The Apostle from Tarsus
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 1 September 2015; Revised 14 August 2021
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for scholarly publications cited may be found at the end of the article. References to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737); online. References to tractates of the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); online. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Abstract: This article presents an overview of Paul's life from birth to death and his apostolic ministry.
Part 1. The Early Years
Part 2. Transformation and Transition
Part 3. Diaspora Journeys
Part 4. Arrest and Prosecution
Part 5. The Final Years
A comparison of Bible scholars will reveal considerable difference of opinion on dating the timeline of events in the apostolic era. The principal sources for developing a chronology are Luke's Acts of the Apostles, the apostolic letters and extra-biblical sources of first century historians, such as Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars), Tacitus (Annals of Imperial Rome) and Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews; Wars of the Jews). Unfortunately, there is a general lack of coordination between these sources.
Dates of governors and monarchs are sometimes in doubt. Hebrew practice meant that the reign of a king began in Nisan (March-April). However, in Judea, following Seleucid practice, a new regnal year started on Tishri 1 (Sept-Oct), as was customary for non-Israelite kings (Rosh Hashanah 3a; cf. Neh 1:1; 2:1). In addition, the Seleucid method of counting years did not include the accession year (Geldenhuys 134). Also, the king’s accession year was not included in counting the years of his reign.
There is also the indefinite nature of intervals between events. Even when a specific time period is given, does it include or exclude the named events? There are some named events for which dating is not absolutely conclusive.
· Resurrection of Yeshua & Pentecost, 30 or 33?
· Famine in Israel, 46?
· Expulsion of Jews from Rome under Claudius, 49–54?
· Arrival of Festus in Judea, 55 or 59?
· Martyrdom, 64/65 or 67/68?
My Assumptions for Dating
NOTE: These dates are not intended to be dogmatic.
· Birth of Yeshua, Tishri, 3 B.C.
· Birth of Saul, c. 5 A.D.
· Death of Yeshua and Pentecost, A.D. 30.
· Paul’s transformation and commission, 32.
· Paul's martyrdom, 68.
Part 1. The Early Years
The future apostle was born in Tarsus (Acts 9:11), the capital city of Cilicia, a province between Syria and Asia Minor (Acts 21:39; 22:3), located about 10 miles inland from the coast of present-day Turkey. See the map here. In the Roman period Tarsus competed with Athens and Alexandria as the learning center of the world. The city had a university and was greatly influenced by Stoic philosophical schools. According to a tradition recorded by Jerome, the parents of Saul came from Gischala in Judea (Chap. V), although modern scholars locate the town in Galilee. Saul was in no doubt as to his identity. He was an Israelite (Rom 11:1; 2Cor 11:22) and a "Hebrew from Hebrews" of the tribe of Benjamin (Php 3:5). Santala suggests Saul was born in the year 5 (31), as does Shapira (295). Support for this suggestion can be found in references to Paul's age (cf. Acts 7:58; Phm 1:9) and the fact that Saul became a voting member of the Temple ruling council (Acts 26:10).
On the eighth day after birth the observant Jewish father circumcised his son (Php 3:5). The eighth day was also the day of naming. The parents gave their boy the Hebrew name Sha'ul (lit. "asked for" or "prayed for"). Perhaps his mother had miscarried previously, so the birth of Saul was an answer to prayer. Saul later said that he was "set apart from his mother's womb" for a sacred life (Gal 1:15). Saul also bore the Greek name Paulos, from the Latin surname Paulus, meaning small or humble, which first occurs in Acts 13:9. Paul no doubt engages in a word play on this meaning of his name when he said, "I am the least of the apostles" (1Cor 15:9).
How Saul came to be called Paulus is not disclosed in the Besekh, although the context of Acts 22:28 may hint at the name assignment. Saul was born a Roman citizen. His father or grandfather had acquired the privilege of citizenship either by being freed from slavery or as a reward for service to the state. Polhill favors the former reason (16) and Bruce favors the latter reason (421), but the Besekh does not settle the matter. In any event newborn citizens were registered with their Roman or Greek name in the office of the provincial governor, which for Paul would have been in the public record office at Tarsus. Presumably a copy of the registration was furnished to the family.
Saul also had an extensive family and some of his relations are mentioned, such as a sister and nephew (Acts 23:16) and other blood kinsmen (Rom 16:7, 11, 21).
Education, A.D. 10−23
Jewish learning typically occurred in stages: "five years for Scripture, ten for Mishnah, thirteen for Commandments, fifteen for Talmud" (Avot 5:21). Saul's education likely followed this pattern. The Mishnah ("repetition"), i.e., "verbal teaching by repeated recitation" of sacred duties and traditional law that governed Jewish society was based on interpretations of Torah (Jastrow). Scholars often refer to the Mishnah as the Oral Torah. Mishnah texts may be found here.
