QUESTION: I see that there is a new movie coming out about St. Paul. What does the New Testament tell us about him?
ANSWER: The New Testament contains very little biographical material. Therefore, what we know about St. Paul must be pieced together from material provided throughout the Gospels and letters. Nowhere do we find an exact date for the birth of St. Paul. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is described as a “young man” standing nearby at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), which is generally dated somewhere between 20 and 40 A.D. This would indicate that Paul was probably born within the first decade of the Christian era.
In the writings ascribed to Paul, we are not told where he was born. He says that he was a Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin as well as a Pharisee (Phil 3:5). Yet his name “Paulos” is of Greek origin, and Paul’s writing indicates that he knew the Greek language well and most often quoted the Hebrew Scriptures in their Greek translation.
Luke tells us that Paul was born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3) and was a citizen of Rome from the time of his birth (Acts 22:26). Paul is also described in the Acts of the Apostles as one who was brought up in Jerusalem and educated at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Interestingly, this information is somewhat confusing because Paul himself never speaks of having known Jesus (who was frequently in Jerusalem and the surrounding area).
Paul’s mission to Damascus to arrest Christians (Acts 9:1-2; 22:4-5) indicates that he has considerable standing among the leaders of Jerusalem Judaism.
There is nothing specifically given in the Scriptures about the marital status of Paul. However, Scripture scholars point out that marriage was expected of rabbis. The passage in 1 Corinthians — “I say to the unmarried and the widowed, it is good for them to remain as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8) — could mean that Paul was never married or that he was a widower. Incidentally, 1 Corinthians 9:5 could indicate that Paul was a widow, but had not remarried.
For Paul, the crucial point in his life was that which occurred on the road to Damascus when he heard the Lord Jesus. That event, more than any other, is the starting point for Paul’s ministry. His preaching journeys are detailed within his own writings as well as in the Acts of the Apostles.
The end of Paul’s life begins with his appeal to Caesar requesting trial in Rome (Acts 25:11). The journey to Rome is described in the Acts (chapters 27-28), and Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus contain Paul’s comments as he approached the end of his life.
Paul’s death is not described in the Scriptures. However, Eusebius, a historian in the third century, told us that Paul was martyred during the persecution of Nero that lasted from 64 to 67 A.D.
Paul has inspired Christians throughout the ages, yet we know few details of his life. His testimony is not to be found in the life that he led, but in Christ to whom he continues to lead others.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.