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"Saint Paul" was a Lifelong Jew

The man known as "St. Paul" was first called Saul (pronounced Sha'ul in Hebrew), and that is the name used in this article. He was called Saul in Acts 7:58, Acts 8:1, and Acts 9:1. His first encounter with Yeshua ("Jesus") was in Acts 9:3-6, where the Lord addressed him as Saul. This episode is also told in Acts 22:7 and Acts 26:14, and in both of those the Lord also addressed him as Saul. When speaking about him to Ananias in a vision, the Lord said he was called "Saul of Tarsus" (Acts 9:11). It was not until Acts 13:9 that he was referred to as "Saul who was also known as Paul." To this day, it is not unusual for Jews in the diaspora to have two names. One is used by family or other Jews, the second is how they are known by the larger society around them. Unlike the case of Jacob who became Israel, Saul's name was never changed by God.

"St. Paul" was born a Jew

In 2Cor 11:22 Saul wrote that he was descended from Abraham and Israel. Who were Abraham and Israel?

Abraham was the first Hebrew. God changed his name from Abram (Gen. 17:5). In Gen. 14:13 he is called Abram the Hebrew. Abraham is the father of the Jews (Acts 3:12-25). So we can see that Saul is descended from "Abram the Hebrew," the father of the Jews. Even to this day, Jews are also called "Hebrews", and the language of the Jews is "Hebrew."

Israel was originally called Jacob (Gen. 35:10-12) and he was Abraham's grandson (Matt. 1:2). He had twelve sons (Gen. 35:23-26) from whom come the Twelve Tribes of Israel. All of their descendants are known collectively throughout the Bible as the Children of Israel (Ex. 1:6-7).

One of those twelve sons was Judah (Gen. 35:23, Matt. 1:2) and it is from his name that we get the word 'Jew'. Although Yehudah (Judah) was only one of the twelve, by 700 BCE, because of the course of Israel's history, the word Yehudee (Jew) came to mean any person descended from Israel (Jer. 34:9). When Saul wrote that he was descended from Abraham and Israel, he was saying he was born a Jew.

"St. Paul" grew up as a Jew

In Phil 3:5 Saul called himself a "Hebrew of Hebrews," probably meaning "I speak Hebrew and I came from Hebrew-speaking parents." His father was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). In his letter to the believers in Philippi, Saul described himself as having been circumcised as an infant on the eighth day (Phil 3:5). Obviously his Jewish parents did this in observance of the Torah commandment (Lev 12:2-3). He further confirmed this by stating that he is of the people Israel and he went on to cite his tribal descent (Benjamin), which is something few Jews can do today. We see the same in Romans 11:1, where Saul wrote that he was, "an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin."

Saul lived during the time of Rome's military occupation of Israel. Although born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3), he grew up among the Jews of Jerusalem, as a Pharisee (Acts 26:4-5). Again, the importance of the Torah in his family's life can be demonstrated. They made the considerable commitment of having him taught by Gamli'el (Acts 22:3), the foremost Jewish educator of the time (Acts 5:34). To achieve this, Saul must have been an excellent student and deeply committed to the Hebrew scriptures.

Recounting this as an adult, he described himself as "thoroughly trained in the Torah of our fathers" (Acts 22:3), he self-identified as a Jew (Acts 22:3), and he described the Jews as "my own nation" (Acts 26:4). Saul was raised as a Jew.

"St. Paul" lived as a Jew

As a believer in Yeshua, Saul continued to be a Jew. When he first came to faith he took a mikvah (Acts 9:18) and taught in the Synagogues of Damascus (Acts 9:20). Indeed, he initially argued with the Hellenists (Acts 9:29). Saul continued to worship with other Jews. The book of Acts contains at least ten other references to his ongoing Synagogue attendance (13:5, 13:14, 13:44, 14:1, 17:1-2, 17:10, 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8). In his writing, Saul self-identified as a Jew (Gal 2:15), and he considered other Jewish believers to be Jewish (Gal 2:13). For instance, he considered Kefa (Peter) to be Jewish (Gal 2:14).

Not only was "the Apostle Paul" Jewish, as a believer in Yeshua he continued to self-identify as a Pharisee ("the strictest sect of our religion"), both in person (Acts 23:6) and in his writing (Phil 3:5).

