If we had to do with any other of St. Paul's Epistles, we should not think ourselves called to give a sketch of the apostle's career. But the Epistle to the Romans is so intimately bound up with the personal experiences of its author, it so contains the essence of his preaching, or, to use his own expression twice repeated in our Epistle, his Gospel (2:16, 16:25), that the study of the book in this case imperiously requires that of the man who composed it. St. Paul's other Epistles are fragments of his life; here we have his life itself.
Three periods are to be distinguished in St. Paul's career: 1. His life as a Jew and Pharisee; 2. His conversion; 3. His life as a Christian and apostle. In him these two characters blend.
Paul was born at Tarsus in Cilicia, on the confines of Syria and Asia Minor (see his own declarations, Acts 21:39, 22:3). Jerome mentions a tradition, according to which he was born at Gischala in Galilee. His family, says he, had emigrated to Tarsus after the devastation of their country. If this latter expression refers to the devastation of Galilee by the Romans, the statement contains an obvious anachronism. And as it is difficult to think of any other catastrophe unknown to us, the tradition is without value.
Paul's family belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, as he himself writes, Rom. 11:1 and Phil. 3:5. His name, Saul or Saul, was probably common in this tribe in memory of the first king of Israel, taken from it. His parents belonged to the sect of the Pharisees; compare his declaration before the assembled Sanhedrim (Acts 23:6): "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee," and Phil. 3:5. They possessed, though how it became theirs we know not, the right of Roman citizens, which tends, perhaps, to claim for them a somewhat higher social position than belonged to the Jews settled in Gentile countries. The influence which this sort of dignity exercised on his apostolic career can be clearly seen in various passages of Paul's ministry (comp. Acts 16:37 et seq., 22:25-29, 23:27).
The language spoken in Saul's family was undoubtedly the Syro-Chaldean, usual in the Jewish communities of Syria. But the young Saul does not seem to have remained a stranger to the literary and philosophical culture of the Greek world, in the midst of which he passed his childhood. "Tarsus," even in Xenophon's time, as we find him relating (Anab. 1:2. 23), was "a city large and prosperous." In the age of Saul it disputed the empire of letters with its two rivals, Athens and Alexandria. In what degree Greek culture is to be ascribed to the apostle, has often been made matter of discussion. In his writings we meet with three quotations from Greek poets: one belongs both to the Cilician poet Aratus (in his Phæomena) and to Cleanthes (in his Hymn to Jupiter); it is found in Paul's sermon at Athens, Acts 17:28: "As certain also of your own poets have said, We are also his offspring;" the second is taken from the Thaïs of Menander; it occurs in 1 Cor. 15:33: "Evil companionships corrupt good manners;" the third is borrowed from the Cretan poet Epimenides, in his work on Oracles; it is found in the Epistle to Titus 1:12: "One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said: The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." Are these quotations proofs of a certain knowledge of Greek literature which Paul had acquired? M. Renan thinks not. He believes that they can be explained as borrowings at second hand, or even from the common usage of proverbs circulating in everybody's mouth. This supposition might apply in all strictness to the second and third quotation. But there is a circumstance which prevents us from explaining the first, that which occurs in the discourse at Athens, in the same way. Paul here uses this form of citation: "Some of your poets have said..." If he really expressed himself thus, he must have known the use made by the two writers, Aratus and Cleanthes, of the sentence quoted by him. In that case he could not have been a stranger to their writings. A young mind like Paul's, so vivacious and eager for instruction, could not live in a centre such as Tarsus without appropriating some elements of the literary life which nourished around it.
Nevertheless it cannot be doubted that his education was essentially Jewish, both in respect to the instruction he received and to the language used. Perhaps he was early destined to the office of Rabbin. His rare faculties naturally qualified him for this function, so highly honoured of all in Israel. There is connected with the choice of this career a circumstance which was not without value in the exercise of his apostolical ministry. According to Jewish custom, the Rabbins required to be in a position to gain their livelihood by means of some manual occupation. This was looked upon as a guarantee of independence and a preservative from sin. The received maxim ran thus: "The study of the law is good, provided it be associated with a trade.... Otherwise, it is useless and even hurtful." Saul's parents chose a trade for him which was probably connected with the circumstances of the country where they dwelt, that of tentmaker (σκηνοποιός, Acts 18:3), a term which denoted the art of making a coarse cloth woven from the hair of the Cilician goats, and used in preference to every other kind in the making of tents The term used in the Book of the Acts thus denotes the work of weaving rather than tailoring.
When we take account of all the circumstances of Saul's childhood, we understand the feeling of gratitude and adoration which at a later date drew forth from him the words, Gal. 1:15: "God, who separated me from my mothers womb." If it is true that Paul's providential task was to free the gospel from the wrappings of Judaism in order to offer it to the Gentile world in its pure spirituality, he required, with a view to this mission, to unite many seemingly contradictory qualities. He needed, above all, to come from the very heart of Judaism; only on this condition could he thoroughly know life under the law, and could he attest by his own experience the powerlessness of this alleged means of salvation. But, on the other hand, he required to be exempt from that national antipathy to the Gentile world with which Palestinian Judaism was imbued. How would he have been able to open the gates of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles of the whole world, if he had not lived in one of the great centres of Hellenic life, and been familiarized from his infancy with all that was noble and great in Greek culture, that masterpiece of the genius of antiquity? It was also, as we have seen, a great advantage for him to possess the privilege of a Roman citizen. He thus combined in his person the three principal social spheres of the age, Jewish legalism, Greek culture, and Roman citizenship. He was, as it were, a living point of contact between the three. If, in particular, he was able to plead the cause of the gospel in the capital of the world and before the supreme tribunal of the empire, as well as before the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem and the Athenian Areopagus, it was to his right as a Roman citizen that he owed the privilege. Not even the manual occupation learned in his childhood failed to play its part in the exercise of his apostleship. When, for reasons of signal delicacy, which he has explained in chap. ix. of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, he wished to make the preaching of the Gospel, so far as he was concerned, without charge, in order to secure it from the false judgments which it could not have escaped in Greece, it was this apparently insignificant circumstance of his boyhood which put him in a position to gratify the generous inspiration of his heart.
