But, in order to present anything like a living picture of the Apostle Paul and his ministry, much more is necessary than a mere transcript of the scriptural narrative, even where it is fullest. Every step of his course brings us into contact with some new phase of ancient life, unfamiliar to our modern experience, and upon which we must throw light from other sources, if we wish it to form a distinct image in the mind.
For example, to comprehend the influences under which Paul grew to manhood, we must realize the position of a Jewish family in Tarsus; we must understand the kind of education which the son of such a family would receive as a boy in his Hebrew home, or in the schools of his native city, and in his riper youth "at the feet of Gamaliel" in Jerusalem; we must be acquainted with the profession for which he was to be prepared by this training, and appreciate the station and duties of an expounder of the Law. And, that we may be fully qualified to do all this, we should have a clear view of the state of the Roman Empire at the time, and especially of its system in the provinces; we should also understand the political position of the Jews of the "Dispersion;" we should be (so to speak) hearers in their synagogues; we should be students of their Rabbinical theology.
And in like manner, as we follow the Apostle in the different stages of his varied and adventurous career, we must strive continually to bring out in their true brightness the half-effaced forms and coloring of the scene in which he acts; and while he "becomes all things to all men, that he might by all means save some," we must form to ourselves a living likeness of the things and of the men among which he moved, if we would rightly estimate his work.
Thus we must study Christianity rising in the midst of Judaism; we must realize the position of its early churches with their mixed society, to which Jews, Proselytes, and Heathens had each contributed a characteristic element; we must qualify ourselves to be umpires (if we may so speak) in their violent internal divisions; we must listen to the strife of their schismatic parties, when one said, "I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos;" we must study the true character of those early heresies which even denied the resurrection, and advocated impurity and lawlessness, claiming the right "to sin that grace might abound," (Romans 6:1) "defiling the mind and conscience" (Titus 1:15) of their followers, and making them "abominable and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate;" (Titus 1:16) we must trace the extent to which Greek philosophy, Judaizing formalism, and Eastern superstition, blended their tainting influence with the pure fermentation of that new leaven which was at last to leaven the whole mass of civilized society.
While thus trying to live in the life of a bygone age, and to call up the figure of the past from its tomb, duly robed in all its former raiment, every help is welcome which enables us to fill up the dim outline in any part of its reality. Especially we delight to look upon the only one of the manifold features of that past existence which still is living. We remember with pleasure that the earth, the sea, and the sky still combine for us in the same landscapes which passed before the eyes of the wayfaring Apostle. The plain of Cilicia; the snowy distances of Taurus; the cold and rapid stream of the Cydnus; the broad Orontes under the shadow of its steep banks, with their thickets of jasmine and coriander; the hills which "stand about Jerusalem," the "arched fountains cold" in the ravines below, and those "flowery brooks beneath that wash their hallowed feet;" the capes and islands of the Grecian Sea; the craggy summit of Areopagus; the land-locked harbor of Syracuse; the towering cone of Aetna; the voluptuous loveliness of the Campanian shore, - all these remain to us, the imperishable handiwork of Nature. We can still look upon the same trees and flowers which he saw clothing the mountains, giving color to the plains, or reflected in the rivers; we may think of him among the palms of Syria, the cedars of Lebanon, the olives of Attica, the green Isthmian pines of Corinth, whose leaves wove those "fading garlands" which he contrasts (1Corinthians 9:25) with the "incorruptible crown," the prize for which he fought.
The mole on which he landed at Puteoli still stretches its ruins into the blue waters of the bay. The remains of the Baian villas, whose marble porticoes he then beheld glittering in the sunset, - his first specimen of Italian luxury, - still are seen along the shore. We may still enter Rome as he did by the same Appian Road, through the same Capenian Gate, and wander among the ruins of "Caesar’s palace" (Philippians 1:13) on the Palatine, while our eye rests upon the same aqueducts radiating over the Campagna to the unchanging hills. Those who have visited these spots must often have felt a thrill of recollection as they trod in the footsteps of the Apostle; they must have been conscious how much the identity of the outward scene brought them into communion with him, while they tried to image to themselves the feelings with which he must have looked upon the objects before them. They who have experienced this will feel how imperfect a biography of Apostle Paul must be without faithful representations of the places which he visited. It is hoped that the views which are contained in the present work (which have been diligently collected from various sources) will supply this desideratum.
