Human history is full of heroes. Every culture has a figure or figures that stand out from the rest for doing amazing things. People who make you go, “Wow, they are incredible!” Christian culture is the same. We have certain people from the past whom we value for the things they said or the accomplishments they made. I’m sure we all have a list of people who we would LOVE to meet in heaven, right? One of these figures on many people’s list is a man named Saul. You have heard of Paul, right? Yeah, he’s the same guy; more on that later. You might hear me switch between the two names throughout this article, just know I’m talking about the same guy.
In our Sunday morning series, Movement: A Study Through the Book of Acts, we meet this person named Saul. So, who is Saul?
Saul was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. However, he was born in the city of Tarsus (modern day Turkey), but in those days it was part of the Roman Empire. Because of his lineage he was automatically given Roman citizenship, which gives him more rights in the Roman Empire than many other Jewish people.
In the Jewish religion Saul was a Pharisee, meaning he was a part of a highly respected group of elite Jewish leaders who were trusted with interpreting the Law. He wasn't just ANY Pharisee, but he was known as one of the most zealous Pharisees of his time; he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” as they would say. Possibly the reason he was so well-respected in the Jewish community was because he spent much time studying under the most influential Jewish rabbi of their time, Gamaliel. He even went so far to prove his zeal that he would persecute, imprison, and even kill people who seemed to be a threat to the Jewish religion; the main example of this is his treatment of Christians.
Saul: Persecutor of Christians
The first time we see Saul in the New Testament is in Acts 7:58, and it doesn’t look good. The Jewish people are angry at a Christian named Stephen, who we have discussed in an earlier article, and they stoned him to death. It says, “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Saul was a very aggressive persecutor of the Church. In Acts 9, it says that Saul was, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” and even sought special permission to drag men and women to prison who believed in Jesus. This didn’t just negatively affect adults, but this also likely orphaned many children in Christian homes.
Saul/Paul: A Christian Now...For Real??
The story of Saul’s conversion is, in a word, magical. I say magical, because it happened when he was on his way to Damascus, and he was blinded by a light. From that light, he heard Jesus speak in such a powerful way, that it led him to believe in and trust in Jesus for the rest of his life. I would suggest reading his story in Acts 9.
Wait...Is it Saul or Paul?? There is a popular opinion in the church about Saul’s name. Before he was saved he was referred to as Saul, but sometime after he was saved he was called Paul. The story goes that Saul’s name becoming Paul after conversion symbolizes Saul’s “new life” in Jesus, which so radically transformed who he was that his name changed to Paul. I think this is a nice idea and certainly represents an awesome truth, but a great many scholars don’t believe this about Paul.
The likely reason why Saul’s name switched to Paul was based on where he was at the time or who Luke, the author of Acts, was writing to at the time. Saul is the Hebrew form of his name, while Paul was the Greek version of his name. Since Paul was considered the Apostle to the Gentiles (mainly Greeks), we hear the Greek version, Paul, more often. If you want to explore more on this, I suggest reading this article, ‘No, Saul the Persecutor Did Not Become Paul the Apostle,’ by The Gospel Coalition.
Paul: Hero of the Faith To sum this up, Paul truly is a hero of the faith. He went from zealous Jewish leader and persecutor of Christians to one of the most famous Christians who suffered and died for the name Christ. Take it from Paul himself about all he suffered by reading 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.
After Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, that sparked in him such a new life that he took a 180-degree turn and became one of the most headstrong, faithful followers of Jesus this world has ever seen. He planted many churches, powerfully proclaimed the gospel to thousands of people, firmly resisted the evil powers that sought to destroy him and did this all in such humility that it has caused Christians across centuries to stand in awe. Paul wrote this in Ephesians 2:8-9 as a reminder to the church in Ephesus:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
I believe he meant this with every fiber of his being and every beat of his heart. Such a radical transformation should do the same in our own hearts. Paul had every credential a good Jewish guy could ever want to have, yet he still understood that he wouldn’t spend one moment in heaven if it hadn’t been for the grace of God and the unending love of Jesus.
Considering all his sufferings and hardships and despite his wonderful accomplishments when facing certain death, Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Gaining Jesus is way more important than any earthly accomplishment we could earn. Let’s remember Paul’s example and what God can do with a life committed to the Gospel.
References & Resources 1. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/no-saul-the-persecutor-did-not-become-paul-the-apostle/ 2. https://overviewbible.com/apostle-paul/ 3. https://www.gotquestions.org/life-Paul.html 4. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Paul-the-Apostle