The young Saul must have quitted Tarsus early, for he himself reminds the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in the discourse which he delivers to them, Acts xxii, that he had been "brought up in this city," In chap. xxvi, 4 he thus expresses himself not less publicly: "All the Jews know my manner of life from my youth at Jerusalem." Ordinarily it was at the age of twelve that Jewish children were taken for the first time to the solemn feasts at Jerusalem. They then became, according to the received phrase, "sons of the law." Perhaps it was so with Saul, and perhaps he continued thenceforth in this city, where some of his family seem to have been domiciled. Indeed, mention is made, Acts 23:16, of a son of his sister who saved him from a plot formed against his life by some citizens of Jerusalem.
He went through his Rabbinical studies at the school of the prudent and moderate Gamaliel, the grandson of the famous Hillel. "Taught," says Paul, "at the feet of Gamaliel, according to the perfect manner of the law of our fathers" (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel, according to the Talmud, knew Greek literature better than any other doctor of the law. His reputation for orthodoxy nevertheless remained unquestioned. Facts will prove that the young disciple did not fail to appropriate the spirit of wisdom and lofty prudence which distinguished this eminent man. At his school Saul became one of the most fervent zealots for the law of Moses. And practice with him kept pace with theory. He strove to surpass all his fellow-disciples in fulfilling the traditional prescriptions. This is the testimony which he gives of himself, Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:6. The programme of moral life traced by the law and elaborated by Pharisaical teaching, was an ideal ever present to his mind, and on the realization of which were concentrated all the powers of his will. He resembled that young man who asked Jesus "by the doing of what work" he could obtain eternal life. To realize the law perfectly, and to merit the glory of the kingdom of heaven by the righteousness thus acquired—such was his highest aspiration. Perhaps there was added to this ambition another less pure, the ambition of being able to contemplate himself in the mirror of his conscience with unmixed satisfaction. Who knows whether be did not flatter himself that he might thus gain the admiration of his superiors, and so reach the highest dignities of the Rabbinical hierarchy? If pride had not clung like a gnawing worm to the very roots of his righteousness, the fruit of the tree could not have been so bitter; and the catastrophe which overturned it would be inexplicable. Indeed, it is his own experience which Paul describes when he says, Rom. 10:2, 3, in speaking of Israel: "I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" [that which God offers to the world in Jesus Christ].
Three natural characteristics, rarely found in union, must have early shown themselves in him, and attracted the attention of his masters from his student days: vigour of intellect—it was in this quality that he afterwards excelled St. Peter; strength of will—perhaps he was thus distinguished from St. John; and liveliness of feeling. Everywhere we find in him an exuberance of the deepest or most delicate sensibility, taking the forms of the most rigorous dialectic, and joined to a will fearless and invincible.
In his exterior Saul must have been of a weakly appearance. In 2 Cor. 10:10 he reproduces the reproach of his adversaries: "His bodily appearance is weak." In Acts 14:12 et seq. we see the Lycaonian crowd taking Barnabas for Jupiter, and Paul for Mercury, which proves that the former was of a higher and more imposing stature than the latter. But there is a wide interval between this and the portrait of the apostle, drawn in an apocryphal writing of the second century, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a portrait to which M. Renan in our judgment ascribes far too much value. Paul is described in this book as "a man little of stature, bald, short-legged, corpulent, with eyebrows meeting, and prominent nose." This is certainly only a fancy portrait. In the second century nothing was known of St. Paul's apostolate after his two years' captivity at Rome, with which the history of the Acts closes; and yet men still know at that date what was the appearance of his nose, eyebrows, and legs! From such passages as Gal. 4:13, where he mentions a sickness which arrested him in Galatia, and 2 Cor. 12:7, where he speaks of a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan buffeting him, it has been concluded that he was of a sickly and nervous temperament; he has even been credited with epileptic fits. But the first passage proves nothing; for a sickness in one particular case does not imply a sickly constitution. The second would rather go to prove the opposite, for Paul declares that the bodily affliction of which he speaks was given him,—that is to say, inflicted for the salutary purpose of providing the counterpoise of humiliation, to the exceeding greatness of the revelations which he received. The fact in question must therefore rather be one which supervened during the course of his apostleship. Is it possible, besides, that a man so profoundly shattered in constitution could for thirty years have withstood the labours and sufferings of a career such as that of Paul notoriously was?
Marriage takes place early among the Jews. Did Saul marry during his stay at Jerusalem? Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius among the ancients, answer in the affirmative Luther and the Reformers generally shared this view. Hausrath has defended it lately on grounds which are not without weight. The passages, 1 Cor. 7:7: "I would that all men were even as I myself" (unmarried), and ver. 8: "I say to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I," do not decide the question, for Paul might hold this language as a widower not less than if he were a celibate. But the manner in which the apostle speaks, ver. 7, of the gift which is granted him, and which he would not sacrifice, of living as an unmarried man, certainly suits a celibate better than a widower.
Had Saul, during his sojourn at Jerusalem, the opportunity of seeing and hearing the Lord Jesus? If he studied at the capital at this period, he can hardly have failed to meet Him in the temple. Some have alleged in favour of this supposition the passage, 2 Cor. 5:16: "Yea, though we have known Christ after the, flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." But this phrase is rather an allusion to the pretensions of some of his adversaries, who boasted of their personal relations to the Lord; or more simply still, it denotes the carnal nature of the Messianic hope current among the Jews. As there is not another word in Paul's Epistles fitted to lead us to suppose that he himself saw the Lord during His earthly life, Renan and Mangold have concluded that he was absent from the capital at the time of the ministry of Jesus, and that he did not return to it till some years later, about the date of Stephen's martyrdom. But even had he lived abroad at that period, he must as a faithful Jew have returned to Jerusalem at the feasts. It is certainly difficult to suppose that St. Paul did not one time or other meet Jesus, though his writings make no allusion to the fact of a knowledge so purely external.
