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LIFE OF PAUL,
THE APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST,
OFFER to the public the history of the apostle Paul, composed from materials furnished, partly by himself in his epistles, and partly by the evangelist Luke in his book of the Acts. And I do this, in the persuasion that the better we are acquainted with Paul's character and actions, the more will we be disposed to acknowledge his authority as an apostle, and to respect his writings as the oracles of God. This, however, is not the only advantage to be derived from the knowledge of Paul's history. It will establish us in the faith, by shewing us in what manner the gospel was preached at the first, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles ; what success it met with in the different countries where it was preached ; what sufferings the first preachers and the first believers endured for the sake of the gospel ; and how amply it was confirmed by the Lord, who gave testimony to the word of his grace, by the signs and wonders which he granted to be wrought by the hands of the apostles, in all the countries where they preached. To these advantages we may add, the use which the knowledge of Paul's history will be of, in helping us to understand his writings, which make so considerable a part of the canon of scripture.
Paul's Birth and Education ; his Persecution of the Disciples of Christ;
and his Conversion.
Paul was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, rightly descended from Abraham the founder of the Israelitish nation ; in which respect he was superior to those Jews, whose parents had been converts from heathenism. According to the manner of
his people, he was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, and had an Hebrew name given him, being called Saul : but afterward he took the name of Paulus or Paul, in compliment to Sergius.Paulus the proconsul of Cyprus, whom he converted in his first journey among the Gentiles, Acts xiii. 7,8. Tarsus, the place of Saul's nativity, though not a city of Judea, did honour to such Jews as were born there. For it was the metropolis of Cilicia, and as a place of education, it excelled Athens and Alexandria, and all the other Greek cities, where there were schools of philosophy, and of the polite arts. So Strabo tells us, lib. xiv. Saul therefore had reason to boast even of the place of his birth, Acts xxi. 39. I am a man, which am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.
Saul's father was a Roman*, (Acts xxii. 28.) which in the provinces was a distinction highly honourable, as it entitled those who possessed it, to many valuable privileges and immunities. For which reason it was either purchased with money, or it was bestowed as the reward of extraordinary services, Acts xx. 28. His being a Roman in the right of his father, is not the only circumstance which shews that Saul was well born : The care. and expense bestowed on his education, is a proof that his family was in opulent circumstances.
As Saul hath termed himself an Hebrew of the Hebrews, we may presume that the language of his family was what they then called the Hebrew. Yet having passed the first years of his life in Tarsus, a Greek city, it is reasonable to believe, that he spake the Greek language also, and was even taught to read it. But, as to his education in the Greek literature, I am not so certain. In his sermons and writings, there are traces from which it may be gathered that he had a general knowledge of the learning, the religion, the manners, and the customs of the Greeks, and that he had read some of their best authors. But whether he got that knowledge at Tarsus, in his younger years, may be doubted. He did not remain there the time that was requisite for acquiring it. And at Jerusalem, where he received the greatest part of his education, he had no opportunity of studying the Greek learning. I am therefore of opinion, that
Many of the Jews enjoyed the right of citizenship ; nay some of them were Roman knights, as we learn from Josephus, who in describing the injustice and cruelty of Felix's government, mentions his having crucified some Jews who were Roman knights.
Saul's knowledge of the Greek rhetoric and philosophy, was not acquired in Tarsus. Neither was it such as could entitle him to the appellation of learned in these matters.
But it was a general knowledge only, acquired by conversing with the Greeks, in the different countries where he preached the gospel. In any other manner he cannot well be supposed to have got that knowledge : Because, however capable he might be of such studies, he had no leisure, after he became an apostle, to prosecute them. Besides, the greatest proficiency in the rhetoric and philosophy of the Greeks, would have been of no use to him in the discharge of the apostolic office. For Christ sent him and the other apostles to preach the gospel, not with the wisdom of words, lest the conversion of the world might have been attributed to the eloquence, knowledge, and superior abilities of the preachers, and not to the power of God which accompanied their preaching
But though Saul was no proficient in the rhetoric and philosophy of the Greeks, he was thoroughly instructed in the learning of the Jews. For as soon as the years of his childhood were over, his parents sent him to Jerusalem, to study under Gamaliel, the most celebrated doctor of his time, and who for his great knowledge and virtue, was hau in reputation among all the people, Acts v. 34.–According to Josephus, Ant. xx. the learning of the Jews consisted in the knowledge of their own laws and religion, as contained in their sacred writings. The doctors, therefore, employed themselves in explaining these writings to the studious youth, founding their interpretations upon traditions, pretended to be handed down from Moses and the prophets. It is true, the doctors in some instances perverted the meaning of the scriptures ; and by their traditions made void the commandments of God. But in general, the true sense of the scriptures seems to have been preserved among the Jews, by these traditionary explications, as may be understood from the following well-known facts. 1. The apostles, especially Paul, in reasoning with the Jews, always proved the doctrines of the gospel by quotations out of the writings of Moses and the prophets. But these quotations would have been no proofs at all of the gospel doctrines, at least to the Jews, unless the sense put upon them by the apostles, which was their real meaning, had been the sense generally pui upon them by the Jews.-2. It was owing to the knowledge which they had of the true meaning the writings of Moses and the prophets, that some of