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Why do you persecute me?: The story of Saul of Tarsus
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Stories of faith inspire the religious imagination. They are powerful means of sharing our experiences of the Risen Lord with each other. They touch us because we discover that the great heroes of our religious tradition were real people with all of the failings, hopes, dreams, and fears with which each of us struggles. In writing stories the past year based on the Old Testament heroes and St. Peter, I have rediscovered a fundamental kinship with these brothers and sisters in faith. They have become friends who speak to me movingly of their faith and the power of God at work in their lives.

Fingers to keyboard, I have begun a new series. This one is on the other great apostle of the early Church, St. Paul. I have drawn on the work of scripture scholars and historians to the extent possible in order to provide accuracy and a sense of the times. This is a story however and poetic license is involved in telling any story.

Before we start I need to explain a few things.

As I did with the Peter series, I refer to St. Paul by both Saul and Paul depending on the context. Saul was his name within the Jewish community. Paul was not a new name given to Saul after he became a Christian. It is simply the Greco-Roman version of Saul. He was probably known as a young man in Tarsus more as Paul than Saul, as it was a Greco-Roman city.

Reference is made a few places to the Diaspora. This refers to Jews who live outside of the Holy Land. It initially came about with the Babylonian exile but includes Jews who live outside of Israel because of later exiles or migrations.

Torah is the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures and includes the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It is also referred to as "the Law". Hebrew Scriptures include the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature. Christians refer to the Hebrew Scriptures as the Old Testament.

The Sanhedrin was a council of religious leaders in the first century that functioned as a cross between a legislature and supreme court for the Jewish community. Membership included the leading priests and religious scholars of the period.

The Acts of the Apostles describes the Council of Jerusalem following Pauls first missionary journey. The letter to the Galatians implies the first missionary journey following the Council. I have followed the timeline suggested by Galatians in this story.

Gaius Julius Paulus was proud of his hometown. It had a long and rich history. It was a center of trade and manufacture generating much of the wealth for the province of Cilicia. Tarsus had been the capital of the province ever since it fell under Roman rule, and back under Greek and Persian rule as well. The wealth and political power of his hometown were the least of the reasons for which Paulus felt pride in Tarsus. More importantly, the town was a center of learning. It was famous for its academies. Many of the great contemporary poets and philosophers taught in the various academies of the city. Indeed, Tarsus was famous throughout the Empire as a major center of learning. It was also a most beautiful city set in the coastal hills, with forests and groves surrounding it and the cool, swift Cydnus river dividing the town in two.

Paulus' father owned one of the larger tanneries in town, curing animal hides for use as leather. Thus, the family enjoyed prosperity. The family of Gaius Julius Paulus was of no mean social standing. They enjoyed Roman citizenship. This was bestowed upon Paulus grandfather for the support he gave to Julius Caesar, the first of the emperors, during his campaign in the region. The family wealth allowed Paulus to attend the best schools of Tarsus while he was growing up. He was a brilliant student and particularly enjoyed philosophy and Greek literature.

While Paulus enjoyed the benefits of Roman citizenship, of a wealthy and influential family, and the richness of Greek culture, he always thought of himself as an outsider. He always felt out of place. He was a Jew. His family had lived in Tarsus for hundreds of years, and could trace their Cilician heritage back much further than most residents of the city. Indeed, his family could trace their roots back almost three hundred years to the early days of the Seleucid Empire, when Greek efforts to wipe out the Jewish Faith in Israel lead to the Macabeean Revolt. Many Jews chose to migrate to other Mediterranean cities in the midst of the political chaos in their homeland, his ancestors among them.

Paulus wanted to be just another young man from Tarsus, enjoying the pleasures of youth with his friends and eventually contributing to the welfare of his beloved city. This was difficult for several reasons, all of which came down to one fact. He was Jewish. While he had many good friends from school and the neighborhood, most worshiped the Greek gods. Some came from families who worshiped the gods of various Eastern communities, which were becoming fashionable at the time. Yet, even these seemed to be only variations on the basic Greek pantheon of gods. His family worship only Yahweh, the one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It wasnt just which divinity his family worshiped. There was a history and a sense of identity that came with his Jewish heritage, which seemed to set up a subtle barrier between him and the others.

It wasnt that his friends pushed him away or thought of him as terribly different from them. They simply thought of him as Paulus. His faith was no more of an issue for them, than was the faith of their friends whose families were involved with the Eastern religions. He was Paulus to them and no more. He was their friend.

It was Paulus who viewed himself as different. At first he rebelled against the difference and his Jewish heritage. Yet, as he learned more about his heritage it began to grab hold of his imagination, filling him with a sense of wonder, mystery, and even magic. He loved the stories from the Torah. The tales of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David gave him heroes that were bigger than life, yet who were very real men. They were real because they were his ancestors. He learned that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. Joshua was an ancestor. His namesake, Saul (for that was his Jewish name), was the first king of Israel and also of the tribe of Benjamin. He had the blood of heroes and kings in his veins and he was proud of it.

In addition to his studies in the Greek schools of Tarsus, he also attended the synagogue school to learn Hebrew, the language of Scripture, and its modern dialect, Aramaic.

He learned Hebrew in order to study the Torah in the original and to take his place among the Jewish adults of Tarsus when he reached the age of thirteen. He would be able to read and discuss the Torah along with the other adults at their worship services. He would be able to take his place in the minyan if called to do so, the assembly of ten adult Jewish men necessary to convene a formal worship service.

He learned Aramaic because he would need the dialect when he went to Jerusalem to study. He was a very bright boy, the hope of his family and the Jewish community in Tarsus. Their rabbi was old and would not be able to lead the community much longer. They needed someone to take his place. Rabbinical studies were long, expensive, and difficult. Young Saul had the triple blessing of a wealthy family to pay for the studies, a quick mind to grasp the heart of the Scriptures and the twists of Jewish law, as well as the devotion to endure the long years of study. Classes were taught in Hebrew but the everyday tongue of Israel was Aramaic and he would need it to get along there for his many years of study.

His family had relatives in Jerusalem and from the time Saul was thirteen he accompanied his father on trips to the Holy City for business and occasional religious observances. He liked Jerusalem. It had a very different feel from Tarsus. His hometown, for all his pride in the city, was very much a Greco-Roman city. The language, customs, building style, and dress were all Greek. Even the Roman influence was minimal and limited to the political sphere. Jerusalem had few Greek style buildings, other than those constructed by various Roman administrations. No matter how hard the foreign administrators tried to absorb the city into their cultures, it resisted. Jerusalem still had the feel of a teeming oriental city with its small winding streets and the Temple at its heart. Its walls went back to Nehemiah and in part beyond him to David and Solomon. History radiated from every street corner and paving stone. Saul felt that when he was in Jerusalem he was in touch with his Jewish heritage and was at peace with himself. He particularly loved the Temple and would go there daily to pray the psalms with the others who gathered for public prayer. Even though it was not Solomons Temple, it was still the center of Jewish worship and his most tangible link with Moses and the patriarchs. The Arc of the Covenant had rested in that spot for centuries, before disappearing during the Babylonian exile. According to tradition, Abraham had almost offered Isaac in sacrifice on that very spot!

 

In his late teens, having finished his studies at the secular academies in Tarsus, as well as his preliminary Torah studies, Saul went to Jerusalem for a most serious purpose. He, his father and Jakov, the rabbi of Tarsus, went to visit Gamaliel, the most respected teacher and rabbi in all of Jerusalemindeed, in the entire world.

Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel, a saint and scholar whose writings and thoughts continued to shape the entire Jewish world centuries after his death. Gamaliel inherited the mantle and carried on the scholarship and wisdom so revered in his grandfather. Even to be considered as a rabbinical student under Gamaliel was a rare honor. Only the best and most carefully selected students ever made it that far.

It wasnt just that you would study under the greatest living scholar of Jewish Scripture and tradition but you would also be involved in the workings of the Temple, assisting the High Priest and other officials, as you learned your craft.

All of this was important because a good rabbi was the heart of a Jewish community, especially those in Diaspora. He not only led the community in worship but he was their teacher, their protector, their friend, and their judge. He was the leader of the community in which the Jew lived out his life and practiced his faith. It was the rabbi who represented Judaism to the average person much more than the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, or any Temple officials. He taught them the Faith. He helped them pray. He settled their disputes.

Saul underwent several days of testing before several of Gamaliels disciples. He knew scripture well and was familiar with the tradition of rabbinical commentary, for Rabbi Jakov was a scholar of some note himself and had taught his student well. The Rabbi and Sauls father spoke with Gamaliel on the second day of testing. Then on the third day it was Sauls turn to be interviewed by the master.

