Paul of Tarsus: The Founder of Christianity

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Saul of Tarsus, later Paul, is the founder of Pauline Christianity and the probable author of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Almost half of the books of the New Testament are credited to his authorship due to the influence of the Pauline faction at the various early church councils.  He was responsible for spreading his version of the gospel through early Christian communities across the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.  He established several churches in Asia Minor and at least three in Europe, including the church at Corinth.   He was a native of the Mediterranean city of Tarsus.

Acts of the Apostles 21:39
39 But Paul said to him, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.  And I beseech you, suffer me to speak to the people.”

Tarsus was the capital city of Cilicia in present-day Turkey and well known for its intellectual environment.  It was a port city and a noted commercial center.  For these reasons, and because it was the capital, he described it as "no mean city," not a common, ordinary city.  It was famous for many things throughout history.  One of the things it was famous for was being the place where Mark Anthony first met Cleopatra, after which they embarked on their doomed alliance.  Tarsus survives today as the city of Mersin, Turkey.

Acts of the Apostles 22:3
3 And he says, “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the truth of the law of the fathers, zealous for the law, as also all you are this day:”

Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew, who grew up in Jerusalem where he studied under Gamaliel, a famous rabbi and leading authority in the Sanhedrin.  Gamaliel is also mentioned in Acts, where he takes an open-minded view of Christianity, urging that it not be persecuted.  Paul did not agree with him at this time.  Gamaliel was wise and recognised the Divine nature of Jesus’ (a.s.) ministry and saw the signs of his prophethood.  This was the real message of Jesus (a.s.) before it was corrupted by the heresy of Paul.

Acts of the Apostles 5:34-42
34 But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while.  35 And he said to them, “You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do, as touching these men.  36 For before these days rose up Theodas, affirming himself to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves.  Who was slain: and all that believed him were scattered and brought to nothing.  37 After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the enrolling, and drew away the people after him.  He also perished: and all, even as many as consented to him, were dispersed. 38 And now, therefore, I say to you, ‘Refrain from these men and let them alone.’  For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39 But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God.”  And they consented to him.  40 And calling in the apostles, after they had scourged them, they charged them that they should not speak at all in the name of Jesus.  And they dismissed them.  41 And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.  42 And every day they ceased not, in the temple and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus.

For the first half of his life, Paul was a member of the Pharisees, a strictly orthodox Jewish sect.  They were formidable persecutors of the new Christian movement.

Acts of the Apostles 23:6
6 And Paul, knowing that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, cried out in the council: Men, brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees: concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

His Jewish name was Saul which means, “The one asked for or prayed for.”  It was likely he was named after the biblical king, Saul, of the same tribe of Benjamin and the first king of Israel.  It was likely pronounced as Shaul.  “Paul” was this Latin name.  In biblical Greek and Latin, it was Saulos and Paulos.  Before claiming to be a follower of Jesus (a.s.), Paul zealously persecuted the newly-forming Christian church.  He likely traveled from synagogue to synagogue, urging the punishment of Jews who accepted Jesus (a.s.) as the Messiah.  He was thought to be the leader of those who stoned Stephen (r.a.), the first Christian martyr.  He had people condemned to death, put in prison and tortured.

Acts of the Apostles 7:58
58 And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul.

Acts of the Apostles 8:1-3
1 And at that time, there was raised a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem.  And they were all dispersed through the countries of Judea, and Samaria, except the apostles.  2 And devout men took order for Stephen’s funeral and made great mourning over him.  3 But Saul made havoc of the church, entering in from house to house: and dragging away men and women, committed them to prison.

Acts of the Apostles 22:20
20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was shed, I stood by and consented: and kept the garments of them that killed him.

Acts of the Apostles 6:10-11
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke.  11 Then they suborned men to say they had heard him speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.

Acts of the Apostles 22:4
4 Who persecuted this way unto death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,

Acts of the Apostles 22:19
19 And I said: “Lord, they know that I cast into prison and beat in every synagogue them that believed in you.”

While traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus on a mission, Paul allegedly encountered Jesus (a.s.):

Acts of the Apostles 22:5
5 As the high priest does bear me witness and all the ancients.  From whom also receiving letters to the brethren, I went to Damascus, that I might bring them bound from thence to Jerusalem to be punished.

The alleged vision of Jesus (a.s.) that changed Paul from a Pharisee to a Christian happened on the road to Damascus.  The account of that alleged meeting is described three times in the Acts of the Apostles, each time presenting new details not mentioned elsewhere.  This makes the authenticity of the accounts suspect since they contradict each other in many minor details.  Also, there are no records of the identity of the other witnesses present.  The first account is as it happens; the next, as Paul tells it to the Roman officer in Jerusalem; and, finally, as Paul tells it to the Jewish king, Herod Agrippa II at Caesarea Maritima.

Acts of the Apostles 9:3-22
3 And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew near to Damascus.  And suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him.  4 And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  5 Who said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus whom you persecute.  It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”  6 And he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what will you have me to do?”  7 And the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city; and there it shall be told you what you must do.”  Now the men who went in company with him stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice but seeing no man.  8 And Saul arose from the ground: and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing.  But they, leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus.  9 And he was there three days without sight: and he did neither eat nor drink.  10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias.  And the Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias, and he said, “Behold I am here, Lord.”  11 And the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the street that is called Strait and seek in the house of Judas, one named Saul of Tarsus.  For behold he prays.”  12 (And he saw a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hands upon him, that he might receive his sight.)  13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.  14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that invoke your name.”  15 And the Lord said to him, “Go your way: for this man is to me a vessel of election, to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  16 For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”  17 And Ananias went his way and entered into the house.  And laying his hands upon him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me, he that appeared to you in the way as you came, that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”  18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales: and he received his sight.  And rising up, he was baptised.  19 And when he had taken meat, he was strengthened.  And he was with the disciples that were at Damascus, for some days.  20 And immediately he preached Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the son of God.  21And all that heard him were astonished and said, “Is not this he who persecuted in Jerusalem those that called upon this name and came hither for that intent, that he might carry them bound to the chief priests?”  22 But Saul increased much more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, affirming that this is the Christ.

Acts of the Apostles 22:6-21
6 And it came to pass, as I was going and drawing near to Damascus, at mid-day, that suddenly from heaven there shone round about me a great light: 7 And falling on the ground, I heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  8 And I answered, “Who are you, Lord?”  And he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.”  9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light: but they heard not the voice of him that spoke with me.  10 And I said, “What shall I do, Lord?”  And the Lord said to me, “Arise and go to Damascus; and there it shall be told you of all things that you must do.”  11 And whereas I did not see for the brightness of that light, being led by the hand by my companions, I came to Damascus, 12 and one Ananias, a man according to the law, having testimony of all the Jews who dwelt there, 13 coming to me and standing by me, said to me, “Brother Saul, look up.”  And I, the same hour, looked upon him.  14 But he said, “The God of our fathers has preordained you that you should know his will and see the Just One and should hear the voice from his mouth.  15 For you shall be his witness to all men of those things which you have seen and heard.  16 And now why do you tarry?  Rise up and be baptised and wash away your sins, invoking his name.”  17 And it came to pass, when I had come again to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance, 18 and saw him saying unto me, “Make haste and get you quickly out of Jerusalem: because they will not receive your testimony concerning me.”  19 And I said, “Lord, they know that I cast into prison and beat in every synagogue them that believed in you.  20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was shed, I stood by and consented: and kept the garments of them that killed him.”  21 And he said to me: “Go, for unto the Gentiles afar off will I send you.”

Acts of the Apostles 26:12-18
12 Whereupon, when I was going to Damascus with authority and permission of the chief priest, 13 at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them that were in company with me.  14 And when we were all fallen down on the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew tongue: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”  15 And I said: “Who are you, Lord?”  And the Lord answered: “I am Jesus whom you persecute.  16 But rise up and stand upon your feet: for to this end have I appeared to you, that I may make you a minister and a witness of those things which you have seen and of those things wherein I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from the people and from the nations unto which now I send you: 18 To open their eyes, that they may be converted from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a lot among the saints, by the faith that is in me.”

