Jesus Christ the Fiery Serpent

Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.

Saint Paul of Tarsus
Bible Studies in the Life of Paul
BOOK I


Posted on August 17, 2013

IN THE STEPS OF ST. PAUL

Paul

PREFACE

  The book of Acts shows in a very graphic way the rapid growth and marvelous progress of Christianity in the midst of great opposition. We see in process of fulfillment the promise of Jesus Christ to his disciples that they should receive power after the Holy Ghost had come upon them and that they should be witnesses unto Him "both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Those were earnest times and full of stirring events, when men went forth to conquer a hostile world not with swords, but by the preaching of a gospel of peace and good will. As soon as this proclamation was made in Judea and Samaria a new instrument was chosen by Jesus Christ, in Paul, to carry His message to the uttermost part of the earth. He thus became at once the chief character in the larger work of planting and developing churches outside of Palestine. The study of Paul's life shows the difficulties encountered, the doctrines taught, and the organization perfected in the early churches. "We here watch the dawn of the gospel which the Savior preached as it broadens gradually into the boundless day."

PAUL. The great apostle.The name Paul, which was used for the first time by historians in Acts 13:9, "Saul who was also known as Paul," has given rise to much discussion. The usual theory is that the apostle had a Jewish name, Saul, and a Roman name Paul. It was the fashion for every Syrian, Cilician, or Cappadocian who prided himself on his Greek education and his knowledge of the Greek language to bear a Greek name; but at the same time he had his other name in the native language by which he was known among his countrymen in general. But it is best to understand that Saul's name was changed as a matter of course when he became a Christian,the name Paul means "little" and Paul wanted to be know as the little one in Christ's service.

EARLY LIFE THE PLACE OF PAUL: Personal History

  The Man, Paul, judged by the influence he has exerted in the world, is one of the greatest characters in all history. He is pre-eminent not only as a missionary, but as a marvelous thinker and writer. "He was a personality of vast power, force, and individuality." There are some men who seem to be born and prepared to do a large work for the world; Paul makes the impression upon those who carefully read the record of his life that he stands first in this class of men. The Work of the Apostle.—As John the Baptist preceded Christ and prepared the way for His coming, so Paul succeeded Christ and went throughout the heathen world proclaiming that the Christ had come, and calling upon all men, Jews and Gentiles, to repent and accept Him as their Lord and Savior. So wide was his work as a missionary of the cross, and an interpreter of the Christ, that a certain class of critics have sought to make him the creator of Christianity, as we know it; a position which Paul would be the first to repudiate. He sought of himself, before he was apprehended by Christ on the way to Damascus, to drive Christianity from the face of the earth.

The Leading Thought

In Paul's mind, after his conversion, was personal devotion to Christ; this was the mainspring of every act. He said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me": (Gal. 2:20). "For me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21). In his letters to the churches which he founded, there are found no picturesque descriptions of cities or of scenery; his one thought is to make known the Christ. He says, writing to the Corinthian church, "and I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1, 2). In the evangelization of the heathen world, for which task he had been set apart by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2) and which he had accepted with all his heart, it is not only his leading, but his only thought to make known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. To miss this supreme purpose of Paul in the study of his life is to miss its whole significance (Phil. 2:1-11; Col. 1:12-20).

Birth Place.

The world is interested in the birthplaces of its great men. Some of these birthplaces are in doubt. There is no doubt about the place in which Paul was born. He says, in making a speech to the Jews, "I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia" (Acts 22:3). This city was the capital of Cilicia and was situated in the southeastern part of Asia Minor. It was but a few miles from the coast and was easily accessible from the Mediterranean sea by a navigable river. A large commerce was controlled by the merchants, on sea and on land. Tarsus, while one of three university centers of the period, ranking with Athens and Alexandria, was an exceedingly corrupt city.

It was the chief seat of "a special Baal worship of an imposing but unspeakably degrading character."

Time.

The date of Paul's birth is nowhere recorded, but from certain dates given in the Acts, from which we reckon back, it is thought that he was born about the same time as Jesus Christ.

Family.

