Paul, Apostle, St.

views updated


In his apostolate to the Hellenistic world St. Paul traveled extensively from Jerusalem to Rome, preaching, teaching, and founding churches in the name of Christ. His principal message was that both Jew and Gentile, through faith and acceptance of the gospel, could enter into redemptive solidarity with the risen Christ. In the labors and perils of his ministry Paul drew strength from his personal life in Christ, the urgency of his gospel, and an indomitable will. During Paul's lifetime, and chiefly through his ministry, the hesitant and uncertain group of Jesus' disciples made its decisive break with Judaism and turned its energies to the worldwide mission of converting all men to Christ. The Church entered fully into the Gentile world. Paul's conversion was not merely a call to personal sanctification; it was both a germinal source to aid Paul in the maturation of his gospel and an apocalyptic command to carry that gospel to the ends of the earth before the imminent return of Christ. Characteristic of Paul's preaching was his emphasis on the risen Christ as the center of a new existence radically transformed by the death and Resurrection of Christa reality Paul experienced through his transformation "into Christ."

This article is divided into three main sections treating, in order, of St. Paul's life, personality, and theology.


After treating of the sources on which any account of the life and teachings of St. Paul must be based, a summary will be given here, first of the chronology of his life, and then of his youth, his role as a persecutor of the Church, his conversion, his apostolic activity, his imprisonments, and his last years and death.

Literary Sources. St. Luke's Acts of the Apostles (7.58; 8.3; 9.130; 11.2530; 12.25; 13.128.31) and the Epistles of St. Paul are the only reliable accounts of Paul's life. The 20th century saw extensive debates about whether all 14 Pauline Epistles except the Epistle to the hebrews (held by most exegetes to be the work of a disciple

of Paul) should be attributed to Paul. The prevailing scholarly conclusion is that only Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, and (with some exceptions), First Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are authentic. Second Thessalonians, Ephesians, First and Second Timothy, and Titus are recognized as Pauline in the sense that they contain Pauline elements, and are perhaps the work of a Pauline school. (For the apocryphal Acti Pauli, see The Catholic Encyclopedia [New York 190722] 11:567.)

Paul's Epistles were both letters (substitutes for conversation) and epistles (formal literary compositions), occasioned by the needs and conflicts of the early Christian communities. As such they became normative in Church development. These sources outline the occasions and become the very manifestation of Paul's gospel (i.e., Jesus revealed through the life of Paul).

The relation between Acts and the Epistles is as interesting as it is complex. Most modern scholars agree that Acts is best read for historical purposes in the light of the Epistles, not conversely. The Epistles give many historical details and personal insights into the providential growth and transformation of Paul. Much of this information is not in Acts. (For difficulties in the Acts-Epistles relationship, see Munck, 7886.) Yet, the multiple purposes of the acts of the apostles can cross-fertilize the Epistles. Information on the last years and deaths of the Apostles come only from early tradition.

Chronology. The proconsulship of Junius Annaeus Gallio in Achaia dates very probably between the spring of a.d. 52 and the spring of a.d. 53 (see Acts 18.1217). The assumption by Festus of the procuratorship in Judea occurred in a.d. 59 or 60 (see Acts 25.1). Paul was arrested in Jerusalem around Pentecost of a.d. 58 and taken to Rome between the fall of a.d. 60 and the spring of a.d.61. The specific dates in the following narrative of Paul's life are based on these assumptions (see A. Wikenhauser, New Testament Introduction 360361).

Youth. Paul was born, probably, a few years after the birth of Jesus, into a double world symbolized by his double name: Saul-Paul. Under Jewish parents of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11.1; Phil 3.5), Saul became a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Phil 3.5), conscientiously instructed in strict Pharisaic tenets and intensely loyal to religious traditions. At the age of five he would have learned the principal contents of the law (cf. Dt 56). At six he would have attended the "Vineyard," a kindergarten attached to the synagogue. Studying the Scriptures until the age of ten, he would be introduced to the oral law and its multiple prescriptions (the mishnah). But Paul was also a Roman citizen born in Tarsus of Cilicia, a bustling maritime center of Hellenistic culture (Gal1.14; 2.15; Acts 22.3; 25.12), so that in his boyhood he also absorbed a certain amount of Greek culture. His Epistles manifest youthful interest in wrestling, military drills, parades, and games.

At the age of 15 Saul went to the temple college in Jerusalem under the venerated gamaliel to learn the subtleties of rabbinic teaching with its mass of legal interpretations (halakah) and folklore literature (haggadah).

It was an obligation of the pharisee and the duty of an ordained rabbi to marry. But 1 Cor 7.7 seems to indicate that Paul never did. One unmarried rabbi justified himself thus: "What shall I do? My soul cleaves to the Torah. Let others keep the world going." As a Christian, Paul looked upon his celibacy as a mystical betrothal to Christ and the Church.

Since a trade was needed by rabbis, who were not allowed to make money in giving instructions on the Law,

Saul learned the trade of "maker of tent cloth" (Acts 18.3).

