All About Saint Paul:


Whatever  we  know about the Apostle comes to  us  from  two sources: his letters and from the Acts of the Apostles.


Born in  10 CE in the hellenistic town of Tarsus, capital of the province of Cilicia, Asia Minor (Ac 21:39; 22:3), from Jewish parents, from the tribe of Benjamin (Rm 11:1; Phil 3:5).  Accord­ing to Ac 23:16, Paul had a sister, domiciled in Jerusalem  (“the son  of Paul’s sister“). From birth Paul enjoyed the status of  a Roman  citizen and on occasion he would use his  privileges  with pride (Ac 16:37; 22:25-29; 23:27). Tarsus was a centre of hellen­istic philosophy and culture. STRABO tells of its schools,  which surpassed  those  of  Athens and Alexandria.  The  students  were native  Cilicians, not foreigners, as was the case in Athens  and Alexandria.   It  was a university city with  perhaps  more  than three  lakh  inhabitants. Both Stoic  philosophers  and  European philosophers settled in Tarsus and taught there.  Famous  Romans visited  the town: Cicero, Julius Caesar. It was there that Mark Anthony  accorded  a royal reception to Cleopatra as  she  disem­barked. This was the city where Paul was born and where  he  re­ceived  some  of  his early education. He probably  went  to  the university and used its learned approach to literature; at  times he  also  quotes  poetry (Ac 17:28). Hence, he boasts:  “I  am  a citizen of no mean town” (Ac 22:3).

We  find from his letters that Paul knew Greek  well (cf.Ac 21:37.39).  Also there are traces of Stoic diatribe in his  writings. He was a dynamic, forceful writer, but though he might have been acquainted with the canons of Greek rhetoric, he never  made use  of them, as Augustine rightly put it: “As we do  not  affirm that the Apostle sought out the precepts of eloquence, we do  not deny  that eloquence sought out his wisdom“. Paul used the  Greek Old  Testament (usually the Septuagint), as a Jew from  the  Dia­spora would. He spoke Aramaic and his thought patterns are Semitic.  Both  the Hellenistic environment of Tarsus and  the  Jewish heritage of his orthodox, traditional Pharisee family left  their marks on the young Paul. Paul was at crossroads of two  civiliza­tions, Jewish and Greek. This double background is  clearly  reflected in his letters. Though there are limitations arising from his cultural background, his writings are the highest expressions of the Christian faith. He was not a speaker like Apollos, but  a great writer.

He was called PAUL from birth (Roman name), SAUL (Shaul) was an  added  name (supernomen, Hebrew  name,  meaning   “asked-of Yahweh“), used in the Jewish circles. In the course of his ministry  he  used only the latter name, probably  because Saulos in Greek  did  not sound well (‘effeminate,  affected,  conceited“).  Although PAULUS means “small”,”little“, it had nothing to do with Paul’s short stature or modesty. There is no evidence  that  SAUL was changed to PAUL at the time of his conversion.


As a Jew from the strict Pharisee party, he was educated in Jerusalem  at  the feet of Rabbi GAMALIEL I (the  Elder),  whose floruit in Jerusalem was around 20-50 CE, from whom he received a  thorough  grounding  in the teaching of  the  Pharisee  school
(Cf.Ac  22:3;  see also Ac 5:34.37; 23:6; 26:5; Gal 1:14;  2  Cor 11:22; Phl 3:6. See  the thesis of William C.VAN UNNIK, Tarsus or Jerusalem: The City of Paul’s Youth, London, 1962). Then most  of Paul’s early training took place in Jerusalem itself.

He was back in Tarsus during the time of Jesus’ activity, of which  he seems to have been unaware. He never gives any  indication  in his letters that he did know Jesus (2 Cor 5:16 does  not imply  it:  “Even though we once knew Christ from a  human  angle (KATA SARKA), we no longer know him in this way (now we know  him from  Spirit-given viewpoint (KATA PNEUMA)”. It refers to  Paul’s attitude  towards Jesus when Paul was persecuting the Church:  he knew  certainly what Jesus stood for and what his disciples  were claiming on his behalf.

Perhaps  in his parents’ home, he had learned to weave  the material, made of goats’ hair, which in French, cilice, takes its name  from the province of Cilicia. Paul worked as  a  tent-maker (Ac 18:3).

Paul’s  training at the feet of Gamaliel the Elder  suggests  that  he  was preparing to become a rabbi. According  to  Joachim JEREMIAS, Paul  was at his conversion not  merely  a  rabbinical disciple (TALMID HAKAM), but a recognized teacher with the  right to  make legal decisions. This status is presupposed in the  role he played in going to Damascus (Ac 9:1-2; 22:5; 26:12). He  asked the High Priest for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damas­cus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers  of “the Way”, men or women. Such authority would  only be  given to someone qualified. It seems to be confirmed  by  the vote that Paul cast against the Christians (Ac 26:10), apparently as  a member of the Sanhedrin.

