A gracEmail subscriber asks whether Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul) ever encountered Jesus in Palestine during the years of Jesus’ personal ministry.
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We cannot know whether Paul ever saw Jesus personally on earth or not. Scholars believe that Paul (his Roman name) or Saul (his Hebrew name) was born about the same time as Jesus, although in Tarsus (in modern Turkey) far from Palestine. The New Testament first mentions Paul as an accessory to the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:58) and identifies him as a “young man.” This was before Paul’s conversion which likely occurred in about A.D. 34. One contemporary Greek writing uses the same word here translated “young man” to mean age 18-22; in another writing it means age 24-40. This description is of little help.
Paul later says that he had studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, which would have been in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3), It is possible that Paul’s sister lived in that city as well (Acts 23:16). Paul might have commenced rabbinical studies in his late teens or early twenties, which probably would have been before Jesus began his own ministry at about age 30. If so, Paul would have had no reason to know of Jesus then. Some evidence suggests that rabbis were ordained at age 40. If Paul studied under Gamaliel in his late 30’s, Jesus probably had already ascended back to heaven.
Some people believe that Paul’s reference to having “known Christ according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16) suggests a prior personal acquaintance with the earthly Jesus. However, that statement might well mean only that Paul had a former earthly appraisal of Jesus which he later reversed. The fact that Paul asks “Who are you, lord?” during his Damascus-road encounter with the ascended Jesus (Acts 9:5; 22:8) might suggest that he had not known Jesus on earth. But the glorified Jesus might have been unrecognizable even if seen by Paul, and the text says only that Paul saw a light. I am sorry not to answer your inquiry more satisfactorily but this is simply a question without an answer.
(For an excellent study of what we can know about Paul, I recommend Paul: His Life and Teaching, by my friend and gracEmail subscriber John McRay (Baker Academic, 2003, hardback, 480 pages). Dr. McRay is professor emeritus of New Testament and archaeology at Wheaton College Graduate School.