The rest as they say is HIStory- Conversion of St Paul
Saul became Paul and shaped our life. Our attempt here is to see what shaped his life. Hence we are looking at the historical Saul who was converted from Judaism to become Christ’s most ardent follower. He was an Ambassador for Christ whose mission was to the Gentiles.
Born Saul, he grew up in the city of Tarsus, South west of Turkey. Tarsus was a fertile land and traded in textiles. Governed by the Romans, perhaps even before Paul’s birth, the city had a port and this brought prosperity to Tarsus.
The fact that Paul grew up in a city and that he was well versed in Greek and philosophy, helped him win an edge over the simpler disciples in Jerusalem. Later, his travels will see him in various cities in the Roman Empire, where he will be comfortably engaging a multi-cultural society.
Paul was a Roman citizen. The question often asked was how did he come by his Roman citizenship? According to Fr O’Conner, a scripture scholar, Paul was the son of a Roman slave; by profession he was a tentmaker, indicating that perhaps his parents were craftsmen. In all probability, his parents were set free. There is enough evidence in the Roman world to show that slaves were not considered an asset beyond the age of 40 and hence their masters set them free. The law stated that the children of slaves of a Roman citizen were automatically granted Roman citizenship when their parents were set free.
Paul spent his life under Roman rule. The Jews like Paul, believed that that they were the chosen ones. The presence of these pagan rulers only pushed the Jews into apocalyptic mode. Many of the Jews believed that the end was near. There were two reactions to the Roman occupation. The first was armed resistance and the second was the belief that the end of days could be hastened by holding strictly, the Jewish law. Paul was a believer in the latter. He was a Pharisee.
The book of Acts tells us that Paul came to Jerusalem from Tarsus. It is suggested that he came to Jerusalem at the age of 20 looking for his roots. It is here that he develops his first taste for Jewish law. It is here that he encounters Gamaliel (Acts 5). For Paul, the law became the focal point and Paul became the most zealous defender of the law in suggesting that the acceleration of the end of days could be brought about through the strict observance of the law.
It is in Jerusalem, in the year 32, that Paul encounters a radical new Jewish sect – followers of a Jewish Rabbi called Jesus. This sect stands as a direct threat to all of Paul’s beliefs and what he holds dear. Paul’s anger stems from this ‘misguided’ belief that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and that being so, the Law of Moses had no relevance.
The followers of this new sect wanted to be both Jews and followers of Jesus. Paul‘s answer is an emphatic NO! For him, the followers of Jesus are heretics and must be wiped off the face of the earth. An opportunity presents itself in the stoning of Stephen who was very successful in converting the Jews to this new thought. We are told that Paul approves of his death and minds the clothes of the executioners. Consumed by his hatred for the Christians, he takes the road to Damascus with letters to bring back to Jerusalem these heretics. It is on this road that he encounters Christ and undergoes a life changing experience that makes him the apostle to the Gentiles.
The rest, as they say, is history.