The primary responsibility for the education of sons belonged to the father, so Saul's father was his first teacher. An important matter of education for boys was learning a skill or trade (Avot 2:2) and learning the trade of his father gave Saul the skills to later support himself (Acts 18:3). The family apparently had a leather factory or weaving mill, where they manufactured the famous "cilicium" textiles (Santala 24). This was made of the hair of goats bred on the Cilician plateau. Saul's father must also have taught his children to swim, since later Saul recounts that he "spent a night and a day in the open sea" (2Cor 11:25).
Saul's early education would have included classes at a synagogue school, beginning about age 6 (Ketubot 50a). Secondary education began at age 10. The teaching of philosophy, that is, Greek thought, was shunned. Studies focused on the Bible and the study of languages concentrated on Hebrew (Santala 25).
Having this basic learning Saul at the age of 13 years and one day became bar mitzvah, "son of the commandment" (Kiddushin 63b). He was then fully accountable as an adult to the penalties of sins prescribed by Torah. Most non-Jews think of Bar Mitzvah as a ceremony, but a Jewish boy automatically becomes bar mitzvah at 13. No ceremony is needed to assume this status. In fact, there is no record of a bar mitzvah as an occasion for publicly assuming religious and legal obligations before the 15th century. (See the article Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah at the Jewish Virtual Library.)
At some point after Saul's bar mitzvah his father saw to it that he was sent to Jerusalem for advanced education. The teaching of Talmud at age 15 was an important milestone. Advanced education fulfilled the dictum, "Appoint for yourself a teacher" (Avot 1:6). Not all Jewish boys had this privilege as it meant being admitted to the school of a scholar or notable Sage. The Hebrew word talmud ("teaching, learning, lesson, study," Jastrow) is used here in the special sense of study and discussion of the sayings and traditions of the Jewish sages (200 B.C. − A.D. 20), not the written Babylonian Talmud or the Jerusalem Talmud compiled in the 4th-5th cent. A.D. and studied by Jews today.
Important to understanding Talmudic education is that two prominent Pharisaic schools dominated Jewish learning, that of Hillel the Elder (c. 110 B.C.—A.D. 10), who had been President of the Sanhedrin when Saul was a child, and Shammai the Elder (50 B.C.—A.D. 30), who succeeded Hillel as head of the Sanhedrin. Hillel's followers and interpretations of Torah were known as the School or House of Hillel (Heb. Beth Hillel) and Shammai's were known as the School or House of Shammai (Heb. Beth Shammai). There were many disputes between the two groups and Shammai's viewpoint was generally much stricter than Hillel. For more discussion on the differences between the two important Jewish leaders see the articles at JewishHistory.org and JewishVirtualLibrary.org.
Saul had the extraordinary good fortune to receive his Talmudic training from Gamaliel the Elder (Acts 5:34; 22:3), the grandson of Hillel the Elder, a leader in the Sanhedrin and a preeminent scholar. The term of study would have lasted until age 18. Being accepted into Gamaliel's school implies being part of a very select group and Saul was proud of this association. Saul was apparently adept at learning languages and was fluent in Greek (Acts 21:37) and Hebrew (Acts 21:40) and spoke other languages as well (1Cor 14:18). It was probably through such schooling that Saul became a Pharisee (Acts 23:6).
Many scholars believe that Saul returned to Tarsus after his Talmudic training and was influenced by Hellenistic education to be found there. The Besekh provides no historical evidence for this thesis. The supposition is based on the fact that Saul occasionally quotes sayings from secular Greek sources. The sermon in Athens contains a reference to what "some of your poets" have said (Acts 17:28). The poets referenced are considered to be Aratus from Cilicia (315-245 BC) and Cleanthes of Assos (331-233 BC). They wrote that "we are the kin of the gods" (Santala 28). In the letter to Titus is a quotation commentators attribute to Epimenides (7th or 6th c. BC), who was from the island of Crete: "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12).
Also the Athenian writer Menander (343-291 B.C.), famed for his comedies, is credited with the statement "Bad company ruins good manners" (1Cor 15:33), which appears in his play "Thais." However, that saying is echoed in the proverbs of Solomon (Prov 18:24; 29:3). Paul cites no poet by name, and he may not have known the identity of the original sources. These rare instances of referring to proverbial sayings do not prove any formal Hellenistic education, but only what was common knowledge in the culture (Polhill 10).
In the first century several groups were prominent in the Land of Israel that exerted strong influence on the Jewish religious and political culture: the Essenes, Herodians, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots. Saul became and remained an ardent Pharisee. When he was on trial before the Jerusalem ruling council he said, "I am a Pharisee," not "I was a Pharisee" (Acts 23:6). In his testimony before King Agrippa he reminded the king the Pharisees were the strictest sect of Jewish religion (Acts 26:5). According to Luke's narrative and his own letters Saul was an observant Jew throughout his life, both of Torah prescribed customs (Acts 16:3; 18:18; 21:26; 1Cor 9:20) and the Torah calendar (Acts 13:14, 27, 42; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; 20:16; 1Cor 5:8; Col 2:16; Heb 10:24-25).
