Understanding Apostle Paul's Ministry

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In order to gain an understanding of Apostle Paul's personal history and ministry as a missionary, we must know the state of the different populations which he visited and the character of the Greek and Roman civilization at the epoch.

We must also comprehend the points of intersection between the political history of the world and the scriptural narrative, along with the social organization and gradation of ranks for which he enjoins respect. We need to know about the position of women, to which Paul specially refers to in many of his letters and the relations between parents and children.

To understand Paul and his ministry, we additional need to grasp the relationship between slaves and masters, which he sought to imbue with the loving spirit of the gospel. We also need to study the quality and influence of the Greek and Roman religions, whose effete corruptness Paul denounces with such indignant scorn.

To fully comprehend Paul's ministry, we need to look into the public amusements of the people, from whence he draws topics of warning or illustration, the operation of the Roman law, under which he was so frequently arraigned, and the courts in which he was tried. Further, we need to understand the course of commerce by which Paul's journeys were so often regulated, and the character of that imperfect navigation by which his life was so many times endangered.

While thus trying to live in the life of a bygone age, during the first century A.D. when Paul's ministry was in full force, every help is welcome which enables us to fill up the dim outline.

Ruins of Roman bath in Tarsus
Ruins of Roman bath in Tarsus
Pix courtesy of D. Osseman

We, like Paul, can imagine the plain of Cilicia, the snowy distances of Taurus, the cold and rapid stream of the Cydnus, and the broad Orontes under the shadow of its steep banks. We can imagine the hills which stand about Jerusalem, the arched fountains cold in the ravines below, the capes and islands of the Aegean Sea and the craggy summit of the Areopagus. All these remain to us, the imperishable handiwork of Nature.

We can still look upon the same trees and flowers which the apostle Paul 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, or the green Isthmian pines of Corinth, whose leaves wove those "fading garlands" which he contrasts (1Corinthians 9:25) with the "incorruptible crown" of a Christian. We can even still look upon some of the works of man which filled him with wonder, or moved him to indignation, such as the idolatry on the Acropolis in Athens.

The mole on which Paul landed at Puteoli, during his ministry, 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.

Those who have visited the above spots must often have felt a thrill of recollection as they trod in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. 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 Paul's life and ministry must be without understanding the faithful representations of the places which he visited.

Nothing but true and faithful representations of the real scenes will be valuable in order for us to gain a proper understanding of Paul's life and ministry. These are what is wanted, and not ideal representations, even though copied from the works of the greatest masters.

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