A young philosopher knows not where his life will take him.
I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.—Acts 22:3.
Saul of Tarsus
‘I will bring the blind by a way that they know not: in paths that they know not will I lead them: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight.’—The Prophet Isaiah.
His Early Years.
‘He was makin’ himsell a’ the time; but he didna ken maybe what he was about till years had passed.’—LOCKHART, Life of Scott, chap. vii.
TARSUS was pronounced by the greatest of her sons ‘no undistinguished city,’ and she merited the encomium. She was the metropolis of Cilicia and the western capital, as Antioch was the eastern, of the united Province of Syria-Cilicia. Her origin is lost in the mist of antiquity. According to the mythologists, she had been founded by Triptolemus during the wanderings of the Argives in quest of Io, and her name was derived from the wing (tarsos) of Pegasus which had fallen there. She stood, however, in no need of legendary glorification. She owed much to her natural situation, standing as she did on a fair plain, bounded northward by the long range of Taurus and eastward by the ridge of Amanus. This spacious champaign was blessed with luxuriant fertility, albeit it bore one serious disadvantage inasmuch as it was subject to visitations of malaria by reason of its marshes and the sultriness of its climate. Across it flowed the river Cydnus which, issuing from the Taurus and pouring its rapid tide through a deep gorge, emerged close to the city and passed through her midst, occasioning an ill-natured jest which likened the citizens to water-fowl squatted by the stream. Since Tarsus was only three-quarters of a mile from the sea, the course of the Cydnus was very short; yet its stream was navigable, as was proved on one memorable occasion when it floated the gorgeous galley of Cleopatra on her coming from Egypt to Antony’s camp in Cilicia. Its waters, cold from the heart of the mountain, were accounted efficacious for the relief of swellings of the joints and gouty affections in both men and cattle.
At the beginning of the Christian era Tarsus was at the height at once of her prosperity and of her fame. The former was derived partly from the fertility of the neighbouring country and still more from the lucrative commerce which she conducted through her port of Rhegma at the river-mouth. And she enjoyed a yet nobler celebrity. She was at that period the world’s principal seat of learning. ‘So deeply,’ writes the geographer Strabo, ‘are the people there imbued with zeal for philosophy that they have surpassed Athens and Alexandria and every other place that can be mentioned.’ And she possessed this proud distinction which Alexandria alone shared—that her savants were all natives. Students flocked to her schools from other lands, but she had no need of alien teachers. On the contrary, she had no room for the multitude of her learned sons, and she sent them abroad to enlighten the world. ‘Rome especially can learn the multitude of the city’s savants; for she is full of Tarsians and Alexandrians.’
This claim is demonstrated by the goodly array of her sons who had attained eminence in every field of intellectual activity. These included the Stoic philosophers Antipater, Archedamus, Nestor, Athenodorus Cordulio, Cato’s teacher, and Athenodorus the son of Sandon and the teacher of the Emperor Augustus; also Nestor the Academic, the teacher of Marcellus, the son of Augustus’ sister Octavia, and other philosophers; grammarians, too, like Artemidorus and Diodorus; and poets, like Dionysius the tragedian. The neighbouring seaport of Soli, though unenviably immortalised by the term ‘solecism,’ nevertheless produced not only Chrysippus, the Stoic philosopher, whose father, a native of Tarsus, had migrated thither, but the comic poet Philemon and the natural philosopher Aratus. It is a mere inadvertence when Browning styles Aratus ‘a native of Tarsus’; but doubtless Aratus, and Chrysippus and Philemon too, would be educated there. And so was another of less happy fame—Apollonius of Tyana. At the age of fourteen his father brought him to Tarsus from his home in Cappadocia to study under the rhetorician Euthydemus, and it is perhaps no reproach to the city that his experience there dissatisfied the future charlatan. His complaint, curiously enough, was that the atmosphere of Tarsus was unfavourable to the study of philosophy, inasmuch as her people were luxurious and dissolute with an unpleasant propensity to scoffing and insolence. It is indeed probable that neither charge was groundless; for Tarsus was a wealthy city, and where there is wealth there is apt to be luxury, and the citizens of the neighbouring capital of Syrian Antioch were notorious for their scurrilous wit. Nevertheless the fact remains that Tarsus was a brilliant city; and if it be true that his city’s reputation is the first condition of a man’s happiness, it was no small advantage to be born and nurtured in her midst.
