Was Paul from a Wealthy Family?

Apostle PaulAlthough Longenecker says there is no evidence to indicate Paul grow up with “a silver spoon in his mouth” (Thinking through Paul, 26), John Polhill speculates Paul may have been wealthy for several reasons (Paul and His Letters, 9). First, Paul was born a citizen, so his father or grandfather obtained citizenship. In order to “buy” a citizenship, one might need to spend 18 months wages or more on necessary gifts in order to receive the honor.

Second, the fact Paul was a tent maker from Tarsus may imply he worked with the costly material cilcium, used for both tents and saddles. Since Jews were known to have worked in the very active textile industry in Tarsus, it is possible that Paul’s family was connected to this trade.

On the other hand, Paul may have learned his trade through his rabbinical training.  A trade was required in order to support one’s study of the Torah, tent-making may have been a choice he made while studying in Jerusalem rather than the family business. Tent-making was potentially lucrative.  Tarsus was known for a particular felt-like material made from the wool of goats native to the region.  This cloth and other linens were expensive and required special handling. It is possible Paul and his family worked with this sort of cloth, doing jobs for the wealthy of Tarsus.

Third, Martin Hengel speculated Paul’s education may be a hint at his social status. If he came to Jerusalem at a young age, then he was likely from a “well-to-do” family which could afford to send a son to study on Jerusalem.

Fourth, Paul’s extensive travels were expensive and he need to finance travel for a group. It is likely he rented rooms in Corinth to live and in Ephesus he rented space to teach for two years.  On at least two occasions Paul had to support himself while under house arrest (Caesarea and Rome). In Rome he lived in a rented house for two years and was unable to work to support himself.  Is it possible that Paul was able to use his family’s wealth in order to pay for travel and housing?

Fifth, Paul sponsored a vow in Acts 21.  The Nazarite vow was a Jewish tradition that was supposed to be a deeply spiritual exercise.  To sponsor such a vow would be an indication of Jewish loyalty and fidelity to the Law.  For example, Agrippa I sponsored vows for several young men in order to show his personal loyalty to the law (Josephus, Antiq. 19.294).  Since the expenses for the vow itself could be high, wealthy men could show their support by paying the expenses for one or more men completing their vow. While it is possible Paul took this money from the collection he delivered to Jerusalem, it is not clear from Acts he sponsored the vows from this money. In any case, taking money intended for the poor in Jerusalem to sponsor the vow does not seem appropriate, the money ought to be come from Paul’s own pocket.

To what extent does Paul’s wealth effect the way he did ministry?  Jesus targeted on the “down and out,” people who on the fringes of society, and many modern evangelistic strategies follow this pattern. Did Paul target wealthy, higher class people such as Roman citizens because he was a moderately wealthy Roman citizen?

26 thoughts on “Was Paul from a Wealthy Family?

  1. An excellent list in support of a wealthy Paul, something I have always accepted. We might add the tact that as a young man he was given leadership in the persecution of the two god worshiping followers of the Way. I can’t see the money crazy Temple leaders going with a poor kid on scholarship.

    • This list is a great list of possible evidence of Paul being wealthy and it includes most arguments that I have heard before. The one that I did not know about was the valuable material cilcium that may have been used by Paul and his family since they were tentmakers. I think that Paul did not flaunt his wealth or use it to put himself on a pedestal. I believe that Paul did take advantage of his wealth and Roman status because it did allow him to do things and connect/relate with certain people because he was a Roman citizen by birth.
      While Jesus did connect with the lowest of the low when it came to the people who He intended to reach, I think a lot of that came from his social status and who he was able to reach. Jesus was not able to reach the Roman citizens because he was not wealthy and he was not on the same social level as those people were. He also chose to reach the people that was in need of intervention. Paul did not always reach these people of lower status because that was not the level on which he was. Paul reached the people that he could relate to and I do think that his wealth played a part in this and the people that he continually preached to.

