Paul was the author of thirteen New Testament books: (in probable Chronological order) Galatians, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians, First Timothy, Titus, and Second Timothy. He was an extraordinary missionary church-planter, theologian, preacher, teacher, and writer. His God-given understanding and Spirit-inspired interpretations of Christ’s life, death and resurrections make Paul (in my humble estimation) the most influential figure since Calvary. Paul was without equal.
Paul was born to Hebrew parents, descendants of the patriarch Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). With great pride, he was given the name of his most important Benjaminite ancestor – Saul, the king who “stood a head taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 10:23).
He was a “tentmakers by trade” (Acts 18:3). It’s likely that his dad and granddad were skilled craftsmen, deftly working with leather and making tents. According to Jewish customs, Saul was raised in the leather shop, learning the family craft. Saul’s boyhood home was in Tarsus, the capital city of Cilicia, “an important city” (Acts 21:39). Tarsus lay on the east-west trade route, a prime location for the tent-making trade.
Saul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25). History doesn’t record how his folks became citizens of the empire. Maybe they were granted the great honor for some meritorious service. Regardless, Saul’s citizenship would later open doors for his missionary service.
When Saul wasn’t in the leather shop, he was at the synagogue. His daddy was a deeply religious man, a Pharisee who intended to raise his son to walk in his steps (Acts 23:6). The term “Pharisee” means “separated ones.” The adherents of the sect were set apart from society by their staunch adherence to the Levitical Law. Saul grew up hearing, “Don’t do that! Don’t eat that! Don’t touch that! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!”
Though he was born in a Gentile city, he was “brought up” in Jerusalem and “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strictness of (their) ancestral law” (Acts 22:3). He was a straight-A student who “advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among (his) people, because (he) was extremely zealous for the traditions of (his) ancestors” (Galatians 1:14). To be taught by Rabbi Gamaliel was like going to Harvard or Oxford. Saul was the best and brightest among the most privileged elite.
Saul’s theology was simple. Work! Obey the law! Do all the dos! Stay away from the don’ts! He saw anything that was anti-Judaism as evil. Therefore, Jesus, the heretic that taught salvation by God’s grace (John 3:16), was Saul’s enemy.
The New Testament’s first mention of Saul is at the stoning death of Stephen. When the religious rioters drug Stephen out of town and began to pelt him with rocks, “the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). I wonder, in the weeks and months following that event, was Saul continuously haunted by Stephens gentle words? As the stones were hitting their target, Stephen called out, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56). And just before he died, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).