Paul - A Biography
Part 1

Paul - A Biography Part 1

Chronological Table

4 BC  Birth of Jesus of Nazareth

?5 AD  Birth of Saul of Tarsus

30   Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

?33  Revelation of Jesus to Saul on the road to Damascus

33-36  Paul in Damascus, Arabia, Damascus again

36  Paul’s first post-Damascus visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-24)

36-46  Paul in Tarsus; brought to Antioch by Barnabas

46/47  “Famine visit” to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; Gal. 2:1-10)

Chronological Table

47-48  Paul and Barnabas on first missionary journey: Cyprus and   South Galatia

48  Peter in Antioch (Gal. 2:11-21); Crisis in Galatia


48/49  Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15)

49  Paul and Silas on second missionary journey: Greece

50/51  1 and 2 THESSALONIANS

51 (early)     Paul in Corinth

 - 52 (late)

Chronological Table

52/53  Paul in Jerusalem, Antioch; third missionary journey:                       Ephesus

53-56  Paul in Ephesus


53/54  Short, painful visit to Corinth

?55-56  Imprisonment in Ephesus



56  Release from prison; travel from Ephesus to Corinth



Chronological Table

57  Travel from Corinth to Jerusalem

57-59  “Hearings” and imprisonment in Jerusalem and Caesarea

59, autumn      Voyage to Rome; shipwreck on Malta

60, early  Arrival in Rome

60-62  House arrest in Rome

?62-64  Further travels, either to Spain or to the East, or both?

?after 62  1 and 2 TIMOTHY, TITUS?

?64 or later  Death of Paul

Wright’s Challenges

1.“To get inside the mind, the understanding, the ambition (if that’s the right word) of Paul the Apostle, known earlier as Saul of Tarsus. What motivated him in his heart of hearts?”

2.“When Saul encountered the news about Jesus, his mind was not a blank slate. He had been going full tilt in the opposite direction…. Why did all that change? What exactly happened on the road to Damascus?

Paul - A Biography [Scripture]

Zeal: Galatians 1:13-17 

13 You heard about my previous life in Judaism, how severely I harassed God’s church and tried to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my peers, because I was much more militant about the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But God had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace. He was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach about him to the Gentiles. I didn’t immediately consult with any human being. 17 I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to see the men who were apostles before me either, but I went away into Arabia and I returned again to Damascus.

Wright's View

“From the point of view of Saul of Tarsus, the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth were a prime example of the deviant behavior that had to be eradicated if Israel’s God was to be honored. Saul of Tarsus was therefore ‘zealous’ (his term, indicating actual violence, not just strong emotion) in persecuting these people…. Everything possible had to be done to stamp out a movement that would impede the true purposes of the One God of Israel, whose divine plans Saul and his friends believed were at long last on the verge of glorious fulfillment – until, on the Damascus Road, Saul came to believe that these plans had indeed been gloriously fulfilled, but in a way he had never imagined.”

Paul - A Biography [Scripture]

Zeal: Isaiah 52:7-12 

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of a messenger
    who proclaims peace,
    who brings good news,
    who proclaims salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God rules!”
Listen! Your lookouts lift their voice;
    they sing out together!
    Right before their eyes they see the Lord returning to Zion.

Break into song together, you ruins of Jerusalem!
The Lord has comforted his people and has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm in view of all the nations;
    all the ends of the earth have seen our God’s victory.

11 Depart! Depart! Go out from there!
    Unclean! Don’t touch!
    Get out of that place; purify yourselves,
    carriers of the Lord’s equipment!
12 You won’t go out in a rush,
    nor will you run away,
    because the one going before you is the Lord;
    your rear guard is the God of Israel.

Wright's View

“I think it is clear that Saul and his family were indeed Pharisees. They lived with a fierce, joyful strictness in obedience to the ancestral traditions. They did their best to urge other Jews to do the same.”

“The God of Israel had said he would return, but had not yet done so.”

“Saul of Tarsus was brought up to believe that it would happen, perhaps very soon…. He was also taught that there were things Jews could be doing in the meantime to keep this promise and hope on track. It was vital for Jews to keep the Torah with rigorous attention to detail and to defend the Torah, and the Temple itself, against possible attacks and threats. Failure on these points would hold back the promise…. That is why Saul of Tarsus persecuted Jesus’s early followers.”

