CONVERSION OF PAUL, APOSTLE
By RICHARD P. McBRIEN
Paul (ca. 1/5–ca. 62/67) was the most prominent early Chris tian missionary, known as the “apostle to the Gentiles.” Born in Tarsus in Asia Minor of a Hellenistic- Jewish family and given the name Saul, he received both a Greek and a Jewish education and probably possessed Roman citizenship. A self-described Pharisee (Phil. 3:5), he was zealous in his persecution of the early disciples of Jesus. However, he had a profound conversion experience, liturgically commemorated on this day, while on his way to Damascus around the year 35 (Gal. 1:15–16), an experience he interpreted as a call to preach the Risen Christ to the Gentiles. After remaining in the Damascus area for the next three years, he spent ten years (38–48) on his first great missionary journey, in Syria and Asia Minor.
Paul spent the next eight years (49–57) establishing Chris tian communities around the eastern Mediterranean.
During these journeys, he wrote letters that form part of the New Testament. In the year 57 he returned to Jerusalem, where he was arrested and imprisoned for two years. Exercising his rights as a Roman citizen, he appealed his case to Caesar and was sent to Rome, where he was held under house arrest for about two more years (59–60). Sometime between 62 and 67 he was executed in Rome by order of the local authorities. His feast is on the General Roman Calendar, and is also celebrated by the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States.