Monday, September 5, 2016

Roberta Rants about a Pet Peeve

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. That is clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17.
God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. That is clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17.
God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. That is clearly stated in Genesis chapter 32.
God did not change Saul’s name to Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts chapter 9.
The Conversion of St. Paul (1767), by Nicolas-Bernard Lepicie (Wikimedia).

Did you catch that? God DID NOT change Saul’s name to Paul in Acts 9. It is not clearly stated in Acts or anywhere else in Scripture.
I don’t care if you’ve heard it from a pulpit. I have.
I don’t care if you’ve seen it used as an example in a Christian school grammar book. I have. 
I don’t care if you’ve heard Luis Palau say it on the radio. I have.
I don’t care if you’ve read it on page 493 of the Beginner’s Bible, published by Zonderkidz. I have.
I don’t care that it preaches well and that Saul and Paul rhyme—in English, anyway. 
Here’s what the Beginner’s Bible says:
"After this, God changed Saul’s name to Paul. He was a new man! Instead of hating Jesus’ followers, he loved them. And he became a follower, too."
 But here’s how Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, disagrees:  After Saul’s conversion, Luke refers to him as Saul five more times in chapter 9, three times in chapter 11, once in chapter 12, and four times in chapter 13.
If I have to choose between the accuracy of Luke and the accuracy of Zonderkidz, I’m going to choose Luke every time.
And then there’s this, Acts 13:2, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” If God changed Saul’s name to Paul in chapter 9, why does the Holy Spirit (also God) continue to call him Saul several chapters and a number of years later?
And then there’s this, Acts 13:9, “Then Saul, who was also called Paul…” (emphasis mine) It doesn’t say, “who was now called Paul,” or “who was exclusively called Paul.” It says “who was also called Paul.”
Ironically, it’s the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (the most useful set of books I own) that gives the necessary explanation. “It was common for Roman citizens to have three names:  the praenomen, nomen and cognomen…’Paul’ is the Apostle’s Roman cognomen.” (ZIBBC, vol 2, p 339) The praenomen is the individual’s name within the family, like our first names. The nomen is the family name, like our last names. The cognomen is another family name referring to a branch of the family, but also used as a personal name. Some people also had supernomen, which we might call a nickname, like the emperor whose nickname was Little Boots, Caligula. For the apostle, his Hebrew name, Saul, served as a type of supernomen.
My favorite set of nonfiction books.
The apostle’s cognomen was pronounced Paullus, and the Greek pronunciation of his Hebrew name was Saulos, which sounded like a somewhat nasty adjective in the Roman world. It meant “the loose, wanton gait of courtesans or Bacchantes.” Or as says, a “drunk female reveler.” That’s not exactly how you want to be introduced and taken seriously. We can only wonder, along with Clinton Arnold, if that influenced Saulos’s decision to be introduced as Paullus.
Also, Paul and his team were venturing beyond the borders of Israel into the mostly Gentile Roman Empire to share the Gospel. His Roman name and Roman citizenship, important elements of the total Paul, might serve him well.
Why am I making such a big deal out of this?
The Beginner’s Bible has altered many Bible narratives, I assume in the interest of removing violence and sexual content young children are not able to deal with. I’m okay with that. But, this time they added a fact which turns out to not be a fact. It serves no purpose other than to perpetuate a misconception.
It’s lazy, sloppy scholarship. Anyone who owns a Bible can read the book of Acts and track the use of Saul and Paul. Pick up a pencil and make hash marks. Or go to and let them show you every place in the book of Acts the names appear. Someone publishing a book or speaking from the pulpit or on the radio, hoping to influence others, had better do so.
If you’re making a huge spiritual point based on an error, don’t. Find another scripture passage or another point. Rely on solid study rather than flashy catchphrases.
Many thanks go to my go-to scholars who wrote the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Clinton E. Arnold, general editor and author of the section on Acts.


  1. Great information, Roberta. Thank you for sharing the importance of Bible study and accuracy.

  2. Thanks, Roberta. It's good to get the straight scoop from a true Bible scholar/teacher.

  3. Thanks, friends. Your encouragement means a lot.