Perhaps Paul was married (cf.1 Cor 7:8, Paul would  classify himself  with the “widowed” rather than with the  “unmarried–“it is good for them to remain as I am“; cf.1 Cor 9:5–Paul would not have  remarried).  According to the apocryphal Acts of Paul,  the name  of his wife was THECLA.  According to K.Luke (The TPI  Com­panion  to  the  Bible, vol.2, New  Testament,  Bangalore,  1988, p.71), “the Apostle remained unmarried, probably with the  intention  of devoting himself whole-heartedly to study and  scholarly pursuits“. A certain Rabbi justified his renunciation of marriage saying: “What shall I do? My soul clings to the Torah (Law).  Let others keep the world going“. Celibacy was a most rare  exception among the Jews.

As  a sincere Pharisee, Paul’s passion was to serve  God  by scrupulous  observance  of the Law, source of life. When  he  returned to Jerusalem in about CE 36, he was apalled at the preaching  of  Peter and other apostles: they put this  Jesus,  rightly condemned  by the authorities as a blasphemer, on the same  level as  God.  Being an intransigent Pharisee, Paul decided  to  fight tooth and nail against this new sect. He approved of the death of Stephen and left for Damascus to pursue disciples of Stephen  who had  taken  refuge over there and bring them back from  there  to Jerusalem for punishment (Ac 22:5).


Paul’s conversion was in 36 CE; it is related to the martyr­doom  of Stephen, when the witnesses piled their garments at  the feet of the young SAUL (Ac 7:58;cf.22:20), so that he might  mind them.  It was 12 years before the Council of Jerusalem (49  c.e.; cf.Gal 2:1).

1)Three Accounts:

Paul  gives an account of the event in Gal 1:13-17 from  his own  apologetic and polemic standpoint. Three other accounts are given  in  the book of Acts (9:3-9;  22:6-16;  26:12-18). These accounts  stress the overwhelming, unexpected  experience  amidst his  persecution  of the Christians. These three  accounts  carry variants in details, but the basic message is the same, expressed by the words of the Risen Lord: “ Saul, Saul, why do you  persecute me?”. Saul questions:”Who are you, Lord?”. The Lord answers: “I am Jesus (of Nazareth) whom you are persecuting”. Variants  may  be due to the different sources of Luke’s information.

2)Division:  The account can each be divided into four  sec­tions:  a)Introduction (Ac 9:3-4a; 22:6-7; 26:12-14);  b)The Encounter (Ac 9:4b-5; 22:8.10; 26:14b-16);    c)The  Effect  on  Paul  and  his  companions (Ac  9:7-8; 22:9.11; 26-NIL);  d)Role of Ananias (Ac 9:10-19; 22:12-16; 26-NIL).

From  a  cursory reading we see that there  is full  verbal agreement among the three accounts in the dialogue between Christ and  Paul.  Such word for word repetition is not  by  chance,  it brings  out the tremendous impact upon Paul of the  identity  re­vealed  as  existing between the Exalted Christ and  his  Church. This  shows that for Lukan scheme of his whole story the mystery of  the Oneness of Christ and the Church is basic. Paul’s  aware­ness of it conditions his own theology. For Luke, the history of the Church  is the extension of Christ’s redemptive activity in  this world. It is the era of Holy Spirit, of the Church. (Cf.Jacques-Bénigne BOSSUET: Church  is  the prolongation of ChristL’Eglise, c’est  le  pro­longement du Christ).

There  are  several divergences: a)The companions  stood  by speechless or fell to the ground (Ac 9:7;cf.26:14); b)the companions  heard the voice or not, speaking to Paul (Ac  9:7;cf.22:9); c)the  companions saw the light or saw no one  (Ac  9:7;cf.22:9); d)Paul’s  eyes were open but he saw nothing, scales were  on  his eyes  (Ac 9:8.18; cf.22:11, because of the glory of that  light), about noon or midday a great light from heaven flashed round  him (Ac  22:6;  26:13;  cf.9:3); e) “I am Jesus”  (Ac  9:5b;  26:15b; cf.22:8c);  f) in the third account of his conversion, in  Greek, given  by Paul in his speech before Agrippa, Bernice and  Festus, he put into the mouth of Christ a proverb found only in Gk literature, “IT IS HARD FOR YOU TO KICK AGAINST THE GOAD” (Ac 26:14c).

