An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Paul, Saint

(d. c. 64). Apostle to the Gentiles, author of several NT epistles, preeminent Christian missionary. He was originally named Saul. He was a Jew of the Diaspora, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, and a native of Tarsus in Cilicia. He spoke and wrote in Greek. Saul held Roman citizenship from birth, and his trade was tent-making. He was trained in rhetoric and educated in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, a Pharisaic member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 22:3).

Saul was a zealous Pharisee and a persecutor of the Christian church (Gal 1:13, 1 Cor 15:9, Phil 3:6). He was present and approving when Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:58). After Stephen’s death, Saul “ravaged” the church, dragging off men and women whom he committed to prison (Acts 8:3). He went to Damascus with authority from the Sanhedrin to persecute the Christian church, but he was converted to Christ on the way (Acts 9:1-22). His conversion has been dated at about 34 A.D. A light from heaven flashed around Saul and he heard the voice of Jesus asking “Why do you persecute me?” He subsequently recalled that Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor 9:1, 15:8), and he viewed this experience as authority for his apostolic ministry (Gal 1:15-17). Saul was without sight for a time after this vision, and he was led to Damascus by those who were with him. The disciple Ananias was directed by a vision to baptize him. Ananias was reluctant to baptize Saul, but the Lord told him that he had chosen Saul to bring his name “before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle is celebrated on Jan. 25 in the Episcopal calendar of the church year.

After baptism, Saul confounded the Jews in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul attempted to join the disciples in Jerusalem, but they were afraid of him because they did not believe he was a disciple. Barnabas brought him to the apostles, and described Saul’s conversion experience (Acts 9:26-27). Saul was accepted as a Christian disciple. Saul and Barnabas were subsequently commissioned by the church at Antioch for missionary work. Barnabas and Saul set off upon what was to be the first of Paul’s three missionary journeys. It was from the time of this first missionary journey that Saul was known as Paul. He founded churches in Asia Minor and Greece, and he wrote public letters or epistles to these churches. Paul made three missionary journeys (Acts 13-14, 15:40-18:22, 18:23-21:17). Paul was accompanied on his second missionary journey by Silas (Silvanus), and later Timothy. Paul and Barnabas went separate ways because Barnabas wanted to take John (Mark) with them, but Paul felt that Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia on the first missionary journey (Acts 15:36-40, 16:3). When the Jews at Corinth opposed and reviled Paul on his second missionary journey, he declared that “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). He also collected money for the Christians in Jerusalem (see Acts 11:29-30; 1 Cor 16:1-4).

Paul went to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey despite warnings about what might happen to him. Paul was arrested by the Roman tribune after a riot broke out over Paul’s presence in Jerusalem. He was transferred to Caesarea, where he was held for two years. When a new governor was going to return Paul to Jerusalem for trial, he appealed to the emperor and was transferred to Rome. He was shipwrecked at Malta, but finally arrived safely in Rome. Paul was allowed to live by himself for two years with the soldier who was guarding him. Paul explained the Christian faith to the Jews at Rome. Some were convinced by him, but others refused to believe. Paul proclaimed to them that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles (Acts 28:17-30). There is no mention of Paul’s death in Acts. Paul is believed to have been martyred in Rome under the Emperor Nero around A.D. 64.

Paul’s epistles to the Christian communities represent a significant portion of the NT. His letters are primarily sources for understanding his career, along with the secondary source provided bu the Book of Acts. These letters dealt with theological, ethical, and pastoral problems that the Christian communities were facing. Most scholars acknowledge that Paul authored Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Others also acknowledge that Paul authored 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Some variations in style may be explained by the fact that secretaries assisted Paul in composing these epistles. Paul’s theology emphasized the importance of salvation though faith in Christ rather than works of the law. Paul,the Apostle to the Gentiles, resisted the requirement that Gentile converts be conformed to the Jewish Law (see Phil 3:2-11). Paul and Barnabas influences the apostles and elders in Jerusalem not to require circumcision of Gentile converts to Christianity (Acts 15:1-29; Gal 2:1-10. Paul even rebuked Peter when Peter would not eat with Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14. Paul urged, “We know that a person is justified not by works of the law but through the faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16). Paul provoked the outrage of Jewish authorities against him, and his teaching influenced the early separation of the Christian church from Judaism.

Paul’s writings have been foundational for Christian theology of salvation, the Christ, the church, the Spirit, and the end times. Paul emphasized the reality of salvation in Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection we may share in the church though baptism (see Rom 6:3-5). As all die in Adam, so shall all be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:22; see Rom 5:18). God has reconciled us to himself in Christ. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17-18). The new age has been inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection. Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection from the dead, which all who are in Christ will share when he comes (1 Cor 15:23). Although the Kingdom of God is not yet fulfilled in us, God gives us his Spirit in our hearts as a “first installment” (2 Col 1:22, 5:5). God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Rom 5:5). All Christians are individual members of the one body of Christ in the Church. In the on Spirit there are a variety of gifts, ministries and members (1 Cor 12:12-13, 27-28; Rom 12:4-12:6). In Christ there are no distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, or male or female, because all are one in Christ (Gal 3:28). Paul’s influence is visible throughout the tradition of the Christian church, including Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin. The Episcopal theologian William Porcher DuBose was deeply influenced by Pauline theology , and he wrote The Gospel According to Saint Paul (1907). The feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles, is celebrated on June 29 in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. 

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.