Paul’s life is supremely valuable because it shows the method of the Master, after the resurrection, in training his disciples and in carrying forward the work of the church. We have Paul’s distinct testimony that, in each decisive hour of his life, from the great awakening on the Damascus road until he stood for the last time in chains before Nero, the Master was with him, teaching, guiding and strengthening him.
Describing his first commission to King Agrippa, Paul told how the Master had appeared to him, and, speaking in the Hebrew tongue, had thus charged him:
“I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. Rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of those things which thou hast seen, and of those things in which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
Paul saw the Master and spoke with him face to face, and he was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision. Direct from the Master came his knowledge and his commission. He makes this clear, when writing to the disciples in Galatia, reminding them that, after he had seen the Master, he let three years pass before going up to Jerusalem to talk with the elder disciples. During the two weeks he then spent at Jerusalem, he talked only with Peter, and with James the brother of Jesus, already beginning to dominate the church at Jerusalem. Perhaps it was on this occasion that James told him that the Master had appeared to him also, after the resurrection, as Paul later wrote to his friends at Corinth.
While at Jerusalem, he again had speech with the Master, as he himself relates:
“It came to pass that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance and saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. . . . Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.”
Some years later, Paul “went up by revelation” to the Council of Jerusalem, which debated the great question of admitting the Gentile converts to the church, without compelling them to comply with Jewish rites and customs: the question which lay at the root of the work entrusted by the Master to Paul.
Again, after the door had been opened wide to the non-Jewish disciples, in Asia Minor and in Greece, and when, in consequence, the Jews of Corinth were fiercely assailing Paul, the Master once more spoke to him “in the night, by a vision”: “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee: for I have much people in this city.”
Once again, when Paul had hardly escaped a violent death at the hands of the mob about the temple at Jerusalem and was still in imminent peril, the Master paid a magnificent compliment to the indomitable courage of his disciple, promising him still further opportunity and danger: “the night following the Master stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”
The promise was fulfilled. The disciple went to Rome, with chains on his wrists. And in the last dark days, when many friends had forsaken him, when he was summoned before the judgment seat of Nero, presently to receive sentence of death, he bears this superb witness:
“I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Master, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. . . . At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Master stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Master shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever.”
These are only the most critical events in the long discipleship of Paul. Not only at these times, but constantly, the Master was near him, overshadowing him with inspiring and protecting power, and on many other occasions definitely communicating with him, as Paul testifies in his letters.
These communications referred in part to the earlier work of Jesus, during the period of teaching before his death, as where Paul writes to the disciples at Corinth:
“I have received of the Master that which also I delivered unto you, That the Master Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Or the communications referred to the immediate needs of one or another group of disciples in the growing church, as where Paul, writing to Corinth, says:
“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Master, Let not the wife depart from her husband.”
Or the Master spoke concerning Paul’s own training as a disciple:
“For this thing I besought the Master thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Through more than thirty years, till the period of active work was closed by Paul’s execution, the Master’s communication with his disciple was unbroken: a general inspiring influence, with specific, detailed directions, for the immediate need or danger; directions which were decisive in guiding Paul’s movements during the vital and critical period in which the doors of the church were thrown wide open to the whole Western world, to the Greeks and Romans as well as to the Jews. At each crisis, the deciding influence was the Master’s intervention.
Paul says much which makes clearer the manner of the Master’s communication to him. There was articulate speech, so definite that Paul records of the first occasion that the Master spoke to him, not in Greek, but in the Hebrew tongue, the idiom in which the people of Galilee had heard the parables. Paul saw as well as heard. “Have I not seen the Master?” he writes, and he speaks elsewhere of the Master’s luminous form: “the Master Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” Paul had written earlier of this transformation:
“It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body . . . and as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”
The Master, therefore, appeared to him in what Paul himself calls “the spiritual body,” the body of the resurrection, which seems to have taken a form less externally visible after the event which is called the Ascension, though the Master in no sense withdrew from his disciples; he was seen by those who had eyes to see, and heard by those who had ears to hear: the eyes and ears of the spiritual man.
Thus did Paul see and speak with the Master during the long and arduous years of his work as a disciple; and, more than all words, the Master communicated himself, imparting something of his will and consciousness to Paul, and drawing the life of his disciple closer to his own.
The trials and sufferings which Paul endured were a part of the purification which was necessary for this union of will and consciousness with the Master. As that purification was carried forward, Paul grew able to say: “We have the mind of Christ.” And his constant effort for the disciples to whom he brought the word of the Master, was, that they too might break through the external consciousness, and be united with the will and consciousness of the Master: “My little children,” he writes to the group of disciples in Galatia, “my little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” It was this uniting of the will and consciousness of the disciple with the will and consciousness of the Master, which transformed the natural man into the spiritual and immortal; and it was the union of many disciples with each other, through their union with the Master, which made the unity and life of the Church.
“We are members one of another. . . . even as the Master nourisheth and cherisheth the church: for we are members of his body. . . . This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
In order that this new consciousness and will may be gained, there must first be a transformation of the external, personal life; a dying and rising again, of which the Master’s crucifixion and resurrection are the prototype:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”
After this new birth, this birth from above through the power of the Master, comes the gradual growth of the spiritual man, that “up-building” of which Paul speaks so often to the disciples, whereby we are transformed “to the likeness of his glorious body,” growing in the spiritual life “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
To carry the word and power of the Master throughout the whole Western world Paul toiled and suffered: to bring others into touch with the will and consciousness of the Master, thus building up, through their union in him, a divine and immortal life, the spiritual life of the disciples and the Church.
