So, you may wonder why this matters at all. Fair enough. It certainly isn’t to make a major out of a minor. This could easily be perceived as that. But let’s think about names for a minute.When you think of your neighbors that come from other national-contexts (here, I’m assuming you are either American born and/or English-speaking only/primarily), have you ever met someone who had a name that was challenging to pronounce? Perhaps you found such a name difficult to memorize since it was so unfamiliar.
I certainly have. As much as I try, it can be hard to pronounce and remember foreign names.
Paul had a similar situation. He was in a world, much like the North American context, where a great empire had assimilated many cultures (after conquering them, mostly). This forced him to live in 2, if not 3, worlds (perhaps 2.5): his Jewish world, the Greek-speaking Hellenistic world, and the Roman world which had annexed the latter two into their dominion.
Thus, the Apostle had 3 names (more like 2.5 names):
- Saul: his Hebrew/Aramaic name. The name he most easily recognized and the one that spoke deeply of his Jewish identity. This Jewish teacher took joy in being from the tribe of Benjamin, the same tribe from whom emerged the king he was named after!
- Paul: his Greek name (Paulos) and his Roman name (Paulus). He chose a close “equivalent” to his Jewish name from the known Greco-Roman names of the time.
Paul’s Greco-Roman name was necessary for navigating the world, one where he was forced into a dual identity. This is not unlike your neighbors who might not be US born (or Canada, UK, etc. since I realize that not all of you are from here) who, for similar reasons forgo their cultural story to anglicize their name or choose a completely different one to navigate the tumultuous cultural waters of dominant culture.
Saul’s/Paul’s names speak to a contextual reality: both the power of being named and the dehumanizing forces in our world that seek to un-name people.
I don’t know all of the practical ramifications of this observation, but it should cause us to wonder how the forces of privilege played themselves out against the movement of God in the first century and how similar forces are at work in our own day and age.
Hopefully that gives us all something to think about.
Again, if you want to hear me go deeper on this issue, as well as point to helpful resources on the subject, I invite you to subscribe to The Paulcast itself: iTunes or Google.
Painting: Apostle Paul, by: Jan Lievens (circa 1627-1629)