The great architect of Christian Theology, he was the Roman Jew who did the Damascus Road conversion trip.
He started off as a Christian-baiter and hater named Saul. He was on his way to Damascus to drag back a few victims for execution in Tassas when Flash! Bang! Splam! Out of an orange-colored sky came the famously blinding light with the voice-over of JESUS himself.
"Why are you persecuting me?" said the voice. Saul couldn’t answer as he was knocked blind and senseless for a week. But the divine message did sink in. Faced with the overwhelming evidence of his senses, he converted to Christianity with amazingly enthusiastic gusto. ‘Persecutor Turns Protector!’ This was an impressive advert for Christianity.
It was a bit too late to become an original Disciple, but he changed his name to Paul, sought out St PETER and joined up with him for a while to learn the ropes. He then wanted to pull all the ropes and inject Christianity with his own ideas.
With a native talent for theological problem-solving, he soon figured out the mysteries of Good vs Evil, Original Sin, Baptism, Resurrection and the Trinity. In the process he was able to reveal the full glorious truth of Christianity for the first time. Which was just as well because otherwise it didn’t make a lot of sense — especially to many bewildered Jews who’d been expecting a somewhat more military-minded Messiah.
Once a passionate Jew, Paul’s new-found enthusiasm for Christ became an unshakeable streak of missionary zeal. With the key to Eternal Life figured out to several decimal places, he preached the Good News all over the place. A master orator, he was perhaps the first person to use persuasive logical argument instead of badgering folks with ‘God told me, so there’ style rhetoric. He was hard to resist.
Gathering a following of converts, groupies and interested persons, Paul rushed around healing, casting out demons.. but most of all talking. He found himself an ex-slave called Barnabus to run errands and also roped in St LUKE at some point, perhaps to take lecture notes.
It didn’t always go according to plan — sometimes he was locked up as a crank or spurned as a heretic. At other times he was mistaken for a God himself, which was something of an occupational hazard at the time. But any publicity was good publicity, and he — very humbly — reveled in it.
Being an educated man, Paul wrote lots of letters, particularly to the various churches which were springing up all over the place. These epistles were masterpieces of religious encouragement and helped to lay many of the foundations of Church tradition which still persist today.
Theology also crept in, of course. No doubt people wrote to him constantly asking all kinds of complicated questions. ("I was a devout Jew and now I’m a Christian. Is Jesus kosher?") So Paul’s epistles can be regarded as a kind of an early Christian F.A.Q. How much of his own opinion crept in is open to debate. He had no time for women, for example, and was a keen arbitrator of the ‘No Sex We’re Christians’ school of thought.
A constant traveler, he was shipwrecked on Malta during a missionary voyage, and made the most of the subsequent publicity. The bay where he landed is named after him. Malta being a small island with not a lot to do embraced the bearded fanatic with open arms. Apart from the women.
Some time later he appeared again in Rome, and was constantly in trouble with his protests and preaching. He was possibly seeking a culmination of his career in a glorious martyrdom — but it never happened. In fact his story as told in Acts of the Apostles ends rather lamely after all the adventures and excitement.
He was probably killed as a public nuisance, but not in the public eye as he would have craved. The only unspecified witness seems to be of the ‘Swish, they lopped his head off, it bounced three times and three fountains sprang up’ school of reminiscence.
Still, he gets a lot of Bible space in The New Testament, so if you want to know much more, you know where to turn.