Reflective Paper on the Apostle Paul
Much of what I write in this paper reflects some of my learning about the Paul I have now come to know after a serious study of Acts and Paul’s letters. It is the same Paul, yet I have learned additional information about his life, his theology, his letters, and his significance for the church today.
I did not contemplate enough about Paul’s Jewishness before he was called into Christianity, and I also did not fully explain his name being changed from Saul to Paul. Saul was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1) and a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28). Acts 9 records Saul’s conversion and Luke continues to refer to him as Saul through his baptism by Ananias, his preaching Christ in the synagogues, his time spent with the disciples, his escape from death at the hands of the Jews, and after Barnabas sought him in Tarsus and after spending a year with him teaching many people in Antioch. Luke records that after Herod’s violent death, it was Barnabas and Saul who were appointed to preach the word of God on the island of Cyprus to the Jews in the synagogues in Salamis. John joined them as their assistant. Saul and Barnabas traveled across Cyprus to Paphos where they were called by Sergius Paulus who wanted to hear the word of God. Sergius Paulus was the proconsul, the chief officer in a senatorial province at Paphos. He was accompanied by a false prophet, sorcerer, and Jew named Bar-Jesus, otherwise known as Elymas, who opposed God’s word and sought to deter Sergius Paulus from the faith and the teaching of Saul and Barnabas. Saul, filled with the Holy Spirit, confronted this sorcerer who then became blind and left them, looking for someone to lead him by the hand. Sergius Paulus became a believer and thereafter, Luke refers to Saul as Paul beginning in Acts 13:9.
As a Roman citizen and a Jew, Saul would have a tria nomina, or three names, as was the onomastic practice in Late Ancient Rome. First came the praenomen or first name. According to Leonard Victor Rutgers of Duke University, “twenty percent of all Roman males bore the name Gaius and another twenty percent bore the name Lucius.” The first name was followed by the nomen or family name and to these two names a cognomen or surname was then added. Rutgers further explains that “Early Christian inscriptions dating to the early fourth century C.E. document the extent to which traditional onomastic practices changed in Late Antiquity, [eighty percent] of all names recorded in these inscriptions are single names.”
Paul was a devout Jew and a hard-line Pharisee, a Shammaite, “one of the strictest of the strict” before being called by Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul then lived as a traveling evangelist and tent maker. He was the first Christian to bust onto the world stage with Christianity as a world religion and he taught Jews, Pagans, and anyone else who would listen. Author Paula Fredrikson refers to Paul as the Pagan’s Apostle. She writes that “Paul’s social homeland (and eventual apostolic ambit) was the multiethnic, thus multireligious, Greco-Roman city.” Paul had a tough act to follow because Jesus had gone before him into different cultures and preached the Gospel. Paul took it to the extreme in terms of going into different continents, cultures, and religions in what became known as the continuing reality of Christianity as a world religion. Paul is known as the greatest missionary of all time as he brought the Gospel message to all the lost people, Jews and Gentiles, alike. He planted at least 14 churches and persevered through some of the toughest beatings and imprisonment for his Christian beliefs. In all his missionary travels Paul traveled on foot nearly 10,000 miles. In 65 CE he was about 70 years old when he we likely beheaded while in Rome.
Paul’s letters were addressed to real people and addressed genuine problems needing to be resolved. Paul’s letters are from a caring pastor who wants to edify the church as is so apparent in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Paul was a Jewish thinker although some still make him out to be a Hellenist. The consensus of scholarship, according to author Udo Schelle, is that “only seven letters are considered to be authentically Pauline (1 Thessalonians, 1– 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon).” In 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:18, Paul identifies himself as the author and although the authenticity has been challenged, it pales in comparison to the challenge of Pauline authenticity for 2 Thessalonians. There, critics claim the two letters teach contradictory eschatologies based on the suddenness of Christs’ return rather than a specific order of events addressed in 2 Thessalonians. Pauline authorship of 1—2 Corinthians is undisputed, but some scholars think Ephesians is too dependent on Colossians, that perhaps one of Paul’s students in Colossians may have written Ephesians.
It does not seem to me that there is any agreement on the center of Paul’s theology. Was his theology of cross and justification or was his theology Paul and the law? “Therefore tensions and contradictions in Pauline thought should not be denied on overriding theological or ideological grounds but accepted and interpreted.” Paul’s theology is solidly Jewish in terms of God is one, but is then reshaped by his Christology. From what I have learned, many contend that Paul was controversial. In a world surrounded by Jews, Pagans, and other proselytes, how could Paul, preaching Christianity not be controversial? Peter writes that Paul’s letters are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). Schelle offers a helpful suggestion, “Paul believed, then, that the great events of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.” When we recall from Genesis 12:3 and 18:18, the Old Testament prophesy that all nations would be blessed in Abraham, because of Abraham’s faith, Paul helps us to realize that prophecy has been fulfilled because the Gentiles are justified by faith. The promise of liberation (Isa. 11:11-15) was fulfilled when the Israelites were liberated from Egypt in the exodus, and all believers were liberated by the cross of Christ. The prophesy of our final resurrection as outlined by Ezekiel in chapter 37 verses 1-14 is the final vindication of God’s people.
Paul’s theology influenced the thoughts of Augustine, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, and continues to influence people today. As mentioned before, Paul had a tough act to follow, and he was in a unique situation. What he had to champion caused upheaval and required an extreme change in the way the Jews and Pagans were accustomed to living. If the law of the first covenant was to be followed but not precisely followed, how was and why was the first covenant allowed to remain when only the second covenant saves? What was the purpose of the Torah in Christ who required faith? It is no wonder why Jews and Jewish Christians opposed Paul. Many of the disputes are found in his epistles, especially Galatians where Paul is preaching that there is no return to the law and that the law is cursed but then explains the purpose of the law and the two covenants along with Christian liberty. Paul preached about how love fulfills the law and for the brethren to walk in the Spirit, bearing and sharing the burdens of one another, and “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:13-14).
His Significance for The Church Today
Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith is the common link between Catholic and Protestant churches and enables all today who believe in Jesus to sit at the same table. “Paul's gospel and the doctrine of justification, which follows closely and inescapably from it, had the power to do for the world and the church of today what they did in Paul's own day.” As mentioned before, there are those who criticize the authenticity of Pauline letters and there are those who even question if Paul was Jewish. Yet Paul continues to influence us today. Author Michael Gorman writes, “There is an enduring quality to his letters, a timeless religious and intellectual depth that has seldom, if ever, been matched in the history of letter writing, or of Christianity.” I do not feel adequate in my understanding of Paul; I know that Paul’s letters and theology have preoccupied some of the sharpest minds in all things biblical.
The Paul I researched is the same Paul and I realize that I have not even scratched the surface of the Paul I would like to know. This work helps me to know Paul better, but months of more study and writing would be better and yet I would still fall short. N.T. Wright wrote a doctoral dissertation on the letter to the Romans and claims to have lived with St. Paul as a more or less constant companion for more than twenty years yet admits he still has “the sense of being only half-way up the mountain, of there being yet more to explore, more vistas to glimpse.” No, I do not feel adequate.
 Leonard Victor Rutgers, The Jews in Late Ancient Rome: Evidence of Cultural Interaction in the Roman Diaspora, series: Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, (Boston, MA: Brill, 1995), 158-9.  Ibid., 159.  N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 20.  Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle, (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2017), 61.  Udo Schelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology, (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 33.  Udo Schelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology, (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 34.  Michael F. Bird, Four Views on the Apostle Paul, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019), 20.  N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 198.  Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and his Letters, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2016), 560.  N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), ix.