Paul: The Missionary


Q. Why Study the Life of Paul?

  • Raymond E. Brown: “Next to Jesus Paul has been the most influential figure in the history of Christianity…Whether or not they know Paul’s words well, through what they have been taught about doctrine and piety, all Christians have become Paul’s children in the faith” (page 422) 

How do we know about the life of Paul?

 I. Sources about the Life of Paul

"Primary" source: Paul's Letters: What Paul himself wrote  

"Secondary" source: Acts of the Apostles: What others wrote about Paul

Other sources: Apocryphal writings: Writings outside the Bible (E.g., The Acts of Paul)

II. Paul’s Early Years

1. Birth: Tarsus of Cilicia

  • Acts 21:39 “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city”
  • Acts 22:2 “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia”
  • Acts 9:30 Christian leaders in Jerusalem take Paul to Caesarea “and sent him off to Tarsus”
  • Gal 1:21 “Then I went to Syria and Cilicia”

1. Birth: Tarsus of Cilicia

  • no ordinary city”: phrase used by Euripides (480-406 BC) to describe great city of Athens
  • Tarsus was important business center, university city and cross­road of travel
  • Paul’s Jewish parentage also strongly asserted in Rom 11:1 and Phil 3:5

2. Education: Jerusalem

  • Acts 22:3 “…but brought up in this city [Jerusalem]. I studied under Gamaliel …”
  • Paul went either as a boy or as a young man to the “Harvard” school of Judaism
  • Gamaliel: the most famous Jewish teacher of the 1st century (Acts 5:34 “Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by The Bible and its Story ; possibly a grandson of the great religious leader Hillel

 3. Religious Orientation: Zealous Pharisee

  • Paul belonged to conservative Jewish party of the Pharisees
  • Acts 23:6 “I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead”
  • Phil 3:5 “in regard to the law, a Pharisee”
  • Pharisee = “the separated ones”
  • Paul’s zeal or zealousness
  • Acts 22:3 “thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors and zealous for God”
  • Gal 1:13-14 “and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers”
  • Phil 3:6 “as for zeal, persecuting the church”
  • Numbers 25:13 "He [Phinehas] and his descendants will have a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites. 

 4. Persecutor of the Christian Church:

  • Acts 8:1 “And Saul approved of their killing him [Stephen]”
  • Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:9-11
  • Gal 1:13, 23 “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it … They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us …”
  • Phil 3:6 “… persecuting the church” 
  • 1 Tim 1:13 “Even though I was once … a persecutor and a violent man”

5. Appearance:

2 Cor 10:10  “For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing”

Acts of Paul (2nd cent. AD):
 “And he saw Paul coming, a man small in size, baldheaded, bandy-legged, of noble mien, with eyebrows meeting, rather hook-nosed, full of grace. Sometimes he seemed like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel” (3)

6. Legal Status: Roman Citizen

  • Paul was a Roman citizen
  • Only a small percentage of population enjoyed this great privilege
  • Three means of obtaining citizenship:
    • Inherit it through birth (so Paul: “I was born a citizen” [Acts 22:28])
    • Receive it as a reward for special service to the Roman empire
    • Purchase it at a great price (so Roman commander in Jerusalem: “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship” [Acts 22:28])

7. Paul made good use of his citizenship:

  • Philippi incident (Acts 16:35-39)
  • Jerusalem incident (Acts 22:22-29)
  • Caesarean appeal (Acts 25:10-12)

 Paul’s citizenship also impacted the nature of both his lengthy Caesarean and Roman imprisonment— not in jail but under “house arrest”

  • Acts 24:23 “…to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs”
  • Acts 28:16, 30 “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him … For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him”


8. Trade/Skill: Leatherworker

  • Paul learned a trade likely as part of his rabbinical training, since Jewish teachers were expected to support themselves by some form of labor
  • Acts 18:3 “And because he was of the same trade he stayed with them [Aquila and Priscilla], and they worked, for by trade they were tentmakers”
  • Since tents were usually made with leather, it may be better to call Paul a “leather worker” who not only made and repaired tents but a range of leather goods