Persecutor of the Early Church. About a.d. 34, in Jerusalem, Stephen, full of grace and power, was preaching the risen Christ (Acts 7); eventually, he was stoned to death. Paul, the Scribe witness, "approved of his death" (Acts 7.60). Stephen had prayed, "Lord, do not lay this sin against them." Later Augustine said, "If Stephen had not prayed thus, the Church would not have had Paul" [see stephen (protomartyr), st.].

Stephen's death signaled one of the bloodiest persecutions against the infant Church. Zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Gal 1.14), Paul became grand inquisitor for the persecution, since he clearly saw Christianity as mortal enemy to Jewish legalistic tradition (Gal1.1323; 1 Cor 15.9). That the Mosaic Law was now supplanted by a new Christian dispensation seemed an outrageous blasphemy. Given spies, temple soldiers, and legal authority, "Saul was harassing the church; entering house after house; and dragging out men and women, he committed them to prison" (Acts 8.3).

Conversion. In the midst of his hostile activity against the emerging Church, Paul was unexpectedly converted to Christ. The most remarkable note of Paul's conversion was its suddenness. It was hardly expected that the zealous Pharisee, Saul, as he set out from Jerusalem armed with letters to harass the young Christian community of Damascus, would enter that city a convert and disciple of Jesus. Yet, on the outskirts of the city Paul, favored by grace with a miraculous and objective vision of Christ, heard the words, "Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?" (Acts 9.4). "Who art thou, Lord?" was almost a rhetorical question; he already knew the answer that he would hear: "I am Jesus whom thou art persecuting." One of Paul's most characteristic teachings, the doctrine of the mystical body of christ, finds its genesis here. A light from without blazed forth within him, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4.6). Already a slave of Christ, Paul inquired, "Lord, what wilt thou have me do?" (Acts9.6). He now realized that it was a matter, "not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God showing

mercy" (Rom 9.16). The Lord simply directed Paul to Ananias, and Ananias baptized him.

Although there is no direct evidence for it, it is possible that Paul, haunted by the fear of sin and subconsciously but deeply impressed by the holy deaths of men such as Stephen (Acts 7.5560; 26.1011), may thereby have been prepared for his liberating encounter with Christ. But Paul himself regarded his conversion as an κτρωμα, "untimely birth" (1 Cor 15.8). Suddenly he was freed from the uncanny power of the Law that had held him in psychological bondage. His was an utterly unexpected birth into the power of Him who was dead and risen.

The blindness that followed this event and remained for several days was probably the natural result of his psychological collapse. Possibly, Luke "baptizes" the ancient notion that blindness befalls the man who gazes on the divine. While all three accounts of Paul's conversion (Acts 9.39; 22.611; 26.1318) agree in substance, they differ in detail because of the literary forms and differences of polemic, purpose, and author in each case [see D. Stanley, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 15 (1953) 315338].

Apostolic Activity. St. Paul's apostolic ministry, as far as it is known from the NT, can be conveniently divided into four main periods: (1) early years, a.d. 34 to 47;(2) first missionary journey, a.d. 47 to 49; (3) second missionary journey, a.d. 50 to 52; (4) third missionary journey, a.d. 53 to 58.

Early Years in the Apostolate. No psychology of religion can fully explain the profound reconstruction of Paul's religious world whereby another Person took possession of him in an experience of mystic death to the old and resurrection to the new. At first there must have been a clearing away of the debris of his old world, while the new life in Christ was being built up within him. Yet nothing worthwhile, cosmopolitan polish, intellectual acuity, or vitality, was lost. For many years the process of conversion continued. An inner change, both intellectual and emotional, was wrought in him because of Christ, whose new life he now lived: "I count everything loss because of the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things" (Phil 3.8).

In Gal 1.17 Paul says that immediately after his Baptism he retired into Arabia, i.e., the semidesert Nabataean country southeast of Damascus, and there spent three years, while his "knowledge of the mystery of Christ" (Eph 3.4) grew deeper. At the end of this period he returned to Damascus, where he preached "that Jesus is the Son of God" (Acts 9.20). But when the Jews of Damascus made a plot to kill him, he escaped from the city by being lowered over its walls in a large basketan incident of which he later boasted as evidence of his human weakness (2 Cor 11.3233).

From Damascus Paul went to Jerusalem, where barnabas introduced him to Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 9.2529; Gal 1.1819). After two weeks spent in preaching to the hellenists of Jerusalem, however, another Jewish plot compelled him to leave the city. This time he retired to his native Tarsus (Gal 1.21; Acts9.2630), where the process of his transformation continued. These years seem to have been for Paul a time of training, while he waited for a new command from the Lord. Through reflection and prayer he was developing and maturing his gospel. His total involvement in the dead and risen Christ absorbed him to a point where his own personality found wholeness in the reality of Christ risen in him. Thus it was at this time that he had the famous ecstatic vision of which he later wrote in 2 Cor 12.17.

The earliest spread of Christianity was less through intentional missionary journeys than through the storm of persecution that scattered the first believers. Some went to Antioch, the capital of Syria, which was destined soon to become more important than Jerusalem as the center of the Church in the East. About the year 44 Barnabas was sent by the Apostles at Jerusalem to act as their representative in the Christian community at Antioch. When he saw the constant growth of believers in this city, he went to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him back with him to Antioch to help him there in the ministry. In this community of predominantly Gentile Christians, Barnabas and Paul were blessed with great success (Acts 11.2526). A few years later this community commissioned the two to bring the "famine collection" to Jerusalem for the relief of the brethren there (Acts 11.2730; perhaps also in Gal 2.110).

