We first meet Paul as Saul of Tarsus. Whilst he is recorded as the enemy of the followers of The Way (Jesus Christ), we need to remember that even so he was also extremely devout. His knowledge of the Scriptures was as good as, if not better, than that of the followers of The Way.
He was brought up as a Jew and a Pharisee, and as such would have been well-schooled. From the age of 5 he would have been taught the Scriptures and studied them, and then gone on to learn the Jewish traditions when he reached 10 years old.
Later he had the privilege of being a student of one of the foremost Rabbis of his day, Gamaliel 1. Saul was obviously extremely zealous and would have taken all his studies more seriously than others as he advanced well beyond what they attained. That he was devout and sincere was never in doubt.
He was so zealous for the integrity and purity of his religion that his religious fervour demanded that those seen as heretics should not only be hounded down but eliminated. His drive was so strong that, having felt he had cleansed Jerusalem, he was ready to make excursions to other parts of Palestine to complete the task.
He was determined to destroy the perpetrators of the heretical faction, known as The Way. He saw in them a direct confrontation to Judaism; their teaching was totally contrary to all he had learned and held dear.
When Stephen challenged the Sanhedrin, Paul would have seen that as an act of extreme heresy. He watched as Stephen was taken away and stoned. Such was his approval that he willingly offered to watch over the clothes of those who stoned Stephen to death.
However, it seems Stephen’s death neither appalled him nor satisfied him. Rather, it gave him more ammunition and confidence that what he had set his heart on was the right course of action. He would continue the persecution of the followers of The Way (Christians) both in Jerusalem and everywhere else they went. He would hound them to extinction.
Because Saul was sure that he was doing what was right, he applied to the religious council for the appropriate letters addressed to the synagogue leaders throughout the land to force them to hand over any of the traitors to Judaism for repatriation to Jerusalem and their eventual death.
We need to remember, however, that Saul was doing no more than trying to protect his form of Judaism. Indeed, the Judaism that he had been brought up with and been taught from his childhood. He was not the one who was a radical – it was the followers of The Way who were challenging everything and offering the people a new religion.
Saul was protecting the status quo. He was defending the traditions and historical religion. Why shouldn’t he?
However, as we shall see, he was totally misguided. Sincere, but sincerely wrong.
We need to be sure to base our non-negotiable beliefs on the non-negotiable Truth of God’s Word.