Paul was born in Tarsus, c. 5 A.D., which, today, is in south-central Turkey, approximately 12 miles from the Mediterranean coast. Tarsus was a prosperous city in the province of Cilicia and a part of the great Roman Empire. The city of Tarsus had fertile soil for agriculture and a prominent position at the south end of the Cilician Gates. It maintained an excellent shipping harbor of Rhegma, which enabled strong connections with the Levant. Tarsus was also fortunate to maintain an established university that was known for its teaching in Greek philosophy.
Paul was a Roman by birth and a Jew by lineage. In addition, Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews and in regards to the law, a Pharisee. “Jerome, the 4th century theologian and historian, informs us that tradition has it that Paul’s family had emigrated to Tarsus from Galilee around the time the Romans conquered Palestine in 63 B.C.. Sometime later, as his family gets established in the Hellenistic city, they also acquire Roman citizenship, which required land and property ownership; signs of at least relative affluence at this time.”1 Around 15-20 B.C.2, Paul is sent to Jerusalem to study in the school of Gamaliel, established by the famed teacher of the law, Hillel instead of following the cursus honorum, education and honorable military service, which was customary of well-to-do sons. As a Roman citizen, Paul was afforded benefits not shared by everyone. He had suffragium, the right to vote, commercium, the right to make contracts, and conubium, the right to contract a legal marriage. Additionally, as a Roman citizen, he was safe from the death penalty.3
“The Pharisees held a model of God formed totally by their interpretation of Scripture. Torah, the law, was the start and finish of the material they used in constructing the subjective model of the God they worshiped and tried to serve. In opposition to everyone in Israel who suggested there was another way to know God, they held to an unshakable view of the authority of Scripture as God’s revelation of Himself to His chosen people. The Pharisees of Paul’s day inherited a tradition of scholarship and commentaries on the meaning of Scripture, which commentaries were all designed to prevent people from deviating in the slightest way from obedience to the God revealed in Torah. The school of Gamaliel was committed to continuing that tradition and expanding the understanding of the people concerning the God revealed in Torah.”4
“The Pharisees believed in the God who created a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. They believed in the historicity of the Garden of Eden. They believed that a created being named Satan deceived Adam and Eve into entering into rebellion against the Creator of the Universe. They believed that God had a plan that allowed the rebellion to occur without sacrificing any aspect of the sovereignty held by an omnipotent God, or in any way making himself culpable in the introduction of sin into the world. They believed that the plan of God involved choosing a people who were uniquely His own and equipping them to regain the righteousness lost in the Garden of Eden. The Pharisees believed themselves to be the Chosen people and believed themselves to have regained the lost righteousness because they were involved in perfectly following the instructions given by the One, True, God in his law.”5
“The God they believed in was Independent, Immutable, Infinite, One, Holy, Good, Incomprehensible: in fact, any and all attributes ascribed to God by the most learned, devout Christian of any age would have been accepted by the Pharisee, for they looked to the same source as the Christian to inform their point of view, to construct their model of God-the Holy Scripture of what we call the Old Testament. And they believed without reservation the God who revealed Himself there.”6
The ironic part of Paul’s role in being the persecutor of the Church is that throughout his life, he was a strict believer and follower of the Scriptures and when confronted with Christianity and the one true way to Salvation for the first time, he failed to recognize God’s plan as it was written in the Old Testament. It was not until God confronted him on the road to Damascus that he was able to realize that plan and allow God’s work to be fulfilled through him.
In c. 47 B.C.7, Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey from Antioch of Syria. Throughout their journey, they travel to several cities preaching the word of God and establishing churches at each one of their stops. Throughout Paul’s journeys, he demonstrated that he would always return to the cities where he preached and established churches preaching God’s word. He felt that it was his duty to ensure that the leaders and congregation of the church continued in the right direction and followed the teachings of God.
Paul preached to the people of Galatia on his first missionary journey. A short time after he departed, a group of Jewish believers began insisting that the Gentiles submit to the laws of Moses, including circumcision, in order to be saved.