  2. Enjoyed this post. LOVE reading and learning more of the deeper insights of the lives in the Bible. Of course, Paul is on my list. I have often thought about the traveling Paul encountered. Flying here and there, even with the smaller economy seats, is still luxurious compared to the travel of Paul’s day. I love his determination to return to Jerusalem in time for the feast. Yes, I agree, I think Paul was a man of means or at least he was blessed by his families wealth. blessings, denise

  3. Although I have never really considered whether or not Paul was wealthy, the idea of him having money certainly makes sense. Everything he did definitely required a lot of money, as traveling is not cheap. From what I understand of Gentiles in Paul’s time, wealth was most assuredly valued. If Paul had been a beggar, not even being able to provide for his own basic needs, how could the Gentiles see him as a man that could provide for their spiritual needs? As Longenecker states, Paul seems to carry “out the majority of his ministry in strategically located urban centers” (Longenecker 40). In these urban cities especially, wealth would have held at an even greater value than in others. The Romans clearly valued wealth, with their extravagant architecture and structures, evidenced in their exquisite temples and theaters. According the ESV introductions of some of Paul’s major letter, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians, all were cities of wealth based on their location and buildings within them.

    As Tyler mentioned, I do not believe Paul flaunted his wealth by any means and did not live a life of materialism. Because of his humble way of living, he could relate to both the wealthy and the poor, having good standing in both their eyes. God blesses us with money to serve him and do his work, which is exactly what Paul was able to do with his wealth. As he says in 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (ESV).

  4. It is interesting that scholars are not sure if Paul came from a wealthy family. There seems to be evidence that he was because of his upbringing, education and working status as a tent-maker. He came from a well off family who seemed to have it all together. His father was a Pharisee which claims that Paul was probably a Pharisee. “Paul’s circumcision on the eighth day suggests that his parents were self-respecting, law-abiding Jews” (Longenecker 24). He did have a good education and traveled a lot. This does seem that he would have had to have money to be able to support himself in his journey. However, there is some belief that Paul was educated in Tarsus. “In light of the language, style, and contents of Paul’s letters, some specialists regard Tarsus as the more likely location for Paul’s education and upbringing” (Longenecker, 26). There are some who believe he was educated in Jerusalem, which would point towards wealth, because of Paul’s statements about his commitments and concerns before following Christ Jesus (Longenecker 26). It is interesting that there are factors that point to both sides. However, there seems to be more evidence pointing that he came from a wealthy family.

    I also agree that Paul had a humble spirit which would keep him from flaunting his wealth. He he does say in Philippians 3 that he has lost everything for the sake of Christ. What is he referring to here though? Physical and material loss?

    If Paul came from a wealthy family and lost everything because he became a follower of Christ, these things would help him to relate to both the wealthy and the poor. According to Raymond E. Brown, Paul would have struggled to get money for food, would not spend money on a donkey. Paul would carry what he did have on his back (Longenecker, 39). He had everything in life at one point and then he had nothing. Paul could definitely relate to the poor if this was what he went through. This would cause people to respect him for giving all he had to follow Christ. He was living out what he believed was the way to live.

    I had never really though about the status of Paul’s wealth and how that would affect his ministry, but it is interesting to learn about.

  5. I never really though about Paul’s wealth and how it affected his ministry. It does seem like he came from a wealthy family because of his upbringing. He was a dual citizen and he worked as a tent-maker. It is interesting that that could indicate wealth because of the expensive material that he worked with. I agree that Paul would not flaunt his wealth. He definitely did not live a life of materialism because in Philippians 3 he says that he has lost all he has for the sake of Christ. He was always traveling to which would indicate that he would not be able to carry much with him, especially if he was traveling by foot. Raymond E. Brown seems to think that Paul did travel by foot most of the time because he would not want to spend money on a donkey for travel (Longenecker 39).
    There seems to be a lot of evidence that Paul came from a wealthy family. Some believe that he was educated in Jerusalem, which was expensive, that he had to have money coming from somewhere to support that. He also traveled a lot which would cost a lot of money as well.
    Because of his wealth and then becoming poor because of his choice to follow Christ, would help Paul to relate to those of wealth and those who were poor. He had an advantage because of this and people would respect him and what he had to say because of what he had gone through.
    It is interesting to dig deeper into the life of Paul and understand the authority he had and why he had it.