The rabbi looked kindly at Saul and invited the young man to sit near him. He spoke to Paul of the difficulties of such service as that given by a rabbi. He spoke of how a rabbi will have little time to himself and will be torn apart by the disputes of his people. He spoke of the sorrow that the rabbi will feel when his community suffersand what Jewish community was without suffering? He spoke of the long hours, days, months, and years of studying that were required of the rabbinical student. He spoke of the bitter conflicts among the rabbis themselves and the hypocrisy that embittered the hearts of the most sensitive and spiritual among his brothers in ministry. He then asked Saul why he would want to take such a terrible burden upon himself?

Saul knew this question was coming, as it was a traditional question asked by most masters before accepting a student. It was a way to test the character and motivation of the student. One did not prepare a scripted answer but spoke from the heart. So Saul spoke as best he could.

"Rabbi Gamaliel, you know I love the Torah. You know that I am a son of Israel and cherish the history and tradition of my people. You know that the sight of the Temple stirs my heart and brings me to awe of the Almighty Lord whom we worship there. If I could not say these things in truth, neither any other student nor I would be sitting before you. Could any son of Israel, let alone a prospective rabbinical student, say anything less?

"I come to you in order to undertake the discipline that will allow me to be a servant to my brothers and sisters. I have studied under Rabbi Jakov since I was a young child. I have learned compassion, tenderness, love of the law, wisdom, courage, and faith from that holy man. He is a righteous man. He says that he has taught me all that he is able and that if I want to serve the people of Tarsus, as he has, I must find another teacher. Rabbi Jakov says that you are that teacher. I want to share the love of Torah with my people and to serve the people as Rabbi Jakov has done for so many years. So, I have followed the instructions of my holy Rabbi and have come here to ask you to accept me as your student. I ask you to be my Rabbi and master."

Saul was dismissed a short time later, unable to gauge Gamaliels response to his statement. However, the next day he received an official invitation to begin rabbinical studies as one of Gamaliels students. Years later Rabbi Jakov told Saul that Gamaliel had invited him to dinner that evening along with a few of the other rabbis sponsoring students. He had been informed that the master thought Saul had a good heart and would be a good rabbi some day.

Living away from home for the first time was difficult for Saul. He missed his family terribly and was very lonely. He stayed in a student lodging not far from the synagogue where Gamaliel held classes. There were other students he got to know and some became good friends but it was a slow process. The burden of studies was so heavy that no one had time for frivolous activities, such as a leisurely dinner or socializing.

Gamaliel was an impressive teacher. He seemed to know the Torah by heart, never looking at the scroll or codex. Yet, every quotation and reference was letter perfect! A detailed knowledge of rabbinical commentary is demanded of anyone who would take on the mantle of a rabbi. Such commentary followed the form of arguments between venerable rabbis and sages from the past and was rich both in careful logic and the tradition of the Jewish people. These also Gamaliel knew by heart, a feat he expected of all his students before they would be ordained. Yet, it wasnt his prodigious memory that most impressed Saul but Gamaliels obvious love of Scripture and Tradition. There was passion in the masters words as he spoke of the prophets. The master seemed to be carried away with emotion as he spoke the words of Scripture. The Law was not mere ordinances to Gamaliel but Gods embrace. Thus, even though it was difficult for Saul as he struggled with homesickness and the demands of his studies, he slowly was caught up in the spirit of his master. What was once a burden became a joy.

 

A student is a traveler on a long journey. Where you end up is not always the destination you sought in the beginning. You may even find that you are not the same student you were when you first asked for admission. Thus it was with Saul.

As the years passed his knowledge of Scripture and Tradition deepened to an astonishing degree. The young man matured as well. Having completed six years as a student of Gamaliel and serving a number of internships with various religious officials, Saul was approaching the time of his ordination to the rabbinate. The eager and respectful young man with a good heart was still there. However, there were other currents in his soul now. These new currents caused tensions with which he struggled.

There was a sense of superiority among the rabbinical students who grew up in Jerusalem and spoke Hebrew with a clear Aramaic accent. These students looked down upon the outsiders as country bumpkins. This was ridiculous, as many of the outsiders came from cosmopolitan centers many times the size of Jerusalem. They also had studied in the Greek academies and were often much better read than the Jerusalem students. However, they were studying for the rabbinate and its heart was Jerusalem. The arrogance of these students was not a major problem but it was an irritant for the other students, including Saul.

While most students did their best to ignore the irritating students and focus on their studies, over time the students tended to make one of two responses. Some would advocate the practices and innovations that were developing in the Diaspora communities. Since they would be serving these communities, the students wanted to test the feasibility these innovations against the standard of Scripture and Tradition. Others would defend the most conservative positions, relegating the Diaspora communities to the status of poor cousins because they were distant from the Temple and Jerusalem where the Jewish life was centered. These positions were in conflict much of the time and generated a great deal of debate, especially among the older students. Saul tended toward the later position.

First century Judaism was in great ferment at the time Saul was studying for the rabbinate. Jerusalem seemed to be at the center of a storm of change that would soon radically alter both world history, as well as the life and practice of the Jewish community. Jewish belief was split by at least three movements; the Saducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. Each movement also held political views arising from their religious perspective.

The Saducees accepted only the Torah as the basis for their faith and practice. Much of their religious practice revolved around worship at the Temple. They were tolerant of the Roman oppressors, who were tolerant of them as well. Many of the Jewish political leaders were Saducees.

The Pharisees began as a pious movement a couple of hundred years earlier back during the Macabeean Revolt against Greek oppression. They developed into the largest movement in Judaism by the time of Saul, who considered himself a member of this movement, as was his teacher. The Pharisees not only accepted the Torah but the prophets and wisdom writings as all being part of the Sacred Scriptures. They also had great respect for the role of tradition in Jewish life.

The Essenes were the smallest of the faith movements but the best organized. They believed they were living in the end days and resided in monastic communities far out in the Judean wilderness. They devoted their time to prayer and labor away from the bustle of city life.

In addition there were political movements, such as the Herodians and the Zealots, which drew members from across the religious spectrum. It must also be remembered that the Holy Land was under Roman control, so there were a relatively large number of gentiles living there. They brought with them their pagan beliefs and practices.

All of these ideas and movements swirled about Saul, catching his attention and trying to capture his heart. He was a Pharisee and committed to the movement but as with any bright student, he was curious. As the opportunity presented itself, he learned what he could of the various movements.

Rabbi Nicodemus was an official with the Sanhedrin and a good friend of Gamaliel. He had studied under Gamaliel years before and seemed to reflect his masters spirit better than any of his other students. He often was asked by his former master to give lectures to the students. Saul respected this pious and influential rabbi and often sought him out for guidance and spiritual instruction.

It was Rabbi Nicodemus who introduced Saul to the ideas of an itinerant Pharisee rabbi known as Joshua Ben Josef. While the charismatic young rabbi had no formal training beyond what was available in the Nazareth synagogue, he had a profound grasp of Scripture. It wasnt that he knew Scripture and tradition but that he seemed to capture its spirit. He spoke with authority, not constantly citing the rabbis and commentary. He spoke to the common person in a way that clearly conveyed the heart of Scripture. Yet, when questioned by rabbis or legal scholars, he could speak with obvious skill and knowledge. Rabbi Nicodemus was impressed.

Nicodemus had spoken with the young rabbi on several occasions and recounted to Saul one encounter where Joshua had instructed him that if he wanted eternal life he had to be born again of water and the spirit. Saul realized that Joshua was speaking metaphorically. He liked the image though. So many people went through life more dead than alive. He understood that Joshua was calling the people to come alive in their faith. The reference to water was obviously a reference to the waters of purification or to Johns baptism, a ritual that Joshuas disciples seemed to practice as well. Saul appreciated the subtlety and spirituality of Joshuas teaching, thinking him someone worth hearing on his own, should the opportunity present itself.

Several months later the opportunity did present itself. He was helping some of the members of the Sanhedrin with research on a point of law. Another student working on the assignment with him suggested that they take the day off and listen to Joshua preach. He was in Jerusalem at the time and drawing large crowds. It didnt take much to convince Saul. A short time later they were part of a fair size crowd sitting in the plaza near the Temple. The people were asking questions and Joshua was responding. Much of what was being asked was homey and practical, as were Joshuas responses. Saul wanted to move the discussion to a more sophisticated level. Remembering his conversation with Rabbi Nicodemus, he called out when there was an opening, "Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Joshua asked in turn, "What is written in the Law? What do you read there?" Saul responded immediately, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Joshua smiled at Saul and said, "You have answered right. Do this and life is yours." Saul was awed by the response. Not only had Joshua made him answer his own question but he did it with style! Brilliant!!