After hearing of these teachings, Paul wrote the people of Galatia to stress to them that “the only way sinful man can stand before a holy God is by God’s grace made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”8 He used Abraham as his example for not being required to submit to the laws of Moses. Paul is stern with his comment towards the Galatians and refers to them as “foolish”9
The date that Galatians was written is uncertain. It is suggested that it was written c A.D. 48 or c A.D. 56, around the time that Romans was written. The discrepancy developed as a result of Paul’s visit to South Galatia on the first missionary journey and to North Galatia during his second missionary journey. “When Paul uses the phrase ‘churches of Galatia’ he can mean the whole of Galatia or either South or North Galatia.”10
During Paul’s first missionary journey, he visited the city of Thessalonica in Macedonia. Thessalonica was in the kingdom of Alexander the Great and received it’s name in 315 B.C. after it was rebuilt by Cassander, in honor of his wife.
At the time of Paul’s arrival, it was a free city with around 200,000 citizens and its own magistrates. “The city straddled the Via Egnatia, the Egnatian Road, running East and West. Its main street was part of the very road which linked Rome with the East. East and West converged on Thessalonica; it was said to be ‘in the lap of the Roman Empire'”.11 If Christianity developed a stronghold within the citizens of Thessalonica, it was certain to spread along the Egnatian Road and throughout the Roman Empire.
In c. 50 A.D., Paul was in Corinth and received troubling news from Timothy and Silas regarding the church in Thessalonica. After hearing the news, Paul wrote an Epistle to the church to address the following issues:
1. “Some believers had stopped working and abandoned their responsibilities to await the Second Coming with a kind of hysterical expectancy. Paul corrects their misconceptions. (4:11)
2. They were worried about those who had died and Christ had not returned. Paul gives them courage and hope in their bereavement. (4:13-18)
3. There was a tendency to despise authority (5:12-14)
4. These were converted pagans who had come out of heathen vices, and it was easy for them to fall back into immorality (4:3-8)
5. As all ways there was a small group who slandered Paul and said the only reason he preached was to get what he could out of it (2:5-9). Some accused him of being a dictator (2:6, 7, 11).
6. There was some division in the church (4:9; 5:13).”12
Within a short period of time, Paul would write II Thessalonians in an effort to clarify some misunderstandings which occurred even after the people of Thessalonica received the first Epistle. In it, he clarifies the Second Coming and tells them that the Day of the Lord will not come until after the man of lawlessness has revealed himself. In his writing, he offers “encouragement, explanation and exhortation to a persecuted church.”13
During Paul’s second missionary journey, he visited the city of Corinth. The city was located on a narrow isthmus between the Aegean and Adriatic Seas and had a population of about 700,000. “It was the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia, a port city and wealthy commercial center in what is today the southern half of Greece.”14 The city was known far and wide for its immoral conduct and contained the Aphrodite temple, the Greek goddess of love and 1,000 prostitutes. Corinth stood for everything that was sinful and caused Paul a great amount of stress.
In c 55 A.D., five years after Paul founded the church of Corinth, Paul received a letter from the church asking for advice. He had previously written the church a letter before I Corinthians but the letter was lost. In this Epistle, Paul attempts to address the problems of “interpersonal relationships, divisions over leadership, incest, marital problems, law suits, impropriety during the Lord’s Supper, etc.”15 This letter was delivered to the church by Timothy.
After receiving the first letter, the situation continues to deteriorate in the church. “In response Paul probably made a brief visit across the Aegean Sea to Corinth in a personal attempt to resolve the crisis (II Cor. 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2). This is often referred to as the ‘painful visit’ which breaks his heart. Paul was rebuffed by members of the church. The opposition comes to a head with one member in particular defying his authority. The leadership in the church took no effective action in Paul’s defense. Paul, deeply humiliated, left Corinth.”16
After that experience, Paul wrote an “exceedingly severe letter”17 that was delivered by Titus. A short time later, Paul received the good news from Titus that the church of Corinth had disciplined the members defying Paul’s authority and that the church was open to his friendship and counsel. Paul respond by writing II Corinthians, possibly in Philippi, c 56 A.D.. In this Epistle, he wrote to prepare them for a visit and to remind the church of it’s commitment to Jerusalem. He also defended his apostolic authority and to reprimand the opposition to the church.
While in Corinth, c 57 A.D., near the end of his third missionary journey, Paul wrote a letter introducing himself to the church in Rome. The city of Rome had a population around one million and it was the most important city in the world during the first century. The Church of Rome would also receive the most important letter of its day. The letter was sent “to Rome by Phoebe, one of the great Christian women of Cenchrea near Corinth.”18 Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote the letter and was not directly responsible for starting the church in the city; however, in Romans chapter 16, he acknowledges a list of twenty-six members of the church that he knew as friends in Rome.
