Saint Paul is the apostle par excellence. When one thinks of evangelization and missionary life, one thinks of him. A man of the great cities, he lived among the capitals of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire (Ephesus, Corinth, Antioch, Thessalonica). Born into the diaspora, he traveled to Jerusalem for his studies as a Pharisee. A Jew of noble birth, his education gave him the best that Hellenistic-Judaic culture had to offer. At first a persecutor of Christians and someone who was “blameless” regarding observance of the law of Moses (cf. Phil 3:6), he later became a Christian around 33-34 A.D.
In the Acts of the Apostles Luke tells us three things that Paul himself does not tell us. First, that he was from Tarsus. Paul’s cultural level is in keeping with this city of his origins. Paul belonged to a wealthy family. In the capital of Cilicia, a city with flourishing philosophical schools, he had received an excellent Hellenistic education, which included knowledge of rhetoric and the basic elements of Greek culture.
Second, because of his family he was a Roman citizen by birth, which was somewhat rare at that time. Paul would write to the Corinthians: “What is vile and despised by the world, what is nothing, God has chosen” (1 Cor 1:28). This is undoubtedly true of most of the Christians in Corinth, but Paul, because of his family, his education and his intellectual training, belonged to the elite of the Empire.