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Paul the Apostle

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Bartolomeo Montagna - Saint Paul - Google Art Project.jpg
Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna.
Personal details
Born c. AD 5
in Tarsus in Cilicia
(south-central Turkey)
Died c. AD 67
probably in Rome

Paul the Apostle (c. AD 5 – c. AD 67; variously referred to as the "Apostle Paul" or " Saint Paul"), also known as Saul of Tarsus, is one of the most influential early Christian missionaries and leaders of the first generation of Christians. Among the many other apostles and missionaries involved in the spread of the Christian faith, Paul is often considered to be one of the two most important people in the history of Christianity, and one of the greatest religious leaders of all time. Almost half of the books of the New Testament are credited to his authorship. He was responsible for spreading the gospel of Christianity through early Christian communities across the Roman Empire. From the mid-30s to the mid-50s he established several churches in Asia Minor and at least three in Europe, including the church at Corinth.

According to the New Testament and Christian tradition, before becoming a follower of Christianity, Saul (as he was then called) zealously persecuted the newly-forming Church, trying to destroy it. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus dramatically changed the course of his life. He began to preach that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God.[ Acts 9:20-21] Through his missionary activities and writings he eventually transformed religious belief and philosophy around the Mediterranean Basin. His leadership, influence, and legacy led to the formation of communities dominated by Gentile groups that worshiped the " God of Israel", adhered to the "Judaic moral code", but relaxed or abandoned the ritual and dietary teachings of the Law of Moses. He taught that these laws and rituals had either been fulfilled in the life of Christ or were symbolic precursors of Christ. Paul taught of the life and works of Jesus Christ and his teaching of a New Covenant (or "new testament") established through Jesus' death and resurrection.[ cf. Heb. 9:15] The Bible does not record Paul's death.

Along with Simon Peter and James the Just he was one of the most prominent early Christian leaders. He was also a Roman citizen—a fact that afforded him a privileged legal status with respect to laws, property, and governance.[ Acts 22:24-29] Thirteen epistles in the New Testament are attributed to Paul, although his authorship of seven of the thirteen is questioned by some modern scholars. Augustine of Hippo developed Paul's idea that salvation is based on faith and not " works of the law". Martin Luther's interpretation of Paul's writings heavily influenced Luther's doctrine of sola fide.

The influence of Paul's writings on Christian thinking has been profound, due in part to his association as a prominent apostle of Christianity during the spreading of the Christian Gospel through early Christian communities across the Roman Empire. He never claimed to be innovative in his doctrine or ideas. Instead, he saw himself as an ambassador for Jesus who carried out the directives and teachings of his religious mentor (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-20). Paul was compelled to struggle to validate his own worth and authority. His contemporaries probably did not hold him in as high esteem as they held Peter and James.


His Jewish name was Saul (Hebrew: שָׁאוּל, Modern Sha'ul Tiberian Šāʼûl ; "asked for, prayed for"), perhaps after the biblical King Saul, a fellow Benjamite and the first king of Israel. "Paul" was the apostle's Latin name. In biblical Greek: Σαούλ (Saul), Σαῦλος (Saulos), and Παῦλος (Paulos). And in Latin: Saul, Saulus and Paulus.

In the book of Acts, when he had the vision that led to his conversion on the Road to Damascus, Jesus called him "Saul, Saul" in the Hebrew tongue[ Acts 26:14] i.e., Aramaic), and later, in a vision to Ananias of Damascus, the Lord referred to him as Saul of Tarsus.[ Acts 9:11] When Ananias came to restore his sight, he called him Brother Saul.[ Acts 9:17;22:13]

In Acts 13:9, the author indicates the names were interchangeable: "...Saul, who also is called Paul...", and thereafter refers to him as Paul. He is called Paul in all other Bible books where he is mentioned. Mark Powell concludes that "Saul/Paul seems to have had two names: his given Hebrew name ('Saul') and a more Roman-sounding name ('Paul') for use in the Gentile world (similarly, Silus was called 'Silvanus')".

Early life

Geography relevant to Paul's life, stretching from Jerusalem to Rome

Paul was by birth a Roman citizen, as was his father.[ Acts 22:25-29] [ cf. Acts 16:37] His was a devout Jewish family in the city of Tarsus—one of the largest trade centers on the Mediterranean coast. It had been in existence several hundred years prior to his birth. It was renowned for its university, one in which students could receive a superior education. During the time of Alexander the Great, Tarsus was the most influential city in Asia Minor. Stoicism was the dominant philosophy there. In addition to his becoming steeped in Orthodox Pharisaic Judaism, his early life in Tarsus allowed him to learn "Classic Greek", Greek philosophy, and Koine Greek which was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, spoken by the common people.

In his letters, Paul reflected heavily from his knowledge of Stoic philosophy, using Stoic terms and metaphors to assist his new Gentile converts in their understanding of the revealed word of God. He would also rely heavily on the training he received concerning the law and the prophets, utilizing this knowledge to convince his Jewish countrymen of the unity of past Old Testament prophecy and covenants with the fulfilling of these in Jesus Christ. His wide spectrum of experiences and education gave the "Apostle to the Gentiles"[ Rom. 1:5] [ 11:13] [ Gal. 2:8] the tools which he later would use to effectively spread the Gospel and to establish the church solidly in many parts of the Roman Empire.

Paul referred to himself as being "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee".[ Phil. 3:5]

He was born about the same time as Jesus (c. 4 B.C.) or slightly later. He was converted to faith in Jesus Christ about A.D. 33. He died c. A.D. 62-64, most likely in Rome.

However, the Bible reveals very little about Paul's family. Paul's sister's son is mentioned in Acts 23:16. Acts also quotes Paul indirectly referring to his father by saying he, Paul, was "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee".[ Acts 23:6] Paul refers to his mother in Romans 16:13 as among those at Rome. In Romans 16:7 he states that his relatives, Andronicus and Junia, were Christians before he was and were prominent among the apostles.