First Missionary Journey. After their return from Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul, with John Mark (see mark, evangelist, st.), Barnabas's nephew, acting as their assistant, were commissioned by the Antioch community, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to preach the gospel beyond the confines of Syria. Thus Paul began his first missionary journey (a.d. 4749: Acts 13.114.27). The missionaries sailed first to the island of Cyprus, Barnabas's homeland (Acts 4.36). There the proconsul Sergius Paulus, who resided at Paphos, was converted to Christianity. From this point on in Acts, the Apostle is no longer mentioned by his Hebrew name Saul; apparently he now preferred to be known by his Greco-Roman name Paul, either in honor of his first important convert, Sergius Paulus, or more likely, to indicate by his "Gentile" name that his apostolate was now primarily to the Gentiles (Gal 2.79: Rom 15.16). Now, also, the leadership passed from Barnabas to Paul; the phrase in Acts is no longer "Barnabas and Saul," but "Paul and Barnabas."

From Cyprus the three missionaries journeyed onward into the southern part of central Asia Minor, where at Perga, because of some disagreement, John Mark turned back. Paul and Barnabas evangelized the southern region of the Roman province of galatia, including the key cities of antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. At Lystra Paul was stoned and left half dead (see also 2 Tm 3.11), perhaps then receiving the wounds whose scars he called the στίγματα, "tattoo" or "brand marks," that marked him as the slave of the Lord Jesus (Gal 6.17). In spite of Jewish hostility, the missionaries were so successful that on the return journey they appointed presbyters and organized the Christian communities as they passed through the same cities.

The rapid spread of Christianity among the Gentiles brought on a crisis in the Church. A strong Judaistic movement in Jerusalem demanded that Gentile Christians should be circumcised and made to observe the Mosaic Law. Paul clearly saw the practical consequences of this. If the movement prevailed, Christianity would be turned into a merely Jewish sect that Gentiles would be loath to enter, or it would be split into a Judeo-Christian Church and a Gentile-Christian Church. But what was much more fundamental, Paul saw in the position of the Judaizers a repudiation of the very basis of Christianitythat man is saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by the observance of any law, even though after initial salvation man is not without the law of Christ (Gal 6.2).

When the Judaistic demands were forced on the Christian community at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to request a settlement of the dispute. The resultant meeting of these envoys from Antioch with the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem is commonly known as the Council of jerusalem.

According to some exegetes, Paul wrote his Epistle to the galatians shortly before he left Antioch, or even on his way to Jerusalem, to attend this meeting. These scholars argue that in this epistle, which is primarily concerned with this dispute, there is not the slightest reference to any decision having been given on it at Jerusalem and that the dispute between Peter and Paul at Antioch mentioned in Gal 2.1114 would hardly be possible after the Council of Jerusalem. Yet, because of the great similarity between Galatians (especially 3.14.31) and Romans (especially 4.125), which was written c. a.d. 57, most exegetes hold that Galatians could not have been written before a.d. 54.

In any case, the Council of Jerusalem (a.d. 49 or 50) decided that no burden should be laid on the Gentile converts except abstinence from meat offered to idols (for Paul's authentic interpretation of this see 1 Cor 10.2530; Rom 14.1423), from immorality, and from blood and meat containing blood. In spite of the decree, the hostility and agitation of the Judaizers continued to hound Paul throughout the rest of his life.

Second Missionary Journey. Shortly after the Council of Jerusalem Paul began his second missionary journey (a.d. 5052: Acts 15.3618.22). Barnabas wanted to bring his nephew Mark along, but Paul refused. Thus, the original mission team was dissolved. Barnabas and Mark journeyed again to Cyprus, while Paul took with him silas, valuable as a Roman citizen and a member of the mother church in Jerusalem. Paul revisited the Christian communities of (south) Galatia and at Lystra chose timothy (whom he circumcised for acceptance by the Jews) to be his constant companion and secretary. From here they traveled westward into Phrygia and northward along the western border of Galatia. They would have continued further north into Bithynia had they not been prevented by the Holy Spirit. Turning westward, then, through Mysia, they came to Troas on the coast, where Luke joined them (see luke, evangelist, st.). In obedience to a vision, Paul crossed the sea to Macedonia. Europe, grown sick of paganism, was calling him. Paul established vigorous Christian communities at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea in spite of Judaistic hatred, which brought scourging and imprisonment at Philippi and persecution elsewhere.

Paul came to Athens by chance. Awaiting the arrival there of Timothy and Silas, he defended monotheism in a scholarly discourse before the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on the areopagus; but results were small when he announced the risen Christ as judge of the whole world. Resolved henceforth to depend entirely on Christ and His power, not on polemic ability, he founded a large community at Corinth (1 Cor 12), where he worked for a year and a half (from about the beginning of a.d. 50 to the summer of a.d. 51). Here he was assisted by prisca (priscilla) and aquila (Rom 16.3; 2 Tm 4.19), a Jewish married couple expelled from Rome under edict of Emperor Claudius. Soon after his arrival at Corinth Paul wrote the First and Second Epistles to the thessalonians.