At  first sight these details are conflicting, but they  can be  reconciled. In Ac 9:7, “HIS COMPANIONS STOOD SPEECHLESS,  FOR THEY  HEARD THE VOICE, BUT SAW NO ONE“, whereas in Ac  22:9  “HIS COMPANIONS  SAW THE LIGHT, BUT DID NOT HEAR THE VOICE (OR  WORDS) OF CHRIST“. How to reconcile these contradicting statements?

i)Heard  or  Not the Voice?: N.TURNER explains  that AKOUW with  genitive  refers to a mere physical  hearing  (hearing  the sound  of  the voice, AKOUEIN PHONES, cf.Jn  10:3),  whereas  the accusative  implies  understanding  of  what  is  said (AKOUEIN PHONEN). Luke singles out a difference between Paul’s  experience and that of  his companions: they recognized the  fact  that  a person  was speaking, but could not understand what was said  nor see  who  the person was. Luke wishes to insist that Paul saw  the Risen  Lord. His experience was specifically the same as that  of the Apostles on the various occasions of Christ’s  post-resurrectional  appearances. It was a traumatic experience that he  never forgot,  and to which he always associated his apostolic  commis­sion:  “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our  Lord”  (1 Cor 9:1; cf.15:8).

ii)Apocalyptic  Motifs:  Lk uses typical motifs  of  vision, light,  voice, fall to the ground (cf.Dan10:5-9) to show that  a TREMENDUM  IS TAKING PLACE. ONLY PAUL shared the experience,  the ENTOURAGE was  aware that something was going on,  but  did  not perceive its significance. According to the form-critics, ancient authors (Greek and Jewish) had consecrated formulae and  typical motifs used in the description of appearances: The sky is  split, a great light streams out, Asenath falls on his face. There is no need  to stress the historicity of all details in  the  accounts, nor  to  posit two distinct sources behind  Lukan  accounts.  The different  reaction of the entourage should be  explained  analo­gously:  In Ac 9:7 the bystanders stand speechless,  hearing  the voice  but seeing no one; whereas in Ac 26:14, Paul and  the  on lookers  fall to the ground. Being speechless or falling  to  the ground are  two different means from the ancient  literature  to express identical meaning-contents (=THE FORCE AND FASCINATION OF THE  EPIPHANY  OR MANIFESTATION OF THE RISEN LORD  WHICH TOUCHES EVEN BYSTANDERS).

iii) The Theme of Blindness: The second account  of  Paul’s conversion is his own speech on the occasion of his arrest in the Temple and is apologetic. Paul tries to conciliate the infuriated mob of Jerusalem by identifying himself with the Jews of the Holy City. He speaks in Aramaic and is successful, as it  is  evident from  their silence (cf.Ac 22:2). He stresses his  Jewish  blood, his rabbinic training at the feet of Gamaliel, his zeal for  God. This apology serves the general purpose of the  story  of  Acts, in as much  as  it underlines the unreasonableness  of  the  Jewish opposition to the Apostle.   Another theme is that of  blindness: It is not a symbol of spiritual blindness, as a consequence  of the  refusal to believe (like that of Elymas, the Jewish magician, also called Bar-Jesus, associated with Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul of Cyprus—he opposed Paul’s preaching, but he was blinded, and the proconsul believed, cf.Acts 13:6-12–), but it  underlines the impotency of man in face of the Supernatural (cf.Phl 3:7-12). Paul is probably aware of the similarity of his own experience to that of the prophet EZEKIEL in his inaugural vision, when he  saw the  “glory of the Lord” and fell upon his face (Ac 26:16; cf.Ez 2:1). Luke never ceases to point out at the finger of God.  Paul’s blindness is a parable in action: his insight into the triumph of GRACE OVER NATURE (cf.Rm 1:16).

iv)Greek Proverb (Ac 26:14c): In his third account which  is an  address to his hellenistically educated audience, Paul  highlights the most momentous meeting of his existence, his attention goes  to Christ and his words. There is no hint of his  blinding, or his baptism, or reference to Ananias, or (except for a passing remark) any mention of his companions’ reaction. Paul notes  that the  voice  he heard was in the “hebrew language”  (that  is, in Aramaic, the spoken language, LINGUA FRANCA, of the Palestine  of that  day,  after  the Exile). Then Paul puts into  his  mouth  a proverb,  current only in the Gk-speaking world  (AESCHYLUS,  EU­RIPIDES  AND PINDAR). The maxim has the same function  as  blindness: it underscores the transcendence of the divine, THE  SUPER­NATURAL.  But how could such a proverb be put into the  mouth  of Christ?

