A Rich Roman Pharisee

A Rich Roman Pharisee

The Background of Paul

Here is a description of Paul’s exclusively unique background. Simply put, he was raised a rich Roman Pharisee. He was born in the prosperous Roman capital city of Tarsus. Paul called it “no ordinary (‘mean’ [KJV]) city” (Acts 21:39) in the sense that it was enlightened and cultured. In fact, Tarsus was famous for its higher learning schools. Believe it or not, Tarsus even rivaled Athens or Alexandria in its pursuit of philosophy and the liberal arts.[1] Bruce says today we would call Tarsus “a university city.”[2]

More importantly, Paul was a citizen of Rome. With that citizenship came all kinds of sought-after privileges. As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to “a fair public trial, exemption from certain ignominious forms of punishment, and protection against summary execution.”[3] He most likely inherited this privilege from his well-to-do family.[4] Its assumed Paul’s past relatives “had rendered some outstanding service to the Roman cause (presumably tent making).[5]

Paul was most proud of his Jewish heritage. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1) and called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:6). A devout Jew from his orthodox upbringing, Paul—by his own account—was a Pharisee (Acts 22:3). He was educated at the feet of the top Pharisee of the time, Gamaliel.[6]

It is difficult to determine a chronology of Paul’s life because of the nature of his writings: Paul wrote letters for specific issues.[7] He wasn’t giving history lessons or an itinerary journal. Paul’s letters were intended to correct, lead, or encourage people, situations, and whole churches. On the rare occasion he does give a time indicator, it is random and unclear (such as, “a year and a half,” or “some time later”).[8] This is why the book of Acts is important in the procedure of determining a timetable of Paul’s life. Luke was with Paul most of the time and by matching up the Pauline letters with his missionary trips, a rough time line can be constructed. However, some argue that the “Pauline letters provide the primary data for reconstructing a life of Paul and that Acts, because its historical accuracy is questionable, should be used only in those places where its accuracy can be validated or where it corroborates data attained from a study of the letters.”[9]

The most important evidence that can be used in determining a chronology of Paul’s life is the Gallio Inscription during his Second Missionary Journey.[10] Paul appeared before Gallio in Corinth likely in the summer of A.D. 51 and probably stayed there eighteen months, which allows us to estimate his second journey from A.D. 50-52.[11]

This is a brief overview of Paul’s life and missionary activities. In 35, Paul was converted. In 45 or 46, he visited Jerusalem. Paul had his first Missionary Journey from 47-48. He met with the Apostolic Council in 49. His second and third Missionary Journeys were from 50-52 and 53-57, respectively. From 57-59, Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea. He voyaged back to Rome in 60 and was held captive there until his release in 76. Paul then ministered in the East until his martyrdom in 76 or 68.

[1] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 355.

[2] F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 35.

[3] Ibid., 39.

[4] Carson, 355.

[5] Bruce, 37.

[6] Ibid., 43.

[7] Carson, 360.

[8] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 349.

[9] Carson, 360.

[10] Lea, 350.

[11] Ibid.


Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.

Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s