Paul of Tarsus

Paul of Tarsus

Paul was born in between 5 BC and 5 AD. He was a Roman citizen but came from a devout Jewish family. It would seem that his family once gave some service to the empire which was rewarded by citizenship. He came from Tarsus, in Cilicia, one of the largest trade centers on the Mediterranean coast and it appears the family were successful merchants and was born into the social elite of the city. (1) One source claims that Paul's family was in the tent-making profession. (2)

Paul was proud of his impeccable Jewish ancestry: "Circumcised on the eighth day, Israelite by race, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born and bred; in my practice of the law a Pharisee, in zeal for religion a persecutor of the church, by the law's standard of righteousness without fault." (3) It is also suggested that the family had a history of religious piety. (4)

In the first century BC, Pharisees "functioned as a pressure group, aggressively, aggressively promoting ioudaismos (Jewish faith) and punishing dissenters... in order to hold Jewish society together under the strain of Roman occupation." (5) Paul made it clear that he had been a particularly zealous Pharisse: "In the practice of ioudaismos, I outstripped most of my Jewish contemporaries by my boundless devotion to the traditions of my ancestors." (6)

Tarsus was one of the Greek cities in the empire which the Romans allowed to be self-governing. It was also a university town and an important centre of the Stoic philosophy. "Paul spoke and wrote in Greek. He knew Hebrew, as any devout Jew would, but he seems to have read the Old Testament in its Greek translation.... Paul was all his life a proud supporter of the Roman Empire." (7)

Early on in his life he was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel, one of the most noted rabbis in history. (8) Paul was furious when he discovered that Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah. (9) How could a convicted criminal possibly restore the dignity and liberty of Israel? As he pointed out the death of Jesus suggested he was not the Messiah: "If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and you hang him on a gibbett, his body must not remain on the tree overnight; you must bury him the same day, for the one who has been hanged is accursed of God, you must not defile the land that Yahweh your God has given you." (10)

Karen Armstrong believes that Paul was a "Pharisaic leader who may have instructed diaspora Jews residing in Jerusalem to resist assimilation to the Greco-Roman ethos and avoid any anti-Roman activity that might lead to military reprisals... It was in this spirit that Paul would persecute the communities of Jesus's followers." This brought him into conflict with the "revered Pharisee Gamaliel, whose views were more liberal than Paul's, is said to have advised the Sanhedrin to leave the Jesus movement alone." (11)

On the death of Jesus, one of his followers, Stephen, said that he was now standing by the side of God. Paul was in the crowd and he watched the crowd throw stones at Stephen, who prayed that the Lord would receive his spirit and his killers be forgiven, sank to his knees, and died. (12) Paul approved of the killing and began to arrest the followers of Jesus. "He entered house after house, seizing men and women and sending them to prison." (13) Paul later commented on "how savagely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it." (14)

The followers of Jesus were eliminated from Jerusalem. Those who survived made their way "to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, bringing the message of Jesus to Jews only, and to no others." (15) Luke tells us that Paul, still "breathing murderous threats against the Lord's disciples" applied to the high priest for permission to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. (16)

On the Road to Damascus

Paul was sent to Damascus in Syria to deal with the followers of Jesus in that city. Luke says that just before Paul reached the city he was thrown from his horse and blinded by a light from the sky. He heard a voice asking "why are you persecuting me?" When Paul asked who the speaker was, the voice replied, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" and instructed him to await further directions in Damascus. He was blinded for three days and had to be led into Damascus by the hand. (17)

Caravaggio, Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601)
Caravaggio, Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601)

Later he would try to explain the dilemma of the die-hard fanatic he had once been: "The good which I want to do, I fail to do, but what I do is the wrong which is against my will!" (18) Paul had been doing his best to hasten the coming of the Messiah; that was the "good" that he was trying to do, but on the way to Damascus, in "an overwhelming moment of truth, he realized that Jesus's followers were absolutely right and that the persecution of their community had actually impeded the arrival of the Messianic Age." (19)

Luke explained that Paul did not actually see Jesus as he was blinded by the light and only heard his voice. Luke did not regard Paul as a witness to the resurrection in the same way as the Twelve Apostles. However for Paul, the most important thing about his experience was that he actually did see the Lord and that Jesus appeared to him in exactly the same way as he had appeared to the Twelve. "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?" (20)