The Pharisees traced their roots to the Hasidim ("pious ones") organized in the time of Ezra, but are known as an organized group from the 2nd c. BC (Jeremias 247). The first mention of the group is in the books of Maccabees where they are described as "a company of Hasideans, mighty warriors of Israel, every one who offered himself willingly for the law" (1Macc 2:42; cf. 1Macc 7:13; 2Macc 14:6). Josephus estimated that there were at least six thousand Pharisees in the Land (Ant. XVII, 2:4). There were several Pharisee communities in Jerusalem in the time of Paul (Jeremias 252). Mansoor says the Pharisees "attempted to imbue the masses with a spirit of holiness, based on a scrupulous observance of the Torah, by spreading traditional religious teaching."
Pharisees especially resisted syncretism and regarded Greek ideas as abominations. Some Christian scholars have claimed that Saul manifested Hellenistic influence in his lifestyle and writings. However, Saul as a Pharisee could not have been a Hellenistic Jew or a "Greek of Greeks." In addition to their pietism, the Pharisees held doctrines that have much in common with later Christian theology, such as Messianism, monotheism, apocalypticism, life after death, resurrection of the dead, immortality, and angels. The doctrine of the resurrection and angels especially distinguished them from the Sadducees (Acts 23:8).
The Pharisees exerted considerable influence in Jewish culture. While the Sadducees had control of the Temple, the synagogue was the center of power for the Pharisees. Mansoor points out that with the Pharisee belief in an omnipresent God worship was not dependent on sacrifices alone and could take place in the synagogue as well as the Temple. They thus fostered the synagogue as a place of worship, study, and prayer, and raised it to a central and important place in the life of the Jewish people, rivaling the Temple. The importance of this institution helps explain why Saul's first place of proclaiming the good news upon arrival in any town was the synagogue.
Marriage, A.D. 23-30
From a Jewish perspective marriage has been God's normative pattern for men and women since Creation and therefore men were expected to find a wife. See my article Marriage in Ancient Israel. Talmudic literature gives the typical age of marriage for males as 18 (Avot 5:21), but marriage might also take place anywhere from 16-24 years of age (Kiddushin 29b-30a). Eusebius approvingly quoted Clement of Alexandria that Saul was married (Church History 3:30). Clement bases his claim on the mention of apostles having wives (1Cor 9:5), but the appeal to "remain even as I" (1Cor 7:8) seems against the idea. Most church fathers expressly deny that Saul was ever married.
However, it would have been reasonable for Saul to marry. He patently rejected the celibacy practiced by the Qumran community, an anomaly in all Judaism (cf. 1Tim 4:1-3). While Saul does not mention having a wife in his apostolic letters, his counsel regarding marriage (1Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5; Colossians 3; 1Tmothy 3 and Titus 1) indicates an intimate knowledge of the marital relationship. Thus, Saul likely took a wife and his later statements imply that he was widowed (Grk. agamos, 1Cor 7:8, 11, 34). Once called by Yeshua he chose to remain unmarried for the sake of ministry (1Cor 9:5, 15).
Persecutor, A.D. 30-32
Saul is first introduced in the context of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58). His presence in Jerusalem is not explained. After being widowed he likely traveled to Jerusalem for a pilgrim festival and decided to stay. The city at this time was full of expatriates because Caesar Tiberius had expelled Jews from Rome in A.D. 19 and they were not allowed to return until the year 31. In the city he found a synagogue of his countrymen. Pilgrims residing in the city were distributed into different sections by national origin (Jeremias 62). The Talmud says that, at the time of the destruction of the second temple, there were 394 synagogues in Jerusalem alone (Ket. 105a). The Talmud mentions specifically a synagogue of people from Cilicia in Jerusalem (Megilah 26a-b).
It may have been in the Cilician synagogue that Saul heard Stephen proclaim Yeshua (Acts 6:8-9). Saul may have even been one of the accusers that dragged Stephen before the Council (Acts 6:12). Saul's presence at the stoning of Stephen indicates that he had gained a formal position among the Judean and temple leaders since his return, no doubt due to the influence of his mentor Gamaliel. In his last defense speech Saul comments that he "cast a vote against" the Messianic believers (Acts 26:10). The verbal phrase does not mean simple concurrence with a vote, but membership in a group which makes decisions by voting. This group could be the Great Sanhedrin as Stern suggests (249), but considering his age and his work for the high priest, it more likely would be the Small Sanhedrin or the Temple ruling council.
Luke records that Saul then mounted an intense persecution against the followers of Yeshua in Jerusalem, dragging them from their homes and putting them in jail to await a summary trial for blasphemy and execution, in reality committing legal murder (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1). Of interest is that a record of the seventy apostles by Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre (ca. 255 – 362), says that 2,000 believers died in the persecution instigated by Saul. His zeal for traditional Judaism made him a formidable persecutor of Messianic Jews (cf. Acts 22:3; Gal 1:13–14; Php 3:6). Saul would later acknowledge his complicity in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 22:20) and describe himself as a "violent aggressor" (1Tim 1:13 NASB).
