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Analyze the impact of Paul of Tarsus and his contribution to the development of Christianity

Christianity today has over 2.1 billion adherents throughout the world and is well established as the universal, monotheistic religious belief system that has developed since the life, death and resurrection (around 32 AD) of Jesus Christ. However, as Jesus was a Jew, the beginnings of Christianity revolved around the fact that Jesus had adapted the strict rules of Judaism to focus on loving human relationships. This meant that the followers of Jesus for the first 100 years after his death were merely a very small sect of Judaism and the message of Jesus was confined only to Jewish adherents. One man, however, Paul of Tarsus, is today considered to be the forefather of Christianity and the “13th Apostle”. He developed the doctrine that would turn Christianity from a small sect of Judaism into a worldwide faith that was open to all.

Through analysis of Paul’s life, his journeys and sources such as his Letters in the Bible, one can see the significant impact this figure has made in the development of Christianity- such as challenging the status of Jews as “God’s chosen ones”, developing Christian communities around the Roman Empire and laying foundations in theology. Paul was born in Tarsus, modern-day Turkey as Saul and worked as a tent-maker. Significantly, he had the privilege of being a Roman citizen and a Jewish Pharisee, which due to the context of the time influenced Paul to be a persecutor of the “followers of Jesus”, or followers of “the Way” that were on the increase. As he writes in Phillppians 3.4-6, “…following the law of the Pharisees, in my zeal a persecutor of the church.” The persecution of one follower of Jesus, Stephen, occurred in front of Paul’s eyes in Jerusalem and as he watched the man being stoned to death he decided to extend his persecution to other cities- primarily Damascus.

Paul set out around 34CE, but on the road to Damascus he experienced a vision that would symbolize the turning pivot in the development of Christianity as it is known today. As written in by Paul in Acts 22.6, “I fell to the ground and heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me…I am Jesus of Nazareth.” Paul was blinded and lead to Damascus, where he became certain that his vision of Jesus symbolized his calling to spread the Gospel. His sight was restored by a disciple named Ananias and he was baptized as a follower of Jesus. This conversion, or metanoia that Paul experienced enabled him to believe that he had been given a divine mission in his epiphany to go to preach the word of God and the salvation brought by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s practice was to enter a town, seek employment there, gradually getting to know people and then start talking about both the experiences he had in coming to know Christ and teachings of Jesus. The extent of the change Paul implemented on the small “Jesus-sect” was extensive- he argued that salvation was for all, and challenged the Jewish notion of being “God’s chosen ones.” This saw a dramatic shift from Rabbinic Judaism as he began to convert gentiles to followers of Jesus. Paul established many Christian communities around the Roman empire, such as in Corinth, Galatia and Ephesus and Philippi.

Paul was a very driven and enthusiastic man which enabled him to travel extensively and preach persuasively, converting Jews and gentiles; he was also able to do this because of his establishment as a Jew and as a Roman citizen. These characteristics gave Paul great influence in spreading his opinions in both Roman cities and Jewish synagogues. Paul was also against those who made money through beliefs and religious practices, most clearly demonstrated in his opposition of the exorcism of a Philippian slave girl. Paul undertook three extensive journeys in his lifetime- in 44,48 and 55 CE that geographically spread Christianity across the massive Roman Empire- modern day countries such as Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Italy, towns known as Antioch, Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome and as recorded in Acts 15:41, “Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches”. Unlike other small sects that faded away, the followers of Jesus strengthened and flourished in a number of places under the influence of Paul, unlike the small community in Jerusalem under the establishment of Peter who did not believe in converting gentiles. Opposed to the beliefs of Peter and others, Paul was an advocate for the gentiles inclusion into the Church rather than expecting them to convert to Judaism first. This conflict in beliefs between Peter and Paul resulted in confrontation as Paul wrote in Galatians 2.11-14 “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned…he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.”

Reminiscent of the behaviour and actions of Jesus, Paul’s determination lead him to cause trouble on his missionary journeys. After his third journey Paul was accused of teaching against Jewish law in Rome and was physically attacked and imprisoned by the Romans, and it is generally agreed upon that he was martyred around 65 CE. Throughout his lifetime Paul wrote many letters to Churches and individuals whom he had converted on his travels. There are 13 letters written by Paul that laid the foundations for much Christian belief and practice that are still referred to today and used as guidelines for modern Christian adherents. One of the most important themes in Paul’s writings is “agape”, or selfless love, such as in that described in his first letter to the Corinthians, 13, “Love is patient and kind…Love is eternal” etc. Paul emphasizes that without this outlook on life and love, humanity is without essence and goodness. Pauls other letters also ask for the support of God in overcoming the new sect’s difficulties, as well as expanding on the teaching of Jesus in a variety of different contexts. His writings aimed to support, help, encourage and inspire the early followers of Jesus to flourish into Christian communities and to spread the message of peace and love.

Through his behaviour and writings, Paul exemplified the way a Christian should live their life, providing inspiration for new followers that it is possible to undergo a “metanoia” experience and repent previous actions. The clear fact that Paul not only changed his beliefs but also his behaviour is at the essence of religious adherence and has retained its importance in the life of contemporary Christians. Paul’s teachings have impacted on the development of Christianity significantly and continue to have an extraordinarily large impact today. The change his teachings brought and the effect they have had upon the course of Christianity is immense.

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