Ralph F. Wilson, 'Apostle Paul - Passionate Discipleship,' original watercolor, 10x13 in. In a private collection.

Paul is a passionate man. As a Pharisee he has been "zealous for God" (Acts 22:3). As a persecutor of the church he is "intense" (NIV), "violent" (ESV, NRSV, Galatians 1:13).[1] He is "extremely zealous"[2] for the traditions of Judaism, far beyond his peers (Galatians 1:14).

Later, when he is converted and placed on a different path, his zeal isn't diminished, but rather redirected. Now he is an all-out follower of Jesus. Compared to so-called false apostles, he says,

"I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again." (2 Corinthians 11:23)

We'll be exploring Paul's zeal in these lessons -- what happens in his life, what he is passionate about. What truths excite him. What lessons change his life.

Of course, trying to write a series of lessons on the Apostle Paul is a daunting task, since I don't want to leave anything out. Paul is the major actor in the latter two-thirds of the Acts of the Apostles, and (as someone calculated) author of approximately 28% of the words in the New Testament, a massive body of work that has guided, inspired, and encouraged the church for two millennia. His life and teachings are the focus of literally hundreds of thousands of books and papers. It's overwhelming!

Can I give you a complete picture of Paul in eleven lessons? No.[3] But I can offer an accurate partial picture that fills in the essential details. And we'll explore Paul's passion for Jesus, a passion that marks his history and exploits.

My approach is two-fold:

  1. Exploits. Acts chapters 9 and 11-28 provide the basic outline of Paul's life (with some blank spots filled in from the epistles). For your convenience, you'll find approximate dates in Appendix 2. Chronology of Paul.
  2. Passions and Teachings. For the most part, Paul's passions are best explored in his Letters[4] and form the core of his primary themes.

Of course, we can't be comprehensive here either. Name any central Christian doctrine and you'll find that Paul has made a major contribution to it. But there are some doctrines that Paul himself pioneers and develops. By means of Christ's revelation, he connects the dots between the Old Testament prophecies and how these doctrines find their focus in Christ. It is these themes that we'll be exploring especially. For your convenience I have included a list of the major Theological and Practical Themes covered in these lessons.

A typical lesson will consider the narrative from Acts, but then focus in on key teachings amplified by Paul's Letters. Two lessons, however, skip Acts and launch directly into Paul's teachings. Each lesson, of course, explores how all this impact our own lives, our own value systems, and our own commitments, and includes a summary of Lessons for Disciples and Discussion Questions for thought and meditation.

I invite you to join me as together we explore the Passionate Discipleship of Christianity's most passionate disciple -- Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul. My prayer is that by rubbing shoulders with the Apostle Paul, you'll catch his love for Jesus, and find yourself moving more surely on your path with the Master.

Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Loomis, California
June 20, 2019

[1] Greek hyperbolē, "state of exceeding to an extraordinary degree a point on a scale of extent, excess, extraordinary quality/character," here, "to an extraordinary degree, beyond measure, utterly" (BDAG 1032).

[2] "Extremely zealous" (NIV, ESV), "far more zealous" (NRSV), "more exceedingly zealous" (KJV) is two words: zēlōtēs, "one who is earnestly committed to a side or cause, enthusiast, adherent, loyalist" (BDAG 427, 1aβ). And perissoterōs, "even more, to a much greater degree, far more, far greater" (BDAG 806, 1).

[3] Three whole shelves in my own library are devoted to Paul! And that's just the beginning. For something more complete see F.F. Bruce's Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (1977) or N.T. Wright's works on Paul.

[4] As I have reviewed Paul's letters, I have come to the conclusion to that all of them are authentic Paul -- including some that have been questioned. The only one I don't think was written by Paul is the Book of Hebrews. It doesn't claim Pauline authorship -- though it was probably originally included in the canon because it was once thought to be Paul's writing. Certainly, the author of Hebrews lived and ministered in the same circle as had Paul.

Copyright © 2019, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.