Paul’s example of working to provide for his own support has led to the modern idea of a “tent making ministry”

9. Paul's Trade/ Skills: Leatherworker

  • Paul worked in order to avoid accusation that his ministry was selfishly motivated
  • Acts 21:33-34 “I have not coveted anyone silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions”
  • 1 Thess 2:9 “We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (in the context of 2:1-12 where Paul defends the integrity of his motives for ministry)

Paul’s example of working to provide for his own support has led to the modern idea of a “tent making ministry”

  • 2 Thess 3:7-9 “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we did not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat’”
  • 1 Cor 4:12 “We work hard with our own hands”


III. Paul’s Conversion (AD 33)

1. The Conversion Event:

Secondary source:

  • Acts 9:1-19
  • Acts 22:1-21
  • Acts 26:2-23

Primary Source: 

•Gal 1:11-12 “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any human source nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ”

2. Paul's Appeals to his Conversion Encounter with

1 Cor 9:1 “Have I not seen the Lord?” Christ:
1 Cor 15:8 “and last of all he [the Lord Jesus] appeared to me also”

IV. Early Missionary Activity (AD 33-47)

1. Three Year “Arabia” & Damascus Ministry:

  • After conversion, Paul spends three years in Arabia & Damascus
  • Gal 1:17 “I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I return to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem”
  • Arabia = not Arabian Peninsula but  the Nabatean Kingdom in northeast region of the Dead Sea, including city of Damascus (2 Cor 11:32)

2. 1st (“Conversion”) Visit to Jerusalem:

After three year ministry in Arabia & Damascus, Paul makes the first of what will be five visits to Jerusalem

Gal 1:18 “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas (Peter) and stayed with him fifteen days…”

Acts 9:26-30 Barnabas brings Paul to the Jerusalem apostles; Hellenistic Jews try to kill Paul and so believers take Paul to Caesarea and send him by boat to his home city of Tarsus

3. Ten Year Tarsus Ministry:

  • Acts 9:30 “…and sent him off to Tarsus”
  • Gal 1:21 “Then I went to Syria and Cilicia … Then after fourteen years, I went again to Jerusalem”
  • 14 years is likely from date of his conversion; if one deducts 3-year ministry in Arabia and Damascus, and deducts 1-year ministry in Antioch (see below), then 10 years are left for Tarsus ministry 

4. One Year Antioch Ministry:

  • Barnabas, who had been sent north from Jerusalem to minister in Antioch, brings Paul from Tarsus to help him
  • Acts 11:25-26 “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people”

5. 2nd (“Famine Relief”) Visit to Jerusalem:

Acts 11:27-30 Agabus predicts severe famine over entire Roman world and so Antioch church sends Barnabas and Saul to deliver the famine relief to Christians in Judea

Gal 2:1-10 “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas”

V. First Missionary Journey (AD 47-48)

Acts 13:4-14:28

  • Antioch church commissions Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to begin evangelistic trip; John Mark joins the missionary pair
  • Travel to Cyprus—home of Barnabas (Acts 4:36) & southern Galatia
  • John Mark leaves during middle of journey

Journey to Jerusalem Council (AD 48/49)

  • Jewish Christians (“Judaizers”) from Jerusalem travel north to Antioch and claim: “Unless you are circumcised … you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1)
  • Paul and Barnabas, along with some others, are appointed to discuss this issue with Jerusalem leaders (Paul’s 3rd visit to Jerusalem)
  • “Jerusalem Council” reaches a decision and then sends out to all the Gentile churches via Judas and Silas (who later travels with Paul) the “Apostolic Decree” which explains the decision 

