What about Paul?

Thomas

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As the Irish would say. Who is Paul, where the heck did he come from? And what the heck is he up to?

Paul, or rather Saul, creeps into Scripture. He appears in Acts, as the man at who's feet the executioners lay their coats, when they go off to stone Stephen, technically the first Christian martyr. That makes Saul either the leader or the least amongst them. If it's the least, then it's 'watch my coat', but there's no taking part. If its the leader, then its like punching in, the guys making sure the boss knows they're on the job. The latter seems more likely.

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Reading the clues in the Pauline letters and Acts, tradition places him as one born around 8AD, in the city of Tarsus (Turkey's Mediterranean coast). Saul was sent to Jerusalem, to study at the Temple (under Gamaliel). He knew Hebrew and Greek (although referenced the Septuagint in his letters), he was Jew with a sense of Greek philosophy, notably Stoicism.

Recently however, N.T. Wright, the Anglican theologian, has put forward an interesting thesis. Paul refers to himself as one "being more abundantly zealous for the traditions of my fathers" Galatians 1:14. Wright points out that Paul's use of 'zealous' is a marker in the text that his contemporaries would have recognised.

A quick search through the Old Testament for the word 'zeal' shows it is always attached to action, and invariably violence. And Saul is no different "... how that, beyond measure, I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it" Galatians 1:13
So Saul saw 'zeal' as that which drove his heroes, Phineas, Elijah and Mathathaius, one of the leaders of the Maccabbean revolt. He was a Pharisee, but belonged to the Shaimmaite wing (so to say — there were no clear-cut divisions as we would like to imagine), men who believed that violent action was permissable in defence of the Law.

Saul saw that this Christian faith was an apostasy, a false prophet leading the people away from the Torah, and away from God. It was a combination of these facets of character, his personal strength and conviction, a zeal for the Law, plus an educated head, that made him an ideal candidate for the Sanhedrin's attempts to shut down this upstart cult in their midst, this viper in their bosom.

Many assume Saul was a rabbi, because of the authority invested in his when he went seeking Christians in Damascus, and because he was present in council meetings deciding their fate. Maybe, we don't know. We do know that his conversion in AD36 puts him in his mid twenties. This is early for rabbinical status, but then these are extraordinary times, and in his own words, "I made progress in the Jews' religion above many of my equals in my own nation" (Gal 1:14)

So we have a man, in his mid twenties, on the way to Damascus, with a commission under his belt to wreak havoc in the Church, to arrest, try and possibly execute those found guilty. (The Romans were a bit iffy about Jews executing their own ... some historians think they got away with stoning Stephen because Pilate was absent from the city at the time ... I'm not so sure. Saul in his admission seems to imply Stephen was not the only killing he took a hand in.)

Either way, he was quite the terror, and word of his coming reached Damascus long before he did ... actually this always makes me smile. The Lord appears to Ananias and tells him he will receive Saul under his roof. Ananias replies "Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints in Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that invoke thy name." (Acts 9:13-14) ... which I take as Scripture-speak for 'are you crazy?' I mean, give Ananias his due, but there does seem to be a habit of questioning the Lord's decisions when He appears to announce His will to His chosen ... Mary is one of the few who, when the angel told her the news, didn't say, "Baby! Now hold on a minute there, fellah... "

So Saul's on the road, and Ananias is sweating ...

... and then something happened.

Thomas
PS: I have not given Scripture references so far, but if anyone wants them to back-up the above, I shall supply.
 
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