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In the New Testament, more of the Apostle Paul's writings were preserved than those of any other writer. He lived a tumultuous life that fills most of the book of Acts and much of the rest of the New Testament, and is described in I Corinthians 9:22 as being “all things to all men”. Paul spoke Aramaic, Hebrew and possibly Greek and Latin.
Before God called Paul, he was a zealous Pharisee, who persecuted Christians (Acts 26:10-11). His given name was Saul, but he later became better known by his Roman name, Paul, which means ‘little’. A secular and unflattering tradition describes him as bow-legged and short, but strongly built, with eyebrows that met over a large nose. The Bible, however, isn't clear about his physical appearance since God focuses more on the spiritual condition of His servants.
Enemies at Corinth sneered at Paul's bodily presence, which apparently contrasted to his powerfully written letters (2 Corinthians 10:10). He also probably suffered scars and other disfigurements from his many beatings (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul mentions his "thorn in the flesh," referring to an infirmity, but we are not told exactly what it is. He seems to refer to a vision problem in his letter to the Galatians: "For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me" (Galatians 4:15).
Paul grew up in the city of Tarsus, which was one of the great cities of the Roman empire.The Greek geographer Strabo commented that, when it came to philosophy and general education, Tarsus was more illustrious than either Athens or Alexandria. Paul also received instruction in the law from the renowned Jewish teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who demonstrated the capacity to rise above the bigotry of the Pharisees (Acts 5:34-39).
The fact that the Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen gave him certain advantages: "To the Roman his citizenship was his passport in distant lands, his talisman in seasons of difficulties and danger. It shielded him alike from the caprice of municipal law and the injustice of local magistrates" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1986, Vol. 3, "Paul, the Apostle," p. 2273). In Acts 22:25-28 we read how being born a Roman citizen saved Paul from a vicious flogging.
Paul’s zealous preaching of God’s Word caught the attention of government officials, especially when he was a prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 25-26). During that time he was restrained in bonds, with the Jews hoping to have him delivered for judgment to Jerusalem. Instead, God intervened and he met Felix, the governor, and later his successor, Festus, as well as King Agrippa and Queen Bernice.These rulers, were at least partially persuaded to consider the truth of God's Word through Paul's explanations of the Scriptures, with King Agrippa commenting, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian" (Acts 26:28).
God granted Paul visions and other revelations, including a vision of "the third heaven" and God's throne in "Paradise" (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) and he reported he had seen the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8). Paul also performed miracles (Acts 14:8-10; 16:18; 19:11-12 and 28:8-9), even raising a young man to life after he had died in a fall (Acts 20:9-12).
A major part of Paul's service to God included his calling as an Apostle to the gentiles (Romans 11:13; Ephesians 3:8). God specifically chose Paul because he had grown up in the knowledge and understanding of the gentiles' culture as well as his own. He wrote at least 13 epistles explaining many profound spiritual principles.
The conflict with Jewish religious and Roman civil authorities eventually brought Paul to Rome, where he wrote several of his epistles. He was first held under house arrest, but was free to receive visitors (Acts 28:16-31) and able to exercise considerable influence, resulting in some in the emperor's household becoming converted to Christianity through his teaching (Philippians 4:22). When he was later imprisoned again, his situation grew increasingly grim as Christians began to experience persecution throughout the empire and, eventually, he was sentenced to death.
At one point Paul thought Jesus would return in his lifetime (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), but later realized that would not happen. Yet he was confident God would resurrect him to eternal life, and his words to Timothy remain a great source of encouragement for Christians of all ages: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).
The Good News magazine (Nov-Dec 2000)