Then Saul thought that the matter of ones neighbor was a point of discussion. Did Joshua include only the children of Abraham among ones neighbors? Did he expect the Jews to consider the gentiles as their neighbors as well? So, Saul asked another question. "Master, who is my neighbor?" In response Joshua told a story. The hero of the story was a Samaritan who came to the aid of a Jew who had been robbed. Again, Joshua got his point across. This time Saul was not so concerned with the brilliance of the response or who gained the greater number of debating points. The story touched him, reminding him that the spirit is what animates the law. Ones neighbor is anyone in need.

Saul listened to Joshua preach a few more times in the weeks that followed. He saw Joshua as a reformer within the Pharisee movement. He agreed with many of the issues Joshua raised, seeing them as placing spirit over lettera needed remedy for the opposite tendency that seemed to be popular at the time among many rabbis. Indeed, he saw a common sense of Judaism in both Joshua and Gamaliel. He was concerned somewhat about the casualness with which Joshua treated the law. There were also statements attributed to Joshua that seemed to imply spiritual authority beyond simply teaching and interpreting Scriptures and tradition. However, Saul was preparing for his comprehensive examinations and ordination. As a result, other interests and concerns fell into the background.

The exams were difficult but well within Sauls capabilities and before he knew it Saul was no longer a student. He was a recognized rabbi with the reputation in Jerusalem of an "up and coming" young man.

Saul was a man of zeal. Gamaliel saw this as a two edged sword. Saul would defend the Torah with his life and be a tireless servant of Israel. His zeal would animate his teaching and the care of those for whom he would be rabbi, bringing life and passion to his ministry. The danger however, was that the same zeal would propel him into the heart of controversy again and again. Gamaliel was no stranger to controversy but he had the benefit of his years and the restraining hands of his father and grandfather as a youth.

Soon Saul was back in Tarsus. He split his time between his fathers tannery and the synagogue. The Jewish community in Tarsus was too small to support two rabbis. However, Sauls father willingly supported his son in his synagogue ministry, asking only that Saul help out at the tannery part time. This was not an unusual request, as most rabbis of the period also had a trade in case their congregation couldnt provide their full support.

Rabbi Yakov was pleased that Saul was back in Tarsus. He felt a sense of relief that his successor had been trained and was waiting in the wings. Saul was rough around the edges, especially in dealing with some of the personalities in the community, but he would learn. Now was the time for him to gain a sense of himself as a community leader and teacher through experience. This would provide the practical context for all of the studies he had labored through the past few years.

Saul found his work with Rabbi Yakov and the Jewish community rewarding, though also tedious at times. He loved the celebrations that marked important transitions in the lives of families and the holy days that marked the passing of the seasons. He was a more animated preacher than Rabbi Yakov and brought new life to the congregation, as well as greater attention to the message when he taught from Scripture. His only fault was that he tended to go on a bit too long.

Yet, Saul also felt isolated from the swirl of activity that characterized Jerusalem. He enjoyed the intellectual life of Jerusalem built around the study of Torah. Tarsus had a rich secular intellectual life but not much activity in the study of Torah. Most of his teaching had to be quite elementary for the people to understand it. The most urgent controversies he faced were debates over the dietary laws. They were issues that impacted the lives of everyone in the community to be sure. However, they were not very challenging. Saul also enjoyed the political energy that kept life in Jerusalem interesting. He sorely missed this aspect of his student years even more than anything else.

Saul had the opportunity to go to Jerusalem on a business trip for his father about a year and a half after returning to Tarsus. The trip itself was uneventful, a ride by ship down the coast for a couple of days to the port of Joppa and then another two days ride by horseback inland to Jerusalem. While in the Holy City Saul visited with his former teacher, Gamaliel, and a number of other friends from his days as a student.

His friends could see his malaise with life in Tarsus and told him that Ciaphas, the High Priest, was in need of several scribes to assist with Temple administration. He was encouraged to make the necessary contacts and see what might come of it. There was no need to rush back to Tarsus, so Saul followed their advice. A week later Saul was offered a position in the High Priests office. He accepted the offer and then began to struggle with how he was going to explain this to Rabbi Yakov.

Rabbi Nicodemus was a man Saul had long admired, almost as much as Rabbi Gamaliel. So, Saul made a particular effort to visit with him while in Jerusalem. The rabbi was pleased to see the young man and they spoke for several hours. It was during this conversation that Saul learned that the itinerant rabbi, Joshua, had been crucified the previous Passover. There had been a trial before the Sanhedrin on the charge of blasphemy.. The next day Joshua was taken before the Romans and executed. Saul was saddened to hear of the execution, as Joshua impressed him. Though he was not surprised. Joshua seemed to stir up the most passionate emotions in people. He was either loved or hated. Few people could just take him or leave him. Paul considered himself one of that select few. That opinion would change before long.

 

The Office of the High Priest was responsible for the worship in the Jerusalem Temple, as well as providing staff support to the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. While all Jewish communities were autonomous, under the leadership of their rabbi, the institutions of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin helped to keep the communities relatively coordinated. The staff would receive questions from the rabbis of the Diaspora. Most of the questions were matters of policy that had already been settled years before and all that was needed was a little research. Saul was among the scribes who did that research and answered the letters for the signature and seal of the High Priest. Since rabbis posed the questions they were more challenging than those he dealt with back at the Tarsus synagogue. Yet, in the end, few of the questions were anything that needed to be cleared up by the High Priest or his staff. It was just that few rabbis had the reference library available to them that Saul and his fellow scribes enjoyed. So they ended up doing the reference work for everyone else.

After Joshua died rumors circulated through Jerusalem that he had risen from the dead. A number of his disciples claimed to have seen their risen master. Instead of dying out, as many expected, Joshuas disciples organized themselves into a community. The community actually began to grow. It showed signs of becoming another of the small messianic movements, which sprung up, flourished for awhile and then were absorbed back into the body of Judaism.

The followers of Joshua met daily on the Temple grounds to take part in the public prayers and to talk among themselves. No one paid too much attention to this, as they kept out of trouble and respected the customs of Judaism. Saul would indulge his curiosity about the group occasionally and join them for morning prayer. One of their leaders would speak to them for a few moments and then they would go about their daily business. Most of what he heard echoed Joshua. Indeed, it was often one of Joshuas main disciples who lead the morning prayer. Occasionally some of the younger leaders would speak. These were men who had not walked the roads of Israel with Joshua but who had come to faith recently. They were charismatic speakers but often seemed to bring their own agenda into their preaching. That is to be expected in any movement. Yet, Saul was concerned that some of the preaching was becoming provocative, even blasphemous. Some speakers would refer to Joshua as the Son of God. Others suggested that Joshuas death on the cross was actually the purpose of his mission. That his blood brought about the redemption of humanity. Saul understood the analogy of Joshuas death with that of the sacrificial lamb in the temple, as a means of atonement. He was concerned that these speakers were treating it as more than an analogy. Joshua was being presented to the people as a divinity.

Saul was not the only one who was concerned with this turn of events.

There was discord within the community of Joshuas disciples over the direction some leaders were taking the community, particularly between the Aramaic and Greek speaking disciples. The discord was beginning to tear apart what had been a peacful community of disciples. There were concerns that some of the Greek speaking widows were not receiving the support from the community that they needed to survive. The discord between the factions did have something to do with it. However, the primary reason was that the Aramaic speakers had a broader and long established network of support, since Jerusalem was their hometown. The Greek speakers were outsiders and if the community failed to care for them there was no one to fall back on. The community leaders realized that this was an organizational problem and decided to fix it by honoring the leaders among the Greek speakers with responsibility for ministering to their own. Hopefully, there would be less cause for conflict between the Greek and Aramaic speakers and the widows would have their needs met. The Greek speakers were also the ones who seemed to take the more controversial positions in the understanding of their young Faith.

One day Simon Bar Jonah, the first among Joshuas disciples, was walking in the Temple neighborhood with another of the disciples. According to the reports that reached the High Priest, a crippled beggar asked for alms. Not having any money to give the beggar, the Simon worked a miracle, healing the beggar in the name of Joshua. This caused a commotion that resulted in the arrest of Simon and the other disciple.

