Saint Paul

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Saint Paul
Apostle to the Gentiles
Born c. AD 9 January in Tarsus
Died c. AD 67 beheaded in Rome during Nero's Persecution
Venerated in Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Protestantism
Major shrine Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Feasts June 29,
Attributes thin-faced elderly man with a high forehead, receding hairline and long pointed beard; man holding a sword and a book; man with 3 springs of water nearby; sword; book

Saul, also known as Paul, Paulus, and Saint Paul the Apostle (c. AD 9 – c. AD 67), is widely considered to be central to the early development and spread of Christianity, particularly westward from Judea. Many Christians view him as an important interpreter of the teachings of Jesus. Paul is described in the New Testament as a Hellenized Jew and Roman citizen from Tarsus (in present-day Turkey). He was a persistent persecutor of Early Christians, almost all of whom were Jewish or Jewish proselytes. Then came his Road to Damascus experience, which brought about his conversion to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Through his Epistles to Gentile Christian communities, Paul attempted to show that the God of Abraham is for all people rather than for Jews only. He, however, did not originate this idea. Jewish tradition teaches that all people ought to recognize the God of Abraham, though Judaism has not historically encouraged conversion or proselytism. (For other examples, see Isaiah 56:6–8 or proselyte or Great Commission, or Simon Peter's vision of the sheet descending from Heaven in Acts 10:9–23a).

Paul is venerated as a Saint by all the churches that honor them, including those of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican traditions, and some Lutheran sects. He is the "patron saint" of Malta, the City of London and has also had several cities named in his honor, including São Paulo, Brazil, and Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA. He is also venerated as a prophet by Latter Day Saints, or Mormons. He did much to advance Christianity among the Gentiles, and is considered to be one source (if not the primary source) of early Church doctrine. His epistles form a fundamental section of the New Testament.

Irenaeus, considered a father of the early Roman Catholic Church, notes that the Ebionites (an early Christian sect that continues to have a small following in the modern era) disputed with Paul using the book Matthew, "But the Ebionites use only that Gospel which is according to Matthew, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, calling him an apostate from the Law." (Refs. below)

While for centuries scholars have understood such controversy regarding Paul's teachings, a majority of Christian theologians maintain that no teachings of Jesus were modified, and assert that Paul taught in complete harmony with Jesus. These scholars generally interpret the Bible in accordance with the covenant theology. According to this interpretation, the Christian Church has superseded the Jewish people as God's Chosen People. Part of the ongoing controversy is the assertion that the covenant theology itself was the exclusive invention of Paul's singular interpretation of Jeremiah 31:31 and Ezekiel 36:27 that was subsequently adopted by Christianity.


In reconstructing the events of Paul's life, we have two sources, written either during or soon after the period of his life: Paul's own surviving letters (although his authorship of some of these has been disputed; see below), and the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, which at several points draws from the record of an eyewitness (the so-called "we passages"). However, both sources have weaknesses: Paul's surviving letters were written during a short period of his life, perhaps only between AD 50 and 58, and the authenticity of some is questioned; and the author of Acts makes a number of statements that have drawn suspicion (e.g., the claim that Paul was present at the death of Stephen [7:58]).

There is also the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. However, the events recorded in this work do not coincide with any of the events recorded in either Paul's letters or Acts, and scholars usually dismiss this as a 2nd-century novel.

Because of the problems with the two contemporary sources, as Raymond E. Brown explains (An Introduction to the New Testament, 1998), historians take one of three approaches:

  1. The traditional approach is to completely trust the narrative of Acts, and fit the materials from Paul's letters into that narrative.
  2. The approach used by a number of modern scholars, which is to distrust Acts, sometimes entirely, and to use the material from Paul's letters almost exclusively.
  3. An intermediate approach, which treats Paul's testimony as primary, and supplements this evidence with material from Acts.

The following construction of a possible chronology is based on this third approach. There are many points of contention, even among scholars, but this outline reflects an effort to trace the major events of Paul's life.