The family had a history of religious piety.[ 2 Timothy 1:3] Apparently the family lineage had been very attached to Pharisaic traditions and observances for generations.[ Philippians 3:5-6] Young Saul learned how to make the mohair with which tents were made.[ Acts 18:1-3] Later as a Christian missionary, that trade became a means of support for him, one that he could practice anywhere. It also was to become an initial connection with Priscilla and Aquila with whom he would partner in tentmaking[ Acts 18:3] and later become very important teammates as fellow missionaries.[ Rom. 16:4]

While he was still fairly young, he was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel,[ Acts 22:3] one of the most noted rabbis in history. The Hillel school was noted for giving their students a balanced education, likely giving Paul broad exposure to classical literature, philosophy, and ethics. Some of his family may have resided in Jerusalem since later the son of one of his sisters saved his life there.[ Acts 23:16] Nothing more is known of his background until he takes an active part in the martyrdom of Stephen.[ Acts 7:58-60;22:20] Paul confesses that "beyond measure" he persecuted the church of God prior to his conversion.[ Gal. 1:13–14] [ Phil. 3:6] [ Acts 8:1-3]

Conversion and mission

Damascus Road experience

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

Paul's conversion can be dated to 31–36 by his reference to it in one of his letters. There are three accounts of his conversion (or metanoia) in the Acts of the Apostles: Acts 9:1–31, 22:1–22, and 26:9–24.

It took place on the road to Damascus where he reported to have experienced a vision of the resurrected Jesus. The account in Acts 9 says that both Saul/Paul and the men that were with him heard the voice asking, "Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?" (The account in Acts 22:9 says his companions saw the light, but did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to Saul.) Saul asked, "Who are you, lord?", to which the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do". From that experience he was blinded for three days and had to be led into Damascus by the hand. His sight was restored by Ananias of Damascus. This extraordinary life-changing experience and revelation convinced Paul that God indeed had chosen Jesus to be the promised messiah. Luke, the author of Acts of the Apostles, likely learned of his conversion from Paul, from the church in Jerusalem, or from the church in Antioch.

Paul's letters do not refer directly to this experience on the Damascus road. In Galatians 1:16 he writes that God "was pleased to reveal his son to me". In 1 Corinthians 15:8, in listing the order in which Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, Paul says "last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also".(NASB) These two passages have been interpreted to refer to his road to Damascus conversion experience which he elsewhere had described as the resurrected Jesus appearing to him, but in none of his own epistles does he mention that profound epiphany.

Post-conversion change of heart and mind

At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" Yet Saul grew more and more influential and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

Acts 9:20-22

Paul asserted that he received the Gospel not from any man, but by "the revelation of Jesus Christ".[ Gal 1:11-16] Paul claimed independence from the Jerusalem community (possibly in the Cenacle), but was just as quick to claim agreement with it on the nature and content of the gospel.[ Gal 1:22-24]

In the opening verses of Romans 1, Paul provides a litany of his own apostolic appointment to preach among the Gentiles[ Gal. 1:16] and his post-conversion convictions about the risen Christ.

  • Paul described himself as
    • a servant of Christ Jesus
    • having experienced an unforeseen, sudden, startling change, due to all-powerful grace—not the fruit of his reasoning or thoughts.[ Gal. 1:12-15] [ 1 Cor. 15:10]
    • having "seen" Christ as did the other Apostles when Christ "appeared" to him[ 1cor 15:8] as He appeared to Peter, to James, to the Twelve, after His Resurrection[ 1 Cor. 9:1]
    • called to be an apostle
    • set apart for the gospel of God
  • Paul described Jesus as
    • having been promised by God beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures
    • being the true messiah and the Son of God
    • having biological lineage from David ("according to the flesh")
    • having been declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead
    • being Jesus Christ our Lord
    • the One through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, "including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ"
  • Jesus
    • lives in heaven
    • is God's Son
    • would soon return
  • The Cross
    • he had believed death by crucifixion was a shameful sign that signified being cursed by God
    • he now believed Jesus' death was a voluntary sacrifice that reconciled sinners with God[ Rom. 5:6-10] [ Phil. 2:8]
  • The Law
    • he had believed the law (Jewish Torah) kept people in a right relationship with God[ Gal. 2:16] [ Gal. 3:12]
    • he now believed the law only reveals the extent of people's enslavement to the power of sin—a power that must be broken by Christ[ Rom. 3:20b] [ 7:7-12]
  • Gentiles
    • he had believed Gentiles were outside the covenant that God made with Israel
    • he now believed Gentiles and Jews were united as the people of God in Christ Jesus[ Gal. 3:28]
  • Circumcision
    • had believed circumcision was the rite through which males became part of Israel, an exclusive community of God's chosen people[ Phil. 3:3-5]
    • he now believed that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but that the new creation is what counts in the sight of God,[ Gal. 6:15] and that this new creation is a work of Christ in the life of a believer, making them part of the church, an inclusive community of Jews and Gentiles reconciled with God through faith[ Rom. 6:4]
  • Persecution
    • had believed his violent persecution of the church to be an indication of his zeal for his religion[ Phil. 3:6]
    • he now believed Jewish hostility toward the church was sinful opposition that would incur God's wrath[ 1 Thess. 2:14-16] He believed he was halted by Christ when his fury was at its height.[ Acts 9:1-2] It was "through zeal" that he persecuted the Church,[ Philippians 3:6] and he obtained mercy because he had "acted ignorantly in unbelief".[ 1 Tim. 1:13]
  • The Last Days
    • had believed God's messiah would put an end to the old age of evil and initiate a new age of righteousness
    • he now believed this would happen in stages that had begun with the resurrection of Jesus, but the old age would continue until Jesus returns[ Rom. 16:25] [ 1 Cor. 10:11] [ Gal. 1:4]

Paul's writings give some insight into his thinking regarding his relationship with Judaism. He is strongly critical both theologically and empirically of claims of moral or lineal superiority [ Rom. 2:16–26] of Jews while conversely strongly sustaining the notion of a special place for the Children of Israel.[ 9-11]

What is remarkable about such a conversion is the changes in the thinking that had to take place. He had to change his concept of who the messiah was, particularly what he had perceived as the absurdity of accepting a crucified messiah. Perhaps more challenging was changing his conception of the ethnic superiority of the Jewish people. There are debates as to whether Paul understood himself as commissioned to take the gospel to the Gentiles at the moment of his conversion.