But Tarsus had another son greater than all these. There were many Jews in Cilicia, so many that they had a synagogue at Jerusalem where they worshipped when they visited the Holy City not only to celebrate the Feasts but to prosecute their mercantile enterprises. The chief community of those Hellenists would naturally have its home in the busy capital, and it included one household of repute. The father is unknown. His very name is unrecorded, and only a few hints of his character and career remain. These, however, are peculiarly suggestive. It appears from a confused and precarious tradition that he was a late arrival at Tarsus. He was a native of Gischala in northern Galilee, and he had a native of been driven from his home by civil commotion, perhaps the wild insurrection which ensued upon the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. and brought the avenging sword of Varus into Galilee. He escaped across the northern frontier with his wife and child, and found an asylum at Tarsus.
It appears from the education which he was able to give his son that he was, if not wealthy, at least well provided; and he occupied an honourable station, since he possessed the hereditary distinction of the Roman citizenship. This was no empty adornment, inasmuch as it conferred the two-fold privilege of exemption from the degrading punishments of scourging and crucifixion, and the right of appeal to the Emperor’s tribunal. It was originally designed as a recognition of conspicuous merit; but more and more under the imperial régime it might be obtained by purchase, and thus its lustre was tarnished. A devout Jew, even had he possessed the means, would hardly have stooped to corruption; yet it is unlikely that one who had merited the distinction should have needed to flee into exile. He had probably inherited it; and it is a reasonable surmise that his father or grandfather had been one of the Jews whom Pompey had carried captive to Rome in B.C. 83, and there sold into slavery. Philo relates that they were subsequently emancipated and invested with the Roman citizenship; and many of them returned to their native land.
He possessed, however, a still more honourable distinction bequeathed a still more precious heritage. He was an Israelite of blameless lineage. He was a son of Benjamin, that martial tribe which, little as it was, had borne itself so gallantly on the battlefields of old. And he represented the noblest type of Jewish piety. He was a zealous adherent of the sect of the Pharisees which, despite too frequent intolerance and traditionalism, comprehended most that was godly and all that was patriotic in the later Judaism. He was a devout Jew, and in the city of his exile he was true to his fathers’ God and the traditions of their faith.
His wife was like-minded. They had at least two children. One was a daughter; and, if it be permissible to suppose that she was the child whom they carried with them in their flight from Gischala, she was the elder. And they had also a son. They called him Saul, that ancient Benjamite name; and since it signifies ‘asked for,’ it may perhaps be inferred that he was their only son and was granted them after long desire. Like Samuel he was the child of many prayers; and ere his birth his mother had consecrated him to the service God. It was the fashion in those days for a Jew to be called by two names—a Jewish name, which he bore among his own people, and another which he bore in his intercourse with the Gentile world. Sometimes the latter was a translation of the Jewish name, like Didymus, which is the Greek of Thomas, ‘the Twin,’ or Dorcas, which is the Greek of Tabitha, ‘a Gazelle’; sometimes it was quite distinct, like Mark, the Latin surname of John the cousin of Barnabas, though generally it had some resemblance in sound, like the Latin Justus surnaming Joseph and Jesus. And thus those godly Jewish parents called their child Saul, and gave him also the Latin name of Paul, perhaps merely because of the assonance, but it may be because the ancestor who had bequeathed them the Roman citizenship, had been a freedman of the Æmilian house, where the cognomen of Paulus was common.
It was apparently in the year A.D. 1 that Saul was born, and he was thus some five years younger than our Blessed Lord. Since that reference to her pious dedication of her child is the sole mention which is made of his mother, it would seem that she died soon after his birth and he never knew her. But her gracious ambition was not frustrated. It was shared by her husband, and he devoted the child to the honourable career of a Rabbi, ‘a teacher of Israel,’ and ordered his education to this end. He would faithfully perform his own part at the outset in obedience to that injunction which ranks as the eleventh of the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Law in Maimonides ‘Book of the Precepts: ‘These words which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.’
