Saul or Paul? Saul of Tarsus is called ‘Saul’ in the narrative of Acts up until 13:9, where after he is called ‘Paul.’
The name ‘Saul’ is from the Hebrew sha’ul (lWav’), which means ‘requested one.’
The name ‘Paul’ is from the Greek Paulos (Pau/loj) of the popular Roman family name Paulus (Lat.
‘little’), as seen in the figure Sergius Paulus of Acts 13:7. It was a common practice among Semites of
the period to have two names, one Semitic, and the other Greek or Roman (cf. Acts 1:23; 9:36, 39;
10:18; 12:12; 13:1, 9; see also John 1:42).
Place of Birth: According to Acts, Paul was born in Tarsus (c. AD 5-15), a town of Cilicia (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3,
6). Greek coins from the 5th and 4th
centuries attest to its early Hellenization. The city was further
Hellenized by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BC). During Pompey’s reorganization of Asia Minor (66
BC), Tarsus was named capital of the province of Cilicia. Later, Mark Antony granted freedom,
immunity, and citizenship to the town, which was confirmed by Augustus, hence Paul’s frequent appeal
to Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37; 21:39; 22:25-29; 23:27; 25:10). Tarsus became a well-known center
of Hellenic education, philosophy, and culture (Strabo Geogr. 14.673).
Jerusalem Residence: Paul moved from Tarsus to Jerusalem sometime before the martyrdom of Steven (cf. Acts
Religious Affiliation before Christianity: Either in Tarsus or after moving to Jerusalem, Paul joined the Pharisees
(Acts 23:6; Phil 3:5), and studied under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3, see also 5:33). The word Pharisee is often
misunderstood in the modern reading of the NT. When we think of Pharisees, we usually think of selfrighteousness and hypocrisy, as exemplified in the story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:11).
The Pharisees were a religious party (Heb. ~yviWrP.h ‘separate ones’), that advocated total commitment
and obedience to the Torah. Not because they were a bunch of legalistic hypocrites, but because they
loved God and his commandments. This is why they appear all over the place in the NT. Where Jesus
was, they followed. They were interested to see if this new rabbi had something to offer, possibly a
deeper and clearer interpretation of the Law, that they might follow the commandments of God even
better. Unfortunately, since they are the ones who knew the Law, they also always end being the one
who speak up and challenge Jesus when he appears to be doing something to break it. Nobody else gets
involved in the debate because they either didn’t care or had no idea what the issue was about.
Conversion to Christianity: Paul was converted in a miraculous event on the road to Damascus and Baptized by
Ananius (Acts 9; 22:6-16; 26:12-18; c. AD 34-36), after which he spent three years praying and
meditating in the Arabian Desert (cf. Gal 1:17-18).