The High Priest and many members of the Sanhedrin were concerned over this turn of events. They had hoped that the enthusiasm Joshua stirred up was beginning to die down. This apparent miracle would only serve to stir up the embers again. They were concerned as well that Simon had worked the miracle in Joshuas name. This seemed to put Joshua on a par with the Lord, which was certainly a most heinous blasphemy. If it wasnt blasphemy then it was a work of the devil of the worst sort. They felt that some official action had to be taken or the matter could explode.

A hearing before the Sanhedrin was set for the next day and all of the members in the area of Jerusalem were notified. Saul spent much of the day gathering testimony and identifying witnesses who might be able to speak at the hearing. Alexander, one of the more experienced scribes would present the case but as an assistant Saul would gain some experience in a Tribunal matter. It was certainly more interesting than the dull correspondence over which Saul usually labored.

The facts of the case, gathered by Alexander and Saul, were presented by mid-morning. The defendants were then given an opportunity to offer their defense. Surprisingly, Simon admitted all of the prosecutions statements as fact. He then used this to argue that Joshua was the messiah, since by acting in his name a miracle was performed. The beggar was standing in the hall within sight of everyone gathered. He was known to be a true cripple from childhood. It was obvious that a miracle indeed had been worked the previous day. Further, Simon was careful to acknowledge that it was God who had raised Jesus from the dead and, by implication, had worked the miracle for the beggar. One might not agree that Joshua was the messiah but it was not heresy to nominate anyone for that role. While the Sadducees might reject the possibility of anyone rising from the dead, it was an accepted teaching among the Pharisees. Since the majority of Sanhedrin members were Pharisees, no one was going to dispute the possibility of resurrection or claim it was heresy. They might not believe that Joshua was truly risen but they would not argue the possibility. The result was that in less than five minutes Simon had disposed of all the charges against them and asserted his faith in Joshua as the Messiah. Saul was impressed, as were many of those in attendance that morning. Yet, it was clear that a problem was brewing with these disciples. Something would have to be done before the situation got out of hand but now was not the time. Simon and the other disciple were released with orders to not stir up any trouble in the city.

 

The disciples of the Nazarene did not pay much heed to the warning the Sanhedrin had given them. They continued to proclaim their belief that he was the Messiah and that he had risen from the dead. To make matters worse, word got out about Simon healing the beggar. Now crowds were following him hoping for another miracle. People would place their sick friends and relatives on the roads near the Temple in the hope that Simons shadow would fall across them on his way to daily prayer. They hoped that even the touch of his shadow might produce another healing.

Saul was among those who were especially concerned with the developments within the Nazarene community. He and other Temple rabbis felt that some action should be taken before people were hurt. Every day the Nazarenes disciples appeared more provocative. They seemed to encourage the desperate and hopeless in Jerusalem to seek wonders and expect miracles. But what would happen when the bubble burst? Who would be hurt? He already heard of one elderly couple among the Nazarenes disciples who gave a generous donation to the community and then died shortly aftewardapparently of heart attacks.

Simon was arrested again and the Sanhedrin appeared ready to send him on to join Joshua in the next world, when Gamaliel served as the calming voice of reason. In the end Simon was flogged and released. Afterward the Aramaic speakers among the disciples seemed more careful in their actions. However, the Greek speakers were stirred up even more.

Stephen, one of the assistants appointed to serve the Greek speaking followers of the Nazarene, was particularly provocative in his arguments. This came to a head in a debate with a group of relatively conservative Greek speaking Jews. Stephen bested them on debate points. However, these men were not willing to let the matter go. They complained to the High Priest about Stephen, arguing that he blasphemedspeaking against the Temple and Moses. These were serious charges, as they cut to the heart of Judaism and placed Stephen beyond the pale. He was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for a hearing. Saul had taken testimony from those who complained against Stephen and was present for the hearing. He was concerned. The matter had gone too far! Rabbi Gamaliels compassionate approach was not working. Action had to be taken and now.

Stephen did little to help his case. He offered an eloquent defense drawing on the patriarchs and the story of the Exodus, only to turn it into a condemnation of the rabbis of the Sanhedrin for rejecting the Messiah when God sent him in the person of Joshua! He scolded them, calling them betrayers and murders. They who had the Law brought to them by angels were the very ones who have not kept it. While Stephen came no closer to blasphemy than had Simon, he sealed his fate by the passion with which he proclaimed his faith and his condemnation of those who listened. In their minds he had blasphemed and the punishment for that crime was death by stoning.

Saul accompanied the crowd out of the meeting hall to the city gate where Stephen was flung down and the stoning began. Saul took no part in the execution, other than minding the cloaks of those who threw the stones. He was there to witness the death and report it to the High Priest. He would have been satisfied seeing Stephen flogged and put in jail for awhile, as something had to be done. He was sad that Stephen had ended up dead but felt that the man brought it upon himself! He provoked the Sanhderin!

Word of the stoning spread rapidly throughout Jerusalem. The mood of the people turned against the Nazarene community quickly in this most orthodox of cities. Neighbors turned against neighbors. There were beatings and house burnings. Many of Joshuas disciples left the city, as it was not a safe place for them. The Greek speakers among the disciples were particularly at risk, as they could not blend into the woodwork as easily as the Aramaic-speaking disciples.

The Sanhedrin decided that they could tolerate no further disobedience by the Nazarene community. It was suppressed. Those who openly defied the suppression would be punished. Saul was assigned by the High Priest to enforce this decision. He was already familiar with the group, having been involved in prior investigations. He also agreed with the Sanhedrins decision. Those who had not fled Jerusalem after the death of Stephen did so now. Saul was zealous and careful in completing the assignment he had been given. Many who chose to remain behind were in prison within a few weeks. Saul went after the more outspoken of the disciples, leaving the followers to scatter. His strategy was effective. Joshuas disciples seemed to disappear from the city. He knew that most had gone underground and that others had fled. This was fine. He wanted to silence Joshuas followers, not kill them.

Before long the High Priest received word from Jewish communities in Damascus and other cities in the region that Sauls persecution had been so effective in cleansing Jerusalem that these other cities were now infected with the fanatics. The cure was obvious. The High Priest dispatched Saul to Damascus with letters of introduction. He would carry out his persecution of the sect in that city and then move on to Antioch, Tiberius, Caesarea, and other communities in the region. On his way to Damascus something happened that would change Sauls life forever.

 

The road to Damascus ran through the hills of the Golan. This was a wooded area, much cooler and greener than Jerusalem and the region of Judea. It reminded Saul of Tarsus. For the first time in many months, Saul felt a pang of homesickness. The simple life of the community rabbi in that distant town seemed most attractive now that he was caught up in the chaos of trying to suppress the Nazarene movement. He had wanted to be a rabbi so that he could serve God and his neighbor. Now, instead of helping, he was the chief persecutor of some heretical sect. He realized the necessity of the work but he still didnt like it.

Saul traveled along the road to Damascus with three other men; two guards and a scribe who assisted Saul. They rode in silence for hours, each lost in his thoughts.

Saul heard a peal of thunder and thought it strange. The sky was a beautiful, rich blue. The only clouds were light puffs too high to have produced the deep rumble that bothered Saul. The others heard it as well. He could tell by their puzzled expressions. Before he knew what was happening there was a brilliant explosion next to him. His horse reared and Saul fell to the ground. Saul was bathed in light. It was brilliant and everywhere. It was so intense that his eyes were useless, yet there was no pain. He heard a voice.

"Saul! Saul why do you persecute me?"

Then he saw Joshua. He was smiling at Saul and holding his hand out to his persecutor, as if offering to help him up. Saul knew it was Joshua. He remembered the face. But it didnt make any sense. Joshua was dead!

"Who are you?"

"I am Joshua, and you are persecuting me."

Saul was stunned. He knew that Joshua was referring to the suppression of his disciples. Yet, what really stunned him was the thought that he had been wrong. Was Joshua truly the Messiah? Were Stephen, Simon and the others right in their claims of Joshuas role in salvation? Was Joshua truly sent by God? How blind to the truth had he been? While these thoughts churned within, he felt no reproach from Joshua. There was only patient, abiding love.

"Saul, get up now and go into the city. You will be told what you have to do."

With those words Joshua was gone and with him the light. It was then that Saul realized he was blind. Everything was dark. He couldnt see his hand in front of his face. He heard the voices of his companions but could not see the men. Soon they were helping him to his horse. The rest of the trip was uneventful, with Sauls horse being lead by his assistant.

