Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Saul who is also called Paul" - Michael Compton and the Patristic interpretation of "Paul"

I'm currently reading through different essays in "In Dominico Eloquio: In Lordly Eloquence: Essays on Patristic Exegesis in Honor of Robert Louis Wilken." Recently I read through Michael Compton's essay on the Patristic interpretation of the names of the Apostle Paul. He writes:

What is the relationship between these two names? To many Christians (and non-Christians as well), the answer to the question has been and continues to be quite obvious. For them there is, in fact, no problem at all: Saul the persecuting Pharisee received the name Paul when he converted to Christianity. I confess that this is the answer I was first taught, and I have met many who were taught likewise.

Indeed, this was something I had always assumed as well. Saul isn't used anywhere in the Epistles and when one reads Acts, Luke phases out using Saul in favor of using Paul. Thus, it was natural to assume some kind of a name change had occurred. Compton's article focuses on a few ancient interpreters who shared this view - Jerome, Augustine, etc. Though Origen had already stated that no name change had taken place. Compton focuses especially on Chrysostom, whom Compton believes is responding to the "triumphalist" view of Jerome. Essentially, Jerome's view was that because Sergius Paulus was Paul's first convert (Acts 13:7), Saul took Paul's name.(cf. De Viris Illustribus 5 (PL 23:615) quoted on pg 58). Kind of an odd interpretation, but there you have it.

The article also mentions G.A. Harrer who espoused the theory that Paul was "the Apostle's cognomen while 'Saul' was his signum."(pg 53) I wonder if anyone has anything to say about that, because it seems like a convincing theory to me.


Hypatia said...

As I understood it, Saul may have changed his name because the the Greek adjective 'saulos' means 'the loose, wanton gait of courtesans or Bacchantes' (see LSJ.
The Latin adjective 'paulus' means small (Paul was, of course a Roman citizen) which may have described his physical build (see the apocryphal 2nd CE Acts of Paul) or seemed appropriate to someone who regarded himself as 'the least of the apostles'(1Cor.15:9).

Josh McManaway said...

As to the meaning of Paul, Augustine came up with the same thing. He said that, "When he was Saul, he was proud, exalted; when he was Paul, he was lowly and little." (Tr. 8 in ep. Jn. (SC 75:342) quoted in Compton, pg 58).

The 4th Century Euthalius the Deacon has another etymology - "...for Saul used to 'assault' (esaleue) the whole Church, but Paul 'paused' (pepautai) from further persecution..." (quoted in Compton, p 60). A "fanciful etymology" (as Lampe puts it), but interesting nonetheless.

Thanks for the comment!

David Huckerby said...

Oh dear... read your Scriptures... when Saul became he Believer in Yeshua (Jesus) he didn't change his name... He was still Saul when he became born-again. Saul or Sha'ul is the Hebrew version of his name, and Paul or Paulus is the the Greek version of the same name. He was known as Paul to the Gentile/Greek Christians, and Saul to the Jewish Christians. Read through Acts in full to prove this.

Anonymous said...

Luke starts referring to Saul as Saul as Paul in a Acts when Saul changed his name Paul. He changed his name as an homage to the proconsul in Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, who sympathized with Paul and Barnabas and was likely their benefactor on the rest of their first missionary journey. Note that the only other Pharisee we know anything about, Josephesus, did exactly the same thing. He changed his name from Matthias to Flavius to honor his benefactors, the Flavians.

Anonymous said...

Saul never changed is name to Paul. Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Latin name (because he was a Roman citizen). The two names do *not* share the same meaning.

Acts 13:9 says that "Saul was also known as Paul." This was about 10 years AFTER Saul submitted to Jesus in Damascus, and is the first time that "Paul" is used.

What is significant is that Acts 13:9 signals the transition to "Paul's" ministry among the gentiles (a ministry that the Antioch church elders commissioned him to).

PaulBlog said...

For more on Apostle Paul see

A Polite Bribe: An Apostles Bid to Save a World Religion