Paul - A Biography [Scripture]

Zeal: Numbers 25: 1-12

25:1 When the Israelites lived at Shittim, the people made themselves impure by having illicit sex with Moabite women. The Moabite women invited the people to the sacrifices for their god. So the people ate a meal, and they worshipped their god. Israel became attached to the Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry at the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses: Take all the leaders of the people and kill them on behalf of the Lord in broad daylight, so that the Lord’s anger turns away from Israel.

Then Moses said to Israel’s officials, “Each of you: kill your men who are attached to the Baal of Peor.”

An Israelite man brought a Midianite woman to his brothers in the sight of Moses and the entire Israelite community, who were weeping at the entrance of the meeting tent. When Phinehas (Eleazar’s son and Aaron the priest’s grandson) saw this, he arose in the middle of the community, took a spear in his hand, went after the Israelite man into the chamber, and stabbed the two of them, the Israelite man and the woman, through the stomach. Then the plague stopped spreading among the Israelites. Yet those who died by the plague numbered twenty-four thousand.

10 The Lord spoke to Moses: 11 Phinehas (Eleazar’s son and Aaron the priest’s grandson) has turned back my rage toward the Israelites. Because he was jealous for me among you, I didn’t consume the Israelites due to my jealousy. 12 Therefore, say: I’m now giving him my covenant of well-being.

Wright's View

“At every stage of Israel’s history…the people of the One God had been tempted to compromise. The pressure was on to go with the wider world and to forget the covenant. Saul was brought up to resist this pressure. And that meant ‘zeal.’”

“It begins with an ancient tale of sex and violence.”

“Violence would be necessary to root out wickedness from Israel.”

“That was the defining moment of ‘zeal.’ It  had immediate results: the plague stopped; the rebellion was over…. And Phinehas…received the remarkable promise of a perpetual personal covenant.”

Paul - A Biography [Scripture]

Zeal: Psalm 106:28-31

28 Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor, and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
29 they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds, and a plague broke out among them.
30 Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stayed.
31 And that was counted to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever.

Compare Genesis 15:3-6:

And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”  And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Paul - A Biography [Scripture]

Zeal: 1 Kings 18:20-40 (Elijah and the Prophets of Baal)

20 Ahab sent the message to all the Israelites. He gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.” The people gave no answer.

22 Elijah said to the people, “I am the last of the Lord’s prophets, but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Give us two bulls. Let Baal’s prophets choose one. Let them cut it apart and set it on the wood, but don’t add fire. I’ll prepare the other bull, put it on the wood, but won’t add fire. 24 Then all of you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire—that’s the real God!”

All the people answered, “That’s an excellent idea.”

25 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of these bulls. Prepare it first since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but don’t add fire.”

26 So they took one of the bulls that had been brought to them. They prepared it and called on Baal’s name from morning to midday. They said, “Great Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound or answer. They performed a hopping dance around the altar that had been set up.

27 Around noon, Elijah started making fun of them: “Shout louder! Certainly he’s a god! Perhaps he is lost in thought or wandering or traveling somewhere. Or maybe he is asleep and must wake up!”

28 So the prophets of Baal cried with a louder voice and cut themselves with swords and knives as was their custom. Their blood flowed all over them. 29 As noon passed they went crazy with their ritual until it was time for the evening offering. Still there was no sound or answer, no response whatsoever.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here!” All the people closed in, and he repaired the Lord’s altar that had been damaged. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob—to whom the Lord’s word came: “Your name will be Israel.” 32 He built the stones into an altar in the Lord’s name, and he dug a trench around the altar big enough to hold two seahs of dry grain. 33 He put the wood in order, butchered the bull, and placed the bull on the wood. “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the sacrifice and on the wood,” he commanded. 34 “Do it a second time!” he said. So they did it a second time. “Do it a third time!” And so they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar, and even the trench filled with water. 36 At the time of the evening offering, the prophet Elijah drew near and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. I have done all these things at your instructions. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, Lord, are the real God and that you can change their hearts.” 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell; it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up the water in the trench!

39 All the people saw this and fell on their faces. “The Lord is the real God! The Lord is the real God!” they exclaimed.

40 Elijah said to them, “Seize Baal’s prophets! Don’t let any escape!” The people seized the prophets, and Elijah brought them to the Kishon Brook and killed them there.

In addition to Phinehas, Elijah was a role model for Paul for “zeal.”

“He lured the Baal worshipers into a contest that Israel’s God won, and he had the whole lot killed. Once again, great zeal and a great victory.”

