Apostle reconsidered in the Year of Paul

At a Wednesday night study at Raleigh's Sacred Heart Cathedral, the Rev. Jonathan Woodhall cleared up some common misconceptions about the Apostle Paul, who did more than anyone to spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean.

Just because Paul was a Pharisee didn't mean he was a hypocrite. Lots of Jews were Pharisees in the first century of the common era, meaning they tried to live holy, pious lives in accordance with Jewish law.

The New Testament never says Paul fell off a horse on the way to Damascus. The horse, featured prominently in many classic paintings of the apostle, may have been a medieval invention. And finally: Paul's conversion does not mean he changed religion.

"Did Paul leave his Jewish faith and become a Christian?" said Woodhall, a retired priest in the Diocese of Raleigh. "No. Paul was born a Jew and died a Jew. His conversion wasn't a changing of his religion, but a change of heart."

The man considered the most influential early Christian leader after Jesus is often the most misunderstood.

The Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Benedict XVI, is trying to rectify that image by marking June 2008 through June 2009 the Year of St. Paul. The commemoration is intended to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Paul's birth, though no one knows exactly when he was born.