Of course, Saul could not have carried out his persecution alone. He would have needed assistance to physically drag people from their homes and imprison them. In Judean culture of the time the only police was the Roman military under the procurator and the Levitical Temple police under the Deputy High Priest. The Romans would not have cared about the internal religious conflict. Saul thus relied on Temple personnel to carry out his campaign of terror (cf. Acts 9:1-2; 26:13). However, he was personally responsible and was willing to take charge of the campaign, so the blame can be laid at his door.
Afterward he acted as an official agent of the high priest to take his persecution to Damascus in order to bring disciples back to Jerusalem for trial (Acts 9:1-2). Saul's initial rage against Messianic believers is sometimes contrasted with the equanimity of his teacher (cf. Acts 5:38-39; 9:1-2), so Gamaliel cannot be blamed for such hatred. It may well be that Saul's hostility owes more to the influence of the conservative School of Shammai and a zealous desire to punish those advocating the teaching of a supposed false prophet, much as the Torah prescribed for Israelites who committed this capital offense (cf. Deut 13:6-11). In Saul's mind there was no room for compromise or tolerance of what he viewed as heretical religion. When Saul initiated persecution against the disciples in Damascus he was acting as the High Priest's agent (Acts 9:1-2).
Encounter with Yeshua
Saul's encounter with Yeshua on the Damascus road was a watershed event. (See my commentary on Acts 9.) Hippolytus says this event occurred a year after Yeshua's ascension (On the Twelve Apostles, 13). Even though Saul apparently knew Yeshua or knew of him before his crucifixion (2Cor 5:16) there was no immediate recognition. His question "who are you" at the revelatory meeting may be explained by his blindness. Even Miriam of Magdala (John 20:15) and the disciples en route to Emmaus (Luke 24:16) did not recognize Yeshua after his resurrection. The companions of Saul took him into the city and found lodging for him at the home of one named Judas. Once settled in a house Saul decided to fast and pray, waiting on God. As a Pharisee Saul was accustomed to fasting twice a week as a personal discipline (cf. Luke 18:12). This time his fast lasted three days.
Sometime during that three days Yeshua appeared to Saul and informed him that a disciple named Ananias would shortly visit him. Yeshua then appeared to Ananias to convey the same information. Ananias had serious reservations about meeting with Saul, but he did as he was instructed. When Ananias went to the house he accomplished four tasks of welcoming Saul into the fellowship of believers, healing his blindness, informing him of Yeshua's call on his life and ordaining him to the office of apostle. Saul then immersed himself as evidence of his repentance and submission to the Lordship of Yeshua and then he was filled with the Spirit.
Christian interpreters typically characterize Saul's transformative experience as a conversion, as if he converted from one religion to another. In Luke's account of the incident (Acts 9:3-9) and later reports of that experience (Acts 22:6-11; 26:12-19; Gal 1:13-16; cf. 1Cor 7:20; 2Cor 4:1; 1Tim 1:12-16) the term "conversion" is never used to describe what happened that day. The consistent testimony of Saul was that he was shown mercy and then set apart to proclaim the Good News of the Messiah. Spiritual transformation followed by water and Spirit immersion set the stage for passionate devotion to the Messiah. Thereafter, he remained a Pharisee and a "Hebrew of Hebrews." His basic theology did not change.
The mission Yeshua had in mind for Saul would take him to the nations, including kings and all the biological descendants of Jacob wherever they might be living (Acts 9:15). It is noteworthy that Yeshua said "sons of Israel" and not "Jews." The sons of Israel were fractured into several groups: Essenes, Galilean Jews, Hellenistic Jews, Hellenized Jews, Herodians, Judean Jews, Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans and Zealots. The good news of Messiah was intended for all of them. This declaration hearkens back to Peter's statement in his Pentecost sermon: "Therefore, let all the house of Israel assuredly know that God has made him [Yeshua] both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:36).
Historic Christianity, employing a distorted interpretation of Acts 18:6; Acts 22:21 and Galatians 2:7-9, assumed Yeshua's mission for the new apostle was to be only for the benefit of Gentiles. Moreover, having abandoned the Jews Paul also rejected Judaism and the Law. Saul became the supposed author of replacement theology in spite of Saul statements to the contrary (Rom 9:1-5; 11:1-2). By inventing an antisemitic Paul the Church has done a grave disservice to the great apostle. See my web article Perspectives on Paul.
After Saul's transformation and ordination he immediately began to proclaim Yeshua as Messiah to the Jews in Damascus (Acts 9:20-22). He then traveled into the Nabataean Kingdom of Arabia where he continued His ministry in local synagogues (Gal 1:17). This period of ministry lasted "many days," about three years. Some speculate that Saul may have journeyed as far south as Mount Horeb as Elijah did (1Kgs 19:8). Afterwards he returned to Damascus for a brief time where he met with persecution (Acts 9:23-25; 2Cor 11:32). Unbelieving Orthodox Jewish leaders attempted to kill him, but disciples helped him escape the city. He then traveled to Jerusalem where he met with Peter and Jacob, the Lord's brother (Acts 9:26; Gal 1:18). After spending two weeks in Jerusalem he left for home in Cilicia (Gal 1:21).