Early life

Paul described himself as an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, a Pharisee (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5), and of the "Jewish' religion … more exceedingly zealous of the traditions" (Gal 1:14 KJV). However, he was born as Saul in Tarsus of Cilicia and received a Jewish education. He apparently originated the use of Paul as a first name. In Latin, Paulus was a family surname, never a first name. Roman citizens had a three-part name. Paul's cognomen (third-part) would have been Paullus, plus his "friendly" name (supernomen), his Jewish Shaul. From this episode Luke reversed the lead from Barnabas before Saul, to Paul before Barnabas, and used the name "Paul" to highlight his global mission. Some think that Paul had at least one brother, Rufus, on a literal rather than a figurative reading of Romans 16:13. According to Acts 22:3, he studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel; Thomas Robinson depicts Paul as coming to study in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, when Shammai became Nasi of the Sanhedrin and during the rise to supremacy of the house of Shammai from 20. However, some scholars, such as Helmut Koester, have expressed their doubts that Paul either was in Jerusalem at this time or studied under this famous rabbi. Paul supported himself during his travels and while preaching — a fact he alludes to a number of times (e.g., 1 Cor 9:13–15); according to Acts 18:3, he worked as a tentmaker. According to Romans 16:2, he had a patroness (Koine Greek prostatis) named Phoebe [1].

In answering a question about marriage in the circumstances Corinth faced, 1 Corinthians 7:8 Paul wrote: "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am" (NIV). His wish, according to the Greek, was probably that all Christians have sexual self-control, whether they married or not. Against some antisex ideas in the church, he insisted on a good sex-life for couples (1 Cor 7:5). The common assumption is that Paul was never married. However, some argue that the social norm of the time required Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin to be married. If Paul was a Pharisee, and some think even a member of the Sanhedrin, he might have been married at one point[2][3]. Unfortunately, the Bible does not state either way, nor are there other historical documents clarifying Paul's marital status. Some think that he would have liked to have married but believed it unfair to tie any woman into his terrifying call.

Acts 22:25 and 27–29 also state that Paul was a Roman citizen – a privilege he used a number of times to defend his dignity, including appealing his conviction in Iudaea Province to Rome. Because Paul never mentions this privilege in the epistles — though there seems no situational need for such mention, some scholars have expressed skepticism as to whether Paul actually possessed citizenship — such an honor was uncommon during his lifetime. The exchange about buying (bribing?) citizenship seems inexplicable unless reflecting a real dialogue (Acts 22:28).

Some believe [4] [5] that Paul suffered from Ophthalmia neonatorum, a disease common in the East in his day (and still prevalent today), based on evidence within his writings. The disease would have caused painful eye weakness that left him nearly blind. He used an amanuensis to write all of us his Epistles save Galatians and in that letter he comments on how large he makes his letters using his own handwriting (Gal 6:11). In Galatians 4:15 Paul compliments the Galatian's charity, saying, "I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." Paul often mentions that he is unimpressive in person (2 Cor 10:10). In addition, Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians that he has a "thorn in the flesh", which may correspond with the disease. He writes:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV)

Some commentators [6] see a parallel to Job in this respect. In any case, it demonstrates the great love Paul had for others, as he would have endured much pain in writing the Epistle to the Galatians. It would also endow Paul with a very distinctive style of writing, which (by Paul's salutation at the end of his letters) was used to identify which Epistles were authentic (for instance, in 1 Cor 16:21–24).

Conversion and early teachings

Paul himself admits that he at first persecuted Christians to the death (Phil 3:6), but later embraced the belief that he had fought against. Acts 9:1–9 describe the vision Paul had of Jesus on the Road to Damascus, a vision that led him to dramatically reverse his opinion. Paul explains this vison in detail to King Agrippa in Acts chapter 26. Paul also wrote that Jesus appeared to him "last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time" (1 Cor 15:8 KJV), and frequently claimed that his authority as "Apostle to the Gentiles" came directly from God (Gal 1:13–16), and "not from man".

Following his stay in Damascus after conversion, Paul first went to live in the Nabataean kingdom (which he called "Arabia") for an unknown period, then came back to Damascus, which by this time was under Nabatean rule. After three more years (Gal 1:17, 20), he was forced to flee from that city, via the Bab Kisan (The Kisan Gate), under the cover of night (Acts 9:23, 25; 2 Cor 11:32ff.) because of the explosive reaction to his preaching by some of the strict Jews. Many years after his conversion to Christianity, Paul traveled to Jerusalem, where he met Saint Peter and James the Just.

Following this visit to Jerusalem, Paul's own writings and Acts slightly differ on his next activities. Acts states he went to Antioch, whence he set out to travel through Cyprus and southern Asia Minor to preach of Christ — a labor that has come to be known as his "First Missionary Journey" (13:13; 14:28). Paul merely mentions that he preached in Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:18–20); and though Acts states that Paul later "went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches" (15:41), it does not explicitly state that these were churches founded by Paul on a previous journey. It does not explain who else other than Paul might have founded the churches.