This was not a conversion in the usual sense, since Paul was not changing his religion. He would regard himself as a Jew for the rest of his life and he understood the Damascus revelation in entirely Jewish terms. (21) In Luke's account Jesus appeared to his disciples for a limited period of forty days, after which his body ascended to Heaven. So Luke believed that Paul's vision, which happened after the ascension, was "essentially distinct from the Easter visions of the Twelve." (22)

Paul accepted that he was different from the Twelve Apostles: "I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God I hardly deserve the name of apostle, but by God's grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless. On the contrary, I, or rather the grace of God that is in me, I have worked harder than any of the others." (23)

Paul's First Mission

Paul was keen to start his missionary work straight away. The followers of Jesus believed he would return in glory in their lifetime to establish the kingdom of God in Jerusalem. "Paul's theology cannot be understood correctly without taking this into account... Paul believed that he had a mission to preach the gospel to the 'ends of the earth' and then, once everybody had had a chance of salvation, Christ would return, having waited only for the completion of Paul's work. Paul, believing that he would see the parousia (the Second Coming) in his own lifetime, naturally wished to start his mission immediately." (24)

Paul decided not to return to Jerusalem as he was anxious to emphasize his independence of the Twelve Apostles and the Jerusalem community. He always insisted that he had been appointed to his mission by Christ himself and had no need of endorsement by the Jerusalem leaders. "So he set off immediately to the gentile world to fulfill his mission." (25) "Without consulting a single person, without going up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, I went off to Arabia." It was to be three years before Paul made any attempt to contact the Judaean church. (26)

Over the next few years Paul toured the Roman Empire as a missionary. In about 33 AD, Paul traveled to the Kingdom of Nabataea in what is now Jordan and north-western Saudi Arabia, and was Judea's most powerful neighbour. It had acquired great wealth by carefully controlling the trade routes from southern Arabia and the Persian Gulf that conveyed such luxury goods as spices, gold and pearls. It had a significant Jewish population and Paul probably preached in some of the synagogues in the larger towns. It is claimed he made his living from being a leatherworker. (27)

Bartolomeo Montagna, Saint Paul (c. 1500)
Bartolomeo Montagna, Saint Paul (c. 1500)

It was important to Paul that he took up a menial occupation. "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." (28) Paul said that he and his fellow workers were often "overworked and sleepless, and went "hungry, thirsty, and in rags." They wore themselves out "by earning a living by our own hands" and that they were "treated as the scum of the earth, as the dregs of humanity." (29)

Despite his commitment to living in poverty, it has been pointed out Paul's life was very different to that of Jesus. "Although his daring certainly arose from his searing sense of conviction, it cannot be overlooked that underlying it was the reality that, whether he chose to use them or not, on some level Paul always knew that he had access to the rights that Roman citizenship afforded him - rights that Jesus had his disciples never had. For Jesus was not a Roman citizen, not even a second-class citizen. He was a colonized subject of the Roman Empire who was kept in line by sword and spear. Like his fellow Jews, he had no rights under Rome's occupation of his homeland, and no legal standing." (30)

In 40 AD Paul traveled to Antioch, the third-largest city in the eastern empire. The city had no separate Jewish quarter, so the Jewish congregations were scattered throughout the city. "Antiochenes were curious about religion; many had been drawn to Judaism, and when they visited the household congregations of the Messiah's people, many of them felt at home... So they would have thoroughly enjoyed the noisy, enthusiastic meetings of the Jesus believers, who, under the inspiration of the Spirit, were moved to glossolalia (speaking in tongues), visions, ecstasies, and inspired prophetic utterance." (31)

Paul also baptized non-Jews in large numbers without insisting that they be circumcised. This was controversial as circumcision was an important ritual for the Jews. In the Old Testament it said: "God said to Abraham, 'You on your part shall maintain my Covenant yourself and your descendants after you, generation after generation. Now this is my Covenant which you are to maintain between myself and you, and your descendants after you: all your males must be circumcised. You shall circumcise your foreskin, and this shall be the sign of the Covenant between myself and you. When you are eight days old all your male children must be circumcised, generation after generation of them, no matter whether they be born within the household or bought from a foreigner not one of your descendants... The uncircumcised male, whose foreskin has not been circumcised, such a man shall be cut off from his people: he has violated my Covenant." (32)