Third Missionary Journey. Not long after Paul's return to Antioch, a third missionary journey (a.d. 5358) led him back to the Christian communities of Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18.23). At ephesus he worked for three years (Acts 19.140; 20.31), successfully building up the Mystical Body. Here he wrote the First Epistle to the corinthians and, according to the more common opinion, Galatians. Finally, led by Demetrius, the silversmiths, whose income from their images of Diana (Artemis) decreased with Paul's preaching, instigated a riot that forced him to leave Ephesus [see diana (artemis) of the ephesians]. He revisited Macedonia (where he wrote his Second Epistle to the Corinthians) and Corinth, a hotbed of problems, in which Paul became dramatically involved (2 Cor 17; 1013). Here he wrote his Epistle to the romans in preparation for his proposed visit to Rome (Acts 19.21).

In the spring of a.d. 58 he returned to Philippi, where he celebrated the Passover. At Miletus he bade farewell to the presbyters of Ephesus. Despite numerous warnings at caesarea in Palestine (e.g., the prophetic symbolic actions of agabus: Acts 21.1011) and his own sinister forebodings (Rom 15.31; Acts 20.22; 21.13), Paul delivered the collection for the poor of Jerusalem (Rom 15.2529).

Imprisonments. In 2 Corinthians, written in a.d. 57, Paul says that he was "in prisons frequently" (2 Cor 11.23). Although direct evidence is lacking, it seems probable that one of these imprisonments was at Ephesus during his third missionary journey (see 1 Cor 15.32); and it is possible that the so-called captivity epistles were written at the time of this imprisonment. However, there is certain knowledge only of his imprisonments at Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome.

At Jerusalem and Caesarea. Advised by James, Paul accompanied and paid the expenses of four men who were completing their vows as nazirites in Jerusalem. Here the Judaizers from the province of Asia stirred up a riot, accusing him of bringing a Gentile Christian (Trophimus) into the inner court of the temple. The Roman soldiers took him, as a Roman citizen, into protective custody. As Jewish hostility mounted, Lysias, the Roman commander at Jerusalem, had Paul taken to Caesarea, where the governor resided. Here Paul was kept in confinement for two years (a.d. 5860) by the governor Marcus Antonius felix. But Porcius festus, successor of Felix, became inclined to accede to the wishes of the Sanhedrin that Paul should be returned to Jerusalem for trial. Knowing that Sanhedrin justice would mean death, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen: he appealed to Caesar.

At Rome. To Rome, therefore, Paul was sent, and on the voyage he suffered shipwreck at Malta (Acts 27). For another two years he was "imprisoned" in "house custody" (custodia libera ), allowed to rent his own dwelling, to receive visitors, and to preach the Gospel to them.

Last Years. With Paul's two-year imprisonment in Rome the Book of Acts comes to an end. A tradition of the early Church presupposes that Paul was set free. According to Clement of Rome (Pope clement i) Paul journeyed "to the end of the West" (1 Clem 5.57), i.e., Spain. The muratorian canon (lines 3839) and the apocryphal Acts of Peter (1 and 3) repeat the same tradition.

The pastoral epistles, if authentic, indicate that Paul revisited his missionary territory in the east, leaving titus and Timothy in Crete and Ephesus, respectively, with full authority to combat error and organize the Church there (Ti 1.5; 1 Tm 1.3). Whether the Spanish or eastern journey came first is uncertain. Once more, however, Paul was arrested and imprisoned in Rome, this time more strictly, and finally his desire "to depart and be with Christ" (Phil 1.23) was fulfilled by martyrdom in the reign of Nero (a.d. 67 according to Eusebius; a.d. 64 according to Clement of Rome and Tertullian). According to ancient, reliable tradition, Paul was beheaded at a place called Ad Aquas Salvias on the Ostian Road (Via Ostiensis ), a short distance southwest of Rome, and buried along the same road, but somewhat nearer the city, in an area shown by archeological excavations to have been a pagan cemetery of the 1st and 2d centuries. The Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, erected over the Apostle's tomb by Constantine the Great, was enlarged and restored several times, most recently after a disastrous fire in the 19th century.


St. Paul's personality will be considered here from the viewpoint both of his character and physical condition and of his qualities as a writer.

Character and Physical Condition. Paul's natural temperament and character indicate, above all, a profoundly inspired religious spirit. As a Jew, he was led by his dedication to the Law zealously to persecute the Church. As a Christian, he adhered to Christ by heroically giving himself to all men. Paul was also a powerful dialectician, as shown by the march of his ideas in Romans, with the native temper of a debater. His dialectic method is clear but could lead to misunderstanding through exaggeration (e.g., in condemning the Law or in taking a dim view of human nature). Yet he possessed exquisite sensibility and an overall charm revealing his capacity for weakness, fear, and discouragement (e.g., 1 Cor 2.3; 2 Cor 1.8). His letters, especially Second Corinthians and Galatians, reflect depths of emotional responsethe fears, hopes, affection, indignation by which his soul was torn and tossed. This lively play of emotion, expressed by look and gesture (e.g., Acts 13.9; 14.1214; 20.34;23.16; 26.1; see also Gal 3.1; Phil 3.18), was firmly controlled by judgment; he ascribed his effectiveness to the Spirit of Christ possessing him (2 Cor 13.34; Col 1.29; 1 Thes 1.5, etc.).

