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How Did Saul Become Paul?

Updated on August 1, 2019
Roy Blizzard III
Roy Blizzard III

How Did Saul Become Paul?

Roy Blizzard III (C) 2019

In Acts 13:9 we read a seemingly innocent verse stating that Saul is now Paul; or do we? Here is what verse 9 says:

“Then Saul, (who is also called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him.”

Here is the Greek, “ 9 σαυλος δε ο και παυλος…” 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament

It is interesting to note that this is the last verse in the New Testament where we see the name Saul used for Paul. After this point all we read is the Greek word Paulos substituted for the Hebrew name Saul. However, is this correct? Did Jesus change his name to Paul? I have never seen any reference to it. The change is often mistakenly linked to Saul’s experience on the Damascus Road, when the Lord Jesus commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1–19). However, at the time of Saul’s “conversion”, Jesus still addressed him as “Saul.” Later, Jesus told Ananias to find “Saul” in Damascus and restore his sight. Acts 9 goes on to describe “Saul” as increasing in spiritual strength and understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. So, it was not Jesus who changed his name on the road to Damascus. If it wasn’t Jesus’ doing, how did the change from Saul to Paul happen, and when? Did Saul change his name to Paul? Nowhere in the text does Saul call himself Paul. Did he just use two names? No one seems to question why Saul, as a Jew, needed to have two names or why he would choose the secondary name Paul?

The name “Paul” has a meaning and it’s not the same meaning as the name “Saul” so it can’t be that he wanted to be known in Greek as he was known in Hebrew. Saul means asked for in Hebrew. Paul means small or humble. Two separate meanings totally unrelated to each other argue against the substitution of meaning theory.

Some people assume that Saul used a Roman name because he proclaimed that he would become “all things to all people,” a Jew to the Jews in order to win the Jews, weak to the weak in order to win the weak, etc., all for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19–23). This thinking assumes that there is something inherently wrong with Saul’s and Jesus’ Judaism and people would somehow not become saved if they thought Saul or Jesus was Jewish. So they think that by adopting a Roman –Pagan name this sleight of hand would allow Paul to approach the Gentiles to whom he was sent and speak to them as a fellow pagan so as thy could be saved. This may sound feasible except for the glaring fact he wore Jewish clothing and went to all the synagogues so everyone knew he was a Jew! It also has the problem in thinking that that the gospel is not acceptable to non-Jews unless it was packaged somehow special just for them. As far as I can tell the Gospel is good news to everyone regardless. People also make the leap to claim it was possible that Paul just gave up the use of his Hebrew name, Saul, because it had regal connotations and he chose to use a Roman name, Paul, meaning “little” or “small,” because he desired to became smaller in order to present Christ as greater and they try to peg this to John 3:30, but this is specifically talking about Jesus not Saul.

Saul was a zealous Jew but born in a region dominated by the Romans. He would have been given his Hebrew name at birth and would have been very proud to carry that name of the first King of Israel and so had no real need for another pagan name. In fact, he was so zealous in his Hebrew Jewishness that he was killing other Jews who believed in a messiah, Jesus, because he considered this belief a pagan concept. Even if Saul went to other regions of the diaspora and mingled with Romans, the Romans weren’t killing Jews with the name Saul just for grins and the name Paul wouldn’t have scored any brownie points with the Jews in the synagogues that he went to all the time so realistically there is no need or desire for a zealous Jew to adopt a paganized name in order to “fit in” to either the Israeli Jewish community or the Hellenized Jewish community in the diaspora. All the disciples would have been familiar with his name Saul as well.

Another important fact we should consider is the family honor which was very important to the Jew and to take on a “pagan” name of Paul and ditch his Hebrew given name Saul could be construed as violating the fifth commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother”.

Paul quotes this very commandment in Ephesians 6:1-2, 1) “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.2) Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise.” He also quotes it in Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” In Judaism, honoring one’s parents is compared to honoring God. One way to bring honor to one’s parents is to create a good name for one’s family, not to put them to shame. For Saul to change his God ordained Hebrew name to a pagan Greek name would be bringing shame upon his family. This he would not do.

We have to remember that today there is a habit of having a Hebrew given name and having a paganized name in general usage in the land in which you live in. This was not generally the case in the first century; you got what you got at birth. There were however, nicknames in use but these didn’t supersede the given name.

Therefore, if the preceding is correct, why does the text use the “name” Paul? Could it be that the text is wrong? It is a fact that there are many errors in the text both in English and in Greek so this is a distinct possibility. In my Diaglott (a Greek-English New Testament, published in 1940), they state that there is over 20,000 mistakes in the text, most are just minor grammatical boo boos. However, in my article entitled, “Maranatha? Challenging a Textual Error” on Hubpages.com, I demonstrate the fact that the translator, who was using a Hebrew text, had a poor knowledge of Hebrew and so he just ignored the unknown, to him, Hebrew words Maran Atha, so just transliterated it into Greek as Maranatha and thus into Latin and thus into English, still unknown and still was untranslated until I correctly showed what it should have been.

