Why Saul’s Name Was Changed To “Paul”

It is written:

“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23  having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,” (1 Peter 1:22-23)

The Apostle Peter ties the new birth with the purifying of our souls, when we choose to obey the truth of God’s Word through the Spirit. This means (among other things) that a person plays a role in the new birth and in being adopted into God’s family (cf. Galatians 3:26-29).

One may wonder how a person could play a part in his own birth and adoption. However, a parallel may be found in adult adoption as practiced by the Roman Empire and indirectly referenced in the Book of Acts.

You will remember that the Apostle Paul was also known as Saul. What brought about this change in his name? Luke writes:

Acts 13:6-12-Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7  who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8  But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9  Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him. 10  and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11  And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12  Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Commenting on these facts, Bill Cooper has written:

“But before we leave Sergius Paulus, we may note the change that his conversion wrought upon the apostle Paul himself. You see, until this moment, Paul had gone under his birth name–Saul of Tarsus. But from this moment on, he has adopted the name of Paul, and adoption is what this is all about. It is almost unarguable–even though Luke doesn’t record the event–that Sergius Paulus formally adopted Saul, in exactly the same way that Marcus Annaeus Novatus had been adopted in Rome by the senator Lucius Junius Gallio, whose name he bore thereafter. We moderns can understand how a child can be adopted, but how on earth do you adopt an adult? Today there is no provision in law for such a thing. But in Rome there was, and it was in use for many centuries. Let’s see how it worked. Roman Adoption Adult adoptions played an important part, not just in Roman society, but in Roman politics too. Augustus had adopted Tiberius to succeed him. Tiberius, in turn, had adopted his nephew Caligula to succeed him. Caligula’s successor Claudius (one of the few Roman emperors not to be adopted), adopted Nero to succeed him, and so on. Such adoptions are mentioned more than thirty times by Suetonius, all of which is a measure of their importance. The adoption of an adult was called adrogation, and was the adoption of a person who was free, independent and willing to be adopted. 15 The purpose of such adoption was to give the adoptee the protection, both in law and under arms, of the adopter. The adoptee also had rights of inheritance. There were reciprocal duties, of course, which the adoptee owed to the adopter, the most important of which was the bearing of the adopter’s name so that, legally at any rate, his line could continue. But the advantages belonged mostly to the adoptee, as is witnessed by the case of Gallio. More importantly, the adopter took upon himself all liability under the law for his adoptee’s actions–including any debts he incurred. 16 We see this vicarious adopter’s liability in the matter of Onesimus, the runaway slave whom Paul himself had clearly and formally adopted: “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus whom I have begotten in my bonds”….” If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account. I, Paul, have written it with mine own hand. I will repay it….” (Philemon 1: 10 & 18-19). It is the merest reflection of what Christ has done for each and every one of those who believe in Him, and is why Paul took up the theme of the believer’s adoption into the family of Christ in his letters to the Romans (8: 16-17), Ephesians (1: 5) and Galatians (4: 4-5). Such procedures of adoption were well known in those parts. It was entirely befitting the case, and was so much more than a mere analogy. It was an accepted practice, was most Christlike, and was something that believers themselves could–and did-put into practice. Thus, when we see Saul of Tarsus no longer calling himself Saul of Tarsus, but suddenly bearing the name of Paulus, the man whom he had converted to Christ, what we are seeing is the process of Roman adoption coming into play. 17 Clearly, Sergius Paulus had adopted Saul, and in that adoption would have extended to him-by imperial rescript of Claudius himself (required by law to make the adoption valid and recognised)-his paternal protection as Roman Proconsul. This would, under God, have afforded Paul a level of protection against both Jew and Gentile which he otherwise would have lacked, and explains on a level which his mere Roman citizenship does not explain, why the Roman officials who dealt with Paul treated him so courteously–even down to the centurions, guards and escorts who later carried him to Rome.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Part 2: Acts, the Epistles and Revelation, 471-499 (Kindle Edition))

When believers in Jesus the Son of God (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) repent and are baptized into Christ, their sins are forgiven and they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Why not obey His will today and be adopted into God’s family (Acts 2:47)?

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