A brief guide to who the author of the Epistles was, and why he is so importantPaul the Man
Who was Paul?
Paul, whose original name was Saul, took the name familiar to us after his conversion to Christianity. Paul never met Jesus during his brief years of ministry. Nevertheless, he was perhaps Christianity's most important early convert and the first major missionary to preach the Christian gospel to non-Jewish people.
When and where did he live?
Scholars think Saul was was born around 10 C.E. in Tarsus, in modern-day Turkey. Unlike Jesus' other early followers, who were mostly Palestinians, Paul was a Roman citizen, which implies he was at least moderately well-off, and which granted him a certain respect wherever he went in the empire. He was a tentmaker by trade. After his conversion, he traveled extensively through most of the Mediterranean world. He died between 62 and 67 CE.
Was Paul one of the 12 apostles?
No, he was not. However, the New Testament records that Paul did interact with many of the original disciples, especially in Jerusalem.
Was Paul Jewish?
Most scholars believe so, though they have argued about his commitment to Judaism both before and after his conversion to Christianity. Pauline writings indicate that he was raised Jewish and became a Pharisee (Romans 11:1, Phil 3:5). Acts says that in his younger days, Saul was involved in persecuting Jewish followers of Jesus because he believed they were heretics (Acts 22:4-5).
What made him stop?
According to Acts 9, 22 and 26, a conversion experience. Saul was traveling to the city of Damascus when he saw a bright light and heard Jesus' voice saying "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He fell from his horse, blinded. Days later, after a visit from the Christian disciple Ananias, he recovered his eyesight and began to preach Jesus' gospel.