SAUL STUDIED IN JERUSALEM
Paul was born before the year 10 A.D. to a Jewish family from Tarsus, in Cilicia (now Eastern Turkey). He received the biblical name Saul and the Roman name Paul (his father, most likely having been granted Roman citizenship, wished to show his gratitude to the Pauli family). He was educated in Jerusalem.
Paul himself recounted that, “At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God” (Acts 22:3) and again, “I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6), “circumcised on the eighth day” (Phil. 3:5-6).
During the martyrdom of Stephen, “The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58) “… Saul was consenting to his execution. On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the Church” (Acts 8:1).
Saul, who defended with zeal his “ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1:14), could have even been a Zealot (cf. Acts 22:3). His defense of the tradition of his ancestors would explain his expedition to Damascus to persecute Hellenist missionaries like Stephen who challenged the Temple, in order to subdue them at all costs, even torture. This would also clarify two strange episodes: Paul was not at peace with the Church of Jerusalem and he had to escape under the threat of death (Acts 9:26-30); later, forty Jews would form a conspiracy to kill Paul, who was at that time a prisoner of the Romans (cf. Acts 23:12-22) and it is very well known that the Zealot party punished all those who betrayed their solemn oath.
CONVERSION / VOCATION
The Acts of the Apostles quote the famous phrase heard on the way to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
The story that Paul himself recounts about the apparition of the Risen Lord betrays a great interior turmoil, according to the prophetic vocations/conversions of the Old Testament, which always announced a mission: “But when (God), who from my mother's womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles…” (Gal 1:15-17).
The radical “conversion” of Saul did not represent for him a change of religion: he felt more than ever before to be a Jew, because the “God of our Fathers” was sending him to spread the Gospel. The evangelizer of the pagans continued to preach to the Jews as much as he could, up to his final appeal to Rome. Paul’s conversion and baptism meant that he had discovered his true and proper place in the life of Israel.
The date of this most important event is ignored; the Letter to the Galatians may seem to indicate the years 33-35, a short time after the establishment of the first Church in Jerusalem, created around “Peter with the Eleven” (Acts 2:14).