These missionary journeys are considered the defining actions of Paul. For these journeys Paul usually chose one or more companions for his travels. Barnabas, Silas, Titus, Timothy, John, surnamed Mark, Aquila and Priscilla and his personal physician, Luke, all accompanied him for some or all of these travels. He endured hardships on these journeys: he was imprisoned in Philippi, was lashed and stoned several times, and almost murdered once (2 Cor 11:24–27). Some believe that he did actually die as a result of stoning and was brought back from the dead by God. The account of his death, or near-death experience, can be found in 2 Corinthians 12:2–5.

Consultations with the other Apostles

About 49, after fourteen years of preaching, Paul traveled to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to meet with the leaders of the Jerusalem church — namely, James the Just, Saint Peter, and John the Apostle; an event commonly known as the Council of Jerusalem. The accounts of Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1–10 view this event from different perspectives. Acts states that Paul was the head of a delegation from the Antiochene church that came to discuss whether new converts needed to be circumcised. Some interpret this to mean whether Christians should continue to observe all of the Mosaic Laws, the most important being considered the practice of circumcision and dietary laws. This was said to be the result of men coming to Antioch from Judea and "teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'" (Acts 15:1 KJV). Paul states that he had attended "in response to a revelation", to "lay before them the gospel … [he] preached among the Gentiles" (Gal 2:2 KJV), "because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Gal 2:4 KJV). He stated (Gal 2:2) that he wanted to make sure what he had been teaching to the Gentile believers in previous years was correct — one interpretation is that his teaching was that Christ's fulfillment of the Mosaic Law by death and resurrection had freed Christian believers from the need to obey Mosaic Law. A rumor that Paul aimed to subvert the Law of Moses is cited in Acts 21:21; however, according to Acts, Paul followed James' instructions to show that he "kept and walked in the ways of the Law".

Returning to Acts 15, after much debate and discussion, Peter says that "[God] made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], but cleansed their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9 KJV), and James the Just (the brother of Jesus) states that "we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15:19 KJV). They sent a letter accompanied by some leaders from the Jerusalem church back with Paul and his party to confirm that the Gentile believers should not be overburdened by Mosaic Law beyond abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). The letter also refers to Barnabas and Paul as "beloved" (Acts 15:25 KJV); compare Paul's account "James, Cephas [Peter] and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship" (Gal 2:9 KJV).

Peter also commends Paul's writings (2 Pet 3:15ff.), however (as many subsequent readers have also noticed), comments that "his letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (NIV).

Despite the agreement they achieved at the Council as understood by Paul, Paul recounts how he later publicly confronted Peter (accusing him of Judaizing) over his reluctance to share a meal with gentile Christians in the "Incident of Antioch" (Gal 2:11–18). Acts recounts nothing of this, saying only that "some time later", Paul decided to leave Antioch — usually considered the beginning of his Second Missionary Journey — with the object of visiting the believers in the towns where he and Barnabas had preached earlier. However, Paul and Barnabas then had a severe falling-out over whether they should take John, surnamed Mark (Barnabas' cousin) with them or not, and they went on separate journeys (Acts 15:36–41) — Barnabas with John Mark, and Paul with Silas. Later on, there is reconciliation: Paul mentions that John Mark is in prison with him and tells the church in Colossae to welcome him if he comes to them (Col 4:10).

Founding of churches

Paul spent the next few years traveling through western Asia Minor — this time entering Macedonia — and founded his first Christian church in Philippi, where he encountered harassment. Paul himself tersely describes his experience as "when we suffered and were shamefully treated" (1 Thess 2:2 KJV); the author of Acts, perhaps drawing from a witness (this passage follows closely on one of the "we passages"), explains here that Paul exorcised a spirit from a female slave, ending her ability to tell fortunes and reducing her value — an act the slave's owner claimed was "theft"; wherefore he had Paul briefly sent to prison (Acts 16:22). Paul then traveled along the Via Egnatia to Thessalonica, where he stayed for some time before departing for Greece. First he came to Athens, where he gave his legendary speech in Areios Pagos and said he was talking in the name of the "Unknown God" who was already worshipped there (17:16–34); then he traveled to Corinth, where he settled for three years and wrote First Thessalonians, the earliest of his surviving letters.

