Acts 9:1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
Paul is the main person in the missionary journeys. As an introduction to those journeys, I want us to find out as much as we can about the Apostle Paul.
Background: There were 12 tribes of Israel. If you were a Jew, you were from one of them. Philippians 3:5 tells us that Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. He was also from the very religious sect of the Pharisees. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee. They took the law as given by God to Moses and while they were very strict in many things, they also added to it what God did not require. He was also a Roman citizen. He was arrested and beaten and in Acts 22:25 he asked why they would do that to a Roman. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? He was also highly educated. Acts 22 gives us this information: brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. We know nothing of his parents. In Galatians 1 he speaks of his mother, but no information is given. He did, however, have at least one sister and nephew. Acts 23:16 gives us that information. And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul. In Romans 16 he speaks of other kinsmen.
Childhood: Acts 21:39 tells us where he was born: I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people. He was born about the same time as Jesus. His Jewish name was Saul, probably after King Saul, who was also of the tribe of Benjamin. Paul is a Roman name and was used among the Gentiles; he would have been more accepted of them using his Roman name. Acts 13:9 gives us both of these names.
Education: As a Jewish male he would have been taught by his mother until about the age of 4. She would have taught him in the Old Testament scriptures. At age 5 his father would have taught him. At age 6 he would have gone to the Rabbi school and studied the Jews religion. He was well educated. Acts 22 gives us this information: brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. This bears out that you can be well-studied and well-educated and still be lost. In Acts 23:6 Paul gives us his status as a Jew by saying I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. He was taught to observe the law and the hundreds of things added to it and was expected to follow them. He was taught to despise anyone who violated this, and Christians were in this group. He thought they should be wiped out and was fanatical about doing so.
Occupation: Paul was a tent maker. This was a good occupation in those days. He was what we would call a bi-vocational preacher. He worked during the day and preached at night. While he set up his trade he also established churches. Acts 18:2-3: And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
Marital status: this is a subject of debate. Some use First Corinthians 7:8 to support that he was not married. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. This is only an assumption that he was a bachelor. As a Jewish male, tradition expected him to be married by the age of 20. A good Pharisee was married with a family. In First Timothy 3 he seems to be saying religious leaders should be married. There is nothing concrete. I conclude that he was married and his wife had died. He never remarried. It really makes no difference.
Conversion: Because he was so fanatical about his religion, he was determined to go throughout the empire and get rid of Christians. In Acts 7 we see him consenting to the stoning of Stephen. Acts 8:1 says Saul was consenting unto his death. At that time the church was mainly in Jerusalem. The killing of Stephen did Christianity a favor. The Christians began to disperse and by that spread the gospel. Acts 9 tells us that on the Damascus Road he was confronted by Jesus Christ and that day became a Christian himself. Blinded by a great light, Jesus spoke to him. He recognized who he was. Verse 6 says And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. He got a commission from the Lord. A lot of people would like to have a conversion experience like Paul and get saved in a dramatic way. Most are like Matthew, who was just told by Jesus to follow me and he did. That is submission to God. Every experience of salvation is not the same. Chapter 9 goes on to tell us that Paul stayed with a man named Judas on Straight Street. Paul spent 3 days there in blindness and neither ate nor drank. In inner turmoil, he felt bad about what he had done to Christians. Ananias was commissioned to go to Saul and lay hands on him. He didn’t want to go because he had heard about him. The Lord told him that Saul was his servant and a chosen vessel. Paul then went to Arabia and was taught by God. Galatians 1:15-18 gives us this information: But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. Commentaries are good. I use them. But when studying, the best teacher is the Holy Spirit. The best commentary is the Bible. The revelation that Paul received was from the Lord, a truth man never knew till then. When he returned to Damascus the Jews decided to kill him. When they would have done it, Paul was lowered over the wall in a basket to escape. God wasn’t ready for him to die. Later he did tell Timothy about his upcoming death.
It had been three years since he was in Jerusalem. He had few friends. The Jews despised him. He was befriended by Barnabas. In Acts 11 we find that in Antioch, the third largest city in the region, Paul and Barnabas ministered and were commissioned by the church for the first missionary journey.
We will study all three missionary journeys in the following lessons.