Following Karl RAHNER, Norbert LOHFINK states that  whatever a  person sees or hears in an appearance (or vision)  he/she  receives  according  to  the  imaginative-conceptual  possibilities which  are his because of his/her own past  experience (QUIDQUID RECIPITUR, AD MODUM RECIPIENTIS, RECIPITUR= Whatever is received, is  received according to the mode/capacity of the  receiver).
Therefore,  Paul  concretized through this proverb in  image  and concept what he grasped from Christ in a pre-conceptual and  pre-image form. Or it is more likely that Lk placed on Lord’s lips  a Gk  proverb  familiar to him in order to clarify to  the  readers
that Paul could not simply resist the Lord’s superior power

v)Double Vision: In Ac 9:10-16 Ananias and Paul are favoured with  VISIONS.  They are not related separately,  one  after  the other, but the narration of the second vision is part and  parcel of the first vision; they are “sandwiched” (sandwich-structure).

Behold!  He (Paul) is praying, having seen (in a vision)  a man, Ananias by name, coming in and laying hands on him so as  to see again (=regain his sight)” (Ac 9:12).

This  piece  of literary technique should be  attributed  to Luke. From verse 10 onwards, the narrative is told from the viewpoint  of Ananias. By having Christ himself relate what  meantime is happening to Paul, Luke is able to avoid changing the locale  of the action (or the viewpoint) from which the story is told. So  a related,  but  distinct narrative is inserted into  the  dominant story without interrupting the flow (cf.this technique of Ac 2:8-11, where Luke places his list of nations in the mouth of those who react to the address).

The  double vision is regarded as a literary  motif (rather than a literary form); it is an elementary and distinct part of a literary  unity.  By the inclusion of Ananias section,  Luke  shows that  Paul’s sufferings are a part of God’s plan. Suffering is  a characteristic of the apostolic calling and is a part of Christ’s designs  (Ac  5:41; 2 Cor 4:7-12). Lk’s version of  the  Damascus road event shows the convert Paul as one to whom the name apostle (APOSTOLOS,  from APOSTELLW, in Hb SHALIA’) rightly belongs,  for a) he has truly “seen the Lord” (Luke undoubtedly learned this from Paul  himself,  who used to prove his apostolic vocation  to  the Corinthians, cf.1 Cor 9:1; 15:5); b)he is to be formed by suffering  on  the pattern of the Twelve (Ac 9:15,  cf.Col  1:24);  and
c)Christ himself appears to Ananias in order to reveal a new  and deeper  meaning in the notion of “witness” (MARTYS) than  Peter’s speech before Mathias’ election would lead us to believe. At  the same  time, Luke knows that Christ’s appearance to Paul differs  in one very notable respect from his visits with his own in  Jerusalem  or  Galilee–it is the Christ exalted in divine  glory,  who appears to Paul (cf.Ac 10:41).


Lk follows  in  the  book of Acts the same method as  in  the  third Gospel  (in the traditional order): As he displayed the  work  of Jesus as a journey from GALILEE to JERUSALEM, so Paul travels  to Rome, where the development of Christianity comes to an end. With Paul established in Rome, Luke’s theme is played out to its conclusion:  The  apostolic  Church has broken out  of  narrow  compass within  which its links with Israel’s religion inevitably  tended to confine it and carried out the Master’s command to reach  “the end  of  the earth“. As a protagonist in this  literary  form  Luke chose,  not  Peter (as the first half of Acts would  lead  us  to expect), but  Paul. This choice is imposed  by  our  historian’s acquaintance with the events of early Christianity and is dictat­ed also by his interest (and his public’s interest) in the Apos­tle of Gentiles. One of the most important devices Luke uses in his narrative to stress the importance of Paul’s Roman voyage and  to discover  its meaning to the readers is the threefold  repetition of  the story of the Apostle’s first meeting with the Risen  Lord (Ac 9:3-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18).

In the synopsis of the three accounts we have noticed  simi­larities and divergences. The author had a purpose  in  placing details seemingly at variance with one another.


Paul  himself  and Lk in the bk of Acts  both  describe  the experience  on the road to Damascus as the turning-point in  the Apostle’s  career.  It  was  an encounter  with  the  Risen  Lord (KYRIOS),  that  made  Paul adopt a new way of life.  It  was  an encounter, the traumatic experience that turned Paul the Pharisee into Paul the Apostle.

Paul’s theology was influenced most of all by his experience on  the road to Damascus and by faith in the risen Christ as  the Son  of  God which developed from his experience.  New  Testament scholars are today less prone than those of former generations to consider that experience as a “conversion” to be  psychologically explained in terms of Paul’s Jewish background or in terms of Rom 7  (understood  as a revelation of the Son accorded  him  by  the Father)  (Gal 1:16).  In it he saw “Jesus the Lord” (1  Cor  9:1; cf.1 Cor 15:8; 2 Cor 4:6; Ac 9:5). That revelation of the  Cruci­fied  “Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:8) made Paul the  first  Christian theologian.