Again he ran into legal trouble in Corinth: on the complaints of a group of Jews, he was brought before the proconsul Gallio, who decided that it was a minor matter not worth his attention and dismissed the charges (Acts 18:12–16). From an inscription in Delphi that mentions Gallio, we are able to securely date this hearing as having occurred in the year 52, which aids in an accurate chronology of Paul's life.

Following this hearing, Paul continued his preaching (usually called his Third Missionary Journey), traveling again through Asia Minor and Macedonia, to Antioch and back. He caused a great uproar in the theatre in Ephesus, where local silversmiths feared loss of income due to Paul's activities. Their income relied on the sale of silver statues of the goddess Artemis, whom they worshipped; and the resulting mob almost killed him (Acts 19:21–41) and his companions. Later, as Paul was passing near Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem, Paul chose not to stop, since he was in haste to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost. The church here, however, was so highly regarded by Paul that he called the elders to Miletus to meet with him (Acts 20:16–38).

Arrest, Rome, and later life

Upon Paul's arrival in Jerusalem with the relief funds requested at the Council of Jerusalem (Gal 2:10), Paul was recognized outside the Jewish Temple and was nearly beaten to death by a mob, which supposed that Paul had brought his traveling companion (a Greek) into the Temple, thus "defiling" it. After Paul's subsequent rescue by the Roman guard and Paul's imprisonment, Ananias the High Priest made accusations against Paul that resulted in his continued imprisonment awaiting various trials (Acts 24:1–5). Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome; but owing to the inaction of the governor Antonius Felix, Paul languished in confinement at Caesarea Palaestina for two years until a new governor, Porcius Festus, took office, held a hearing, and sent Paul by sea to Rome, where he spent another two years in detention (Acts 28:30).

Paul's trip to Rome, imprisonment and death

Acts describes Paul's journey from Caesarea to Rome in some detail. The centurion Julius had shipped Paul and his fellow prisoners aboard a merchant vessel, whereon Luke and Aristarchus were able to take passage. As the season was advanced, the voyage was slow and difficult. They skirted the coasts of Syria, Cilicia, and Pamphylia. At Myra in Lycia, the prisoners were transferred to an Alexandrian vessel transporting wheat bound for Italy. A place in Crete called Goodhavens was reached with great difficulty, and Paul advised that they should spend the winter there. His advice was not followed, and the vessel, driven by the tempest, drifted aimlessly for fourteen days and finally wrecked on the coast of Malta. The three months when navigation was considered most dangerous were spent there, where Paul healed the father of the Roman Governor Publius from fever and other people who were sick. He also preached the gospel and placed Publius head of this church. With the first days of spring, all haste was made to resume the voyage.

Acts only recounts Paul's life until he arrived in Rome, around 61; and although the details are not specific, it is clear that he traveled much of the eastern Mediterranean Sea coastal area for twenty years prior (around 40 to 60), in what are often referred to as the Four Missionary Journeys. Some argue Paul's own letters cease to furnish information about his activities long before then, although others (NIV Study Bibles, for example) date the last source of information being his second letter to Timothy, describing him languishing in a "cold dungeon" and passages indicating he knew that his life was about to come to an end. While Paul's letters to the Ephesians and to Philemon may have been written while he was imprisoned in Rome (the traditional interpretation), they may have been written during his earlier imprisonments at Caesarea, or at Ephesus.

We are forced to turn to tradition for the details of Paul's final years. One tradition holds (attested as early as in 1 Clement 5:7, and in the Muratorian fragment) that Paul visited Spain and Great Britain. While this was his intention (Rom 15:22–7), the evidence is inconclusive. Another tradition places his death in Rome. Eusebius of Caesarea states that Paul was beheaded in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. This event has been dated either to the year 64, when Rome was devastated by a fire, or a few years later, to 67. One Gaius, who wrote during the time of Pope Zephyrinus, mentions Paul's tomb as standing on the Via Ostensis. While there is little evidence to support any of these traditions, there is no evidence contradicting them, and no alternative traditions of Paul's eventual fate. It is commonly accepted that Paul died as a martyr in Rome. According to Bede in Ecclesiastical History from Vatican library sources, his mortal remains were given to Oswiu , King of Great Britain, by Pope Vitalian in 665.