The triple accounts were written around fifty years after Paul’s death.  It has two major historical problems.  The first problem is that Paul was travelling to Damascus empowered with authority from the high-priest to arrest dissident Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.  Whatever about high priest’s authority in Judea, it could not be exercised across Roman provincial borders, especially as far away as Damascus.  On the other hand, Paul himself tells the Galatians that after that vocational vision:

Epistle to the Galatians 1:17
17 Neither went I to Jerusalem, to the apostles who were before me: but I went into Arabia, and again I returned to Damascus.

The city of Damascus is much more likely as the venue of Paul’s alleged vision than in than on the road to Damascus.  The second problem is that Luke’s triple version describes Paul as seeing “a light” and hearing “a voice.”

Acts of the Apostles 9:3-4
3 And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew near to Damascus.  And suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him.  4 And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Acts of the Apostles 22:6-7
6 And it came to pass, as I was going and drawing near to Damascus, at mid-day, that suddenly from heaven there shone round about me a great light: 7 And falling on the ground, I heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Acts of the Apostles 26:13-14
13 at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them that were in company with me.  14 And when we were all fallen down on the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew tongue: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”

Paul did not see Jesus’ (a.s.) face but only heard his voice.  On the other hand, Paul himself insists that his sight of the heavenly Jesus (a.s.) makes him equal in authority with the Twelve Apostles who saw the earthly Jesus (a.s.).  He argues in his first letter to the Corinthians:

1st Epistle to the Corinthians 9:1
1 Am I not I free?  Am not I an apostle?  Have not I seen Christ Jesus our Lord?  Are not you my work in the Lord?

1st Epistle to the Corinthians 15:8-9
8 And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time.  9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

A major conclusion from those divergent accounts is that the Acts of the Apostles never gives Paul the title of an apostle of Jesus Christ (a.s.).  Paul was, at most, a messenger sent by and, therefore, subordinate to Jerusalem and Antioch.  His call was emphatically inferior to that of the Twelve Apostles.  His message was ultimately flawed and compromised the mission of the true disciples of Jesus (a.s.).  Only those first 12 were apostles and Judas’ replacement had to be one of those who witnessed the mission of the Messiah (a.s.).

Acts of the Apostles 1:21-22
21 Wherefore of these men who have companied with us, all the time that the Lord Jesus came in and went out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John, until the day wherein he was taken up from us, one of these must be made a witness with us of his resurrection.

This not only excludes Paul from ever being an apostle, it insures there will never be any more apostles and no women apostles.  The other major conclusion is that Paul already knew enough about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to persecute his followers for proclaiming its implications to their fellow Jews at Damascus.  Paul's conversion changed the course of his life.  He was a born zealot.  From an ardent persecutor of the disciples, he now proclaimed his version of the faith.  He began to preach that Jesus of Nazareth (a.s.) is not only the Jewish Messiah but also the Son of God.

Acts of the Apostles 9:20
20 And immediately he preached Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the son of God.

His influence led to the formation of communities dominated by Gentile groups that worshiped the God of Israel, but abandoned the Law of Moses (a.s.).  He taught that these laws and rituals had either been fulfilled in the life of Christ or were symbolic precursors of Christ.  Paul taught a new covenant or a new testament established through Jesus’ (a.s.) alleged death and resurrection.

Epistle to the Hebrews 9:15
15 And therefore he is the mediator of the new testament: that by means of his death for the redemption of those transgressions which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Over the course of his life, Paul probably had multiple citizenships, some of them simultaneously.  In the ancient world, a citizen was a person who had special legal privileges from belonging to a particular city.  That is where the word “citizen” comes from - to belong to a city.  Today we think of citizenship as indicating the nation-state to which a person belongs.  The nation-state is a recent historical development.  In the ancient, world it originally referred to cities.  When he was born, Paul may have been a legal citizen of Tarsus, and later he may have been a legal citizen of Jerusalem.  We also know for a fact he was a citizen of: Rome.  This was not uncommon.  Most of the people who were subjects of the Roman Empire were not citizens of the city of Rome.  The Romans had a policy of allowing people, even foreigners, to become citizens of Rome to encourage loyalty to Rome.  Citizenship was gained by a number of means, including inheritance.  This was the case with Paul.