VII. Second Missionary Journey (AD 49-51)

Barnabas and Mark return to Cyprus

Paul and Silas revisit Asia Minor churches & then go to new regions


VIII. Third Missionary Journey (AD 52-57)

Acts 18:23-21:26

  • Paul sent out again from Antioch on a 3rd missionary journey
  • Lengthy stay in Ephesus (2 years & 3 months)
  • Delivery of relief aid to Jerusalem (5th visit) which leads to his arrest 

IX. Caesarean Imprisonment (AD 57-59)

  • Felix: Paul appears over 2-year period before governor (and his Jewish wife Drusilla) who hoped to be offered a bribe for Paul; he commands the centurion: “Give him [Paul] some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs” (Acts 24:23)
  • Festus: Before new governor Paul appeals to Caesar to avoid being tried by Jewish leaders
  •  Agrippa II & Bernice: Paul meets with this Jewish king & his sister

X. Journey to Rome (AD 59-60)

Acts 27:1-28:31

  • Paul appeals to Caesar and so undertakes his prison journey to Rome
  • After storm off Crete, Paul’s ship crashes on shore of Malta
  • Paul takes another ship and finally arrives in Rome

XI. Roman Imprisonment (AD 60-62)

  • Acts 28:16: “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him”
  • Acts28:30: “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!”
  • House arrest versus prison 

XII. Fourth Missionary Journey? (AD 62-67)

  • Acts ends in chapter 28 with Paul freely preaching the gospel in the capital city of the Roman empire—a fulfillment of Jesus’ command in the opening of the book to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8)
  • Acts, therefore, does not spell out how Paul’s life ended
  • Was he acquitted and then began a 4th missionary journey?

Evidence: Pastoral Letters

  • 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus: events referred to in these letters cannot be fit anywhere into previous travels of Paul and thus assume a release from house arrest and a fourth missionary journey
  • Titus 1:5 “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you”
  • Implies that Paul and Titus were in Crete, a ministry not mentioned anywhere in Acts

Evidence: Romans

Romans 15:24, 28 “I plan on doing so [visiting the Christians in Rome] when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there [Spain] … So after I have completed this task [to bring relief aid to Judea] and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way”

Evidence: Clement of Rome
  • Clement of Rome (AD 30 – 100)
  • Epistle to the Corinthians (also known as 1 Clement) 5:6-7 “After he [Paul] had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the East and the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the west”

 Evidence: Muratorian Canon

  • Muratorian Canon (AD 170): the first explicit catalogue of NT books or the canon; an 85 line fragment of an 8th century Latin manuscript which is a translation from a Greek original dating to 170 due to its reference to Pius I, bishop of Rome (142-157) as recent; named after discoverer of the fragment, L. A. Muratori
  • Lines 38-39: “the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] when he journeyed to Spain”

 Evidence: Eusebius

  • Eusebius was Bishop of Caesarea and a church historian (AD 265-340)
  • Ecclesiastical History 2.22.3: “After pleading his cause, he [Paul] is said to have been sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and after a second visit to the city [of Rome], that he finished his life with martyrdom”

XIII. Paul’s Death (AD 67/68)

  • Early tradition consistently dates the martyrdom of both Paul and Peter during the reign and persecutions of Nero (AD 54-68) in Rome
  • Paul was beheaded with the sword at the third milestone on the Ostian Way, at a place called Aquae Salviae, and buried on the site covered now by the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

•Paul was almost certainly not martyred along with Nero’s gruesome killing of the Christians in Rome (thrown to the beasts, burnt alive as human torches, wrapped in animal skins and attacked by animals, etc.)

•Two facts support this:

  • Paul’s status as a Roman citizen ensured that he would be killed only after a trial
  • Paul’s death by beheading is the normal (and more humane) means by which Roman citizens were executed after being tried and sentenced to death

Paul commands his readers to remember the sacrifice that comes from being a follower of Christ: “Remember my chains!” (Col 4:18)

Paul similarly commands his readers now after his martyrdom in an even more powerful fashion: “Remember my decapitation!” 

Dr. Jeffrey A. D. Weima

Calvin Theological Seminary (

最后修改: 2023年07月25日 星期二 11:28