»THE LIFE OF ST PAUL
A Hellenistic Jew, St Paul is known worldwide as one of the earliest Christian missionaries, along with Saint Peter and James the Just. He was also known as Paul the Apostle, the Apostle Paul and the Paul of Tarsus. However, he preferred to call himself ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’. Paul had a broad outlook and was perhaps endowed as the most brilliant person to carry Christianity to varied lands, such as Cyprus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), mainland Greece, Crete and Rome. St Paul’s efforts to accept gentile converts and make Torah unnecessary for salvation was a successful task.
Paul was born in Tarsus, in 10 AD, and was originally named Saul. Raised as a pharisaical Jew, he, in his initial years, even persecuted Christians, taking part in the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Being momentarily blinded by the vision of the image of resurrected Jesus, on the road to Damascus, led Saul to convert. He was baptized as Paul and went to Arabia for three years, indulging in prayers and reflection.
Coming back to Damascus, Paul again resumed his journey, but this time, the destination was Jerusalem. After 14 years, he again went to Jerusalem. Though the apostles were suspicious of him, St. Barnabas perceived his sincerity and brought him back to Antioch. During a famine, which struck Judea, Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem, to deliver financial support from the Antioch community. With this, they made Antioch an alternative centre for Christians and a major Christian center for Paul’s evangelizing.
Council of Jerusalem & Incident at Antioch
Around 49-50 AD, an important meeting took place between Paul and the Jerusalem church. The focus of this meeting was to decide whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. It was at this meeting that Peter, James, and John accepted Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Though both Paul and Peter had made an agreement at the Council of Jerusalem, the latter’s was reluctant to share a meal with Gentile Christians in Antioch and was publicly confronted by Paul. This is referred to as the ‘Incident at Antioch’.
In 50-52 AD, Paul spent 18 months in Corinth, with Silas and Timothy. Thereafter, he headed towards Ephesus, an important center for early Christianity since the 50s (AD). The next 2 years of Paul’s life were spent in Ephesus, working with the congregation and organizing missionary activity into hinterlands. However, he was forced to leave on account of several disturbances and imprisonment. Paul’s next destination was Macedonia, where he went before going to Corinth. After residing in Corinth for three months, he made a final visit to Jerusalem.
Arrest & Death
In AD 57, Paul arrived in Jerusalem with money for the congregation. Though reports state that the church welcomed Paul gladly, James had given a proposal that led to his arrest. Retained as a prisoner for two years, Paul had his case reopened when a new governor came into power. Since he appealed as a Roman citizen, Paul was sent to Rome for trial, by the Caesar. However, on the way, he was shipwrecked. It was during this time that he met St. Publius and the islanders, who showered kindness on him. When Paul reached Rome, in AD 60, he spent two years under house arrest, after which he died.
Thirteen epistles in the New Testament have been credited to Paul. Out of them, seven are considered to be absolutely genuine (Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon), three are doubtful and the rest three are believed not to have been written by him. It is believed that while Paul dictated his epistles, his secretary paraphrased the gist of his message.
Along with the other works, the epistles of Paul were circulated within the Christian community and read aloud in churches. Most of the critics are of the opinion that the epistles written by Paul are one of the earliest-written books of the New Testament. His letters, mostly addressed to the churches he had either founded or visited, contained explanation of what Christians should believe and how they should live. Paul’s works contain the first written account of what it means to be a Christian and thus, the Christian spirituality.
Paul and Jesus
Instead of describing Christ, Paul’s work concentrated on the nature of Christians’ relationship with Christ and, in particular, on Christ’s saving work (to give up His own life to safeguard others’ life). Some of the life incidents of Jesus Christ, mentioned by Paul, are the Last Supper, His death by crucifixion and His resurrection. St Paul had written three doctrines – Justification, Redemption and Reconciliation. Paul said that Christ took the punishment on behalf of sinners, so that they are relieved off their divine retribution. In the doctrine of ‘Justification’, faith is regarded as the most vital constituent.
Paul argued that holding on Christ, at the time of His death and resurrection, a person would become one with the Lord. However, in terms of the release of soul, a person will achieve that on the grounds of His sacrifice. ‘Redemption’ is themed on freeing of slaves. Just as a specific price was paid to relieve a slave from the ownership of another, in the same way, Christ paid the price of His death, as a ransom, to relieve the common man from his sins. ‘Reconciliation’ deals with the fact that Christ brought down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, created by law. The doctrine basically deals with the making of peace.
Though it was permissible, Paul, in his writings, condemned eating the meats that had been offered to pagan idols. He had also written against frequenting pagan temples as well as orgiastic feasting. In the writing, the Christian community has been compared to a human body with its different limbs and organs, while the spirit is regarded as the Spirit of Christ. Paul believed that God is our Father and we are fellow heirs of Christ.
Relationship with Judaism
Though not intended, Paul hastened the separation of the messianic sect of Christians from Judaism. His writing stated that faith in Christ was important in salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike, thus deepening the gap between the followers of Christ and mainstream Jews. Paul was of the opinion that Gentile converts need not become Jews, get circumcised, follow Jewish dietary restrictions or, otherwise, observe Jewish Law. He insisted that faith in Christ was sufficient for salvation and that the Torah did not bind Gentile Christians. However, in Rome, he emphasized on the positive value of the Law, to show God’s reliability.
Paul, through his writing, gave hope to everyone belonging to Christ, dead or alive, that they would be saved.
The World to Come
The letter written by Paul, to the Christians – at Thessalonica, explicitly expresses the end of the world. When asked, what would happen to those already dead and when the end would be, Paul replied the age as passing. He assured the men that the dead would rise first, followed by the living. Though unsure about the exact time or season, Paul stated that there would be a war between Jesus Christ and the man of lawlessness, followed by the victory of Jesus.
Influence on Christianity
St. Paul is said to have the greatest influence on Christianity. In fact, both Jesus and Paul seem to have equally contributed to Christianity. A significant author of the New Testament, Paul elevated the status of Christian church as the body of Christ and the world outside as under His judgment.
One of the earliest references to the Last Supper can be seen in Paul’s writings. Scholars believe that the Lord’s Supper had its origins in a pagan context. They say that the tradition of last supper probably originated in the Christian communities, founded in Asia Minor and Greece. During this time, dinners were organized to memorialize the dead.