In my Facebook and Twitter feed a recent article has shown up a couple of times by Shane Pruitt. If you are not following him on twitter than you are missing out. The most recent of his articles for Relevant was https://relevantmagazine.com/article/the-5-most-misused-and-abused-bible verses/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=RELEVANT&utm_content=The%205%20Most%20Misused%20and%20Abused%20Bible%20Verses, talking about five misused Bible verses that many Christians misuse today. But when reading this after he tweeted this and Relevant released it he is missing a big bible passage that we also take out of context as well. Or should I say it the correct way a Bible story that many do ignore and it is a myth that must be broken. I would be lying if I said I have not created this fallacy as well. It was not until here recently when talking with atheists on the Unbelievable page (a podcast that is from the UK that has Christians and atheists in dialogue with each other). That I came to figure this out. So I repent and hope you will as well when teaching others. Here we go, the Apostle Paul’s name was not changed from Saul to Paul because of his conversion, we will discuss below what happened!
Now I admit growing up in church and going to youth for a little bit, I heard the story that God blinded Saul and then converted him to Paul. Even in the atheist movie Zeitgeist if I remember correctly states the same thing. Now the reasoning for this matter is probably from Acts 9. It is the story of Saul becoming blind on the Road to Damascus and Jesus’ asks him, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4b). As the story goes, Saul ends up converting to Christ and spoiler alert he becomes one of the best well known Christian missionaries to the church. Never once in this passage is the word Paul mentioned and Doctor Luke if you take the traditional view that he is the author switches back to Peter in chapter 10.
But how did one of the first terrorists against Christianity get such a radical story that God called him to change his name? Honestly unless someone else can find the research I could not find anything for an hour and half that assumed that God changed his name to Paul. Maybe it is the Christian tradition of wanting to show another Abram that God changed his name to Abraham. But one can only speculate at this moment in time, but if we are to be true to the text the conversion story of Saul does not mention God changing his name to Paul. The only thing chapter nine is clear on is the people were not following Jesus’ command “agape your enemies” (Matt 5:44), but would you not also be afraid of a known terrorist that is coming into your midst saying he now believes (Acts 9:29)? It is clear from Jesus’ statement to Ananias, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 NRSV). If one continues to read the Bible and just look at Paul’s life you see nonstop, he is meet with persecution and must suffer to follow Jesus.
For three chapters, Paul is not mentioned in the text, until Luke brings him up again in chapter 13 where Barnabas and Saul are sent off (13:1-3). But still Luke is referring to Paul as Saul. In this chapter, Luke states, “Σαῦλος δέ, ὁ καὶ Παῦλος” (Acts 13:9a). The literal translation Saul but also Paul. Do not take my word for it here it is the ESV, “But Saul, who was also called Paul.” Here it is in the NRSV “But Saul, also known as Paul.” The HCSB states it as, “Then Saul also called Paul.” King James Version bible states, “Then Saul, (who is also called Paul).” Finally, the CSB bible the new updated edition of the HCSB states, “But Saul, also called Paul.” So where do we get the idea that Paul had to change his name to Saul?
Saul is his Jewish name while Paul is actually his Greek name. Throughout his letters, Paul is writing to Gentiles and those outside of Israel, so he uses the word Paul. Paul is showing his Greek credentials as the man named Paul. No, Jesus did not demand him to change his name. Throughout the rest of Acts, he will be known as Paul with a few exceptions. But the myth that God changed Saul the Christian terrorist’s name to Paul is not biblical and is false.
This is a myth that many Christians have been taught, but we must be willing to suggest that no this is not right. This is a traditional idea that is not found in scripture, it is a myth that we have created to make Paul seem like the unlikely villain turn hero, and because of that he changes his mind. He is called to repentance and is a new identity, and he does have a new identity and purpose in Christ Jesus. Yes, all of this is true when one becomes a Christian but Paul did not change his name. It was a means by which he ascribed to his Roman name Paul. Paul had dual citizenship which he will use later to his advantage (Acts 22:25-29 Acts 25). Let us say goodbye to this myth and tell the story of how Paul from the very start found a way to do missions with other nations by using his Roman name to reach them. God had a plan and that plan worked out because now Paul is one of the most well-known theologian/missionary the world has ever known.