Paul’s Extreme Makeover

Metanoia, or the Conversion of Saul, Chapter 4, of Joseph Callewaert’s The World of Saint Paul is a before and after account of St. Paul. We start the chapter with Saul (Paul), a rabbi, persecuting Christians, and after an amazing transformation following an encounter with the Lord, we end with Paul becoming one of the first Christian missionaries to the Gentiles. According to Callewaert, this encounter with Jesus qualifies Paul as a legitimate disciple. However, the other disciples were a little leery of Paul’s conversion at first. Not that I really thought too much about it before, but I probably would have also questioned Paul’s motives if he suddenly wanted to join the ranks of Jesus’s disciples, especially considering his checkered past.

  For those of you in the diaconate program, it may be a little troubling to know that Paul was a part of the group that consented to the murder of Stephen, the first martyr. After Stephen’s martyrdom, Paul was looking to overtake other Christian territories and was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus when his conversion took place. It happened just outside of Damascus in a village named Kawbab. Following the appearance of the Lord, Paul continued into Damascus where he met Ananias who cured him from his temporary blindness and baptized him. Then, Paul began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God and testify to His resurrection. With his powers of persuasion, Paul angered the Jews enough for them to want to kill him. Paul then set out for Jerusalem, where Barnabas brought him to the disciples. As he continued to preach in the name of the Lord and speak out against the Hellenists, he was again being sought to be killed, so was sent off to Tarsus, his home town. With the number of conversions to Christianity, Barnabas sought Paul to bring him to Antioch of Syria, which was referred to as the second Rome. It was a Roman bastion of Hellenistic culture and pleasure, sin city, which was then converted by Barnabas and Paul to a Christian stronghold. Christianity remained strong from the mid 40’s to the mid 300’s, becoming the center of a school of theology and claiming Ignatius, John Chrysostom, and Saint Augustine as its residents.

  This is a very interesting historical account of Paul’s conversion, with an interesting biblical emphasis on the road where the conversion took place as well as a focus on the conversion of Antioch of Syria. It lacks the spirituality around a conversion and rather focuses more on the facts. As Callewaert consistently reminds us of Paul’s strong ties to Judaism, it makes his conversion that more amazing. It is a wonderful, historical insight surrounding the time of Paul’s conversion and the ability he was given to convert others to Christianity. I would recommend this chapter to anyone who is looking for a historical account of Paul’s conversion rooted in scripture.

Saul’s Journey to Jerusalem and Young Adulthood.

In The World of St Paul Chapter Three “A Rabbinical Education” Calleawaert provides a vivid description of Saul’s Bar Mitzvah and his journey to Jerusalem where he received his rabbinical formation. 

At thirteen Saul became a “Son of the Law” and was declared worthy to wear the phylacteries two small leather boxes containing scripture passages. One fastened to his head and the other his left arm which symbolized his total adherence to the law. Saul continued to work as a tent maker and study the law. At age fourteen due to his maturity and intelligence he was sent to study in Jerusalem. He joined a caravan south into the land of his ancestors.

Here Callewaert describes a wonderful description of Old Testament history describing various landmarks and the events that occurred there. He discussed how perilous the journey could be due to thieves and robbers. One stretch of the journey was dubbed “The Bloody Path”.

Upon entering Jerusalem there is description of the temple and the religious practices it. Noteworthy was the Wall of Gentiles that threatened death to any Gentile who pass through it to the sacred area of the temple. No doubt this would influence Paul for the future.

After he made his paschal sacrifice Saul entered a Rabbinical school. There were two schools belonging to the sect of Phariessees: Shammai and Hillel. Shammai offered a broader interpretation of the law. Hillel offered a strict adherence to the law. Saul chose Hillel and study under Gamaliel who was a teacher held in high regard even by the Roman emperor Tiberius. Saul also had close association with Greek scholars and the Sophia Greek Wisdom. When his studies were complete, he return to Tauris and worked as a Tent Maker with his father.

I recommend this chapter. Callewaert is a wonderful writer who provides detailed historical context for Saul’s journey to Jerusalem and his young adulthood.  This chapter is a good resource for Bachelor or Master level biblical scholars.