Acts of the Apostles 22:27-28
27 And the tribune coming, said to him, “Tell me.  Are you a Roman?”  But he said, “Yea.”  28 And the tribune answered, “I obtained the being free of this city with a great sum.”  And Paul said, “But I was born so.”

Roman citizens had special legal rights in the Roman Empire.  They were not treated like ordinary people.  In particular, they had special rights in legal proceedings.

Acts of the Apostles 22:24-26
24 The tribune commanded him to be brought into the castle, and that he should be scourged and tortured: to know for what cause they did so cry out against him.  25 And when they had bound him with thongs, Paul says to the centurion that stood by him: “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman and uncondemned?”  26 Which the centurion hearing, went to the tribune and told him, saying, “What are you about to do?  For this man is a Roman citizen.”

When Paul confirms that his Roman citizenship, the tribune's attitude changed.

Acts of the Apostles 22:29
29 Immediately, therefore, they departed from him that were about to torture him.  The tribune also was afraid after he understood that he was a Roman citizen and because he had bound him.

Although he had been long delayed visiting Rome, the special rights he had as a Roman citizen finally led to Paul to Rome.

Epistle to the Romans 1:13-15
13 And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that I have often purposed to come unto you (and have been hindered hitherto) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.  14 To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor.  15 So (as much as is in me) I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are at Rome.

One of the rights that Roman citizenship conferred was to have their case tried directly before Caesar.

Acts of the Apostles 25: 9-12
9 But Festus, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, answering Paul, said, “Will you go up to Jerusalem and there be judged of these things before me?”  10 Then Paul said, “I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged.  To the Jews I have done no injury, as you very well know.  11 For if I have injured them or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die.  But if there be none of these things whereof they accuse me, no man may deliver me to them.  I appeal to Caesar.”  12 Then Festus, having conferred with the council, answered, “Have you appealed to Caesar?  To Caesar shall you go.”

The Caesar at the time was Nero.  We have reason to think that Paul was released after his first trial before Nero but eventually fell afoul of the dictator, who ordered him beheaded.  He was buried on the Appian Road, where the Basilica of St. Paul is now.  Paul’s status as a Roman citizen spared him the fate that Peter (a.s.) suffered.  Peter (a.s.) was crucified upside down

Thirteen epistles in the New Testament are traditionally attributed to Paul.  More than half of the Acts of the Apostles is devoted to describing his activities.  Augustine of Hippo further developed Paul’s idea that salvation is based on faith and not works of the law.  Paul's writings heavily influenced Martin Luther's doctrine of sola fide.  The influence of Paul's writings on Christian thinking has been profound, even more so than the teachings of Jesus (a.s.).  Paul had to struggle to for credibility and authority.  His contemporaries did not hold him in the same esteem as Peter (r.a.), James (r.a.) and the actual apostles of Jesus (.a.s.).  The Bible does not record Paul’s death.  Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 110 CE that Paul had been martyred.  He was probably killed in Rome, circa 62-64 CE.

Despite the credibility issues of Paul from the Bible itself, he is still the most influential person in Christianity and be extension, Western history.  The foundations of Western civilisation, their societal and personal ethics, rest upon the unverifiable vision of a single man – Paul of Tarsus.  Jesus (a.s.) as a historical figure is been largely lost to Christian thought.  The fundamental doctrinal tenets of Christianity, namely that Christ is God born in the flesh, that his vicarious sacrifice atones for the sins of humankind, and that his resurrection from the dead guarantees eternal life to all who believe, can be traced back to Paul, not Jesus (a.s.).  The spiritual union with Christ through baptism, the communion with his body and blood through the Eucharistic celebration, also trace back to Paul.  This is the legacy of Pauline Christianity, with the creed that separated it from Judaism and made it a new religion.

