Acts Bible

Historical Evidence for the Life of Paul

Paul of Tarsus was one of the most zealous persecutors of the Christians shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:5-6).

Historical Evidence for the Life of Paul

Photo Credit: Jan Lievens (1607-1674)

When some people were furious at a Christian man, Paul held the coats of those people while they stoned the man to death (Acts 8:1). Yet Jesus Christ appeared to Paul (Acts 9:4-6) and told Paul that he would now be God’s chosen instrument to share the Good News about Jesus with the Gentiles all over the world (Acts 9:15-16).

Paul began traveling, preaching, and teaching about Jesus Christ. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament, and thirteen of those were written by Paul.

But, was he a real man? Did he really live or were these letters just created as “fictional” religious propaganda?

A quick survey yields some interesting finds about the apostle Paul. There are at least nine direct mentions of the apostle Paul in various categories of literature from the first to fourth centuries. Here is a brief look.

Apostolic Fathers

The first category comes from what are known as the Apostolic Fathers. Clement of Rome (AD 35-95) mentioned Paul in his writings saying that Paul was killed upside down by the Emperor of Rome, Nero (1 Clement 5-6.). Ignatius (AD 35-107) wrote a letter to the city of Ephesus that mentioned the ministry of Paul (Ignatious’s letter to the Ephesians 12.). Polycarp (AD 69-156) wrote a letter to the city of Philippi and said that Paul was a good model to follow.


The second category is historians. Eusebius (AD 263-339) mentioned Paul forty-eight times in his various writings recording history in the first century. (For me, Eusebius is perhaps the most credible because his historical writings are also quoted by Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Athanasius, and Jerome.)[ref]McGiffert, Arthur Cushman. “The Church History of Eusebius: Preface.” In Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 1. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890., p. 3.[/ref]

Marcionites and Ebionites

The third category is Marcionites and Ebionites. The man Marcion (AD 85-160) loved Paul so much he worked hard to make a collection of all of his letters. The Ebionites (AD 140), who did not like Paul’s theology, nonetheless acknowledged his existence (Kerygmata Petrou (Henneecke-Schneemelcher-Wilson, 2.102-27. Pseudo-Clementine Holilies 2.17).

Extra Writings

The four category is extra writings. The Acts of Paul and Thecla (AD 190) is a book that describes the physical characteristics of Paul (Paul and Thelca 3). The Epistle to Rheginos (fourth century) says that Paul was a man who died and went to heaven (Rheginos 45:15, 25-28). The Acts of Peter (second century AD) says that Paul took a journey from a Roman harbor of Ostaia to Spain (Otto Meindardus, “Paul’s Missionary Journey to Spain: Tradition and Folklore” , p. 61.).

My no means am I an expert in first century history. I am a local small groups pastor interested in what contemporaries to the apostle Paul said about him during his lifetime and shortly after his death. What seems obvious to me is that Paul of Tarsus was a real man who traveled more than 13,000 miles all around the Roman Empire talking about his Savior Jesus Christ. If what the Bible says about Paul is true, perhaps other things it talks about are true too.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at