However, the qualities of Paul's character are best perceived as he functions in his ministry. Paul was a man of vision who developed the profound reality of the cosmic Christ, dead and alive, into an original system of thought called Pauline theology. Paul's mind was "essentially intuitive" (P. van Imschoot), grasping religious truths by direct contemplation rather than by intellectual reasoning. Paul was a mystic who penetrated deeply the inner reality of all things in Christ. His profound experience of seeing all "in Christ" sustained him through 30 years of extraordinary hardship and safeguarded him from the intemperances of the fanatic. Paul was an ascetic who steeled himself (1 Cor 9.27; 2 Cor 6.5), in spite of a nervous temperament, to endure all things for Christ. His will, aflame with love, dominated all circumstances and surmounted all difficulties. Paul was a pastor who manifested the tenderness of his Master in solicitude deep and total: "Who is made to stumble and I am not inflamed?" (2 Cor 11.29). Warmhearted, natural affection for others was joined to his all-consuming love for Christ. Paul was an organizer who combined born leadership with courage and critical tact. He was able to resist the authority of Barnabas (Acts 15.3740) as well as to confront publicly the authority of Peter (Gal 2.1114). With leaders selected by careful judgment, Paul solidly established community after community in ample evidence of his power to organize. Timothy and Titus, two powerful bishops, became extensions of his dynamic personality. All of these qualities combined to make Paul a missionary whose overwhelming desire was to bring Christ to all men. To this purpose he tirelessly spent himself.

Paul's personality reflects and yet transcends its many sources: Pharisaic upbringing firmly rooted in his religious heritage; Greek formation with its love of freedom; rabbinic training with its dialectic; mystic experiences; and the Christian catechesis. It was his personal encounter with the Lord that transformed these various potentials into a unified revelation of God's Son. This absorption in Christ, in whom all things have their meaning (Col 1.1520), made Paul tolerant of everything beautiful, simple, honorable, and true (Phil 4.8).

Physically, Paul has been traditionally stylized as short, bald, with thick beard and prominent nose, with eyebrows meeting and legs somewhat bowed, but, on the whole, a distinguished man of dignified bearing. This description, found in the apocryphal Acts of Paul, derives from the legend of Paul and Thecla and is unflattering enough to be authentic (cf. 2 Cor 10.10; 12.6). His reference to a certain affliction that he calls a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor 12.7) refers more likely to the persecution he suffered, especially from the Judaizers, than to any physical ailment.

Paul as a Writer. If, as both Horace and Quintillian maintain, true eloquence is the fruit of feeling and strong conviction, not of literary artifice, Paul is sublimely eloquent. Although his style abounds in anacolutha, ellipses, and similar stylistic liberties, Paul is an artist who often and unconsciously creates great literature (e.g., Rom8.2839; 2 Cor 6.110; 11.2129). Burning with zeal to shout out the "good news," Paul may forget grammatical sequence, but he always delivers his message with force (e.g., Phil 3.114), frequently in the style of the Greek diatribe (Rom 3.120). Inflamed with love for Christ and all men in Him, Paul's letters betray indifference to none, least of all to his fellow Jews who rejected Jesus Christ.

Paul writes in a compressed style. His pet phrase, "in Christ" (used about 50 times), is a gospel in itself. A thousand ideas clamor for expression. Unified in an ever-changing mosaic of Christ, they are permeated with compelling conviction. Frequently, this pressure of crowding thoughts is forced into tight summaries. Paul is not a stylist with the studied eloquence of his time. His interest is not in words of wisdom but in the wisdom of the Word (1 Cor 1.172.5). In an effort to describe the indescribable impact of union with Christ, Paul impressed his creative personality on the Greek he used, giving new meaning to some words, at times even coining words or new combinations [for further discussion, see B. McGrath, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 14 (1952) 21926].

Paul should be interpreted, not only against the background of his Greek world, but also, and primarily, in the context of OT thought processes. Paul thought and spoke cultured Greek, but his literary background was almost exclusively the OT and other Jewish writings. He used Greek words with their Septuagint (LXX) meaning, his thought patterns following Jewish tradition. For example, the body-soul-spirit relation is not Greek but Hebrew; the body (σ[symbol omitted]μα, Heb. bāśār, "flesh"), soul (ψυκή, Heb. nepeš ), and spirit (πνε[symbol omitted]μα, Heb. rûa ) are, accordingly, three phases of an indivisible unity.

Paul, as a "Christian rabbi" (J. Bonsirven), saw Scripture alive only in Christ, who is the revolutionary fulfillment of God's plan and power. Christ is the lifegiving spirit of the letter of the OT (2 Cor 3.6, 17). Yet in Paul's use of the Scripturesquotations (some 80), allusions, and reminiscences aboundPaul can be understood only in light of the Palestinian exegetical tradition that concerned itself more with applied adaptation and messianism of texts than with the literal sense. Thus, frequently in rabbinic fashion, Paul transcends not only historical accounts (e.g., Gal 4.2131) but also the Prophets (Rom 1.17; 2.24) and the Psalms (Rom 10.8; Acts 13.33) in his determination to proclaim only Christ. Even though Paul is steeped in rabbinic interpretations of Hebrew Scripture, it is the LXX he uses; the Hebrew text, where it differs from the LXX, is quoted only five times.