Early ministry

The house believed to be of Ananias of Damascus in Damascus
Bab Kisan, believed to be where Paul escaped from persecution in Damascus

After his conversion, Paul went to Damascus, where Acts states he was healed of his blindness and baptized by Ananias of Damascus. Paul says that it was in Damascus that he barely escaped death. [ 2 Cor. 11:32] Paul also says that he then went first to Arabia, and then came back to Damascus.[ Gal. 1:17] Paul's trip to Arabia is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and some suppose he actually traveled to Mt. Sinai for meditations in the desert. He describes in Galatians how three years after his conversion he went to Jerusalem. There he met James and stayed with Simon Peter for 15 days.[ Gal. 1:13–24] Afterwards, Paul proclaims that Mount Sinai is located in Arabia.[ Gal. 4:24-25]

Paul asserted that he received the Gospel not from an apostle, but directly by the revelation of Jesus Christ.[ Gal. 1:11-12] Paul claimed almost total independence from the Jerusalem community and yet appeared eager to bring material support to Jerusalem from the various budding Gentile churches that he planted. In his writings, Paul persistently used the persecutions he claimed to have endured, in terms of physical beatings and verbal assaults, to claim proximity and union with Jesus and as a validation of his teaching.

Paul's narrative in Galatians states that 14 years after his conversion he went again to Jerusalem.[ Gal. 2:1–10] It is not completely known what happened during these 'unknown years', but both Acts and Galatians provide some partial details. At the end of this time, Barnabas went to find Paul and brought him back to Antioch. [ Acts 11:26]

When a famine occurred in Judea, around 45–46, Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem to deliver financial support from the Antioch community. According to Acts, Antioch had become an alternative centre for Christians following the dispersion of the believers after the death of Stephen. It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians".[ Acts 11:26]

First missionary journey

The author of the Acts arranges Paul's travels into three separate journeys. The first journey,[ Acts 13–14] led initially by Barnabas, takes Paul from Antioch to Cyprus then southern Asia Minor (Anatolia), and back to Antioch. In Cyprus, Paul rebukes and blinds Elymas the magician[ Acts 13:8–12] who was criticizing their teachings. From this point on, Paul is described as the leader of the group.

They sail to Perga in Pamphylia. John Mark leaves them and returns to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas go on to Pisidian Antioch. On Sabbath they go to the synagogue. The leaders invite them to speak. Paul reviews Israelite history from life in Egypt to King David. He introduces Jesus as a descendant of David brought to Israel by God. He said that his team came to town to bring the message of salvation. He recounts the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. He quotes from the Septuagint to assert that Jesus was the promised Christos who brought them forgiveness for their sins. Both the Jews and the 'God-fearing' Gentiles invited them to talk more next Sabbath. At that time almost the whole city gathered. This upset some influential Jews who spoke against them. Paul used the occasion to announce a change in his mission which from then on would be to the Gentiles.[ Acts 13:13–48]

Antioch served as a major Christian centre for Paul's evangelizing.

Second missionary journey

Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus sermon in Athens, by Raphael, 1515. This sermon addressed early issues in Christology.

Paul leaves for his second missionary journey from Jerusalem, in late Autumn 49, after the meeting of the Council of Jerusalem where the circumcision question was debated. On their trip around the Mediterranean sea, Paul and his companion Barnabas stopped in Antioch where they had a sharp argument about taking John Mark with them on their trips. The book of Acts said that John Mark had left them in a previous trip and gone home. Unable to resolve the dispute, Paul and Barnabas decided to separate; Barnabas took John Mark with him, while Silas joined Paul.

Paul and Silas initially visited Tarsus (Paul's birthplace), Derbe and Lystra. In Lystra, they met Timothy, a disciple who was spoken well of, and decided to take him with them. The Church kept growing, adding believers, and strengthening their faith daily.[ Acts 16:5]

In Philippi, certain men were not happy about the liberation of their soothsaying servant girl, who had been possessed with a spirit of divination,[ Acts 16:16–24] and they turned the city against the missionaries and Paul and Silas were put in jail. After a miraculous earthquake, the gates of the prison fell apart and Paul and Silas were able to escape but remained; this event led to the conversion of the jailor.[ Acts 16:25–40] They continued traveling, going by Berea and then to Athens where Paul preached to the Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogue and to the Greek intellectuals in the Areopagus.

Around 50–52, Paul spent 18 months in Corinth. The reference in Acts to proconsul Gallio helps ascertain this date (cf. Gallio inscription). In Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla who became faithful believers and helped Paul through his other missionary journeys. The couple followed Paul and his companions to Ephesus, and stayed there to start one of the strongest and most faithful churches at that time. In 52, the missionaries sailed to Caesarea to greet the Church there and then traveled north to Antioch where they stayed for about a year before leaving again on their third missionary journey.

Third missionary journey

Paul began his third missionary journey by traveling all around the region of Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen, teach and rebuke the believers. Paul then traveled to Ephesus, an important centre of early Christianity, and stayed there for almost three years. He performed numerous miracles, healing people and casting out demons, and he apparently organized missionary activity into the hinterlands. Paul left Ephesus after an attack from a local silversmith resulted in a pro- Artemis riot involving most of the city. During his stay in Ephesus, Paul wrote four letters to the church in Corinth admonishing them for their pagan behaviour.