Saul had reached the age which qualified him for entering on public duties, at his thirtieth year. Distinguished above all his fellow-disciples by his fanatical zeal for the Jewish religion in its Pharisaic form, and by his hatred to the new doctrine, which seemed to him only a colossal imposture, he was charged by the authorities of his nation to prosecute the adherents of the Nazarene sect, and, if possible, to root it out After having played a part in the murder of Stephen, and persecuted the believers at Jerusalem, he set out for Damascus, the capital of Syria, with letters from the Sanhedrim, which authorized him to fill the same office of inquisitor in the synagogues of that city. We have reached the fact of his conversion.
In the midst of his Pharisaical fanaticism Saul did not enjoy peace. In chap. vii. of the Epistle to the Romans, he has unveiled the secret of his inner life at this period. Sincere as his efforts were to realize the ideal of righteousness traced by the law, he discovered an enemy within him which made sport of his best resolutions, namely lust. "I knew not sin but by the law; for I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." And thus he made the most important experience of his life, that which he has expressed in these words of the Epistle to the Romans (3:20): "By the law is the knowledge of sin." The painful feeling of his powerlessness to realize virtue was, if I may so gall it, the negative preparation for the crisis which transformed his life. His soul, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, found the attempt vain to nourish itself with its own works; it did not succeed in satisfying itself.
Another circumstance, fitted to prepare for the change in a more positive way, occurred at this period. An inactive witness of Stephen's martyrdom, Saul could calmly contemplate the bloody scene,—see the brow of the martyr irradiated with heavenly brightness, and hear his invocation addressed to the glorified Son of man, in which was revealed the secret of his love and triumphant hope. His soul was no doubt deeply pierced in that hour; and it was with the view of cicatrizing this wound that he set himself with redoubled violence to the work of destruction which he had undertaken. "The hour shall come," Jesus had said to His apostles, "in which whosoever shall kill you will think that he renders God worship." It was really with this thought that the young persecutor raged against the Christians. Nothing but an immediate interposition on the part of Him whom he was thus persecuting could arrest this charger in his full career, whom the sharp prickings by which he felt himself inwardly urged only served to irritate the more.
The attempt has been made in modern times to explain in a purely natural way the sudden revolution which passed over the feelings, convictions, and life of Saul.
Some have described it as a revolution of an exclusively inward character, and purely moral origin. Holsten, in his work on the Gospel of Peter and Paul (1868), has brought to this explanation all the resources of his remarkable sagacity. But his own master, Baur, while describing the appearing of Jesus at the moment of Saul's conversion as "the external reflection of a spiritual process," could not help acknowledging, after all, that there remains in the fact something mysterious and unfathomable: "We do not succeed by any analysis, either psychological or dialectical, in fathoming the mystery of the act by which God revealed His Son in Saul."
The fact is, the more we regard the moral crisis which determined this revolution, as one slowly and profoundly prepared for, the more does its explanation demand the interposition of an external and supernatural agent. We cannot help recalling the picture drawn by Jesus, of "the stronger man" overcoming "the strong man," who has no alternative left save to give himself up with all that he has into the hands of his conqueror. Saul himself had felt this sovereign interposition so profoundly, that in 1 Cor. ix. he distinguishes his apostleship, as the result of constraint, from that of the Twelve, which had been perfectly free and voluntary (vv. 16-18 comp. with vv. 5, 6). He, Paul, was taken by force. He was not asked: Wilt thou? It was said to him, Woe to thee, if thou obey not! For this reason it is that he feels the need of introducing into his ministry, as an afterthought, that element of free choice which has been so completely divorced from its origin, his voluntarily renouncing all pecuniary recompense from the churches, and imposing on himself the burden of his own support, and even sometimes that of his fellow-labourers (comp. Acts 20:34). This fact is the striking testimony borne by the conscience of Paul himself to the purely passive character of the transformation which was wrought in him.
The account given in the Acts harmonizes with this declaration of the apostle's conscience. The very shades which are observable in the three narratives of the fact contained in the book, prove that a mysterious phenomenon was really perceived by those who accompanied Saul, and that the fact belongs in some way to the world of sense. They did not discern the person who spoke to him, so it is said, Acts 9:7, but they were struck with a brightness surpassing that of ordinary sunlight (22:9, 26:13); they did not hear distinctly the words which were addressed to him (Acts 22:9), but they heard the sound of a voice (Acts 9:7). It is to be observed that in the former of the two passages the writer uses the accusative (τὴν φωνήν), and in the latter the genitive (τῆς φωνῆς); in the former case he had in view the penetration of the meaning of the words; in the latter, the confused perception of the sound of the voice. Sometimes these striking details of the narrative have been alleged as contradictions. But the hypothesis has become inadmissible since criticism, by the pen of Zeller himself, has established beyond dispute the unity of authorship and composition characterizing the whole book. Supposing even the author to have used documents, it is certain that he has impressed on his narrative from one end to the other the stamp of his style and thought. In such circumstances, how could there possibly be a contradiction in a matter of fact? It must therefore be admitted that while Saul alone saw the Lord and understood His words, his fellow-travellers observed and heard something extraordinary; and this last particular suffices to prove the objectivity of the appearance.
Paul himself was so firmly convinced on this head, that when proving the reality of his apostleship, 1 Cor. 9:1, he appeals without hesitation to the fact that he has seen the Lord, which cannot apply in his judgment to a simple vision; for no one ever imagined that a vision could suffice to confer apostleship. In chap. xv. of the same Epistle, ver. 8, Paul closes the enumeration of the appearances of the risen Jesus to the apostles with that which was granted to himself; he therefore ascribes to it the same reality as to those, and thus distinguishes it thoroughly from all the visions with which he was afterwards honoured, and which are mentioned in the Acts and Epistles. And the very aim of the chapter proves that what is in his mind can be nothing else than a bodily and external appearing of Jesus Christ; for his aim is to demonstrate the reality of our Lord's bodily resurrection, and from that fact to establish the reality of the resurrection in general. Now all the visions in the world could never demonstrate either the one or the other of these two facts: Christ's bodily resurrection and ours. Let us observe, besides, that when Paul expressed himself on facts of this order, he was far from proceeding uncritically. This appears from the passage, 2 Cor. 12:1 et seq. He does not fail here to put a question to himself of the very kind which is before ourselves. For in the case of the Damascus appearance he expresses himself categorically, he guards himself on the contrary as carefully in the case mentioned 2 Cor. 12:1 et seq. against pronouncing for the external or purely internal character of the phenomenon: "I know not; God knoweth," says he. Gal. 1:1 evidently rests on the same conviction of the objectivity of the manifestation of Christ, when He appeared to him as risen, to call him to the apostleship.