At the age of six or seven the child would be sent to the elementary school. This was connected with the local synagogue, and since the manual of instruction was the Book of the Law, it was known as ‘the House of the Book.’ The Aramaic vernacular would be the language of his home, and he spoke it in after days as freely as a native of Palestine; and he would learn also the ancient Hebrew, the original language of the Sacred Scriptures. But Greek was the language of a Hellenistic community, and it was the Septuagint version of the Scriptures that the Jews of Tarsus employed. It was the child’s lesson-book, and his lifelong familiarity with it is evidenced by his practice of quoting from it in after years. For the first three or four years the scholars in the House of the Book were instructed in the rudiments; and then, at the age of ten, they were engaged in learning the Law, and by reason of the scarcity of books in those days when they were transcribed by hand and the difficulty of manipulating the cumbrous rolls, the method was, as it still is in the unchanging East, oral repetition (mishnah). The teacher read out each sentence, and the pupils recited it in chorus until they had it committed to memory. It was an effective method. One inestimable advantage of it was that every Jew’s mind was stored with Holy Writ, and the inaccessibility of the sacred volume thus mattered less. ‘From the dawn of understanding,’ says the Jewish historian, ‘we learn the laws by heart and have them, as it were, engraved on our souls.’ It involved, however, obvious disadvantages, not the least being that a Jewish writer was apt to trust to his memory and this is the main reason of the general laxity and frequent inaccuracy of New Testament quotations from the Old Testament.
The education of a Jewish child was thus essentially religious. And it was exclusively Jewish. The Sacred Law was the text-book, and heathen literature was ignored. Indeed it was execrated by the more rigid Pharisees. They had a saying: ‘Cursed be he who feeds swine: and cursed be he who teaches his son Greek literature’; and it is related of R. Judah the Holy that, being asked when a man should teach his son Greek literature, he replied: ‘At an hour which belongs neither to the day nor to the night,’ since it was written: ‘His delight is in the Law of the Lord; and in His Law doth he meditate day and night.’ This, however, was an extreme attitude; and though Saul was educated ‘after the strictest sect of the Jewish religion,’ it is hardly likely that he was indoctrinated with so ungenerous a sentiment. His father was indeed a faithful Jew, but he was also a Roman citizen; and even had he desired it, the intellectual isolation which was practicable at Jerusalem was impossible at Tarsus. He would not educate his son in Greek literature, but the atmosphere which he breathed would colour the lad’s mind; and since he spoke Greek, there was no linguistic barrier. He may not indeed have been instructed in all the wisdom of the Greeks, as Moses was in that of the Egyptians; but in after days he exhibited in his writings a flavour especially of the Stoic philosophy, and he could on occasion, as he proved in his speech before the Court of the Areiopagos, employ the intellectual mode of his day. Moreover, he was no stranger to Greek literature. He could quote to good purpose from the philosophers and the poets—his fellow-countryman Aratus, the philosophic poet Epimenides, and the comedian Menander.
On attaining his thirteenth year a Jewish boy became ‘a son of the commandment.’ His childhood was over, and he left the House of the Book and began his preparation for his proper life-work. Saul had been devoted first by his parents’ gracious ambition and latterly by his own choice to the career of a Rabbi, but he did not immediately address himself to the sacred studies which were the appointed pathway to that high vocation. A Rabbi’s labours were gratuitous. He exacted no fees, and, like the ancient judges, received no gifts. His ministry was his reward, his disciples were his crown. ‘He,’ said R. Hillel, ‘who serves himself with the crown of the Law perishes.’ ‘Make not thy disciples,’ said R. Zadok, ‘a crown, to win glory by them; nor an axe, to live by them.’ Hence it was necessary for a Rabbi to earn his livelihood, and he not only ‘laboured in the Law’ but engaged in some trade. R. Joseph was a miller; R. Oschaja and R. Chanina were shoemakers; R. Abba, R. Chanan, and R. Judah were tailors; another R. Judah was a baker and a third a perfumer; R. Meir, R. Nahum, and R. Nathan were clerks; R. Jochanan was a sandal-maker; R. Isaac was a smith; R. Nehemiah was a potter; R. Abin was a carpenter. Nor was a Rabbi’s craft, however menial, reckoned a degradation; for. unlike the Greeks and Romans who accounted all trades ignoble and relegated them to slaves, the Jews esteemed honest work a sacred obligation. ‘Love work,’ said R. Shemaiah; and it was a maxim that one who did not teach his son a trade taught him robbery. ‘Excellent,’ said R. Gamaliel, the son of R. Judah ha-Nasi, ‘is the study of the Law together with worldly business, for the practice of them both puts iniquity out of remembrance; and all Law without work must fail at length, and occasion iniquity.’ It was a noble ideal, yet it tended to abuse. It was a temptation for a Rabbi to become engrossed in his worldly business to the neglect of his sacred vocation; and the great masters were insistent in their warnings. ‘No one,’ said R. Hillel, ‘ that has much traffic is wise.’ ‘Have little business,’ said R. Meir, ‘and be busied in the Law.’ Nor were there lacking Rabbis who shamed their high office by covetous and rapacious exaction.
