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PAUL, THE APOSTLE OF THE GENTILES.
APART from tradition and the Pauline Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles is our only source of information respecting the conversion and apostolic mission of Paul. We have already expressed incredulity as to the sudden persecution of the disciples of Jesus immediately after his death with a lawless violence foreign to the social order of a Roman province; but as Christian annalists have depicted Paul anticipating the sanguinary intolerance of mediæval inquisitors, we can only read his story through the materials placed at our disposal.
Tradition presents to us a man deficient in height, with lofty narrow forehead, grey eyes, aquiline nose, close eyebrows, and a pleasing expression. If to this personal sketch we add the temperament of genius, the brain of a metaphysician, the conscience of a saint, the endurance of a martyr, and the fanaticism of a prophet, we have before us one of those gifted men who reconstruct religions, and devote the resources of an inexhaustible enthusiasm to the propagation of personal convictions, held with unyielding tenacity as divine revelation. The outlines of this ideal character are, however, drawn not from the Acts of the Apostles, but from the autobiographic sketches of the Pauline Epistles.
Born, and passing his boyhood at Tarsus, a city as celebrated as Athens or Alexandria for literary culture, the studies of Saul not only embraced the records and traditions of Israel, but also the literature and philosophy of Greece a breadth of culture which, however, failed to eradicate the heritage of intolerance, fostered for centuries by the religious egotism of the Chosen Race. Aroused from his studious repose at the feet of Gamaliel by the rumour of strange doctrines subversive of Moses and the Prophets, he listened to the Gospel of the Kingdom with an unreasoning fury which hurried him into the persecution of inoffensive visionaries, and assigned to him an ignoble place among the murderers of Christianity's second martyr. From his epistles we infer that Saul was of a sympathetic and affectionate disposition ; when, therefore, he looked upon the face of the dying Stephen, the tumult of conflicting emotions necessarily produced that mental disturbance which, drifting towards the borderland of insanity, conjures phantoms in all the semblance of reality.
The well-balanced mind of his master, Gamaliel, might learn the lesson of religious toleration from the martyrdom of Socrates; but the uncompromising zeal of the pupil partook too much of the spirit of Elijah the Tishbite, to tolerate divergent conceptions of Divinity. So Saul hastened on the road to Damascus, haunted by the sad, reproachful, forgiving eyes of Stephen, and yet driven by fanaticism to fresh deeds of violence and bloodshed.
From the conflicting record of narrative and speeches, we detect the natural phenomenon which assumed å supernatural form to the future Apostle of the Gentiles.
As he proceeded on his way, prepared by nervous tension to see the miraculous in any startling event, he suddenly beheld a blinding flash of lightning, fell to the ground deprived of sight, saw an apparition of Jesus, and heard, in reverberating thunder, an imaginary voice exclaiming, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?'1__ the voice of suppressed remorse, denouncing the cruelty of the theologian, appealing to the humanity of the man, and producing that swift revulsion of feeling which piety calls miraculous conversion.
Recovered from temporary loss of sight, Saul became an enthusiastic convert to Christianity; but, according to his Epistle to the Galatians, instead of hastening to the twelve apostles, to Mary Magdalene, and to the mother of Jesus, to learn the truths of the Gospel, he rashly assuined that he had received a special revelation, declined to communicate with the companions of Jesus, declared that he had been taught nothing by man, and pronounced an anathema on all whose evangelical views differed from his own. The Creed of the Mount was repentance, forgiveness, reformation, and faith in Jesus ; but, by engrafting on this simplicity the creations of his own imagination, Saul became the first Christian heretic, and thus set the example which fostered, in later generations, the prolific growth of doctrines, dogmas, and mysteries, subversive of the original teaching of Jesus.
Although addressed from heaven as Saul, a change of name follows conversion, and henceforth we know him as Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles.
The Pauline portion of the Acts is little more than a record of missionary journeys interspersed with speeches, as obviously assignable to the invention of the author, as the language put by Livy into the mouths of his historical personages. How strange that this apostolic annalist could produce, nothing more worthy of the author of the Pauline Epistles than the discourses at Antioch, Athens, and Cæsarea !
1 Acts ix,
2 Gal. i.
The speech at Antioch is on the same model as that of Stephen, and Paul preaches, not an attested, but a constructive Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead, not because five hundred witnesses proclaimed the miracle, but because a misinterpreted passage in the Psalms prohibited the decomposition of the Holy One.
The speech at Athens on the text— To the Unknown God'-(Ayváoto me) might have been uttered by a heathen philosopher, sustaining the Unity of Divinity; but when Paul suddenly announces to an audience as critical as the Athenians that the Deity would judge the world through a man whom he had raised from the dead, what could he reasonably expect but courteous incredulity or supercilious scorn, in the absence of
any proof of the miracle?
But the poverty of imagination disclosed by the author of the Acts culminates in the speech at Cæsarea. Paul attains the privilege of preaching the Gospel before King Agrippa, Bernice, and the Roman Proconsul, Festus, and yet instead of uttering an eloquent discourse on the life, teaching, and attested Resurrection of the Son of Man, he egotistically dwells on his own phantasmal experience, and the alleged predictions of Moses and the Prophets, forecasting the sufferings and Resurrection of Jesus. Thus, on one of the most im
portant occasions on which the Gospel was preached, it was found resting on no more credible basis than the vision of Paul, and what ought to have occurred because predicted by prophets.
Can we wonder if a practical Roman statesman saw in Paul the victim of religious hallucination ; or that Agrippa should exclaim, with sarcastic pleasantry,
With but shallow reasoning you desire to make me a Christian.'1 In other words—Where is the proof of your statements ?' Paul had said, “Why is it judged incredible with you, if God doth raise the dead ?' but this is merely dealing with the theory of the Resurrection, and the gist of the matter lay in proof that an individual man had actually risen from the dead. Modern piety believes all things possible to God, but would reject the rumour of a specific resurrection without conclusive evidence of the miracle. Why, therefore, should Agrippa, Bernice, or Festus prove less sceptical than modern Christians, and if even Galilean apostles demanded material proof, should not Paul have brought some of the five hundred witnesses into court to satisfy the doubts of men less facile of conviction than himself?
The apostolic annalist is silent as to Bernice's views of Paul. If he possessed the winning smile which tradition gives him, she probably pitied the interesting fanatic, and wondered whether a woman's voice might not some day charm him more than vocal thunder.
We all know what would be the fate of Paul summoned in modern times before a bench of magistrates in connection with some popular commotion. The
1 Acts xxvi. 28, incorrectly translated in the A.V.