The religious teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles will be considered here, first in the sources from which he derived it, then as he presented it in his "gospel," and finally in the important role that it played in the Church.

Sources. The teachings of St. Paul are primarily based on those of the OT, with certain of the OT doctrines as interpreted by the Pharisaic rabbis of his time. What is typically Christian in his teachings he owes partly to the teachings of Jesus as interpreted by the early Church and partly to the revelations that he received directly from God in his mystical experiences.

Jewish Pharisaic Beliefs. The doctrines of providence and the divine ordering of the world, reward and punishment beyond the grave, the resurrection of the dead, the Decalogue, charity toward God and men, belief in angels and demonsthese were all a part of the spiritual patrimony Paul inherited as a Jew and a Pharisee. From the Bible Paul acquired the deep sense of God and the sense of sinthe religious attitude that was the treasure of Judaism.

There are striking similarities between Paul and the members of the qumran communityexpressions (e.g., "earthen vessels," "a share in the heritage of the sons"), ideas (e.g., mystery, revelation, knowledge, distinction between light and darkness, the theology of the spirit), and names (e.g., Belial and Satan disguised as an angel of light: see 2 Cor 6.1418). Yet this similarity in terms and concepts derives mostly from the use of the OT Scriptures common to both Paul and the Qumranites.

Teachings of Jesus and Belief of the Early Church. The 19th-century rationalists saw radical differences between Jesus and Paul. Now, however, it is agreed that these apparent differences are complementary, one to the other, and not opposed. Paul is now seen in full accord with the teachings of Jesus, explicitly in 1 Cor 7.10 (cf. Mt 5.32); 1 Cor 9.14 (cf. Lk 10.7); 1 Cor 11.2325 (cf. Mt 26.2629; Lk 22.1519); cf. also 1 Thes 4.8 with Lk 10.6; Gal 4.17 with Lk 11.52; 1 Cor 4.1213 and Rom 12.14 with Lk 6.27; 1 Cor 5.4 with Mt 18.20; 1 Cor 13.3 with Lk 12.33; 2 Cor 10.1 with Mt 11.29; Rom 2.1 and 14.13 with Mt 7.1; Rom 14.14 with Mt 15.11; Rom 16.19 with Mt 10.16. The Gospel stress on love (γάπη) is Paul's "way" (1 Cor 13.113). The traditions (παραδóσεις) of the early Church are reflected by Paul in 1 Cor 11.23 and 15.3. He gives details of Christ's earthly life (1 Cor 11.23; 15.37; 2 Cor 5.21; 8.9; Gal4.45; Phil 2.511; Rom 1.3; 8.3; 1 Thes 2.15), His authority (1 Cor 7.10, 12, 25; 1 Thes 4.28, 15; 1 Cor 15.24; Acts 20.35), and His teaching (1 Cor 11.25; 9.14; 7.10). Paul determined to transmit the sacred deposit of revelation intact and free from error (Eph 4.1415; Col 2.78; 1 Tm 2.57; 6.20; 2 Tm 1.14).

Revelations of Paul. In essence, Paul received everything from "the face of Christ Jesus" at his inaugural vision. Other revelations (or sacred traditions) deepened the Damascus experience or offered guidance to Paul's ministry (Gal 1.1116; 2 Cor 12.14; Eph 3.310; see also Acts 18.910).

Paul's Gospel. To Paul, the gospel (principally a Pauline term) is God's saving activity as constantly revealed and manifested in Christ's death and Resurrection. Death and Resurrection in Christ are the two powers, the only two powers, of man's new existence; they are the founts of salvation. A total, irrevocable commitment to Christ as Redeemer is man's necessary response to this saving act of God.

Paul's gospel (Rom 2.16; 16.25; 2 Tm 2.8; 2 Cor 4.3; 1 Thes 1.5; 2 Thes 2.14) refers to his personal experience of involvement in Christ's death and Resurrection. In his inaugural vision Paul came into transforming contact with Christ. Yet deeper growth into Christ came through the circumstances of his life.

Christocentric. Paul's interpretation of human existence is Christocentric, all men finding their raison d'être in Christ. The Apostle sees Christ's death and Resurrection as God's activity not so much for us as to us, as shown by the word "constitute" in Rom 5.19. By Baptism, Christians are fully and totally incorporated into Christ, into His death and Resurrection (Rom 6.46). Through these two transforming powers, Christians encounter Christ in the experiences of all reality, which has been created in, by, and for Him. In this sense, Paul declares that "To live is Christ" (Phil 1.21).