Since Saul must earn his livelihood in after years, he was put to a trade when his schooldays were over. It was the craft of tent-making; and this was a natural choice, since it was a thriving industry at Tarsus. Cilicia abounded in goats, and their hair was woven into a stout fabric, called cilicium, which served for tent-curtains.
At the age of fifteen he left home to prosecute his studies in the Rabbinical College—‘the House of Interpretation.’ as it was styled—at Jerusalem. It is no evidence of precocity that he began his college career so early. That was the age prescribed by Jewish usage, and it accorded with the narrow range of ancient education. It would seem that the age of pupilarity was even lower among the Greeks, since Apollonius of Tyana was but fourteen when, in A.D. II, while Saul was still attending the House of the Book, he was brought to Tarsus by his father to study under Euthydemus. John Knox was sixteen when he entered the University of Glasgow in 1521; John Calvin was fourteen when he entered the University of Paris in 1523; and Thomas Chalmers was only half-way through his twelfth year when he matriculated at St. Andrews in 1791.
There were many Rabbinical colleges. One, which enjoyed considerable reputation, met ‘in the vineyard at Jabneh’; and hence it has been inferred that ‘a vineyard’ was a poetic designation of a school of the wise. The meaning, however, is merely that, whereas a provincial college, like a Christian church in early days, usually assembled in a private house, that at Jabneh, by reason of its numbers, had its meeting-place in a vineyard. The most celebrated of all was naturally the college at Jerusalem, and it met teachers, within the Temple precincts. The teachers were variously denominated. Their commonest designation was Rabbi. Rab meant ‘master,’ and Rabbi ‘my master,’ Monsieur; and a more honourable form was Rabban or Rabbon, Rabboni. Other titles were ‘father’ (abba), ‘teacher,’ ‘lawyers’ or ‘teachers of the Law,’ ‘scribes,’ that is, ‘men of the Scripture,’ ‘the wise.’ In the class-room the Rabbi occupied an elevated dais, and the disciples sat round him on the floor; whence they were said to be ‘educated at his feet ‘ and to ‘powder themselves in the dust of the feet of the wise.’
Their study was the Sacred Law in the large sense of the term, including all the Jewish Scriptures—the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. The method was midrash, ‘interpretation,’ the investigation of the sacred text; and this comprehended halachah and haggadah. Halachah was the systematisation of the precepts of the Law, the definition, application, and reconciliation of the legal code; and it issued in a vast complexity of casuistical distinctions and vexatious restrictions. Haggadah, on the other hand, dealt with the historical and didactic portions of the Scriptures, elaborating and elucidating them by the aid of parable and legend. It pursued the method of allegorical exegesis, recognising in Scripture a fourfold meaning, denoted by the consonants of the word ‘Paradise’: peshat, the simple or literal meaning; remaz, the suggested meaning; derush, the meaning evolved by investigation; and sod, the mystic meaning.
The Rabbinical theology was always subtle and often fantastic; and Saul’s training in the House of Interpretation at Jerusalem left an abiding imprint on his mind. He handled the Scriptures after the Rabbinical fashion, and instances abound in his writings. Thus his idea of the smitten rock which followed the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings is a haggadic midrash; while its application to Christ and his sacramental interpretation of their immersion in the Red Sea and their overshadowing by the cloud and their eating of the manna are examples of Rabbinical allegorising. So also is his interpretation of Sarah and Hagar, the free woman and the bond, and their children. Again, his linguistically impossible argumentation that since the promise to Abraham speaks of his ‘seed’ and not his ‘seeds,’ it refers not to his descendants, the Jewish people, but to Christ, is a characteristic example of Rabbinical dialectic, precisely similar to the argument that, since in the Lord’s remonstrance with Cain: ‘the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground,’ the word ‘blood’ is in Hebrew plural, the meaning is that in slaying Abel Cain had slain not only him but all his posterity. And thus in that argument with his Judaising converts of Galatia the Apostle, perhaps consciously, turned the weapons of his Judaistic adversaries against themselves.
