A Rebellious, Radical Intellectual Named Paul in Ephesus 2000 Years ago
Ephesus in Ancient Asia Minor (Modern Turkey)
Paul, the Missionary in Chains
Saint Paul carried the news of Jesus to the Gentile world beyond Israel, including many cities such as Ephesus that were part of the wide-spread Mediterranean network controlled by the Romans, known to us as the Roman Empire. But to the Jews, the whole world, except for them, were Gentiles. Many of Jesus' disciples felt Christianity was meant only for the Jews, but Saint Paul disagreed and spent his time preaching it to Gentiles, including Greeks, Romans, and inhabitants of Asia Minor such as the Ephesians.
When he wrote his "Letter to the Ephesians" 30 years after Christ was crucified in Jerusalem, Paul was in chains in a prison in Rome. Preachers like him, who rocked the boat of organized religion and stirred up trouble within occupied territories, were a hazard to Roman officials who had the difficult task of trying to keep order. Paul wrote and dictated many letters to the people he had known in his missionary travels around the Mediterranean.
What did Paul have to say to people like the Ephesians, many of whom he knew from his time spent there preaching? Most of what he said was just more of the good preaching he'd always done, containing words of wisdom of potential benefit to atheist and theist alike, regardless of race, nationality, or religion.
Paul starts his epistle by thanking God for sending Jesus to give mankind enlightenment as to what it is that God wants from us.
Gentiles like Ephesian Christians, said Paul, had made a great leap forward from being total strangers to the invisible God of Israel (who is unlike statues and images worshiped by many people of those times) all the way to being Christians who could be free of fearing the sinful transgressions proscribed by the Mosaic law, and entitled to be together with God and Jesus in heaven some day after leaving their temporary human bodies by dying, as long as they kept their faith in God while they lived.
Paul was truly grateful for having this faith in God and knowing the teachings of Jesus, who he believed acted as God's messenger to mankind. One great teaching, often mentioned by Saint Paul, was that love surpassed knowledge. This meant love in its broadest sense, encompassing compassion and an attitude of understanding and tolerance of one's fellow human beings.
Be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving, advised Paul, who reminded the Ephesians that Jesus had told us that God could forgive the sins of mankind.
Paul also gave the Ephesians practical advice. He cautioned against being coarse in dealings with others. He felt that husbands should love their wives, and wives should respect their husbands.
Drawing a comparison to soldiers going into battle, Saint Paul asked the people of Ephesus to "Put on the whole armor of God...to stand against the wiles of the devil."
Whatever the concept of God might mean to various people around the world, and regardless of their different religions or even the right to prefer not to practice any religion at all, it is undeniable that Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, gave honorable advice by wanting men and women to live their lives in dignity and with gentle kindness toward one another.
Paul appears to believe that Jesus brought with Him a philosophy of gentleness and forgiveness, unlike the older Mosaic law that was vitally necessary a thousand years earlier to curb transgressions by reminding people of what they should not do, out of fear of a vengeful God.
But Paul had a great respect for his own native Jewish nationality and religion. To him, Christianity seemed to represent a natural, modern message for mankind, but still part of the same original religion practiced by Moses and Jesus too.
Paul's faith was begun when he had an apparition of Jesus, after Jesus' death. Paul knew Saint Peter and many other disciples of Christ. But the special mission of Paul was to deliver the good news of forgiveness to the non-Jewish world known as Gentiles.
When the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity as the religion that they would establish in their territories, it set the stage for a Christian Europe of a later era, which brought the religion along with settlers in the Americas and spread it also to Russia and, later with the British Empire, all around the world.
Mohammad himself believed in the divinity of Christ and, now that our world is shrinking due to electronic communications and jet travel, the Pope has pleaded with all of us, no matter where we live or how we feel about religion, to tolerate the diverse faiths of everyone else.
We hear of warring factions among religious people who basically believe in the same thing, such as Protestants and Catholics, Shiites and Sunnis. Most news analysts acknowledge, however, that these tensions are based on differing social-economic classifications rather than technical, theistic arguments. Egotistical domination and corrupt use of religion to justify violence and subjugation of differing factions in society continues to get the better of people despite their religions that teach kindness and love.
Jesus knew we are all only human and subject to such gross failings and instability. This is why the message of forgiveness as preached by people like Saint Paul to the Ephesians and others is so important to bringing inner peace to everyone. It's not only religion, it's good common-sense advice for living.
The Country of Turkey
Turkish Religious Beliefs
After 2000 years, what is left of the religion preached by Paul to the people living in what is today modern Turkey?
Although Islam is the largest religion there, it doesn't reject, but in fact embraces, both Christianity and Judaism. Actually almost everyone in Turkey is Islamic. Very few Christians live there.
Does it mean Paul failed? Children in Turkish schools learn only the Sunni branch of Islam. Although there's freedom of religion, it can be taught in schools. But Turkish foreign policy embraces ties with Christian nations. There's respect for the Christian faith and other faiths as well.
Mosques appear all over Turkey. But there are many churches there too. There is no official religion of the Turkish government. The Constitution there provides for freedom of religion.
Since Muslims follow the same general teachings of Christians and Jews, it could be said that the fact modern day Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim doesn't mean that Paul failed to teach the forefathers of present-day citizens of that country.