When we dig into the New Testament (NT) to mine out how Christ’s apostles dealt with violence, we’re immediately struck with the fact that fully one-fourth of the NT text was authored by a single apostle, namely Paul, a man whose life was saturated with violence.
One-fourth of the NT. A man dripping with violence. Let all of that soak into your mind a bit.
Further, add to that the observation that this apostle’s frequent sidekick, Luke, authored even more of the NT material (28%) and that over one-fourth of his writings record in detail some of Paul’s experiences in ministry.
Is the full force of the tremendous influence this single apostle wielded starting to come home to you?
Now for anyone who believes God himself was involved in the creation, content, and collection of the NT writings, the point should be obvious: God wants us to focus – at length and in detail – on how this particular Christian conducted his life in a world, at the very least, every bit as violent as our own. Paul was “God’s man of the hour” and the hour was a bloody one.
After all, God promised Paul, known formerly as Saul (cf. Acts 13.9), that he would personally show Paul just how very much he “must suffer” in this life as a Christian (Acts 9:16). And, quite arguably, the lion’s share of that misery was to be the result of the actions of people who either threatened, or acted with, physical violence toward him.
Naturally then, as we continue our digging into the doings of Christ’s apostles as they faced violence, we must not stroll quickly by Paul. Rather, we must pay special attention to Paul for God himself had a hand in making this man’s life an open book for us to note.
It’s in the midst of a scene of grave injustice and murderous violence when Paul, first known as Saul, first appears on the scene in Luke’s second work, known as the Acts of the Apostles. In that scene, Stephen, a leader in the early church, is in the process of being stoned to death for his preaching of Jesus as the promised Christ and risen Lord. Luke’s record concisely and candidly puts it this way:
“… they threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul [Paul]. Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.” (Acts 7.58-8.1)
As much as we might hope, we’re told this isn’t a one-off situation, but only a milestone down the way of an ever tightening downward spiral into increasing participation in the use of violence by Saul/Paul. Luke’s record continues:
“At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. … Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.” (Acts 8.1b,3)
Not to worry; it gets even worse. Not content to limit his violent work to the Christians in Judea and Samaria, Luke tells us Saul/Paul extended his efforts to Syria.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9.1-2)
It’s not a pretty picture, is it? Saul/Paul is a man in full agreement with murder, wreaking havoc in the lives of Christians across a large expanse, dragging innocent people away to prison, issuing murderous threats, and generally looking for every sanction possible to continue his dark ways of violence.
It’s safe to say that Saul/Paul was a man given over completely to the exercise of even the darkest side of all that is violence. And his reputation was such you could say he was something of the poster boy for sanctioned violence in his place and time.
But God refused to let him stay that way! And it’s precisely that point we’ll note in our next installment.