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Paul of Tarsus is seen as a significant figure
early development of Christianity. There are several reasons for this, and your essay is going to focus on a handful of these elements
Over the course of this term, we'll be looking at a variety of Paul's contributions to Christianity. This will allow us to choose the most important and relevant parts of Paul's life to focus on during our essays.
Let's begin with an today with an overview of Paul's life
One of the most common misconceptions about the origins of Christianity is that people assume Jesus set up the new religion...
This is at times a hotly debated topic, but essentially, Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi living in 1st century Judea, and had no intentions of creating a new religion.
Jesus teachings... Justice... Mercy... Returning to the original meaning of Judaism... God is on the side of the suffering, the impoverished... basically, Jesus core teachings involved this pattern:
"You've heard it said ... but I tell you ..."
Reinterpretation... a new way of looking at things... His miracles can be seen in the same light
Most modern Biblical scholars assert that Jesus' mission was not to set out to set up a new religion that divided itself from Judaism.
Rather, this became a necessity later on when conflict between the two groups peaked several years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
This conflict arose for a variety of reasons. What do you think they were?
(Use your extensive memory of the Year 11 SOR syllabus to make some guesses)
Paul of Tarsus
Paul played a major role in this conflict... His story, however, begins much earlier than the clash between Christians and Hebrews
Paul is often considered to be one of Christianity's most important early founders. It was Paul who explained the core elements of Jesus' message and ministry to the early followers of Jesus.
Before Paul, followers of Jesus were simply a sect (like the Essenes, Zealots, Pharisees and Sadducees) within the greater whole of Judaism. He took on the task of spreading the teachings of Jesus to the Greco-Roman world.
His main contributions can be seen in
1. Preaching of Christianity to the non-Jewish world
4. His consolidation of Christian belief
3. His writings
2. Confirming Christianity as a separate Religion to Judaism
Born at Tarsus
Arrest, imprisonment and execution
Originally named Saul (Asked for... God answers... a name of privilege and honour)
Tarsus was a centre of commerce in the Roman empire at this time. It was located on the Mediterranean Sea in what is now known as Turkey. At the time, this area was known as Asia Minor, and Tarsus was a pivotal city.
One of the more prestigious universities in the Roman empire was based in Tarsus
Trade routes from Rome out to the Eastern reaches of the empire (Arabia, India etc.) rand directly through Tarsus. Thus, it was a very cosmopolitan location, with a great deal of cultural, religious and financial diversity travelling through the gates on a daily basis.
Growing up in this environment gave a young Saul access to a wealth of academic, financial and cultural understanding.
Rabbinical student in Jerusalem
Studied under a famous Rabbi named
Only the best of the best got the chance
to study to be a Rabbi
Thus, he was intellectually gifted, amongst the smartest of the Jewish people at his time
Persecution of Christians breaks out in
Paul, being on of the leading Pharisees of his time engaged in this persecution, and was the Sanhedrin's representative at the execution of the first Christian Martyr
After the persecution of Christians began, followers of Jesus began to spread around the Roman world. Paul then gained permission from his 'employers' at the Sanhedrin to chase these people down, imprison them and have them executed. Thus, he was ORIGINALLY a strongly anti-Christian person
On his way to Damascus (a town in Syria, 217km north east of Jerusalem) to capture leaders of the Jesus movement, Paul had an encounter with God. This experience changed his life, and turned him around. From that moment, he became a dedicated follower of Jesus, and spent the remainder of his life in service to the cause he'd previously sought to destroy.
After this life change, Paul spent several years meditating on and studying the scriptures he'd learned as a Rabbi in training. His time in the Jewish scripture allowed him to understand the meaning behind the life of Jesus, and that the real purpose of the Messiah was to serve the entire world, not just the Jewish race & religion
First Missionary Journey
After his conversion to Christianity, Paul undertook a series of journeys around the Mediterranean Sea. Paul was the ideal person to carry this out as he was educated in Jewish religion and culture, and had also grown up immersed in Greek culture in the town of Tarsus. Consequently, he was able to PRESENT JESUS IN A CULTURALLY RELEVANT WAY TO PEOPLE WHO HAD NO BACKGROUND IN JUDAISM.
On the first journey, he visited a variety of ports and key cities around the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Why do you think he visited these places?
While on his journeys, Paul began writing letters to churches. These letters had a few purposes:
1. Introducing himself before he arrived in their town
2. Keeping in touch with people he'd previously visited
3. Theology & Doctrine (What did Jesus do? How should we respond
4. Ethical and moral teachings
Having spent time navigating the complexities of the cultural divide between the Jews and Greeks, Paul noticed that there were some Jewish religious practices that didn't make sense to Greeks (gentiles)
Early Christians expected Greek converts to Christianity to follow all of their religious, dietary and social customs in order to be a part of the early Christian movement. Paul (amongst others) saw this is counterproductive to the development of Christianity.
