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Bobby Stafford Saul, Persecutor of the Church (Acts 8 1-3)       

The Book of Acts

Saul – Persecutor of the Church

Text:  Acts 8:1-3


After the death of Stephen, a severe persecution arose against the Lord’s church.  Verse 1  Acts 8:1 “Now Saul was consenting to his death.  At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”  NKJV  Christians, with the exception of the apostles, were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  A young man by the name of Saul was instrumental in this persecution.  Verses 2-3  Acts 8:2-3 “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.  As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” NKJV  But who was this Saul and why was he so zealous in persecuting followers of Christ?


I.  Who Was Saul? 

A.  His Birthplace  Saul was probably born in the first years of the Christian era making him a little younger than Jesus.  He was born in Tarsus, the principal city of Cilicia in Southeast Asia Minor [modern Turkey].  (Acts 21:39) “But Paul said, ‘I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.’ ” NKJV  It was a very important city, being a large trade center on the Mediterranean coast.  Tarsus had become quite rich due to the trade of the city’s merchants and its population had swelled to over a quarter of a million people.  One product Tarsus was known for was the high quality of its tents made from the black hair of the goats which lived in the nearby Tarsus mountains.  Tarsus was also known as a university town with educators from all over the world coming there to teach.  The university there had leanings toward stoicism which no doubt Saul was exposed to while growing up.  Saul, Paul, encountered stoic philosophers in Athens.  (Acts 17:18) “Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him.  And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’  Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” NKJV

B.  His Roman Citizenship  Read Acts 22:25-29. “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’  When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, ‘Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.’  Then the commander came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’  He said, ‘Yes.’  The commander answered, ‘With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.’  And Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ ” NKJV  Citizenship was not automatically conferred to every citizen of Tarsus.  It was granted to families of high social standing or possibly for services rendered to Rome.  So Saul was born into a wealthy, prominent family in Tarsus.  Few Jews were awarded this privileged status.  This citizenship had many advantages.  They had the right to appeal to the emperor if they felt the outcome of their trial was unfair.  They could also vote and become members of the senate.  (Acts 25:10-12) “So Paul said, ‘I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged.  To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know.  For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them.  I appeal to Caesar.’  Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, ‘You have appealed to Caesar?  To Caesar you shall go!’ ” NKJV

C.  His Jewish Heritage  Read Acts 22:3.  “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of the fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.” NKJV  In Paul’s day, rabbis were the teachers and interpreters of the Law of Moses.  Synagogues, scattered throughout much of the Roman Empire, were the places Jews went to be educated by the rabbis.  There were three main sects within Judaism:  Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.  The latter was a male-only order, and lived very austere lives usually in remote areas.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were a work of the Essenes.  The Sadducees were a small but powerful sect more concerned with this life than the next.  The Jewish Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, was controlled by the Sadducees.  The Pharisees were the largest sect of the Jews and this was Saul’s particular sect.  Over time, the Pharisees had built a set of rules to “protect” the Law of Moses.  These rules, or traditions, were incredibly detailed and took God’s laws further than they were ever intended.  See Matthew 23:4 “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” and Matthew 15:7-9. “Hypocrites!  Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips But their heart is far from Me And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” NKJV  Saul probably began his Jewish education in the synagogue at around age five.  At around age thirteen, he would have left Tarsus for Jerusalem to study under the renowned rabbi Gamaliel.  (Acts 5:34) “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while.” NKJV  Saul received the best education his religion had to offer. 

II.  Why Did Saul Persecute Christians? 

·  Saul was a strict Pharisee.  (Acts 23:6) “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ ”  (Acts 26:4-5) “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.  They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”  (Philippians 3:5) “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;” NKJV

·  He was very zealous concerning those he believed might harm the Jewish faith.  (Galatians 1:13-14)  “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how  I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.  And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”  (Philippians 3:6) “concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless,” NKJV 

·  He consented to the death of Stephen.  (Acts 22:19-20) “So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.  And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ ” NKJV

·  He entered names dragging men and women off to prison.  (Acts 8:3) “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”  (Acts 22:4) “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.” NKJV  Saul even went into the synagogues and beat Christians.  (Acts 22:19) “So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.’ ” NKJV

·  He was convinced that he should do as much as he could to oppose the name of Jesus.  (Acts 26:9-11) “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.  NKJV


Many aspects of Saul’s early life and background prepared him for the work of an apostle that God had planned for him later in his life.  (I Timothy 1:15-16) “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”  NKJV 

Bobby Stafford 
August 30, 2015 [Evening] 
Acts:  Lesson 20  Acts 8:1-3

 More Studies on Acts

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