Paul went through Macedonia into Achaea and made ready to continue on to Syria, but he changed his plans and traveled back through Macedonia because of Jews who had made a plot against him. At this time (56–57), it is likely that Paul visited Corinth for three months. In Romans 15:19 Paul wrote that he visited Illyricum, but he may have meant what would now be called Illyria Graeca, which lay in the northern part of modern Albania, but was at that time a division of the Roman province of Macedonia.

Paul and his companions visited other cities on their way back to Jerusalem such as Philippi, Troas, Miletus, Rhodes, and Tyre. Paul finished his trip with a stop in Caesarea where he and his companions stayed with Philip the Evangelist before finally arriving at Jerusalem. [ Acts 21:8–10] [ 21:15]

Journey to Rome and beyond

After Paul's arrival in Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, he became involved in a serious conflict with some "Asian Jews" (most likely from Roman Asia). The conflict eventually led to Paul's arrest and imprisonment in Caesarea for about a year and a half. Finally, Paul and his companions sailed for Rome where Paul was to stand trial for his alleged crimes. Acts states that Paul preached in Rome for two years from his rented home while awaiting trial. It does not state what happened after this time, but some sources claim that Paul was freed by Nero and continued to preach in Rome, even though that seems unlikely based on Nero's historical cruelty to Early Christians. It is possible that Paul also traveled to other countries like Spain and Britain. See the Arrest and death section below.

Among the writings of early Christians, Clement of Rome said that Paul was "Herald (of the Gospel of Christ) in the West", and that "he had gone to the extremity of the west". Chrysostom indicated that Paul preached in Spain: "For after he had been in Rome, he returned to Spain, but whether he came thence again into these parts, we know not". Cyril of Jerusalem said that Paul, "fully preached the Gospel, and instructed even imperial Rome, and carried the earnestness of his preaching as far as Spain, undergoing conflicts innumerable, and performing Signs and wonders". The Muratorian fragment mentions "the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] [5a] (39) when he journeyed to Spain".

Council of Jerusalem

Most scholars agree that a vital meeting between Paul and the Jerusalem church took place some time in the years 48 to 50, described in Acts 15:2 and usually seen as the same event mentioned by Paul in Galatians 2:1. The key question raised was whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. At this meeting, Paul claims in his letter to the Galatians that Peter, James, and John accepted Paul's mission to the Gentiles.

Jerusalem meetings are mentioned in Acts, in Paul's letters, and some appear in both. For example, the Jerusalem visit for famine relief[ Acts 11:27–30] apparently corresponds to the "first visit" (to Cephas and James only).[ Gal. 1:18–20] F. F. Bruce suggested that the "fourteen years" could be from Paul's conversion rather than from his first visit to Jerusalem.

Incident at Antioch

Despite the agreement achieved at the Council of Jerusalem, as understood by Paul, Paul recounts how he later publicly confronted Peter in a dispute sometimes called the "Incident at Antioch", over Peter's reluctance to share a meal with Gentile Christians in Antioch because they did not strictly adhere to Jewish customs.

Writing later of the incident, Paul recounts, "I opposed [Peter] to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong", and says he told Peter, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"[ Gal. 2:11–14] Paul also mentions that even Barnabas, his traveling companion and fellow apostle until that time, sided with Peter.

The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain. The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that Paul won the argument, because "Paul's account of the incident leaves no doubt that Peter saw the justice of the rebuke". L. Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity draws the opposite conclusion: "The blowup with Peter was a total failure of political bravado, and Paul soon left Antioch as persona non grata, never again to return".

The primary source account of the Incident at Antioch is Paul's letter to the Galatians.

Visits to Jerusalem in Acts and the epistles

This table is adapted from White, From Jesus to Christianity. Note that the matching of Paul's travels in the Acts and the travels in his Epistles is done for the reader's convenience and is not approved of by all scholars.

Acts Epistles
  • First visit to Jerusalem[ Acts 9:26–27]
    • "after many days" of Damascus conversion
    • preaches openly in Jerusalem with Barnabas
    • meets apostles
  • First visit to Jerusalem[ Gal. 1:18–20]
    • three years after Damascus conversion[ Gal. 1:17–18]
    • sees only Cephas (Peter) and James
  • Second visit to Jerusalem[ Acts 11:29–30],[ Acts 12:25]
    • for famine relief
  • There is debate over whether Paul's visit in Galatians 2 refers to the visit for famine relief[ Acts 11:30, 12:25] or the Jerusalem Council.[ Acts 15] If it refers to the former, then this was the trip made "after an interval of fourteen years".[ Gal. 2:1]
  • Third visit to Jerusalem[ Acts 15:1–19]
    • with Barnabas
    • "Council of Jerusalem"
    • followed by confrontation with Barnabas in Antioch[ Acts 15:36–40]
  • Another visit to Jerusalem[ Gal. 2:1–10]
    • 14 years later (after Damascus conversion?)
    • with Barnabas and Titus
    • possibly the "Council of Jerusalem"
    • Paul agrees to "remember the poor"
    • followed by confrontation with Peter and Barnabas in Antioch[ Gal. 2:11–14]
  • Fourth visit to Jerusalem[ Acts 18:21–22]
    • to "greet the church"
  • Apparently unmentioned.
  • Fifth visit to Jerusalem[ Acts 21:17ff]
    • after an absence of several years[ Acts 24:17]
    • to bring gifts for the poor and to present offerings
    • Paul arrested
  • Another visit to Jerusalem
    • to deliver the collection for the poor


In 2 Corinthians 11:20-32 Paul provided a litany of some of his adversities as a missionary. In comparing his experiences to those of some of the "most eminent apostles", he wrote that he:

  • worked much harder
  • was in prison more frequently
  • was flogged more severely
  • had been exposed to death again and again (five times he received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one, three times was beaten with rods, once he was pelted with stones)
  • was shipwrecked three times, spending a night and a day in the open sea
  • was constantly on the move
  • had been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from his fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers
  • had labored and toiled and had often gone without sleep
  • had known hunger and thirst and had often gone without food
  • had been cold and naked
  • to escape arrest by the governor of Damascus, he was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and got away

He concluded: "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches".