There was, however, a still deeper impression which his training in the House of Interpretation left on the mind of Saul. The glory of the College at that period was the celebrated Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder. He was a grandson of Hillel the Great, who had been distinguished by the gentleness of his disposition and the liberality of his sentiments, presenting herein a marked contrast to his stern and rigid colleague, the Rabbi Shammai. ‘A man,’ it is written in the Talmud, ‘should be gentle like Hillel, and not irritable like Shammai’; and it is related by way of illustration that three Gentiles once visited the two Rabbis successively to discuss the Jewish faith, and afterwards they said: ‘The irritability of Shammai sought to drive us from the world: the gentleness of Hillel brought us nigh under the wings of the Shekinah.’
Gamaliel was Hillel’s kinsman no less after the spirit than after the flesh. He appears only once in the New Testament, and his behaviour on that occasion reveals his character. The Sanhedrin had arraigned the Apostles and was minded to put them to death; but Gamaliel interposed. ‘Refrain from these men,’ he pleaded, ‘and let them alone; for if this counselor this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. Perhaps you may be found even to be fighting against God.’ It is not surprising that the idea should have arisen that he was actually a Christian, though this is a mere fable born of his truly Christian spirit. The legitimacy of studying Greek literature was one of the articles of controversy between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, and Gamaliel maintained the liberal attitude. His son, the Rabbi Simon, is reported to have said that of the thousand young men who had studied in the House of Interpretation at Jerusalem in his father’s time, no fewer than one half had learned Greek wisdom.
Bitterly as he was regarded by the narrower sort of Pharisees in his day, Gamaliel enjoyed the popular esteem. He was one of four Doctors of the Law who were accorded the honourable title of Rabban. And his memory was cherished and revered in after generations. A saying was current that ‘from the day when Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased, and purity and abstinence died.’
It was no small advantage to Saul that during the most impressionable period of his life he should have been subjected to the gracious influence of this wise and large-hearted teacher; and in after years he gratefully acknowledged how much he owed to his ‘education at the feet of Gamahel.’ The profit, however, did not immediately appear. A dark experience of moral and spiritual conflict lay before the young Rabbi; and in his quest after peace he was betrayed into wild excesses of cruel fanaticism. But the lessons which he had learned in the House of Interpretation were never obliterated from his soul, and they played no small part in his religious and intellectual emancipation.
Despite the liberality of his sentiments Gamaliel was none the less a Pharisee, devoted to the Law and loyal to the national traditions. Under his tuition Saul lost nothing of his early piety, and he left the Rabbinical College with a disciplined and furnished mind, well equipped for the office of ‘a teacher of Israel.’ Jerusalem was the chief home of Rabbinical wisdom, but there were Rabbis not only in the provinces of the Holy Land but in the great Hellenistic communities. It is proved by inscriptions that there were Rabbis at Rome, and there would be Rabbis also at Tarsus. It appears that his native city remained Saul’s home until he broke with his old associations and entered on his career as a Christian Apostle; and it is probable that he betook himself thither on the completion of his college course, and exercised his ministry in the synagogue which had been the spiritual home of his childhood, plying at the same time his craft of tent-making.
There is no explicit record of his employments during this period; but one event it seems necessary to assume, nor is his own testimony lacking. Among the Jews eighteen was the proper age for marriage; and marriage was accounted a sacred obligation. Its neglect was deemed at once a calamity and a crime. To go childless meant not only that, when the man died, ‘his name was blotted out of Israel,’ but that he slew his posterity and thus ‘lessened the image of God.’ Hence marriage was a religious ordinance; and the two hundred and thirteenth commandment in The Book of the Precepts is ‘to have a wife in purity’ in obedience to the Scripture, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’; wherefore Maimonides affirmed that if a man passed the age of twenty without marrying, unless it were that he might absolutely devote himself to the study of the Law, he transgressed a positive commandment. It seems likely that Saul, a devout Jew and a strict Pharisee, would marry in due course; and the inference is confirmed by the fact that he was subsequently enrolled in the high court of the Sanhedrin and on at least one memorable occasion participated in its judicial procedure. For it was required, among the qualifications of a Sanhedrist, that he should be not only a married man but a father, inasmuch as one who was softened by domestic affection would be disposed to mercy in his judgments.
