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by J. Philip Schaelling

The Church recognizes Paul as a true apostle of Jesus Christ. No other early Apostle has had the impact on subsequent believers through both his personal example and his written words that Paul has. The early Christian apostle to the Gentiles, in his New Testament letters, produced a rich source of Christian doctrine and the single most important doctrinal influence upon many of the denominations of modern Christendom. Without Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ would be largely missing from the Bible, and considerably less would be known about grace, the Lord's Supper, church structure, the Apostasy, or the role of gifts of the spirit in the Church.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. Details of Paul's life are found in his letters and in the book of Acts. Born in Tarsus of Cilicia (modern southeastern Turkey), Paul was multicultural. As a Jew, he was known by the name of Saul and was educated in Jerusalem as a Pharisee under the famous rabbi Gamaliel. He was also a Roman citizen by birth, a rare privilege for a Jew at that time. Finally, he was familiar with Greek language and culture through his early environment in the Hellenistic city of Tarsus. Thus, he was able to deal with Jews, Romans, and Greeks on their own cultural terms—a great advantage for his later missionary work.

As a Pharisee working for the Jewish high priest, Saul was an early and zealous persecutor of Christians and personally assented to the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:3). However, as Saul traveled toward Damascus to arrest Christians there, the resurrected Christ appeared to him in a vision. As a result of this experience, Saul embraced the cause of Christ and spent the rest of his life in his service.

After baptism, Saul "went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus" (Gal. 1:17). He was so effective in preaching Christ that he provoked much Jewish opposition and was eventually compelled to flee for his life. Returning to Jerusalem after three years, he met briefly with Peter and James, the Lord's brother, and then went to Cilicia and Syria, where he spent approximately the next decade preaching the gospel.

Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch, whence they left on their first missionary journey. On this journey, Saul began using his Roman name, Paul, and established his basic strategy for missionary work. Whenever he entered a city, Paul went first to the Jews, preaching Christ in their synagogues. Usually they would reject his message, but Gentiles associated with the synagogues would frequently be converted; Paul would then turn his attention to teaching the Gentiles of that city and would establish a branch of the Church made up of Gentiles and perhaps a few Jewish converts.

Two more missionary journeys of over three years each are described in Acts, and Paul was successful in teaching the gospel and establishing churches throughout much of present-day Turkey and Greece. Returning to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, Paul met with such intense Jewish opposition to his presence in the temple that he was put into custody by the Romans and held in prison in Caesarea for two years before being sent to Rome for trial. Though shipwrecked on the way, he was eventually imprisoned in Rome and was executed around A.D. 64, during the reign of the emperor Nero.

The Prophet Joseph Smith gave a description of Paul: about five feet tall, dark hair, penetrating eyes, and a powerful orator (TPJS, p. 180; WJS, p. 59). He also indicated that Paul was acquainted with Enoch (TPJS, p. 170) and that Abel "was sent down from heaven unto Paul to minister consoling words, and to commit unto him a knowledge of the mysteries of godliness" (TPJS, p. 169).

PAUL'S TEACHINGS. One of Paul's greatest contributions to the New Testament is his forceful statement of justification (that is, being absolved of guilt) by faith in Christ (cf. Gal. 2-3; Rom. 2-5). Early on, Paul had taught his gentile converts that they did not need to live the Law of Moses in order to be justified before God. It was sufficient to make and keep the gospel covenant, the covenant of faith, to do this, while outward observance of the Law of Moses was not (Gal. 2:16). In particular, after Christ's Atonement, there was no longer any necessity of observing the earlier law and covenant of Moses, which were rendered obsolete by the law and covenant of the gospel (cf. Heb. 8:6-13; 3 Ne. 9:17-20). Thus, Paul's Gentile converts did not need to become Jews in order to become Christians (cf. Acts 15:5-29), for human beings are "justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28). A complete commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the covenant of faith, automatically fulfills all previous obligations before God, including the obligations of the Law of Moses.