Arrest and death

Saint Paul arrested, early 1900s Bible illustration
The Beheading of Saint Paul. Painting by Enrique Simonet in 1887.

Paul arrived in Jerusalem in 57 with a collection of money for the community there. Acts reports that he was warmly received. But Acts goes on to recount how Paul was warned by James and the elders that he was gaining a reputation for being against the Law, 'teaching all the Jews living among the gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs'.[ Acts 21:21] Paul underwent a purification ritual in order to give the Jews no grounds to bring accusations against him for not following their law. Paul caused a stir when he appeared at the Temple, and he escaped being killed by the crowd by being taken into Roman custody. When a plot to kill Paul on his way to an appearance before the Jews was discovered, he was transported by night to Caesarea. He was held as a prisoner there for two years, until a new governor reopened his case in 59. When the governor suggested that he be sent back to Jerusalem for further trial, Paul was constrained to "appeal unto Caesar", as was his right as a Roman.

Acts recounts that on the way to Rome, Paul was shipwrecked on "Melita" (Malta),[ Acts 28:1] where he was met by Publius[ Acts 28:7] and the islanders who showed him "unusual kindness".[ Acts 28:2] He arrived in Rome c. 60 and spent two years under house arrest.[ Acts 28:16]

Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century believed that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the Church in Rome and had appointed Linus as succeeding bishop. Paul was not a bishop of Rome nor did he bring Christianity to Rome since there were already Christians in Rome when he arrived there.[ Acts 28:14–15] Also, Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome before he had visited Rome.[ Romans 1:1,7,11-13;15:23–29] However, Paul would have played an important role in the life of the early church at Rome.

Neither the Bible nor other sources say how or when Paul died, but Ignatius, probably around 110, writes that Paul was martyred. Christian tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero around the mid-60s at Tre Fontane Abbey (English: Three Fountains Abbey). By comparison, tradition states that Peter, who was not a Roman citizen, was given the more painful death of being crucified upside-down.

In June 2009, Pope Benedict announced excavation results concerning the tomb of Paul at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The sarcophagus was not opened but was examined by means of a probe, which revealed pieces of incense, purple and blue linen, and small bone fragments. The bone was radiocarbon dated to the 1st or 2nd century. According to the Vatican, these findings are consistent with the traditional claim that the tomb is Paul's. The sarcophagus was inscribed in Latin saying, "Paul apostle martyr".


Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 bear Paul's name; 7 of these are widely considered authentic and Paul's own, while the authorship of some others is disputed.

Although approximately half of the Book of Acts deals with Paul's life and works, the Book of Acts does not refer to Paul writing letters. Historians believe that the author of Acts did not have access to any of Paul's letters. One piece of evidence suggesting this is that Acts never directly quotes from the Pauline epistles. Discrepancies between the Pauline epistles and Acts would further support the conclusion that the author of Acts did not have access to those epistles when composing Acts.

In his writings, he provides the first written account of what it is to be a Christian and thus a description of Christian spirituality. His letters have been characterized as being the most influential books of the New Testament after the Gospels of Matthew and John.

Paul...only occasionally had the opportunity to revisit his churches. He tried to keep up his converts' spirit, answer their questions, and resolve their problems by letter and by sending one or more of his assistants (especially Timothy and Titus). Paul's letters reveal a remarkable human being: dedicated, compassionate, emotional, sometimes harsh and angry, clever and quick-witted, supple in argumentation, and above all possessing a soaring, passionate commitment to God, Jesus Christ, and his own mission. Fortunately, after his death one of his followers collected some of the letters, edited them very slightly, and published them. They constitute one of history's most remarkable personal contributions to religious thought and practice.

Basic message

E.P. Sanders finds three major emphases in Paul's writings:

  • His strongest emphasis was on the death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus Christ. He preached that one's faith in Jesus assures that person a share in Jesus' life (salvation). He saw Jesus' death as being for the believers' benefit, not a defeat. Jesus died so that believers' sins will be purged.
  • The resurrection of Jesus was of primary importance to Paul as may be seen in his first letter to the Thessalonians[ 1 Thes. 1:9-10] which is the earliest surviving account of conversion to the Christian movement.
  • The resurrection brought the promise of salvation to believers. Paul taught that those who died in Christ would be raised when Christ returned, while those still alive would be "caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air".[ 1 Thes. 4:14-18]

Sanders concludes that Paul's writings reveal what he calls the essence of the Christian message:

  1. God sent his Son.
  2. The Son was crucified for the benefit of humanity.
  3. After being dead three days, the Son was raised from the dead defeating death.
  4. The Son would soon return.
  5. Those who belonged to the Son would live with him forever.
  6. Followers are to live by the highest moral standard—"May your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ".[ 1 Thes. 5:23]


Paul Writing His Epistles, painting probably by Valentin de Boulogne, 17th century (Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, Texas)

Seven of the 13 books that are attributed to Paul – Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon – are almost universally accepted as being entirely authentic (dictated by Paul himself). They are considered the best source of information on Paul's life and especially his thought.

Four of the letter (Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are widely considered pseudepigraphical, while the authorship of the other two is subject to debate. Colossians, and 2nd Thessalonians are thought by some to be "Deutero-Pauline" meaning they may have been written by Paul's followers after his death. Similarly, 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, and Titus may be "Trito-Pauline" meaning they may have been written by members of the Pauline school a generation after his death. According to their theories, these disputed letters may have come from followers writing in Paul's name, often using material from his surviving letters. These scribes also may have had access to letters written by Paul that no longer survive.