It would thus appear that Saul not only married duly but had issue; and the presumption is borne out by his own testimony. It is indeed true that in the days of his apostolic activities he would seem, on his own testimony, to have had no wife; and while recognising the legitimacy of marriage, he held it prudent, in view of the difficulties which then beset the Christians, that they should follow his example and shun domestic responsibilities and embarrassments. It does not follow, however, that he had never been married; for his counsel to widows and widowers is that they should remain so, as he had done, and this is an express declaration of his condition. He had married after the Jewish fashion, but his wife was now deceased, and so also was her child, and he had resolved to remain a widower. It is significant that one so affectionate should have maintained an almost unbroken silence regarding this mournful chapter of his story; and in view of the sternness of his attitude toward women it would seem as though there were here a hidden tragedy and a bitter memory.
Those meagre and somewhat precarious suggestions constitute the sole surviving record of Saul’s Rabbinical career at Tarsus. It was a period of some fifteen years, and it is no less obscure than the silent years which our Lord passed at Nazareth betwixt His visit to the House of Interpretation at Jerusalem in A.D. 8, and His manifestation unto Israel in A.D. 26. In truth, however, nothing vital is lost; for his real biography during those years is not the record of his outward life, but his inward experience, the working of his mind and soul. And this is plainly evident. He was a Pharisee; and Pharisaism was in its essence a quest after righteousness. The problem was how a man could be righteous before God; and the answer was: By keeping the Law and fulfilling His commandments. And thus religion was a scrupulous observance not merely of the written Law of Moses but of the unwritten law of the Scribes, that interminable code of ceremonial regulations and restrictions which was known as ‘the tradition of the Elders.’
It was a fatal method, and it issued inevitably either in self-righteousness or in despair. Unspiritual men were easily satisfied. When they had performed the prescribed routine of ablution, fasting, and the like, it seemed to them that they had fulfilled God’s requirements; and they boasted their perfect righteousness, like the Rabbi Chanina, of whom it is told that he thus challenged the Angel of Death: ‘Bring hither the Book of the Law, and see whether there be aught written in it which I have not observed.’ Righteousness was with such an affair of external observance; and when they had cleansed the outside of the cup and the platter, it seemed to them that all was well though the inside remained foul. The majority were such, and they brought reproach on the whole order. There were, however, Pharisees of a nobler spirit. These had a vision of the infinite holiness of God and ‘the plague of their own hearts’; and ceremonial observances could not satisfy them. They realised their inward estrangement from God, and yearned for reconciliation. They knew no other way than the keeping of the Law, and they addressed themselves to it with eager zeal; but when they had done all, they remained unsatisfied. Like that young Pharisee in the Gospel-story they had performed every requirement of the Law, but they were still strangers to the peace of God. They had done everything which they knew, and it was insufficient; and their cry was: ‘What lack I yet?’
And so it was with Saul of Tarsus. He began his career with unquestioning faith in the efficacy of the Pharisaic way of peace. And it is possible that he might have pursued it to the last without misgiving but for the shock of a stern awakening. In after days he wrote his own spiritual biography, and told the dark yet blessed story. ‘I had never,’ he says, ‘recognised sin save through law. For I had not known lust had not the Law kept saying: “Thou shalt not lust.” And sin got an outlet through the commandment to work out in me every sort of lust; for apart from law sin is dead. I was alive apart from law once; but when the commandment came, sin sprang into life, while as for me, I died; and the commandment which aimed at life—I found it resulted in death. For sin got an outlet through the commandment to “deceive me and through it to slay me.’ Here, with a reticence which evinces the painfulness of the confession, the veil is half lifted from a dark episode of those unrecorded years. What precisely it may have been is unrevealed, and surmise were banal. It is indeed likely that it was no serious transgression; for what might pass with most as a peccadillo would torture a conscience so sensitive. The confession, however, should not be attenuated. In a nature so ardent and impulsive there are ever tragic possibilities; and it is no marvel that his soul should have been swept by a gust of passion and defiled by a deed of impurity.
It was the supreme crisis of his life. It discovered to him ‘the plague of his heart’; and he set himself with redoubled devotion to attaining unto righteousness by the only way he knew—the Pharisaic method of ceremonial observance, the performance of ‘the works of the Law.’ But his labour proved unavailing. He had realised his soul’s alienation from God, and external rites never touched the deep-seated malady. Still he entertained as yet no doubt of the efficacy of the method, and its failure only inspired him to more strenuous endeavour. There was no Jew in Tarsus so ardent, no Pharisee so punctilious, no Rabbi so unwearied. A Hellenistic community afforded no adequate arena for his zeal. The Sacred Capital was his fitting sphere, and in due course his opportunity arrived.
—Rev. David Smith, M.A., D.D, The Life and Letters of St. Paul (1909).