The Apostle Paul’s life is well documented in the New Testament Scriptures, but how do we make sense of all the data? As Paul himself wanted the Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:5) to have a correct idea of who he was and what role he served, so we ought to be familiar with his life, conversion, and ministry. Neil Kruger offers a chronological overview of Paul’s life.
Paul’s Early Life, Conversion, and Early Ministry
Paul’s Early Life
Paul, who before his conversion was known as Saul, was a Jewish man from Tarsus (Acts 9:11, Acts 22:3). He was educated by Gamaliel according to the law of their forefathers (Acts 22:3), lived as a strict Pharisee (Acts 26:5) and was advancing beyond many of his contemporaries in Judaism (Gal 1:14). He was zealous to persecute other Jewish followers of Jesus and to arrest them under the authority of the high priest and council of elders (Acts 9:1-4, Acts 22:4-5, Acts 26:10, Gal 1:13, 1 Tim 1:13).
Saul was converted on the road to Damascus from Jerusalem while on a mission to take as prisoners those Jews who followed the Lord Jesus (Acts 26:12). Saul was confronted by the Lord Jesus on the way to Damascus – an incident that left his travelling companions speechless (Acts 9:5-8). Saul, who had been blinded by this incident, was baptized in Damascus by a man named Ananias (Acts 9:18). Ananias himself was fearful of Saul (Acts 9:13), but upon instruction from the Lord (Acts 9:10) laid his hands on Saul whose sight was thereby restored (Acts 9:18).
Paul’s early ministry was characterised by boldness.Tweet
Paul’s Ministry in Damascus
Saul now began proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20) and was proving in Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 9:22). This he did without any delegated authority from the apostles (Gal 1:16). He confounded the Jews and his life was now in danger in Damascus. His disciples helped him to escape one night (Acts 9:25). From Damascus he travelled to Jerusalem. With the help of Barnabas he met the apostles and was welcomed among the brothers (Acts 9:27). Paul’s early ministry was characterised by boldness as he witnessed among Hellenistic Jews (Acts 9:28-29). His life was constantly under threat in Jerusalem and therefore he was sent to Tarsus via Caesarea.
Paul and Barnabas
After some time, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch in Syria to support the congregation there (Acts 11:22). Barnabas went to Tarsus and found Saul and brought him to Antioch where they taught the church for a whole year (Acts 11:25-26). Barnabas and Saul were also used as instruments to send relief to the famine-stricken churches in Judea (Acts 11:30). When Paul and Barnabas brought their contribution to famine-relief to Jerusalem, Paul met with those apostles recognised as pillars (James, John and Peter – Gal 2:2, 6, 9). These men validated the gospel preached by Paul (Gal 2:7) and agreed that Paul and Barnabas should extend their ministry to the Gentiles (Gal 2:9).
Paul’s commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles was ultimately from Christ (Acts 9:15, Gal 1:15-16, 1 Tim 1:12). Paul understood that God’s grace was the foundation of both his conversion and his call to ministry. This understanding is captured well in 1 Tim 1:15 – It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
Paul’s commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles was ultimately from Christ.Tweet
In summary, the following features characterized Paul’s early life, conversion and early ministry:
- Paul was educated to be a zealous Jew
- Paul was persecuting the church when he was dramatically saved
- Paul began preaching the gospel with the authority of Christ and not with a delegated authority from the apostles
- Barnabas played a significant complementary role in Paul’s early ministry
- After meeting the disciples in Jerusalem for the second time, preaching the gospel to the Gentiles became Paul’s primary focus in his ministry