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Summary Article: Apostle Paul (CA. 2-67 CE)
From Encyclopedia of Global Religions

Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was the early Christian leader who is often considered to be the person responsible for making Christianity a world religion rather than a small sect of Judaism. Paul was born between 2 and 10 CE in Tarsus, a city located near the Mediterranean coast in what is today the country of Turkey. His Hebrew name was Saul, but on his conversion to Christianity, he took on the Roman name Paul. During his day, Tarsus served as the capital of Asia Minor, and its territory was considered free; thus, Saul was born a free man. Paul had a Pharisaic family origin. The Pharisees’ school of thought was characterized by rigid obedience to Mosaic Law (the law given to Moses by God and, more generally, the laws of the Old Testament). Saul took rabbinical studies in Jerusalem with the renowned teacher, Gamaliel, who personally tutored him.


Saul witnessed the stoning of Stephen, who was later identified as the first Christian martyr. In 32 CE, Saul was given permission by the high priest to inspect the synagogues of Damascus for the emerging followers of Jesus and to bring those he found to Jerusalem for judicial investigation. According to the biblical account, on the road to Damascus, Saul had an encounter with a bright light appearing in front of him. The voice of Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (King James Version, Acts of the Apostles 9:4), and Saul was struck blind. After 3 days of blindness while he was in Damascus, Saul was healed by Ananias, a disciple sent by Jesus to heal him. After his sight was restored, Saul was baptized and received the Holy Spirit of God.


Between 33 and 36 CE, Saul (now Paul) stayed in Damascus to preach the gospel that promotes Jesus as the Messiah. This provoked some leaders of the Jewish community, and they plotted to assassinate him. Luckily Paul found out about this conspiracy and fled the city by night. He then went to Arabia and stayed there for 3 years, preaching the gospel of Jesus.

In 36 CE, Paul went back to Damascus and then to Jerusalem. He faced serious opposition and rejection from his fellow Christians there, a situation that continued until Barnabas took his side and he was finally accepted. The Jewish parties subjected him to yet another assassination attempt, and the Christian brotherhoods sent him to Caesarea and then back home to Tarsus. There he stayed until 40 CE.

The assumption that Paul was married is primarily based on the social norms observed by the Pharisees, which required members of the Sanhedrin to be married. That implies that if he was married, he might have been a widower at the time of his ministry and preaching.

By 40 CE, Paul's help was being sought by Barnabas, who was sent to spread the Gospel among the Syrian Greeks in Antioch. Barnabas traveled to Tarsus and asked for Paul's help in converting believers to the Church. Both of them stayed there and taught for a year.

Paul's Missionary Journeys

Agabus, an early follower of Christianity, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as a prophet, prophesied a great famine between 41 and 44 CE. Christians were mobilized to plant crops and gather food in order to help their Jewish brethren. Paul and Barnabas delivered supplies and provided famine relief to Jerusalem and returned to their post in Antioch. In 46 or 47 CE, accompanied by John Mark, both of them set off on what was to be their first evangelical missionary journey.

First Evangelical Missionary Journey (Acts of the Apostles 13:1-15:35)

They traveled to Cyprus, Barnabas's native island (13:4-12), and Perga (13:13). At Perga, John Mark returned home for what Paul considered insufficient reason (15:37ff.), but Paul and Barnabas continued their route through Pisidian Antioch (13:14-52), Iconium (14:1-6), Lystra (14:6-20), and Derbe (14:20-21). After they reached Attalia, they sailed back to Antioch. They stayed and preached the Gospel in Antioch until 49 CE.

A dispute between Paul and Barnabas occurred, causing them to separate; Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on their next journey, but Paul refused. Paul took Silas (Silvanus), a representative of the Jerusalem church and a Roman citizen, on a journey of revisiting cities, while Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus.

Second Missionary Journey—48 to 51 CE (Acts of the Apostles 15:36-18:22)

Paul and Silas traveled to Tarsus and then to Derbe and Lystra. This time, Paul met Timothy, who later became his frequent companion. The three of them traveled through Pisidian, Antioch, to Troas, a city in Asia Minor. It is there that Paul had a vision of a holy man in Macedonia, across the Aegean Sea, calling to him for help (16:9-10). Paul treated the vision as a sign from God and set sail to Neapolis, from where they traveled to Philippi. There they baptized a woman named Lydia, along with her entire family. In Philippi, Paul also performed an exorcism on a slave girl, which agitated her masters, who filed a complaint and started an uprising in the city against Paul and Silas. They were both arrested and imprisoned, but an earthquake made their escape possible.

From there they went to Thessalonica, and Paul preached the Gospel for three Sabbaths in a row, showing why Jesus is the savior mentioned in the Old Testament. There Jason, who was later accused and arrested by an angry Jewish mob that came looking for Paul and Silas but never found them, gave them refuge. Jason was later released, and Paul, Silas, and Timothy left for Beroea. Even there, he was hunted by the Jews from Thessalonica, which is why Paul left for Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy in Thessalonica. In Beroea (17:10-15), however, the Jewish group showed a far more open-minded approach to the study of the scriptures.