A debate began over this issue, which resulted in a gathering of Christian leaders from around Judea, Asia Minor and the rest of the Roman empire. This became known as the Council of Jerusalem (or Apostolic Council). Paul argued his perspective against other key leaders (including Peter & James who had been close personal friends of Jesus).
This story can be found in Acts 15
Issues discussed include...
After this, Paul began travelling again to spread Christianity, having freedom to express Christianity in a new way. After the Council of Jerusalem, Greek converts were no longer required to follow Jewish customs to be a part of Christianity.
These journeys are known as Paul's 2nd and 3rd Missionary Journeys
Over his missionary journeys, Paul was arrested many times by Greek, Roman and Jewish authorities. On many of these occasions, he was able to talk his way out of trouble. This suggests he was an extremely good communicator.
Eventually, however, he caused enough social impact on the Jewish religion and Roman Empire that the leaders of both those groups sought a final solution to the problem of Christianity. Paul (amongst others) was placed under arrest, and were eventually executed.
His long term impact remains pivotal in the development of Christianity in several key areas:
1. Geographical expansion
2. Numeric expansion
3. Theological growth
4. Doctrinal growth
5. Ethical framework
6. Social influence
7. Setting in motion the events that split Christianity from Judaism, establishing it as the distinct, living religion that it is today
amongst many others...
Your job in this essay is to examine this story on a deeper level, and establish your opinion on the core developments Paul set in motion.
Analyse the contribution that Paul of Tarsus had on the development and expression of Christianity.
Council of Jerusalem
The Message (MSG)
To Let Outsiders Inside
15 1-2 It wasn’t long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: “If you’re not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can’t be saved.” Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.
3 After they were sent off and on their way, they told everyone they met as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria about the breakthrough to the non-Jewish outsiders. Everyone who heard the news cheered—it was terrific news!
4-5 When they got to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were graciously received by the whole church, including the apostles and leaders. They reported on their recent journey and how God had used them to open things up to the outsiders. Some Pharisees stood up to say their piece. They had become believers, but continued to hold to the hard party line of the Pharisees. “You have to circumcise the pagan converts,” they said. “You must make them keep the Law of Moses.”
6-9 The apostles and leaders called a special meeting to consider the matter. The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. Then Peter took the floor: “Friends, you well know that from early on God made it quite plain that he wanted the pagans to hear the Message of this good news and embrace it—and not in any secondhand or roundabout way, but firsthand, straight from my mouth. And God, who can’t be fooled by any pretense on our part but always knows a person’s thoughts, gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us. He treated the outsiders exactly as he treated us, beginning at the very center of who they were and working from that center outward, cleaning up their lives as they trusted and believed him.
10-11 “So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too? Don’t we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation? So what are we arguing about?”
12-13 There was dead silence. No one said a word. With the room quiet, Barnabas and Paul reported matter-of-factly on the miracles and wonders God had done among the other nations through their ministry. The silence deepened; you could hear a pin drop.
13-18 James broke the silence. “Friends, listen. Simeon has told us the story of how God at the very outset made sure that racial outsiders were included. This is in perfect agreement with the words of the prophets:
After this, I’m coming back;
I’ll rebuild David’s ruined house;
I’ll put all the pieces together again;
I’ll make it look like new
So outsiders who seek will find,
so they’ll have a place to come to,
All the pagan peoples
included in what I’m doing.
“God said it and now he’s doing it. It’s no afterthought; he’s always known he would do this.
19-21 “So here is my decision: We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master. We’ll write them a letter and tell them, ‘Be careful to not get involved in activities connected with idols, to guard the morality of sex and marriage, to not serve food offensive to Jewish Christians—blood, for instance.’ This is basic wisdom from Moses, preached and honored for centuries now in city after city as we have met and kept the Sabbath.”
22-23 Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas (nicknamed Barsabbas) and Silas—they both carried considerable weight in the church—and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with this letter:
From the apostles and leaders, your friends, to our friends in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
24-27 We heard that some men from our church went to you and said things that confused and upset you. Mind you, they had no authority from us; we didn’t send them. We have agreed unanimously to pick representatives and send them to you with our good friends Barnabas and Paul. We picked men we knew you could trust, Judas and Silas—they’ve looked death in the face time and again for the sake of our Master Jesus Christ. We’ve sent them to confirm in a face-to-face meeting with you what we’ve written.
28-29 It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities: Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage.
These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you