M. Renan has evidently felt that, to account for a change so sudden and complete, recourse must be had to some external factor acting powerfully in Saul's moral life. He hesitates between a storm bursting on Lebanon, a flash of lightning spreading a sudden brilliance, or an increase of ophthalmic fever producing in the mind of Saul a violent hallucination. But causes so superficial could never have effected a moral change so profound and durable as that to which Paul's whole subsequent life testifies. Here is the judgment of Baur himself, in his treatise, Der Apostel Paulus, on a supposition of the same kind: "We shall not stop to examine it, for it is a pure hypothesis, not only without anything for it in the text, but having its obvious meaning against it." M. Reuss thus expresses himself: "After all that has been said in our time, the conversion of Paul still remains, if not an absolute miracle in the traditional sense of the word (an effect without any other cause than the arbitrary and immediate interposition of God), at least a psychological problem insoluble to the present hour."
Keim, too, cannot help acknowledging the objectivity of the appearance of Christ which determined so profound a revolution. Only he transports the fact from the world of the senses into the not less real one of the spirit. He thinks that the glorified Lord really manifested Himself to Paul by means of a spiritual action exercised over his soul. This explanation is the forced result of these two factors: on the one hand, the necessity of ascribing an objective cause to the phenomenon; on the other, the predetermined resolution not to acknowledge the miracle of our Lord's bodily resurrection. But we shall here apply the words of Baur: "Not only has this hypothesis nothing for it in the text, but it has against it its obvious meaning." It transforms the three narratives of the Acts into fictitious representations, since, according to this explanation, Saul's fellow-travellers could have seen nothing at all.
If Paul had not personally experienced our Lord's bodily presence, he would never have dared to formulate the paradox, offensive in the highest degree, and especially to a Jewish theologian (Col. 2:9): "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
With Saul's conversion a supreme hour struck in the history of humanity. If, as Renan justly says, there came with the birth of Jesus the moment when "the capital event in the history of the world was about to be accomplished, the revolution whereby the noblest portions of humanity were to pass from paganism to a religion founded on the divine unity," the conversion of Paul was the means whereby God took possession of the man who was to be His instrument in bringing about this unparalleled revolution.
The moment had come when the divine covenant, established in Abraham with a single family, was to extend to the whole world, and embrace, as God had promised to the patriarch, all the families of the earth. The universalism which had presided over the primordial ages of the race, and which had given way for a time to the particularism of the theocracy, was about to reappear in a more elevated form and armed with new powers, capable of subduing the Gentile world. But there was needed an exceptional agent for this extraordinary work. The appearing of Jesus had paved the way for it, but had not yet been able to accomplish it. The twelve Palestinian apostles were not fitted for such a task. We have found, in studying Paul's origin and character, that he was the man specially designed and prepared beforehand. And unless we are to regard the work which he accomplished, which Renan calls "the capital event in the history of the world," as accidental, we must consider the act whereby he was enrolled in the service of Christ, and called to this work, as one directly willed of God, and worthy of being effected by His immediate interposition. Christ Himself, with a strong hand and a stretched-out arm, when the hour struck, laid hold of the instrument which the Father had chosen for Him. These thoughts in their entirety form precisely the contents of the preamble to the Epistle which we propose to study (Rom. 1:1-5).
What passed in the soul of Saul during the three days which followed this violent disturbance, he himself tells us in the beginning of chap. vi. of the Epistle to the Romans. This passage, in which we hear the immediate echo of the Damascus experience, answers our question in the two words: A death, and a resurrection. The death was that of the self-idolatrous Saul, death to his own righteousness, or, what comes to the same thing, to the law. Whither had he been led by his impetuous zeal for the fulfilling of the law? To make war on God, and to persecute the Messiah and His true people! Some hidden vice must certainly cleave to a self-righteousness cultivated so carefully, and which led him to a result so monstrous. And that vice he now discerned clearly. In wishing to establish his own righteousness, it was not God, it was himself whom he had sought to glorify. The object of his adoration was his ego, which by his struggles and victories he hoped to raise to moral perfection, with the view of being able to say in the end: Behold this great Babylon which I have built! The disquietude which had followed him on this path, and driven him to a blind and bloody fanaticism, was no longer a mystery to him. The truth of that declaration of Scripture, which he had till now only applied to the Gentiles, was palpable in his own case. "There is not a just man, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10). The great fact of the corruption and condemnation of the race, even in the best of its representatives, had acquired for him the evidence of a personal experience. This was to him that death which he afterwards described in the terms: "I through the law am dead to the law" (Gal. 2:19).
But, simultaneously with this death, there was wrought in him a resurrection. A justified Saul appeared in the sphere of his consciousness in place of the condemned Saul, and by the working of the Spirit this Saul became a new creature in Christ. Such is the forcible expression used by Paul himself to designate the radical change which passed within him (2 Cor. 5:17).
Accustomed as he was to the Levitical sacrifices demanded by the law for every violation of legal ordinances, Saul had no sooner experienced sin within him in all its gravity, and with all its consequences of condemnation and death, than he must also have felt the need of a more efficacious expiation than that which the blood of animal victims can procure. The bloody death of Jesus, who had just manifested Himself to him in His glory as the Christ, then presented itself to his view in its true light. Instead of seeing in it, as hitherto, the justly-deserved punishment of a false Christ, he recognised in it the great expiatory sacrifice offered by God Himself to wash away the sin of the world and his own. The portrait of the Servant of Jehovah drawn by Isaiah, of that unique person on whom God lays the iniquity of all... he now understood to whom he must apply it. Already the interpretations in the vulgar tongue, which accompanied the reading of the Old Testament in the synagogues, and which were afterwards preserved in our Targums, referred such passages to the Messiah. In Saul's case the veil fell; the cross was transfigured before him into the instrument of the world's salvation; and the resurrection of Jesus, which had become a palpable fact since the Lord had appeared to him bodily, was henceforth the proclamation made by God Himself of the justification of humanity, the monument of the complete amnesty offered to our sinful world. "My righteous Servant shall justify many," were the words of Isaiah, after having described the resurrection of the Servant of Jehovah as the sequel of His voluntary immolation. Saul now contemplated with wonder and adoration the fulfilment of this promise, the accomplishment of this work. The new righteousness was before him as a free gift of God in Jesus Christ. There was nothing to be added to it. It was enough to accept and rest on it in order to possess the blessing which he had pursued through so many labours and sacrifices, peace with God.