We are left, in this matter, without any uncertainty. Paul says, "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" (Acts 23:6). I was "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" (Phil. 3:5). Paul's father and mother were Jews of the stricter sort. The expression which Paul uses, "An Hebrew of the Hebrews" is very significant. The Jews of the Dispersion were known at this time as Hebrews and Hellenists. The Hebrews clung to the Hebrew tongue and followed Hebrew customs. The Hellenists spoke Greek by preference and adopted, more or less, Greek views and civilization. Paul had a married sister who lived in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16) and relatives in Rome (Rom. 16:7, 11).

TRAINING

Home.—The instruction received in the home has often more influence and is more lasting than any other. Paul received the usual thorough training of the Jew boy accentuated in his case, in all probability, by the open iniquity which was daily practised in his native city. We never hear him expressing any regret that he received such thorough religious instruction at the hands of his parents.

Mental, Moral, and Religious.

Good teachers were employed to instruct the boy, who was afterwards to make such a mark in the world. After going through the school, under the care of the synagogue at Tarsus, he was sent to Jerusalem to complete his education. Paul, speaking in this chief Jewish city, says, I was "brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers" (Acts 22:3). It is very evident that He had a profound knowledge of the Scriptures from the large use he makes of them in his Epistles. He seems also to have been quite well acquainted with Greek philosophy and literature. He quotes from the Greek poets, Aratus, Epimenides, and Menander. No man ever studied men and the motives which actuate them more than he. His inward life was pure (Acts 23:1; 24:16). Paul differed from Christ in that he was a man who sought the cities and drew his illustrations from them, while Christ was much in the country and drew his illustrations from country life. But in this study of and work for the city Paul was but carrying out the commands of Christ.

Industrial.

It was required of every Jewish father that his boy should learn some trade by which he might support himself should necessity require it. It was a common Jewish proverb that "he who taught his son no trade taught him to be a thief." Paul was taught the trade of tent making. "The hair of the Cicilian goats was used to make a cloth which was especially adapted for tents for travelers, merchants, and soldiers." He afterwards found this trade very useful in his missionary work (Acts 18:3; 20:34; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8).

THE WORLD AS PAUL SAW IT

This World was very different from the world as we see it to-day. This makes it difficult for us to appreciate his work at its full value. Now, Christianity is the great religion of the world; then it was unknown, outside a very limited circle of believers. The state and society were organized upon a different basis and were in strong opposition to the new religion.

Political.

The world was under the dominion of the Romans. They, in conquering it, broke down the barriers that had separated tribe from tribe and nation from nation. Yet it was a comparatively small world for all interests centered about the Mediterranean Sea. Before the Romans the Greeks had been in possession of a part of this world and had permeated and penetrated the whole of it, with their art, language, and commerce. With the upheavals of war and the tribulations that had befallen the Jews, they were everywhere scattered abroad and had their synagogues in most of the cities.

Religious.

For the Romans, Greeks, and conquered nations and tribes, it was an age of scepticism. While the gods and goddesses in the great heathen temples still had their rites and ceremonies observed yet the people, to a large degree, had ceased to believe in them. The Roman writers of the period are agreed in the slackening of religious ties and of moral restraints. Yet it was the policy of the state to maintain the worship of the gods and goddesses. Any attack upon them or their worship was regarded as an offense against the state.

The Difficulties

of the situation were threefold: (a) To seek to overturn the religion of the state constituted an offense which was punishable by stripes and imprisonment; (b) To rebuke men's sins and the evils of the times stirred up bitter opposition on their part; (c) To proclaim a crucified and risen Christ as the Messiah to the Jews, when they expected a great conquering hero, often excited and put them in a rage. That Paul could preach Christ and establish churches, under all the opposition that he encountered, shows how fully and implicitly he believed in his Lord.