For this work, Paul was chosen and commissioned by the Master, as Paul himself has recorded. The circumstances of his birth and early training, debtor both to the Jews and the Greeks, signally fitted him to carry out the task later entrusted to him.
Paul was a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. He was also a Roman born. As a Roman citizen, he was at home everywhere throughout the Empire from Syria to Spain, and therefore well fitted to carry the word of the Master throughout the Empire. Since he was a Roman born, his father was a Roman citizen before him, perhaps his grandfather also. Tarsus was closely bound up with the Caesarian house; through Tarsus Julius Caesar passed from Alexandria, where he had met Cleopatra and buried Pompey, on his way to fight the king of Pontus in that swift campaign which begot the epigram: I came, I saw, I conquered. To Tarsus also came Mark Antony, and on the river Cydnus, which flows through the city, Cleopatra was borne in that famed progress which outshone Aphrodite:
For her own person,
It beggar’d all description: she did lie
In her pavillion—cloth of gold of tissue—
O’er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-color’d fans . . .
The city cast
Her people out upon her; and Antony,
Enthron’d i’ the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to the air.
From Tarsus came Athenodorus the Stoic, son of Sandon, who was the tutor of Augustus, and who, by the favor of Augustus, became governor of his own city, Tarsus. Nestor the Platonist, who succeeded Athenodorus as Governor of Tarsus, had been the tutor of Marcellus, nephew of Augustus. Close bonds like these bound Tarsus to the imperial house; Roman citizenship in Tarsus meant personal service rendered to the Caesars or distinction conferred by them. It meant familiarity with the history and fortunes of the Caesarian house: the martial deeds of the great Julius, the wise statesmanship of Augustus, the long reign of Tiberius. This Paul implied, when he declared himself a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia, and a Roman born.
Besides the close relation with the Caesars, Tarsus was famed for Greek culture, with traditions going back to Homer. Strabo narrates that Tarsus was founded by Argives who accompanied Triptolemus in his search after Io. Dion Chrysostom, who was a youth of sixteen or eighteen at the time of Paul’s death, when addressing the people of Tarsus, always took for granted that they were familiar with the history and poetry of Hellas.
Strabo relates that the Tarsian philosopher Diogenes went about from city to city, instituting schools of philosophy, and that, as if inspired by Apollo, he composed and recited poems on any subject that was proposed to him. Further, he says that Athenodorus in part owed his influence to his gift for extemporaneous speaking, a power that was general among the inhabitants of Tarsus. One may find here, perhaps, the prototype of the eloquent journeyings of the greatest citizen of Tarsus.
As a boy, Paul must have played in the market-place where Antony had sat enthroned, and wandered along the wharfs where the crowds gathered to hail Cleopatra. He must have known very familiarly the hot, damp plain around the city, overshadowed by the foothills and snow-fringed ridges of Taurus, shaggy with dark cedars, the evergreen vales adorned with glades of saffron. From Taurus flowed the icy Cydnus, passing through the city close to the gymnasium of the young men. The son of a leading citizen, Paul must have had the right to join in the exercises of the gymnasium; and this seems to be the source of his many allusions to athletics, to gymnastic training, to boxing matches and foot-races. For one who had been an athlete in his youth, it would be natural to sum up his life-work in the words: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my race; henceforth is laid up for me a crown.” Paul contrasts the physical training of the athlete with the spiritual training of the disciple: “Bodily exercise profiteth for a little: but godliness is profitable unto all things;” and again, “Every man that striveth in the games is temperate in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air.” Here, and elsewhere in the New Testament, the crown held out to the disciple is the crown (garland) of the victor in contests and trials rather than the crown (diadem) of hereditary rule. Paul, Peter, James and John all use the symbol: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
It may well be that Paul’s early training in the gymnasium by the Cydnus, in whose icy stream Alexander the Great had bathed, prepared him for the bodily hardship of his later work. He must have gone on foot in much of his journeying through Palestine, Asia Minor and Macedonia; as, for example, his fellow-traveller relates: “We went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for s he had appointed, minding himself to go afoot.” This journey on foot from Troas, the port of ancient Troy, to Assos was probably characteristic of much of Paul’s travel; the type of exertion which led him to write to Timothy: “Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Such was the atmosphere of Tarsus, in the midst of which Paul passed the most impressionable years of his boyhood and youth. Though the Cilician city was far from Greece, it was full of the Greek spirit and Greek tradition. The background, as in Greece itself, was made up of the great tradition of the Homeric poems. An amusing tale which Strabo tells, concerning the gymnasium where, if our surmise be sound, Paul got his taste for athletics, shows how Homer was on everybody’s tongue, his poems in everyone’s mind. According to this tale, it was Mark Antony himself, the friend of Julius Caesar and of Cleopatra, who founded the gymnasium, and made Boethus trustee of a fund for its support. Boethus was a fraudulent trustee, appropriating even the oil which was provided for the athletes to anoint themselves with. He was accused of his theft, whereupon he made an angry protest to Mark Antony: “As Homer sang the praises of Achilles, Agamemnon and Ulysses, so I have sung yours. I therefore ought not to be brought before you on such a charge.” The accuser answered, “Homer did not steal oil from Agamemnon; but you have stolen it from the gymnasium, and therefore you shall be punished.” Yet, says Strabo, the crafty Boethus contrived to avert the displeasure of Antony by courteous offices, and continued to plunder the city until the death of his protector.