    • I disagree with Longenecker on the idea that Paul did not grow up with wealth, and in fact think it is likely he had grown up in a moderately-wealthy or well off family. Based on the research pointed out by Professor Long, along with information I gleaned from Longenecker book, I support the notion that there is more logic to Paul coming from a wealthier family than him coming from a non-wealthy family. In the first chapter, Longenecker mentioned he saw no basis for the idea that Paul grew up rich, if one was not assuming his family paid a lot for him to become citizens of Tarsus, and assuming they did not pay a lot for his education (Longenecker, 26). However, the fact that he then goes on to say, ” Paul’s letters indicate that he was relatively well-educated and remarkably well-traveled artisan apostle,” (Longenecker, 27) is in my opinion contradictory to his view stated beforehand. From what I have learned, back inPaul’s time wealth would have been necessary to become as educated as a Pharisee needs to be, and the book quotes Acts 23:6 when the author put Pau was “a son of Pharisees,” (Longenecker, 24)
      Additionally, as was pointed out in Professor Long’s post, Paul would have needed a lot of money to travel around with his fellow apostles, and money for room and board when he stayed in cities for months or years at a time. I believe Paul would not have had time to make that much money between leaving his parents’ home and the time he became a follower of Jesus, in order to do the extensive traveling he did. Also, being a Roman citizen would have given him a higher social status and it is unlikely his family could have become citizens without prior having paideia have price to become Citizens of Tarsus and of Rome. My final example falls along the same lines as what Dicia said in her post, regarding Paul focusing the majority of his ministry on city areas, would have required a lot of wealth to support himself and his companions. I think it was incorrect of Longenecker to assume that Paul came from a family of little money based off of Paul having learned a profession of a tentmaker (Longenecker, 26), because there is a lot more evidence and information pointing to Paul coming from a wealthy family.

  6. Longenecker mentions both Phil 3:8 and Gal 1:14 so as to perhaps support the idea that Paul was at some point wealthy. Longenecker is basically saying we cannot really say anything for sure regarding Paul’s wealth (27). I tend to think that in these verses where Paul describes his losing everything and how advanced he was in his studies he is speaking more from an intellectual point of view rather than physical wealth. Paul went from the top of his class to a completely different group of people. He had worked his way up in his studies and he was now in a different group of people all-together. He lost his power when he left the group of Pharisees. The idea in Phil 3:8 that he considers everything a loss or garbage in comparison with Christ shows that Paul had something of value at some point but I think it was his power and intellect rather than wealth. The reason Paul was able to reach out to these moderately wealthy people was that he had the social standing to do so. I do not know whether this was due to the wealth or the education. It seems logical that his wealth could have assisted in him in this. However, I think that his education could also have been the reason he was able to minister to these people.

  7. Based on what has been said, I agree with that Paul was most-likely from a wealthy family. For one, he does talk to the church of Corinth about how they should give to poor, but he never directly asks for money to be given to him, even though he is a missionary like most missionaries do (2 Corinthians 8:7). It would seem he would perhaps ask, unless he can support himself. Of course, he may have just not asked because he knew God would provide for him wherever he went.

    He also is saved when his nephew reports to the Roman Temple guards that Jews are plotting to kill Paul. He is a Roman citizen, so that does help save him like all the other times he gets in trouble, but his wealth would help, too. The commander sent 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen to transport Paul to Caesarea and wrote a letter to Governor Felix (Acts 23:22-25). Maybe I am wrong, but that seems like a lot of work for just one Roman citizen. This makes me think that Paul’s family’s wealth is why he gets so much protection.

    I also believe that because of who Paul is, he would not support a Nazarene vow with money that is supposed to be for the poor. I believe he would support them with his own money.

    Lastly, Paul might have “had such markers of success in mind when he states that he had lost all things because of his commitment to Jesus as Lord” (Longenecker, 28). When he committed to God, Paul may be meaning it was his family’s wealth he “lost” when Paul says he “lost all things,” referring to material matter and success (Phil 3:8).

  8. After reading the above post, I would have to agree that it is entirely possible that Paul may have actually grown up in an above average wealthy family. In the assigned reading in “Thinking Through Paul” by Longenecker, it is stated that, ” The fact that Paul plied a trade enabled him to pay his own way and not be a financial burden on his congregations.” This correlates with the above post, where it describes the materials used in Paul’s trade of tent making were made of fine materials, “This cloth and other linens were expensive and required special handling.” Paul claims that he is able to preach for free allowing that to be his reward from the churches (1Corinthians 9:17-18). All of the trips that Paul made to preach to the Gentiles were mostly funded by his own hand from his tent making business. This could not have been accomplished by a poor man’s wages.

