Did God change Saul's name to Paul?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

To continue the discussion from Which Bible character’s path moves you to awe the most?, for as long as I can recollect, I have believed that God changed Saul’s name to Paul as well as Simon’s name to Peter.

However, yesterday I came across this argument:

Here are the main points of Greg Lanier’s arguments:
First, in both cases, perhaps we are conditioned to expect divine name changes from the stories of Abram/Abraham and Jacob/Israel.
Also in both cases, “Many if not most Greek-speaking Jews in Paul’s day would have a Jewish/Hebrew name and a Hellenistic/Greek name.”

In the specific case of Saul/Paul:

  1. He is regularly addressed as Saul - in the Christophany, by the Holy Spirit, and by Christians many times after his conversion.
  2. Luke emphasizes the name Paul when he is set out on a missionary journey to Hellenistic audiences.

In the specific case of Simon/Peter:

  1. Despite the supposed name change in Matthew 16:17-18, this is better read as an emphasis on one of Peter’s names.
  2. In John 1:42, another potential name change, we have to wrestle with the data that this gospel identifies him as “Simon Peter” fifteen more times.
  3. In Peter’s epistle, he calls himself “Simeon Peter” (2 Pet 1:1).

Overall, I think this is a more careful reading of the text than I had done myself. I welcome other thoughts on Greg’s observations!

Evaluating Paul Was Not A Christian by Eisenbaum
(SeanO) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer Great point!

Actually, I find this topic fascinating since I have been reading Genesis.

Another commentator points out the following:

In the book of Genesis (32:28; 35:10), God changed the name of Jacob (meaning “supplanter” or “deceiver”)1 to Israel (meaning “having power with God” or “God’s fighter”).2 God even went so far as to say, “Your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name” (35:10, emp. added). However, Jacob’s name was used by the inspired prophets dozens of times thereafter, including immediately following the accounts of Jacob’s name being changed (32:29-32; 35:14-15). Even when God instructed the patriarch to go down to Egypt many years later, He referred to him as “Jacob” (46:2).

So maybe divine ‘name change’ is more of ‘name with a purpose’. And whether or not the name (like Paul or Peter) already existed or was bestowed by God may not be the main point at all. But rather that God is emphasizing how this person will fit into His divine plan for the salvation of humanity. Paul the apostle to the Gentiles used his Greek name often. Peter was the rock. Jacob the one who wrestled with God and forefather of a nation.

(SeanO) #4

Another interesting thread revolves around a question Tom Bombadil posed to Frodo:

“Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?”

Our parents name us - names depend on relationships and context. But for us - in the end - only a name given by God can stand because this world is passing away.

Reminds me of Revelation 2:17 - Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Unless God names us, we are, ultimately, nameless?

(Dave Kenny) #5

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer

in my Jewish Christian studies, Paul is a major topic of study… on a regular basis

I can confirm for you that there is a large consensus on the points that you just put forward, really from about 150 BC onward… being a dual citizen did require multiple names… census data, extra-biblical writing and burial sites verify this for the vast majority of citizens… it is also likely that most citizens spoke and transacted in 3 different languages

The real point of discussion comes down to the theological idea that Saul changed his name as a symbol to demonstrate that the old was dead and the new is now alive in Paul… this concept is largely debunked now…

The majority view now by historians and New Testament scholars is that Paul/Saul did not consider his belief in Christ as the formation of a new religion, but rather than he remained thoroughly Jewish in his faith and faith expression… after all… it was the Jewish faith that was awaiting the coming of the Messiah… Paul simply believed that the time had come!

So if there was no religion change, then there was likely no name change

Some resources (in order of ease to read) that others in the Connect family may benefit from if they are interested in investigating this further would be:

Paul was not a Christian, Eisenbaum
Post missionary messianic judaism, Kinzer
Reading Paul within judaism, Nanos
Paul and Palestinian judaism, Sanders

Happy reading!


(SeanO) #6

@Dave_Kenny I would push back a little bit on the idea that “if there was no religion change, there was likely no name change”

Jacob did not change religions. Only Abraham could have been said to have changed religions. But I think even that is somewhat questionable.

When Laban catches up with Jacob he describes God in this way “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us” (Genesis 31:53). Nahor was before Abraham, so if what Laban is saying is accurate, Abraham’s family actually knew about the true God - which would certainly seem to be the case if the godly line of Seth passed down such knowledge.

And we see Melchizedek, who was apparently a priest of the most high God.

But I do 100% agree that Paul did not create a new religion. He simply declared the Messiah.

(Dave Kenny) #7

touche @Sean_Oesch

yes… my statement was overly simplistic! You are more correct than I!


(Carson Weitnauer) #8

Hi friends, with respect, and in an attempt to put aside all my preconceptions, could you unpack what you mean by “Paul did not create a new religion”?

One interpretation would be that Judaism and Christianity are identical religions. But, on the face of it, it seems these are divergent religions. Even in the time of Christ, we see the rather high stakes of the religious disagreement!

Another interpretation would be that Christianity is the true fulfillment of what Judaism was always intended to be. The revelation God brought forward in the Old Testament is in continuity with the revelation God brought forward in the New Testament. The entire Scriptures come from one God and, properly understood, are all part of the same religion.

Of course, there may be others as well!

(SeanO) #9

@CarsonWeitnauer Very well stated!

(SeanO) #10

@Dave_Kenny Well - I may not be 100% right either - may not even 80 :slight_smile: . I’m not sure what ‘right’ is in this case - probably some fuzzy space we do not have enough historical evidence to actually grasp in between Abraham having a new religion and continuity with his forefather’s service to the true God.

(Jimmy Sellers) #11

From the Roman point view Paul was introducting a philosophy not a religion. Historical religion was just another business opportunity. On the other hand philosophy brought with it the potential for social unrest. Acts 16:21 is an example. I am going to stick my neck out and say that I don’t know or any religions that we’re outlawed by the Romans but there were a few philosphers that we’re killed.

(Solomon Kwarteng) #12

[Acts 13:9] describes the apostle as “Saul, who was also called Paul.”
from this verse alone, I have always believed that Paul’s name was never changed, however, his frequent use of the name Paul after Acts Chapter 13 was as a result of him reaching out to the gentiles.