And it is evident, that, for the purposes of such a biography, nothing but true and faithful representations of the real scenes will be valuable; these are what is wanted, and not ideal representations, even though copied from the works of the greatest masters:for as it has been well said, "Nature and reality painted at the time, and on the spot, a nobler cartoon of Apostle Paul’s preaching at Athens than the immortal Rafaelle afterwards has done."
If his letters had never come down to us, we should have known indeed what he did and suffered; but we should have had very little idea of what he was. Even if we could perfectly succeed in restoring the image of the scenes and circumstances in which he moved; even if we could, as in a magic mirror, behold him speaking in the school of Tyrannus, with his Ephesian hearers in their national costume around him, - we should still see very little of Paul of Tarsus. We must listen to his words, if we would learn to know him. If Fancy did her utmost, she could give us only his outward, not his inward life. "His bodily presence" (so his enemies declared) "was weak and contemptible;" but "his letters" (even they allowed) "were weighty and powerful." Moreover, an effort of imagination and memory is needed to recall the past; but, in his Epistles, Apostle Paul is present with us. "His words are not dead words; they are living creatures with hands and feet," touching in a thousand hearts at this very hour the same chord of feeling which vibrated to their first utterance.
We Christians can bear witness now, as fully as could a Byzantine audience fourteen hundred years ago, to the saying of Chrysostom, that Paul by his letters still lives in the mouths of men throughout the whole world: by them not only his own converts, but all the faithful even unto this day, yea, and all the saints who are yet to be born until Christ’s coming again, both have been and shall be blessed. His Epistles are to his inward life what the mountains and rivers of Asia and Greece and Italy are to his outward life, - the imperishable part which still remains to us when all that time can ruin has passed away.
It is in these letters, then, that we must study the true life of Apostle Paul, from its inmost depths and springs of action, which were "hidden with Christ in God," down to its most minute developments and peculiar individual manifestations. In them we learn what Paul says about himself. Their most sacred contents, indeed, rise above all that is peculiar to the individual writer; for they are the communications of God to man concerning the faith and life of Christians, which Apostle Paul declared (as he often asserts) by the immediate revelation of Christ himself. But his manner of teaching these eternal truths is colored by his human character, and peculiar to himself. And such individual features are naturally impressed much more upon epistles than upon any other kind of composition:for here we have not treatises or sermons, which may dwell in the general and abstract, but genuine letters, written to meet the actual wants of living men; giving immediate answers to real questions, and warnings against pressing dangers; full of the interests of the passing hour. And this, which must be more or less the case with all epistles addressed to particular churches, is especially so with those of Apostle Paul. In his case, it is not too much to say that his letters are himself, - a portrait painted by his own hand, of which every feature may be "known and read of all men."
It is not merely that in them we see the proof of his powerful intellect, his insight into the foundations of natural theology (Romans 1:20) and of moral philosophy; (Romans 2:14, 15) for in such points, though the philosophical expression might belong to himself, the truths expressed were taught him of God. It is not only that we there find models of the sublimest eloquence when he is kindled by the vision of the glories to come, the perfect triumph of good over evil, the manifestation of the sons of God, and their transformation into God’s likeness, when they shall see him no longer (1Corinthians 13:12) "in a glass darkly, but face to face," - for in such strains as these it was not so much he that spake as the Spirit of God speaking in him, (Matthew 10:20) - but in his letters, besides all this which is divine, we trace every shade, even to the faintest, of his human character also.
