Intellectually, the mind of Paul was trained to logical acuteness, his memory became well stored with "hard sentences of old," and he acquired the facility of quick and apt quotation of Scripture. Morally, he was a strict observer of the requirements of the Law and, while he led a careful conscientious life, after the example of his ancestors (2Timothy 1:3) he gradually imbibed the spirit of a fervent persecuting zeal.
Among Paul's fellow students, who flocked to Jerusalem from Egypt and Babylonia, from the coasts of Greece and his native Cilicia, he was known and held in high esteem as a rising light in Israel. And if we may draw a natural inference from another sentence of the letter which has just been quoted, Paul was far from indifferent to the praise of men.
While thus Paul was passing through the busy years of his student life, nursing his religious enthusiasm and growing in selfrighteousness, others were advancing towards their manhood, not far from Jerusalem, of whom then he knew nothing. There was one at Hebron, the son of a priest "of the course of Abia," who was soon to make his voice heard throughout Israel as the preacher of repentance. There were boys by the Lake of Galilee, mending their fathers' nets, who were hereafter to be the teachers of the World. And, there was One, at Nazareth, for the sake of whose love, they, and Paul himself, and countless faithful hearts throughout all future ages, should unite in saying, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
It is possible that Gamaliel may have been one of those doctors with whom Jesus was found conversing in the Temple. It is probable that Paul may have been within the precincts of the Temple at some festival when Mary and Joseph came up from Galilee. It is certain that the eyes of the Savior and of His future disciple must often have rested on the same objects, the same crowd of pilgrims and worshippers, the same walls of the Holy City, the same olives on the other side of the valley of Jehoshaphat. But at present they were strangers.
Paul (Saul) was growing more and more familiar with the outward observances of the Law, and gaining that experience of the "spirit of bondage" which should enable him to understand himself, and to teach to others, the blessings of true conversion. He was feeling the pressure of that yoke, which, in the words of Peter, "neither his fathers nor he were able to bear." He was learning to tremble at the slightest deviation from the Law as jeopardizing salvation. The struggles of this period of his life he has himself described in the seventh chapter of Romans.
Meanwhile, year after year passed away. John the Baptist appeared by the waters of the Jordan. The greatest event of the world's history was finished on Calvary. The sacrifice for sin was offered at a time when sin appeared to be the most triumphant.
The martyrdom of Stephen has the deepest interest for us since it is the first occasion when Paul comes before us in his early manhood. We cannot assume that he had remained continuously in Jerusalem the entire time he was a young adult. Many years had elapsed since he came, a boy, from his home at Tarsus. Paul was roughly twenty-four years old when our Lord's ministry began in the fall of 26 A.D. His education was completed and we may conjecture, with much probability, that he returned to Tarsus.
When Paul says, in the first letter to the Corinthians, "Have I not seen the Lord?" (1Corinthians 9:1) and when he speaks in the second (2Corinthians 5:16) of having "known Christ after the flesh," he seems only to allude, in the first case, to his vision on the road to Damascus. In the second case, he seems to allude to his carnal opinions concerning the Messiah. It is hardly conceivable that if Paul had been at Jerusalem during our Lord's public ministration there he should never allude to the fact. In this case, he would surely have been among the persecutors of Jesus, and have referred to this as the ground of his remorse, instead of expressing his repentance for his opposition merely to the Savior's followers (1Corinthians 15:9, Acts 22:20).
If Paul returned to the banks of the Cydnus, he would find that many changes had taken place among his friends in the interval which had brought him from boyhood to manhood. But the only change in himself was that he brought back with him, to gratify the pride of his parents, if they still were living, a mature knowledge of the Law, a stricter life, a more fervent zeal. And here, in the schools of Tarsus, he had abundant opportunity for becoming acquainted with that Greek literature and for studying the writings of Philo and the Hellenistic Jews.