“Paul planned to go to Rome and then on to Spain after delivering the offering for the poor in Jerusalem. His plans were altered when he was arrested in Jerusalem and then finally arrived in Rome as a prisoner.”19
In 61 A.D., Paul was preaching in the city of Rome when he met a slave by the name of Onesimus. Onesimus had stolen from his master, Philemon, a prominent member of the church in Colossae and fled to Rome for freedom. While speaking with Paul, he was converted to Christianity. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon and asked him to forgive Onesimus and reinstate him “as a brother in the Lord, and in the household of Philemon from which he had fled.”20
“Philemon is one of the first prison epistles Paul wrote from Rome on his first imprisonment.”21 Philemon is closely connected with the other epistles that were written during the time of Paul’s imprisonment. Timothy is mentioned along with Paul in the beginning of Philemon and Colossians. The letter of Philemon is the shortest by Paul and only contains “334 words in the Greek text. It was hand carried to Philemon by Onesimus and Tychicus, who also delivered the letters we know as Ephesians and Colossians to their respective churches.”22
The Colossian Church was founded from the expansion of the Ephesian Church. It was not founded directly by Paul and, in fact, he never visited the city or the church. “It is a good speculation that the church was started during his three year stay in Ehpesus by Epaphras.”23
The letter came about after Epaphras journey to Rome to seek Paul’s assistance on the contamination of the church. Paul wrote to counter the teachings of the Gnostic (knowing ones), and the Docetic (to seem). Paul confronted the false teachings with a full explanation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man.
“Colossians is just as relevant today when men try to rob Jesus Christ of his death as when Paul wrote it. It speaks to the New Age Movements, the legalists, as well as the ‘licentious element that let down all the bars for the flesh while the spirit communed with God.”24
While a prison in Rome, c A.D. 61, Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to comfort and encourage the believers in Asia Minor. He assured the believers that God had developed a plan since the beginning of time and that he would save all those that believe in him. In the end, they will overcome all evil and share in God’s blessings. He also stressed the eternal decree of man’s ability to be sovereign even with God’s plan. “He does not force men against their will”25
The Epistle Philippians was written after Paul received a gift from the church. Paul shared a unique bond with this church “that didn’t exist in the other churches.”26 “Epaphroditus brought the gift from the Philippians to the apostle at Rome”.27 After their visit, Paul took the opportunity to encourage the believers in Philippi to continue working in the Lord.
As strong as the church was in Philippi, there is evidence that the church ceased to exist after Paul’s death. There is no mention of the church for over a century. “The church was born in the world with a beautiful promise, and then the church at Philippi which had lived in history passed from memory, except for this beautiful letter.”28
“First and Second Timothy and Titus are called the Pastoral Epistles.”29 “They give advice on matter of church organization and pastoral responsibilities. First Timothy is a short minister’s manual which treats the office, qualifications and duties of the Christian pastor.”30
The book of Titus is similar in purpose to I Timothy. It offers encouragement to Titus and defines the characteristics of a good church. A sound church is solid in the Scriptures. A practicing church, their lifestyle is characterized by good deeds.31
In II Timothy, “Paul writes a word of encouragement and warning as he says a genuine and warm good-bye to perhaps his closest friend. He also writes to encourage Timothy to ‘come before winter'”32
I Timothy and Titus were written by Paul after he was released from the first Roman imprisonment. During this time, he continued his missionary journeys while Timothy and Titus oversaw the churches of Ephesus and Crete, respectively.
In A.D. 64, there was a great fire in Rome that Nero saw fit to attribute to the Christians. Throughout the land, Christians began to be subjected to fierce persecution. Paul was seized, while in Troas and was returned to Rome as a prisoner. While being imprisoned, he wrote the “Second Epistle to Timothy, the last he ever wrote”.33 “In all history there is not a more startling illustration of the orony of human life than this scene of Paul at the bar of Nero…In the prisoner’s dock stood the best man the world possessed, his hair whitened with labors for the good of men and the glory of God. The trial ended: Paul was condemned, and delivered over to the executioner. He was led out of the city, with a crowd of the lowest rabble at his heels. The fatal spot was reached; he knelt beside the block; the headsman’s axe gleamed in the sun and fell; and the head of the apostle of the world rolled down in the dust, four years before the fall of Jerusalem.”34