Paul of Tarsus
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Paul of Tarsus was the author of many letters addressed to various groups of first-century Christians. They comprise most of the the New Testament, and as such, are very influential in modern Christianity.
Paul was a first-century Pharisee Jew who was fiercely opposed to the new sect of Judaism founded by Jesus Christ called the "Way" until his conversion following a possible food-deprived or mushroom-enhanced vision on the road to Damascus, Syria. Paul essentially rebooted the Way by stripping it of most of its original Jewish character, including temple worship and observance of the Mosaic code (i.e. the prohibition against consuming pork). He then spread this form of the sect, which was acceptable to the Gentiles, throughout the northeastern Mediterranean world from Antioch (where it was first called Christianity) through Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy.
Meanwhile most of the original twelve Apostles, led by James the Just (brother of Jesus), basically stayed home in Palestine while Peter wavered between the two sides and tried to figure out what to do. Titus, the son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, 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 network of gentile churches intact. It was these churches which eventually merged into the Catholic Church. Thus, Paul could be considered to be the real founder of Christianity.
There is no evidence for Paul outside the Bible. That said, seven of the documents attributed to Paul do appear from textual analysis to be written by the same person. This is considered reasonable evidence that some single individual performed the role, and we may as well call him Paul.
 Conversion/relationship with the Christ
Paul was raised a Pharisee and later converted, becoming a Sadducee. His early life was actually focused on persecuting the new Christian Jews. In the year 33, Paul had a vision while traveling to Damascus, where he saw the resurrected Jesus the Christ, and though he never met Jesus, he took from his vision the authority to speak for the Christ. The details of the traditional version of Paul's conversion are from the Book of Acts, demonstrated to be primarily a work of fiction. In Paul's own words Jesus is merely "revealed" to him. Compare Acts 9:1-9 with Galatians 1:11-16.
Paul expounded on many things that Jesus apparently didn't think to bring up. Jesus had nothing to say about women being inferior and subservient to men or doing away with any of the old rules. These are major points of theological doctrine that seem to originate with Paul. That Jesus didn't mention them implies that he didn't intend his followers to adopt them.
Significant in Paul's writings is what he does not say. He seems to be completely unaware of a recent, historical Jesus. Although he refers to Jesus as having been crucified, he offers no details regarding the event. He makes no references to Jesus' teachings as recorded in the Gospels, even when it would advance his argument to do so.
Paul's primary focus for his churches was the Gentile, who he believed would better be served by his ministry since they had never heard of God and were more open to the teachings he would bring. His missionary travels, his establishment of churches, and his writings would begin some 14 (give or take) years after his conversion. Some 13 years later, between 60-67 CE, Paul was arrested and according to tradition eventually put to death by beheading.
 His writings
“”Dear Corinthians, this is my third time writing to you, still no reply. I don't know how you do things in Corinth, but where I come from, that's considered rude.
|—Paul's third epistle to the Corinthians.|
The New Testament attributes fourteen Epistles to Paul. However, scholars, looking at style, theological content and bibliographical content have put the 14 letters into 3 categories. Those considered indisputably Paul's, those that are considered unquestionably not Paul's, and those that remain in question.
 Undisputed letters of Paul
- Epistle to the Romans
- First Thessalonians
- First Corinthians
- Second Corinthians
 Letters about which no consensus has been reached
 Pseudepigraphal letters
 His travels
Paul states that immediately after his conversion (c. 33 CE) he traveled to "Arabia" and later to Damascus rather than see the other apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:17) as one would expect. This contradicts Acts, which claims that Paul went immediately to Damascus and soon thereafter to Jerusalem (Acts 9:8, Acts 9:26).
Paul records that after three years (c. 36 CE) he went to Jerusalem for 15 days, seeing no apostles except Peter (AKA Cephas) and James (Galatians 1:18, 19). Per Galatians 2:1, he returned to Jerusalem after 14 years (c. 50 CE), though offering no explanation of what he did those 14 years. Given the scarcity of verifiable details, one cannot help but entertain the notion that Paul fabricated the fact of his revelation and ministry to this point. Paul is careful, however, to assure us that he is not lying (Galatians 1:20). On the second trip to Jerusalem, he met with James, Peter, and John, who confirmed Paul's role as minister to the Gentiles and asked that he continue to deliver the collection (Galatians 2:9, 10).
Paul relates that thereafter Peter came to Antioch, at which time there was a strong disagreement between the two regarding the necessity for Gentiles to observe "the law" (Galatians 2:11-21). Acts 15 offers a different rendition of the same event that downplays the argument with Peter and ends with a proclamation from James.
Paul admits his intention to return to Jerusalem (c. 57 CE), apparently to deliver a collection (Romans 15:25, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3), where he was arrested (Acts 21:33) and, tradition has it, ultimately executed.
Acts details many travels that Paul does not mention. For example, Acts 11:27-30 refers to a trip to Antioch for the purposes of delivering a collection for famine relief.
 The collection
If one is looking for a motive for participation in the early Christian church, one need look no further than the collection. It was Paul's promise to "remember the poor" that apparently allowed an agreement between him and the "pillars" in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9-10).
In his letters, Paul gives instructions to several churches to prepare a collection for Jerusalem in anticipation of his arrival (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 2 Corinthians 9). Paul thanks Philippi for their aid (Philippians 4:10-19) and mentions a contribution for Jerusalem made by Macedonia and Achaia in Romans 15:25-28.
It was apparently while delivering this collection that Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, and it is claimed he mentioned it at his trial in Acts 24:17.
 In Acts
We know about the historical Paul not only through statements he makes in his canonical letters but also from the book of Acts. However, at times, these works differ in their portrayal of the person Paul.
Paul proclaims himself to be an apostle of Jesus in Galatians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, and in several other instances. However, according to Acts 1:21, to be considered for inclusion by the other apostles, one must have "been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us," making Paul ineligible. One has to wonder why, if Paul was not considered to be an apostle, did he play such a prominent role in a book titled Acts of the Apostles.
Paul in fact regarded his claim to apostleship to be just as valid as that of anyone. He notes, concerning "important" men in the church, "...those men added nothing to my message" (Galatians 2:6). However, Acts has Paul acknowledging "those who had traveled with [Jesus] from Galilee to Jerusalem" (Acts 13:31) to be of greater importance. Also note that Paul believed no one could dispute that his vision of the living Jesus after the crucifixion was as significant as other sightings of the resurrected Jesus, which casts doubt on the claim that anyone actually saw a resurrected Jesus.
Acts has Paul on many occasions assert that he considers himself a Jew, at one point noting, "I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple..." (Acts 25:8). In his own letters, however, Paul frequently denies the significance of Jewish law. In one instance he admits he does not have "a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (Philippians 3:9).
By the varied speeches attributed to Paul in Acts, he is portrayed as a great orator. However, Paul himself notes the accusation by some that "in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing" (2 Corinthians 10:10).