Paul also taught the related doctrine of salvation by grace. Latter-day Saints recognize at least four ways in which Paul spoke of salvation as an operation of the grace of God. First, through the Atonement of Christ, a free gift, Adam's posterity is not accountable for the transgression of Adam (Rom. 5:18-21). Second, it naturally follows that death—a consequence of Adam's transgression—will be done away by the gift of resurrection that will be graciously given to all human beings (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Third, the fact that God has offered a new covenant of faith in place of the old rules of performances and ordinances, which mankind then was not able to live perfectly, is in itself an act of grace. And fourth, that the Savior volunteered to suffer and die for the sake of others is the greatest expression of the grace of God. Thus, salvation is accessible to mankind only through the gracious acts and gifts of God. As Paul said, "We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2). However, in Paul's theology, the doctrines of salvation by grace and justification by faith do not eliminate but require the absolute necessity for high personal standards of conduct (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21).

Paul also taught that God's knowledge is unlimited and that God's plan has anticipated all future events and cannot be thwarted. God knows the end from the beginning and has already prepared the inheritance of those who choose to keep his will (Eph. 1:4-14). Though the King James Version of the Bible uses the problematic word "predestinated" (Greek, proorizo), Latter-day Saints do not understand it to mean that some are saved and some are damned according to a prior decision by God. Latter-day Saints prefer the term foreordination to "predestination" and insist that the foreknowledge of God does not impinge upon the free agency of human beings.

Not all, or possibly not even most, of Paul's letters have been preserved. Latter-day Saints believe that if a more complete collection of Paul's letters had survived, it would reflect a theology much like that of the restored gospel of latter days. They see support for this in the number of references in Paul to doctrines that are now peculiar to the Latter-day Saints, such as baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29), the three degrees of glory (1 Cor. 15:39-41; 2 Cor. 12:2), the premortal life (Eph. 1:4), and the necessity of an ecclesiastical organization that includes apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-20; 4:11-13). Latter-day Saints assume that Paul did not expand on these topics in his extant writings because they were written to people who already knew about them.

Paul is a major source of predictions of the apostasy of the early Christian church. He is quoted in Acts 20:29-30 as warning the elders from Ephesus and Miletus that grievous wolves would descend after his departure, "not sparing the flock," and that disaffected members would tear up the Church from within. He warned the Thessalonians not to expect the coming of Christ before the Apostasy had taken place (2 Thes. 2:2-3). Significantly, he reminded both groups that this warning had been part of his preaching from the first (2 Thes. 2:5; Acts 20:31).

Latter-day Saints do not see in Paul an opposition to women, sex, or marriage. Rather, Paul's general statement of principle on marriage is "Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2; cf. Heb. 13:4). Paul goes on to address special circumstances (1 Cor. 7:8-16) and admonishes all people to care first for the things of God (verses 25-38), but his advice regarding particular situations should not be confused with his general policy. Husbands are to love their wives, and vice versa (Eph. 5:28), for "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:11). It is clear that women were valued associates and held positions of responsibility in Paul's congregations (cf. Rom. 16:1-4).

Paul's influence upon Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints is seen at many points. Joseph Smith referred to "the admonition of Paul" (cf. Philip. 4:8) in describing the highest moral aspirations of the Latter-day Saints (A of F 13). The language of Paul is discernible in most of the Articles of Faith (e.g., in A of F 4 on the first principles of the gospel [cf. Heb. 6:1-2]; in A of F 5 on ordination to the priesthood [cf. 1 Tim. 4:14]; in A of F 6 on the officers of the Primitive Church [cf. Eph. 4:11]; and in A of F 7 on the gifts of the spirit [cf. 1 Cor. 12:8-12]), and part of the sublime hymn to charity (1 Cor. 13:4-8) is also found in the Book of Mormon (Moro. 7:45-46). These are taken as indications that Jesus was the ultimate source of all of these teachings.

Of Paul's life, the Prophet Joseph Smith observed:

Follow the labors of this Apostle from the time of his conversion to the time of his death, and you will have a fair sample of industry and patience in promulgating the Gospel of Christ. Derided, whipped, and stoned, the moment he escaped the hands of his persecutors he as zealously as ever proclaimed the doctrine of the Savior…. Paul rested his hope in Christ, because he had kept the faith, and loved His appearing and from His hand he had a promise of receiving a crown of righteousness [TPJS, pp. 63-64].

[See also Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST); New Testament.; Basic Beliefs home page; The Holy Bible home page; People in the Bible home page.]


Anderson, Richard Lloyd. Understanding Paul. Salt Lake City, 1983.

McConkie, Bruce R. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vols. 2-3. Salt Lake City, 1970-1973.

Sperry, Sidney B. Paul's Life and Letters. Salt Lake City, 1955.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Paul

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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