This book focuses on the apostle Paul as a powerful Vessel in the hand of Christ. First, it presents Paul as a student at the feet of Gamaliel and an active member of the Sanhedrin. Next, it deals with Paul’s encounter with Jesus-Christ on the road to Damascus. It closes with the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles world.
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A Chosen Vessel in the Hand of a Mighty Savior
By Gesner Noel
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Gesner Noel
All rights reserved.
The Origin of Paul
St. Paul is undoubtedly a very important figure in the history of the Western world, and just a quick glance at his accomplishments is enough to understand the influence his life and works had on Christians and indeed the world.
The apostle Paul, who began his life as Saul of Tarsus, is clearly one of the most intriguing figures of the first century of Christianity, and he comes second only to Jesus Christ. Comparing these two towering figures of Christianity, Paul is considered to be more recognizable and also better known, especially because of the letters he wrote, which we have as primary sources of the Christian faith. In fact, his works are some of the earliest documents we have on Christianity, as he penned thirteen out of the twenty-seven books of the Bible. He's also the hero of another book, the Acts of the Apostles.
Paul is also an astonishing figure because we tend to divide various categories in modern scholarship, such as Jews from Gentiles or Greek-speaking from Hebrew-speaking people. There is also Palestinian Judaism, from which derives apocalypticism. And then there's Rabbinic Judaism and Hellenistic Judaism, which has been derived from the Greek world. The apostle Paul seems to fall under all these categories, which therefore confounds modern divisions, thus making the man a puzzling figure in many respects.
The major influence that Paul has had on Christianity as a faith after he died is through his letters. But in his own time, Paul saw himself as a prophet, especially to the disbelievers, and his goal was to bring them together through the message of the crucified Christ. And this was one goal that he accomplished in a rather extraordinary way.
Paul viewed the cities where he lived as the key to the rapid expansion of the Christian faith, which was relatively new at the time. We can see this in the places where his journeys took him, all of which are either on a major Roman road or seaport. These cities all great trading centers of the world and the center of major migrations of people. This is how we know that Paul looked at the spread of the new faith not only from a Roman point of view but from an urban perspective as well.
Early works have described Paul as a man of a pleasing and affable manner with broad shoulders, closely knit eyebrows, a fair complexion, and a thick, grayish beard. He famously converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, after which he traveled thousands of miles across the Mediterranean to spread the new message. Paul came up with a doctrine that would transform Christianity from a small Jewish sect into a worldwide faith that was open to all.
Whatever we know about the apostle Paul comes from two rather extraordinary sources. The first, the Acts of the Apostles, was composed after his death by someone who could also be linked to the Gospel of St. Luke. There is lots of evidence that Acts was primarily written to spread the Christian message, but behind the theology, there are some clues about the extraordinary life of a man who is credited with transforming Christianity as a faith. Acts is the go-to source to find out more about Paul's life because the author claims to have known Paul and even contends that he accompanied Paul on his many travels to spread the Christian message.
The second source comes in the shape of Paul's own letters, which represent his own version of various events that unfolded during his life. It's safe to say that they are a more reasonable and reliable source for those who really want to find out more about Paul.
Behind all the puzzles and paradoxes, we get to see fascinating glimpses of the man who has intrigued believers and nonbelievers alike. In this book, we are going to learn more about how a Hellenistic Jew named Saul transformed into the revered St. Paul.CHAPTER 2
As with other faiths, while observing Christianity, we see that all of the threads of its early development — which the great races of older history formed — have been gathered together as a complex whole. This brings us to the quick conclusion that we have just the same amount of truth on the faith as we have on the trustworthiness of early history. In other words, the earlier works its way into the latter, and the latter grows out of the earlier. In this way, both aspects should be taken in together in order to receive the complete picture of history's subject and to guarantee the truth.
While we must understand that each exists for the other and they both derive their comprehensibility from each other, we must also accept the general outline of history as a whole or else fall victim to rejecting it as a whole on the plea that there is insufficient proof.
It is true that there is not a fact of early history — be it Christian or non-Christian — that isn't susceptible to being disputed with sufficient amount of logical and rational argument. For instance, if we revisited the battles of Marathon or Salamis, we would find that everywhere we will be reduced to a fine balance between the evidence and the frequent to balance those events to such an extent that one would be left without any confidence on the point at hand. Yet the confidence we have in the general facts regarding these two battles and their immediate results is not, as a rule, even slightly affected by the uncertainty that we have on the details.
Regardless there are always going to be those who argue that the trustworthiness of the whole should be equally proportionate to the trustworthiness of the parts. In fact, it should also be pointed out, in such circumstances where all the details are uncertain, it is hard to study the whole as a worthy subject matter. And even those who are unable to see or feel for themselves the fallacy of an argument will not be convinced by any amount of reasoning that will be adduced on the subject.
For those who do not find it favorable to adopt this extreme point of view, there is no other logical position except accepting the general details of ancient history. This is where Christianity, as a faith, is the crowning factor of both a rational plan and unity that brings purpose to the whole.
