New insight into the Apostle Paul is challenging the traditional view that he broke from Judaism to found a new religion—Christianity. Research from several New Testament scholars portrays a devoted Jewish man committed to convincing both Jews and Gentiles that the Jewish God is the God of all, and that Jesus was sent by God to bring both Jews and Gentiles to repentance and salvation. A look at Paul’s multicultural background shows how he was particularly suited to be the bridge-builder and unifier that he became after he was convinced of Jesus’ mission.
Born in Upper Galilee, Paul’s Jewish family early moved to Tarsus, a university city in the Roman Empire with a mixed Jewish and Greek population. Until he was 19 or 20, Paul was educated in Tarsus as a Jew amongst Greeks. The university in Tarsus being a bastion of the Greek philosophical school of Stoicism, Paul was exposed to this philosophy which preached, among other things, a divine equality among people.See Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story, pp. 2, 6. Everyone possesses a spark of the divine, the Stoics believed, rendering social, ethnic, and political divisions insignificant. Humanity was viewed as one universal brotherhood. This Stoic spirit may well have influenced Paul’s evolving theology, in which he would eventually surprise his fellow Jews by arguing God’s impartiality toward Jews and Gentiles.
In the Hellenistic, academic environment of Tarsus, Paul might also have observed Greek philosophers whose mission was to teach others the great virtue of self-mastery, or control of passions and desires. Self-control also appeared later as a theme in Paul’s theological mission.