Saul spent ten to twelve years in Cilicia. Saul never explained what he did in those intermediate years, but they must have at least been years of study and perhaps making contacts that would later benefit his evangelistic work. It was likely during this time (40/41) that Paul was "caught up to the third heaven" (2Cor 12:2), since it occurred fourteen years before he wrote the letter titled "2Corinthians." Then Barnabas traveled to Tarsus and recruited Saul to help him with the ministry in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). Saul spent about a year there assisting Barnabas in teaching new believers (Acts 11:26). While there Saul likely coined the label "Christian" (a translation of Heb. Meshichim, "Messianic") as befitting new disciples of Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. Afterwards Saul and Barnabas took a gift from the Antioch congregation to believers suffering in Judea from famine (Acts 11:28-29). This trip of mercy occurred fourteen years after his transformation (Gal 2:1).
Saul, along with Barnabas, was set apart for vocational ministry in a special ordination service in Antioch (Acts 13:1-2). Much of Paul's ministry is contained in Luke's narratives of three journeys, each of which began in Antioch (Acts 13—21). It is in this time that Luke began identifying Saul by his Roman name "Paul." Wherever he went he made disciples in accordance with the Great Commission, established congregations, equipped leaders, appointed elders (Acts 14:23) and provided pastoral care (Acts 15:41). During these years Paul also wrote several pastoral letters, including (in my opinion) the one titled "Hebrews." See my article The Correspondence of Paul. Paul's extensive itinerary and travels would fall in the same category as the world's great explorers. No one in the first century could be his equal. We might wonder how Paul withstood the rigors of such an active life.
In Acts 14:12 Paul was likened by residents of Lystra to the Greek god Hermes. Hermes was the messenger of the gods. In Greek lore Hermes was pictured as a young man with traveling headgear, winged sandals and a staff. He was the patron of all who traveled by road. Similarly, he protected young men and their sporting interests. (One can easily imagine that Paul's use of sports metaphors marked him as a sports fan.) Besides his envoy's task Hermes was worshipped as the patron of rhetoric (Santala 7-8). Paul was small of stature, but like Hermes his body was in a good physical condition, a necessity for the work Yeshua called him to do.
According to one calculation Paul's journeys accumulated at least 60,000 kilometers, which include traversing the huge mountains of Turkey. Only consider the litany of Paul's itinerate life as he compared himself to the other apostles:
"Are they the descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Messiah? I am more so—I speak like I’m out of my mind—in labors much more, in prisons much more, in beatings more brutal, near death often. 24 Five times from the Jewish leaders I received forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent in the open sea. 26 In my many journeys I have been in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the desert, dangers in the sea, dangers among false brothers, 27 in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Besides these other things, there is daily pressure on me of concern for all of Messiah’s communities." (2Cor 11:22-28)
Paul was a man gifted with a healthy constitution, strong muscles and a will of iron to complete his divine calling. Thanks to Paul's journeys the Great Commission succeeded in spectacular fashion.
A. First Diaspora
Summary (Acts 12:25 – 14:28)
After being commissioned in Antioch (Acts 13:2) Paul and Barnabas left together. The complete itinerary for the trip included Cyprus, Salamis, Paphos, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Lystra again, Iconium again, Pisidian Antioch again, then Attalia, finally returning to Syria. See the map of his route here. John Mark joined the team in Salamis, but then left at Perga. Highlights of the ministry trip include imposing blindness on a magician at Paphos (13:9ff), the Proconsul of Cyprus believing (13:12), Paul’s sermon to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch (13:16-41), proclamation of the good news to Gentiles (13:46), performing miracles at Iconium, (14:3), healing of a lame man in Lystra (14:9), being hailed as gods (14:12) and then recovering quickly from being stoned (14:19-20).
Luke's switch to using only Saul's Roman name during first journey apparently came about because he was known by that name (Acts 13:9). The fact of having a Roman name would later entitle Saul to exercise his legal rights as a Roman citizen. Saul uses only his Roman name in his letters, perhaps because it was more widely known in the Diaspora. Yet, when Saul looked in a mirror he did not see a Roman, but a Jew. Saul regarded himself as an Israelite (Rom 11:1; 2Cor 11:22) and a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Php 3:5). Saul was in no doubt as to his identity. When Saul recounts his transformation experience (not conversion) he repeats the fact that Yeshua addressed him with his Hebrew name (Acts 22:7; 26:14).