The  only difference between that experience in which  Jesus appeared  to him (1 Cor 15:8) and the experience of the  official witnesses  of the Resurrection (Ac 1:22) was that his vision  was post-Pentecostal. It puts him on an equal footing with the Twelve who had seen the KYRIOS (Ac 10:43).

First,  this experience influenced his whole life  and  gave him  an  extraordinary  insight into what he  later  called  the “MYSTERY  OF  CHRIST” (Eph 3:4).  He had been “seized”  by  Christ Jesus (Phl 3:12) and a “necessity” had been laid on him to preach the Gospel (1 Cor 9:15-18). He compared that experience to  God’s creation  of light (2 Cor 4:6).  The compulsion of  divine  grace pressed him into the service of Christ, he could not kick against the  pricks of such a goad (Ac 26:14c).  His response was one  of vivid  faith,  in which he confessed with the early  Church  that “JESUS IS THE LORD-KYRIOS” (1 Cor 12:12; cf.Rom 10:9).

That  “revelation” (Gal 1:16) impressed Paul, first of  all, with  the  nity of divine action for the salvation of  all  men, which  is  manifest in both the Old and New Dispensations.  As  a result  of  that encounter with the Risen Christ,  Paul  did  not become  a Marcionite, rejecting the Old Testament.    The  Father who  revealed  his  Son to Paul was the same God  whom  Paul  the Pharisee had always served. His experience on the road to  Damas­cus did not alter his fundamental commitment to the “one God“. In fact, Paul remained still a Jew in his basic outlook.

Secondly, that vision taught him the soteriological value of the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. If  his  basic theology  did  not change, his Christology did. As  a  Jew,  Paul shared the messianic expectations of his time; he looked  forward to  the  coming of a messiah (of some sort). But  the  vision  of
Jesus  taught him that God’s Anointed One had already come,  that he was, “Jesus who was handed over for our offences and raised up for our justification” (Rom 4:25).  Before his experience on  the road to Damascus, Paul certainly knew that Jesus had been  cruci­fied. This was undoubtedly one of the reasons why he as a  Phari­see  could  not accept Jesus as the Messiah. He was for  Paul  “a stumbling-block” (1 Cor 1:23), one “cursed” by the very Law which he so zealously observed (Dt 21:23; cf.Gal 3:13; Phl 3:5-6).  But
the Revelation near Damascus impressed him emphatically with  the soteriological  and vicarious  value of the death  of  Jesus  of Nazareth  in a way that he never suspected before.  With a  logic that  only a Rabbi could appreciate, Paul saw Jesus  taking  upon himself the Law’s curse and transforming it into its opposite, so that  he  became the means of freeing men from  its  malediction.  The Cross, which had been the stumbling-block to the Jews, became for  him  the “power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor  1:18-25).  Hence­forth,  he  would understand the Crucified Lord  as  his  Exalted Messiah.

Thirdly, that Revelation impressed Paul with a new vision of salvation history. Before the encounter with Jesus the Lord, Paul saw man’s history divided into three great phases: 1)From Adam to Moses (the period without the Law); 2)From Moses to the Messiah (the period of the Law); 3)the Messianic Age (the period when the Messiah would legislate anew).  But the experience on the road to Damascus  taught  him that the Messianic Age had  already  begun. This  introduced  a new perspective into his  view  of salvation history.  The ESCHATON, so avidly awaited  before,  had  already begun–although  a  definitive  stage was still  to  be  realized (hopefully not too far in the future–proleptic eschatology). The Messiah had not yet come in glory. Paul (with all his Christians) found himself in a double situation: one, in which he looked back to the death and Resurrection of Jesus as the inauguration of the new  age; another in which he still looked forward to his  coming in  glory, his PAROUSIA.  Therefore, far more than his Pharisaic background or even his hellenistic cultural  roots, that  revela­tion of Jesus gave Paul an ineffable insight into the “mystery of Christ” (remark the triple impact on Paul’s writings). It enabled him to fashion his “Gospel”  distinctively his own. However, Paul did not immediately understand all the implications of the vision accorded  to him. It provided only a basic insight, which was  to colour all that he was to learn about Jesus and his mission among men,  not only from the early Church’s tradition, but  also  from
his own apostolic experience in preaching “Christ Crucified” (Gal 3:1).

1)He  was a person of great dedication, capable of  pursuing an  ideal  with a complete disregard for the cost.  It  was  with equally single-minded determination that he had persecuted those he considered God’s enemies (1 Tm 1:13; cf.Ac 24:5-14), and later preached Christ as the one, universal Saviour. This  Saviour  he served  passionately  and selflessly for the rest  of  his  life. Nothing  stopped him doing the work: hard work, exhaustion,  suf­fering,  poverty, danger of death (1 Cor 4:9-13).