When they reached Damascus the men brought Saul to the home of Judas, Sauls cousin. A physician was called but he could find nothing to explain the patients blindness. He speculated that lightening had struck near Saul and its brilliance had temporarily blinded him. He knew of similar cases. He suggested keeping Saul in a dark room for a few days, letting his eyes rest. Perhaps in a few days his sight would return.

So, Judas nursed his cousin for the next couple of weeks, following the physicians instructions. Saul seemed to recover his strength, as the experience on the road had shaken him. However, he remained blind. The physician was concerned, as Sauls sight should have returned.

Ananias was a cobbler. He lived in Damascus all his life. A few years earlier, on a trip to Jerusalem, he heard Joshua speaking. From that moment forward Ananias had been among the disciples. He continued with Joshua for the better part of a year when word came from Damascus that his father was ill. Ananias was given leave by Joshua to return home and care for his ill father. Before long word reached Damascus of Joshuas death and the events that followed. Ananias remained in Damascus following his trade and serving as the leader of the small community of those who believed Joshua to be the messiah.

One evening, after closing the shop, Ananias was deep in prayer. A familiar voice spoke in his heart.

"Ananias!"

"Here I am, Lord." responded Ananias.

"You must go to Straight Street and ask at the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him. He is blind and this will give him back his sight."

Ananias was surprised by these words. Only the day before he had spoken with the assembled community of believers, warning them that Saul was on his way to spread persecution throughout the region. Why would the Lord want him to heal Saul?

"Lord, I have heard of this man and all the harm he as done to your disciples in Jerusalem. He has come to Damascus at the instruction of the High Priest to spread his poison here."

"You must go all the same, Ananias. You will see. This man is my chosen instrument. He will bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Ananias wasnt thrilled about leaving his shop so late in the evening. He was even less thrilled at the assignment that the Lord had given him. However, he knew that the Lord had spoken to him and that he had been given a very specific mission. He would not fail the Lord. Ananias got up and within minutes was on his way to the house of Judas on Straight Street.

Judas was a tradesman, like Ananias, though more affluent than the disciple. He could afford a nice home. They even had a servant who helped Judas wife care for the home. When Ananias arrived at Judas home, he knocked at the door. The servant recognized him but did not want to admit him, as it was too late. He also knew that Saul was ill and not able to accept any visitors. Ananias was stubborn. He was on a mission and would not be deterred. He called for Judas. Eventually the servant relented and got his master. Judas knew Ananias. He respected the man but didnt want to disturb Saul. Finally, Judas agreed to ask Saul if he was willing to hear Ananias. Within minutes Ananias was admitted to Sauls room. It was just as the Lord had explained to him. Saul had been waiting for Ananias.

"Tell me about Joshua. Tell me everything, Ananias."

The man was skeptical as he heard the chief prosecutor of the High Priest ask him for everything he knew about Joshua. Perhaps it was a trick?

Saul sensed his discomfort and tried to assure Ananias by explaining to him what had happened on the journey to Damascus. He explained his initial sympathy with Joshua and the fact that he had listened to a number of Joshuas public talks. Saul was confused. He needed to understand. The Lord made it quite clear that Ananias could help him. One thing was certain, Saul would no longer persecute Joshua or his disciples. Whatever else was part of Gods plan for him, Saul didnt know. However, he wanted to find out. So, Ananias began to speak of Joshua

 

 

Saul sat quietly in the garden of his cousins house, watching a caterpillar inch its way along one of the larger plants. He tried to focus his attention on the insect because his emotions were so turbulent!

What do you do when you realize that your working assumptions for at least the past few years were dead wrong? What do you do when you realize that you are the personification of evil to the people you want to embrace? What do you do when you realize that you can no longer continue alomg the path that your life has taken since you were old enough to read? What do you do when you realize that very soon everyone whom you considered a friend or colleague will view you as pathetic, if not a traitor?

After Ananias first visit, he returned several more times over the next week. On each visit Saul would question him in detail about what he had seen and heard during his travels with Joshua. Saul tried to grasp what Joshua taught. He work it around his thoughts until he understood. There was little in Joshuas moral and spiritual teaching that Saul did not already accept. He could even accept the reality of Joshuas resurrection, as resurrection was a Pharisee teaching. Anyway, he had seen the risen Joshua on the road to Damascus!

The stumbling block was always who Joshua claimed to be. Saul thought that Joshua did not claim to be the messiah. He felt that that claim was promoted by Simon and the others to give Joshuas teachings more authority than they actually had. Yet, Ananias was adament that it was Joshua who claimed to be the messiah. He wasnt obvious about it at first. However, as time passed and the disciples began to suspect Joshuas true nature, he was more open. By the end, Joshua was asserting the claim in public. He even stated before Temple officials that, "before Abraham was, I am." The "I am" claim was a direct reference to Gods self-identification in Exodus.

Once he understood that the claim originated with Joshua, he wrestled with how Joshua could be the messiah. Ananias reviewed the apostolic teaching on this point, reviewing the promises and signs from the Torah and the Prophets, showing how Joshua fit what had been prophesized. Saul saw the logic in Ananias response and did not argue with his interpretation of the Scriptures. Yet, then Saul began to question some of the implications of the apostolic teaching, particularly that Joshua died in atonement for the sin of humanity. If Joshuas death was the atonement for all, what then was the role of law in the lives of men? What happened to the Torah?

Ananias was a man of faith and a witness to at least part of Joshuas ministry. He was not a rabbi or a theologian. Thus, as Saul began to wander into the realm of questions appropriate to someone with extensive theological training, Ananias knew that he had to back off. The apostles were in Jerusalem and it would not be easy to send for one right now. Anyway, none of them were theologians. They were like Ananias, simple men of faith.

Then it dawned on him! Saul was trying to understand Joshua as a rabbi might wrestle with a particularly troublesome verse from Scripture or a complicated dispute that needed adjudicated. That was not how one came to faith. The heart had to leap first, then the mind could follow. Saul could never see the truth if he continued to stumble around in the dark. He needed the light of faith.

Ananias stopped Sauls questioning and speculation.

He asked, "Saul, tell me about the experience on the road."

So, Saul began his tale of encountering the risen Christ.

When Saul was done, Ananias asked. "Who was it that you met on the road? Who was it that spoke to you?"

Saul could only answer that it was Joshua. Saul felt foolish, as obviously Joshua was dead. Yet, Joshua spoke with him. Saul was still blind as a result of that encounter. It was real.

Ananias then asked, "What did you feel when Joshua spoke with you?"

Saul thought for a moment and was surprised. He hadnt felt shame or fear when Joshua spoke with him. He felt joy! When Joshua spoke with him on the road to Damascus, he felt indescribable joy. The joy filled every fiber of his being! He had never known such joy. The only experiences that even approached it were those rare moments deep in prayer when he knew that he was resting in Gods love.

It was then that the light of faith filled Sauls heart. It was then that everything fell into place and he understood. It was then that the darkness fell from his eyes and his heart. He could seefor the first time! At Sauls request, Ananias administered the water of baptism. As the water dripped from Sauls body, he was joined with the Body of Christa body that he had persecuted only days before!

 

The men who accompanied Saul to Damascus returned shortly after leaving him with his cousin. They knew that he was too ill to undertake the mission that brought him there. There was no need for them to stay. He would be in good hands with a relative. So, they returned to Jerusalem with news of Sauls illness.

Several weeks later Saul sent word back to Jerusalem that he was resigning his post. He did not go into much detail as to why he was resigning. The High Priest did not question the matter further, assuming that the resignation was related in some way to Sauls health.

In fact, Sauls health quickly returned after his baptism. His physical state seemed to reflect his spiritual. He was filled with energy. He was filled with the excitement of new possibilities. His heart soared with awe and wonder at God love for him. His only concerns where how to take up his new life. Everything that had gone before was now over. Nothing of his old life fit the reality in which he now lived. The more he learned from Ananias and the other believers, the clearer this becamehe could not go back to his prior way of life!

Saul remained in Damascus, trying to fit into the community of believers there and to learn as much as he could of Joshua. He prayed constantly. He took a job as a tentmaker. There was a brisk trade in tents because of the caravan traffic through the city. He learned the skill as a youth, while working at his fathers tannery. No longer a practicing rabbi, tentmaking now provided Sauls financial support. Eventually, Saul felt confident enough to want to share his new faith.

