Why Did Saul Change his Name to Paul?

By divine sovereignty the Lord intervenes in Saul’s life and he is genuinely converted during an encounter with the Lord Jesus. Under the ministry of Ananias he is also healed and filled with the Holy Ghost. Saul immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. It is uncertain when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. The first reference in the sacred record to this name change was while Paul was ministering on the Isle of Cyprus during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-9).

Acts 7:58 – Saul is introduced in the New Testament giving approval to Stephen’s death

Acts 8 – Saul continues persecuting the church

Acts 9 – Saul travels to Damascus and is converted by Jesus in the process

Acts 9:19 – Saul (no name change yet) begins preaching Christ in Damascus

Acts 13:1-3 – Saul and Barnabas (still no name change) are set apart by the Holy Spirit for missionary service

Acts 13:4 – Saul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus

Acts 13:9 – Saul or Paul name “change” takes place

Acts 13-28 – Saul goes by the name Paul for the remainder of the book and the remainder of the New Testament

The Bible does not tell us how or when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. In the book of Acts, Luke simply identifies Saul as the one who is also called Paul.

Acts 13:9 “Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.”

So why the change from Saul to Paul?

There are two possibilities.

The first is found in the first book of Timothy when the Lord informs Saul that he would become an apostle to the Gentiles.

1 Timothy 2:7 “For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle. I am speaking the truth in Christ, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

One reason that Paul may have converted his Jewish Saul to the Gentile equivalent Paul is so that non-Jews would accept him more easily. Jews were intensely hated throughout the Roman Empire and very few Gentiles wanted to listen to or be around Jews.

The second possibility and the topic of this piece may be that his new identity reflected a new life in Christ Jesus. After his conversion on the road he was a new man with a new heart. The old man Saul with his persecution of Christians was a thing of the past. I personally believe that Paul knew that this new man with a new heart required a new name.

The name Paul is a fully Romanized name that means “small”, with no Jewish roots attached to it.

Did God change Saul’s name? If He did, the Bible doesn’t say so, and if it wasn’t done by God, then Paul must have done it.

Paul referred to himself as the “least of the Apostles”, a pun on the meaning of “Paul” meaning small in Greek.

It is no small wonder that it was most probably Paul that introduced the word  tapeinophrosune into first century literature. The word was first introduced in Ephesians in about 61 AD. Ephesians 4:2 with all humility (tapeinophrosune) and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.

In Greek pre-Christian writers, the word tapeinos is with a just a few exceptions used by Plato and Platonic writers, in a bad or inferior sense–meaning something evil or unworthy. In secular Greek literature, the adjective (Greek) “humble”, or “lowly” was used always in a derogatory and negative way, most commonly of a slave, bum or a vagrant. It described what was considered unfit, unclean and having little or no value.

If I were to say to you in the year 20AD, “Hi Buddy, your wife sure is humble”. You would go ahead and punch me out. That is how bad the word humble was. But just as Christ came to change the world, He came to change the word tapeinos to tapeinophrosune and give it a new meaning changing the negative definition to a positive and eternal meaning. Jesus’ death on the Cross and the sharing of that message gave us the meaning of the word we now know as humility, now that’s powerful. Paul understood that as the Holy Spirit directed him to write God’s word. And humility as a believer goes even a step farther than the secular world.

It is Paul who first penned the word as found in the New Testament as a  noun that is translated “humility” (Col 2:18, 23); in several other places in the New Testament it is also translated “lowliness” and “lowliness of mind”.

Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for “humility”. The very concept of humility was so foreign to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. During the first several centuries of Christianity, pagan writers borrowed the term (tapeinophrosune) humility from the writings of the Paul  in the New Testament. The pagan writers always used it derogatorily—mostly in reference to Christians—because to them humility was a pitiful weakness. Thus, it is not surprising that the word “humility”, has not been found in any Greek literature outside the Bible before the 2nd century.

The word humility (tapeinophrosune) in the New Testament always has a positive connotation. Humility of mind and spirit is the opposite of pride, pride being the sin that has always separated men from God. Christ through the power of His Blood has transformed the word humble from that of shame in the eyes of man, to that of humility (tapeinophrosune) which carries glory, strength and honor, and is exalted in the eyes of our Lord.

The prominence that humility has gained in Christian scripture indicates the power of this concept in our relationship to God, ourselves and to our fellow man. Jesus not only strongly impressed His disciples with the need of humility, but was in Himself its supreme example. He described Himself as “meek and lowly (tapeinos) in heart” (Matt 11:29) “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted”.

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility (tapeinophrosune) consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Here Paul gives us the Scriptural “antidote” for pride, selfish ambition and the pursuit of our own egos and glory. We are to view others as being above and better than ourselves, and to hold ourselves as lower than them, which is exactly the opposite of what our flesh desires to do. The word indicates the esteeming one’s self as small or recognizing one’s insufficiency but at the same time recognizing the powerful sufficiency of God! This the power of the word tapeinophrosune (humility), transformed by the Blood of Christ.

It is not a weakness when we surrender, but in strength when we reject our own wants and desires and look after the needs of others.” It is good to show humility to the world as we follow Christ and humble ourselves that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).

This is perhaps Scripture’s clearest portrait of the humility called for in the Gospel. It is not a weak man’s surrender, but a strong man’s rejection of selfishness and determination to be actively concerned with the needs and interests of others. In Christ there are no empty, meaningless lives, only strong eternal lives through humility.

Humility is the understanding of our own insignificance, in light of His significance. I think that what Paul is trying to teach us here in understanding humility is

Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience

The word humility here refers to the saints, to see themselves as sinners saved by God’s grace, to esteem others better than themselves; in ascribing all they have, and are, to Christ; in doing works of mercy and righteousness without ostentation, or boasting of them, or depending on them; owing all to Christ Jesus in humility.

So it is fitting that Saul whose name was changed to Paul after his conversion would refer to himself as the least of the apostles and coin the noun tapeinophrosune (humility) for all of recorded history from the time of Christ to see. The word for humility used by Paul is but a reflection of how he saw himself in Christ Jesus–Small and Humble. A wonderful legacy in Christ Jesus to leave for us all to see and read.

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Categories: Bible, Forgiveness, Grace, Humility, Salvation

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8 replies

  1. That was very informative.
    Thank you for the lesson! :)
    I learned a new word today.

    Peace to you, Uncle Tree

  2. Very informative and well researched, thank you Darrell.
    May you be blessed in your ministry.

  3. Hi Darrell. Enjoyed the post. One thing to keep in mind is that Acts 13:9 happens about a decade *after* Jesus meets Saul on the road to Damascus. In other words, Saul continues to use the name “Saul” this entire time while his ministry is among the Jewish church.

    As you note, Paulus is the latin name for little or small. It is not a translation of Saul in Hebrew.

    In Acts 13, the Antioch church commissions “Saul” for ministry among the gentiles. As you note, Acts 13:9 is the first stop on his gentile ministry, and from that point on his gentile name is used. As the verse says, “Saul was *also* known as Paul.”

    I really like your idea about whether or not Saul chose the name Paul himself. I’ve usually heard that it was simply his Latin name as a Roman citizen. However, it is entirely possible that his citizen name was something else, and that he chose Paulus to reflect his position in the Kingdom of God.

  4. Hi, everything is going well here and ofcourse every one is
    sharing facts, that’s really fine, keep up writing.

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  1. What’s in a Name? Saul Becomes Paul « Christianity 201

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