The Apostle Paul’s Life Before Conversion

And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, Saul was a top student and disciple of the Pharisees. But notice that his zeal was mostly for the “traditions of my fathers.” The Pharisees held tradition equal with Scripture and often honor their tradition over Scripture (see Mark 7:8-13). Even though he was separated from the womb for service like the prophets Jeremiah or John the Baptist, he lived a sinful life up until his conversion.

The following passages in the New Testament tell us of the life of Paul before his conversion and details about his personal life. Most of them are from The book of Acts, the rest are from his letters. (World English Bible translation, words in brackets are mine for clarification, and not part of the Bible text.) My comments in italics.

Acts 7:58 and they cast him [Stephen] out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Saul would be considered nearly 30 years old even though he’s called young. The reason for this is in Philemon, written about 62 A.D., about 30 years after his conversion, Paul calls himself “aged”so he would’ve been 60 years old or so at the time. That would make his attendance at the stoning of Stephen when he was about the age of 30.

8:1,3 Now Saul was consenting to his death. . .3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Saul had as much hate for Stephen as the Sanhedrin did and heartily joined in the persecution of the church afterward.

9:1-2 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. We can see Saul’s attitude was one of hate and murder just prior to his conversion to Jesus Christ. He was also a self starting persecutor against the church.

9:26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. Although this passage is about Saul’s conversion afterward it shows just how much of a terrorist he had become to the church that they were still afraid of him after he was saved.

18: 3 and because he practiced the same trade, he lived with them [Aquila and his wife Priscilla] and worked, for by trade they were tent makers. This verse is taken from Paul’s apostolic life, but it shows what his trade was that he would’ve learned as a young man from his father, presumably.

22:3-5 “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. We learn here that Saul was born in what we now call Turkey, which at the time was under Roman rule. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, like his assent to Stephen stoning, Paul wanted Christians imprisoned and/or dead, Binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, Saul did not even spare the women. 5 as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished. Paul is able to confirm through current witnesses about his former life as an agent of the Jewish Council.

22:28 The commanding officer answered, “I bought my citizenship for a great price.” Paul said, “But I was born a Roman.” Saul was born a Roman citizen but many had to pay a lot of money for such a privilege.

23:6b “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” Both Paul and his father were Pharisees.

23:16 But Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, and he came and entered into the barracks and told Paul. Paul had a sister and a nephew.

26:4-5 “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. 5 They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. . . . Paul was a very devout Pharisee growing up.

26: 9-11 “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Saul felt compelled to do whatever he could against the church of Jesus as it was starting out. 10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Saul hated the church. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

26:14b ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Jesus testifies that Saul is persecuting him through his people. He also says that Saul’s conscience has been bothering him for a long time, represented by his resistance to the goads.

Romans 7:7-8 I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. The sin that dominated Saul in his former life was covetousness of all kinds.

1 Corinthians 9:5 Have we no right to take along a wife who is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? This indicates that Paul was a single man. However there are people who believe he was married but had left his wife in order to follow Jesus as an apostle. They get that from the idea that he was closely connected to the Jewish Council where everyone was married. I do not think that this is strong enough proof to show that he was married and had left his wife. It is an argument from silence, therefore I don’t accept it as a doctrine. Plus he would not also say that he could take along a believing wife if he was married at the time as an apostle, even if he was divorced, because he taught that a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. (One Corinthians 7:39). That would go for the husband as well since marriage is a covenant between two people.

15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who is not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the assembly of God. Paul’s memory of his former life still affected how he thought of himself as an apostle therefore calls himself the “least of the apostles.”

Galatians 1:13-15 For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. Saul went so far as to want to see the entire church of God destroyed completely so that nothing remained of it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, Saul was a top student and disciple of the Pharisees. But notice that his zeal was mostly for the “traditions of my fathers.” The Pharisees held tradition equal with Scripture and often honor their tradition over Scripture (see Mark 7:8-13). Even though he was separated from the womb for service like the prophets Jeremiah or John the Baptist, he lived a sinful life up until his conversion.

Philippians 3:4-6 I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Saul was a Benjaminite. The only other person in the Bible named Saul was also a Benjaminite. He was the first king of Israel. Interestingly, Saul is the last apostle of the Bible. (One Corinthians 15:8-9).

1 Timothy 1:13-16 although I was formerly a blasphemer, by speaking evil of Jesus and his people, a persecutor, one who seeks to harm another especially for religious or political views. And an insolent arrogant and insulting man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. Like those who crucified Jesus, “He did not know what he was doing.”

14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. This statement taken in context, that he is chief of sinners, refers to his prior life, not his current life as an apostle and Christian. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Paul understood that even though he was separated from the womb the Lord allowed him to come to a fullness of sinfulness before saving him. Jesus had said, “he that is forgiven much, loves much.” Like the other main apostle Peter, he had reached a depth of sin before he was converted. Both Peter and Paul are patterns of those who would come to believe in Christ so that they can experience and teach that even the worst of sinners (Peter a denier of Christ, and Paul a persecutor of Christ) could be saved and turned into rightliving, heavenbound followers of Jesus Christ and his truth. If these men can be, so can we. He that begun a good work will complete it to the day of Christ. Phil. 1:6

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