Apostle Paul's Boyhood

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Now that we have seen what Paul's infancy was we must now glance at his boyhood. It is usually the case that the features of a strong character display themselves early. His impetuous fiery disposition would sometimes need control. Flashes of indignation would reveal his impatience and his honesty (Acts 9:1, 2, 23:1 - 5).

The affectionate tenderness of Paul's nature, during his boyhood, would not be without an object of attachment, if that sister, who was afterwards married (Acts 23:16) was his playmate at Tarsus. The work of tent-making, rather an amusement than a trade, might sometimes occupy those young hands, which were marked with the toil of years when he held them to the view of the Elders at Miletus.

Home schooled

Paul's education during his boyhood was conducted at home rather than at school even though Tarsus was celebrated for its learning, the Hebrew boy would not lightly be exposed to the influence of Gentile teaching. Or, if he went, to a school, it was not a Greek school, but rather to some room connected with the synagogue, where a noisy class of Jewish children received the rudiments of instruction.

At such a school, it may be, Paul learned to read and to write, going and returning under the care of some attendant, according to that custom which he afterwards used as an illustration in the Epistle to the Galatians when he spoke of the Law as the Slave who conducts us to the School of Christ.

Paul's religious knowledge, as his years advanced beyond his boyhood, was obtained from hearing the Law read in the synagogue, from listening to the arguments and discussions of learned doctors, and from that habit of questioning and answering, which was permitted even to the children among the Jews.

Well of Saint Paul in Tarsus
Well of Saint Paul in Tarsus
Pix courtesy of D. Osseman

Familiar with the pathetic history of the Jewish sufferings, Paul would feel his heart filled with that love to his own people which breaks out in the Epistle to the Romans, to that people "to whom is the sonship and the glory, and the covenants and the giving of the law, and the service and the promises . . ." (Romans 9:4 - 5, HBFV). Paul's love not then, as it was afterwards, blended with love towards all mankind, but rather united with a bitter hatred to the Gentile children whom he saw around him.

Paul's idea of the Messiah, so far as it was distinct, would be the carnal notion of a temporal prince, a "Christ known after the flesh" (2Corinthians 5:16). He looked forward with the hope of a Hebrew to the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). He would be known at Tarsus as a child of promise, and as one likely to uphold the honor of the Law against the half-infidel teaching of the day.

A systematic education

The time was drawing near, however, when Paul's training was to become more exact and systematic. He was destined for the school of Jerusalem. The educational maxim of the Jews, at a later period, was the following, "At five years of age, let children begin the Scripture; at ten, the Mishna; at thirteen, let them be subjects of the Law."

There is no reason to suppose that the general practice was very different before the floating maxims of the great doctors were brought together in the Mishna. It may therefore be concluded, with a strong degree of probability, that Saul was sent to the Holy City between the ages of ten and thirteen. Had it been later than the age of thirteen, he could hardly have said that he had been "brought up" in Jerusalem.

The first time any one leaves the land of his birth to visit a foreign and distant country is an important epoch in his life. In the case of one who has taken this first journey at an early age, and whose character is enthusiastic and susceptible of lively impressions from without, this epoch is usually remembered with peculiar distinctness.

But when the country which is thus visited has furnished the imagery for the dreams of childhood (or boyhood, as in Paul's case), and is felt to be more truly the young traveler's home than the land he is leaving, then the journey assumes the sacred character of a pilgrimage.

Paul had often seen the Hebrew pilgrims from the interior of Asia Minor come down through the passes of the mountains and join others at Tarsus who were bound for Jerusalem. They returned when the festivals were over and he heard them talk of the Holy City, of Herod and the New Temple, and of the great teachers and doctors of the Law. And at length Paul's destiny was to go himself, to see the land of promise and the City of David, and grow up a learned Rabbi at the feet of Gamaliel.

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