Paul - A Biography [Scripture]

Zeal: 1 Maccabees 2:49-69 (Judas Maccabeus)

49 Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he spoke to his sons: “Arrogance and contempt are present everywhere. It is a time of ruin and raging anger. 50 Now, my children, demonstrate zeal for the Law, and give your lives for our ancestors’ covenant.

51 “Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their day, and you will inherit great honor and everlasting remembrance.

52 Wasn’t Abraham found faithful when he was tested, and it was considered righteousness?53 Joseph kept the commandment in the time of his distress, and he became ruler of Egypt.54 Our ancestor Phinehas received the covenant of everlasting priesthood because he was deeply zealous.55 Joshua became a judge in Israel because he fulfilled the command.56 Caleb received an inheritance in the land because he testified in the assembly.57 David inherited the throne of the kingdom forever because he was merciful.58 Elijah was taken up into heaven because he had great zeal for the Law.59 Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed, and were rescued from the flame.60 Daniel was delivered from the lions’ mouths because of his innocence.

61 “So you see that from generation to generation, no one who continues to trust God will lack strength. 62 Don’t fear the words of sinners, for their glory will turn into dung and worms. 63 Today they may be exalted, but tomorrow they can’t be found, because they will have returned to the dust and their plans will have vanished. 64 My children, show courage and grow strong in the Law, because this will bring you honor.

65 “Look, here is your brother Simon, who I know is a man with purpose. Always listen to him. He will be your father. 66 Judas Maccabeus has been a powerful fighter since he was a boy. He will command the army for you and lead the battle against the peoples. 67 Rally around yourselves all who observe the Law, and avenge wrong done to your people. 68 Pay the Gentiles back in full, and obey what the Law commands.”

69 Then he blessed them and joined his ancestors.

Wrights View

With respect to “zeal,” Elijah is coupled with Phinehas.

Judas Maccabeus = “Judah the Hammer”

“Judas Maccabeus and his brothers went to work, a little revolutionary group against the powerful pagan empire [of Antiochus IV]. Against all probability, they succeeded. They beat off the Syrians, reconsecrated the Temple, and established, for a century or so, an independent Jewish state. Zeal worked.”

Paul - A Biography  [Scripture ]

Paul - A Biography  [ Scripture ]

Zeal: Acts 7:51-8:3 (Saul of Tarsus)

7:51 “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. 52 Was there a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you’ve betrayed and murdered him! 53 You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”

54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One[a] standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died. 8:1 Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder. At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Some pious men buried Stephen and deeply grieved over him. Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.

Wright's View

“ Saul therefore set off as a new Phinehas, a new Elijah. The scriptural models were clear. Torah and Temple – the One God himself – were under attack from this new movement. With his Bible in his head, zeal in his heart, and official documents of authority from the chief priests in his bag, young Saul set off in the firm hope that he too would be recognized as a true covenant member. ‘It was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Phinehas then; Saul now.”

Wright's View

“From Paul’s own brief autobiographical remarks in his letters [also narrated by Luke three times in Acts] it is obvious that something fairly cataclysmic happened to him that day. But what exactly happened? And what did it mean?”

Paul - A Biography  [ Scripture ]

Damascus: Heaven-and-earth mysticism?

Ezekiel’s throne vision (Ezekiel 1:4-28)

As I watched, suddenly a driving storm came out of the north, a great cloud flashing fire, with brightness all around. At its center, in the middle of the fire, there was something like gleaming amber. And inside that were forms of four living creatures. This was what they looked like: Each had the form of a human being, though each had four faces and four wings. Their feet looked like proper feet, but the soles of their feet were like calves’ hooves, and they shone like burnished bronze. Human hands were under their wings on all four sides. All four creatures had faces and wings, and their wings touched each other’s wings. When they moved, they each went straight ahead without turning. 10 As for the form of their faces: each of the four had a human face, with a lion’s face on the right and a bull’s face on the left, and also an eagle’s face. 11 The pairs of wings[a] that stretched out overhead touched each other, while the other pairs covered their bodies. 12 Each moved straight ahead wherever the wind propelled them; they moved without turning. 13 Regarding the creatures’ forms: they looked like blazing coals, like torches. Fire darted about between the creatures and illuminated them, and lightning flashed from the fire. 14 The creatures looked like lightning streaking back and forth.

