In light of the new movie Paul, Apostle of Christ coming out this weekend, I thought it would be good to write about some interesting facts about Paul’s life and ministry. These 4 facts are all probably well-known, but they give us a better idea of what he was like 2,000 years ago.
1. Paul wasn’t an intimidating person and may have not been a great speaker.
Based on Paul’s letters, I always thought that he had an intimidating presence and was an eloquent speaker. However, Paul gives us a hint that this might not be the case. He mentions this: “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account'” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
In other words, when some people met Paul in person they had a hard time reconciling the tone of his letters to his physical person. It’s also helpful to point out that Paul told the Corinthians in the previous verse that he does “not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters.” I think this means when we come across a statement from Paul that seems harsh, we must realize the intention behind his statements. He just wanted others to take their relationships with Christ seriously, and so should we.
2. Paul saw heaven before he died.
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul recounts his experience of being “caught up to the third heaven.” There he experienced things that could not even be put into words. Paul started to become prideful because of these experiences, so God used a messenger of Satan to humble him. This is Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh.”
What I love about this story is that Paul asked the Lord to remove this from him 3 times, but God replied “My grace is sufficient for you.” Like us, Paul prayed for things that didn’t work out like wanted them to. In times like these, we should imitate Paul by trusting God’s understanding more than our own.
3. Paul went to Arabia for 3 years after his conversion.
When you read the Acts of the Apostles, you get the sense that Paul went straight into ministry after his conversion. However, this is not the case. Here is Paul’s explanation of what happened after his conversion:
“I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days” (Galatians 1:16-18).
We are not told what all Paul did during this time, but there is no doubt that he spent much time in prayer and study. I imagine him studying the Old Testament again, but this time through the lens of the finished work of Christ. I can’t wait to ask him about it one day!
The application here is that sometimes we must prepare ourselves before jumping into ministry. Getting involved in something before we are ready to do so can be very harmful. Paul did many great things for the Kingdom of God, but only after God prepared the way.
4. Paul’s name was not changed from Saul.
This is a common misconception that I believed until rather recently. There is no indication in Acts that God changed Saul’s name to Paul like He changed others in the Old Testament (ex. Abram, Abraham). What we find is that Luke starts calling him Paul without telling us about the change. However, Luke does say this: “But Saul, who was also called Paul” (Acts 13:9).
In other words, both Saul and Paul were already his names. Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Greek name. It appears Paul started to go by his Greek name as he focused more on ministering to Gentiles, specifically those who spoke Greek. You can read more about this here.
The practical application here is twofold. First, we should not believe something just because someone says it. Instead we are to search the Scriptures like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Second, Paul started going by his Greek name so as to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22). For us today, we should do whatever it takes to bring the Gospel to others in a way that they will understand it.
Paul, the Man of God
Most importantly, we see that Paul was a man who deeply loved God. He truly wanted others to know the fullness of Christ. We are blessed that God inspired so many of his letters for us today. May we echo Paul’s prayer from one such letter:
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).