Who Was St. Paul?

Mary McMahon

Saint Paul is a Roman-Catholic saint who is widely regarded as a major figure in the Christian faith. At least 14 epistles in the New Testament including Romans, Second Corinthians, and Philippians are believed to have been written by Paul during his lifetime, and his thoughts on Christianity and faith influenced the opinions of many people who followed after him. Reflecting Saint Paul's elevated status in the Christian faith, numerous cities and schools all over the world are named after him.

Many epistles in the New Testament are thought to have been written by St. Paul.
Many epistles in the New Testament are thought to have been written by St. Paul.

The precise birth date of St. Paul is not known, although he appears to have died around 67 CE. He was a contemporary of Jesus, and wrote about the life of Jesus although he may not have personally met Him. Paul was born as Saul in the city of Tarsus in modern-day Turkey, to Roman parents. This entitled him to Roman citizenship, which turned out to be useful later in his life. Initially, Paul was a devout Jew, and until 34 CE, he actively persecuted Christians and rejected the Christian faith.

St. Paul's Cathedral is located in London.
St. Paul's Cathedral is located in London.

On a fateful journey to Damascus, however, Paul of Tarsus fell from his horse, was temporarily blinded, and had a vision which revealed Christ as the messiah. He continued to Damascus, and spent the next three years studying with the Christian community, becoming a devout convert. Conversion wasn't enough for Paul, however: he also became an apostle, taking three missionary journeys across the Middle East to spread the word of Christ.

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Initially, St. Paul preached primarily to people of the Jewish faith, speaking in synagogues and other Jewish sites in the cities he reached during his travels. He also began speaking to gentiles, and ultimately became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. St. Paul used his education in the Jewish faith in his lectures, backing up his fervent religious belief with support from Jewish religious texts and traditional Jewish beliefs.

As St. Paul came to be well-known, he started to encounter formidable opposition in his travels. He was banished from some cities, after being severely beaten and sometimes tortured. Ultimately, an angry mob in Jerusalem attempted to execute Paul, and he fell back on his Roman citizenship to demand the right to trial in Rome. The exact circumstances of his death after being transported for trial are not known; in some accounts, he was beheaded, for example, while others claim that he was simply exiled. The site of St. Paul's burial has not been uncovered, although numerous people have claimed to find relics associated with St. Paul.

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