Since the believers were still very much part of the Jewish community, it was not uncommon for Joshuas followers to attend the synagogue for worship. Saul became a familiar figure at the synagogue and was eventually invited to offer his commentary on the Scripture. Saul offered a brilliant reflection and impressed everyone, until the reflection lead to the conclusion that Joshua is the Son of God! They were in shock! The worshippers remembered Saul as a rabbi and persecutor of the new sect. Now he was defending the sect, claiming to be one of them! Sauls statements stirred up a great deal of debate in the Damascus Jewish community. It didnt help that Saul was so learned and such a skillful debater that attempts to refute his assertions about Joshua left them feeling that he had gotten the better of them.

Before long it became clear that Sauls would not remain in good health if he stayed in Damascus. He made too many enemies. So, he joined one of the caravans heading toward Arabia. His first stop was the Nabataean kingdom southeast of Damascus. Over the next three years he visited a number of the larger towns there including Petra, the capital of the kingdom. His travels eventually extended eastward into Saudi Arabia.

His life was a mix of work, prayer, and proclaiming his newfound faith. It was during this period at the edge of the desert that Saul experienced a great deepening of his prayer life. He hints in his epistles that his time in the desert produced a number of visions and many spiritual gifts. He seems to have faced many of the questions that seemed so overwhelming at the time of his baptism. He was at peace.

Eventually, he headed toward Damascus to visit Ananias and the other Christians. That name for the movement had gained popularity during Sauls absence. His plan was to stay there for several months and then head back to Tarsus. He missed his family and wanted to spend some time with them.

His time in Damascus was cut short. The men he angered by his open advocacy of Joshua three years ago had long memories. When they saw his face in the synagogue new plots were quickly afoot to do Saul harm. Ananias suggested that Saul travel to Jerusalem and meet with Peter and some of the other Christian leaders. So, it was decided that the next step on his journey was back to Jerusalem.

When Saul walked with Ananias to the city gates the next day to begin his journey, his friend recognized some of the people who meant to harm Saul. They did a quick about face and retreated to safety. Over the next few days Ananias tried to find a way to get Saul out of the city and on his way to Jerusalem unharmed. Every time he checked, Sauls enemies were lurking at the city gates. Finally he decided to put Saul in a large basket late at night and lower him by rope from one of the many guard towers on the city wall. With the help of a few able-bodied Christians, Saul was finally on his way to Jerusalem.

His assessment of the reaction of the Jerusalem Christian community was accurate. They wanted nothing to do with him. No one could believe that Saul, their worst enemy and zealous persecutor, was one of them. The apostles thought that his claims of conversion were a ploy to access the Christian leadership, so they could be more easily targeted in subsequent persecutions.

After a week of rejection, Saul was about to give up when he bumped into Barnabas near the Temple. Saul first met Barnabas in Damascus shortly after his conversion. The Cypriot was surprised as everyone else that Saul claimed to be a Christian. However, he gave the convert a chance. He watched Saul and listened to his efforts at evangelizing the Damascus Jewish community. Barnabas was convinced of his sincerity, even if Sauls lacked tact.

Barnabas was staying in Jerusalem at the time and was well known in the Christian community. He offered to vouch for Saul with the leaders of the Christian community. Before long Saul visited with Simon, James, John and most of the other apostles still living in Jerusalem. While many of the believers kept Saul at arms length, the sincerity of his faith was no longer in doubt.

Saul was among the most educated and intellectually subtle of the believers. He had been trained to be a careful and discrete rabbi. He knew how the political and religious structures of Jerusalem worked and had been a masterful player at one point. Since becoming a Christian a major change had come over him.

Saul was possessed by zeal for sharing the Good News with others. He would preach at the least provocation. His proclamation of Joshua as the risen Messiah was consistently clear and eloquent. As a result, Saul always seemed to get members of the Jewish community angry with him. Thus, it was not surprising that after only a few months among the Christians of Jerusalem, they also were sneaking him out of the city to preserve his life. He was escorted to Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast where he caught a ship for Tarsus.

Luke notes that with Saul back in Tarsus the Christians throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. The Holy Spirit used this time of relative peace to bring new believers to the Faith.

 

Upon his return to Tarsus, Saul was both pleased and a bit surprised to learn that Rabbi Yakov was a Christian. Indeed, the rabbi was one of the leaders of the young community. Saul was also surprised and saddened that many members of the Christian community in his hometown were not all happy to see their native son return. He spoke of this with Yakov who reminded him that his reputation preceded him. Saul was frustrated and almost cried, "Will I ever be rid of my blindness before I found Christ? Will anyone ever forgive and forget?"

The rabbi put his hand on Sauls shoulder and smiled. "Young man, they have already forgiven you the evil you did in ignorance. The reputation that has preceded you is your irresponsible zeal as a Christian. Obviously you are filled with passion and want to serve the Lord but the way you go about it stirs up anger and reprisals, not just against you but against the entire Christian community. Temper your zeal. Learn to direct it more effectively. You know that ninety percent of the work of a rabbi is the pastoral care of his congregation. It is no different with the Christian community. One can proclaim the Good News and gain new believers in abundance but what good is it? Unless you nurture them and bring them to spiritual maturity, your preaching has no fruit in the long run.

Saul realized that his old friend and mentor was correct. Now was not the time to stir up anger against the infant Christian community. Its members needed nurtured. He needed to mature in ministry before he did any more damage.

Rabbi Yakov continued to serve the Jewish community in Tarsus with Sauls part time assistance. At the same time, both were active in the Christian community. Since the majority of Christians in Tarsus were also Jewish and continued to remain part of the Jewish community, there was little sense of incongruence between the two. Being a Christian was still considered only a personal interest of its members. It was not yet seen as being anything other than a movement within Judaism.

At the same time Saul was quite busy with his fathers business. The man was getting on in years and relied on his sons judgment and assistance. Saul was not burdened with the day to day management of the tannery, as his younger brother assumed that responsibility. His father had given Saul to the Lords work and respected that commitment. However, Sauls part-time involvement in the business helped him to provide for his own support. Saul had a good head on his shoulders and was an asset to the business.

It was in Tarsus that Saul realized that real ministry was more listening than preaching, more service than judging. People no longer feared Saul as a brash and dangerous young firebrand. In fact, they began to like him. His advice was practical. His judgments gained a subtlety that reflected not only a concern for justice but also for the common good. He gained a sense of the importance of community building. He eventually realized that the number of Christians in Tarsus was growing considerably. By building up the faith of all of the believers, each one was able to proclaim his or her faith more effectively through the example of their lives. The converts who came to the faith as a result of such witness were committed and endured.

The years came and went quietly. Rabbi Yakov died about five years after Sauls return. Saul was offered the post as rabbi for the Tarsus synagogue but declined in favor of a rabbi several years younger than himself. Saul realized that his primary commitment was to the Christian community. Ultimately the dual allegiance would not work. The differences were becoming clearer with each passing year. Rather than lay the seeds of later problems, he decided to just continue on as an assistant at the synagogue. He had become a leader within the Tarsus Christian community. It was here that he concentrated his efforts. He had even been successful in attracting pagans to Christian belief, though no one was sure just how to incorporate them into the Christian community.

Occasionally leaders from the Jerusalem Christian community would visit Tarsus to encourage the believers. Barnabas was a frequent visitor and an old friend. On one visit Barnabas told Saul that he was being asked to go to Antioch. They were having leadership problems in that community and needed people with some experience. Nicolas, one of the Greek speaking deacons appointed in Jerusalem along with Stephen, had originally founded the community. When the persecutions began he returned to Antioch, as it was his home. He was successful in establishing the Faith there. However, he was so successful that the community was more than he could manage. The apostles were concerned about the Antioch community, as the city was the third largest in the Roman Empire and the major metropolitan center in the region. They were also getting a great deal of interest from gentiles and needed help in incorporating non-Jews into the Christian community. Saul was about to congratulate Barnabas on this new mission when his friend asked him to come along. It didnt take Saul very long to decide that this was a call from God. His long internship was coming to an end. Perhaps, Joshua had a purpose from him outside of Tarsus?

Saul was brilliant in Antioch! Every lesson that he learned in Tarsus was put to good use. The community came to life. Large numbers of gentiles came to faith in Joshua and, through trial and error, they were successfully brought into the Christian community. Their zeal and faith brought new energy to all the Christians in Antioch. Before long believers from Antioch were going out as missionaries, spreading the Faith to new communities in the region.

