Jesus’ Life: Chapter 20 – Early Spread Of Gospel By the Disciples
Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5), a Roman citizen and a resident of Tarsus (Saul of Tarsus). (Acts 22:28) He is first mentioned in the New Testament at the martyrdom of the Deacon, St Stephen. (Acts 7:58)
Those who were about to stone Stephen, the witnesses, removed their restrictive outer cloaks and placed them at Paul’s feet. At the time, Paul was in his late twenties having previously studied under Gamaliel, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, before then returning to Tarsus as a tent-maker.
Although Paul didn’t partake in the stoning of Stephen, he heartily approved of the barbarous act; he “agreed completely with the killing”. (Acts 8:1) Afterwards, a group of devout and courageous men buried Stephen with much mourning. This was unusual at the time as those convicted of blasphemy and stoned were normally unceremoniously buried in a common place for “criminals”, “with the burial of an ass”. (Jeremiah 22:19). However, his respectful burial reflected the high status held for Stephen by the disciples and possibly also members of the Sanhedrin such as Joseph, Nicodemus and Gamaliel.
From the day of Stephens death onwards, Paul embarked on, “A great persecution… against the church of Jerusalem and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria”. Paul’s intention was to destroy the church, “entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison”. (Acts 8:2-3)
Why Paul persecuted Christians in this way has often been the focus of much discussion. Years later, as he reflected on his past, he wrote, “For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it,” actions that he then greatly regretted. (Galatians 1:13)
Possible reasons for his persecution may be linked to historical dissension between Hellenistic Jews (Greek-speaking) and Hebraic Jews (Hebrew-speaking). Stephen was Hellenistic, belonged to the Synagogue of the Freedmen and proclaimed that the Hellenists had rejected Jesus the Messiah. (Acts 6:8-10) The Hebraic Jews lived and worked close to the temple and it was there that the Twelve Apostles did their teaching. Paul may have simply considered himself a zealous upholder of Jewish teachings, supporting the Hellenistic Jews and the Sanhedrin.
Whatever his reason, Paul vehemently denied that Jesus was the Messiah but believed that the Messiah was still to come. (Acts 8:1-3)
Although the Christians of Jerusalem were scattered to other regions, their ministry of Jesus’ Gospel didn’t end.
Likewise with us, wherever we are, there is still much to be accomplished!
Lord Jesus, grant us the grace to proudly teach your message of repentance and forgiveness. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
Prayer: Peace (Pope St John Paul II)
Mary, Queen of Peace,
save us all,
who have so much trust in you,
from wars, hatred and oppression.
Make us all learn to live in peace,
do what is demanded by justice
and respect the rights of every person,
so that peace may be firmly established. Amen.