Circumcision had been means to salvation before the death of Jesus, but there was no longer any need for it. The Law had been superseded by the redemption brought about by Jesus. "The Law was to be our guardian until Christ came and we could be justified by faith. Now that time has come we are no longer under that guardian, and you are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourself in Christ and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male and female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus." (33)

Paul continued to argue that the Jews were the chosen people, but through them salvation has come from the rest of the world. Their rejection of the teachings of Jesus enabled God to turn to the gentiles: "The Jews are the enemies of God only with regard to the Good News, and enemies only for your sake; but as the Chosen People, they are still loved by God for the sake of their ancestors. God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice." (34)

According to Luke, Antioch was the place where the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians". (35) This is why Anthony Grayling, the author of Ideas that Matter (2009) claims that "Christianity is the name of the religion invented by Paul of Tarsus." (36) "Christians" was "probably a derisive nickname, as the pagans heard them preaching constantly about the Christ and using his name again and again". (37)

Emperor Caligula was popular in Antioch after he had funded the reconstruction of the city after it had been devastated by an earthquake. In 40 AD he announced to the Senate that he planned to leave Rome permanently and to move to Alexandria in Egypt, where he hoped to be worshiped as a living god. Such a move would have left both the Senate and the Praetorian Guard powerless to stop Caligula's repression and debauchery. The following year he was assassinated by officers within the Praetorian Guard. (38)

The Jews in Antioch rose up in revolt on the news of Caligula's assassination. Emperor Claudius suppressed these uprisings but reaffirmed the Jews' traditional rights and peace was restored. To help with this process Claudius gave his support to Herod Agrippa, who had been brought up in the imperial household in Rome. He was declared to be the new Messiah, and was accepted as the king of the Greater Judea, and became Rome's most important client in the region. King Herod Agrippa now began a campaign of persecuting Christians. (39)

Council of Jerusalem

Peter was considered to be the leader of the early Christians. John Vidmar, the author of The Catholic Church Through the Ages (2014) has argued: "Catholic scholars agree that Peter had an authority that superseded that of the other apostles. Peter is their spokesman at several events, he conducts the election of Matthias, his opinion in the debate over converting Gentiles was crucial, etc." (40)

Peter and Paul had a meeting in Antioch in about 50 AD. The two men took their meals with gentile believers. Peter then decided this was wrong and he and his followers left the table. Paul was the the only Jewish member of the "Antioch community to remain sitting at the same table as his gentile brothers and sisters.... It was perhaps the most painful rupture of his life, and may explain why he found it so hard to speak in later years of his time in Antioch. In the presence of the entire community, Paul angrily denounced Peter's defection." (41)

Paul believed passionately that gentiles must be allowed to become Christians. He reminded his followers that God had commanded Isaiah: "Let no foreigner who has attached himself to Yahweh say: 'Yahweh will surely exclude me from his people'... These I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (42)

Paul came under attack from Jewish followers of Jesus who accused him of instructing diaspora Jews "to break away from Moses, authorizing them not to circumcise their children or to follow our way of life". (43) His supporters claim this was untrue and gave the example of Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman and a Greek man, who was converted to Christianity. Luke tells us that Paul circumcised him before they began their journey "out of consideration for the Jews who lived in those parts." (44)

However, other converts did not have to be circumcised. It has been pointed out that if Paul had not taken this stand, Christianity would have dwindled to an insignificant Jewish sect, since very few gentiles would have been willing to undergo the dangerous operation of circumcision. Paul argued that circumcision was not necessary for salvation since "there are righteous men among the gentiles who have a share in the world to come." (45)

It has also been claimed by Bertrand Russell that at this point the attitude of Christians to contemporary Jews became hostile. "The received view was that God had spoken to the patriarchs and prophets, who were holy men, and had foretold the coming of Christ; but when Christ came, the Jews failed to recognize Him, and were thenceforth to be accounted wicked... As soon as the State became Christian, anti-Semitism, in its medieval form, began, nominally as a manifestation of Christian zeal." (46)