Tarsus was also a famous seat of Greek philosophy. Paul was, without doubt, not only familiar with the names of the Stoic, Platonic and Epicurean schools, but also with their doctrines. Consider the incident of his stay at Athens:
“Certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered him. . . . And they took him, and brought him unto the Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?”
The story is recorded by Luke, the beloved physician and fellow-traveller. But Luke was not with Paul in Athens; therefore the story, with the names of the philosophical schools, must have been given to him by Paul himself.
If we go back to Strabo’s account of Tarsus, we shall see how easy it would have been for Paul to be familiar with these and other schools; how difficult, almost impossible, it would have been for him to have been ignorant of them. For the inhabitants of Tarsus, Strabo tells us, applied themselves to the study of philosophy and to the whole encyclical compass of learning with so much ardour that they surpassed Athens, Alexandria and every other place where there were schools and lectures of philosophers. Among the famous Stoics of Tarsus was Athenodorus, tutor of Augustus Caesar, who made him governor of Tarsus. Nestor, who was tutor to Marcellus, the nephew of Augustus, and who succeeded Athenodorus as governor of Tarsus, was equally famous as a Platonist. Since Athenodorus and Nestor were great orators, it is likely that they made the public squares of the city ring with the names and doctrines of Zeno and Plato. Paul, therefore, was quite ready to hold his own with the eloquent philosophers of Athens.
The way in which he faced his audience on the famous Hill of Ares under the Acropolis shows how well he profited by the lessons of the Tarsian orators. It was his custom, when opening his great theme to the Jews who gave him the privilege of speech in their synagogues, to use the Old Testament background, the majestic story of God’s dealings with Israel; and here he spoke out of a full heart. But when called to address the critical audience of Athens, he took rather, for the background of his oration, the general philosophic sensibility, the somewhat vague pantheism, which was the broad result of Greek philosophy. Men of Athens, he began, having in mind, no doubt, the famous orations of Demosthenes, Men of Athens, I perceive that ye are somewhat religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, To an unknown God. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you. The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in sanctuaries made with hands; neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life and breath and all things; and he made of one blood every nation of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth . . . for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are his offspring . . .’
Then he went on to speak of that one among the sons of God, whom God had raised from the dead. . . . It would be hard to conceive of a wiser or more skilful approach to the Athenian mind; of a better way of bringing to that mind the mystery of the resurrection. And it is of record that many of his hearers, both men and women, like Dionysius and Damaris, were in fact led through that speech of his to a knowledge of the Master. It would be difficult to find a better example of the orator’s art and secret: to take men where they are; to speak to them first of what is in their own hearts. And it was Paul’s early life in Tarsus, when, as a boy, he wandered about the streets and squares of the city, listening to the eloquent words of the Platonists and Stoics, that trained and fitted him thus to make overtures to the mind of Greece, where a man of narrower education and sympathies would have met with nothing but derision.
It has been said that the beauty of Paul’s style, as we find it in the living, breathing pages of his letters, is the beauty of speech, of oratory, rather than of writing. Take the magnificent passage concerning Charity. . . . It rings like a great oration. This quality of eloquence, then, Paul must have learned and absorbed in those same boyhood days, among a people for whom oratory was one of the supreme aesthetic delights.
At the Feet of Gamaliel
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers.”
Paul, as he spoke, was standing on the steps of the Roman guardhouse which overlooked the great courtyard of the temple. Under the shadow of the holy shrine on Mount Moriah, made sacred by the Master’s footsteps, he told the story of his life, inspired by this splendid background for his oration, as, five or six years earlier, he had stood under the shadow of the Acropolis of Athens, and, looking up to the pillared beauty of the Parthenon, had repeated the verse of the great Hymn to Zeus, “For we are also His offspring!” It was the first day of his bondage, the first day of many years when he wore the chains upon his wrists, the chains that clank and rattle through all the epistles of his bondage: “Paul the prisoner, Paul in chains.”
And now, speaking in the contemporary dialect of Hebrew, the current speech of Aram, and for that reason called Aramaic; standing in face of an audience pre-eminently Hebrew, Paul went back in memory to the days, some thirty years before, the great days of his studentship, when, at the feet of Gamaliel, his heart was fired and enkindled by the splendid epic of Israel, the grand story of God’s way with the Nation that centered about this temple on Moriah, about the citadel of Zion, that David made his capital, after the kingdom had passed away from Paul’s prototype, Saul the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin.