In Athens (17:16-34), Paul preached the Gospel, being greatly troubled by the number of false gods worshipped there. He sought help from Silas and Timothy, asking them to come to Athens while the Athenians were requesting that he elaborate on the Gospel. While there were several philosophical schools that believed in the immortality of the soul, the Greeks considered the idea of “bodily” resurrection as preposterous, and Athens generally proved to be a hard ground for the Gospel. Paul was invited to Mars Hill, where he used the existence of an altar with an inscription saying “To the Unknown God” to unveil the existence of a Creator God (17:22).

Following the completion of his second missionary journey around late 50 CE, and joined by Silas and Timothy, Paul set off for Corinth in the late summer of 50 CE. He received a vision from God saying that his preaching of the Gospel would bring results and merit. Paul stayed in Corinth and wrote his epistles, the First and Second Thessalonians. Between 50 and 51 CE, the Jewish community once again accused him before the Roman legal system, but charges were dropped when the governor refused to even hear the accusations. With Priscilla and Aquila, Paul set sail for Ephesus, a city that was serving as a bridge between the East and the West. There he preached in a synagogue, then went to Caesarea, finally ending up in Antioch by the end of 52 CE. Between 52 and 53 CE, Paul preached in Antioch accompanied by Apostle Peter. They were gathered at a joint feast with the Gentiles and ate together, but when other Christians from Jerusalem arrived, Peter, Barnabas, and others stopped the feast. That act of hypocrisy provoked Paul, and he publicly corrected Peter, saying that he had moved away from the truth of God.

Third Missionary Journey (Acts of the Apostles 18:23-21:16)

Paul's third missionary journey started in 53 CE (18:23). He traveled to Asia Minor to spread the Gospel and strengthen people's belief in it. Through Galatia and Phrygia, he came to Ephesus, where he stayed for approximately 3 years, after which he set out for Macedonia. During the brief 3 months that he stayed in Macedonia, he went to Corinth. He wrote the First Corinthians in the late winter of 56 CE, the Second Corinthians in the late summer of 57 CE, and the Book of Romans in the winter of 57 CE.

In 58 CE, Paul, together with his company, traveled through Macedonia to the city of Troas, where a feast sanctifying unleavened bread was being held. After that, his company sailed to Assos, while he got there on foot. From there, they went to Mitylene and finally to Miletus, from where Paul sought a visit from the elders in the Ephesian church. There, he warned them about an upcoming apostasy in the Church. Revelation 2:2 shows what notice the elders took of his warning.

Return to Jerusalem

Well into 58 CE, Paul traveled to Jerusalem, after visiting Coos, Rhodes, Patara, and Caesarea. He stayed in Caesarea for several days in the house of Phillip the Evangelist and then entered Jerusalem, even though he had been warned not to come. Taking with him four Jewish converts into the Temple area, he caused a riot. Roman troops rushed to his help, saving him from the crowds. They then sentenced him to scourging to find out what he had done to upset the crowd so much. However, he was freed from scourging by the chief captain after he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen. He was escorted from Rome by night to the city of Caesarea, and its governor, Felix, was supposed to decide on Paul's fate.

Paul was a Roman prisoner in Caesarea between 58 and 60 CE (Acts of the Apostles 24-26). Paul appealed to Caesar: In 2 years, he defended his case three times. In late 60 CE, along with other prisoners, Paul embarked on a boat to Rome (Acts of the Apostles 27). The boat was controlled by a centurion named Julius, who disregarded Paul's advice not to set sail for Rome through the Mediterranean at that tumultuous time of the year (September/October). The ship was wrecked on the journey from Crete to Rome at the island of Malta. After a 3-month stay, Paul set sail for Putioli, and from there walked to Rome.

Paul was a prisoner once again in Rome from 61 to 63 CE (Acts of the Apostles 28:30). In the 2 years when he was a prisoner in Rome, only one watchman guarded Paul. He was allowed to live by himself and to receive visitors, as well as to preach the Gospel. He wrote the Letter to the Hebrews in the spring of 61 CE; during 62 CE, he wrote the letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, and the books of First Timothy and Titus in 63 to 64 CE. During the whole time, he worked on and finished the Book of Acts, which is mostly about him.

Paul was released from prison in 63 CE, and he then traveled to Crete and then to Nicopolis in Macedonia. From 64 to 67 CE, he managed to complete his goal and visit Spain and Britain. Before coming to his death, Paul was yet again imprisoned in Rome, where he wrote Second Timothy, a letter to Timothy. That is his last writing before he died a martyr's death in about 67 CE. He is traditionally believed to have been beheaded.

See also

Bible, Christianity, Mediterranean World, Turkey

Further Readings
  • Alexander, D.Alexander, P. (1983). The Lion handbook to the Bible. Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson.
  • Benedict, XVI. (2009). Saint Paul the Apostle. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor.
  • Ehrman, B. (2005). Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The followers of Jesus in history and legend. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Wilson, A. N. (1998). Paul: The mind of the apostle. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Wright, N. T. (2005). Paul: In fresh perspective. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
  • Muhic, Maja
    SAGE Publications, Inc.

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