He never forgot that having persecuted the Church of Christ, he was the unworthiest of all the apostles. All the great  things he  succeeded  in  doing he attributed  to God’s  grace  working through him (1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 4:7; Th 4:13; Col 1:29; Eph 3:7).

2)Paul had a sensitive temperament that showed itself in his attitude to those he had converted (Phl 4:10-20; Ac 20:17-38; Gal 1:6;  2 Cor 12:11). After outbursts of anger he soon  became  fa­therly  (1  Cor 4:4f), even motherly (Gal 4:19)  and  anxious  to restore the earlier affection (Gal 4:12-20;2 Cor 7:11-13).

3)Paul’s  fiercest  outbursts of indignation were  directed against everybody who tried to seduce his converts, whether  they were  Jews,  who opposed him wherever he went  (Ac  13:45.50)  or Judaizing Christians who wanted all followers of Christ to follow the Law (Gal 1:7; 2:4; 6:12f). He never minced words with  either of  these groups (1 Th 2:15f; Gal 5:12; Phl 3:2), and  manifested his selfless sincerity (Ac 18:3). Some of the  Judaeo-Christians, who remained faithful to the Law, invoked Peter (1 Cor 1:12)  and James (Gal  2:12),  in an attempt to discredit  Paul,  but  Paul always respected the authority of these apostles (Gal 1:18; 2:2), though he claimed to be just as much as witness to Christ as they were  (Gal  1:11f; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8-11). Even when  Paul  had his disagreement with Peter (Gal 2:11-14), his attitude was concilia­tory (Ac 21:18-26), and he organized a collection for  the  poor Christians  of  Jerusalem (Gal 2:10), since  he  considered  this would  be  the best possible proof that his pagan  converts  were truly  one with the Christians of the Mother Church (2 Cor  8:14; 9:12-13; Rom 15:26f).



The key to Paul’s theology is his christological  functional soteriology.  The term EUANGELION is Paul’s personal way of  sum­ming  up  the meaning of the Christ-event, the meaning  that  the person  and lordship of Jesus of Nazareth had and still  has  for human  history and existence (Rom 2:16; Gal 2:2; 1 Th 1:5; 2  Cor 4:3),  because he was aware that “Christ did not send me to  bap­tize, but to preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 1:7).

Characteristics: 1)God’s salvific activity for his people is now  revealed in a new way through the lordship of  Jesus  Christ (Rom 1:17). Thus, the Gospel reveals the reality of the new  age, the reality of the ESCHATON.

To  this  apocalyptic nature of the gospel must  be  related Paul’s view of it as MYSTERION, “mystery, secret” (RAZ in Aramaic), hidden in  God for  long  ages and now revealed–a new  revelation  about  God’s salvation.    Paul   equates   “God’s  mystery”   with    “Jesus Christ…crucified”  (1  Cor 2:1-2), just as he had  equated  his “gospel” with “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:17.23-24).  Paul viewed himself as a “steward“, dispensing the wealth of this mystery  (1 Cor 4:1).  In presenting the Gospel as mystery, Paul is  implying that it is never fully made known by ordinary means of communica­tion. As something revealed, it is apprehended only in faith; and even  when revealed, the opacity of divine wisdom is  never  completely  dispelled.

MYSTERION is  an eschatological term  derived  from  Jewish apocalyptic  sources;  its application to the Gospel  gives  the latter a nuance that EUANGELION alone would not have had (someth­ing fully comprehended only in the ESCHATON). The word MYSTERION was already familiar in contemporary  Gk mystery religions. But his comprehension depended not so much  on hellenistic sources as on the OT and Jewish apocalyptic  writings of the intertestamental period. Its OT roots are found in Hb SOD and in Aram RAZ (“mystery“, “secret“, Dan 2:18-19.27-30.47; 4:6). The  latter is a Persian loanword, used in Aramaic  to  designate the  revelation  made to Nebuchadnezzar in his dreams  (cf.  also 1QpHab 7:5; 1QS 3:23). Its real roots are in Palestinian  Judaism rather than in the Hellenism of Asia Minor. It is a  carrier-idea for  Paul; for him it conveys the content of his Gospel,  whereas in Qumran Literature it conveys the hidden meaning of OT  passag­es.