Second Mission

Barnabas, Paul's companion on his first missionary journey, had sided with Peter and James, refusing to work any longer with him. His new companions were Silas, the half-Jewish Timothy and the uncircumcised Greek, Titus. They set off to revisit the churches he had established in Asia Minor and on the island of Cyprus. It is claimed that this journey involved traveling over 1,000 miles. (47) Paul highlighted the hardship of these journeys: "We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of hardship or distress... when we are labouring, sleepless, starving." (48)

Paul now traveled into areas where Jews rarely went. Sometimes his reception was extremely hostile but at other times he was treated with kindness. In Galatia he was taken ill: "It was bodily illness, as you will remember, that originally led to my bringing you the gospel, and you resisted any temptation to show scorn or disgust at my physical condition; on the contrary, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as you might have welcomed Christ Jesus himself." (49)

One of his most important converts to Christianity was Sergius Paulus, the Roman Proconsul of Cyprus. "They (Paul and his followers) traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Paul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Paul... filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, '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? 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. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord." (50)

Paul and the New Testament

It was during this period Paul wrote his letters that outlined his views on Christianity. Thirteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament have traditionally been attributed to Paul. (51) Karen Armstrong, argued in her book, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) that Paul's letters had damaged "Christianity and ruined the original, loving teaching of Jesus. Paul is an apostle whom many love to hate: he has castigated as a misogynist, a supporter of slavery, a virulent authoritarian, and bitterly hostile to Jews and Judaism." (52)

It has been suggested that "Paul transformed Jesus' concern for collective social, economic, and political deliverance for his entire people into an obsession with the personal piety of individuals. Paul seems to have no room in his faith for thoughts of earthly freedom; it is heaven that holds his complete attention. For that reason, Jesus's central proclamation of the kingdom of God, which promises justice and deliverance on earth as in heaven, is all but nonexistent in Paul's writings." (53) When on the rare occasion he does refer to it, he reduces it to a matter of personal piety, where he warns that "neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts... will inherit the kingdom of God." (54)

Paul has been especially criticised for his views on women. "I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (55)

Paul argued in favour of celibacy: "For Paul, marriage is not an expression of love so much as a means of legalising the sexual appetite for those unfortunate Christians who are not able to manage without it. It would be better to be like Paul himself, he maintains, celibate and waiting and straining for the parousia (Second Coming). Later Christians would outlaw marriage altogether." (56) It is also suggested that any serious Christian would leave his wife to follow Christ. (57) Paul commented that if men "cannot control their sexual urges, they should get married since it is better to be married than to be tortured." (58)

This point is reinforced in his Epistle to the Ephesians: "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church - or we are members of his body." (59)

In the Epistle to the Corinthians he argues that women should be treated differently to men: "But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man." (60)

Stephen J. Patterson, of Willamette University, believes that this passage has been misinterpreted. He suggests Paul is not telling women to wear an Islamic-style hijab, but is concerned about male and female hairstyles. At that time men were growing their hair, while women were wearing theirs loose, instead of tying it back in a bun or donning the headdress prescribed for respectable women. Consequently all members of the congregation were sporting long, flowing locks, and it was impossible to distinguish males from females. (61)

In the First Epistle to the Corinthians Paul suggests that women should also be silent in meetings: "As in all congregations of God's people, women should keep silent at the meeting. They have no permission to talk, but should keep their place as the law directs. If there is something they want to know, they can ask their husbands at home. It is a shocking thing for a woman to talk at the meeting." (62)

Paul considered women as second-class citizens: "What I want you to understand is that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ. For a man to pray or prophesy with his head covered is a sign of disrespect to his head. For a woman, however, it is a sign of disrespect to her head if she prays or prophesies unveiled; she might as well have her hair shaved off. In fact a woman who will not wear a veil ought to have her hair cut off. If a woman is ashamed to have her hair cut off or shaved, she ought to wear a veil." (63)

Paul's views on slavery also have caused problems in modern times: "All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves." (64)

Paul clearly portrays sexual promiscuity as sinful. "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (65) In the Epistle to the Romans he pointed out: "God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." (66)

Paul was especially concerned about the sexual behaviour of people living in Corinth which had a reputation for men and women having sex without getting married. Paul was adamant that "a wife must not separate herself from her husband - if she does, she must either remain unmarried or be reunited with her husband - and her husband must not divorce his wife." (67)

This view has resulted in feminist theologians have castigated Paul for forbidding women to liberate themselves from a life of male dominance and childbearing. However, it has been argued that there is evidence in Paul's writings that he advocated equal rights for men and women in marriage. "The husband must give the wife what is due to her and equally the wife must give the husband his due. The wife cannot claim her body as her own; it is her husband's. Equally the husband cannot claim his body as his own; it is his wife's." (68)

The people of Corinth questioned Paul's right to question their values. He warned them not to try and impress him with their "clever arguments" or "boasting" of one's spiritual attainments. "Make no mistake about this: if there is anyone among you who fancies himself wise - wise, I mean, by the standards of this age - he must become a fool if he is to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly in God's sight." (69)

This has also been the view of some modern theologians: "As a woman, I do not like Paul for saying that a woman should keep a seemly silence at meetings because she is inferior to man. I worry about Paul's dislike of the body and his denigration of sexual love. I can see in his proud boasting about his sufferings the beginnings of Christian masochism and the search for suffering for suffering's sake. Sometimes he writes movingly about the Jews; at other times he seems anti-semitic. In his fierce insistence on the supremacy of his own gospel I can see the beginnings of Christian authoritarianism and intolerance. It appears wrong that he supports institutions like slavery and shows no interest in social change. On the contrary, his admiration for the Roman Empire and the governing authorities seems to mark the beginning of that involvement with the secular arm which has distracted Christianity away from her true spiritual interests." (70)

Some modern scholars have argued that only seven of these letters are genuine: Thessalonians (1), Galatians, Corinthians (I & 2), Philippians, Philemon, and Romans. The rest, Colossians, Ephesians, Thessalonians (2), Timothy (1 & 2), and Titus - were written in his name after his death, some as late as the second century. "These were not forgeries in our sense; it was common in the ancient world to write under the pseudonym of an admired sage or philosopher. These posthumous epistles tried to rein Paul in and make his radical teachings more acceptable to the Greco-Roman world. It was these later writers who insisted that women be subservient to their husbands and that slaves must obey their masters." (71)

Persecution of Christians

In 54 AD Paul returned to Corinth. He received a hostile reception and had to appear before a tribunal to face charges of financial fraud. "You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, 'His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.' Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present." (72)

Paul told them how he had been punished for his faith: "Five times the Jews have given me the thirty-nine stripes; three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I have been shipwrecked... I have met with danger from robbers, dangers from my fellow-countrymen, dangers in the town, dangers at sea... I have toiled and drudged and often gone without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have suffered from cold and exposure." (73)

In October 54 AD, Emperor Claudius was poisoned by his wife, Agrippina the Younger and was succeeded by Nero, his adopted seventeen-year-old son. This was followed by uprisings in Judea and Nero ordered the persecution of Christians. Paul was arrested and imprisoned in Ephesus. He feared he would be executed: "The burden of it was far too heavy for us to bear, so heavy that we even despaired of life." (74)

Paul was released in 55 AD. He traveled to Macedonia but found that a dispute taking place, "fights without and fears within". (75) The old issue of circumcision had surfaced yet again and that some of his followers were seriously considering full conversion to Judaism. He wrote a letter urging strongly that his followers should pay no heed to those who tried to force circumcision on them. (76)

Epistle to the Romans

Paul spent the winter of 55-56 in Greece. During this time he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. It is regarded as his masterpiece and the definitive summation of his theology. He explained he was the envoy of Jesus with a universal mission: "This gospel God announced beforehand in sacred scriptures through his prophets. It is about his Son; on the human level he was a descendant of David, but on the level of the spirit - the Holy Spirit - he was proclaimed Son of God by an act of power that raised him from the dead; it is about Jesus the Messsiah, our Lord. Through him I received the privilege of an apostolic commission to bring people of all nations to faith and obedience in his name." (77)

Paul spoke of the apostolic commission bringing "people of all nations to pistis". The term appeared frequently on coins and inscriptions. When this word was applied to people, pistis, it meant the loyalty that subjects owed to the emperor. His "gospel" announced "the saving power of God for everyone who has faith... because in it, the justice of God is seen at work, beginning in faith and ending in faith." (78)

Philippe de Champaigne, Saint Paul (c. 1650)
Philippe de Champaigne, Saint Paul (c. 1650)