15 As I looked at the creatures, suddenly there was a wheel on the earth corresponding to all four faces of the creatures. 16 The appearance and composition of the wheels were like sparkling topaz. There was one shape for all four of them, as if one wheel were inside another. 17 When they moved in any of the four directions, they moved without swerving. 18 Their rims were tall and terrifying, because all four of them were filled with eyes all around. 19 When the creatures moved, the wheels moved next to them. Whenever the creatures rose above the earth, the wheels also rose up. 20 Wherever the wind would appear to go, the wind would make them go there too. The wheels rose up beside them, because the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. 21 When they moved, the wheels[c] moved; when they stood still, the wheels stood still; and when they rose above the earth, the wheels rose up along with them, because the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels.

22 The shape above the heads of the creatures was a dome; it was like glittering ice stretched out over their heads. 23 Just below the dome, their outstretched wings touched each other. They each also had two wings to cover their bodies. 24 Then I heard the sound of their wings when they moved forward. It was like the sound of mighty waters, like the sound of the Almighty, like the sound of tumult or the sound of an army camp. When they stood still, their wings came to rest. 25 Then there was a sound from above the dome over their heads. They stood still, and their wings came to rest.

26 Above the dome over their heads, there appeared something like lapis lazuli in the form of a throne. Above the form of the throne there was a form that looked like a human being. 27 Above what looked like his waist, I saw something like gleaming amber, something like fire enclosing it all around. Below what looked like his waist, I saw something that appeared to be fire. Its brightness shone all around. 28 Just as a rainbow lights up a cloud on a rainy day, so its brightness shone all around. This was how the form of the Lord’s glory appeared. When I saw it, I fell on my face. I heard the sound of someone speaking.


“This passage from Ezekiel became a focal point of meditation for devout Jews of Saul’s time and later. Contemplating such an awe-inspiring scene might, they hoped, bring into personal focus , ahead of the long-awaited visible return of God to Jerusalem, that fusion of heaven and earth that was the very raison d’etre of the Temple itself…. A throne vision, a Temple vision, would be about heaven and earth coming together….”

“The more I have pondered what happened to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, holding together (as a historian must) the somewhat formalized accounts in the book of Acts and the brief, cryptic references in Paul’s own letters, the more I wondered whether Saul had been practicing this kind of meditation. It was the kind of thing one might well do during the long, hot hours on the journey from Jerusalem to Damascus.”

Wright's View

“So when Christian tradition speaks of the ‘conversion’ of Saul, we need to pause. In our world … we normally apply that term to someone who ‘converts’ from one ‘religion’ to another. That was not the point. Not for one second did Saul cease to believe in the One God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

“What drove Paul from that moment on the Damascus Road and throughout his subsequent life, was the belief that Israel’s God had done what he had always said he would; that Israel’s scriptures had been fulfilled in ways never before imagined; and that Temple and Torah themselves were not after all the ultimate realities, but instead glorious signposts pointing forward to the new heaven-and-earth reality that had come to birth in Jesus.”

“He went away, he says, to Arabia. [Gal.1:15-17] What was that all about?”

Gal. 1:15 But God had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace. He was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach about him to the Gentiles. I didn’t immediately consult with any human being. 17 I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to see the men who were apostles before me either, but I went away into Arabia and I returned again to Damascus.

Not an “evangelistic mission.”  "The most obvious answer is almost certainly wrong.”

In Paul’s time, “Arabia” covered a wide territory – could refer to the ancient Nabatean kingdom stretching from east of Syria, through Jordan, and southward to include Sinai Peninsula.

“Sinai was where Elijah had gone when it all went horribly wrong. Sinai was where Saul of Tarsus went – for the same reason. (1 Kings 19:1-18)


“The parallel with Elijah – the verbal echoes are so close, and the reflection on ‘zeal’ so exact, that Paul must have intended them – indicates that he, like Elijah, made a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai in order to go back to the place where the covenant was ratified. He wanted to go and present himself before the One God, to explain that he had been ‘exceedingly zealous,’ but that his vision, his entire worldview, had been turned on its head. And he received his instructions: ‘Go back and announce the new king.’”

“Saul wanted to be clear that the shocking new thing that had been revealed to him really was the fulfillment … of the ancient purposes of the One God, purposes that had been set out particularly in the law given to Moses at Mt. Sinai.”

“This, then, is why he went to Arabia: to hand in his former commission and to acquire a new one.”

Paul - A Biography Part 1

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