2)Gospel  is  the power of God, a salvific  force (dynamis) unleashed  in the world of human beings for the salvation of  all (Rom  1:16). The Gospel may involve a proposition, “Jesus is  the Lord” (1 Cor 12:3; Rom 10:9), to which human beings are called to assent;  but it involves more, for it proclaims “a Son  whom  God has  raised from the dead, Jesus, who is delivering us  from  the coming wrath” (1 Th 1:10). It is thus a Gospel that comes not  in words  only, but with power and the Holy Spirit (1 Th 1:5). It is  the  Word  of God, which is at work (energeitai) among  you  who believe (1 Th 2:13;cf.1 Cor 15:2).

3)Paul’s  Gospel  is related to the  pre-Pauline  kerygmatic tradition:  “I passed on to you above all what I received“(1  Cor 15:1-2);  and he is careful to stress the “form” or  the “terms” (tini logo) in which he “evangelized” the Corinthians. In  vv.3-5 there follows a fragment of the kerygma itself, and v.11  asserts the common origin of Paul’s Gospel.

4)For  Paul  the  Gospel stands  critically  over  Christian conduct,  church officials, and human teaching. It  tolerates  no rival;  that there is no “other gospel“(Gal 1:7) is  affirmed  by Paul in the context of the Judaizing problem in the early church­es,  when certain Jewish practices were being foisted on  Gentile Christians  (circumcision, dietary and  calendaric  regulations). Human beings are called to welcome the Gospel (2 Cor 11:4),  obey it  (Rom 1:5), and listen to it (Rom 10:16-17). It is to  be  ac­cepted as a guide for life: “Let your manner of life be worthy of the  Gospel of Christ“(Phil 1:27). Even Kephas, a pillar  of  the church (Gal 2:9), was rebuked publicly by Paul in Antioch, when he was  found to be not “walking straight according to the truth  of the Gospel“(Gal 2:14).

Yet  for Paul the normative/ethical character of the  Gospel was also liberating, for he mentions “the truth of the gospel” in connection  with “the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus”  (Gal 2:4).  Hence, though normative, it also liberates  from  legalisms devised by humans.

5)The Gospel continues the promises made by God of old (Rom 1:1;  cf.Is 52:7. See further Gal 3:14-19; 4:21-31; Rom  4:13-21; 9:4-13; more fully in Eph 1:13; 3:6).

For  Paul Gospel is part and parcel of a plan,  gratuitously conceived  by  God for a new form of human salvation, to  be  revealed  and realized in his Son. The author of this plan was  God (HO THEOS, 1 Cor 2:7), the God of “the covenants“)(Rom 9:4). What Paul  teaches about God is not a theology (in the  strict  sense) independent  of his christocentric soteriology, for this  God  is the  “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 1:3; Rom  15:6;  see also 1 Cor 1:21).

Paul’s anthropology (his teaching about humanity) is at once individual and corporate.In the period before Christ, human beings were sinners who, despite their striving to live  upright­ly,  never  achieved that goal and never reached the  destiny  of glory  intended by the Creator for them. They sinned, the  failed to  “hit  the mark” (HATTA’, HAMARTANEIN). The  tendency  to  sin (“concupiscence”) is with one from birth. Human sin is  fissiparous and contagious. Such sin divides humankind and creates a solidarity  of  sinners. This conviction about the universality  of  sin among  human  beings  was born of  experience,  observation,  and corporate  attestation (Rom 5:12-21; cf.Gn 2-3). The Law came  to increase sin, since man due to his weakness (or carnal condition, SARKINOS)  could  not observe it. Christ brings a  new  union  of humankind  with God (a “new creation“). Through Baptism  actually the Christian is identified with the death, burial, and Resurrec­tion  of Christ. Through faith and baptism, we  are  incorporated into  the “body of Christ“. Eucharist is the source of  union  of Christians with Christ and of Christians among themselves, of the Church.

Paul  uses these three terms: “soul“, “spirit”  and  “body“. Paul does not describe the human being in itself, but his differ­ent  relations  vis-a-vis God and the world.  He  uses  different words,  which  do not designate parts of the  human  beings,  but rather aspects of the person as seen from different perspectives.
In  Th 5:23, Paul uses soma, psyche and pneuma. Pneuma  does not  designate the holy Spirit (cf.Rm 8:16; 1 Cor 2:10-11).  Soma and psyche denote the whole human being under different  aspects. But  it  is  not easy to distinguish PNEUMA in  this  sense  from psyche (cf.Phil 1:27; 2 Cor 12:18). Pneuma suggests the  knowing and willing self and as such the aspect that is particularly  apt to  receive the Spirit of God. Sometimes, however, it is  a  mere substitute for the personal pronoun (Gal 6:18; 2 Cor 2:13;  7:13; Rm 1:9; Phlm 25). Nous is a human being as a knowing and  judging subject, with a capacity for intelligent understanding,  planning and decision (cf.1 Cor 1:10; 2:16; Rm 14:5; Rm 1:20; 7:23). There is  little  difference for Paul between nous,”mind”  and kardia, “heart“,  which often means “mind” as in OT. All these aspects  of human existence are summed up in zwe, “life“, a gift of God that expresses the concrete existence of a human being as the  subject of his/her own actions.