The life of St. Paul also partakes of the same kind of uncertainty that normally envelopes all of history. Keeping that in mind, we will find ourselves in the precarious position of having to balance every minute detail on the evidence, the variety of opposite opinions, and the assertion among scholars of every school of thought and shade. And even in regard to the nearest point of approach — which is generally agreed upon between the various schools, we will find ourselves unable to agree. This is why it is best to begin at the very beginning of Paul's life and study the events that led to the membership of the Sanhedrin and his encounter with Christ.
While studying Paul, one can get a sense of a certain air of pride that Paul had toward his birthplace. This can also be seen in Paul's boasting on one occasion that he was a citizen of no mean city. In fact, Paul had a heart that seemed to be formed by nature, which allowed him to feel the warm glow of patriotism. Yet it was neither Cilicia nor Tarsus for which his fire burned.
One way to describe Paul is that he was an alien even in the land where he was born. Engaged in trade and commerce, Paul's father was one of those Jewish families who were scattered during that age over many cities throughout the Gentile world. His family had left the Holy Land, but they never forgot it. In other words, they had never assimilated with the populations among whom they dwelt, but in dress, religion, food, and many other traits, they had remained a peculiar people.
Indeed they were less rigid in their religious views and were found to be more tolerant of the foreign customs they experienced while blending in with other people. But that being said, Paul's father was not one who gave way to laxity. At present, we must emphasize the complex influences Paul had while growing up. Traditionally Paul grew up as a Diaspora Jew who followed a very traditional upbringing, but he does not live in his homeland. Rather Paul lived in Tarsus, a city that lies in eastern Turkey.
So Paul lived in a Greek city, which put him in an interesting location, at the crossroads on the frontier of the Middle East. We know he also had a very traditional Jewish education since he was trained to be a Pharisee, making him familiar with the traditional interpretation of the Jewish scriptures and prophets. This is evident in the way Paul uses a somewhat prophetic language, both as a way of framing his message and expressing his own self-understanding of the infant Christian faith. The only way this could be possible was if Paul were already steeped in prophetic language from his studies of the Jewish faith and traditions.
According to the law of his country, Paul was first and foremost a Roman citizen. This character alone supersedes all others before the law, even in the general opinion of the society, thus placing him amid the aristocracy of the time. History tells us, during the first century when citizenship was still being jealously guarded, the civitas can be taken as proof that Paul's family was one of wealth and distinction. It can also be implied that there was a certain amount of friendliness to the imperial government for citizens in general and Jewish citizens in particular. In that way, Paul, as a Roman, had both a nomen and praenomen.
Second, Paul was not a mere person who was born in Tarsus, owing to the unfortunate accident of his family living there. He enjoyed his citizen's rights in Tarsus as well. And we can assume that Paul was careful enough to keep within the law and customs of Tarsus.
According to the interpretation of Roman law, the civitas was regarded as superior of all other Roman citizenships. But this theoretical exclusiveness seemed to be opposed to the imperial spirit, and this is quite clear in the fact that it was commonplace for Roman civitas who were residing in the provincial city to fill up positions of high-class citizens and even had magistracies pressed upon them by the consent of Caesar.
So if Paul's family merely immigrated to Tarsus from Judea a few years before his birth, neither he nor his father would be Tarsians. Rather they were merely residents. It is also possible that the family was planted in Tarsus, having full rights as part of a colony of the Seleucid kings in order to strengthen their hold on the city. This is possible since the Seleucid kings seemed to have had preferred Jewish colonists in their foundations in Asia Minor. Another less probable reason for Paul's Tarsian citizenship is that it could have been given to Paul's father or grandfather for their distinguished services to the state, but this is highly unlikely.
According to Philippians 3:5, Paul was a Hebrew who sprung from Hebrews. This is a fascinating remark, and it is similar to the very familiar expression among the Greeks, which goes like this, "A priest sprung from priests." This term is applied to members of the great Sacerdotal families, which play an important part in the societies of Asian cities.
So it is safe to say that Paul was a Roman, a Jew, and a Tarsian with regards to his surroundings. It is also quite obvious that the Jewish side of his nature and education had a profound impact on Paul as he developed his character.
While many interpreters focus on his words, "I am a Jew born in Tarsus," they seem to forget that he also said, "I am a Jew, a Tarsian, a citizen of no mean city." To Hebrews, Paul emphasized his Jewish character, while his birth in Tarsus was regarded as a mere accident.
In comparison to the Greek-Roman, Claudius Lysias, Paul is seen emphasizing his Tarsian roots after telling him of his Roman citizenship. While there is no inconsistency between both of these descriptions, most people have no problems understanding that a Jew can also be considered as an English citizen and yet be equally proud of his Jewish heritage.
