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DAY 3: Understanding Saul the Pharisee

Until about the midpoint of his life, Paul, known then as Saul, was deeply entrenched in the Pharisaic tradition—a religious movement that emerged during the later Second Temple period. Saul’s upbringing and education within this devout community shaped his worldview and convictions.

Pharisees, staunch believers in life after death, held a deep reverence for both biblical teachings and non-biblical traditions, which they considered equally significant. Saul’s expertise in these traditions is evident in his writings, showcasing his thorough understanding of Jewish law and custom.

Saul prided himself on being the epitome of Jewish piety and Pharisaic devotion. Yet, despite his outward zeal, he found himself at odds with the burgeoning Christian movement, spending much of his early life persecuting its followers. While his motivations remain a mystery, his transformation from persecutor to preacher speaks volumes about the transformative power of encountering Christ.

In his own words, Saul considered himself the foremost among his peers in Judaism, yet he humbly acknowledged his unworthiness as an apostle of Christ, attributing his successes to the grace of God. Despite his former role as a persecutor, Saul’s encounter with Christ led him on a path of profound spiritual growth and service to the gospel.

As we reflect on Saul’s journey from Pharisee to apostle, let us consider the complexities of his identity and the transformative power of God’s grace in his life. May his story inspire us to examine our own convictions and motivations, and to embrace the radical transformation that comes from encountering the risen Christ.

Something to note. There are many understandings of why Saul’s name was changed to Paul. Here is what we do know. God didn’t change his name. Paul was one of Saul’s two names as many in the culture had more than one name. The names are often used interchangeably. When Paul visited Gentile communities, using the name “Paul” was more relatable. “Saul” was better relatable in the Jewish culture.

Key Verses:
“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” ~ Galatians 1:15-16a

Questions to Ponder:

  • Considering Saul’s role in persecuting Christians, what lessons can we learn about the dangers of religious zealotry and intolerance?
  • How does Saul’s transformation into Paul challenge our assumptions about the capacity for personal change and redemption?
  • In what ways can Saul’s journey from Pharisee to Apostle inspire us to reevaluate our own preconceptions and prejudices in light of the gospel message?

 

Adapted from Britannica: The Biography of St. Paul the Apostle
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