The figure of Paul of Tarsus is presented to us with many paradoxes. He is the character of the first generation of Christians from who we have more direct and complete information, but nevertheless, he his also the character from who we have received the most diverse and controversial images. Along his life, he only had a marginal relevance within the birth of the Church, although after his death, he has played a key role in the history of Christianity. He is the Jesus' follower that has influenced the most the continuation of his project, although he never got to meet him in person. Paul of Tarsus is an enigmatic and captivating character that produced, and still produces, the fiercest enthusiasm and opposition.
The historical figure of Paul has reached us through interpretations and re-lectures of several memories. The most influential has been without doubt the one that the book of Acts of the Apostles proposes with a clear apologetic intention. Due to this, in order to access the character within his time, we need to relativize these images and give priority to the few data that can be found among his own letters.
Keeping these warnings in mind, I will try to answer the following question: What do we know for sure about the "historical Paul"? Reviewing the chronology of his life, I will try to clear out what we know from his origins and education, about his activity as a persecutor of Jesus' first disciples, about the radical change he went through to become one of them, about his contacts with the groups and communities of Judea and his environment, about his rupture with the community of Antioch (and Jerusalem) and the the beginning of his independent missionary work, about the missionary activity he developed in the coastal cities of the Aegean, about his his long-awaited trip to Jerusalem, and his project pass to the other side of the Empire to reach Spain; in summary, what do we know about about his captivity and possible martyrdom in Rome.
But this is only part of what can be told about Paul. His historical life is as important as his heritage. It was his heritage, which materialized in some living communities and in the text built through a compilation of his letters, what put his figure in the first line and transformed a marginal missionary into the great apostle that is remembered in the book of Acts. Nevertheless, not all shared this vision as we can find together with these memories that enthralled churches in diaspora, other Christians who referred to him as "the enemy". On the long run it was the positive appreciation the one that endured, probably because it was the most generalized, and due to this, his writings and other attributed to him, together with the book of Acts, were included into the canon of the Christian writings: the New Testament. This way, the presence and the influence of Paul in the posterior history of Christianity was ensured.