He entered joyfully into the simple part of one accepting, believing. Dead and condemned in the death of the Messiah, he lived again justified in His risen person. It was on this revelation, received during the three days at Damascus, that Saul lived till his last breath.
One can understand how, in this state of soul, and as the result of this inward illumination, he regarded the baptism in the name of Jesus which Ananias administered to him. If in Rom. vi. he has presented this ceremony under the image of a death, burial, and resurrection through the participation of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, he has, in so expressing himself, only applied to all Christians his own experience in his baptism at Damascus.
To the grace of justification, of which this ceremony was to him the assured seal, there was added that of regeneration by the creative operation of the Spirit, who transformed his reconciled heart, and produced a new life within it. All the energy of his love turned to that Christ who had become his substitute, guilty, in order to become the author of his righteousness, and to the God who had bestowed on him this unspeakable gift. Thus there was laid within him the principle of a true holiness. "What had been impossible for him till then, self-emptying and life for God, was at length wrought in his at once humble and joyful heart. Jesus, who had been his substitute on the cross, in order to become his righteousness, was easily substituted for himself in his heart in order to become the object of his life. The free obedience which he had vainly sought to accomplish under the yoke of the law, became in his grateful heart, through the Spirit of Christ, a holy reality. And he could henceforth measure the full distance between the state of a slave and that of a child of God.
From this experience there could not but spring up a new light on the true character of the institutions of the law. He had been accustomed to regard the law of Moses as the indispensable agent of the world's salvation; it seemed to him destined to become the standard of life for the whole race, as it had been for the life of Israel. But now, after the experience which he had just made of the powerlessness of this system to justify and sanctify man, the work of Moses appeared in all its insufficiency. He still saw in it a pedagogical institution, but one merely temporary. With the Messiah, who realized all that he had expected from the law, the end of the Mosaic discipline was reached. "Ye are complete in Christ" (Col. 2:10); what avails henceforth what was only the shadow of the dispensation of Christ (Col. 2:16, 17)?
And who, then, was He in whose person and work there was thus given to him the fulness of God's gifts without the help of the law? A mere man? Saul remembers that the Jesus who was condemned to death by the Sanhedrim was so condemned as a blasphemer, for having declared Himself the Son of God. This affirmation had hitherto seemed to him the height of impiety and imposture. Now the same affirmation, taken with the view of the sovereign majesty of Him whom he beheld on the way to Damascus, stamps this being with a divine seal, and makes him bend the knee before His sacred person. He no longer sees in the Messiah merely a son of David, but the Son of God.
With this change in his conception of the Christ there is connected another not less decisive change in his conception of the Messiah's work. So long as Paul had seen nothing more in the Messiah than the son of David, he had understood His work only as the glorification of Israel, and the extension of the discipline of the law to the whole world. But from the time that God had revealed to him in the person of this son of David according to the flesh (Rom. 1:2, 3) the appearing of a divine being, His own Son, his view of the Messiah's work grew with that of His person. The son of David might belong to Israel only; but the Son of God could not have come here below, save to be the Saviour and Lord of all that is called man. Were not all human distinctions effaced before such a messenger? It is this result which Paul himself has indicated in those striking words of the Epistle to the Galatians (1:16): "When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen..." His Son, the heathen: these two notions were necessarily correlative! The revelation of the one must accompany that of the other. This relation between the divinity of Christ and the universality of His kingdom is the key to the preamble of the Epistle to the Romans.
The powerlessness of the discipline of the law to save man, the freeness of salvation, the end of the Mosaic economy through the advent of the Messianic salvation, the divinity of the Messiah, the universal destination of His work,—all these elements of Paul's new religious conception, of his gospel, to quote the phrase twice used in our Epistle (2:16, 16:23), were thus involved in the very fact of his conversion, and became more or less directly disentangled as objects of consciousness in that internal evolution which took place under the light of the Spirit during the three days following the decisive event. What the light of Pentecost had been to the Twelve as the sequel of the contemplation of Jesus on the earth, which they had enjoyed for three years, that, the illumination of those three days following the sudden contemplation of the glorified Lord, was to St. Paul.
Everything is connected in this masterpiece of grace (1 Tim. 1:16). Without the external appearance, the previous moral process in Paul would have exhausted itself in vain efforts, and only resulted in a withering blight. And, on the contrary, without the preparatory process and the spiritual evolution which followed the appearance, it would have been with this as with that resurrection of which Abraham spoke, Luke 16:31: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither would they believe though one rose from the dead." The moral assimilation being wanting, the sight even of the Lord would have remained unproductive capital both for Paul and the world.
St. Paul became an apostle at the same time as a believer. The exceptional contemporaneousness of the two facts arose from the mode of his conversion. He himself points to this feature in 1 Cor. 9:16, 17. He did not become an apostle of Jesus, like the Twelve, after being voluntarily attached to Him by faith, and in consequence of a freely-accepted call. He was taken suddenly from a state of open enmity. The divine act whereby he was made a believer resulted from the choice by which God had designated him to the apostleship.
The apostleship of St. Paul lasted from twenty-eight to thirty years; and as we have seen that Paul had probably reached his thirtieth year at the time of his conversion, it follows that this radical crisis must have divided his life into two nearly equal parts of twenty-eight to thirty years each.
