Acts of the Apostles
This study started with the Ascension and the election of St. Matthias to complete the number of twelve Apostles. The Church at this point did not really exist. There were approximately one hundred and twenty disciples lamenting the second time Jesus was taken from them. They huddled behind closed doors in fear of further persecution by the leaders of the temple.
We then recounted the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Ghost and the birth of the Church. Immediately we see a change in all the Apostles. Peter started healing and preaching in the temple. We see them start to share their resources and they began to lead a communal life. The Apostles were imprisoned and rescued by an Angel. When they returned to the temple they were warned to quit preaching in the Name of Jesus. When they refused, the leaders of the temple plotted to kill the Apostles but were restrained by Gamaliel who said, "If they are of God we could not stop them. If they are not of God, their efforts will come to naught."
We saw the beginning of the spread of Christianity and the creation of the Order of Deacons. Stephenís martyrdom was recounted and Philipís mission to Samaria was described. It was interesting to note that the Apostles came to review Philipís work and to perform the confirmations. We heard of Saulís approval of the stoning of Stephen and his intent to persecute the Christians at Damascus. We read of Peterís missionary efforts around Jerusalem, Samaria and Damascus. He was the first to contend with the Apostles about whether circumcision was required of the Gentiles before they could be admitted to Christianity.
The description of St. Paulís conversion on the road to Damascus was repeated several times throughout this book as Paul explained why he was so dedicated to preaching Christ crucified throughout the world. Initially the Apostles at Jerusalem were not willing to meet with Paul because of his reputation. Paul was forced to return to Tarsus where Barnabus found him and brought him back to the church at Antioch. Only at the insistence of Barnabus was he allowed to meet the Apostles and tell his story. Barnabus and Paul were selected to deliver relief to those suffering the famine in Palestine.
Herod killed James and when he saw it pleased the leaders of the temple, he put Peter in prison with the intent of killing him as soon as the feast of Unleavened Bread was past. Peter was rescued by an Angel and departed from Jerusalem for some time. Barnabus and Paul were sent from the Church in Antioch to spread the word to Cyprus and their efforts were directed to the Jews who understood the prophecies of the Old Testament. At this point, Barnabus was the primary spokesman with Paul as an assistant.
When Paul and Barnabus moved on to Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycaonia, Paul began taking a more assertive role. They always started preaching in the temple and among the Jews but the number of converts were minimal. For the most part, the Jews not only rejected their message but refused to allow them to speak at all. Thus the mission to the Gentiles became the most productive field. Gradually the resistance of the Jews to Paulís message grew into full persecution. They followed them from town to town to drive them out repeatedly. Paul was actually stoned in Lystra but survived and they moved on to Derbe.
When Paul and Barnabus returned to Antioch, they were opposed by the Jews who favored circumcision for all Christians. They came from Jerusalem to Antioch just to oppose Paulís mission to the Gentiles. They really wanted to keep Christianity as a subset or sect of Judaism. Paul and Barnabas were compelled to go to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles and Elders to decide the controversy. Peter pointed out that the Gentiles he converted received the Holy Spirit just as did the Jews. James announced the decision of the Apostles as a compromise. The Gentiles would not have to be circumcised, but they must abstain from pollutions of idols, from fornication and from things strangled and from blood.
When Paul and Barnabus returned from Jerusalem, James sent others with them to verify and recount the decision of the Apostles. Paul then decided to check on the people he converted in Asia while Barnabus checked on the people in Cyprus. When he reached the west coast of Asia, he was advised in a vision to cross over to Macedonia where churches were established in Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens and Corinth.
After a return to Caesarea and Antioch, Paul again returned to the churches in Asia and then on to Macedonia. His last return to Jerusalem was fraught with danger because of the Jews who wished to kill him and take the relief money he was bringing to Jerusalem. Upon arriving in Rome, Paul agreed to sponsor two men in a purification ritual to show his continued respect for the Pharisaic traditions. Paul was falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. He was arrested by the Roman authorities to avoid a riot. Once it was known that he was a Roman citizen, the authorities inherited the problem of satisfying the Jews claims against Paul while protecting the rights of a free Roman citizen. He was detained two years under the procurator Felix until Felix was removed from his position. Faustus replaced Felix and at Paulís request granted his Roman privilege to be tried before Caesar. His appeal to Rome allowed him to escape the influence of the Jerusalem Jews who at this point no longer cared about circumcision or ceremonial law. At this point, they simply wanted to avoid his ability to affect their leadership of the temple.
The last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles does not tell us Paulís fate. It implies that he was acquitted by the lack of any witnesses to oppose him. He taught there for two years. Luke was not interested in providing a biography for Paul. His only interest was the growth of the Church. Many people have examined all of Paulís Epistles to glean further information on his activities and fate after reaching Rome. They are not conclusive. For example, many scholars believe that Luke would have made a big issue of Paulís acquittal as a confirmation of Godís Will for his church. We do not know with any degree of certainty about the outcome of his trial in Rome.
Paul was born at Tarsus in Celicia. His father was a Roman citizen. The piety of the Pharisees was hereditary and he zealously followed their traditions and observances. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin and was given the name Saul at his circumcision in memory of the first king of the Jews. He also carried the Roman name Paul. He learned how to make tents, or at least the mohair of which the tents were made. He was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel. His sisterís son saved his life from a planned attack by the leaders of the temple.
Paulís last years are wrapped in obscurity. The account in Acts was not complete. Tradition is uncertain. His other Epistles give clues but are not definitive. He promised in Philemon to return after his captivity. He promised the Philippians that he will send them a messenger as soon as he learns the result of his trial. This indicates he was planning another journey before he returned to the East. Romans indicated a desire on his part to visit Spain.
There are compelling but incomplete arguments to support many theories, but they remain largely speculation. However, tradition and legend agree on one thing. They say that both Peter and Paul perished at the hands of the heathen, and that the Jews played no direct part in their fate. They did not die as renegade Jews. They died as Christian disturbers of the Roman peace.
Eusebius writes that Nero, as part of the general persecution of Christians, accused Peter and Paul of setting Rome on fire. The story relates that they were both executed around 64 or 65 AD. Peter was crucified upside down according to Caius. Paul, being a Roman citizen could not be crucified. He was beheaded as was more fitting for a noble citizen. According to Eusebius, the burial of both is reputed to be Via Ostiensis about two miles from Rome.
According to the most common opinion, Paul and Peter died on the same day near the end of the reign of Nero. Their saintsí days were originally both on June 29th but the five mile distance between the two basilicas was too exhausting for a double ceremony in a single day. Thus St. Paulís celebration was moved to June 30th but we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul instead.