Who evangelized Saul of Tarsus?

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 1st. timothy 1:12-14

Saul of Tarsus, better known as Paul, or Apostle Paul, is the name that resonates most among the preachers and teachers of the Gospel of the first century. Saul was a man of Jewish descent, Hebrew in his own words, though of Roman nationality because he was born within the jurisdiction of the Roman province of Cilicia.

But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. 38And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. Acts 16:37-38

And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? 26When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. 27Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. Acts 22:25-27

Tarsus of Cilicia was a city distinguished for being a philosophical center, Saul himself highlights it as a not insignificant city of Cilicia,

But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people. Acts 21:39

Saul had the opportunity to study philosophy, since the city where he was born and raised was the seat of several stoic philosophers recognized in his time; however, he chose to study and enter into Pharisaism, the liturgical basis of rabbinical Judaism, characterized by its multiple interpretations of the Law,

Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Philippians 3:5-6

To do this, Saul moved from his hometown, Tarsus, to the city of Jerusalem to study under the tutelage of Gamaliel, a Pharisee of high esteem among his class and throughout Jerusalem,

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. Acts 22:3

Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;  Acts 5:34

Saul entered Pharisaism at a fairly young age. Judging by the use of the Greek word, νεανιου, translated into English as, young man, in the account of the book of Acts of the Apostles when they stoned Stephen, Saul would then be 20 years old; which means that Saul would have moved to Jerusalem to study and enter Phariseeism between the ages of 13 and 17.

And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s (νεανιου) feet, whose name was Saul. Acts 7:58

The word νεανιου is used three times throughout the New Testament. In these texts it is used to describe a person of marriageable age.

And there sat in a window a certain young man (νεανιας) named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. Acts 20:9

Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man (νεανιαν) unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him. Acts 23:17

The term is also used in the Old Testament with the same emphasis. In the Septuagint (LXX), the word νεανιου is used to refer to young people who have not yet married, but are within the age to do so.

And when the lad (νεανιου) was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is not the arrow beyond thee? 1 Samuel 20:37

And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children (νεανιας) which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king. Daniel 1:10

The particular use of the word νεανιου in the following text shows us that the age of a young person (νεανιου) is really 20 years,

Now when Joab saw that the battle was set against him before and behind, he chose out of all the choice of Israel (νεανιου), and put them in array against the Syrians. 1 Chronicles 19:10

The choice of Israel are not an elite with more strategic preparation than the others, the term indicates that they are young people (νεανιου). Translators do not adequately translate the term but prefer to interpret it to imply that they are the choice of Israel by their youthfulness, the term does not show that they had a specialized combat preparation, otherwise the writer would have used a more appropriate term. So, since they are young (νεανιου), their average age should be 20, as it is the age to enter the army as stipulated in the Law,

From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies. Numbers 1:3

This leads us to understand that Saul’s age at Stephen’s death was on average 20 years, which means two things; the first, that for Stephen’s death Saul could have been a student of first, or at most, of second year of Phariseeism; Saul was not an ordained Pharisee as such, as shown by the fact that he is present at Stephen’s stoning but does not participate as an executioner, like the others; Second, after Stephen’s death Saul had the opportunity to think about Stephen’s incident, and to repent for such a death, however, he did not do it, but strengthened himself in the fact with greater force than before because his zeal for the Law made him see in the disciples of the Lord a doctrinal danger that could only be extinguished by gradually killing them.

Saul confesses of himself that he was as to the righteousness which is in the law, blameless, which means that his strength depended upon the firmness of his determinations; this can be seen in one of his letters when he writes to Timothy, and dictates to him instructions on the requirements that a deacon should have,

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued (διλογους), not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 1st. Timothy 3:8

The expression, διλογους (doubletongued) means, “two words”, which would be understood as a person who changes his mind; which indicates that Saul’s character consisted of remaining unchanged as to what he had determined.

And this way of being was his personal seal, for in his epistle to the Galatians he describes that his trajectory as a student of Phariseeism was ahead of many of his companions,

And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. Galatians 1:14

So, after Stephen’s death, the time it took Saul to complete his Pharisee studies, which may well have been five to seven more years, occupied him to strengthen his conviction that his function as a Pharisee was to be a restorer of the traditions of the fathers, today threatened by the doctrine of the Way.

Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Philippians 3:6

Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 1st. timothy 1:13

Saul begins his function as a Pharisee by persecuting the church; he is convinced that this is his task and service to God. He clearly confesses that he never believed the doctrine that Jesus’ disciples proclaimed, which also indicates that Saul came to know it very well,

Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 1st. timothy 1:13

Saul used many years to persecute Jesus’ disciples, and many lives that were mistreated by Saul. We will never really know all the things he did during all the years of his persecution of the church, nor how many of the lives of the disciples of Jesus who died because of this persecution; there is a text however in the epistle to the Hebrews that more or less outlines this persecution,

And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:36-40

In most of his epistles this part of his Pharisaic past is described,

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: Galatians 1:13

But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. Galatians 1:23

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1st. Corinthians 15:9

Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Philippians 3:6

Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 1st. Timothy 1:13

For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: 1st. Thessalonians 2:14

How could a man with Saul’s trajectory, with a conviction of persecution of the church so rooted in him, convert to the doctrine that he himself persecuted? What is the evangelistic message that Saul received?

The evangelistic message that Saul received was planted by Stephen the day he testified about his faith before the Council, and before Saul; when he confessed to having seen the Glory of God and Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, and minutes later, when he was willing to give his life crying out with a loud voice, Lord, do not impute this sin to them.

Stephen’s evangelistic message was never erased from Saul’s conscience, so much so that many years later, faced with the danger of being exposed to the same risk of death if he went up to Jerusalem, Stephen’s words and deed became the assurance that his decision to go up to Jerusalem was correct,

Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts 21:13

Saul’s evangelistic message was fertilized by each of the lives he persecuted, captured, and killed for simply confessing as disciples of Jesus. It was the pain, agony, and blood of each of those he carried in prison that caused Saul’s deep-rooted conviction of death to crumble, and there remained no more strength in him than to understand that those who continued to confess Jesus as Lord and Christ did so because the Lord was with them.

This evangelistic message is discovered in the Words of Jesus to Saul on the road to Damascus,

And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Acts 26:14

No suffering, no tears, no blood shed by those persecuted and tormented by Saul fell into emptiness; every torment suffered by every one of them fell to earth as seed, and germinated into the fruit of Mercy and Eternal Life for Saul,

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. John 12:24

Every act of faithfulness and forgiveness toward the one who persecuted and mistreated them became the wordless message that led Saul one day to meet Jesus,

Saul himself years later recognized that by this very feeling that was inculcated in them as part of the doctrine of Jesus was that he attained Mercy.

My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? Psalm 42:3

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Philippians 2:5

The purpose of this teaching is to awaken us to a broader view of the work we do as establishers of the Kingdom of God, to which we have all been called.

Not every message is sown with words. There are messages that require actions, gestures, attitudes and dispositions of the heart. Not everything can be said with words because people do not have ears to hear them, it is necessary that they see in our actions what we want to say to them.

Love your neighbor as yourself, continue to love even when they reject and despise you; pray for those who persecute and even curse you; continue to care for those who denigrate you; deliver without withholding those who even with injustice take away what is yours; forgive the one who hurts and offends you up to seventy times seven; do not seek revenge even though we are possibly right and justice is on our side; do not threaten; do not take advantage of the weaknesses of another; give, always give without expecting to receive anything in return.

It is the message of Jesus that we read in the pages of the gospels, it is the teaching of the apostles contained in all their letters, however, it is the message that we do not hear behind many of our actions.

No pain, no agony, no suffering, no sacrifice for the love of Jesus falls into the emptiness; every act becomes the seed of the Gospel for the benefit of those who, like Saul, cannot hear the message through words,

For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 1st. Peter 2:20

What would have happened if Stephen, by not being stoned, decided to retract his testimony before the Council? What would have happened if each of those whom Saul persecuted, in order to avoid prison and death, had denied the faith? Surely none of us today knew of an apostle Paul.

The reason why there are so many blasphemers and persecutors of the faith today is because there are not many Stephen who want to die for the testimony of their faith; because many disciples of Jesus deny the faith so as not to suffer persecution.

The contemporary Christian church has sought to insert itself into society, has demanded a position of honor and respect, has asked to be considered as a consultative group even by government elites. It seems to me that we have mistaken the way and have misunderstood the message of the Gospel. In our desire to evangelize a society that decided to live at the expense of the world, we have ingratiated ourselves with it by doing and tolerating what it does, so we have a weak and mediocre church.

There is only one way to evangelize, and it is through holding fast to what we were taught regarding the doctrine of Jesus. It is not evangelized by negotiating with the world, is evangelized by the decision to stand firm in the faith, and with the willingness to make a difference with our actions, even so the difference leads us to be considered as fanatics by the same who profess the faith.

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.…  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 1st. Corinthians 3:8-14

Are you willing to be a Stephen for your time and your country?


All biblical quotations are taken from the King James Version.


Pastor Pedro Montoya

Twitter: @pastormontoya