We see the Jerusalem of Paul’s youth, of the years, let us say, from 20 to 30, through the terrible clouds of the great tragedy, that darkness that rested there from the sixth hour to the ninth, when the earth trembled, and the veil of the great shrine on Moriah was rent from top to bottom; we rightly see, in the utter destruction that came, in the year 70, upon the City of the King, the punishment, the righteous Nemesis for the black deed of Golgotha, when the whole nation cried out, invoking their inevitable doom, “His blood be upon our heads and on our children’s!” And we think, perhaps, that in the Jerusalem of Paul’s student days, there was nothing but the bitter wrath, the iron bigotry, that crucified the Master. Without doubt these were already latent there, but they had not come forth from their lurking-place in passionate, rancorous hearts; and there was much that was full of aspiration, of sunnier, gentler spirit; something of the inspiration that breathes in the more beautiful of the psalms:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
There was such a period of expansion and aspiration, just before the Master began openly to teach. It is foreshadowed in the scene of his own boyhood in the temple; we catch the echo of it in his passionate, heart-breaking outcry of infinite regret: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” There was aspiration; but the age-long tragedy is, that there was not aspiration enough. There was a deep passionate interest in the things of religion, that kept these men about the Master, hanging on his words; but there was the terrible darkness and hardness of heart beneath it, that turned the impulse of religion into passionate hatred.
Of the sunnier years, of which the Master had said, “if I had not come, ye had not had sin,” Gamaliel is still remembered as the greatest light; the revered doctor, the man of supreme culture, who gave form to the thought of the age, and incarnated it in himself. He may have been one of those doctors with whom the boy Jesus talked in the temple, both hearing them and asking them questions. As a Pharisee, he held the belief in the resurrection, in the constant ministry of angels, which contrasted with the legalist materialism of the official Sadducees; the one speech of his that is recorded, is full of the spirit of a wise and gentle tolerance:
“But there stood up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in honour of all the people, and commanded to put the men forth a little while. And he said unto them, ‘Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves as touching these men, what ye are about to do . . . I say unto you, Refrain from these men and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown: but if it be of God, ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found to be fighting against God.’”
One wonders what would have been the difference in the history of the world, if this wise, honoured doctor, who thus manfully and tolerantly defended Peter and the other apostles, had come forward as courageously a few months earlier, when their Master was on trial in the same way. There was a chance for a man to change all history. He might have held a place in the Creed, not, like Pilate, a place of eternal shame, but of high honour and renown.
Be this as it may, it was at the feet of this wise, gentle, highly honoured doctor that Paul passed his student years, his mind already full of Greek culture, of the orations of the famous Greek Platonists and Stoics of Tarsus; of the Tarsian memories of Alexander the Great, of Julius Cresar, of Antony and Cleopatra and her splendid pageant upon the river Cydnus. Paul’s mind, thus aroused and enkindled, now swung from Hellas to Israel; and during the months and years of his studentship under Gamaliel, he filled his heart and soul, his imagination and his memory, with the splendid passages of his national scriptures; the expounding of which made the substance of Gamaliel’s lectures, as of all the doctors of the law.
During these formative years of Paul’s life, the great genius among the Jews was Philo of Alexandria, who, with the soul of a mystic and a Platonist, re-read the Hebrew scriptures as a magnificent allegory, the revelation of the Logos, the “Mind of God.” It is certain that Philo enjoyed an unrivaled authority throughout the whole Jewish world, which extended from Babylon to Rome, from the shores of the Black Sea to Egypt, and it is impossible that Philo’s works and Philo’s thoughts should not have been known at Jerusalem, during the years when Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel, which were also the years of the ministry of Jesus. Since the writings of Paul are full of the ideas of Philo, while, at the same time he practically never uses the words and phrases that are most characteristic of Philo, though both are writing Greek, it would seem certain that he came to Philo’s ideas, not directly, not by his own reading, but indirectly, through some intermediary; and one may hazard the guess that this intermediary was no other than Paul’s master and instructor, Gamaliel, whose spirit, so far as we are able to judge it, is thoroughly in harmony with the spirit of Philo. It is probable that, lecturing at Jerusalem, under the shadow of the great temple, Gamaliel would use the Hebraic dialect which is called Aramaic; that, in quoting Philo in his lectures, if our hypothesis be correct, he would translate his thoughts and phrases from Alexandrian Greek to Aramaic; and that Paul, thus receiving Philo’s ideas in Aramaic, later retranslated them for himself into Greek, often choosing other words than those Philo had used, though following Philo’s ideas very faithfully.
Be this as it may, it is certain that Paul did study the Law and the Prophets under Gamaliel, and that, in his interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, he follows in Philo’s footsteps, besides accepting the whole Platonic background of Philo’s thought. But it is not so much with this aspect of Paul’s work and thought that I wish just now to deal, but rather with the impression made on his mind by the grandiose Hebrew scriptures. If we take pains, we can almost follow the working of Paul’s mind, as he listened to Gamaliel’s lectures, almost reproduce the emotions which were awakened in his heart by this or the other famous passage from the Book of the Law.
I have already written very fully of Paul’s understanding of the first great story in the Hebrew Scriptures: the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, of the Serpent’s temptation, and of the Fall of Man.1 It is enough, at present, to say that Paul understood the whole story as an allegory, exactly as Philo did; and that the part which Adam and the Fall have been made to play in dogmatic theology largely rests on a misunderstanding and on the persistent mistranslation of Paul’s words: “As in the Adam all die, even so in the Christ shall all be made alive.” The Adam and the Christ mean here the natural and the spiritual man, the latter vivified by, and blended with the very life of the ever-living Christ, the Master.
The next great story in the Books of the Law, which made a profound and indelible impression on the mind and imagination of Paul the student, is the story of the covenant with Abraham, as told in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis:
“After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is my heir. And behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir: but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord: and he counted it to him for righteousness. . . .”