Paul's apostolic career embraces three periods: the first is a time of preparation; it lasted about seven years. The second is the period of his active apostleship, or his three great missionary journeys; it covers a space of fourteen years. The third is the time of his imprisonments. It includes the two years of his imprisonment at Cesarea, and the two of his captivity at Rome, with the half-year's voyage which separated the two periods; perhaps there should be added to these four or five years a last time of liberty, extending to one or two years, closing with a last imprisonment. Anyhow, the limit of this third period is the martyrdom which Paul underwent at Rome, after those five or seven years of final labour.
An apostle by right, from the days following the crisis at Damascus, Paul did not enter on the full exercise of his commission all at once, but gradually. His call referred specially to the conversion of the Gentiles. The tenor of the message which the Lord had addressed to him by the mouth of Ananias was this: "Thou shalt bear my name before the Gentiles, and their kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). This last particular was designedly placed at the close. The Jews, without being excluded from Paul's work, were not the first object of his mission.
In point of fact, it was with Israel that he must commence his work, and the evangelization of the Jews continued with him to the end to be the necessary transition to that of the Gentiles. In every Gentile city where Paul opens a mission, he begins with preaching the gospel to the Jews in the synagogue. There he meets with the proselytes from among the Gentiles, and these form the bridge by which he reaches the purely Gentile population. Thus there is repeated on a small scale, at every step of his career, the course taken on a grand scale by the preaching of the gospel over the world. In the outset, as the historical foundation of the work of Christianization, we have the foundation of the Church in Israel by the labours of Peter at Jerusalem and in Palestine,—such is the subject of the first part of the Acts (i.-xii.); then, like a house built on this foundation, we have the establishment of the church among the Gentiles by Paul's labours,—such is the subject of the second part of the Acts (xiii.-xxviii.).
Notwithstanding this, Baur has alleged that the course ascribed to Paul by the author of the Acts, in describing his foundations among the Gentiles, is historically inadmissible, because it speaks of exaggerated pains taken to conciliate the Jews, such as were very improbable on the part of a man like St. Paul. But the account in the Acts is fully confirmed on this point by Paul's own declarations (Rom. 1:16, 2:9, 10). In these passages the apostle says, when speaking of the two great facts, salvation in Christ and final judgment: "To the Jews first." He thus himself recognises the right of priority which belongs to them in virtue of their special calling, and of the theocratic preparation which they had enjoyed. From the first to the last day of his labours, Paul ceased not to pay homage in word and deed to the prerogative of Israel.
There is nothing wonderful, therefore, in the fact related in the Acts (10:20), that Paul began immediately to preach in the Jewish synagogues of Damascus. Thence he soon extended his labours to the surrounding regions of Arabia. According to Gal. 1:17, 18, he consecrated three whole years to those remote lands. The Acts sum up this period in the vague phrase "many days" (9:23). For the apostle it doubtless formed a time of mental concentration and personal communion with the Lord, which may be compared with the years which the apostles passed with their Master during His earthly ministry. But we are far from seeing in this sojourn a time of external inactivity. The relation between Paul's words, Gal. 1:16, and the following verses, does not permit us to doubt that Paul also consecrated these years to preaching. The whole first chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians rests on the idea that Paul did not wait to begin preaching the gospel till he had conferred on the subject with the apostles at Jerusalem, and received their instructions. On the contrary, he had already entered on his missionary career when for the first time he met with Peter.
After his work in Arabia, Paul returned to Damascus, where his activity excited the fury of the Jews to the highest pitch. The city was at that time under the power of Aretas, king of Arabia. We do not know the circumstances which had withdrawn it for the time from the Roman dominion, nor how many years this singular state of things lasted. These are interesting archæological questions which have not yet found their entire solution. Nevertheless, the fact of the temporary possession of Damascus by King Aretas or Hareth at this very time cannot be called in question, even apart from the history of the Acts.
At the close of this first period of evangelization, Paul felt the need of making the personal acquaintance of Peter. With this view he repaired to Jerusalem. He stayed with him fifteen days. It was not that Paul needed to learn the gospel in the school of this apostle. If such had been his object, he would not have delayed three whole years to come seeking this instruction. But we can easily understand how important it was for him at length to confer with the principal witness of the earthly life of Jesus, though he knew that he had received from the Lord Himself the knowledge of the gospel (Gal. 1:11, 12). What interest must he have felt in the authentic and detailed account of the facts of the ministry of Jesus, an account which he could not obtain with certainty except from such lips! Witness the facts which he recites in 1 Cor. xv., and the sayings of our Lord which he quotes here and there in his Epistles and discourses (comp. 1 Cor. 7:10; Acts 20:35).
For two weeks, then, Paul conferred with the apostles (Acts 9:27, 28); the indefinite phrase: the apostles, used in the Acts, denotes, according to the more precise account given in the Epistle to the Galatians, Peter and James. Paul's intention was to remain some time at Jerusalem; for, notwithstanding the risk which he ran, it seemed to him that the testimony of the former persecutor would produce more effect here than anywhere else. But God would not have the instrument which He had prepared so carefully for the salvation of the Gentiles to be violently broken by the rage of the Jews, and to share the lot of the dauntless Stephen. A vision of the Lord, which Paul had in the temple, warned him to leave the city immediately (Acts 22:17 et seq.). The apostles conducted him to the coast at Cesarea. Thence he repaired— the history in the Acts does not say how (9:30), but from Gal. 1:21 we should conclude that it was by land—to Syria, and thence to Tarsus, his native city; and there, in the midst of his family, he awaited new directions from the Lord.
He did not wait in vain. After the martyrdom of Stephen, a number of believers from Jerusalem, from among the Greek-speaking Jews (the Hellenists), fleeing from the persecution which raged in Palestine, had emigrated to Antioch, the capital of Syria. In their missionary zeal they had overstepped the limit which had been hitherto observed by the preachers of the gospel, and addressed themselves to the Greek population.It was the first time that Christian effort made way for itself among Gentiles properly so called. Divine grace accompanied the decisive step. A numerous and lively church, in which a majority of Greek converts were associated with Christians of Jewish origin, arose in the capital of Syria. In the account given of the founding of this important church by the author of the Acts (11:20-24), there is a charm, a fascination, a freshness, which are to be found only in pictures drawn from nature.