Paul never met Jesus (a.s.). The chronological facts are undisputed. Jesus of Nazareth (a.s.) was crucified during the reign of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor or prefect of Judea, in April, 30 CE.  As best we can determine it was not until seven years after Jesus' (a.s.) death, around 37 CE, that Paul reports his initial apparition of "Christ," whom he identifies with Jesus (a.s.) raised from the dead.  He was rightly challenged for his credentials but he equated his false visionary experience with that of those who had known Jesus (a.s.) personally.

1st Epistle to the Corinthians 9:1
1 Am I not I free?  Am not I an apostle?  Have not I seen Christ Jesus our Lord?  Are not you my work in the Lord?

Paul’s claim to have “seen” Jesus (a.s.), as well as the teachings he says he received directly from Jesus (a.s.), came after Jesus’ (a.s.) lifetime.  Either they are subjective clairvoyant experiences or he was a fraud and a false prophet.

Epistle to the Galatians 1:12
12 For neither did I receive it of man: nor did I learn it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

2nd Epistle to the Corinthians 12:1-10
1 If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed) but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.  2 I know a man in Christ: above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not: God knows), such a one caught up to the third heaven.  3 And I know such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not: God knows): 4 That he was caught up into paradise and heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter.  5 For such a one I will glory: but for myself I will glory nothing but in my infirmities.  6 For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish: for I will say the truth.  But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he sees in me, or anything he hears from me.  7 And lest the greatness of the Revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me.  8 For which thing, thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me.  9 And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you: for power is made perfect in infirmity.”  Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  10 For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ.  For when I am weak, then am I powerful.

These ecstatic visions were not a one-time experience of his conversion, but a phenomenon that continued over the course of Paul's life.  Paul confessed that he did not comprehend the nature of these ecstatic spiritual experiences, whether they were in the body, or out of the body but he believed that the voice he heard, the figure he saw and the messages he received were encounters with the heavenly Christ.

It was a decade after Jesus’ (a.s.) death that Paul first met Peter (r.a.) in Jerusalem.  He called him Cephas, his Aramaic name.  There, he also had a brief audience with James (r.a.), Bishop of Jerusalem.  He was not known to the community at large and definitely not known to those who were present during Jesus’ (a.s.) ministry.

Epistle to the Galatians 1:18-23
18 Then, after three years, I went to Jerusalem to see Peter: and I tarried with him fifteen days.  19 But other of the apostles I saw none, saving James the brother of the Lord.  20 Now the things which I write to you, behold, before God, I lie not.  21vAfterwards, I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  22 And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea, which were in Christ: 23 But they had heard only: He, who persecuted us in times past does now preach the faith which once he impugned.

Paul operated independently of the original apostles, preaching and teaching what he called his “gospel,” in Asia Minor for another decade before making a return trip to Jerusalem around 50 CE.  It was only then, twenty years after Jesus' (a.s.) death, that he encountered James (r.a.) and Peter (r.a.) again in Jerusalem and met for the first time the rest of the original apostles of Jesus (a.s.).

Epistle to the Galatians 2:1
1 When, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me.

It is one of the key factors in understanding Paul and his message.  There was a ‘Christianity’ that existed before Paul, independent of his influence or ideas for more than twenty years.  The Christianity preached by Paul developed independently of Jesus’ (a.s.) original apostles and followers and had almost no connection to his teachings.  The original teachings of Jesus (a.s.) before Paul’s corruption are difficult to find in the New Testament.  Paul's thirteen letters predominate and Paul heavily influences the four Gospels since they were made canonical by his faction.  However, in the Letter of James (r.a.) and in a collection of the sayings of Jesus (a.s.) embedded in the Gospel according to Luke, the source of the Q document, we can still find a glimpse of the original teachings of Jesus (a.s.).  The Letter of James (r.a.) lacks a single teaching that is characteristic of Paul and it draws nothing at all from the Gospel narratives.

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary.  Say: “Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His Will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all ― everyone that is on the earth?  For to Allah Belongeth the Dominion of the heavens and the earth and all that is between.  He Createth what He Pleaseth.  For Allah hath Power over all things.” (Surah al-Ma’idah:17)


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