It is a passage of wonderful beauty, and one may boldly say that no passage in the whole compass of the Scriptures meant so much to Paul, or so greatly swayed his heart and mind. In the first place, it was because of his profound and passionate belief in the miraculous destiny and mission of the seed of Abraham, thus promised to him under the glowing stars of the Arabian desert, that Paul, conceiving this destiny to be in some sense menaced by the mission of Jesus, with the Master’s unsparing condemnation of the Jews, thought it his duty to destroy the work of the disciples, the task he had in hand upon the Damascus road. And, in the second place, after Paul, through personal contact with the Master, beginning on the road to Damascus, had divined the splendid truth that precisely in and through the work of the Master was the promise to Abraham spiritually fulfilled, this passage took on for him a new and more majestic meaning: he saw a first covenant merged in a second covenant; an old testament transformed and resurgent in a new testament, and it is precisely through Paul’s vision and application of this splendid metaphor, that the books concerning Jesus the Master are called the books of the New Testament, unto this day.
It was at that very same period of Abraham’s life that he came into contact with the great, mysterious figure of Melchizedek King of Salem, and to the study of that meeting, we owe the superb passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which Jesus is magnificently called a High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
We may say, therefore, that this period in the life of Abraham, the meeting with Melchizedek, the vision under the starry sky, filled the whole background of Paul’s mind; and that through Paul’s love for this story, it has become of the first significance in the spiritual history of two thousand years, deeply colouring all subsequent thought concerning the work of Jesus, as the fulfillment of the promise, and the standing of Jesus as the great High Priest. No other passage, therefore, in the whole of scripture, made such an overwhelming impression on the mind and heart of Paul.
In the story of the Exodus, Paul’s mind held and brooded over the miraculous manna, which fell from heaven, to feed the Children of Israel in the wilderness; and, with the tendency to see allegory everywhere, which was the essence of the school of Philo, he later turned the story of the manna to a new and unexpected use: The disciples in the regions of northern Greece were well supplied with the good things of the world; the saints at Jerusalem, the first and central group of disciples, were miserably poor; therefore Paul gathered of the abundance of Macedonia, and gave it to the older group of disciples, thus bringing about an equality: As it is written he says, He that had gathered much had nothing over: and he that had gathered little had no lack.
But the central element of the Exodus, for Paul, as for all subsequent time, was the giving of the Commandments, the majority of which Paul quotes, not once but many times, citing, indeed, all those which most closely define personal conduct. The whole majestic narrative of the law-giving on Mount Sinai was vivid and living in Paul’s memory, and he made constant use of it in writing to his disciples.
From Leviticus and Numbers, Paul quotes such phrases as these:
“Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them. . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. . . . I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. . . . The Lord will show who are his. . . . Depart from the tents of these wicked men. . . .”
From the Book of Deuteronomy, Paul quotes more at length. There are detached sentences like these:
“. . . at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. . . . For he that is hanged is accursed of God. . . . Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. . . . Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. . . . Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day. . . .”
But the most beautiful passage in Deuteronomy cited by Paul is that in the thirtieth chapter, which he adapts to his own purpose in writing to the Romans:
“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil. . . .”
This eloquent passage, Paul uses thus:
“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what saith it? The word is nigh unto thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.”
This is a very fair example of the way in which Paul turns to his own uses the texts of the Old Testament, following the spirit, not the letter. It is in entire harmony with the method of Philo, the method which Philo himself calls Allegory; in entire harmony, indeed, with the whole Rabbinical method of exegesis at that time, for which a text meant anything that it could possibly be made to mean, either by a strained literalism or by the most liberal use of allegorical interpretation.
There is another passage in the book of Deuteronomy, which was peculiarly dear to Paul, and indeed to all the devout men of his time and nation: the passage which is beautifully suggested by the author of the Apocalypse, “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.”
The song of Moses comes at the very end of the five Books of the Law, introduced by these words:
“And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended: Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass: because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. . . . Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee. When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him. . . .”
From this beautiful song Paul quotes not once but many times; he has a perfect ear for the most eloquent and poetical phrases, images, histories.
This practically completes the list of Paul’s quotations from the five books which we know as the Pentateuch, but which Paul thought of as the Torah, the Books of the Law. As we saw, three great passages stood out in his memory, as being of supreme significance: The story of Adam, which he regarded as an allegory; the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham, and which he re-interprets in terms of the new covenant of Christ; and the life of Moses, from the tremendous days on Sinai, with the giving of the law, to the swan-song that closed the great Prophet’s ministry. Of the three, the promise to Abraham stands out in brightest colours; it was so deeply engraven on his heart that, through his love of it, through the constant return of his mind to it, we have come to think of that promise as the first covenant, rather than the old traditional first covenant, which God made with man when the flood abated, setting the rainbow to it as his seal.
From the book of Joshua, Paul quotes the story of Achan and the accursed thing, the wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, which he secretly took from among the spoils; using it to underline the secret sin of one of the disciples at Corinth.
If we are to attribute to Paul the great letter to the Hebrews, as I am convinced that we should, then in a single verse we have summed up Paul’s readings in the book of Judges:
“And what shall I say more? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. . . .”
