Saul of Tarsus was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, born in the city of Tarsus (in modern-day Turkey), but raised in Jerusalem, Judea (Philippians 3:5–6, Acts 22:3). Tarsus was a free city in the Roman province of Cilicia, and Saul's parents had become citizens of Rome. Thus, by birth, Saul also had Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28). He trained in Torah (biblical studies and law) under the most respected rabbi of the first century, Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3). Saul considered himself to be zealous for God and a Pharisee (Acts 22:3; 23:6).
Although Saul was a tentmaker by trade, he had become the Sanhedrin's prosecuting attorney (Acts 18:3). He was present at the execution by stoning of Christianity's first martyr, Stephen, and may have been one of "those from Cilicia" who had argued with Stephen in the synagogue (Acts 6:9; 7:58). After his involvement with Stephen's death, Saul set out to destroy the Messianic community, also known as The Way at that time (Acts 8:3; 9:1–2). He relentlessly went throughout Jerusalem "entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison" on suspicion of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 8:3). Saul was not content to conduct his inquisition in Jerusalem alone, but sought to extradite believers from Damascus across two borders to be tried and sentenced in Jerusalem as well (Acts 9:2).
On his way to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus encountered Jesus and had his heart changed (Acts 9:1–31). Many mistakenly believe that God also changed his name from Saul to Paul. However, Paul is simply the Greek form of the Hebrew name Saul (Acts 13:9), so as Saul began to minister outside of Jerusalem to Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles, he went by the Greek form of his own name, much like a Spanish-speaking Roberto might go by Robert when in an English-speaking territory or vice versa.
With as much zeal as Saul of Tarsus had previously persecuted the church, he now set out to spread the gospel to everyone who would hear. The apostle Paul spent over thirty years in ministry for the gospel through street evangelism, church planting, itinerant preaching, and composing inspired letters delineating important doctrine that now are included in our Scripture. The zealous, law-abiding Pharisee was relieved of the burden of earning his own righteousness and freed by Christ's perfect life sacrificed on the cross for the forgiveness of all who would believe.
Paul wrote: "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:8–9). Any accolades from his life before conversion, Saul counted as worthless compared with the privilege of knowing and trusting Jesus and finding his new identity as a servant of the Lord rather than as a servant to Jewish Law (Romans 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
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