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St. Paul: a white man with a pointed beard

Oldest known portrait of Paul (catacomb of Thecla, Rome, 300s AD)

Paul starts out as Saul

Saul was a Jewish man who converted to Christianity near the very beginning of the new religion. After he converted, he took the Christian name Paul.

Judaism in the time of Jesus
More about Christianity
Roman Empire articles

Paul preaches Christianity

In the 30s and 40s AD, soon after Jesus was crucified, Paul travelled all over preaching Christianity. He went to Greece and to what’s now Turkey and to Damascus in Syria.

Paul in Corinth, Greece

What did Paul say?

Roman fountain in Corinth

Roman fountain in Corinth

A new thing that Paul did was to preach to people who were not Jews. Paul told people that Jesus wanted them to be good – they should never tell lies, or steal, or cheat anyone in a trade. But Paul said that love was more important than any of these things (I Corinthians).

Paul also told people that Jesus didn’t want anybody who got divorced to remarry. A man could only have one wife, and a woman could only have one husband. And he said that women should obey their husbands, and not speak in public. At this time, Roman women were fighting to get more rights. So maybe Paul was part of the backlash against their feminism.

Women in the Roman Empire
Women in West Asia

How was Paul different from Jesus?

A woman from Roman Egypt, holding a notebook and a pen

A woman from Roman Egypt, holding a notebook and a pen

Jesus hadn’t really told people how to live: he was more concerned that the world was about to end. He told people how to get to heaven. Paul was organizing a community of Christians, and he told people how to live as Christians.

More about Jesus

The first Christians in Rome

Thanks to Paul’s preaching, and the preaching of other apostles, a lot more people became Christians. By the time of the Roman Emperor Claudius, in the 40s AD, there may even have been Christians in Rome.

Who were the apostles?
More about Emperor Claudius

The Roman historian Suetonius (writing about 100 AD) said that “Claudius threw out of Rome the Jews who were always making a fuss in the name of Chrestus.” Suetonius means a time about 15 years after Jesus was crucified (but he was writing written about 85 years later).

Who was Suetonius?

Did the Romans kill Paul?

a mosaic wall with a gold background shows a man hanging on an upside down cross with his feet up. Roman officials stand around.

Peter being crucified, from a mosaic in the church of Monreale, Italy (1130s AD)

Around the same time, about 50 AD, tradition tells us that Roman officials killed both Paul and the apostle Peter in Rome for being Christians. According to the story, Peter asked to be crucified upside-down so he wouldn’t die the same way as Jesus.

Nobody is sure if any of this is true, or exactly what the charge was. Being a Christian was not actually illegal until around the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan, about 100 AD. But maybe they were killed for disturbing the peace, or just for public preaching.

Learn by doing: write and preach a sermon yourself
Nero and the Great Fire in Rome
Christianity becomes illegal

Bibliography and further reading about Paul:


Nero and the Great Fire in Rome
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