There is here, of course, a summary of the whole later history of Israel and Judah, from the days of the Exodus to the days of Daniel, who “quenched the violence” of the burning fiery furnace. But from the historical books Paul quotes with peculiar love two passages, God’s promise to David, and the splendid protest of Elijah. The former is introduced thus:
“And it came to pass that night that the word of the Lord came unto Nathan, saying, Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith the Lord, Shalt thou build me a house for me to dwell in? . . . I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel: . . . and when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. . . .”
The latter passage, the appeal of Elijah, Paul quotes to confirm himself in the hope that, in spite of their putting Jesus to death, a remnant of Israel might be saved. The appeal runs thus:
“And he (Elijah) said, I have been very jealous for the Lord of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou earnest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. . . . Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. . . .”
May we not believe that Paul saw in the majestic, lonely figure of Elijah, whom the people sought to slay, a likeness to his own fate, a prophet in daily danger? And did he not remember, as he pondered over the sending of Elijah to the wilderness of Damascus, his own momentous days in that same wilderness, after the decisive meeting with the Master, on the high road to the city; the days he thus describes:
“When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. . . .”
From the poetical books, Psalms, Proverbs and Job, Paul quotes so abundantly that, to assemble all the passages he cites, would mean, to transcribe many pages; above all, he chooses those passages which, at that time, were held to be prophecies of the Messiah, for whose coming all Israel looked. Very many quotations from the Psalms are in the epistle to the Hebrews. One cannot lay the same stress on these, as illustrating Paul’s mind, until it is more generally admitted that he is the author of that epistle.
Among the Prophets, Paul quotes from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea, but much more abundantly from Isaiah, and almost always passages of the Messianic hope, in which he loves to find foretellings of the Christ. The most notable of these passages are the following:
“Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence . . . and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble and fall, and be broken . . . I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and wonders in Israel. . . .
“For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return. . . .
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, a branch shall grow out of his roots: and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. . . .
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! . . .
“He hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. . . .
“Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him. . . .
“And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever. . . .”
From the remaining books of the Prophets, Paul quotes a sentence from Ezekiel:
“My tabernacle also shall be with them; yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people;”—
and a sentence from Hosea:
“I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God. . . .”
Though there be, as has been said, much difference of opinion as to the authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews, we may, on the supposition that it was written by Paul, conclude our citations with a passage from that epistle, which, in a way, sums up the entire Old Testament, as it came to be understood by the writers and followers of the New:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon his staff. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets. . . .”
Here, we have cited the Books of the Law, the Histories, the Prophets; and, without doubt, in the verses that follow, there is a summary of the later national wars, which are detailed in the books; we call Apocrypha.
Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaketh; and we may confidently hold that this wonderful knowledge of the whole cycle of the Hebrew scriptures, which Paul so continually shows, was gained by him in those student days which he has himself outlined for us, when he studied the Law at the feet of Gamaliel.
In this way, from Paul’s own letters, we can glean the treasurers of his mind and memory, perceiving the very impress made upon his heart by the great writings of the holy dead. And always it is the most beautiful and significant passage or sentence, the fairest image, the noblest phrase that we find him quoting. He shows himself a great poet in these, his borrowings from the old Hebrew writers, just as, in what he took from Philo, the Platonic background of his thought, he shows himself a profound philosopher.
When we thus trace the debt of Paul to Gamaliel, who first led his footsteps through these devious ways, we cannot but feel once more, with a renewed poignance of regret, the profound tragedy that Gamaliel, who spoke so bravely on behalf of Peter and John, could not have spoken as wisely, as courageously, for their Master, when he was brought to trial only a few months before. To his intercession, Peter and John owed it, that their lives were spared. Peter lived thereafter some three and thirty years; John, nearly twice as long, each of them doing work of world-wide import, writing words that have proven immortal. What, then, might Gamaliel have accomplished, had he won, by his wise eloquence, the conservation of that far greater life; if the work then cut short by death, had been continued; the divine, compassionate, stilt unfinished work?
On the Road to Damascus
We have three narratives of the decisive event in the life of Paul the disciple, his meeting with the Master, to whom he thenceforth dedicated all the strength and ardour of his indomitable soul, laying, under the Master’s immediate personal supervision, the foundations of the new world.
And it happens that, of these three detailed narratives, two are found in a part of the record which is regarded by all critics as especially accurate and objective: the passages in the Acts which embody the diaries of Luke who, during much of this period, was in the company of Paul, and one of his most trusted friends. The division of the Acts which directly incorporates Luke’s travel diaries begins with Acts 16, 11:
“Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a straight course to Samothrace, and the day following to Neapolis; and from thence to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the first of the district, a (Roman) colony: and we were in this city tarrying certain days. And on the sabbath day we went forth without the gate by a river side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which were come together. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Master opened, to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul . . .”
A second passage of the travel diary begins with Acts 20, 6:
“And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread (March-April), and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we tarried seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered together . . . And after these days we made ready our baggage and went up to Jerusalem. And there went with us also certain of the disciples from Caesarea . . . And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James (the brother of Jesus).”
In the same simple, direct way, Luke’s travel diary goes on to relate that Paul was attacked by the Jews and rescued by Oaudius Lysias, the Roman military tribune; that Paul asked and received permission to address the Jews. Standing on the stair of the Roman guardhouse, Paul spoke, in the current dialect of Hebrew:
“Brethren and fathers, hear ye the apologia which I make unto you . . .
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as ye all are this day: and I persecuted this Way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the High Priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and journeyed unto Damascus, to bring them also which were there unto Jerusalem in bonds, for to be punished.