The apostles and the church of Jerusalem, taken by surprise, sent Barnabas to the spot to examine more closely this unprecedented movement, and give needed direction. Then Barnabas, remembering Saul, whom he had previously introduced to the apostles at Jerusalem, went in search of him to Tarsus, and brought him to this field of action, worthy as it was of such a labourer. Between the church of Antioch and Paul the apostle there was formed from that hour a close union, the magnificent fruit of which was the evangelization of the world.
After labouring together for a whole year at Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were sent to Jerusalem to carry aid to the poor believers of that city. This journey, which coincided with the death of the last representative of the national sovereignty of Israel, Herod Agrippa (Acts xii.), certainly took place in the year 44; for this is the date assigned by the detailed account of Josephus to the death of this sovereign. It was also about this time, under Claudius, that the great famine took place with which this journey was connected, according to the Acts. Thus we have here one of the surest dates in the life of St. Paul. No doubt this journey to Jerusalem is not mentioned in the first chapter of Galatians among the sojourns made by the apostle in the capital which took place shortly after his conversion, and to explain this omission some have thought it necessary to suppose that Barnabas arrived alone at Jerusalem, while Paul stayed by the way. The text of the Acts is not favourable to this explanation (Acts 11:30, 12:25). The reason of Paul's silence about this journey is simpler, for the context of Gal. i., rightly understood, does not at all demand, as has been imagined, the enumeration of all the apostle's journeys to Jerusalem in those early times. It was enough for his purpose to remind his readers that his first meeting with the apostles had not taken place till long after he had begun his preaching of the gospel. And this object was fully gained by stating the date of his first stay at Jerusalem subsequent to his conversion. And if he also mentions a later journey (chap. ii), the fact does not show that it was the second journey absolutely speaking. He speaks of this new journey (the third in reality), only because it had an altogether peculiar importance in the question which formed the object of his letter to the churches of Galatia.
The second part of the apostle's career includes his three great missionary journeys, with the visits to Jerusalem which separate them. With these journeys there is connected the composition of Paul's most important letters. The fourteen years embraced in this period must, from what has been said above, be reckoned from the year 44 (the date of Herod Agrippa's death) or a little later. Thus the end of the national royal house of Israel coincided with the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles. Theocratic particularism beheld the advent of Christian universalism.
Paul's three missionary journeys have their common point of departure in Antioch. This capital of Syria was the cradle of the mission to the Gentiles, as Jerusalem had been that of the mission to Israel. After each of his journeys Paul takes care to clasp by a journey to Jerusalem the bond which should unite those two works among Gentiles and Jews. So deeply did he himself feel the necessity of binding the churches which he founded in Gentile lands to the primitive apostolic church, that he went the length of saying: "lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain" (Gal. 2:2).
The first journey was made with Barnabas. It did not embrace any very considerable geographical space; it extended only to the island of Cyprus, and the provinces of Asia Minor situated to the north of that island. The chief importance of this journey lies in the missionary principle which it inaugurates in the history of the world. It is to be observed that it is from this time Saul begins to bear the name of Paul (Acts 13:9). It has been supposed that this change was a mark of respect paid to the proconsul Sergius Paulus, converted in Cyprus, the first-fruits of the mission to the Gentiles. But Paul had nothing of the courtier about him. Others have found in the name an allusion to the spirit of humility—either to his small stature, or to the last place occupied by him among the apostles (παῦλος, in the sense of the Latin paulus, paululus the little). This is ingenious, but farfetched. The true explanation is probably the following: Jews travelling in a foreign country liked to assume a Greek or Roman name, and readily chose the one whose sound came nearest to their Hebrew name. A Jesus became a Jason, a Joseph a Hegesippus, a Dosthai a Dositheus, an Eliakim an Alkimos. So, no doubt, Saul became Paul.
Two questions arise in connection with those churches of southern Asia Minor founded in the course of the first journey. Are we, with some writers (Niemeyer, Thiersch, Hausrath, Renan in Saint Paul, pp. 51 and 52), to regard these churches as the same which Paul afterwards designates by the name of churches of Galatia, and to which he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians (Gal. 1:2; 1 Cor. 16:2)? It is certain that the southern districts of Asia Minor, Lycaonia, Pisidia, etc., which were the principal theatre of this first journey, belonged at that time, administratively speaking (with the exception of Pamphylia), to the Roman province of Galatia. This name, which had originally designated the northern countries of Asia Minor, separated from the Black Sea by the narrow province of Paphlagonia, had been extended by the Romans a short time previously to the districts situated more to the south, and consequently to the territories visited by Paul and Barnabas. And as it cannot be denied that Paul sometimes uses official names, he might have done so also in the passages referred to. This question has some importance, first with a view to determining the date of the Epistle to the Galatians, and then in relation to other questions depending on it. According to our view, the opinion which has just been mentioned falls to the ground before insurmountable difficulties.
1. The name Galatia is nowhere applied in Acts xiii. and xiv. to the theatre of the first mission. It does not appear till later, in the account of the second mission, and only after Luke has spoken of the visit made by Paul and Silas to the churches founded on occasion of the first (16:5). When Luke names Phrygia and Galatia in ver. 6, it is unquestionable that he is referring to different provinces from those in which lay the churches founded during the first journey, and which are mentioned vv. 1-5.
2. In 1 Pet. 1:1, Galatia is placed between Pontus and Cappadocia, a fact which forbids us to apply the term to regions which are altogether southern.
3. But the most decisive reason is this: Paul reminds the Galatians (4:13) that it was sickness which forced him to stay among them, and which thus led to the founding of their churches. How is it possible to apply this description to Paul's first mission, which was expressly undertaken with the view of evangelizing the countries of Asia, whither he repaired with Barnabas?
From all this it follows that Paul and Luke used the term Galatia in its original and popular sense; that the apostle did not visit the country thus designated till the beginning of his second journey, and that, consequently, the Epistle to the Galatians was not written, as Hausrath thinks, in the course of the second journey, but during the third, since this Epistle assumes that two sojourns in Galatia had taken place previously to its composition. "Ye know how on account of sickness I preached the gospel unto you at the first" (πρότερον, the first of two times).