Apart from that fact, it was common for men of wealthy and educated families to have dual nationalities in extraordinarily mixed societies of Eastern provinces. For the Hebrew of that period, it was easy to preserve the Hebraic side of his character along with his Greek citizenship. When it comes to the Jewish colony in a Seleucid city, it wasn't merely just a part of the city whose members were citizens, but rather the Seleucid Empire recognized it as the "Nation of the Jews in that City."
This fissure in the fundamental fabric of the city oftentimes caused complications that led to much jealousy and animosity amongst the Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, which is why Vespasian's orders terminated it circa AD 70, when he put an end to the existence of a Jewish nation and made the Jews part of the general population.
From this wide and diversified perspective, we can come to an accurate conclusion and better understand the reason behind Paul's suitability to expand the primitive Judaic church into the church of the Roman World. This can also be the reason for his extraordinary depth of adaptability and versatility when it came to universal humanity, which is clearly evident in Gospel of Luke.
While the Jew in his own land was considered to be more traditional and conservative, the Jew living abroad was considered to be the most ingenious and facile of men. Paul, by both precept and example, impressed the importance of both of his churches and the eventual development and nurturing of the church, which had been determined greatly by the constant intercommunications of its parts, which consequently left a lasting impression on the whole.
Why Paul's Roman Citizenship Is So Important
In the Roman Empire, being a Roman citizen meant having special legal rights. In other words, they were not treated as ordinary people. A person's Roman citizenship at the time was also of special significance when it came to legal proceedings since people who were thought to be Roman citizens were given special rights and privileges. This is reflected in Acts 22,
The tribune commanded Paul to be brought into the barracks and ordered him to be examined by scourging in order to find out why the men of Jerusalem shouted thus against they. But while he was being tied with the thongs, Paul said to one of the centurions who was standing close to him, "Is is lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen, and uncondensed?" When the centurion heard this, he went at once to the tribune and said to him, "What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen."
When Paul confirms that he is indeed a Roman citizen, the tribune's attitude toward him completely changes, and we see a noticeable change in the authority's tone. We can see that clearly in the passage from Acts 22:29, where it is written, "So, those who were about to examine him withdrew from him instantly; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him."
In these lines, it is clear that they saw, by scourging Paul, they would have been violating the sacred Roman law and, more importantly, exposing themselves to its strict penalties. The act of binding a Roman citizen in preparatory to scourge him with such intent, uncondemned and untried, was unlawful according to Roman law and especially because he was a Roman citizen.
It was unlawful to bind a man to a pillar or post, with a similar custom prevailing amongst the Jewish people as well. This act was condemned by declaration in Cicero against Verres, where it is written, "It is heinous sin to bind a Roman citizen, it is wickedness to beat him, it is next to parricide to kill him, and what shall I say to crucify him?" (Acts 22:25).
We learn more about Paul's Roman citizenship in other verses as well. "Although he had been long delayed in visiting the city, the special rights he had as a Roman citizen led to St. Paul finally coming to Rome" (Rom. 1:8–15).
Why Paul's Citizenship Led to Him Finally Coming to Rome
It mattered to Paul because one of the rights of being a Roman citizen was that one could have his case tried directly before Caesar. So we see one of the major turning points in Acts 25.
But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor said to Paul, "Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?" But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal where I ought to be tried. To the Jews, I have done no wrong, as you already know very well. If then, I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against men, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar." Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council answered, "You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go."
Rome's Caesar at the time was Nero, a cruel dictator. Although we have good reason to believe that Paul was released after he went before his first tribunal with Nero, Paul eventually fell into conflict with Nero, who had ordered him to be beheaded.
Excerpted from PAUL by Gesner Noel. Copyright © 2016 Gesner Noel. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
Part I Paul's Formative Years, 1,
Chapter 1 The Origin of Paul, 3,
Chapter 2 Paul's Nationality, 5,
Chapter 3 Paul's Personality, 12,
Chapter 4 Paul's Religion, 25,
Chapter 5 Paul's Education, 32,
Chapter 6 Paul's Family, 60,
Chapter 7 Paul's Role in the Sanhedrin, 67,
Part II Damascus Road and the Encounter with Christ, 79,
Chapter 8 Paul's Journey to Damascus, 81,
Chapter 9 Paul and the Divine Presence, 85,
Chapter 10 Paul's Inner Struggle, 88,
Chapter 11 The Meaning of Paul's Conversion, 93,
Chapter 12 Crucial Points of Paul's Conversion, 97,
Chapter 13 Characteristics of Paul's Conversion, 99,
Chapter 14 Saul Becomes Paul, 115,
Chapter 15 The Persecutor Becomes the Persecuted, 120,
Chapter 16 Paul and Barnabas, 123,
Part III Paul: The Chosen Vessel in Action, 127,
Chapter 17 Preaching Amongst the Jews, Gentiles, and Heathen, 129,
Chapter 18 Paul's First Missionary Journey Begins, 131,
Chapter 19 Paul's Second Missionary Journey Begins, 140,
Chapter 20 Paul's Third Missionary Journey Begins, 149,