Discourse in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:17-41)
Paul's first recorded sermon, really in the form of a Jewish drash, was in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. He began his talk in a typical Jewish manner (as Stephen did in his testimony before the Sanhedrin) to recount the history of Israel from the patriarchs down to King David. He reviewed God’s mighty acts on behalf of His covenant people. Then Paul declared that God has fulfilled His promise by bringing the Davidic Savior, the one who had been announced by Yochanan the Immerser. Paul recounted the opposition Yeshua experienced from the nation's leaders, and their conspiracy to have him executed by the Roman governor. Yeshua died on a cross, but then God raised him from the dead and afterwards he appeared to his countrymen for many days.
Paul defined his message as "the good news of the promise made to the fathers" (verse 32). Through Yeshua the Savior, forgiveness of sins is now available. He then urged his Jewish audience to act on the message to avoid God's wrath as occurred during the time of Habakkuk. As a result many Jews and proselytes responded favorably. This sermon will be reviewed in more detail in Part 5 as a summary of Paul's theology.
Sermon in Lystra (Acts 14:14-18)
The brief sermon at Lystra occurred as a result of local people attempting to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods (verse 11-12). Paul responded with what could be described as "creation evangelism." That is, Paul made it clear that he was no god, but he came to proclaim good news from "the living God," a term that occurs in the Tanakh for the God of Israel in contrast with the deities of other nations that have no actual life (1Sam 17:26, 36; 2Kgs 19:4, 16; Ps 42:2; 84:2; Isa 37:4, 17; Jer 10:10; 23:36; Dan 6:20, 26; Hos 1:10). Not only is the true God "living," but He also made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. Moreover, the true God left a revelation of Himself by sending rain and fruitful seasons. Paul pointed out that the true God had extended grace to the nations but now requires their repentance.
Summary (Acts 15:36-18:22)
This journey began "some days" after the delivery of the apostolic letter to the congregation in Antioch. The itinerary of the trip included Cilicia, Derbe, Lystra, Phrygia, Galatia, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem and then back to Syria. See the map of his route here. Paul was accompanied initially by Silas, but joined in Lystra by Timothy and in Troas by Luke. The change in ministry partners occurred after engaging in a sharp disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark (15:36-41).
Highlights of the trip include circumcising Timothy (16:1-5), receiving the call to minister in Macedonia (16:6-10), gaining Lydia as the first disciple in Europe (16:14), casting out a spirit of divination in Philippi (16:16-18), being confined in the jail of Philippi, then having the prison doors opened by an earthquake and gaining the spiritual conversion of his jailer (16:25-26), preaching in Athens (17:16-34) and conducting a lengthy ministry in Corinth (18:1-17). During this period Paul likely wrote the two letters to the congregation in Thessalonica.
Sermon in Athens (Acts 17:22-31)
In one sense the sermon at Lystra was a practice that provided an outline for Paul's speech before Greek philosophers in Athens. The audience was thoroughly Gentile and pagan, so Paul needed a different approach. What he normally taught in the synagogues was not going to work. The Athenian philosophers would have regarded the Jewish historical narrative as irrelevant. So, Paul makes the same general points as in Lystra. God is the creator and sustainer (verse 24-25). God made from one man every nation and determined national borders (verse 26). This means there are not multiple races, but one race, the Adamic or human race. God has made Man with an inherent need for Him (27-28).
Thus, the true God is not an idol represented by a man-made image (verse 29). God is an omnipotent Creator who commands all to repent (verse 30), because He will judge the world through an appointed man, and this man He raised from the dead (verse 31). So, for Gentiles with no knowledge of Scripture or Judaism, the Good News is that the Creator has offered His love and grace. Nevertheless, the Creator is a God of judgment and a day of accountability is coming.
C. Third Diaspora
Summary (Acts 18:23-21:14)
The itinerary of the third trip included Phrygia, Galatia, Ephesus, Macedonia, Corinth, Troas, Assos, Mitylene, Samos, Miletus and finally Jerusalem. See the map of his route here. Paul was apparently accompanied with the same team as the previous journey. Highlights of the trip include conducting ministry in Ephesus for two years (19:1-10), performing a variety of extraordinary miracles, restoring Eutychus to life, (20:9-12) and being warned in Caesarea about arrest (21:1-14). During this period Paul likely wrote the two letters to the congregation in Corinth, the letter to the congregation in Rome and possibly the general treatise to Messianic Jews called "Hebrews."
Discourse in Ephesus (Acts 20:17-36)
Paul's final recorded sermon occurred as part of his farewell to the congregation in Ephesus toward the end of his third journey. The message was wide-ranging in subject matter. He began with a review of his apostolic ministry in Asia and acknowledged that his future was uncertain. He summarized the Good News as "testifying to both Jews and Hellenists of repentance toward God and trusting faithfulness toward Yeshua our Lord" (verse 21 mine). He declared that he had fully proclaimed the Kingdom of God. He also warned them of difficult days ahead, of the danger of false teachers who would pervert the way of truth. He closed with a reminder that he had worked to support himself as testimony that he coveted no one's wealth, but subtly remonstrating them for their failure to support him (cf. 1Cor 9:3-7; Gal 6:6; 2Tim 2:6).