One day a group of Christians from Jerusalem visited Antioch. The large number of gentile Christians who obviously did not follow Jewish laws scandalized them. Barnabas and Saul did not require that gentile believers become Jews, as did some Christian leaders. They were convinced that faith in Christ could exist apart from living as a Jew. However, the visitors from Jerusalem caused a great deal of confusion among the Antioch believers. Saul and Barnabas felt that the matter had to be settled once and for all, as too many gentiles were coming into the Faith for the issue to remain ambiguous.

Within the month Saul and Barnabas visited Jerusalem. This was Sauls second time in the city since coming to faith in Christ. He was received a good deal more warmly than the last visit. He was even respected as a graced and accomplished Christian leader. Simon called a meeting of the apostles and other leaders of the Christian community in the region. It was Saul who presented the arguments on behalf of the gentile Christians. It was clear that he was no longer a zealot. Rather, he had matured into a compassionate and wise pastor of souls. In the end, Sauls position held sway and became the policy of the Christian community. Gentiles were welcome and did not have to take on the appearance or practice of Judaism. They were expected to live Christian lives. That was demanding enough for anyone!

Saul and Barnabas were given a letter from Simon explaining the decision of the council and were commissioned to return to Antioch and inform the believers of its contents.

Before they left for Antioch, Saul and Barnabas had a private meeting with the apostles still residing in Jerusalem. The meeting has several outcomes.

First, the work of Saul and Barnabas in Antioch was honored. They were encouraged to continue bringing the Good News to gentiles, though with prudence and sensitivity to the believers of Jewish origin.

Second, the financial difficulties of the Jerusalem community were explained to the two men. The faith brought great hope to the poor and oppressed. Thus, many of those who came to faith in Joshua were poor. The Jerusalem Christians struggled to help them but lacked the resources. In addition, many of the new Christian communities in the region were no better off. They needed help with their poor.

They also needed teachers to instruct them in the Good News. If teachers were sent, it would be necessary to provide some financial support for them. In any case, funds were needed. Simon informed Saul and Barnabas of this because Antioch was a wealthy city and its Christians were able to meet their own needs. Perhaps, they might be willing to share some of their abundance with the mother Church in Jerusalem and assist in the missionary work of the Church?

Third, over dinner, Simon spoke of the need of the Church to reach out more effectively to other parts of the Roman Empire. He looked forward to the time when he would be able to travel and spread the Good News. The great success in Antioch encouraged Simon and the others that they had to act soon. The people were ready, waiting for the Good News.

The next day, as the two men rode back toward Antioch, they spoke of their conversation with Simon. Both felt the need to respond to the mission of evangelization that Simon had outlined. Each was ideally suited for such a mission. Neither would be dependent upon the communities they visited. Barnabas was comfortably wealthy and could pay his own expenses. Saul was able to draw upon family resources for his part in the mission. If this was not enough, he had a manual skill as a tanner and tentmaker that could provide for his support. Further, both were knowledgeable teachers and experienced evangelists, especially working with gentiles. They could also make use of the journey to educate the believers to the needs of the Jerusalem Church. Their only problem seemed to be how to gracefully bring their mission in Antioch to an end?

A few days later, at a meeting of the Antioch Christian leaders, Paul and Barnabas reported on their experiences in Jerusalem. To their surprise, Simeon, Lucius and Manaen, presbyters of the Antioch Christian community, reported that the Holy Spirit spoke to them in prayer and instructed them to anoint Saul and Barnabas to undertake a missionary journey to the Jews and gentiles of the Empire. The Holy Spirit provided a graceful exit for the two would-be missionaries.

Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem a few months later to discuss their plan with Simon. The idea was greeted with whole-hearted support. In fact, Simon hoped that the two of them might feel moved to undertake such a journey. They remained in Jerusalem a few more days to make arrangements for the journey. Among the arrangements, Barnabas sister convinced him to bring her son John Mark on the journey. He was a strong young man and a good writer. He might prove useful on the journey.

The small group of evangelists set out from the port of Antioch a few weeks later to begin their missionary journey. The first stop was Cyprus, Barnabas home island. His contacts on the island would provide them easy access to people, as well as a network of support for anyone coming to faith in Christ. They figured it was a good place to get their feet wet. They began at Salamis and worked their way around the entire island, preaching at synagogues. They felt that prudence demanded that they speak to the Jews first of the messiah. When they reached the town of Paphos they encountered a magician called Bar-jesus. Strangely, this fellow was Jewish. This is strange because the Torah prohibited magic! The magician had worked his way into the confidence of the Roman Pro-counsul on Cyprus and carried a good deal of influence.

The Pro-consul was interested when he heard the news about the two evangelists and wanted to hear what they had to say. The magician opposed this idea and tried to interfere with their presentation before the Pro-counsul. Paul, as he was known in the Greek speaking world, was angered by the magicians attempt to disrupt Gods Word. He denounced the magician as a tool of Satan and predicted that the mans spiritual blindness would produce physical blindness as well, a condition with which he had first hand experience. To everyones surprise, the magician became blind on the spot. Thus, the first of the gentile believers on Cyprus was the astonished Roman Pro-counsul!

After several months on Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the Good News throughout the island. There was a fairly large community of Christians, comprised of both Jew and gentile. A core of leaders had been installed for the new Christian community and arrangements had been made for teachers to visit and deepen their knowledge. It was time to move on. Next they set sail for Perga in Pamphylia and began their mission on the Hellenic mainland from there. Upon arriving in Perga, John Mark asked to return to his mother in Jerusalem. He was young and homesick. The journey was proving too much for him. Barnabas was disappointed but arranged for his nephews passage to Jerusalem on the next ship. Paul was irritated by the youths softness and lack of perseverance but said nothing to offend his partner on this missionary effort.

Their journey began to take on a pattern. They would enter a town and visit with the Christians, if any happened to live there. They then attended synagogue services and proclaimed the Good News. Afterward, they would rent a hall to proclaim the Good News to the gentiles as well. They made sure that anyone who came to faith through their preaching was placed in contact with Christians living in the town, so that their tender faith would be nourished by Christian community. The evangelists also encouraged and strengthened the faith of the Christians. This done, they moved on to the next town. So, on this first missionary journey, they visited Perga, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, as well as Antioch in Pisidia. Eventually they returned home to Antioch, where they gave an accounting of their efforts.

They met both success and failure. Many came to faith through their preaching. Though Jews whose attitude were similar to that of Paul before his conversion dogged their trail and tried to stir up trouble. This first journey lasted almost two years. They arrived back in Antioch around 51 AD.

Paul found his calling during the first missionary journey. He realized that he was called to be a seed-planter, a missionary. Thus, during the months following his return to Antioch he was restless.

Eventually, he spoke with Barnabas. Before long the two of them were drawing up the details of another missionary journey. This one would be broader in scope, reaching beyond Asia and into the Greek cities of Europe.

All proceed well until just before the departure date, when Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark along on this journey as well. While Barnabas argued that his nephew had matured somewhat since the last journey, all Paul could think of was the boy who had abandoned them just when the real work was about to begin. Paul argued that resources were limited. Anyone who came along had to prove his worth. Most likely they would be persecuted, beaten, or put in jail. The last thing they needed was someone who didnt have the courage of his convictions! Barnabas continued to insist that John Mark accompany them and that he was much more dependable now.

Neither budged an inch on the issue. So, eventually they decided to go their own ways. Barnabas and John Mark would retrace the steps of the first missionary journey and see how the new Christian communities were doing. Paul would visit new cities as far as Greece with the Good News. Paul didnt want to undertake such an extensive journey on his own, so he invited Silas, one of the Antioch presbyters, to accompany him on the journey. By the end of 51AD Paul was again under sail. Much of the next seven years would be devoted to his second and third missionary journeys.

Paul left the Church three important legacies during these seven yearshis disciples, his letters, and the communities that he helped found.

Pauls impatience, "radical ideas", and relatively short temper may have alienated him from some Christian leaders of the first generation. However, Paul played a very important role in forming the Christian leadership of the second generation of believers. Many young men who eventually assumed roles of leadership in the Christian community had been companions of Paul on various legs of his second or third missionary journeys.

We saw how young Silas accompanied Paul from Antioch on the second missionary journey. Silas endured many hardships on the journey and took the difficulties well, giving powerful witness of his faith in Christ. That many came to faith in Christ on that journey was due as much to him, as it was to Paul.

Just a few months into the journey, Paul stopped in Lystra where a young man named Timothy was so taken with Paul that he wanted to join the apostle on his mission. Paul saw promise in the young man and invited him to come along. Timothy turned out to be one of Pauls most faithful companions and later one of the great bishops of the early Church.

