After conversion, Paul began great, revered ministry

In his conference address in October 1964, Elder Howard W. Hunter, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke of Saul's early life, noting that he was born a Roman citizen, and had learned the trade of weaving goat-hair cloth and fabricating it into tents.

He said that as a youth, Saul studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, considered the most outstanding teacher of his time who taught the doctrine of strict compliance with the law, which was fundamental with the Pharisees. Yet, Elder Hunter noted, Gamaliel was liberal in some respects, and his teachings were tempered with moderation; he argued a course of tolerance and took a firm stand against the prosecution of Peter and the other apostles after the death of Jesus.Saul became "a zealot for God, a serious and pious man," Elder Hunter said. "He hungered and thirsted after righteousness and sought diligently to keep the law in every respect as a devout Pharisee. In spite of the fact he had been a pupil of Gamaliel who taught tolerance, Saul became an extreme persecutor of those who did not comply strictly with Pharisaic Judaism.

"After the crucifixion of Jesus, widespread persecution was soon commenced upon those who followed His teachings. The activity of Stephen, a Hellenistic Jew, in this new cause brought him into conflict with the Jews of Jerusalem, who, being angered by his eloquent presentation of the new faith, brought him to trial before the Sanhedrin on the charge of blasphemy. . . .

"Saul was present at the trial. He stood by and held the garments of the chief witnesses while they killed Stephen. Following this, Saul began to participate actively in the campaign against the Christians. This is the usual course of a man's life as he turns toward evil. First, he is a silent observer, then he becomes a consenting spectator, and finally he is an active participant. . . .

Elder Hunter said the scriptures make no mention of anything that took place on Saul's journey to Damascus to further persecute followers of Christ until he and his companions came near Damascus. There, Saul had the experience that changed his life: the appearance of the Savior, who asked, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?' "

Elder Hunter related the remainder of the story, recorded in Acts 9:4-19, which tells of how Saul was healed through the ministrations of the Christian Ananias, Saul's conversion and baptism.

"His life was changed," Elder Hunter said. "It is remarkable that the man who held the garments of Stephen's executioners thereafter became the chief exponent of the principles for which Stephen died. Soon there was commenced the great ministry of which the Christian world is so familiar, by the one whose name became romanized and known as Apostle Paul."