Paul then embarked on a scathing condemnation of the Romans: "They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (79) This assault has been interpreted as a standard Jewish denunciation of the evils of the gentile world. However, a large number of non-Jewish writers and politicians agreed that Roman civilization was in moral decline. (80)

Paul finished by supporting those in authority: "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (81)

This is in stark contrast to Jesus view on tax collectors. It is also one of the things that divides him most strongly from the Judaean Jews, who for the most part were hostile to the Roman Empire. "Paul's respect for the empire made him urge not merely cooperation but positive support... He wanted to use the empire to further the gospel; thus the conversion of Sergius Paulus, a figure of the Roman establishment and Paul's first important Roman convert, would have been most significant for him. But it is also true that the conversion may well mark the first moment of Christianity's ultimate corruption, as Paul's mystical faith seeks entanglement with a political ruling class." (82)

Paul's defenders have pointed out that when Jesus was asked: "Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not. Should we pay or shouldn't we?" Jesus replied: "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." (83) Mark Dever, the author of God and Politics (2016), attempts to explain the point that Jesus is making: "As Christians, we believe that government is one of a number of enterprises that we can be involved in, that are not specifically Christian, but are good and even mediate the blessing of God to us... The Bible supports the implication of Jesus' exhortation here to pay for even non-Christian governments, because by the nature of what they do, governments are made to be good, to reflect God's own authority." (84)

Paul's views on wealth were very different to those of Jesus. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth”. (85) Jesus told people: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Jesus suggested that those who kept their wealth for themselves would be punished: "Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (86) However, supporters of Paul argue that "Jesus wasn't a revolutionary fundamentally against Rome. He was a much more radical revolutionary, leading a revolt against the dominion of sin and death. That was the revolution he was starting." (87)

Obery M. Hendricks, the author of The Politics of Jesus (2006) disagrees with this assessment. "A major reason for the lack of popular awareness of Jesus' political radically can be traced to the apostle Paul. He makes the point that as a Roman citizen "he was exempt from the economic pressures that weighed upon the people of Israel" and that he "did not grow up with the insecurity and fear that permeated the rural peasant culture in which Jesus spent his life." As a result "Paul's view of the political realities of life was very different from Jesus' perspective." (88)

Paul was once again arrested and imprisoned in Caesarea. According to Luke his case became the subject of an acrimonious dispute between Felix, the Roman procurator, and Ananias, the high priest, who were locked in a bitter power struggle with each other. Eventually, because he was a Roman citizen, he was extradited to the capital to be tried by the imperial tribunal. According to Eusebius, the author of the History of the Church (c. AD 325) Paul was beheaded in Rome in 64 AD. (89)

At the time of Paul's death the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire. Four years later, in August 70 AD, Roman legions under Titus retook and destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The Arch of Titus, in Rome and built to commemorate Titus's victory in Judea, depicts a Roman victory procession with soldiers carrying spoils from the Temple, including the Menorah. Although Jews continued to inhabit the destroyed city, Emperor Hadrian established a new city called Aelia Capitolina. A pagan Roman temple was set up on the former site of Herod's Temple. (90)

Primary Sources

(1) Acts of the Apostles (17:30-31)

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.

(2) Acts of the Apostles (26:22-23)

However, because I have experienced the help that is from God, I continue to this day bearing witness to both small and great, saying nothing except what the Prophets as well as Moses stated was going to take place that the Christ was to suffer and that as the first to be resurrected from the dead,+ he was going to proclaim light both to this people and to the nations.

(3) Epistle to the Romans (3:19-31)

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

(4) Epistle to the Romans (8:18-22)

For I consider that the sufferings of the present time do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us. For the creation is waiting with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but through the one who subjected it, on the basis of hope that the creation itself will also be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.

(5) First Epistle to the Corinthians (1:17-31)

Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

(6) First Epistle to the Corinthians (2:14-15)

A physical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know [them], because they are examined spiritually. However, the spiritual man examines indeed all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.

(7) First Epistle to the Corinthians (6:18)

Every sin which a man does is without the body, but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.

