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The Pastor's Blog

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He was named after King Saul, the first king of Israel who “stood a head taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 10:23). Saul of Tarsus may have descended from his royal ancestor, also from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 10:20, Philippians 3:5).

Saul was a proud name. One can imagine boys on the playground outside the synagogue school… “My name is Saul! My momma says that I’m named after my great, great, great… grandfather, the first king!” Saul, the king’s grandkid, had some swagger!

Saul’s early days could easily be summed up with one word. Tradition!

He had been “circumcised the eighth day” (Philippians 3:5) in perfect compliance with the Levitical law (Leviticus 12:3).

His daddy was a member of the religious sect known as the Pharisees (Acts 23:6), so Saul’s family practiced a strict adherence to the Law, a.k.a. the Torah. The Torah, the five books of Moses, included six hundred, thirteen individual commands. The Pharisees boasted in their religious obedience to every “jot and tittle” (Matthew 5:18). Since that wasn’t religious enough, the Pharisees were continually heaping on more rules. Do this! Don’t do that! Saul knew every rule, and carefully obeyed them with blind loyalty.

Concerning his devotion to law, Saul/Paul wrote, “If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4–6). That was Saul… blameless in his own eyes.

Saul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia” (Acts 21:39). In Tarsus, his father’s family were “tentmakers by trade”(Acts 18:3), so he grew up as an apprentice in the family business. This skill would pay rich dividends later in his life.

Apparently, as a young man, Saul was sent to Jerusalem where he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strictness of our ancestral law” (Acts 22:3). This might be akin to today’s student being educated at Harvard or Oxford. Gamaliel was the most highly respected rabbi among the Pharisees.

To the churches in Galatia, Saul/Paul wrote, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” (Galatians 1:14). Even among Gamaliel’s pupils, Saul rose to notoriety and became an example of religious zeal.

When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), or worse, when He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30),

lightening bolts of fury flared in Saul’s soul. “How could a carpenter from Nazareth make such outrageous and blasphemous claims?”

In Saul’s pharisaical mind, Jesus and His followers were heretics who must be exterminated!

“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20, NKJV).

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