“And it came to pass that, as I made my journey, and drew nigh unto Damascus, about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
“And I answered, Who art thou, Master?
“And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.
“And they that were with me beheld indeed the light, but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
“And I said, What shall I do, Master?
“And the Master said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
“And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews that dwelt there, came unto me, and standing by me said unto me,
“Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And in that very hour I looked upon him. And he said,
“The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth. For thou shalt be a witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.
“And it came to pass, that, when I had returned to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in the temple, I fell into a trance (ecstasy), and saw Him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: because they will not receive of thee testimony concerning me. And I said, Master, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: and when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting, and keeping the garments of them that slew him. And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles . . .”
We have here, therefore, the account in Paul’s own words, as reported by his friend and companion Luke, who was present and who recorded Paul’s address in his travel diary with the same careful accuracy with which we have found him narrating the details of their common journeys.
Paul was speaking with chains on his wrists, and these chains echo through many of his letters: “Paul the prisoner; Paul in bonds; remember my chains . . .” On the following day he was again confronted with his accusers, when Paul was in danger of being torn to pieces. Once more rescued, he was brought to the Roman guardhouse. “And the night following the Master stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer: for as thou hast testified concerning me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”
Paul was thereon sent, with a guard of nearly five hundred Roman soldiers, to Caesarea, the seat of the Roman governor, Felix, a city on the seashore half way between Joppa and Mount Carmel they made the journey thither in two stages of some twenty-five or thirty miles each, stopping at Antipatris on the way. At Caesarea, Paul was fully heard by Felix, remanded, and kept under arrest for more than two years, Luke being still his companion. Then, when King Agrippa, of the family of Herod, came to Caesarea, Paul was given an opportunity to set forth his case before the King. At this time also he gave an account of the great event on the Damascus road:
“I think myself happy, King Agrippa, that I am to make my apologia before thee this day touching all the things whereof I am accused by the Jews: because thou art especially expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
“My manner of life, then, from my youth up, which was from the beginning among mine own nation, and at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; having knowledge of me from the first, if they be willing to testify, how that after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand here to be judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers; unto which promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. And concerning this hope I am accused by the Jews, O King! Why is it judged incredible with you, if God raise the dead?
“I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this I also did in Jerusalem: and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death, I gave my vote against them. And punishing them often times in all the synagogues, I strove to make them blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities.
“On which errand as I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them that journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice saying unto me in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the goads.
“And I said, Who art thou, Master?
“And the Master said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But arise, and stand upon thy feet: for to this end have I appeared unto thee, to appoint thee a minister and a witness both of the things wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are made holy, through faith in me.”
“Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision . . .”
Luke makes it quite clear that he was present as Paul’s companion at this time also, and that we have here once more a page from his diary, for, relating the result of this address, he says:
“The King rose up, and the governor, and Berenice, and they that sat with them: and when they had withdrawn, they spake one to another, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. And Agrippa said unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
“And when it was determined that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Augustan cohort. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail unto the places on the coast of Asia, we put to sea, Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us. And the next day we touched at Sidon: and Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go unto his friends and receive attention. And putting to sea from thence, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary . . .”
Paul’s narratives, therefore, both at Jerusalem and at the Roman station of Caesarea on the seashore, come to us as a part of Luke’s diary, taken down at the time, and in all likelihood submitted to Paul himself for any necessary revision or correction. So we can feel certain that we have Paul’s own words.
Paul, speaking first under the very shadow of the revered Temple at Jerusalem, in which he loved to pray, makes it quite evident that it was his intense love of religion, as he understood religion, that armed him against the teachings and the disciples of the Master Jesus. We have seen Paul sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, his mind already prepared by an early touch with the ideas of Hellenic philosophy, since the Platonists, the Epicureans and the Stoics all had their famous teachers and their public discourses in Paul’s native Tarsus. And indeed there was deep study and appreciation of Hellenic thought and philosophy among all the more studious Jews at this period, the period of Paul’s student days. Philo, the most eminent living Jewish thinker, had published his widely read works which interpret the older Jewish scriptures according to the thought of Plato’s idealism, and his writings had met with immense success, so that he came to be regarded as the representative man among the Jews.
Whether from his teacher at Jerusalem, the learned and liberal minded Gamaliel, or through study and reading of his own—more probably the former—Paul was very familiar with the thought, the Platonic idealism, of Philo, and also with his method of interpreting the Old Testament narratives as allegories. Both the process and the word are found in Paul’s letters, as when, writing to the Galatians, he says:
“Which things contain an allegory; for these women are two covenants . . .”
But Paul was even more deeply attached to the older, more literal view, and, above all, to the promise made by Jehovah to Abraham:
“And he brought him forth abroad and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, so shall thy seed be . . .”
It was because Paul’s fiery zealous heart, passionately bound up in the sacred tradition of Jehovah’s doings with Israel, was so full of ardent longing for the promised Messiah who should restore the throne of David, making Jerusalem a splendid capital as in the days of Solomon, and spreading the sceptre of Israel over all the nations of the earth, precisely because of this fiery longing for the coming King and Kingdom, that Paul could not endure the Way of the Nazarene, nor for a moment tolerate the claims of his disciples.
