Paul: His Story

Paul: His Story

Paul: His Story

Paul: His Story


For someone who has exercised such a profound influence on Christian theology, Paul remains a shadowy figure behind the barrier of his complicated and difficult biblical letters. Debates about his meaning have deflected attention from his personality, yet his personality is an important key to understanding his theological ideas. This book redresses the balance. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's disciplined imagination, nourished by a lifetime of research, shapes numerous textual, historical, and archaeological details into an engaging biography in the Apostle comes to life as a complex, intensely human individual and a flawed but undefeated hero.


The writing of this book was a wonderful adventure in attempting to transform a life into a story. There are many lives of Paul of Tarsus, but all of them are content to highlight the points that can be established with a degree of probability. The focus is on the arguments that sustain the conclusions, and the 'facts' that come to light are presented as trophies in splendid isolation. The very nature of the process ensures that Paul can never emerge as a vital personality. Certain things are discovered about him, but he is not seen as a distinctive individual. In most instances he comes across essentially as a disembodied mind from which pour theological ideas.

In Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), I wrote just such a book. What made it different from the others was the weight I gave to the letters as the prime source of biographical material. The result was the outline of a life, which not only differed at crucial points from that elaborated by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, but was much more detailed. All the points established there are taken for granted here without further documentation: namely, the chronology of Paul's life, his relations with his foundations, the problems he faced in various situations, the composite character of certain letters, etc.

I now see these 'facts' as the parts of a skeleton. It is well preserved. The skull and all the bones are there. They have been measured and defined. They are strong and weight-bearing. But they do not move. In this book I want to make these bones live by clothing them with flesh, and infusing them with the breath of life. Paul has to become the hero of a story.

Thus I reconstruct his life in sufficient detail to give it consistency and colour, and recount the events in chronological order. A strong narrative line is the only way to give a sense of Paul as a person. Inevitably, much is hypothetical and imaginative. In every case, however, the underlying hypothesis is the most probable one, and my imagination is controlled by contemporary sources and monuments, and by my own experiences in the places that Paul visited.

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