Paul of Tarsus
Paul of Tarsus was an early convert to Christianity who was the prime instigator in spreading it beyond the Jews, taking it to much of the Roman Empire. He is also the author of many of the books that make up the New Testament.
Paul was a strict Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin who was passionate about Jewish orthodoxy and fiercely opposed to the new sect of Judaism founded by Jesus Christ called "The Way" until his conversion following an unusual occurrence involving a bright light and a voice along the road to Damascus, Syria. Paul was transformed into an energetic and persuasive advocate for the Way.
After his acceptance by Peter and the other Apostles, Paul argued that much of the Jewish character of The Way, including temple worship and observance of the Mosaic code, was no longer applicable. This also made the message more acceptable to the gentiles.
As early as the second century, some theologians saw a distinction between the Christianity preached by Paul and that preached by the other apostles. The term "Pauline Christianity" came into use among scholars in the twentieth century, partly as a result of newly discovered manuscripts documenting the variety of beliefs in the early church. The expression suggests that Paul changed what Jesus taught. Others believe that Paul only interpreted and amplified the teachings of Jesus. The leading New Testament scholar N. T. Wright dismisses Pauline Christianity as being a "typical 18th-Century perspective". Instead, he says,
So Jesus was doing the unique one-off thing, which was launching the project of God's Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven. And Paul says, "right, that has happened. Now it is my job to tell the world the good news that God is now in charge in and through His Son Jesus and by His death and resurrection". … And so Paul is not accomplishing the thing which Jesus has accomplished; he's implementing it, he's putting it to work in the world."
Paul spread the news about Jesus throughout the north-eastern Mediterranean world from Antioch (where it was first called Christianity) through Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. His efforts resulted in a constellation of churches throughout the northern shores of the Mediterranean which he pastored by ceaseless travel and by letter, some of which have survived to form the bulk of the Epistles collected in the New Testament. As such, Paul is the author of more biblical books (though not more verses or words in the Bible) than any other writer.
Paul endured great hardships during his ministry. He was jailed numerous times, stoned once, given the maximum thirty-nine lashes of the whip from the Jews five times, he was beaten with rods from Roman lictors three times, he was shipwrecked three times and spent twenty-four hours adrift in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet no Apostle was more tireless than he in carrying out the Great Commission.
Meanwhile most of the original twelve Apostles, led by James the Just (the brother of Jesus), ministered to the house of Israel while Peter wavered between the two sides, sometimes favoring James on the issue of circumcising Christians, and sometimes favoring Paul. The Roman Emperor Titus solved Peter's problem for him by sacking Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and scattering or enslaving most of the Jews, including Jewish Christians, leaving Paul's constellation of gentile churches intact. It was these churches which eventually merged into the Catholic Church. Thus, Paul is sometimes considered to be the real founder of modern Christianity.
In about 63-65 AD, before he could make his first missionary efforts in Spain, Paul was placed under house arrest for two years in Rome, and following a fire which gutted most of the city, Emperor Nero initiated a general persecution of Christians, for he found them to be a convenient scapegoat. Peter was crucified upside-down on Vatican Hill. Paul, as a Roman citizen, was scourged and beheaded.
Paul's body is thought to be beneath the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. A body apparently dating to the right period has been found there and can be seen through a hole in the floor near the main altar.