Friday, May 27, 2011

The Apostle Paul Never Converted to Christianity

The Apostle Paul never converted to Christianity, and he did not change his name from Saul to Paul upon his supposed Damascus Road conversion.

Before you scream "Blasphemy!" please allow me to demonstrate.

Saul (Sha'uwl in Hebrew) did not change his name to Paul (Paulos or Paulus in Greek) upon his Damascus Road experience of the risen Christ in Acts 9. In chapters 9, 10, 11, 12, and part of 13, Saul's name is still Saul, even though he is now a changed man and an Apostle of Jesus. So when did Saul start calling himself Paul?

In Acts 13:9, we learn that Saul is coming to be known as Paul. Why did this happen? 

Here is the context: Saul was on the first stop of his first missionary journey to speak to Greek-speaking gentiles. He was on the island of Cyprus preaching to his fellow Israelites in the synagogue (Acts 13:5). But then he went to see the proconsul of the island, a Greek-speaking Roman official named---now get this---Sergius Paulus. This man would have been unfamiliar both with Saul's Hebrew language and Hebrew name.

Raphael - The Conversion of the Proconsul
Saul in Hebrew is Sha'ūl. In Greek that's SaulosIt was only after Saul's meeting with the Roman ruler Sergius Paulus in Acts 13 that Saulos begins going by the nickname Paulos. Perhaps he noticed close similarity between the names Saulos and Paulus; to make them even more similar, he spelled Paulus as Paulos. Maybe he felt he needed a Greek nickname, as he intended to interact with Greek-speakers throughout the Roman world he was entering. Pardon me for a bit more speculation: Paulus means "small or little." If Paul were a man small of stature, as Hebrews tended to be, it might have made his new nickname both appropriate and easy to remember. It's not unusual today to find a short fellow nicknamed "Shorty."

Conversion is the wrong word for what happened to Paul. Deep into the Book of Acts, twice in the present tense he said, "I am a Jew" (Acts 21:39 and 22:3). "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees," he said (Acts 23:6). In the following two quotes from his own letters, he writes in the present tense:

Romans 11:1 I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

2 Corinthians 11:22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.

Again Paul writes of himself:

YLT Philippians 3:5 circumcision on the eighth day! of the race of Israel! of the tribe of Benjamin! a Hebrew of Hebrews! according to law a Pharisee!

Conversion, by dictionary definition, means changing from one religion to another. Mistakenly, many English translations of the Bible introduce Acts 9 as "The Conversion of the Apostle Paul," or something similar. This prevalent view neither takes into account that almost all of the first believers in Jesus Christ (messiah) were Hebrews and remained Hebrews, nor that the first major controversy in the nascent church was whether Gentiles could be Christians without converting to their Abrahamic faith (Acts 15). The view that Paul converted to Christianity also doesn't take into account that Paul never renounced his Hebrew heritage, his Israelite faith, his Benjamite lineage, or his credentials as a Pharisee.

Paul was a Hebrew Pharisee practicing the original Abrahamic faith until his death. One thing, however, made him a bit unusual. He also believed that Jesus, a rabbi from Nazareth, was the fulfillment of Hebrew prophesies regarding the promised Messiah of God.

Paul was not a convert from the Israelite religion to Christianity. He was an Abrahamic Christian. Jesus re-framed Paul's Hebrew faith that he never left or lost.

For more on the Apostle Paul see my blogs Paul Didn't Go To HeavenPorneia, and The Soul Doesn't Leave the Body at Death.