Bible Review 21:5, Winter 2005

Bible Books

The Apostle Paul is known as the key figure in the process of preaching the message of Jesus and founding assemblies of Jesus followers throughout the Mediterranean world. While there must have been many other ambassadors of this message who were attempting to do the same kind of work in the mid-first century C.E., the amount of material available on Paul far exceeds information on any other figure in the post-Easter churches. We can gain a partial picture of Paul’s activities and concerns from his own letters and from letters written by followers who tried to continue the Pauline tradition. We also find a very vivid and creative reconstruction of Paul’s missionary work in the Acts of the Apostles, written near the end of the first century, and in later works as well. If we stick with the impression of Paul derived from his undisputed letters, we can be confident in at least the following observations:

First, sometime after the death of Jesus, a Pharisaic Jew named Paul received a revelation that led him to become a promoter rather than a persecutor of the fledging Jesus movement. Second, at or around the same time, Paul came to understand that the new message about salvation through Jesus was also accessible to non-Jews, and that the imminent return of Christ made the mission time-sensitive.

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