The undisputed letters are the most important of our sources, for in them we have what everyone agrees to be Paul's own statements about his life and thought. Still, since these letters are directed to specific occasions, we read only about topics that needed to be addressed. If the Corinthian church had not experienced problems with regard to its celebration of the Lord's Supper (which Paul deals with in 1 Cor. 11), we would not know that Paul believed in that ritual or had any opinions about it one way or the other.

Paul's letters were largely written to churches which he had visited; he was a great traveler, visiting Cyprus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), mainland Greece, Crete, and Rome. His letters are full of expositions of what Christians should believe and how they should live. His most explicit references to the life of Jesus are of the Last Supper[ 1 Cor. 11:17–34] and the crucifixion and resurrection.[ 1 Cor. 15]

He provides few references to Jesus' teachings,[ 1 Cor. 7:10–11] [ 9:14] leading some theologians to question how consistent was his account of the faith with that of the four canonical Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the Epistle of James.

The authenticity of Colossians has been questioned on the grounds that it contains an otherwise unparalleled description (among his writings) of Jesus as 'the image of the invisible God", a Christology found elsewhere only in John's gospel. However, the personal notes in the letter connect it to Philemon, unquestionably the work of Paul. Internal evidence shows close connection with Philippians.

Ephesians is a very similar letter to Colossians, but is almost entirely lacking in personal reminiscences. Its style is unique. It lacks the emphasis on the cross to be found in other Pauline writings, reference to the Second Coming is missing, and Christian marriage is exalted in a way which contrasts with the reference in 1 Cor. 7:8–9. Finally, according to R.E. Brown, it exalts the Church in a way suggestive of a second generation of Christians, 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets' now past. The defenders of its Pauline authorship argue that it was intended to be read by a number of different churches and that it marks the final stage of the development of Paul's thinking. It has to be noted, too, that the moral portion of the Epistle, consisting of the last two chapters has the closest affinity with similar portions of other Epistles, while the whole admirably fits in with the known details of Paul's life, and throws considerable light upon them.

Russian Orthodox icon of the Apostle Paul, 18th century ( Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia)
Saint Paul, Byzantine ivory relief, 6th – early 7th century ( Musée de Cluny)

Three main reasons have been advanced by those who question Paul's authorship of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus—also known as the Pastoral Epistles.

  • First, they claim there is a difference in these letters' vocabulary, style, and theology from Paul's acknowledged writings. Defenders of the authenticity note that they were probably written in the name and with the authority of the Apostle by one of his companions, to whom he distinctly explained what had to be written, or to whom he gave a written summary of the points to be developed, and that when the letters were finished, Paul read them through, approved them, and signed them.
  • Second, some believe there is a difficulty in fitting them into Paul's biography as we have it. They, like Colossians and Ephesians, were written from prison but suppose Paul's release and travel thereafter.
  • Third, 2 Thessalonians, like Colossians, is questioned by some on stylistic grounds, with some noting, among other peculiarities, a dependence on 1 Thessalonians—yet a distinctiveness in language from the Pauline corpus. This, again, is explainable by the possibility that Paul requested one of his companions to write the letter for him under his dictation.


Paul wrote down much of the theology of atonement. Paul taught that Christians are redeemed from the Law (see Supersessionism) and from sin by Jesus' death and resurrection. His death was an expiation as well as a propitiation, and by Christ's blood peace is made between God and man. By baptism, a Christian shares in Jesus' death and in his victory over death, gaining as a free gift a new, justified status of sonship.

Relationship with Judaism

Some scholars see Paul (or Saul) as completely in line with 1st-century Judaism (a Pharisee and student of Gamaliel as presented by Acts), others see him as opposed to 1st-century Judaism (notably Marcionism), while the majority see him as somewhere in between these two extremes, opposed to "Ritual Laws" (for example the circumcision controversy in early Christianity) but in full agreement on " Divine Law". These views of Paul are paralleled by the views of Biblical law in Christianity.

Paul's theology of the gospel accelerated the separation of the messianic sect of Christians from Judaism, a development contrary to Paul's own intent. He wrote that faith in Christ was alone decisive in salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike, making the schism between the followers of Christ and mainstream Jews inevitable and permanent. He argued that Gentile converts did not need to become Jews, get circumcised, follow Jewish dietary restrictions, or otherwise observe Mosaic laws. Nevertheless, in Romans he insisted on the positive value of the Law, as a moral guide.

E.P. Sanders' publications have since been taken up by Professor James Dunn who coined the phrase "The New Perspective on Paul". N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, notes a difference in emphasis between Galatians and Romans, the latter being much more positive about the continuing covenant between God and his ancient people than the former. Wright also contends that performing Christian works is not insignificant but rather proof of having attained the redemption of Jesus Christ by grace (free gift received by faith).[ Rom. 2:13ff] He concludes that Paul distinguishes between performing Christian works which are signs of ethnic identity and others which are a sign of obedience to Christ.

World to come

According to Ehrman, Paul believed that Jesus would return within his lifetime. He states that Paul expected that Christians who had died in the mean time would be resurrected to share in God's kingdom, and he believed that the saved would be transformed, assuming supernatural bodies.

Paul's teaching about the end of the world is expressed most clearly in his letters to the Christians at Thessalonica. Heavily persecuted, it appears that they had written asking him first about those who had died already, and, secondly, when they should expect the end. He assures them that the dead will rise first and be followed by those left alive.[ 1 Thes. 4:16ff] This suggests an imminence of the end but he is unspecific about times and seasons, and encourages his hearers to expect a delay. The form of the end will be a battle between Jesus and the man of lawlessness[ 2 Thess. 2:3] whose conclusion is the triumph of Christ.

Role of women

The second chapter of the first letter to Timothy—one of the six disputed letters—is used by many churches to deny women a vote in church affairs, reject women from serving as teachers of adult Bible classes, prevent them from serving as missionaries, and generally disenfranchise women from the duties and privileges of church leadership.