The Death-and-Resurrection Power of Christ. The patristic notion that the union of the Word with human flesh enriches our nature is not Paul's (or the Gospels'). Christ's earthly existence was "according to the flesh" (Rom 1.3). Though sinless, the flesh (i.e., human nature) that the Son of God took on Himself was the flesh of sin (Rom 8.3), and without His death and Resurrection it would be neither powerful nor glorious (Phil 2.711). The Father's plan of salvation had Christ enter into solidarity with man, even appearing as man-to-be-redeemed (Heb 5.79). Although, ontologically, Christ was always the Son of God, He Himself became "justified in the spirit" (1 Tm 3.16), a "life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15.45), and was "constituted" (ρισθέντος), soteriologically, Son of God in power only with the climax of the Resurrection (Rom 1.34; see also Acts 13.33; Heb 1.5).

Death-and-Resurrection, seen as a single mystery, offers complementary facets: death to sinful flesh and entry into divine life. Paradoxically, Christ entered into glory through His PassionHe found life in death itself. His emptying of Himself (Phil 2.7) was a movement toward glory, corresponding to the ambivalent Johannine "hour" in which Christ was "lifted up" on the cross in glory.

The phrase "Christ dead and alive" (F. Durrwell) is significant. "Christ dead" refers to that power present in the risen Christ but grounded in a lifelong dying to "this world" (in its ethical, unredeemed sense) and climaxed by His final redemptive death, in which the baptized die to sin and are buried with Christ in death to this world (Rom 6.34; Col 2.20; 2 Tm 2.11). Our sharing in this death stems from a unifying solidarity in Christ, the second Adam. In one death all have died (2 Cor 5.14), not by way of substitution, but by way of mystic identification.

"Christ alive" refers to His life-giving presence in the new creation of eschatological existence, brought about by His Resurrection, in which the baptized are initiated and already share His glorious victory (Rom 6.45; see also 4.25).

Christians' Union with the Dead-and-Risen Christ. In Baptism we thus share in the death-to-sin and the becoming-alive-to-God in Christ's death-and-Resurrection. The Eucharist nourishes (1 Cor 10.16) this same reality and joins us in deeper union with Christ and all men (1 Cor 10.1617). Paul's expression "the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor 11.27) shows that he identifies Christ's Eucharistic body with His risen body, for "the Lord" is Paul's name for the risen Christ.

This sense of sharing (κοινωνία) gives the Pauline ethic its distinctive form. No schism (1 Cor 1.1013), no self-conceit (Gal 5.26), but a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6.1) must prevail among members of the same body. Toward this ideal Paul constantly admonishes, exhorts, warns, and encourages.

The significance of the Resurrection overpowered Paul at his conversion. But the significance of Christ's death became clear amid the birth pangs of his apostolate. Persecution, humiliation, and weakness became raw material for further transformation. Crucified together spiritually with Christ, he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him (Gal 2.20; see also 6.14). In union with Christ's death he would celebrate the perpetual passover (1 Cor5.78) from death to life in Him. The life-giving law of the apostolate was to extend the death-and-Resurrection of Christ.

Paul thus speaks of a present sharing in Christ's Resurrection (Eph 2.48). Our whole self, body-soul-spirit, is being formed in the image of the risen Christ. The divine, unseen glory is already bestowed (in part) on our body. Our bodies are Christ's, and to use them for sin, especially sins of the flesh, is tantamount to sacrilege (1 Cor 6.1220). The parousia does not effectit manifeststhe glorified risen state already possessed by Christians (Col 3.14; cf. the "spiritual body" of 1 Cor 15.44).

Mystical Body of Christ. In the Captivity Epistles, Paul concentrates on the Mystery of Christ risen and acting in His Church as the unifying force of the universe. As one body, Jew and Gentile alike are the object of God's mercy, subject to Him as head (Eph 1.22; Col1.18), who rules through the "mighty power" of His Resurrection. In His body, sacrificed and glorified, Christ has slain all enmity (Eph 2.14). The entire universe is infused by the divinity and drawn into unity through the redeeming Christ. Thus is all created reality redeemed by God, who through Christ is at the beginning and end of all this work of the new creation (Col 1.1520).

Although the key to Paul's theology, whether moral or dogmatic, is Christ's death-and-Resurrection, the function of the Holy Spirit is identified with that of the risen Christ (e.g., 2 Cor 3.17; 1 Cor 15.45). St. Ambrose calls Christ the body of the Holy Spirit. The Father pours out the Spirit to us through the risen Christ so that the raising of Christ and our participation in His new life are a single actuality. Paul refers to the activity of the Spirit as a "renewal" (νακαίνωσις: Ti 3.5), a Greek word used in the NT to connote something utterly new, a surprising and transforming force. In Christ's death-and-Resurrection the Church, as God's community, is rebuilt on the cornerstone rejected by His own people (Rom9.33).

Freedom from the Mosaic Law. In proclaiming Christ, dead and alive, as the only power of salvation, Paul encountered two chief doctrinal obstacles: the "wisdom" of the Gentile, and the "Law" of the Jew. The Gentiles proposed reason as a saving power. In 1 Cor1.174.20 Paul magnificently praises the wisdom of God in Christ crucified. Salvation does not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God in Christ (1 Cor 2.5). Hence, the gospel is essentially a divine force, not a form of human reasoning.

