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3 Paul continued, “I’m a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia but raised in this city. Under Gamaliel’s instruction, I was trained in the strict interpretation of our ancestral Law. I am passionately loyal to God, just like you who are gathered here today. 4 I harassed those who followed this Way to their death, arresting and delivering both men and women into prison. 5 The high priest and the whole Jerusalem Council can testify about me. I received letters from them, addressed to our associates in Damascus, then went there to bring those who were arrested to Jerusalem so they could be punished.
4 Every Jew knows the way of life I have followed since my youth because, from the beginning, I was among my people and in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time. If they wanted to, they could testify that I followed the way of life set out by the most exacting group of our religion. I am a Pharisee. 6 Today I am standing trial because of the hope in the promise God gave our ancestors. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes hope to receive as they earnestly worship night and day. The Jews are accusing me, King Agrippa, because of this hope! 8 Why is it inconceivable to you that God raises the dead?
9 “I really thought that I ought to oppose the name of Jesus the Nazarene in every way possible. 10 And that’s exactly what I did in Jerusalem. I locked up many of God’s holy people in prison under the authority of the chief priests. When they were condemned to death, I voted against them. 11 In one synagogue after another—indeed, in all the synagogues—I would often torture them, compelling them to slander God. My rage bordered on the hysterical as I pursued them, even to foreign cities.
Saul’s “father and mother were part of the Jewish diaspora, living in Tarsus, a major city in the eastern part of the Roman Empire…. Tarsus was an important intellectual center…. It is likely that young Saul, whose Roman name was Paul, received instruction at the Greco-Roman primary and grammar schools of Tarsus up to the age of thirteen before being sent to study in Jerusalem…. he may have studied the Law, both written and oral, under Gamaliel I, one of the leading first-century rabbis, up to the age of twenty.” *
Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of relationship that doesn’t depend on my successes. Help me to live into the covenant you have made based on your unconditional love for your people. Amen.
I have wrestled with the Apostle Paul for a long time–especially with some of his words about women in ministry, slavery, and our queer siblings. I don’t use the word hate often, but there was a period of my life where I hated Paul.
Over time, I realized that I didn’t hate Paul. I just didn’t agree with some of the things he said, and I hated how people used those words to hurt others. I realized the time and culture he lived in shaped his views and writings, and it was okay not to agree. I also learned how much we had in common–and some of what we had in common wasn’t good.
There was a time when I was as zealous for Christianity as Paul was zealous for his Jewish faith. During that time, I used the excuse of being “faithful” to hurt others. I told myself I was just being honest, but what I did was hurtful and resulted in a loss of friendships that were important. That experience made me realize that Paul was human, just like me.
Thankfully, that period in my life isn’t the end of my story, just like persecuting Christians wasn’t the end of Saul’s story. We all miss the mark, but we are all capable of sharing a powerful, life-changing love because of Jesus. The question is, what will we choose when put in a situation like Saul? Will we choose love, or will we choose something else? My hope is we choose love.
* Hamilton, Adam. The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul (pp. 16-19). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
** Hamilton, Adam, The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul (p. 22). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.