I. PAUL'S PREPARATION STUDY II CONVERSION PAUL, THE PERSECUTOR

Order of Events.—It seems to be quite evident, when Paul finished his studies in Jerusalem, that he left the city and engaged in work somewhere else, during the years when John the Baptist and Jesus were preaching and teaching. In all probability he did not return until after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Paul first appears in the narrative of the Acts, under the name of Saul, at the martyrdom of Stephen, where he takes charge of the clothes of the witnesses (Acts 7:58, 59). From the Ascension of Christ to the martyrdom of Stephen is an important period in the history of the infant church. On and after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the apostles and followers of the risen Lord assumed a very bold attitude. They did not hesitate to speak openly in the temple (Acts 3:12-16) of the crime of putting "The Prince of Life" to death and asserted that He was risen from the dead. The priests and Sadducees strongly objected to this kind of preaching (Acts 4), laid hands upon the preachers, and put them in prison. When they were examined the next day before (Acts 4:5-13) the Jewish tribunal, theapostles spoke even more boldly of Jesus and his resurrection and refused to be silenced (Acts 4:13-20, 33). Again an attempt was made to stop the preaching of the apostles, but they refused to keep still (Acts 5:16-33). A remarkable prison deliverance by the "Angel of the Lord" (Acts 5:19, 20) gave them great courage in proclaiming "all the words of this life." At this point Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-42) proposes in the Jewish council a new policy, which was to let the followers of Christ alone, arguing that then they would speedily give up their preaching. This policy was adopted (Acts 5:40). But with the election of Stephen as a deacon (Acts 6:1-8) the followers of Christ began to multiply with great rapidity and it was soon seen that "the let-alone policy" was a mistake (Acts 6:9-15). Persecution again breaks out which results in the death of Stephen (Acts 7), the bringing out of Saul as the arch persecutor, and the scattering of the church (Acts 8:1-4).

The Inevitable Conflict.

Had the early Christians been content to have proclaimed Jesus Christ to be but a great teacher and prophet, they would in all probability have become a Jewish sect and been speedily lost to sight. But extraordinary claims were put forth that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah (Acts 2:25-40), the Son of God (Acts 3:26), the Forgiver of sins (Acts 2:38; 5:31), that He was risen from the dead (Acts 4:33), that obedience to Him was above that to the Jewish rulers (Acts 4:18-20), that the Jews had wickedly slain Christ (Acts 3:14, 15), and that salvation was only through Him (Acts 4:12). Further than this they wrought miracles in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:2-8, 16; 2:43; 5:12).

It was very soon plainly seen that Christianity could keep no truce, and proposed to keep no truce, which called in question or denied the supremacy of Christ.

The Cruelty of the Persecutor.

To a man of Paul's temperament and zeal there could be no half way measures in a case like this. He could not be content to bide his time. Either the claims of Christ were true or false. If false, then they were doing harm and His doctrine and teaching must be eradicated at any cost. All the aggressive forces of the Jews found a champion in this Saul of Tarsus. Drastic measures were at once inaugurated. There was to be no more temporizing. The cruelty and thoroughness of the persecutor, in his work, are shown in his instituting a house to house canvass seeking for the Christians and sparing neither age nor sex (Acts 8:1, 3). In the first persecutions the Jews had been content to arrest and imprison those who publicly preached Christ, but now the policy was changed and Christianity was to be exterminated root and branch. All believers in Christ were to be hunted out. The character of Saul, the arch persecutor, is shown in the characterization of him by Luke, when he represented him as breathing out, "threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1).

CONVERSION

Cause - The book of the Acts, opened at one place, shows a fierce hater and persecutor of the Christians (8:3), opened at another place it shows this same persecutor as an ardent and enthusiastic preacher of the faith in Jesus Christ (13:16-39) We seek for the cause of this remarkable change. Luke tells us that Saul was on his way to Damascus, seeking victims for his persecuting zeal, when Jesus suddenly appeared to him and Saul was changed from a persecutor to a believer in Christ.

(Acts 9:3-7). The account is very brief. For an event which has had such tremendous results, the narrator is very reticent; a light from heaven, a voice speaking, and a person declaring that He is Jesus. Paul gives us two accounts of his conversion and how it took place (Acts 22:6-15; 26:12-18). The men who were with Paul saw a light and heard a voice, but not what was said. It is impossible to describe or exaggerate what took place in Paul's mind in those brief moments while Jesus talked to him; but his beliefs, and his whole life plan were radically changed.

It had been well if no explanation of this conversion had been attempted and the great fact had been left to stand as it does in the Acts. Attempts, however, have been made to minimize the power of this conversion and the marvelous and sudden change it wrought in the character and life of Paul. Some critics seeking a natural, rather than a supernatural, cause have attributed to Paul certain compunctions of conscience and misgivings about his persecution of the Christians, together with a hot day and a certain temperament, which led him to have a subjective experience, which he thought was real. But there is no recorded evidence forthcoming that Paul ever had any compunctions of conscience about persecuting the Christians.

