In the mountains of Greece where the Greek gods and goddesses lived.
By Noralyn O. Dudt
WHO WAS PAUL? Churches, hospitals, schools and even towns and cities bear his name: St. Paul's Cathedral, St. Paul's College, St. Paul Hospital, Ciudad San Pablo, and so on.
Paul was not exactly the name he was born with. He was born as Saul in a place called Tarsus, which is now a part of eastern Turkey. A Roman citizen of Jewish parentage, he studied the Torah in Jerusalem with the well-known Jewish scholar Gamaliel and became a member of a sect called the Pharisees. They were an ancient Jewish faction distinguished by the strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.
"You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may be clean also." Jesus said in Matthew 23:26.
"Woe to you Pharisees ! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places." (Luke 11:43)
Jesus's interactions with the Pharisees were not at all very pleasant. The Pharisees and the Scribes were constantly looking for opportunities to pose questions that meant to trap him. Although one Pharisee named Nicodemus had come to Him "at night" saying "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." The conversation ended up with the most well-known verse that every child in Sunday School learns: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Other encounters were often brusque that left the Pharisees seething with anger. Jesus called them hypocrites for they "did not practice what they preached. They tied up heavy loads and put them on man's shoulders, but they themselves were not willing to lift a finger to move them" Luke 11:46
Jesus admonished them saying "you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition."
They were known to put emphasis on outward ordinances and actions that would make them appear righteous, but they were not concerned with actually being righteous in their hearts.
This was the group whom the young man named Saul received his training. It's no surprise then that he was a man bent on eliminating Christianity from the face of the earth. The young Christian community was growing as "the Lord added to their number those whom he was saving." The Holy Spirit was moving through and as their number increased, they aroused suspicions
and were regarded as a threat to the establishment as Jesus had been regarded before He was nailed on the cross. The disciples were being harassed. It became so serious that one disciple named Stephen was stoned to death, and Saul was there when Stephen lay dying. The Sanhedrin (powerful ruling council of ancient Israel) ultimately decided to arrest all the apostles and put them to death. But a member of the Council, a Pharisee called Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in high regard by the people said, ".......and so now, keep clear of these men, I tell you leave them alone. For if this idea of theirs or its execution is of human origin, it will collapse; but if it is from God, you will never be able to put it down, and you risk yourselves at war with God." Acts 5-38,39. For a while the disciples/apostles were left alone. But those "murderous threats" resumed and escalated.
Acts 9 in the Bible states, "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the High Priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found anywhere who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."
This clearly indicates that Saul was the zealous type—the one who guards and defend his beliefs with all his might. He was well-versed in the Old Testament, a man of knowledge, letters, and spirit. He was someone who would go all-out to protect an establishment that he believed was righteous, and the only legal one.
On his way to Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul asked who he was and heard this reply, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." He got up from the ground but suddenly realized that he could not see. He was blind. The voice told him what to do and where to go. Instead of going toward his initial plan, he turned around, a 180° turn.
That's what we call today a "Damascus road experience"
It was an encounter that completely transformed him, a turn that would eventually be critical in reaching the Gentiles, the non-Jewish communities in the Roman Empire. He was well-versed in the Scriptures ( Old Testament) and he knew how to argue a case. He was a teacher who knew his audience. For instance, he would adjust his approach depending on who he was teaching, Jews or Gentiles.
He travelled to Thessalonica, Galatia, Corinth, Philippi,
Ephesus, Colosse, Rome and Athens. He
preached the Good News, established church communities, and pastored their
pastors through his Letters that we now
read today. It was these churches and communities that bear the titles of the
Epistles that Paul wrote making up a big chunk of the New Testament -- the
Epistles that have had enormous influence on Christian theology, especially on the relationship between God
the Father and Jesus, and on the mystical relationship with the divine. He wrote to nurture, encourage, instruct, and
correct their errors in theology and lifestyle.
Mars Hill in Athens next to the Acropolis where Paul once stood to speak to the Athenians about Christ
He was a very organized writer. His letters contained doctrine that Christians should know -- doctrines that should be applied to daily life. He started with greetings, and continued with specific instructions. For example, his first letter to the Corinthians was to solve problems of manners, morals, and beliefs within the church.
His writings on application of doctrine are rather general. You'll see Paul telling children to obey parents, and masters to be kind to slaves and the like. But you won't see Paul giving children a list of things to do, or giving masters a bill of slaves' rights in the church. In short, Paul focuses on the "why" (doctrine) and the "what" (application), not the "how"
It is in Paul's letters where the story of Jesus in the Gospels is explained in greater detail. It is also where we learn how Christians should live in response to Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
This man Saul who was "breathing murderous threats" became the beloved apostle, saint, evangelist, theologian, and pastor.
As the highly-respected rabbi, scholar and council member Gamaliel declared, "if it's from God, you will never be able to put it down, and you risk yourselves at war with God," no emperor, no king, no queen, no one has ever been able to put IT down. That 180-degree turn on the Damascus Road over 2,000 years ago changed a man who was bent on eliminating Christianity from the face of the earth, to becoming one who zealously went around proclaiming the Good News that changed the world, is just one example that God will do great things when one is willing to make that turn.
Noralyn Onto Dudt will never tire of reading about those inspiring saints like Paul who willingly made that 180-degree turn when called.
Post a Comment