1 Timothy 2
9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

King James Version

The KJV translation of this passage taken literally says that women in the churches are to have no leadership roles vis-à-vis men. Whether it also forbids women from teaching children and women is dubious as even those Catholic churches that prohibit female priests permit female abbesses to teach and exercise authority over other females. Any interpretation of this portion of Scripture must wrestle with the theological, contextual, syntactical, and lexical difficulties embedded within these few words.

Fuller Seminary theologian J. R. Daniel Kirk finds evidence in Paul's letters of a much more inclusive view of women. He writes that Romans 16 is a tremendously important witness to the important role of women in the early church. Paul praises Phoebe for her work as a deaconess and Junia who is described by Paul in Scripture as being an Apostle.[ Romans 6:7] Kirk points to recent studies that have led "many scholars" to conclude that the passage in 1 Corinthians 14 ordering women to "be silent" during worship was a later addition, apparently by a different author, and not part of Paul's original letter to the Corinthians.

Other scholars such as Giancarlo Biguzzi, believe that Paul's restriction on women speaking in 1 Corinthians 14 is genuine to Paul but applies to a particular case where there were local problems of women—who were not allowed in that culture to become educated—asking questions or chatting during worship services. He does not believe it to be a general prohibition on any woman speaking in worship settings since in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul affirms the right (responsibility) of women to prophesy, and "prophesy" in the Bible is a verb meaning "to preach"—for the "strengthening, encouragement and comfort" of believers.[ 1 Cor 14:3]

Biblical prophecy is more than "fore-telling": two-thirds of its inscripturated form involves "forth-telling", that is, setting the truth, justice, mercy, and righteousness of God against the backdrop of every form of denial of the same. Thus, to speak prophetically was to speak boldly against every form of moral, ethical, political, economic, and religious disenfranchisement observed in a culture that was intent on building its own pyramid of values vis-a-vis God's established system of truth and ethics.

Clearly there were women prophets in the highly patriarchal times throughout the Old Testament. The most common term for prophet in the Old Testament is nabi [ayib"n] in the masculine form, and nab""a(h) [h'ayibn] in the Hebrew feminine form, is used six times of women who performed the same task of receiving and proclaiming the message given by God. These women include Miriam, Aaron and Moses' sister,[ Exod 15:20] Deborah,[ Judges 4:4] the prophet Isaiah's wife,[ Isa. 8:3] and Huldah, the one who interpreted the Book of the Law discovered in the temple during the days of Josiah.[ 2 Kings 22:14] [ 2 Chron. 34:22] There were false prophetesses just as there were false prophets. The prophetess Noadiah was among those who tried to intimidate Nehemiah.[ Neh 6:14] Apparently they held equal rank in prophesying right along with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elisha, Aaron, and Samuel.

Kirk's third example of a more inclusive view is Galatians 3:28:

There is neither...
...Jew nor Greek,
...slave nor free,
...male nor female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

In pronouncing an end within the church to the divisions which are common in the world around it, he concludes by highlighting the fact that "...there were New Testament women who taught and had authority in the early churches, that this teaching and authority was sanctioned by Paul, and that Paul himself offers a theological paradigm within which overcoming the subjugation of women is an anticipated outcome".

E.P. Sanders has labeled the Apostle's about women not making any sound during worship as "Paul's intemperate outburst that women should be silent in the churches" in 1 Cor. 14:34-36, women played a very significant part in Paul's missionary endeavors.

  • He became a partner in ministry with the couple Priscilla and Aquila who are specifically named seven times in the New Testament—always by their couple name and never individually. Of the seven times they are named in the New Testament, Priscilla's name appears first in five of those instances, suggesting to some scholars that she was the head of the family unit. They lived, worked, and traveled with the Apostle Paul, becoming his honored, much-loved friends and coworkers in Christ Jesus. In Romans 16:3-4, thought to have been written in 56 or 57, Paul sends his greetings to Priscilla and Aquila and proclaims that both of them "risked their necks" to save Paul's life.
  • Chloe was an important member of the church in Corinth[ 1 Cor. 1:11]
  • Phoebe was a "deacon" and a "benefactor" of Paul and others[ Rom. 16:1-2]
  • Romans 16 names eight other women active in the Christian movement, including Junia ("prominent among the apostles"), Mary ("who has worked very hard among you"), and Julia.
  • Women were frequently among the major supporters of the new Christian movement


There are three passages in Paul's epistles that condemn homosexuality: Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11

Influence on Christianity

Paul's influence on Christian thinking arguably has been more significant than any other New Testament author. Paul declared that faith in Christ made the Torah unnecessary for salvation, exalted the Christian church as the body of Christ, and depicted the world outside the Church as under judgment.

Lord's Supper

Paul's writings include the earliest reference to the "Lord's supper",[ 1Cor 10:13-15,11:16-18,11:19-21] a rite traditionally identified as the Christian Eucharist.

Eastern tradition

In the East, church fathers reduced the element of election in Romans 9 to divine foreknowledge. The themes of predestination found in Western Christianity do not appear in Eastern theology.

Western tradition

Augustine's foundational work on the gospel as a gift (grace), on morality as life in the Spirit, on predestination, and on original sin all derives from Paul, especially Romans.

In the Reformation, Martin Luther expressed Paul's doctrine of faith most strongly as justification by faith alone. John Calvin developed Augustine's predestination into double predestination.

Modern theology

In his commentary The Epistle to the Romans (Ger. Der Römerbrief; particularly in the thoroughly re-written second edition of 1922) Karl Barth argued that the God who is revealed in the cross of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions. Some theologians believe this work to be the most important theological treatise since Friedrich Schleiermacher's On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers.

As in the Eastern tradition in general, Western humanists interpret the reference to election in Romans 9 as reflecting divine foreknowledge.