The Judaizers posed the Law, both moral and ceremonial, as a cause of salvation. Paul saw that the Christian, by God's magnanimity, fully and personally receives Christ, dead and risen, who alone becomes the principle of saving life. The Law leaves man without hope. It has no power in itself to save; rather it condemns. Being itself holy (Rom 7.12) and spiritual (Rom 7.14), it reveals man in his sinful state. Thus, it works wrath (Rom 4.15), makes sin abound (Rom 5.20), is the power of sin (1 Cor 15.56), brings knowledge of sin (Rom 3.20;7.7), and is a curse (Gal 3.13). These aspects of the Law died in Christ (Rom 7.4; Gal 2.19) and in Paul through Baptism. With Christ the Law was nailed to the cross and died (Col 4.14). The Law is for the unjust, not the just (1 Tm 1.9). It serves as a negative, protective pedagogue (Gal 3.24) to those not fully in the faith (Gal 3.25), or as an expression of true faith informed by charity for those wholly committed to Christ (Gal 5.6).

Such independence from the Law (Rom 3.2128) is demanded by the gratuity of Redemption. Man, in original sin, is radically unable to save himself; history and Scripture attest universal sin (Rom 3.118). At best, his egocentric autonomy inclines him to turn all his lawkeeping into a self-redemptive effort (Rom 10.3; Phil3.49). Only through that faith that is total commitment to Christ can man accept salvation (see justification).

Providential Role. The life-and-death struggle in the early Church between the Law and Christian freedom is difficult to overestimate. Had the early Christian community succumbed to the Judaizer's insistence upon the Law as a means of salvation, there would be no Christianity today. Providentially, Paul arose as the man preeminently qualified to transplant Christianity, without destroying any of its roots, from the ancient earth of Israel to fertile, Gentile soil.

Paul's life, however, reveals an even more profound role. All great movements are initiated and sustained by ideas. But Paul's is not mere intellectual genius; his is a vision of God's saving activity joined and compenetrated into man's entire human existence. For Paul, a man of many worlds, Christianity is no isolation. Jew, Greek, Roman, workman, intellectual, evangelistthrough un believable hardships and great joysall brought Paul, the many-faceted personality, to drink deeply of the death-and-Resurrection "mystery of Christ" (Eph 3.4; Col 4.3).

Historically, Paul's influence on Christianity is unsurpassed. His impact is "the first after the One"of the first in the One. Paul is ever real and contemporary. In his inspired letters, he continuously proclaims the eruption of Christ into man's life by which he is radically remade: "If then any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. The former things have passed away; behold, they are made new" (2 Cor 5.17). Paul himself stands as a model of self-renewal and of Church-renewal: "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ" (1 Cor 11.1).

Dynamically, Paul reveals the unifying force and life-giving principle of all created reality: Christ, who identified with the Church, is the now present "mystery of God" (Col 2.2). By his personal witness to Christ's death-and-Resurrection, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, has become the revealed archetype both of Christian theology and of the ecumenical Church.

Iconography. St. Paul has been portrayed very frequently in Christian art (sculptures, mosaics, paintings) since the 4th century, either alone or more often together with St. Peter. One of the oldest-known representations of him is on the beautiful sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (middle of the 4th century), in the crypt of St. Peter's, Rome. Here he is shown as being led away by a sword-bearing executioner. The scene of Paul's martyrdom is the predominant theme in early art, and his specific symbol since the 13th century has been the sword by which he was put to death. Later art, however, also shows various other scenes from his life, especially his conversion on the way to Damascus. Even scenes from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla are reproduced in art. At times various scenes are combined in so-called cycles, e.g., the ten scenes from his life in the mosaics at Monreale, Sicily, and the five scenes in tapestry from designs by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel, now in the Vatican Museum. Another celebrated masterpiece is Michelangelo's fresco of Paul's conversion, in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican.

Bibliography: m. dibelius and w. kÜmmel, Paul, tr. f. clark (Philadelphia 1953). w. m. ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (3d ed. Grand Rapids 1949). j. munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, tr. f. clarke (Richmond 1960). e. haenchen, Die Apostelgeschichte (12th ed. Göttingen 1959). f. prat, Theology of St. Paul, tr. j. l. stoddard from 10th Fr. ed., 2 v. (Westminster, Md. 1958). l. cerfaux, Christ in the Theology of St. Paul, tr. g. webb and a. walker (New York 1959). d. m. stanley, Christ's Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology (Rome 1961) with extensive bibliog. f. x. durrwell, The Resurrection: A Biblical Study, tr. r. sheed (New York 1960). a. brunot, Saint Paul and His Message, tr. r. matthews (New York 1959). f. amiot, The Key Concepts of St. Paul, tr. j. dingle (New York 1962). Paul and the Law. s. lyonnet, "St. Paul: Liberty and Law," The Bridge 4 (1962) 229251. j. knox, The Ethic of Jesus in the Teaching of the Church (New York 1961). Paul's Conversion. d. m. stanley, "Paul's Conversion in Acts: Why the Three Accounts?" Catholic Biblical Quarterly 15 (1953) 315338. w. prokulski, "The Conversion of St. Paul," ibid. 19 (1957) 453473. n. a. dahl, Studies in Paul (Minneapolis 1977). Anchor Bible Dictionary 5 (New York 1992) 186201. j. murphy-o'connor, Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford 1996). j. d. g. dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1998).

[f. schroeder/eds.]

About this article

Paul, Apostle, St.

Updated About content Print Article