Paul’s Roman Citizenship As Reflected In His Missionary Experiences And His Letters -- By: James L. Kelso

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 079:314 (Apr 1922)
Article: Paul’s Roman Citizenship As Reflected In His Missionary Experiences And His Letters
Author: James L. Kelso


Paul’s Roman Citizenship As Reflected In His Missionary Experiences And His Letters

James L. Kelso

When the apostle Paul first appears in the narrative of the Acts, there is no hint that he is a Roman citizen. Indeed, it is not until he has arrived at Paphos in the course of his first missionary journey that the record gives us any clew to his Roman citizenship. Prior to that time he is known only as a Jew and a Tarsean, and is spoken of as Saul. The fact that he was a Jew and a Tarsean would not indicate anything as to whether he was a Roman citizen; but the Hebrew name Saul would seem to indicate that he was not a Roman, for a Latin name was inseparably connected with Roman citizenship.

In the record of the happenings at Paphos, however, we find that Saul has another name which is Paul. This name Paul is Latin, as is witnessed by the name of Ser-gius Paulus, the Roman proconsul of Cyprus, whom Paul met on this occasion. In the first part of the Acts where Paul’s work was essentially wrapped up with the Jews, Luke apparently preferred to speak of him by his Jewish name; but after Paul actually became a missionary to the Gentiles, Luke usually spoke of him by his Latin name. It would be of interest for us to know Paul’s complete name—a Roman always had three—for the full name would probably give us a clew to how Paul’s family had received the grant of citizenship, and would thus throw considerable light on his family history. Luke, however, was a Greek and apparently had no interest in such details as full Roman names. He does not even have a uniform method of using them; the proconsul of Achaia is spoken of as Gallio, but the proconsul of Cyprus is called Sergius Paulus, and the successor of Felix is spoken of as Porcius Festus and again simply as Festus.

In all the work that Paul and Barnabas had been engaged in as co-laborers before the incident at Paphos, Barnabas seems to have been the leader, but when they

were summoned into the presence of the proconsul of the island, Paul acted as the spokesman. The shift of leaders at this particular point is plain, however, for Paul was a Roman citizen and Barnabas was not. Paul’s Roman citizenship gave him an exceptionally fine approach in conversation with the proconsul. In the course of Paul’s remarks and miracle-working, the Roman governor was converted. This seems to have made a very strong impression upon Paul, for he apparently accepted it as a divine sign urging him to hasten to his special field as “Apostle to the Gentiles.” From this time on, he laid increasing emphasis on the Gentile mission field, where his rare combination of Jewish, Greek and Roman knowledge fitted him as a special leader.

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