"Saint Paul" was Torah observant (Acts 21:24). He taught that whether one is Jewish or Gentile, the important thing is to keep the commandments (1Cor 7:19), and that Yeshua gave His life to redeem us from Torah-lessness (Titus 2:14, Strong's #458). Scripture specifically points out that Saul did NOT teach Jews to abandon even tradition (Acts 21:20-24). In fact, he urged all believers to keep those Jewish traditions he had passed on to them! (1Cor 11:2, 2Thes 2:15, Strongs# 3862)

Saul taught that faith in Yeshua grafts a Gentile into Israel. Prior to their faith, non-Jews "were aliens from the Commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the Covenants of Promise..." (Eph 2:12). But having come to faith they "who were once far off have been brought near..." (Eph 2:12-13). They are "no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens..." (Eph 2:19). Having become a part of Israel, believers "should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk..." (Eph 4:17).

In Acts 17:2 we see that it was Saul's practice to keep the seventh day Sabbath. In Macedonia he sought a place to pray on the Sabbath (Acts 16:13). He kept the other Moedim (Biblical Festivals) as well. Acts 20 specifically cites both Unleavened Bread (v.6) and Shavuot (v.16). Saul taught that believers should sincerely and truthfully keep the Passover (1Cor 5:7-8).

The Macedonians recognized that Saul was Jewish (Acts 16:20-21) and the Ephesians recognized his fellow believers to be Jews (Acts 19:34). He called the people Israel his brethren and countrymen (Rom 9:3-4). His travelling companions, friends, and hosts were Jewish (Acts 4:3615:22, 16:1, 18:2-3, 18:24, 19:3422:12).

Saul spoke Hebrew, the language of the Jews (Acts 21:40-22:2, 26:14). He taught from the Hebrew scripture (Acts 13:2213:33, 13:34, 13:35, 13:41, 13:47, 28:26-27, Rom 2:6, 2:243:4) and wrote, "the doers of Torah will be justified," (Rom 2:13). He also wrote that the Torah is holy (Rom 7:12) and that the Torah is good (1Tim 1:8). Saul believed everything in the Torah and the Prophets (Acts 24:14, 26:22). When faced with a matter too hard to judge, he went up to Jerusalem in obedience to Torah (Acts 15:2).

Not only was Saul circumcised (Phil 3:5), soon after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 he circumcised Timothy as well (Acts 16:3). So in addition to being a Rabbi, "Saint Paul" was a Mohel! He wrote that before they believed, Gentiles had been in "...the uncircumcision of their flesh" (Col 2:13), that it is beneficial to be circumcised (Rom 3:1-2), and that even Jews who don't believe in Yeshua are holy (Rom 11:16). Quoting the Jewish prophet Isaiah, he wrote that "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26), and he instructed believers who weren't born Jewish not to be arrogant toward unbelieving Jews, but rather to fear God (Rom 11:20).

Saul went up to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 24:11). He wrote that he worshipped as his forefathers did (2Tim 1:3). When in Jerusalem, he would worship at the Temple (Acts 21:26, 22:17, 24:17-18). Saul, who did not become a believer until well after Yeshua's death and resurrection, continued to participate in Temple sacrifice in his worship (Acts 21:26, Acts 24:17). He also described himself as a Hebrew (2Cor 11:22) and included himself among the people Israel (Acts 13:17). Saul unequivocally self-identified as a Jew.

"St. Paul" was a Jew in prison

Little is known about Saul's death except that after having been imprisoned by the Romans for about two years (Acts 24:27), he was taken under guard to Italy for trial (Acts 27:1). While in Rome he was also kept under guard (Acts 28:16). The Romans put him to death, probably between 64-68 C.E.

The Jewish community in Rome had recently been reestablished following forcible expulsion in 49 C.E. (Acts 18:2). When Saul arrived in Rome, one of his first requests was to speak with the local Jewish leaders (Acts 28:17). He addressed them as "brethren," and assured them he had done nothing in opposition to "the customs of our fathers" (Acts 28:17). Saul went on to tell them he was in chains because of the Hope of Israel (Acts 28:20). A few days later, a much larger group of Jewish leaders visited for a whole day (Acts 28:23). Saul talked with them about the Malchut haShamayim (Kingdom of God) and showed them Yeshua in the Tanakh (Acts 28:23). Of this large group of Jewish leaders, quite a few left believing that Yeshua is the Messiah (Acts 28:24). Some of Saul's last recorded words were a 'drash on the Jewish prophet Isaiah (Acts 28:25). He remained imprisoned (at his own expense!) while awaiting trial for at least another two years, teaching all who came to him. Whether he was killed at the end of this imprisonment or another, near to his death as during his whole life, "Saul who was also known as Paul" was a Jew.

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