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Who Was Saul (Paul)?

Saul was born in Tarsus around AD 1-5 in the southeastern corner of modern day Tersous, Turkey. He was of Benjamite lineage and Hebrew ancestry. His parents were Pharisees—fervent Jewish nationalists who adhered strictly to the Law of Moses—who sought to protect their children from “contamination” of the Gentiles. Anything Greek was despised in Saul’s household, yet he could speak Greek and passable Latin. His household spoke Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew, which was the official language of Judea. Saul’s family were Roman citizens but viewed Jerusalem as a sacred and holy city.

At age thirteen Saul was sent to Israel to learn from a rabbi named Gamaliel, under whom Saul mastered Jewish history, the Psalms, and the works of the prophets. His education would continue for five or six years, and then Saul went on to become a lawyer. All signs point to his becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of 71 men who ruled over Jewish life and religion. Saul was zealous for his faith, and was not one to compromise. Saul was present for the death of Stephen, and he held the garments of those who did the stoning (Acts 7:58). Saul became ruthless in his pursuit of Christians as he believed he was doing it in the name of God.

The pivotal passage in Paul’s story is Acts 9:1-22, which recounts Paul’s meeting with Jesus Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. On the road Saul was caught up in a bright light from heaven which caused him to fall face down on the ground. He heard the words, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” He says, “Who art Thou, Lord?” Jesus answers directly and clearly, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (vv. 4-5).

From this moment on, Saul’s life was turned upside down. He became known as Paul (Acts 13:9), spent time in Arabia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria, and his native Cilicia. Barnabas enlisted his help to teach those in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Paul took his first of three missionary journeys in the late 40’s AD. He also wrote many of the New Testament books, including Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.

The Apostle Paul spent his life proclaiming the risen Christ Jesus throughout the Roman world, often at great personal peril (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). It is assumed that Paul died a martyr’s death in the mid-to-late 60’s AD in Rome.

What can we learn from the life of the Apostle Paul? First, we learn that God can save anyone. The remarkable story of Paul repeats itself every day as sinful, broken people all over the world are transformed by God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Every person matters to God, from the “good, decent” average person to the “wicked, evil” criminal. Only God can save a soul from hell.

We also learn what God can do when we surrender completely to Him. Paul was fully “sold-out” for God. “The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul was in prison when he wrote these words, yet he was still praising God and sharing the good news. Through his hardships and suffering, Paul knew the outcome of a life well lived for Christ. He had surrendered his life fully, trusting God for everything. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Can we make the same claim?

—Adapted from GotQuestions.org