There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant. Afterward they traveled from town to town across the entire island until finally they reached Paphos, where they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He had attached himself to the governor, Sergius Paulus, who was an intelligent man. The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him, for he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas, the sorcerer (as his name means in Greek), interfered and urged the governor to pay no attention to what Barnabas and Saul said. He was trying to keep the governor from believing.
Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now, for the Lord has laid His hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him. When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord. . . Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.Acts 13:5-13
Now let’s deal with the other matter behind the scenes – the reason and the moment Saul’s name changed to Paul. When do you think it happened and why? Who was responsible for the name change? These are some of the questions that you have sent me over the last days or weeks since I first brought up the matter of Saul becoming Paul. Take some time to think about it for yourself before you read further. The three basic questions are: When? By Whom? Why?
How would you respond to these three questions?
Write down your answers to those three questions before you read further.
Most people would think the most probable time for the name change would have been on the Damascus Road when Paul had his encounter with Christ. Or if not then perhaps at the time of the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch at the beginning of Acts 13. Or if that’s not the time then it happened when Paul started his first missionary journey and therefore a name change was warranted related to the ministry he was about to begin. After all Paul was to become the Apostle to the Gentiles. So doesn’t that require some special service, or commissioning or perhaps a name change ceremony? As in the case of other Bible leaders who experienced a name change on picking up their ministry or role for God. The ones who immediately spring to mind are Jacob whose name changed to Israel when he wrestled with God. Or Gideon whose name changed from “broken in pieces one” to “mighty warrior” when he was called to battle the Midianites and save Israel. Or Peter whose name changed from Cephas to Petrus assumedly with his call to lead the Church. Mmm, much we could say about that one. But they are the immediate associations we make with name changes in the Bible. It is like a name change is required when a person takes up office or accepts a call from the Lord to carry out a specific task. The real underlying reason is none of the above.
Notice what Luke writes in 13:9, Saul, also known as Paul. Well there is the clue that the name change has already happened. And it wasn’t actually a name change as we think of it. Saul of Tarsus was born a Jew, “circumcised when he was eight days old, a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! A member of the Pharisees, who demanded the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.” (Phil 3:5) This guy was a Jew through and through. It was natural that he would be given a Jewish name. Very appropriate that he should have the name Saul, named after the first king of Israel, one destined to be great – it seems appropriate that Saul should bear such a name. However, his father was a Roman citizen therefore Saul was also granted Roman citizenship. (Acts 22:25-28) Therefore accordingly Saul was given a Latin name as well. It was a custom of the time to take dual names if you had dual citizenship. Or if you were a Roman citizen then you were expected to take on a Latin name. Much like Asians coming to NZ have their Chinese name for example but then take on a Christian name (European name) so they fit with the NZ culture and don’t have to keep repeating or explaining their name to Kiwis who can’t pronounce their Chinese name well. It is clear that Paul was a name given by his parents or determined by his culture long before the encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, or the commissioning service at Antioch or the official beginning to his missionary service. No, it was none of the above. It is simply that he had that second name anyway. Beside each time a person’s name is marked for a name change in the Bible for “spiritual” reasons the text points it out to us. In this case we have a hint in what Luke wrote in 13:9 that Saul already has another name. Now that covers the when.
What I have said above probably helps you to determine the “by whom?” for yourself. No it was not a statement from God above saying This is my beloved Servant Saul whom I have chosen to become the Apostle to the Gentiles and from now on his name will be Paul. That didn’t happen. It wasn’t that the Teachers and Prophets at Antioch decided to rename him Paul in the light of his calling, confirmed by God in their presence. No that did not happen either. Nor did somebody on the trip to Cyprus nor on the boat to Perga decide to name Saul, Paul. And most certainly it was not Luke, the writer of Acts who started calling Saul, Paul. No, he already had the name and there was an appropriate time for his to start using it.
Which now brings us to the question:
Now we come to the matter of why? I think this issue is more important than when and by whom?
What are the options suggested over the years?
Paul used his Latin name to connect with Sergius Paulus. It was like saying we have the same name. I identify with you. What better way than to use your Latin name in the presence of a Roman proconsul. The importance is in the meaning of the names. Saul means “asked for” or “prayed for”. Paul on the other hand means “small” or “humble”. Suggesting it was an indication by the Spirit of the inner change that was to come. It marked the moment when Paul assumed the leadership of the group. It was a cross cultural expression summing up Paul’s attitude of being all things to all people. It marks the attitude and approach to his ministry. Also note the humility involved. On becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles, it was time for Saul to set aside his Jewish name and start using his Gentile name. Like many leaders who marked their first victory by adding to their name the scene of their first win in battle. Caesar Africanus, Nelson of the Nile. Thus Paul appropriately starts using his name as a memorial of his first convert Sergius Paulus. (mmm stretching it I think)
As with past situations when I have laid the alternatives at your feet, I will now leave you to decide for yourself which of these explanations you think to be the most appropriate to cover the Why Question.
For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.Plato
You are not an accident. You are not an oops. You are not a second thought. God planned you.Joyce Meyer
God knew your name from creation and set you apart so that you might serve the Name that is above every name.Ian Vail
Don’t judge others. We only know their names, not their story. We only know what they’ve done, not what they’ve been through.Sidney Mohede
The question is not whether your name will be remembered in future generations but will His Name be remembered because of you?Ian Vail