A second much more important question arises when we inquire what exactly was the theoretic teaching and the missionary practice of Paul at this period. Since Rückert's time, many theologians, Reuss, Sabatier, Hausrath, Klöpper, etc., think that Paul had not yet risen to the idea of the abrogation of the law by the gospel. Hausrath even alleges that the object which Paul and Barnabas had in Asia Minor was not at all to convert the Gentiles—were there not enough of them, says he, in Syria and Cilicia?—but that their simple object was to announce the advent of the Messiah to the Jewish communities which had spread to the interior. He holds that it was the unexpected opposition which their preaching met with on the part of the Jews, which led the two missionaries to address themselves to the Gentiles, and to suppress in their interest the rite of circumcision. To prove this view of the apostle's teaching in those earliest times, there are alleged: (1) the fact of the circumcision of Timothy at this very date (Acts 16:3); (2) these words in Gal. 5:11: "If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased;" (3) the words, 2 Cor. 5:16: "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more."
Let us first examine the view of Hausrath. Is it credible that the church of Antioch, itself composed chiefly of Christians of Greek origin and uncircumcised (comp. the very emphatic account of this fact, Acts 11:20 et seq.), would have dreamt of drawing the limits supposed by this critic to the commission given to its messengers? This would have been to deny the principle of its own foundation, the free preaching of the gospel to the Greeks. The step taken by this church "was accompanied with very solemn circumstances (a revelation of the Holy Spirit, fasting and prayer on the part of the whole church, an express consecration by the laying on of hands, Acts 13:1 et seq.). Why all this, if there had not been the consciousness that they were doing a work exceptionally important and in certain respects new? And instead of being a step in advance, this work would be in reality, on the view before us, a retrograde step as compared with what had already taken place at Antioch itself! The study of the general course of the history of the Acts, and of the progress which it is meant to prove, force? us to the conclusion that things had come to a decisive moment. The church undertook for the first time, and with a full consciousness of the gravity of its procedure, the conquest of the Gentile world.
The question, what at that time was the apostle's view in regard to the abrogation of the law, presents two aspects, which it is important to study separately. What did he think of subjecting the Gentiles to the institutions of the law? and did he still hold its validity for believing Jews?
According to Gal. 1:16, he knew positively from the first day that if God had revealed His Son to him in so extraordinary a way, it was "that he might proclaim Him among the Gentiles." This conviction did not follow his conversion; it accompanied it. Why should the Lord have called a new apostle, in a way so direct and independent of the Twelve, if it had not been with a view to a new work destined to complete theirs? It is with a deliberate purpose that Paul, in the words quoted, does not say the Christ, but His Son. This latter expression is tacitly contrasted with the name Son of David, which designates the Messiah only in His particular relation to the Jewish people.
Now it cannot be admitted that Paul, knowing his mission to be destined to the Gentiles, would have commenced it with the idea of subjecting them to the discipline of the law, and that it was not till later that he modified this point of view. According to Gal. 1:1 and 11-19, the gospel which he now preaches was taught him by the revelation of Jesus Christ, and without human interposition. And when did this revelation take place? Ver. 15 tells us clearly: "when it pleased God to reveal His Son to him," that is to say, at the time of his conversion. His mode of preaching the gospel therefore dates from that point, and we cannot hold, without contradicting his own testimony, that any essential modification took place in the contents of his preaching between the days following his conversion and the time when he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. Such a supposition, especially when an Epistle is in question in which he directly opposes the subjection of the Gentiles to circumcision, would imply a reticence unworthy of his character. He must have said: It is true, indeed, that at the first I did not think and preach on this point as I do now; but I afterwards changed my view. Facts on all sides confirm the declaration of the apostle. How, if during the first period of his apostleship he had circumcised the Gentile converts, could he have taken Titus uncircumcised to Jerusalem? How could the emissaries who had come from that city to Antioch have found a whole multitude of believers on whom they sought to impose circumcision? How would the Christians of Cilicia, who undoubtedly owed their entrance into the church to Paul's labours during his stay at Tarsus, have still needed to be reassured by the apostles in opposition to those who wished to subject them to circumcision (Acts 15:23, 24)? Peter in the house of Cornelius does not think of imposing this rite (Acts x. and xi.); and Paul, we are to suppose, was less advanced than his colleague, and still less so than the evangelists who founded the church of Antioch!
It is more difficult to ascertain precisely what Paul thought at the beginning of his apostleship as to the abolition or maintenance of the Mosaic law for believing Jews. Rationally speaking, it is far from probable that so consequent a thinker as St. Paul, after the crushing experience which he had just had of the powerlessness of the law either to justify or sanctify man, was not led to the conviction of the uselessness of legal ordinances for the salvation not only of Gentiles, but of Jews. This logical conclusion is confirmed by an express declaration of the apostle. In the Epistle to the Galatians, 2:18-20, there are found the words: "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God; I am crucified with Christ." If it was through the law that he died to the law, this inner crisis cannot have taken place till the close of his life under the law. It was therefore in the very hour when the law finished its office as a schoolmaster to bring him to Christ, that this law lost its religious value for his conscience, and that, freed from its yoke, he began to live really unto God in the faith of Christ crucified. This saying, the utterance of his inmost consciousness, supposes no interval between the time of his personal breaking with the law (a death) and the beginning of his new life. His inward emancipation was therefore one of the elements of his conversion. It seems to be thought that the idea of the abrogation of the law was, at the time of Saul's conversion, a quite unheard-of notion. But what then had been the cause of Stephen's death? He had been heard to say "that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy this temple and change the institutions which Moses had delivered" (Acts 6:13, 14). Among the accusers of Stephen who repeated such sayings, Saul himself was one. Stephen, the Hellenist, had thus reached before Paul's conversion the idea of the abolition of the law which very naturally connected itself with the fact of the destruction of the temple, announced, as was notorious, by Jesus. Many prophetic sayings must have long before prepared thoughtful minds for this result. Certain of the Lord's declarations also implied it more or less directly. And now by a divine irony Saul the executioner was called to assert and realize the p