Paul was an honest man to the very core of his being; in the two accounts he gives us of this conversion, and in incidental references to it, he never even hints at any such state of mind. The expression used by Jesus, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (Acts 9-5), of which so much has been made, means no more than that Saul's opposition and hard work against the Christians (Acts 8:3; 9:1), would be of no avail. In doing what he did Paul thought he was doing God's service. Again the language which Paul uses and the references which he makes to this appearance of Christ forbid us to think that it was only a mere vision of Christ which he saw. "He ranks it as the last of the appearances of the risen Savior to His disciples and places it on the same level as the appearances to Peter, to James, to the eleven, and to the five hundred" (1 Cor. 15:1-8). In these appearances Jesus had eaten with his disciples and been touched by them (John 20:24-31; Luke 24:36-43), appearing as a real being, according to the narrative. "It was the appearance to Paul of the risen Lord, which made him a Christian, gave him a gospel to preach, and sent him forth as the apostle of the Gentiles."

The time of Paul's conversion was about 36 A.D. Effects.—There is no question as to the very marked results which followed the appearance of the risen Lord to Saul on the way to Damascus.

1. Physical. He was smitten with blindness (Acts 9:8), and was without food for three days (Acts 9:9). His sight was restored by Ananias at the command of the Lord (Acts 9:15-18).

2. Mental and spiritual. His whole outlook upon life and its significance was changed. He received baptism and was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). From being a persecutor he became an enthusiastic witness for Christ (Acts 9:20-22).

3.Penalty. The consequences of his former course of action were visited upon him; for the Jews sought to kill him and the disciples of Christ were at first afraid of him (Acts 9:23-26). But Barnabas vouched for his sincerity (Acts 9:27).

4. The relief to the Christians at Damascus, when Saul was converted, was very great. They had looked forward to his coming with dread.

5. The triumph of Christ. In Paul Christianity won its most efficient missionary and, next to Christ, its greatest thinker, preacher, and teacher.

6. The estimates of the results of this conversion of Saul cannot be too large; they are world wide.

PERIOD OF WAITING

Retirement of Paul. — From the conversion of Paul (Acts 9:3-7) is a period of about ten years. During this time we have only incidental notices of him and what he was doing. When we think of it there is nothing strange in this retirement. It is the divine method, as in the case of Moses, when a man is to do a very large work for God that he should be well prepared for it. The chief scripture notices of this period of retirement are found in Acts 9:19-30; Gal.1:15-24;

(Acts 11:25-30; 12:25). From these notices it is quite plain:

(a) That Paul retired into Arabia.

(b) That he preached in Damascus and Jerusalem, but was compelled to flee from both cities on account of the persecutions of the Jews, who sought his life.

(c) That he went to Tarsus and "into the regions of Syria and Cilicia."

(d) That he came to Antioch, where there was a great revival (Acts 11:25-30), at the solicitation of Barnabas. Luke in his account (Acts 9:19-30) does not mention the trip to Arabia spoken of by Paul in his epistle to the Galatians (1:15-24).

It must be remembered however that each is writing from a different point of view. Luke is a historian recording only the most salient facts and passing over the mention of many events. We see this in the compression in eight and a half short chapters of the events of the three missionary journeys.

Paul writing to the Galatians is anxious to establish the fact that he received his commission, as an apostle, not from man, but from Christ himself (Gal. 1:1); hence he enters more into details and we get from him the inside view.

The accounts of Luke and Paul if read carefully, keeping in mind all the circumstances, are seen not to be in any way antagonistic, but to supplement each other. Reasons.—Many reasons have been given for the retirement of Paul to Arabia, and what seems to be the period of comparative inactivity that followed it.

1. Fierce opposition on the part of the Jews whenever Paul attempted to preach, as in the cities of Damascus and Jerusalem.

2. A preparation of mind and heart for his great work. As a thinker he needed to look upon all sides of the gospel, which he was afterwards to preach so effectively to the Gentiles.

3. A careful rereading of the Old Testament. As a Jew he had read the Scriptures in one way, now he reread them seeing Christ there.

4. System of doctrine. He may at this time have wrought out that magnificent system of Christian doctrine which he afterwards presented to the churches in his Epistles.


The Life of Paul

Paul the Apostle

Paul the Apostle

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Paul's Missionary Journeys

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