Paul

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Saint Paul was an early Christian figure to whom much of the New Testament of the Bible outside the Gospels is attributed. By tradition he was a Roman agent and persecutor of Christians named Saul who changed his name upon converting after receiving a vision from Christ. According to the writings attributed to him, Paul was not a disciple of Jesus prior to Jesus' crucifixion.

The epistles or letters attributed to Paul are, in order from longest to shortest:

  • Romans
  • First Corinthians (often written I Corinthians)
  • Second Corinthians (II Corinthians)
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • First Thessalonians
  • Second Thessalonians
  • First Timothy
  • Second Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon

As a rule, the title of each letter identifies its recipient. The "epistle to the Colossians," then, is a letter to the church in Colossae. There is considerable debate as to the authenticity of some epistles.

In addition to the epistles listed above, Paul was traditionally believed to be the author of the letter to the Hebrews, though modern scholars doubt this. Paul also had a connection to Luke, the author of the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

Through his writings, his interactions with other early apostles, and his powerful theology, Paul played an important role in shaping the early Christian movement.

Much of what liberals view as the harsher side of Christianity particularly as expressed by Conservative Christians has its roots in Saint Paul's description of the early Christian Church in the New Testament. This includes statements telling slaves to serve their masters, describing women as subordinate to men, and statements hung up on non-traditional sexuality. The ideas that flow from the writings attributed to Paul are sometimes called the Pauline tradition.

This tradition, however, often stems from a misunderstanding of Paul's message. A guiding principle of Paul's theology was a voluntary relinquishing of rights and status in order to serve fellow believers. Slaves were to serve their masters, and women were to be subordinate to men, while the men and masters were to reciprocate with a radically egalitarian Christian love. There can be no question, however, that Paul was bound to some extent by his cultural perspective, as with his contemptuous dismissal of homosexual practices as a Greek folly.

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