Church tradition

Saint Paul the Apostle
Apostle to the Gentiles
Honored in All Christianity
Major shrine Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Feast January 25 (The Conversion of Paul)
February 10 (Feast of Saint Paul's Shipwreck in Malta)
June 29 ( Feast of Saints Peter and Paul)
November 18 (Feast of the dedication of the basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul)
Attributes Sword
Patronage Missions; Theologians; Gentile Christians
Statue of Saint Paul in Damascus

Various Christian writers have suggested more details about Paul's life.

1 Clement, a letter written by the Roman bishop Clement of Rome, around the year 90 reports this about Paul:

"By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance".

Commenting on this passage, Raymond Brown writes that while it "does not explicitly say" that Paul was martyred in Rome, "such a martyrdom is the most reasonable interpretation".

Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote in the 4th century, states that Paul was beheaded in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. This event has been dated either to the year 64, when Rome was devastated by a fire, or a few years later, to 67. The San Paolo alle Tre Fontane church was built on the location where the execution was believed to have taken place. A Roman Catholic liturgical solemnity of Peter and Paul, celebrated on June 29, may reflect the day of his martyrdom, other sources have articulated the tradition that Peter and Paul died on the same day (and possibly the same year). The apocryphal Acts of Paul, the apocryphal Acts of Peter suggest that Paul survived Rome and traveled further west. Some hold the view that he could have revisited Greece and Asia Minor after his trip to Spain, and might then have been arrested in Troas, and taken to Rome and executed.[ 2 Tim. 4:13] A tradition holds that Paul was interred with Saint Peter ad Catacumbas by the via Appia until moved to what is now the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, writes that Pope Vitalian in 665 gave Paul's relics (including a cross made from his prison chains) from the crypts of Lucina to King Oswy of Northumbria, northern Britain. However, Bede's use of the word "relic" was not limited to corporal remains.

Paul, who was quite possibly martyred in Rome, has long been associated with that city and its church. Paul is the patron saint of London.

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul is celebrated on January 25.

Literary analysis

Writing styles

British Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby contended that the Paul as described in the book of Acts and the view of Paul gleaned from his own writings are very different people. Some difficulties have been noted in the account of his life. Paul as described in the Book of Acts is much more interested in factual history, less in theology; ideas such as justification by faith are absent as are references to the Spirit, according to Maccoby. He also pointed out that there are no references to John the Baptist in the Pauline Epistles, although Paul mentions him several times in the book of Acts.

Others have objected that the language of the speeches is too Lukan in style to reflect anyone else's words. Moreover, George Shillington writes that the author of Acts most likely created the speeches accordingly and they bear his literary and theological marks. Conversely, Howard Marshall writes that the speeches were not entirely the inventions of the author and while they may not be accurate word-for-word, the author nevertheless records the general idea of them.

A statue of Paul holding a scroll (symbolising the Scriptures) and the sword (symbolising his martyrdom)

F. C. Baur (1792–1860), professor of theology at Tübingen in Germany, the first scholar to critique Acts and the Pauline Epistles, and founder of the Tübingen School of theology, argued that Paul, as the "Apostle to the Gentiles", was in violent opposition to the original 12 Apostles. Baur considers the Acts of the Apostles were late and unreliable. This debate has continued ever since, with Adolf Deissmann (1866–1937) and Richard Reitzenstein (1861–1931) emphasising Paul's Greek inheritance and Albert Schweitzer stressing his dependence on Judaism.


A significant second century development for Christianity was the emergence of Gnosticism, a Greek mystery religion called Gnosticism which attempted to absorb Christianity. It was a religious movement that appealed to many Christians at the time. Mark Powell says it became the bane of many prominent church leaders as they sought to defend the orthodox faith from what they labeled the "gnostic heresy". He compares the difficulty in describing it to trying to describe what is meant today by "new age" religion or thinking. The Apostle Paul attacked Gnosticism directly in Colossians while John attacked it in 1 John, 2 John, and Revelation. Every subsequent Church Father and council attacked the Gnostics. Yet, according to Powell, throughout the second, third, and fourth centuries Gnostic versions of Christianity constituted the primary alternatives to what is usually thought of as "mainstream" Christianity.

Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University and an authority on Gnosticism, declines in her book The Gnostic Paul to judge whether Paul was actually a Gnostic. Instead she concentrates on how the Gnostics interpreted Paul's letters. She demonstrates how evidence from gnostic sources may challenge the assumption that Paul writes his letters to combat “gnostic opponents” and to repudiate their claims to secret wisdom.

Maccoby theorized that Paul synthesized Judaism, Gnosticism, and mysticism to create Christianity as a cosmic savior religion. According to Maccoby, Paul's Pharisaism was his own invention, though actually he was probably associated with the Sadducees. Maccoby attributed the origins of Christian antisemitism to Paul and claims that Paul's view of women, though inconsistent, reflects his Gnosticism in its misogynist aspects.

Professor Robert Eisenman of California State University, Long Beach argues that Paul was a member of the family of Herod the Great. Eisenman makes a connection between Paul and an individual identified by Josephus as "Saulus", a "kinsman of Agrippa". Another oft-cited element of the case for Paul as a member of Herod's family is found in Romans 16:11 where Paul writes, "Greet Herodion, my kinsman".

According to Timo Eskola, early Christian theology and discourse was influenced by the Jewish Merkabah tradition. Similarly, Alan Segal and Daniel Boyarin regard Paul's accounts of his conversion experience and his ascent to the heavens as the earliest first person accounts we have of a Merkabah mystic in Jewish or Christian literature. Conversely, Timothy Churchill has argued that Paul's Damascus road encounter does not fit the pattern of Merkabah.

Among the critics of Paul the Apostle was Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, who wrote that Paul was the "first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus". Christian anarchists, such as Leo Tolstoy and Ammon Hennacy, take a similar view.

F.F. Powell argues that Paul, in his epistles, made use of many of the ideas of the Greek philosopher Plato, sometimes even using the same metaphors and language. For example, in Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates saying that the heavenly ideals are perceived as though "through a glass dimly", closely mirroring Paul's language in 1 Corinthians 13.

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