate Paul leaving Jerusalem for Tarsus in Acts 9, and being brought to Antioch by Barnabas in Acts 11, it is believed that around 10 years passed between the two events!

Ultimately, Paul’s story is one of incredible faith in God, a wholehearted commitment to spreading the Good News of Jesus, and a willingness to sacrifice his own comfort, freedom and life for the Kingdom of God. Although it is difficult to put an exact date to Paul’s death, multiple christian writers state that he was executed as part of the Roman Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians.

Paul or Saul?

One of the interesting aspects of Paul is his name. When we first meet him in Acts Chapter 7, he is introduced as ‘a young man named Saul’ (v.58). He is called by this name in his encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9v4), in his encounters with fellow Christians shortly afterwards, and in the description of the Holy Spirit commissioning him and Barnabas (Acts 13v1-12). However, from Acts 13v13 onward he is instead referred to in the Biblical text as Paul, with a short sentence introducing the change by saying ‘Saul, who was also called Paul.’ (Acts 13v9) So why the sudden change? Or is it really a change at all?

A “Nice” Story: Some have seen the change in name as a neat illustration of the change of heart and character that Jesus worked in Paul’s life. So, just as he changed from vehemently opposing the early church to become one of its foremost leaders and evangelists, so too did he gain a new name. This is an appealing story, and would certainly be a nice narrative device, but unfortunately it just isn’t likely to be true. Acts doesn’t mention any moment in which Saul is given his new name, and ‘Saul, who was also called Paul’ suggests both were in use.

So What’s More Likely: We’ve already commented that Paul grew up to Jewish parents, but in a city that had a strong Greek culture. He spoke Greek, as well as Hebrew, and this seems to be the real source of the two names. Saul is his Hebrew name, originating from that of the first king of Israel, but that didn’t translate well into Greek, so Paul is the name he went by in Greek communities. The “change” in name actually happens when Paul departs with Barnabas to begin God’s mission to reach the non-Jewish communities throughout the Greco-Roman world – where the name of Paul would quickly grow to become well-known as he introduced himself to the people by that moniker.

More Resources

Paul – The Mission

A life of Mission One of the most notable elements of Paul’s life are the three “Missionary Journeys” he embarked upon. These are recorded in Acts chapters 13-20, and provide an incredible account of the earliest formation of the Church across the ancient Roman world. The call upon Paul was to take the Gospel out ... Read more

Paul – The Letters

Letter Writing in Paul’s World Letters make up a large portion of the New Testament. We often refer to them as epistles – which originates from the ancient word meaning “to send news”. Sending letters during Paul’s lifetime could be an arduous experience, there was no publicly available postal service, and so the sender was ... Read more