Summary (Acts 21:30-28:31)
The fourth Diaspora journey was involuntary occurring after his arrest at the temple in Jerusalem (21:30-36). Highlights of this period include his defense speeches in Jerusalem (22:1-21; 23:1-9), the plot against his life (23:12-22) and then transfer to Caesarea (23:23-35). While at Caesarea Paul had have three separate hearings: (1) before Governor Felix (24:1-21), (2) before Governor Festus (25:1-12), and (3) before the Jewish King Agrippa (26:2-29). Paul spent two years there before being sent on to Rome (24:27). See the map of his route here.
Arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-21)
Paul's arrest came about after he attempted to squelch false rumors that he was teaching Jews to forsake Moses. On the advice of Jacob (aka "James"), head of the congregation in Jerusalem, and other leaders, Paul took four Jewish men who had apparently taken a Nazirite vow into the Temple to make the required offerings for the completion of their vow (Acts 21:26). Seven days later some Jews from Asia saw him at the Temple and laid hands on him. These adversaries repeated the lie about Paul's teaching and then alleged that Paul had brought unclean Hellenists into the Temple. A riot immediately followed, but Paul was arrested by a Roman patrol. After appealing to the Roman commander Paul was given permission to address the crowd. He spoke to them in Hebrew.
Paul's speech is essentially a personal testimony beginning first with a brief introduction as to his Jewish background, his birth and education. He recounted his commission from the High Priest to arrest Messianic disciples and then his transformational experience on the road to Damascus. He repeated the conversation he had with Yeshua, adding only that Yeshua introduced himself as "Yeshua of Nazareth." The story continued with Paul's encounter with Ananias and his commission to be an apostle for Yeshua. He also mentions having returned to Jerusalem and praying in the Temple where he experienced a vision. His closing remark includes an admission of his guilt in approving the stoning of Stephen and then his persecuting disciples of Yeshua.
Defense Before Felix (Acts 24:10-21)
After being transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea by Roman authorities Paul was subjected to a legal hearing before Felix (Grk. Phēlix) the procurator of Judea. The prosecuting attorney, Tertullus framed the charge against Paul in this manner: "We have found this man a pest. He is an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world and a ringleader of the sect of the Natzratim ["Nazarenes"]. He even tried to profane the Temple, but we arrested him" (Acts 24:5-6 CJB). Paul's defense against the indictment summarized what had happened in Jerusalem and rebutted the false charge of desecrating the Temple. He especially pointed out the lack of due process in that his accusers were not present, a violation of Roman jurisprudence.
Paul did agree with one aspect of the indictment and affirmed at the same time that he had not turned against Judaism, but was an observant Jew in every respect. He said,
"But this I confess to you, that according to the Way (which they call a sect), I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything written in the Torah and the Prophets. In God I have a hope—which these men also wait for—that there will surely be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience before both God and men. Now after several years, I came to bring tzedakah [gift of charity] to my country for the poor and to present offerings. As I was doing this, they found me in the Temple, having been purified—without any crowd or uproar." (Acts 24:14-18)
In conclusion Paul boiled down the issue to this: he was on trial because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead (24:21). Felix listened with interest to Paul's defense but failed to make any decision with regard to the case or with regard to the personal implications of Paul's message. Rather he hoped Paul would pay him a bribe to be released (Acts 24:26). Contemporary historians Tacitus (Hist. 5:9) and Josephus (Ant. XX, 8:5-9) paint Felix as a brutal, incompetent politician who was finally replaced two years later by Festus. Paul's speech to Felix is important because it demonstrates that he was a Jew who believed and obeyed the Torah.
Defense Before Festus (Acts 25:6-12)
Within a short time after Festus assumed power he held a hearing of Paul's case. Jewish authorities from Jerusalem came and brought various charges for which they had no proof. Paul insisted that he had committed no offense against the Torah or the Temple. He refused to be tried by the Sanhedrin, but asserted his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar. Festus granted him his request.
Defense Before King Agrippa II (Acts 25:23-26:32)
In the providence of God, Agrippa II, Jewish tetrarch over the territory formerly under Herod Philip, just happened to arrive in Caesarea. Festus shared with him the story of Paul's trial and Agrippa asked for the privilege of hearing Paul himself. Paul was delighted with this opportunity because he could speak as one Jew to another. As with his defense speech at the Temple Paul began by recounting his personal background. In the course of his speech Paul makes several important points that affirm his Jewish beliefs.
Paul affirms that he is well known to the authorities in Jerusalem and they knew that he had lived according to "the strictest sect of our religion" (26:5), that of a Pharisee. Paul mentions the existence of the twelve tribes, a simple rebuttal to the false teaching that ten tribes were lost after the exile (26:7). Paul then repeats his Damascus Road experience, repeating substantially as he had testified before (26:12-18). He makes a point of saying that Yeshua addressed him in Hebrew and called him by his Hebrew name, Saul.