For Paul, with the zealous and ardent among his countrymen, looked for a Messiah, a King, strong and mighty, wearing, like David, a crown of gold. These men offered him a King indeed, so announced by Pilate’s mocking inscription, but crowned with thorns, with a reed in his right hand for a sceptre; and, instead of a triumphant kingdom, that should rule over all nations, a sect persecuted, reviled, contemned, despicable. Instead of David’s throne set up once more on Zion, the Cross set up on Golgotha. We cannot tell for certain, but Paul may have been one of those who cried out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But every fibre of Paul’s zealous and deeply believing soul was outraged and enraged by the claim that this was the fulfillment of the promise to Israel. Rather than accept this King of mockery and disgrace, he would stamp out the very memory of him from among men. So, breathing fire and slaughter, he went down, with armed men and with authority from the High Priest, to Damascus.
On the road, the Master met him. It was no vision of the night, but an appearance in broad daylight, about midday. The Master, Paul’s narrative makes it clear, did not appear as a physical body, but in a radiant form, which was so full of light that he and the men with him, blinded, fell on their faces on the ground. We are instantly reminded of that earlier self-revelation of the Master:
“He was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light . . . behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased . . .”
It is evident that, in both cases, the one before, and the other after, the Crucifixion, the Master made himself visible in the “spiritual body;” what Paul, writing to the Corinthian disciples, calls the “celestial body.” To make clear Paul’s own understanding of this, we shall quote what he himself says:
“Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? . . .
“But some will say, How are the dead raised? and with what manner of body do they come? Thou foolish one, that which thou thyself sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind; but God giveth it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own . . .
“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial . . .
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body . . .”
This, then, is Paul’s teaching concerning the Master: the natural body was laid in the tomb, in corruption, in weakness, in dishonour; the Master rose in the spiritual body, in incorruption, in glory, in power. In this spiritual body, he appeared to the older disciples who had known him in the flesh; only after a time, did they completely recognize him, but, even before that recognition, their hearts burned within them, as they talked with him in the way.
That last wonderful phrase, from the journey of the two disciples to Emmaus, strikes the keynote of the Master’s subsequent appearance to Paul, on the Damascus Road. He did not enter into any disquisition concerning his Incarnation, or his Messiahship, of Paul’s own misunderstanding of the spiritual kingship of that Messiah and the future kingdom of Israel. His appeal was directly to the heart: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” And Paul’s heart burned within him, as he talked with him on the way.
It must be remembered that Paul was neither irreligious nor indifferent; on the contrary, he was full of a fiery zeal for religion, as he understood it. He was not careless or forgetful of the hope of Israel; rather, he was neglecting every material and temporal interest, in tireless, merciless efforts toward the coming and the triumph of the Messiah, the spiritual King.
And as, burning with fiery zeal for the coming King and his reign among the nations, Paul, at full noontide, came near to Damascus, then as now a city embowered in gardens and groves of trees, but approached through a desert, the Master appeared to him, not a King of mockery and contempt, as, perhaps, Paul had seen him before Pilate, but in the full radiance of the spiritual man, “his face shining as the sun, his raiment white as the light,” announcing himself: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.”
And, seeing and hearing, Paul’s heart burned within him till the wrath and enmity against the Master and his disciples was melted into a fiery devotion, that was to last his whole life long. And so blinding, so overwhelming was the vision, that for three days Paul went about as one bereft of sight, led by the hand of those who were with him. In one sense, there was no great change in his thought and spirit. He who had said, with ardent and impatient heart, “The King is coming,” now reverently whispered with wonderstruck heart, “The Kin has come.” But in another sense the change was so complete and sweeping, that Paul was indeed a new man, his whole past washed away, as symbolized in the rite of baptism, awakening to the consciousness that the kingdom had come, not in conquering might but in lowliness, not in triumph, but in humiliation, not upon the throne but upon the Cross. Paul, once brought into touch with the Master, never again lost that living, interior contact. We have already recorded, in connection with the first narrative of his vision, two later and most critical occasions, both at Jerusalem, on which the Master appeared to Paul, speaking to him words that have been exactly recorded. But Paul’s relation to the Master meant, on his own testimony, very much more than these striking appearances divided by intervals of years: it meant a continuing inward communion, the mind of the disciple being blended with the mind of the Master, so that Paul could truly say, “We have the mind of Christ.” It meant, throughout all the remaining days and years of Paul’s life, and especially during the three days’ darkness, during which he was as one blind, a deep union with the Master’s suffering also, a real sharing of his crucifixion, so that “we being dead together with Christ, shall rise together with him.”
In this inner death and rising again, through the final and complete giving up of the external Messianic hope, the dream of the triumphant earthly kingdom, the dream, perhaps, of a personal share in its domination and glory; and the acceptance, instead, of the outcast lot of the rejected Nazarene,—in this inner transformation, this softening and dissolving of Paul’s whole nature through humiliation, lies the essence of that death and new birth which thenceforth formed the centre of his thought and teaching. And in this inner transformation we find the second and more general meaning of the sentences already quoted:
“it is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body . . . The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven . . . And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly . . . For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
It is in this sense that Paul writes to the Galatian disciples: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me . . .” And he looks for exactly the same inner transformation and renewal in the case of those disciples: “My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you . . .” and to another group of disciples: “that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
1. See “The Story of Adam and Eve in the New Testament”, Theosophical Quarterly, April, 1912. [ED.]