Theological teachings

Paul had several major impacts on the nature of Christian doctrine. The first was that of the centrality of faith within the life of Jesus, and the ability to attain righteousness through such (Rom 3:22; Gal 3:22; etc.). It was not until his later letter to the Corinthians that he alluded to eternal life and in turn was held to supersede the value of the Mosaic Law — a belief often expressed as "Jesus died for our sins" (as the spotless "Lamb of God" referred to by John the Baptist and John the Apostle). The Acts of the Apostles definitely depicts Paul as a Mosaic Law-observant Jew. For example, in Acts 15 he accepts a subset of the Law for new Gentile converts; in Acts 16 he personally circumcises Timothy, a Greek, even though his father is Greek, because his mother is of the Jewish faith; and in Acts 21 James challenges Paul about the rumor that he is teaching rebellion against the Law. Paul goes to Herod's Temple with four Nazarite pledges to show that he is not; however, when some people from Asia Minor (Paul's home area) see him, it starts a major riot. The assumption that Paul was anti-Law (indeed that even Jesus was anti-Law) found its largest proponent in Marcion and Marcionism. However, there is some evidence suggesting that Paul's concept of salvation coming from the death of Jesus was not unique amongst early Christians; Philippians 2:5–11 expounds a Christology similar to Paul's and has long been identified as a hymn of early Christians dated as existing before Paul's letter.

This belief of eternal life leads directly to the modern argument of justification by faith vs. justification by faith and works. Most Protestant denominations assert that Paul's teachings constitute a definitive statement that salvation comes only by faith and not by any external action of the believer. Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology disputes this, asserting that passages cited in Paul are being misinterpreted (as stated in 2 Pet 3:16), and that this interpretation is directly contradicted by James 2:24: "man is justified by works, and not by faith alone"(KJV).

Related to Paul's interpretation of the resurrection are his concepts of faith, which he explains through his explanation of Abraham and of righteousness and the forgiveness of sins. Augustine of Hippo later elaborated upon this concept in his formulation of original sin.

In the New Testament, the doctrine of original sin is most clearly expressed by Paul's writings. His writings also express the doctrine that salvation is not achieved by conforming to Mosaic Law, but through faith in Jesus. It is claimed this doctrine was confirmed at the Council of Jerusalem (see above). Paul was also one of the first Christians to expound the doctrine of Christ's divine nature.

One development clearly not original to Paul (for example, see Isa 56:6–8; Acts 10; proselyte), but for which he became a chief advocate, was the conversion of non-Jews (specifically, those not circumcised) to Christianity. While a number of passages in the Gospels acknowledge that Gentiles might enjoy the benefits of Jesus, Paul claims to be "The Apostle to the Gentiles" — a title that can be traced to Galatians 2:8. His missionary work amongst Gentiles helped to raise Christianity beyond its initial reputation as a dissident (if not heretical) Jewish sect at least with the populace, if not the Roman Imperial party (see Constantine the Great).

Paul also manifests a strong doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Much of Romans, and particularly the ending to Second Corinthians, portrays the Spirit in equality with God the Father and the Son. These references would later take shape as the doctrine of the Trinity. Paul's notion that the Holy Spirit dwells within all believers at the time of their conversion is integral to his soteriology, ecclesiology, missiology and eschatology. Paul explains in his letter to the Galatians that they received the Holy Spirit because of the promises of God to Abraham (Gal 4:4-7). The apostle Paul testified to the Galatians, "If you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:29 KJV).

Social views

Paul's writings on social issues were just as influential on the life and beliefs of Christian culture as were his doctrinal statements.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul expounds on how a follower of Christ should live a radically different life — using heavenly standards instead of earthly ones. These standards have highly influenced Western society for centuries. He condemns such things as impurity, lust, greed, anger, slander, filthy language, lying, and racial divisions. In the same passage, Paul extols the virtues of compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, and gratitude (Col 3:1–17).

Paul condemned "sexual immorality", saying "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18) — based on the moral laws of the Old Testament and the Antithesis of the Law attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (see also 1 Cor 6:9ff.; Eph 5:21–33, Col 3:1–17). Other Pauline teachings are on freedom in Christ (Gal 5; 1 Cor 8; Col 2:6–23), proper worship and church discipline (1 Cor 11), the unity of believers (1 Cor 1:10–17; Eph 4:1–6), and marriage (1 Cor 7; Eph 5:21–33). Paul advocated celibacy or abstinence for the "believer" (unless married), and warned that either marriage or separation would bring trouble if not sanctioned by God beforehand. "And I would spare you," Paul explained.

In 1 Corinthians 7:8–9 (NRSV), he wrote: "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion." On divorce, 1 Corinthians 7:10–16 (NRSV), he cited Jesus: "To the married I give this command — not I but the Lord — that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife" (from Mark 10:11 and parallels), but then gave his own teaching: "To the rest I say — I and not the Lord: but if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound."

