Sunday: Persecutor of the Church

Paul was a Hellenistic Jew. His birthplace was Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia (Acts 21:39). Notwithstanding, to a certain extent he deviated from the Hellenistic stereotype, for he was brought to Jerusalem, where he studied under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), the most influential Pharisaic teacher at the time.


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As a Pharisee, Paul was strictly orthodox, though his zeal bordered on fanaticism (Gal. 1:14). This is why he led Stephen to his death and became the key figure in the ensuing persecution.

Read Acts 26:9-11. How did Paul describe his actions against the church?

Paul says elsewhere that the gospel was a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Besides the fact that Jesus did not fit the traditional Jewish expectation of a kingly Messiah, they could by no means accept the idea that the One who had died on a cross could be God’s Messiah, for the Scripture says that anyone who is hung is under God’s curse (Deut. 21:23). To the Jews, therefore, the crucifixion was in itself a grotesque contradiction, the clearest evidence that the church’s claims about Jesus were false.

Acts 9:1-2 shows Saul of Tarsus in action against believers. Damascus was an important city about one hundred thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem, and it had a large Jewish population. The Jews living outside Judea were organized in a kind of network whose headquarters were in Jerusalem (the Sanhedrin), with the synagogues functioning as supporting centers for the local communities. There was constant communication between the Sanhedrin and such communities through letters normally carried by a shalia?, “one who is sent” (from the Hebrew shala?, “to send”). A shalia? was an official agent appointed by the Sanhedrin to perform several religious functions.

When Paul asked the high priest, the Sanhedrin’s president, for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, he became a shalia?, with authority to arrest any followers of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem (compare with Acts 26:12). In Greek, the equivalent to shalia? is apostolos, from which the word apostle derives. Thus, before being an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul was an apostle of the Sanhedrin.

When was the last time you were zealous for (or against) something you later changed your mind about? What lessons should you have learned from that experience?

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Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons