Saint Paul the Apostle (also known as Saint Paul of Tarsus) was one of the most important figures in the early church. Fourteen of the 27 books in the New Testament are attributed to him, and a fifteenth, the Book of Acts written by Saint Luke, is largely about Saint Paul's work as a missionary.
Saint Paul was initially a persecutor of the Christian church, but after a miraculous encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus he became one of the new faith's foremost proponents. He was a renowned missionary, and through his efforts Christianity spread to the gentiles, when previously it was predominantly a Jewish religion. He was also an important theologian, and his writings were important for establishing the doctrine of the new Christian faith.
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Saint Paul the Apostle
St Paul was raised by the name Saul in Tarsus, a city now in modern-day Turkey. He was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. He was also a Roman citizen, at a time when this status conferred a lot of privilege. Paul was a Pharisee, and studied under the famous Jewish Rabbi and scholar Gamaliel. We first encounter Paul in the book of Acts as a zealous persecutor of the early Christian church, and he appears in a small role when Saint Stephen is martyred, approving of those who killed him. Then he encounters Jesus in his famous “road to Damascus” moment, which we see recorded here in the book of Acts:
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”
And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”
22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. 24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. 25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.
26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. 29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. 30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.
After some time of reflection in the Arabian desert, St Paul would end up in Antioch, in Syria. He would embark on the first of his three missionary journies, bringing the new Christian faith all over the Roman Empire. Saint Paul’s efforts were particularly important in bringing the Christian faith to the gentiles, when before it had been a predominantly Jewish religion.
Paul’s first missionary journey would begin and end in Antioch, and cover Cyprus, Syria, and the Asia Minor region. St Barnabas accompanid Paul during this journey. One notable event in this journey was the conversion of the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus in Cyprus:
They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
After the conclusion of his first missionary journey, Paul was involved in the Council of Jerusalem, which was a meeting of the Christian leaders regarding whether or not the new gentile converts to Christianity had to follow Jewish customs, like circumcision and the dietary restrictions. Paul felt strongly that the gentile converts did not have to follow these Jewish practices, which led to a confrontation with Saint Peter in Antioch. We hear about this incident in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
When Cephas (that is, Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “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?
Saint Paul would embark on a second missionary journey from Jerusalem. St Paul had a disagreement with St Barnabas, so they parted ways, and Paul took St Silas with him instead. This journey took them to Greece, Macedonia and all over Asia Minor. We will share this account of St Paul’s work in Athens, which includes a famous and important speech there. This passage starts at Acts 17:
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Paul would also embark on a third missionary journey a few years later, which took him roughly in the same terrirory he covered perviously, in an effort to strengthen the new churches there. Paul’s work incited a riot in Ephesus as the artisan silversmiths opposed Paul, fearing his stance against idolatry would threaten their profits.
After the conclusion of these missionary journeys, Paul would find himself arrested in Jerusalem. His work had garnered great opposition, up to the point that fourty Jews had vowed not to eat until they had killed him. An angry mob attacked Paul, after some Jews accused Paul of defiling the temple. The Roman authorities quelled the mob, but arrested Paul. He was eventually sent to Rome in chains to stand trial there, and the Acts account of Paul’s life ends with him awaiting trial in Rome, and most likely died a martyr there.
Saint Paul was an incredibly influential leader of the early church. Of the 27 books in the New Testement, 14 have been attributed to Paul and a 15th, the book of Acts is largely an account of his life and ministry. Most of his writings are letters he wrote to various churches and other Christian leaders, and they form an essential foundation for Christian doctrine. One of the main themes of Paul’s writings is that salvation comes from the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ, not form a Jewish heritage or form following the Jewish law. Consider this passage from his letter to the Galatian church:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.
21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Saint Paul is commemorated in June 29, together with Saint Peter the Apostle, in the feast of Saint Peter and Paul. On the 25th of January Western Christians also celebrate the conversion of Saint Paul, on the road to Damascus. The most important church in Anglicanism, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, is named in his honor.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Christian saints podcast. Look for the Christian Saints podcast page on Facebook or Instagram, or look for us on Twitter at podcast_saints. All music in this episode was composed by my good friend, James John Marks of Generative sounds. Please check out his music at https://generativesoundsjjm.bandcamp.com/
Let’s end this episode with perhaps the most well-known passage written by Saint Paul, his contemplations on Love in his first letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 13.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.