Student Activities

The Middle Ages

The Normans

The Tudors

The English Civil War

Industrial Revolution

First World War

Russian Revolution

Nazi Germany

United States: 1920-1945


(1) Acts of the Apostles (16:36-38)

(2) Acts of the Apostles (18:1-3)

(3) Epistle to the Philippians (3:5-6)

(4) Second Epistle to Timothy (1:3)

(5) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 22

(6) Epistle to the Galatians (1.14)

(7) Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) page 16

(8) Acts of the Apostles (22:3)

(9) First Epistle to the Corinthians (1:22-25)

(10) Book of Deuteronomy (21:22-23)

(11) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 23

(12) Acts of the Apostles (7:54-60)

(13) Acts of the Apostles (8:3)

(14) Epistle to the Galatians (1.13)

(15) Acts of the Apostles (11:19)

(16) Acts of the Apostles (9:1-2)

(17) Acts of the Apostles (9:3)

(18) Epistle to the Romans (7:19)

(19) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 26

(20) First Epistle to the Corinthians (9:1)

(21) Epistle to the Galatians (1.15)

(22) Acts of the Apostles (1:3-11)

(23) First Epistle to the Corinthians (15:3-11)

(24) Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) page 58

(25) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 31

(26) Epistle to the Galatians (1:16-18)

(27) Acts of the Apostles (18:3)

(28) First Epistle to the Corinthians (9:19)

(29) First Epistle to the Corinthians (4:11-13)

(30) Obery M. Hendricks, The Politics of Jesus (2006) pages 82-83

(31) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) pages 37-38

(32) Book of Genesis (17:9-14)

(33) Epistle to the Galatians (3:23-29)

(34) Epistle to the Romans (11:28-29)

(35) Acts of the Apostles (11:26)

(36) Anthony Grayling, Ideas that Matter (2009) page 100

(37) Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) page 68

(38) Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (94 AD) 13:3

(39) Acts of the Apostles (12:20)

(40) John Vidmar, The Catholic Church Through the Ages (2014) pages 39-40

(41) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 48

(42) Book of Isaiah (56:3)

(43) Acts of the Apostles (21:21)

(44) Acts of the Apostles (16:1-3)

(45) Richard A Horsley, The Message and the Kingdom (1997) pages 158-161

(46) Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (1946) pages 326

(47) Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) pages 104-105

(48) Second Epistle to the Corinthians (5:5-6)

(49) Epistle to the Galatians (4.13-14)

(50) Acts of the Apostles (13:6-12)

(51) Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997) page 407

(52) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 48

(53) Obery M. Hendricks, The Politics of Jesus (2006) page 85

(54) First Epistle to the Corinthians (6:9-10)

(55) First Epistle to Timothy (2:9-15)

(56) Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) page 121

(57) Gospel of St Luke (14:26)

(58) First Epistle to the Corinthians (7:9)

(59) Epistle to the Ephesians (5:22-30)

(60) First Epistle to the Corinthians (11:3-9)

(61) Stephen J. Patterson, The Lost Way (2014) pages 227-228

(62) First Epistle to the Corinthians (14:33-35)

(63) First Epistle to the Corinthians (11:1-6)

(64) First Epistle to Timothy (6:1-2)

(65) First Epistle to the Corinthians (6:9-10)

(66) Epistle to the Romans (1:26-27)

(67) First Epistle to the Corinthians (7:10-11)

(68) First Epistle to the Corinthians (7:3-4)

(69) First Epistle to the Corinthians (3:18-19)

(70) Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) page 12

(71) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 48

(72) Second Epistle to the Corinthians (10:7-10)

(73) Second Epistle to the Corinthians (11:24-27)

(74) Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1:8)

(75) Second Epistle to the Corinthians (7:5)

(76) Epistle to the Philippians (3: 2-10)

(77) Epistle to the Romans (1:2-5)

(78) Epistle to the Romans (1:16-17)

(79) Epistle to the Romans (1:27-30)

(80) Karen Armstrong, St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (2015) page 101

(81) Epistle to the Romans (13: 1-7)

(82) Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983) page 73

(83) Gospel of St. Mark (12:15-17)

(84) Mark Dever, God and Politics (2016) pages 24-25

(85) Gospel of St John (3:17-18)

(86) Gospel of St Matthew (19:21-24)

(87) Mark Dever, God and Politics (2016) page 47

(88) Obery M. Hendricks, The Politics of Jesus (2006) pages 80-81

(89) Eusebius, History of the Church (c. AD 325) 2.25

(90) Lester L. Grabbe, An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel, and Jesus (2010) pages 19–20