Aquila was an Italian Jew who along with his wife, Priscilla, had been forced out of Italy during one of the many persecutions that flared up. They were living in Corinth when Paul showed up there. The couple were tentmakers, a trade they shared with Paul. They grew to be friends and before long Paul was living and working with them. Their home became Pauls base of operations in Corinth. Later, they joined Paul for more of the second journey and part of his third missionary journey.

During his third missionary journey, while traveling in Greece, a young physician named Luke joined Pauls group of companions. It has been suggested that Paul suffered from malaria, or a similar recurring illness. During one of these bouts while in Greece, Luke ministered to Paul and came to faith in Christ at the same time. In any case, it is at Philippi in Macedonia that Luke first shows up in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke eventually became one of the most talented and detailed of the contributors to the New Testament canoncontributing both the Gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles.

While Paul planted seeds of faith in many towns and cities throughout the Mediterranean area, he didnt view himself as responsible for the long-term work of community building. That was left for local Christian leaders or for other teachers whose mission was to settle among a new community of believers and help them to grow in faith. There were a few cities however where Paul played an important role in establishing and nurturing the young Christian community. We have already seen how Paul played a critical role in the Christian communities of Tarsus and Antioch.

He stayed for almost two years in Corinth, with Aquila and Priscilla. Here he was instrumental in establishing the Christian community. At the time Paul was there, Corinth was a major urban center. It was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia, which included all of mainland Greece south of Macedonia. While Athens was still the richest city of mainland Greece in terms of culture and education, Corinth was the commercial and political heart of the region. It was a much larger city than Athens. It was also much more cosmopolitan in the diversity of peoples who lived there. It seemed also to be much more of a Roman city than Greek. It came to its glory during the Roman occupation of Greece, so the influence of the Latin language and cultures were quite evident. In many respects Corinth was much like Antioch. He felt it important to provide a firm base for the faith in this critical Greek city.

Paul stayed for several months in Ephesus. This was longer than his stay in most cities, though relatively short compared to Corinth. It appears that his longer stay was precipitated by the decadence of the city and its central role in pagan worship. He wanted to give the believers as firm a base as possible in order to withstand the pressure. According to tradition, the Apostles in Jerusalem had similar concerns. Eventually, John, the Beloved Apostle, was appointed as bishop of Ephesus. Also according to tradition, Mary accompanied John to Ephesus and it was here that she spent the last of her remaining days on Earth.

As we shall see, Rome became another city to benefit from Pauls missionary efforts.

Paul was a prolific letter writer. Even if he couldnt be present physically among the believers he brought to faith, he did his best to continue to strengthen them in their faith through correspondence. They seemed to depend upon Paul to a certain extent to settle disputes and to clarify the moral implications of Christian belief. A majority of the letters found in the New Testament are attributed to Paul. He would write them as he traveled from one town to the next or as he sat in chains awaiting deliverance, trial, or death. The letters enlighten us not only on the history of the early Church but also play an important role in the developing doctrine of the early Church.

Pauls final visit to Jerusalem came at the end of the third missionary journey in 59 AD. He wanted to bring the proceeds of his collection to Jerusalem to assist the needy in that city. He also felt it important to report to the Christian leaders on the success of his efforts. There had been controversy as well among the Jewish Christians about Pauls lax treatment of the gentile converts and there was a need to get that worked out among the Christian leaders. James warned Paul of the reputation that he had earned in recent years. He was considered the worst of apostates among the Jews of the city. Once a respected Jewish leader, he was now drawing thousands of Diaspora Jews away from the Law of Moses. James feared for Pauls life.

Paul went about his business in the city over the next week. Everything was relatively quiet. Though, those who wanted to be rid of the apostate carefully watched him. When he was at Temple praying, some men began shouting and accusing him of bringing gentiles into the Temple. They had seen him with one of his Greek companions in the city earlier in the week and assumed that he had allowed his companion to accompany him to the temple as well. The shouting turned into a riot and before long Roman soldiers marched in and removed Paul from the Temple grounds for his own safety.

The tribune thought the entire commotion to be a silly religious dispute that made no sense to him. He had to quell the riot and so removed its apparent cause. Now he just wanted to bring an end to the affair and go home for supper. Paul offered to speak to the crowd milling around near the fortress the Romans used as a jail. Perhaps they misunderstood who Paul was or what he actually taught. The tribune hoped the affair had just been a misunderstanding and gave his permission. So, Paul was allowed to stand at the top of the fortress steps and speak. Paul tried to explain that he was a Jew raised in the Law and had been zealous in his love for the law. He went on to explain his conversion and his attempt to bring that Good News to as many as possible. Before he could get too far along in his explanation, a riot again broke out again and the guards brought him into the fortress.

More than a little angered by what transpired, the tribune ordered Paul to be flogged. Just before the order was to be carried out, Paul informed the tribune that he was a Roman citizen. Now the tribune really wanted to be done with the entire affair. He quickly released Paul from his chains and moved him to a more comfortable section of the fortress. Though he needed to keep Paul in the fortress for his own protection. The tribune figured that he would have the Sanhedrin present any charges they might wish the next day. Assuming all the charges were religious, he could dismiss them as being irrelevant before a secular authority and then release Paul.

As expected, there were no charges placed against Paul of any merit. Yet, it was clear that if he released Paul, the man would be killed. Pauls nephew had warned his uncle of threats against his life. The Tribunes sources had given him the same information. Finally, the tribune decided to send Paul on to the provincial governor in Caesarea with a complete explanation of the situation.

The Governor was a man named Felix who enjoyed the honor of being a governor but was not a man of action or decision by any means. He realized that there was no basis for keeping Paul in prison and wanted to release him. However, the local religious leaders were adamant that Paul be punished for his offenses. If the Romans would not punish Paul, they would. So, for the next two years Paul stayed on in Caesaria as a house guest of the Governor, technically under house arrest but under no restrictions of substance. This continued until the Governor concluded his term in office and was replaced by Festus. His successor was a man of action and wanted to do something about the house guest he inherited.

Festus decided that he would hold a trial for Paul in Jerusalem. There were no charges worthy of Roman law but the Sanhedrin would have a chance to present their case against Paul. Afterward, Festus could release Paul and be done with the matter. Paul realized that he would not survive the trial. If he was not killed on the way to Jerusalem, certainly he would not last five minutes as a free man in Jerusaem. So, on hearing of the Governors plan, Paul formally appealed the decision to Rome. The Governor was almost as pleased with the appeal as his plan. The result of both was to get Paul off his back. He would send Paul on to Rome with the first favorable winds.

Pauls journey to Rome was long and arduous. The captain hoped to make it to Rome before the seasonal winds changed. He barely made it out of port when the winds changed and the ship sought safe haven in various ports as it inched its way to Italy. Near Crete the ship was wrecked in a storm and Paul was stung by a scorpion. In the end, no serious harm was done to Paul. He made it to Rome along with the disciples who accompanied him and his Roman guards. Once there Paul was turned over the commander of the Praetorian Guards, who released him to stay in his own lodgings. A soldier was assigned to be responsible for Pauls whereabouts. Other than that, Paul enjoyed very few restrictions on his freedom while in Rome. He spent this time proclaiming his loyalty to Judaism to the Jewish community of Rome, writing his vast correspondence, and ministering to the Christian community in Rome.

Most Scripture scholars believe that at the end of two years in Rome Paul was released from Imperial custody, as it is unlikely that anyone from Judea put in an appearance in Rome to prosecute the case. Further, Paul would have been released from custody around 62 AD unless there was a finding of guilt. At that time there were no Roman persecutions of Christians. There were no real charges offered by Festus either. His main goal in sending Paul to Rome was to get his houseguest out of Judea where he would have been murdered.

There are traditions throughout the Mediterranean that Paul went on a fourth missionary journey following his release from Roman custody. This journey is supposed to have taken him as far West as Spain and as far East as Cilicia, the province of his birth. According to these traditions, when Nero began the persecution of Christians in Rome, similar persecutions of Christians were sparked throughout the Empire. Paul, being a well-known Christian, was caught up in the dragnet and returned to Rome. This would have taken place in 67AD, which is the traditional year of Pauls beheading. Whether he died in 62 AD or 67 AD, that Paul died in Rome is clearly established. The policy toward Christians having changed since his first visit to the Eternal City, Paul was quickly taken outside the wall of the city and beheaded. This was a clean and relatively painless death, as befitted a Roman citizen. Thus ended the earthly life and ministry of one of Gaius Julius Paulus...scholar, rabbi, evangelist, missionary, Christian and saint.

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

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