Would You Read a Book Without Knowing A Little About the Author? Portrait of Paul:
To understand the full measure of a man, we must examine his dark side and lifestyle as well as his positive contributions Christ.
Paul, the author of Romans, was actually born as Saul.
He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia around A.D. 1-5; a province in the southeastern corner of modern day Tersous, Turkey.
He was of Benjamite lineage (12th Tribe) and Hebrew ancestry.
His parents were Pharisees – fervent Jewish nationalists who adhered strictly to the Law of Moses – who sought to protect the Jewish people from “contamination” from the Gentiles. All Greek possessions were despised in Saul’s household, yet he spoke Greek and some Latin. His family spoke Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew,which was the official language of Judea. Saul’s family were Roman citizens but viewed Jerusalem as a truly sacred and holy city.
Paul’s Home Town & His Early Life
The ancient city of Tarsus was located in Cilicia, a significant city in the day of Paul. It was capital of the Roman province of Cilicia – not a small town – major city from the Orient in the east to Rome in the west.
It’s strategic location on the mouth of the Berdan River approximately 20 km inland the Mediterranean sea made it a busy metropolis of diverse culture and international commerce. Here many important trade routes crossed from the Orient leading to Rome in the west.
The Hittites were one of the first settlers of the region followed by the dominance by Assyria and later by the Persian empire.
Tarsus and Cilicia, as the rest of the Roman empire, were largely pagan in religion and worship. There were probably few Jewish residents in the region. Paul was born here to Jewish parents as a Roman citizen. His father and his mother were Jewish and were very likely granted Roman citizenship because of their wealth – they probably purchased Roman citizenship prior to Paul’s birth into the Cilician society under Roman rule. Second, Tarsus was designed as a “free city” by Rome and a child’s birth in the city gave him Roman citizenship.
Although he was a Roman citizen, Paul’s parents taught and instructed him in the honor of being an Israelite, a People of Promise, and there was nothing more honorable – even Roman citizenship.
Paul was raised as a Pharisee; the Pharisee ‘Party’ were the most dedicated to Jewish Nationalism and believed in the resurrection from the death.
His father was a prominent wealthy tent maker and taught the trade to Paul.
His early life appears to have been peaceful.
For the first few centuries A.D., Roman citizenship was a highly coveted prize:
In the Roman Republic and later in the Roman Empire, people residing within the Roman state could roughly be divided into several classes:
A male Roman citizen enjoyed a wide range of privileges and protections defined in detail by the Roman state. A citizen could, under certain exceptional circumstances, be deprived of his citizenship.
Roman women had a limited form of citizenship. Though held in high regard they were not allowed to vote or stand for civil or public office. The rich might participate in public life by funding building projects or sponsoring religious ceremonies and other events. Women had the right to own property, to engage in business, and to obtain a divorce, but their legal rights varied over time. Marriages were an important form of political alliance during the Republic.
Client state citizens and allies of Rome could receive a limited form of Roman citizenship such as the Latin Right. Such citizens could not vote or be elected in Roman elections.
Slaves were considered property and lacked legal personhood. Over time, they acquired a few protections under Roman law. Some slaves were freed by manumission for services rendered, or through a testamentary provision when their master died. Once free, they faced few barriers, beyond normal social snobbery, to participating in Roman society. The principle that a person could become a citizen by law rather than birth was enshrined in Roman mythology; when Romulus defeated the Sabines in battle, he promised the war captives that were in Rome they could become citizens.
Freedmen were former slaves who had gained their freedom. They were not automatically given citizenship and lacked some privileges such as running for executive offices. The children of freedmen and women were born as free citizens; for example, the father of the poet Horace was a freedman.
Privileges of Paul: A Roman Citizen
Since Paul, formally Saul, was born as a Roman citizen, he was considered a freeman and had privileges other Jewish citizens did not have.
Citizenship in ancient Rome (Latin: civitas) was a privileged political and legal status afforded to free individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance.
Women had the right to own property, to engage in business, and to obtain a divorce, but their legal rights varied over time. The Jews who held no Roman citizenship were not afforded these privileges.
Roman citizens had the right to sue (and be sued) in the courts and have a legal trial they could defend themselves.
This right also included the ability to request Caesar to hear their case.
Additionally, Roman citizens could not be tortured or whipped (scourged), nor could they receive the death penalty, unless they were guilty of treason.
Paul’s right to trial before Caesar was used to avoid be tried in Jerusalem.
Paul considered his heavenly citizenship more important than as a Roman.
The Education of Paul
At age thirteen, probably about A.D. 14-17, Saul was sent to Palestine to learn (sit at the feet) of a rabbi named Gamaliel.
Saul mastered The Torah (first five Books of the Bible), Jewish history, the Psalms and the works of the major & minor prophets and the writings for perhaps five or six years.
Saul learned how to dissect the Scriptures; he developed a question-and answer style know in ancient times as “diatribe.”
This method of articulation helped rabbis debate the finer points of Jewish to either defend or prosecute those who broke the law.
Saul went on to become a lawyer, and all signs point to him becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of 71 men who ruled over Jewish life and religion.
Saul was zealous for his faith, and this faith did not allow for compromise. It was this zeal that led Saul down the path of religious extremism. He became a religious terrorist.
Gamaliel – Paul’s Instructor in The Law
Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel, an excellent & respected teacher of the Law, who had died at the advanced old age of over 100 just a few years before Paul became a student of Gamaliel.
In the Christian tradition, Gamaliel is recognized as a Pharisee doctor of Jewish Law. The Acts of the Apostles chapter 5 speaks of Gamaliel as a man, held in great esteem by all Jews, who spoke to not condemn the apostles of Jesus in Acts 5:34 to death, and as the Jewish law teacher of Paul the Apostle in Acts 22:3. (Look at Acts 5 account simply states “apostles” – how many?)
Gamaliel’s Attitude Toward Christians
Gamaliel was a Pharisee and a grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel. Like his grandfather, Gamaliel was known for taking a rather lenient view of the Old Testament law in contrast to his contemporary, Rabbi Shammai, who held to a more stringent understanding of Jewish traditions.
The Acts of the Apostles (Acts) introduces Gamaliel as a Pharisee and celebrated doctor of the Mosaic Law in Acts 5:34-40. In the larger context (vs. 17-42), Peter and the other apostles are described as being prosecuted before the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach the gospel despite the Jewish authorities having previously prohibited it. The passage describes Gamaliel as presenting an argument against killing the apostles, reminding them about the previous revolts of Theudas and Judas of Galilee, which had collapsed quickly after the deaths of those individuals. Gamaliel’s advice was accepted after his concluding argument:
“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)
The Book of Acts later goes on to describe Paul the Apostle recounting that although “born in Tarsus”, he was brought up in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel, [and] taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers.” (Acts 22:3)
Paul: The Lawyer & His Ability to Present, Argue and Defend The Gospel