    There was also the business of his dual citizenship. According to the blog post, a persons citizen had to be bought back in those times. “In order to “buy” a citizenship, one might need to spend 18 months wages or more on necessary gifts in order to receive the honor.” This would require the family to have a profitable job to be able to afford this citizenship, as well as continue to afford the daily necessities of living with a family in need of food, clothes, and shelter.

    Both of these aspects lead me to disagree with Longenecker’s opinion that Paul was not raised in a wealthy position, or came to be somewhat wealthy himself, because Paul’s trade itself would have required a good amount of wealth to buy the material, and his parents must have done well for themselves as well to afford becoming citizens.

  9. Taking the third point that Paul’s education was an indicator of his wealth, I believe that Paul’s ministry was very dependent on his social status. Like many intellectual debates that happen today in our academic circles surrounding God and the universe Paul was deeply involved in discussion. His words and phrases are considered largely by even those who are not religious or of a faith background to be some of the greatest in literary history. The book of Romans for example is highly respected and regarded in academic circles across the world. Paul’s impact was far different than that of Jesus.’ While Jesus spoke in parables and used metaphoric teaching methods, Paul was more interested in appealing to one’s mind. So why did this affect his ministry? One can theorize that it was because of the common quality he might have had with others in and around Rome. Similarly to modern forms of ministry, when you fit the mold it is easy to shine a light and be an encouragement to others. While it is not a necessity, it is definitely a bonus, and a big one at that in the world of evangelism. This was exactly that in it’s purest form; education, lecturing, and evangelism. Through art and other historic evidence Paul is often depicted as a wealthy man. Longenecker does stress however, that Paul’s profession was that of a tentmaker. If this was passed down as a family business in Tarsus he would not have been wealthy in the slightest. (Longenecker, 26) This is hardly a counterargument in light of the idea that his citizenship and education suggest otherwise. However, pinpointing his socio-economic status as Longenecker says is a “tall order” when considering the lower overall amount of concrete evidence we see in scripture. Regardless, I am fairly convinced that it’s impact on Paul’s ministry was sizable given the level of comfort and conformity it would have affected in Paul’s life. As we all know, it is often more comfortable to fit in rather than stand out. Imagine for yourself a group of well-to-do Roman citizens wandering about discussing philosophy while you are dressed in rags and thinking about making tents. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I would feel out of place and inferior. With Paul being at a well respected position and a level playing field it is much easier to see how his ministry spread so quickly and was so effective.

  10. When I read this part of the book “Thinking through Paul” it made me think about how well off he really was. They do say in the book that there is no way to know. What made me think that he did have money in his family was when they talked about how he was taught by Gamaliel. Gamaliel was a very good and strong teacher, and I do not think he just taught anybody. In the ESV student Bible on Page 1480 in the notes it says “Gamaliel the greatest Jewish scholar of his day…” That made me think that Paul was pretty well off.
    However, on page 39 of Thinking Through Paul” it talks about how Paul would not have money to spend on a donkey and sometimes he would sleep near the road in rain and snow.
    I guess there is no way to know how Paul grew up or if he had money while he was working spreading Christ.

  11. The debate regarding Paul’s wealthy was interesting to me because I had never considered Paul as wealthy man and how that could have affected his ministry. Longenecker sure does make a case of Paul’s family having enough money to spend. “If one does not assume that Paul’s family paid a handsome price to become citizens of Tarsus and/or of Rome and if one does not presuppose that Paul’s education came at a considerable fiscal cost to his family, there is no evidence that would compel one to conclude that he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth” (PG 26). Looking at Paul’s ministry it does seem that he needed money in order to travel, something he did frequently. It does seem that Paul had money and perhaps a lot of possessions. However, Paul was not driven by the status of wealthy. Rather he was driven by serving God. When we take a look at the encounter he had with Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul decided to follow Jesus giving up all his possession and property in order to serve Christ.

  12. I think Asu makes a good point that Paul needed money to travel. I had not thought of that much before reading his post. I think that given the cost of traveling, food and other things Paul may have been quite financially secure. Sometimes we don’t think through little details when we engage in these little debates. Every little bit counts. More than likely we will never know with confidence, but the question remains and I think it is still very relevant. As we have seen with modern churches and evangelical culture, finances make a big difference. Paul’s ministry I am sure, was no exception.

