Saint Paul - Early Life

Early Life

The two main sources of information by which we have access to the earliest segments of Paul's career are the Bible's Book of Acts and the autobiographical elements of Paul's letters to the early church communities. Paul was likely born between the years of 5 BC and 5 AD. The Book of Acts implies that Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, more affirmatively describing his father as such, but some scholars have taken issue with the evidence presented by the text. His was a devout Jewish family in the city of Tarsus—one of the largest trade centers on the Mediterranean coast. It had been in existence several hundred years prior to his birth. It was renowned for its university, one in which students could receive a superior education. During the time of Alexander the Great, Tarsus was the most influential city in Asia Minor.

Stoicism was the dominant philosophy there. In addition to his becoming steeped in Orthodox Pharisaic Judaism, his early life in Tarsus allowed him to learn "Classic Greek", Greek philosophy, and Koine Greek which was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, spoken by the common people. In his letters, Paul reflected heavily from his knowledge of Stoic philosophy, using Stoic terms and metaphors to assist his new Gentile converts in their understanding of the revealed word of God. He would also rely heavily on the training he received concerning the law and the prophets, utilizing this knowledge to convince his Jewish countrymen of the unity of past Old Testament prophecy and covenants with the fulfilling of these in Jesus Christ. His wide spectrum of experiences and education gave the "Apostle to the Gentiles" the tools which he later would use to effectively spread the Gospel and to establish the church solidly in many parts of the Roman Empire.

Paul referred to himself as being "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee".

However, the Bible reveals very little about Paul's family. Paul's nephew, his sister's son, is mentioned in Acts 23:16. Acts also quotes Paul indirectly referring to his father by saying he, Paul, was "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee". Paul refers to his mother in Romans 16:13 as among those at Rome. In Romans 16:7 he states that his relatives, Andronicus and Junia, were Christians before he was and were prominent among the apostles.

The family had a history of religious piety. Apparently the family lineage had been very attached to Pharisaic traditions and observances for generations. Young Saul learned how to make the mohair with which tents were made. Later as a Christian missionary, that trade became a means of support for him, one that he could practice anywhere. It also was to become an initial connection with Priscilla and Aquila with whom he would partner in tentmaking and later become very important teammates as fellow missionaries.

While he was still fairly young, he was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel, one of the most noted rabbis in history. The Hillel school was noted for giving their students a balanced education, likely giving Paul broad exposure to classical literature, philosophy, and ethics. Some of his family may have resided in Jerusalem since later the son of one of his sisters saved his life there. Nothing more is known of his background until he takes an active part in the martyrdom of Stephen. Paul confesses that "beyond measure" he persecuted the church of God prior to his conversion.

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