We also have the translation mistake in the New Testament at Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says, “You are Petros and on this petra I will build my church." The Greek words πέτρος (petros) and πέτρα (petra) employed by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 make a nice wordplay but they only make sense when we realize that at Qumran “Petros” meant firstborn not stone. It had become a Hebrew idiom and made no sense in either Aramaic or Greek. “Matthew 16:18: The Petros-Petra wordplay – Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew?” by David Bivin in The Jerusalem Perspective.

Simon’s name “Peter” was thus born again from a mistaken belief of a translator. His given name was Simon Bar Jonah or Simon son of Jonah. In Matthew 16:17 Jesus actually addresses Simon “Peter” in his given name Bar Jonah. In Mark 3:16 it actually tells us in the Greek and Hebrew that “Peter” was a nickname that Jesus gave to Simon and in 3:17 Jesus nicknamed James and John as the Sons of Thunder or Boanerges or The Sons of Anger. Judas is called Iscariot not because his last name is Iscariot but because he carried a Sicae. The Sicarii were a group of the Jewish Zealots prior to 70 CE. who carried sicae, or small daggers, concealed in their cloaks. So Judas was a man or Ish in Hebrew of the Sicarii, thus Ish-scari-ot.

Another nickname we find that came down to us as a Greek nickname but in fact was a Hebrew nickname was James the Just’s nickname Oblias - Ωβλιας. Oblias was the Greek translators attempt to Hellenize his nickname ובלה which would mean one who reflects on the Torah, a wise one who doubtless would be Just in his decisions and would be the wall for the people as his Faith would be unshakable and who would be able to Justify his People by showing them an example of faithfulness to the Word. “A Short Explanation of James’ Title Oblias or Ωβλιας in Greek and Hebrew” by Roy Blizzard III on Hubpages.com No one seemed to understand that this was a Hebrew word until I Postulated the answer so for the last 2,000 years his Hebrew nickname remained a mystery to those who were busy looking solely at the Greek text.

Once we can see that many of these New Testament men had Hebrew nicknames with very important meanings and Peter is a first century nickname meaning firstborn we can easily see where the later translators who were not familiar with the Hebrew idioms and nicknames have just been off to the races in renaming Simon to Peter and just forgetting about his actual name Simon Bar Jonah and forgetting all about what his nickname meant.

So coming once again to Paul, could it be we are dealing with another textual error carried from a Hebrew text into a Greek text? The word in question is Paulos in Greek. The text says that Saul is also called this “Paulos”. It doesn’t say he changed his name it just says he was also called this. So what would this mean? In English and in Hebrew it would usually mean, “He is also known as___X____” not a name but an idiom or nickname. So what is Paulos if it is an idiom or nickname and why is this word used ever after instead of his Hebrew name Saul?

In New Testament studies Saul is known as the apostle to the Greeks because that’s where he went. Acts was written by Luke, a doctor and a student of Saul. Therefore it makes sense that Luke would be familiar with any idioms or nicknames related to Saul.

Since the Greek name Paulos doesn’t really hold any answers to our question let’s look at the Hebrew word or words that could possibly be confused with Paulos in Greek. In Hebrew there is a word Paalot that means worker but it isn’t a great fit and it would be hard for a translator to misinterpret it for Paulos. If you look at this word Paulos as I did with Maranatha you will see it could be as well a compound word. In fact, these two Hebrew words that have been forgotten are a powerful alternative.

This word transcribed as Paulos in Greek appears to be two words in Hebrew, the word for mouth or an opening such as a womb is Peh - פה It is also used idiomatically for the concept To Teach. The second word we see in Paulos is the word for a Greek – Hellas in Hebrew written as Elas - אלס. When these two Hebrew words are put together you would have the equivalent of Paulos in Greek but with the meaning of The womb of the Greek, or the opening or doorway of the Greek or even The Teacher of the Greek. Any of these three concepts fits with Jesus’ teachings on The Kingdom and the Doorway.

John 10:9 says’ “3) I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 4) Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?”

John 3:3-4 says, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 28:19-20 says, “19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

If in fact Saul didn’t ever change his name and Jesus never changed it then we may need to reevaluate our thinking in many areas. Saul wasn’t some has been Jew who was suddenly ashamed of his Jewishness. Jesus wasn’t pressuring Saul to change his name to Paul because he needed to trick the pagans into accepting his gospel message. No, Saul remained a faithful Jew in name and deed until he was killed, as did all the disciples.

If Saul was nicknamed Peh Elas this is a hugely important proof that shows the early believers held Saul to be the person who opened the way for the Greeks to come into the Kingdom, birthed the Greeks into the Kingdom and taught them the ways of God.

No matter which of the three of the idiomatic concepts the first century Jews held for Saul, I think this issue of the possibility that an early translator made a mistake in transcribing Peh Elas - Paulos as a Greek name and then this erroneous “name” is henceforth carried throughout the rest of the New Testament instead of his actual God given name, Saul.

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