Paul again affirmed his loyalty to the Scriptures, saying "I am saying nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to happen—that the Messiah was to suffer and that, being first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the nations." (26:22-23). King Agrippa concluded that Paul had done nothing deserving of death to which Festus agreed. Unfortunately, Paul's appeal to Caesar took precedence, so Paul was sent off to Rome.
Transfer to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:10)
Paul, chained to a Roman centurion and accompanied by his close friends, set sail on an Alexandrian ship for Rome. The sea voyage encountered a lengthy and severe storm in which the ship finally foundered on the island of Malta. By divine miracle all 276 passengers survived. The natives of the island provided hospitality and after three months Paul's party set sail once more and after about two weeks they finally arrived in Rome where they were greeted by man fellow disciples. Paul was allowed to stay in a private home and met with Jewish leaders. He did his best to persuade his Jewish audience from the Torah and the Prophets that Yeshua is the Messiah and that the Kingdom of God had been inaugurated in him. Some were persuaded, but others were not. Paul left the unbelieving with a parting shot from Isaiah 6:9-10, warning them of spiritual consequences. He also let them know that the Good News of salvation had been sent to Gentiles who were receptive.
Arrival in Rome (Acts 28:11-31)
Luke's last statement is that Paul remained in his own quarters ("house arrest") for two years and continued to preach the Kingdom of God. According to Santala the words "two years" (Grk. dietia) are actually a legal expression that charges generally lapsed if the case was postponed due to the absence of the prosecutor beyond that deadline (114). So, the charges against Paul lapsed automatically after two years.
During this period Paul wrote the letters to the congregations in Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, and the personal letter to Philemon.
Release and Ministry: A.D. 62−64
Between the end of Luke's history and his martyrdom (two to four years later) Paul ministered in various places. Clement of Rome in his Letter to the Corinthians, written about A.D. 95, reports that Paul had proclaimed the good news "in the east and in the west" and come "finally to the limit of the west" before being martyred (Chap. 5). It's very likely that he did accomplish his desire to go to Spain (Rom 15:24, 28) and he apparently spent some time in Crete (Titus 1:5), Macedonia (1Tim 1:3), and in Nicopolis on the west coast of Greece (Titus 3:12). During this period Paul likely wrote the first letter to Timothy, the letter to Titus, and possibly the general treatise to Messianic Jews called "Hebrews." See the proposed map of his ministry here.
Arrest and Martyrdom: A.D. 65−68 A.D.
After a few years of travel Paul returned to Rome and while there was arrested, perhaps during Nero's pogrom of 64/65. However, being a citizen Paul was entitled to a formal hearing process, which could be lengthy given his previous experience of waiting two years for disposition of his case (Acts 28:30). During this incarceration he wrote his last letter to Timothy (2Tim 4:6). Clement of Rome, while not specifying the year of Paul's martyrdom, says that he "suffered martyrdom under the prefects." Eusebius records this in regards to Paul's death: "It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day" (Church History, II, 25:5-8, written in 323–325 AD).
Clement does not mention Nero by name, but substitutes the "prefects," which probably alludes to legal jurisdictions that handled Paul's case. "Prefect" is term used in both military and civil administration for one with magisterial authority. Pontius Pilate was a Prefect. Eusebius says only that Paul was martyred in Rome without mentioning the year. Eusebius goes on to mention that Dionysius (d. 171), bishop of Corinth, wrote in a letter to Rome that Paul and Peter were martyred at the same time, some say on the same day. However, the Greek phrase kata ton auton kairon could be translated as "according to his time." If Dionysius had meant "same day" he would have used hēmera, which means "day," instead of kairos, which means a definite or approximate period of time in which an event occurs. In other words the time of their martyrdom was different according to the providence of God.
Thus, the intention of Dionysius was misinterpreted by later writers and the tradition of Peter and Paul being martyred in the same year (67 or 68) arose. In Lives of Illustrious Men, written well over a century later than Eusebius (in AD 492), Jerome says that Paul was put to death in the fourteenth year of Nero on the same day as Peter (Chap. V), or 67/68. Nero began his reign in AD 54.
Ant.: Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 A.D.), Antiquities of the Jews. Online.
Bruce: F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts. Rev. ed. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1988. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.
Edmundson: Charles Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century. Longmans, Green and Co., 1913. Online.
Geldenhuys: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951. (New International Commentary on the New Testament).
Jastrow: Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud and Midrashic Literature. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1903, 1926. Online.
Jeremias: Joichim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.
Jerome: Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, "Jerome of Stridon" (342-420), Lives of Illustrious Men. Online.
Mansoor: Menahem Mansoor, "Pharisees," Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd ed. Vol. 16. Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. pp. 30-32. Accessed 20 May 2015. Online.
MW: Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011.
Polhill: John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters. B & H Academic, 1999.
Santala: Risto Santala, Paul: The Man and the Teacher in the Light of Jewish Sources. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1995. Online.
Shapira: Rabbi Itzhak Shapira, The Return of the Kosher Pig: The Divine Messiah in Jewish Thought. Lederer Books, 2013.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Wars: Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 A.D.), Wars of the Jews. Online.
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