  13. This was very cool to read. Learning about new things is great, and even though I never really thought about the social status of Paul before it was cool to read about. The fourth point is something that made the most sense to me. With someone traveling so much, and having to stay places so much, it’s going to get very expensive. In order for him to be able to fund his trips he would have to have a substantial amount of money. That where I found the explanation in the second point helpful. Understanding what he was acquiring being a tent maker helped make sense where he was able to get the money to fund the trips. Also I never really thought about his education being a part of his social status, but I guess even now education plays a big part of where we are placed on the social ladder. It was very interesting to read about the different possibilities of where his funds came from.

  14. Even if Paul was relatively well off, we do have signs that he didn’t always have money at least immediately available… his determination to work rather than be supported (at times at least), for one, as you note. He also speaks of being without.

    Often overlooked is what you touched on re. his support while imprisoned…. esp. the statement in Acts 24:26 that Felix “hoped that money would be given him by Paul” (i.e., a bribe for favorable treatment). He probably had some basis for thinking or knowing Paul had some resources.

    You also mention paying for the vows of 4 men and himself upon his final arrival in Jerusalem. Yes, it’s unclear if he used personal funds or part of the collection for the “poor” (probably Jesus-followers in general) of Jeru. On that point, whatever the case, it appears Paul had custody of probably a very large sum, in gold. His major focus for that long, dangerous trip was to PERSONALLY deliver that collection. He’d been amassing it for years from multiple congregations.

    The very fact of no information on what happened to the collection… whether it was even accepted (Paul had feared it might not be) and how that “came down”… is pretty curious. “Luke” often includes small details. Yet on this momentous matter (at least to Paul), with major church unity/missionary implications, Luke gives us nothing. (Apparently nothing favorable to his story happened… or something worse did.) Also no word that, if Paul was found acceptable, and his offering, there was any reciprocation….

    Paul was imprisoned a year or so nearby in Caesarea and Luke says nothing about any emotional/spiritual or material support coming from James or the Jerusalem believers! Strange! (Maybe not so greatly in itself, but when combined with the numerous puzzles about the collection and the entire Jerusalem vows-taking, “riot”, etc., it contributes to an apparent pattern implying strongly that Luke felt it best to just avoid talking about the full story. He seemed to have adequate sources, info… but was selective in what he related.) As to the subject at hand, whether personal or “collection” wealth, Paul seems to have had some upon his arrest, drawn upon for his needs while imprisoned or under house arrest for a multi-year period.

  15. This post shed some light on to the subject for me. It is not difficult for me to think of Paul as coming from a rich family given the evidence provided. The extent to which his wealth and status helped him was much because, as you said, provided for himself nicely with his trade, but also you can see in Gal. 2:2 where Paul went to those who were ‘influential’ secretly, or in Acts 26 when he defends himself before King Agrippa, his public speaking is good, which could be lent to his training as a Pharisee. Acts 17:22-31 is also a good example of this. To give some push-back to the reply of tylervining221, Jesus did have some influence on the higher strata of society. In Luke 7:1-10, Jesus has influence on the centurion. He also taught regularly in the synagogues, though the chief priests and elders did not accept his teaching for the most part. I agree with you though Tyler, because Jesus can be seen talking to people of lower status all the time, while Paul had influence to the higher strata. This is important to note, because Jesus knew what he was doing when he began his ministry by humbly preaching to the lower strata, but Paul’s use of his ‘elevated’ status was for a reason too. Probably for the same reason that he preached in major cities for the majority of his ministry, in order to reach the most amount of people as possible! Paul probably taught the gospel to men of rank so that they could be influential for Christ in that sphere of influence. Just like he preached and planted churches in major cities, because even people just passing through could possible hear the gospel!

  16. This is great. I’ve never heard most of these arguments before, but it makes sense. And reading through the comments is actually beneficial. Who would have thought? I’m reposting this one. Thanks!

  17. Even though all these arguments are great, there’s a description done by Philo that changes my mind about the probability being due to Roman citizenship. Philo commented about events under the reign of Augustus:

    “[T]he great section of Rome on the other side of the Tiber is occupied and inhabited by Jews, most of whom were Roman citizens emancipated. For having been brought as captives to Italy they were liberated by their owners and were not forced to violate any of their native institutions… .”7

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