Paul may have been ambivalent towards slavery, saying that pending the near return of Jesus, people should focus on their faith and not on their social status (1 Cor 7:21ff.). He also instructed slaves to serve their masters faithfully (Eph 6:5ff.), and that masters should be respectful of their slaves, as "he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him" (Ephesians 6:9b NIV). Due to his authority, these views have had an influence in Western society into modern times; Paul's apparent failure to explicitly condemn slavery in his Epistle to Philemon has sometimes been interpreted as justifying the ownership of human beings, although chattel slavery is a relatively modern phenomenon. On the other hand, some Christians interpret Paul's attempted to buy the freedom of a runaway slave, Onesimus, in Philemon, and his order to Onesimus' master to treat him "not as a slave, but instead of a slave, as a most dear brother, especially to me." (Philemon 16) as a subtle condemnation of slavery.

Paul was not only establishing a new cultural awareness and a society of charity, but was also subverting Roman authority through language and action. Paul used titles to describe Jesus that were also claimed by the Roman Caesars, the Ptolemaic dynasty, the Seleucid Empire, and Alexander the Great. Augustus had claimed the titles "Lord of Lords", "King of Kings", and Paul trumped Augustus Caesar's title "son of a god" (as he was the adopted son of Julius Caesar, whom he declared to be a god) by affirming Jesus of Nazareth's claim to be "Son of God" (i.e. the "Most High God", rather than one of the pagan gods). Alexander the Great claimed to be the son of Zeus and a virgin. When Paul refers to Jesus' life as the "Good News", evangelion in Koine Greek, he is using another title claimed by Augustus. Ancient Roman inscriptions had called Augustus the evangelon (good news) for Rome. Paul used these titles to expand upon the ethic of Jesus with words from and for his own place and time in history. The true "subversive" nature of Paul's ethic was not that the Church seek to subvert the Empire (vindication in full had already been promised), but that the Church not be subverted by the Empire in its wait for Christ's return.


Paul wrote a number of letters to Christian churches and individuals. However, not all have been preserved; 1 Corinthians 5:9 alludes to a previous letter he sent to the Christians in Corinth that has clearly been lost. Those letters that have survived are part of the New Testament canon, where they appear in order of length, from longest to shortest. A subgroup of these letters, written from captivity, are called the "prison-letters", and tradition states they were written in Rome.

His possible authorship of the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews had been questioned as early as Origen. Since at least 1750, a number of other letters commonly attributed to Paul have also been suspected by some of having been written by his followers in the 1st century.

The Pauline corpus

Note: those considered to be the "prison-letters" are marked with an asterisk (*).

Undisputed Pauline Epistles (almost certainly authentic)

The "Deutero-Pauline Epistles" (a majority of scholars believe that these were not written by Paul, and hence give them this name)

The Pastoral epistles of Paul (sometimes considered a separate category; and suspected by over two-thirds of scholars not to be of Pauline authorship).

Two further epistles attributed by some to Paul (since some of the prior epistles mention them) have been lost:

  • Epistle to the Alexandrians (lost) Nothing is known of this letter apart from a brief mention in the Muratorian fragment that claims it was a Marcionite forgery.
  • Epistle to the Macedonians (lost)

The following epistles are almost universally agreed to be pseudepigraphical (written by someone other than Paul who was nevertheless pretending to be him):

  • Third Corinthians
  • Epistle to the Laodiceans
  • The Correspondence of Paul and Seneca the Younger


  • Badenas, Robert. Christ the End of the Law, Romans 10.4 in Pauline Perspective 1985 ISBN 0905774930 argues that telos is correctly translated as goal, not end, so that Christ is the goal of the Law, end of the law would be antinomianism
  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible Series, 1997. ISBN 0385247672.
  • Bruce, F.F., Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (ISBN 0802847781)
  • Dunn, James D.G. Jesus, Paul and the Law 1990 ISBN 0664250955
  • Hart, Michael. The 100. Carol Publishing Group, July 1992. Paperback, 576 pages. ISBN 0806513500.
  • Maccoby, Hyam. The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. ISBN 0060155825.
  • MacDonald, Dennis Ronald, 1983. The Legend and the Apostle : The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
  • Irenaeus, Against Heresies, i.26.2
  • Thomas Jefferson, from a letter addressed to W. Short and published in The Great Thoughts, by George Seldes, Ballantine Books, N.Y., 1985, p. 208

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