Here we see that fearless independence with which he "withstood Peter to the face;" (Galatians 2:11) that impetuosity which breaks out in his apostrophe to the "foolish Galatians;" (Galatians 3:1) that earnest indignation which bids his converts "beware of dogs, beware of the concision" (Philippians 3:2). We see his fervid patriotism which makes him "even to wish myself to be accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh;" (Romans 9:3, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV) where noted) that generosity which looked for no other reward than "to preach the Glad-Tidings of Christ without charge," (1Corinthians 9:15 and 18) and made him feel that he would rather "die than that any man should make this glorying void." We also view that dread of officious interference which led him to shrink from "building on another man's foundation;" (Romans 15:20) that delicacy which shows itself in his appeal to Philemon, whom he might have commanded, "Yet for the sake of love I am encouraging you to do it instead, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also the prisoner of Jesus Christ." (Philemon 1:9, HBFV) and which is even more striking in some of his farewell greetings.
Here we also see that scrupulous fear of evil appearance which caused him to say "For you remember, brethren, our labor and our toil; for we were working night and day so as not to be a burden to anyone among you, while we proclaimed the gospel of God." (1Thessalonians 2:9, HBFV). We are reminded of that refined courtesy which cannot bring itself to blame till it has first praised. We marvel at his self-denying love which will eat no flesh — not ever — so that I may not cause my brother to stumble." (1Corinthians 8:13, HBFV) that impatience of exclusive formalism with which he overwhelms the Judaizers of Galatia, joined with a forbearance so gentle for the innocent weakness of scrupulous consciences; (1Corinthians 8:12). We see his grief for the sins of others, which moved him to tears when he spoke of the enemies of the cross of Christ, "of whom I tell you even weeping;" (Philippians 3:18) and that noble freedom from jealousy with which he speaks of those, who, out of rivalry to himself, preach Christ even of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to his bonds -
"Indeed, some are proclaiming Christ out of envy and strife, but some with good intentions." (Philippians 1:15, HBFV)
We learn about that tender friendship which watches over the health of Timothy even with a mother's care; (1Timothy 5:23) that intense sympathy in the joys and sorrows of his converts which could say even to the rebellious Corinthians, "Ye are in our hearts, to die and live with you;" (2Corinthians 7:3). We also come to understand Paul's sense of loneliness, which perhaps is the most touching feature of all, because it approaches most nearly to a weakness, -
Now when I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit because I was not able to find Titus, my brother; then I left them and went into Macedonia." (2Corinthians 2:12-13, HBFV)
Nor is it only in the substance, but even in the style, of these writings, that we recognize the man Paul of Tarsus. In the parenthetical constructions and broken sentences, we see the rapidity with which the thoughts crowded upon him, almost too fast for utterance; we see him animated rather than weighed down by "the crowd that presses on him daily, and the care of all the churches," (2Corinthians 11:28) as he pours forth his warnings or his arguments in a stream of eager and impetuous dictation, with which the pen of the faithful Tertius can hardly keep pace. And, above all, we trace his presence in the postscript to every letter, which he adds as an authentication, in his own characteristic handwriting, "which is the sign in every epistle — so I write." (2Thessalonians 3:17, HBFV). Sometimes, as he takes up the pen, he is moved with indignation when he thinks of the false brethren among those whom he addresses: "The salutation of me Paul with my own hand:if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed." (1Corinthians 16:22) Sometimes, as he raises his hand to write, he feels it cramped by the fetters which bind him to the soldier who guards him:(Colossians 4:18) "I Paul salute you with my own hand: remember my chains." Yet he always ends with the same blessing,
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen." (1Corinthians 16:23-24, HBFV)
In conclusion, the authors would express their hope that this biography may, in its measure, be useful in strengthening the hearts of some against the peculiar form of unbelief most current at the present day. The more faithfully we can represent to ourselves the life, outward and inward, of Apostle Paul, in all its fullness, the more unreasonable must appear the theory, that Christianity had a mythical origin; and the stronger must be our ground for believing his testimony to the divine nature and miraculous history of our Redeemer. No reasonable man can learn to know and love the Apostle of the Gentiles without asking himself the question, "What was the principle by which, through such a life, he was animated? What was the strength in which he labored with such immense results?" Nor can the most sceptical inquirer doubt for one moment the full sincerity of Apostle Paul’s belief,
"I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live. Indeed, it is no longer I; but Christ lives in me. For the life that I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith — that very faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20, HBFV)