SAMSUNG“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” Romans 1:1

Most biblical scholars accept as fact that the Apostle Paul wrote the Book of Romans. Among the small number of critical scholars who do not believe Paul wrote Romans, they mention Tertius being the writer because of Romans 16:22 – “I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.” This is an insignificant argument based on the fact that Paul mentions himself clearly at the beginning of the letter and often within as the author and that Paul had help in the physical writing of other Letters by people employed as an amanuensis (one who writes from dictation or copies the work of another, a male secretary). Paul, who suffered problems with his eyesight, would often take the pen from his amanuenis and write a greeting with his own hand (e.g. 2 Thessalonians, 3:17; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18)

Paul’s Birth and Death

Paul was born a Roman citizen in Tarsus. The year of his birth is thought to be somewhere between 2 BC – 5 AD, while the year of his death is estimated to be somewhere between 66 – 68 AD. He was called “a young man” in Acts 7:58 at the murder of Stephen, which is thought to have been about 32 or 33 AD. The Greek word for “young man” is neaniou. It was used for men in the physical prime of their life, 25-40 years of age. Saul was not acting as one of the witnesses because he did not pick up a stone to throw at Stephen. In Acts 8:1, we see that Saul was “consenting” to Stephen’s death. The word is suneudokon and means “to approve of in a personal way, to think well of something, to take pleasure with others in something, to assent.” In Acts 8:3, we see that Saul “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” Saul was a young man with a powerful position – most likely with the ruling Sanhedrin (see Acts 9:1-2). He was well known as a young Pharisee who was going to put a stop to the movement of people following Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah.

Here’s how Paul remembered the event years later when he was arrested in Jerusalem.

“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished … in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death,and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Acts 22:3-5, 19-20

When Paul wrote to Philemon about Onesimus, he called himself “the aged,” which is the Greek word presbutes – “elderly man.” (Philemon 1:9) Paul wrote Philemon about 60 AD, so he would have been close to 60 years of age at the time. That doesn’t seem “elderly” to us, but the Bible references the age of 60 years many times as being the beginning or point of being aged (Leviticus 27:1-7; 1 Timothy 5:9) In the census of Israelites for service, counting was made of men up to the age of 50 (Numbers 4). Concerning the cleansing and dedication of the Levites, God told Moses that the years men were to serve Him in the Tabernacle of Meeting was from 25 – 50 (e.g. Numbers 8:24-26). After the age of 50, the Levites were allowed to “minister” with their younger brethren in the Tabernacle, but “they themselves shall do no work.”

When Jesus told the Jews that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, “and he saw it and was glad,” the Jews said to Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” That’s when Jesus replied with, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:57-58) The Jews chose the age of 50 years because that was viewed as being an older man and their point to Jesus was that He wasn’t enough old enough to be called an older man, so how could He claim to have lived before Abraham. Christ’s statement, to them, seemed ludicrous.

How did Gentiles view age? Military service ended at 60 for the amazing Spartans. Children began their training at the age of 7, but a man of 60 was no longer viewed as being an active warrior. Some of the “senior” men joined a ruling council of elders called the Gerousia. Ancient Greeks were taught as young adults to care for their “aged” parents. An “old man” was called a geron, while an “old woman” was called a graia. Older men were known as geron when they transferred control or authority in the household to their son(s). Older women were known as graia when they went through menopause. In ancient Rome people 60 years of age and older were called senectus, meaning “aged, old age, very old.” People 46-60 were called seniores (senior) and were viewed as senior citizens of the time, in both age and position.

How did Paul die? We are not told specifically in Scripture, though Paul told Timothy he was “already being poured out as a drink offering” and that the time of his departure was “at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). It’s believed that Paul wrote 2 Timothy about 67 AD and died a short time later at the hands of executioners in Rome. Ignatius, a student of the Apostle John and pastor of the church in Antioch, wrote in the early 2nd century AD that Paul was martyred in Rome. Early Christian tradition claimed that Paul was beheaded near Rome during the mid-60s AD.

Tarsus, The Birthplace of Paul

Tarsus was a fascinating place to grow up during the 1st century AD. The city had a long history in the ancient world and became a favorite of the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Tarsus was located close to the Mediterranean Sea coast and was central to trade routes by land and sea. Tarsus was the largest city in Cilicia (now the Mersin Province of Turkey) and became the capital city during the time of Roman military leader Pompey. Roman ruler Marc Antony made Tarsus a “free city” in 42 BC, just a year before his famous romantic meeting in Tarsus with Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Caesar Augustus exempted the city from imperial taxation because his teacher and friend was from Tarsus.

A large number of Jews moved to Tarsus toward the end of the 1st century BC and received Roman citizenship. That’s why Paul was able to tell a Roman military officer that he was a Roman by birth (Acts 22:25-29). Tarsus became a grand city under Roman rule. It had large marketplaces, palaces, roads, bridges, stadium, gymnasium, and public and private baths. Tarsus was also well known as a university city. Saul (Paul) had the unique opportunity of growing up in a city with people from many parts of the world with a wide variety of philosophical viewpoints.

Studying With Gamaliel

Before Paul was saved by Christ he was proud of being a Jew – “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5). Concerning the law, Paul said he had been “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6).  Paul would have learned a great deal about the Jewish Law from his father and other elders in the Tarsus synagogue, but we also know that Paul studied for some time with a renowned expert in the Jewish Law by the name of  Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

Gamaliel was known as Gamaliel the Elder and Rabban Gamaliel. He was the son of Simeon ben Hillel and the grandson of Hillel the Elder. Jewish boys who wanted to study for legal careers in Jerusalem during the 1st century AD studied at the House of Hillel or the House of Shammai. Hillel and Shammai were two leading rabbis and represented opposing views on issues of Hebrew theology, ethics and ritual practices. Gamaliel was also a leading member of the Sanhedrin and helped save the lives of several of Christ’s disciples by advising the ruling council to “keep away from these men and let them alone” (Acts 5:38).

We will learn a great deal about Paul during our study of Romans, but suffice it to say at this point that he was well qualified in Christ to minister to both Jews and Gentiles and to write the Letter of Romans.

In the next part of our study, we’ll learn how the young man named Saul who persecuted followers of Jesus Christ became a “bondservant” of Jesus Christ.

In Christ’s Love and Grace,

Mark McGee

GraceLife Ministries

“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”