A Summary of Paul’s Life
Paul, the “Apostle of the Gentiles,” was born in Tarsus, capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia, in southeast Asia Minor. A strict Pharisee who was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, we first find him in Jerusalem, where he was present at and consented to the death of the Christian martyr Stephen. He then began a vicious campaign of persecution against Christians.
As Paul – who before his Christian conversion was known as Saul – was on the road to Damascus to extend his ravages, he suddenly saw a blinding light and fell to the ground, hearing Jesus speak to him. He was then led by hand, blind, to Damascus, where a Christian named Ananias met him. Paul was cured of his blindness, believed on Jesus, and was baptized.
Immediately following his conversion, Paul departed to Arabia, eventually returning to Damascus. Fleeing an assassination plot in that city, he headed to Jerusalem, where two events of great importance for his future life occurred. First, he met a Fellow-Christian and future companion, Barnabas. He also saw a vision in the temple that commanded him to take the gospel to the gentiles. Another assassination plot sent him fleeing to Caesarea, then back to Tarsus. Eventually, ending up in Syrian Antioch, he partnered with Barnabas and took a short journey down to Jerusalem to bring relief to that church, after which time he returned to Antioch.
First Missionary Journey
While in Antioch, both Paul and Barnabas were clearly called to the Lord’s service. They soon set sail for Cyprus, where they met two men. Paul preached to Sergius Paulus, a Roman deputy who believed the gospel, despite the efforts of Barjesus, who was blinded for trying to hinder Paul. Setting sail, the evangelists continued on to Perga, Pisidian Antioch (where Paul delivered his first evangelistic sermon to the Jews), Iconium, and Lystra – all cities of Asia Minor. While in Lystra Paul healed a cripple, which almost caused the city to worship him; when Jews arrived, the citizens changed their mind and stoned him, leaving him for dead. After recovering, Paul and Barnabas returned to Syrian Antioch.
Second Missionary Journey
The ‘Jerusalem Council,’ the great council of the early church, convened in Jerusalem to discuss the question of the law. After determining that Christians were not bound by the law of Moses, it sent Paul as a messenger to deliver the verdict. Paul traveled northwest through Anatolia before crossing into Macedonia. While in Philippi he cast out a spirit of divination but ended up in prison as a result. After the jailor was converted, he was free to travel to Thessalonica, where a great persecution against Christians soon broke out. Journeying south into the heartland of Greece, he delivered his famous Mar’s Hill Sermon at Athens. The journey concluded with time at Corinth before heading back to Jerusalem.
Third Missionary Journey
Paul’s intention after leaving Jerusalem was to strengthen the churches of Galatia and Phrygia in Anatolia. Weaving his way over the roads of Asia Minor, he eventually came to the bustling coast city of Ephesus, where he lived for some time. As the church grew, the new Christians burned their occult books, but trouble was in the air. Demetrius, a silversmith who made idols, stirred up the whole city into an uproar, forcing Paul to leave Ephesus.
The apostle headed to Greece, where he stayed three months, then returned through Macedonia. Sailing along the coast of Anatolia toward Jerusalem, he revived a young man named Eutychus at a stop in Troas. At Miletus he met with the Ephesian elders and exhorted them in their noble work. He remained firm in his decision to visit Jerusalem even as he received a prophecy from Agabus about his imminent arrest.
Journey to Rome
After visiting with James in Jerusalem, Paul headed to the heart of the city, the temple. He was quickly surrounded by a murderous mob who believed he had defiled the sacred space, yet the commander of the Roman garrison rescued him, only to threaten him with scourging. With Roman security, Paul was given permission to address the mob twice, only to require further Roman rescue.
Soon, the Jews began plotting even more elaborately, and the Romans were forced to evacuate their prisoner to the safety of Caesarea, the Roman provincial capital. Here the apostle defended himself before Felix and Festus, finally appealing to Caesar as a Roman citizen. After another eloquent defense before King Agrippa, Paul was put on a ship for Rome.
During a routine stop at Crete, Paul advised the sailors to winter in the secure harbor; when they ignored his warning, the ship wrecked off the coast of Malta. Paul eventually made it to Rome where he lived for two years, preaching the kingdom of God. The Biblical account ends here, though there is speculation that Paul was freed for further years of ministry, until he again ended up in a Roman jail and was beheaded by the Roman tyrant Nero.