It  consists of 13 letters. ITS FORM: Paul’s  letters  share features  of  the contemporary Greco-Roman and  Semitic  letters. a)OPENING FORMULA: It is praescriptio: PAUL TO X. Paul uses  not KHAIREIN,  but KHARIS KAI EIRENE (1 Th 1:1),  usually  expanded, “Grace and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord  Jesus Christ”  (Gal 1:3; Phil 1:2; cf.Nm 6:24-26,”covenant  favour and peace“). KHARIS has the Pauline connotation of  God’s  merciful bounty manifested  in Christ Jesus (cf.Rom  5:1-11). Thus,  the words  may  be  Paul’s summation of the BONA  MESSIANICA of  the Christian era, the spiritual gifts that he begs for his readers. b)THANKSGIVING:  Its function is to focus the  epistolary  situa­tion,  to introduce the vital theme of the letter. c)MESSAGE:  It joins an ethical exhortation to its doctrinal exposé. The body of Paul’s  letter is divided into two  parts–doctrinal,  presenting truths  of the Christian message, and hortatory, giving  instruc­tions for Christian conduct. d)CONCLUSION AND FINAL GREETING:  It contains personal news or specific advice for individuals. It  is followed  by  Paul’s greeting, a  characteristic  blessing,  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Th 5:28; Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 13:13; Rom 16:20.24; Phlm 25).

Composition  of  Letters: What method did Paul use?  He  may have dictated word for word, sentence for sentence or the  sense, leaving  the formulation to the secretary (cf.Rom 16:22, to  Ter­tius).  Paul  adds the greeting in his own hand in 1  Cor  16:21, which  may imply that the rest was dictated. In Gal 6:11,he  com­pares  his handwriting with that of the trained scribe,  who  has written what preceded (cf.2 Th 3:17; Col 4:18). Phlm (vv.25)  may mean  that  Paul has written the whole letter in  his  own  hand. Anacolutha, inconsistencies of style, and the lack of  consistent terminology may be explained by dictation; distractions must have occurred  that would also have affected the style. A long  letter like  Rom or 1 Cor would scarcely have been finished in one  sit­ting or one day.

GOD’S JUSTICE (Rom 1:1-17):

Probably  Paul wrote the letter to the Romans in Corinth  or in Cenchreae, sometime in the winter of AD 57-58, after an  evan­gelization  of  Illyricum  (15:19) and of  Macedonia  and  Achaia (15:26;  cf.1  Cor 16:5-7; Acts 20:3). Paul had not  founded the Roman  Church–it  was a mixed community, Jewish  and  non-Jewish converts looking down on each other. In view of this danger, Paul thought  it  prudent to pave the way for his visit by  sending  a letter (through Phoebe the deaconess, Rm 16:1) in which he stated systematically  his  ideas about the problem of HOW  JUDAISM  AND CHRISTIANITY WERE RELATED TO EACH OTHER.  He was forced to devel­op these ideas by the “Galatian crisis“.

ROM and GAL need to be treated together, because both  let­ters  analyse the same problem: THE PROBLEM OF CIRCUMCISION.  Gal may have been written at Ephesus or even in Macedonia, about  the year 57. Gal is the “LITTLE SISTER” of Rm.

Some  of his significant teachings (on the Church,  the  Eu­charist,  the  Resurrection of the body,  even  Eschatology)  are missing from it. It is not a compendium of doctrine, but an easy-letter  presenting his missionary reflections on  the historical possibility  of salvation, rooted in God’s uprightness and  love, offered to all human beings through faith in Jesus Christ.

In  view of the Judaizing crisis, Paul came to realize  that justification  and salvation depended not on deeds prescribed  by the law, but on faith in Christ Jesus.  Rm discusses some of  the same topics as Gal, but whereas Gal was composed in a context  of polemics,  Rm  was written in an irenic mood. It introduces  ele­ments of Gk literary style, rhetoric, and Stoic diatribe.
Significance  of Rm: Immeasurable is the part Rm  played  in the  Western Christian thinking and Reformation  debates.  Famous commentaries  on it were penned by Martin  LUTHER,  P.MELANCHTON, and John CALVIN. Modern religious thinking has also been  greatly affected  by the theological commentaries by Karl  BARTH, Anders NYGREN, H.ASMUSSEN, C.K.BARRETT and Emile BRUNNER. Among Catholic commentators, we have E.-B.ALLO, Ceslas SPICQ, Stanislas LYONNET.


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