St. Paul’s conversion marks an enormous shift in Christian history. In an attempt to destroy the growing Christian movement, St. Paul had brutally persecuted Christians. In his famous conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Jesus called out to him, asking, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) After this traumatic event, St. Paul devoted his life to proclaiming the gospel, planting and guiding churches all around Asia Minor.
Here are six things to know about St. Paul before and after his conversion:
1) Prior to his conversion, St. Paul was called Saul of Tarsus. He was one of his day’s most learned and pious Pharisees and claimed himself a “Hebrew born of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5)
2) St. Paul had dual citizenship, both Roman and Jewish. This allowed him to appeal to the Roman government for a court appointment with Caesar.
3) St. Paul grew up in Tarsus (Acts 22:3–16), a large and central trading city on the Mediterranean coast. Because he grew up in such a cultured and influential area, he was familiar with popular Greek philosophies like Stoicism. He also knew Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, allowing him minister to both the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13) and the Jews.
4) There are three accounts of St. Pauls’ conversion—Acts 9:1–31, 22:1–22, and 26:9–24.
5) After Christ visited him, St. Paul began his ministry. He began by preaching to the Jews (Acts 9:19–20), and, between AD 45 and AD 47, he would embark on three great missions (Acts 13:1–14:27, Acts 15:36–18:22, Acts 18:23–21:26)
6) 13 New Testament books are attributed to Paul (14, if you count the traditional attribution of Hebrews) out of 27 total, giving Pauline thought a central position in Christian theology.
As we celebrate this feast day, let us remember that Paul thought of himself as the “worst among sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15) and yet Christ called and used him to change the course of history. Through St. Paul’s example, we remember that Christ is greater than we can imagine—that, like Paul says, “through [the worst of sinners], Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).