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What Do We Know about the Apostle Paul's Life and Ministry?

Blair Parke

Published: Feb 22, 2023
What Do We Know about the Apostle Paul's Life and Ministry?

As we witness the man known as Saul be spiritually transformed into Paul, we will see him come to realize more than anyone the miraculous blessings that happen to a person when they surrender their life to Jesus and allow God to lead their life.

The Apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus. Saint Paul. There are several names that all describe the same man: Paul, the former persecutor of Christians whose life was changed forever when he had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

But his story and enormous impact on Christianity simply cannot be described in a few sentences. His words – captured in several books of the New Testament – chronicle a man who came to realize the wrong path he was on, and how following Christ wasn’t easy, but was worth more than the world could offer.

As we witness the man known as Saul be spiritually transformed into Paul, we will see him come to realize more than anyone the miraculous blessings that happen to a person when they surrender their life to Jesus and allow God to lead their life.

Who Was Saul?

What we know about Saul of Tarsus could be viewed by some as quite a resume of achievements and accolades. Others, however, would see him as a confused, angry man who held so tightly to the law that he was willing to end the lives of Christians.

We first learn about Saul in Acts 7:58, when he was unfortunately present in the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen. Chapter 8 goes on to say that Saul was on a quest to arrest Christians after that, entering houses and dragging men and women to prison.

It is shared later in Acts 22:3-4 that Saul was a Jew born in Tarsus, a student learning from the teachings of Gamaliel (an authority figure of the Sanhedrin) who zealously followed the law of his fathers to the point of arresting and killing innocent Christian men and women.

However, everything changed for him one fateful day on the road to Damascus.

How and When Was Paul Converted?

Saul was going to Damascus in pursuit of Christians to bring to prison, according to Acts 22:1-16. Suddenly, a great, heavenly light appeared all around him, causing him to fall to the ground, and a voice was heard, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

When Saul asked who this heavenly voice was, he learned it was Jesus of Nazareth. And Saul wasn’t alone while he was encountering this supernatural experience; there were some men who accompanied him that also saw the light, but didn’t hear Jesus’ voice.

Saul asked Jesus what he was to do next, and the Lord stated, “Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do” (Acts. 22:10). By that point, Saul had been blinded by the heavenly light and had to be led by hand all the way to Damascus.

When he arrived in Damascus, the Lord had instructed a devout man named Ananias to receive Saul and tell him his sight was restored. Ananias also advised him that God had chosen him for a purpose. “For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:15). Saul was then baptized, and his name was changed from Saul to Paul.

What Did Paul Do?

Because Paul was a Roman citizen, as well as a Jew, the Sanhedrin were not thrilled by his spiritual transformation, and soon Paul found himself being persecuted in the same ways that he had persecuted Christians before.

But recalling Ananias’ words from the Lord about his purpose, Paul used every opportunity to spread the gospel to those who needed to hear it.

He went on three separate missionary journeys, first chronicled in Acts 13, going from Antioch to Syria to Cyprus to Jerusalem, and several other locations in between. Paul would preach the gospel to everyone, while also performing miracles such as healing a crippled man.

He first traveled with a fellow believer named Barnabas, who also suffered the same persecution at times as Paul. When the possibility of bringing another believer, John Mark, caused the men to bicker, Paul departed from Barnabas and went on his second missionary journey with another believer named Silas and a new believer name Timotheus, or Timothy.

They traveled to Lystra, Syria, Apollonia, Athens, and Thessalonica, among several other towns and villages. However, Paul still had his fair share of imprisonments, ridicule, beatings, and a near-fatal stoning.

His third and final missionary journey led him to Greece, where he visited the towns of Galatia and Ephesus (now modern-day Turkey) and continued preaching God’s Word. Many will recall the letters he wrote to some of these church congregations as featured books of the Bible (Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Colosse). These letters were meant to advise the people on whatever struggles they were going through and to hold fast to God in these precarious times.

Timothy remained his trusted friend and apprentice through most of his last two journeys. In two letters that became books of the Bible – 1 and 2 Timothy – Paul wrote to encourage Timothy as he dealt with persecution.

What Happened to Paul?

While in his third missionary journey, Paul traveled to Jerusalem, despite his friends and fellow believers telling him not to go. He told them he was not only prepared to be captured by his enemies, but to die for his work for Jesus Christ (Acts 21).

While preaching to the Gentiles, he was captured in the temple by Jews who were ready to kill him. Though he was rescued by a band of soldiers, he remained a prisoner upon his return to Rome. He continued preaching the word and encouraging others through writing letters to churches and to Timothy while in prison, knowing that his death was near.

Many assume that Paul was likely beheaded, not enduring a death on the cross like Jesus and Peter had, given his Roman citizenship.

Why Was Paul's Life So Influential for the Church?

Paul’s life and impact on the church is seen not only in how he experienced spiritual conversion on the road to Damascus, but also in his teachings. Paul rejected what the world saw as success and considered it success only if all was surrendered to God.

In his teachings and letters, Paul recounted how he saw success differently after his conversion, realizing that prestige and acclaim among his peers didn’t bring him as much peace, joy, and comfort as letting God lead his path, and bringing people to Jesus through the gospel.

His words in the books of Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, and others remind us of the struggles we face as followers of Christ in a fallen world. We can be as responsible for our own demise if we allow the devil to have a foothold in our lives. “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Rom. 7:15).

Paul wasn’t afraid to point out people’s discrepancies, including his own, but he also shared encouragement and discussed the blessings that would come for a person who gave their life to Jesus and followed Him daily.

Called to a Higher Purpose

Some may not believe the life that Saul-turned-Paul led, from being a Christian-hating persecutor to redeemed by God and follower of Christ. But his life epitomizes the spiritual transformation that takes place as we shed our world-based lives and embrace our spirit-filled lives.

We see in Scripture that God had called Paul to a higher purpose that day walking toward Damascus – a purpose that would revolutionize everything he knew about God, faith, and Jesus.

His faith-filled legacy is kept alive through the pages of the Bible, dispensing advice to us when we need it most about how to live for Jesus in a world that wants to reject Him, as Saul-turned-Paul once did. But just as God never left Paul through whatever circumstance he was in, God will not leave or abandon us as well, guiding us forward into the purpose called for each of us. 

Photo credit: Unsplash/Clark Young

Blair Parke 1200x1200Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and freelance book editor who wrote her first book, "Empty Hands Made Full," in 2021 about her journey through infertility with her husband. She previously worked for eight years with Xulon Press as an editor. A graduate of Stetson University with a bachelor's in communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine and currently writes for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin. She's usually found with a book in her hand or enjoying quality time with her husband Jeremy and dog Molly. You can order her book at Christian Author Bookstore - Xulon Press Publishing and visit her website at Parkeplaceediting.