The apostle Paul, author of perhaps half our New Testament books, became the greatest shaper of the Christian church after Jesus. Still, we have little information about the man himself. In this excerpt from Issue 47 of Christian History (one of ten magazines published by Christianity Today), Stephen M. Miller surveys answers to some of the most puzzling questions asked about Paul.
What did Paul look like?
The only early physical description of Paul, from the "The Acts of Paul," reads, "A man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were far apart; he had large eyes, and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long."
Perhaps little more than imaginative writing from a century after Paul died, it does meet with the way Paul's critics described him: "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive" (2 Cor. 10:10; all verses from the NIV).
Was he married?
Probably not, but there is plenty of room for debate. In 1 Corinthians 7:8, Paul wrote, "It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am." But when arguing on behalf of himself and Barnabas, he said, "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?" (1 Cor. 9:5).
Some scholars say Paul's question, taken with his statement that he was unmarried, suggests he was a widower who had at least occasionally traveled with his wife. Others see this question emphasizing that he and Barnabas, as single men, were not burdening the church with the expenses of married life.
What was his "thorn in the flesh"?
Paul gives two clues. He believed the purpose of the thorn was "to keep me from becoming conceited" and "to torment me" (2 Cor. 12:7).
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