Acts 9 – Was Paul from a Wealthy Family?

In an earlier post I speculated on Paul’s access to wealth during his ministry.  While Paul seems to be willing to live in whatever circumstances his mission require, that mission required a great deal of wealth. He travels with an entourage.

John Polhill speculated that Paul may have been from a wealthy family based on his citizenship.   In order to “buy” a citizenship, one might need to spend 18 months wages or more on the necessary bribes in order to receive the honor.  The fact that Paul was a tent maker from Tarsus may imply that he worked with the costly material cilcium, used for both tents and saddles.

Martin Hengel thought that 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. Certainly Schnabel finds this a clear hint that Paul’s family may have had some wealth. It is possible that his family was well-connected among the aristocracy in Jerusalem, permitting them to obtain the services of Gamaliel as a teacher for the young Paul.  Perhaps he was on the fast-track to leadership in the Sanhedrin, explaining why he had access to the High Priest when he wanted to persecute believers in Damascus.

One key bit of evidence is that 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, that is not stated in the text.  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 form Paul’s own pocket.

To what extent does Paul’s wealth effect the way he did ministry?  Modern evangelism is often targeted on the “down and out,” people who on the fringes of society.  This is very much like Jesus, and perhaps Peter in Act 9.  Did Paul target wealthy, higher class people (ie., Roman citizens) because he was a wealthy Roman citizen?

15 thoughts on “Acts 9 – Was Paul from a Wealthy Family?

  1. Being a Roman citizen himself, it’s not that hard to imagine that Paul could have targeted the wealthy. When Jerusalem was going through a difficult famine, Paul called to the other churches in the surrounding areas to give aid and they gave generously. Could this be just a coincidence? sure, but it is most likely that Paul was not solely targeting the rich. Maybe Paul had it in his head that if he could bring the message to the leaders of society, they would in turn influence the common folk to accept Christ as LORD. There is no indication of discrimination or neglect in Paul’s ministry so we have to rule out intentional rejection. I believe that Paul ministered to everyone he could speak with but for literary’s sake, I think Luke omits many of the other details in favor of the more major events, for instance, key conversions and interactions that just so happen to be predominantly upper class.

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  2. It was make sense to think that Paul, “came from a well to do family”, as Scnabel puts it. On pg 43 Schnabels states his case that in order to go somewhere to study, it meant that your family had money to pay for it. A lot of scholars have stated that Paul knew the law well, was young and exetreme zealot who was very driven. Paul also knew how to do a skill, another words he was trained to make tents. I agree that Paul came from a well to do family especially after you see that he is educated, how he is trained and who he is associated with before he has accepted Christ.

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  3. If Paul was from a wealthy family it would make sense that he would preach to and socialize with wealthy people as well. It would be most normal to him. Also it would have the secondary effect of helping more people in need. It is no secret that a rich person could send more money than a poor person to Jerusalem. I would also agree with Jason, in that, by targeting the wealthy and the leaders you would then have a natural flow down to the more”common folk”. As Stefan stated he also was well trained and that makes it easier to talk with the leaders of society and gain their respect. These people all knew of him before and were probably amazed at his conversion.

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  4. If Paul was in fact very wealthy, which seems quite likely to me, it would reinforce the magnitude of his ministry. While he already began living as a traveler, to give up the luxury of a Pharisaical background and the comfortable, unopposed lifestyle is amazing. Not only was his mindset refurbished, but his entire life and culture would be literally “as loss” for Christ. Concerning whether or not Paul was wealthy, I would lean towards the former. He seems to be know quite a bit about Philosophy and Scripture, which assumes he had the ability to be educated. I think the idea of Paul as wealthy is appealing to us, for the exact reason I just stated, it makes for a good metaphor and life representation; however, the search for logical understanding and a virtuous life would have been ideal for any in the first century. This is obviously not the point of Paul’s conversion, but it would have not been unheard of for people to question their heritage and begin to pursue something bigger than themselves, even if that meant giving up certain things.

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  5. “to give up the luxury of a Pharisaical background and the comfortable”

    Good point, Joe, I had not thought of this in terms of Paul giving up his wealth and position. I was thinking that he might have used whatever means he had to finance his missionary travels, living expenses and even production of the letters. I do not see alot of evidence of Paul asking for or receiving help from his churches – how did he finance a trip from Ephesus to Jerusalem for a large number of people if he did not have some substantial wealth at his disposal?

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  6. It has been stated already, but as I read this, especially the last questions of the post, my first thought was, ‘if he did come from a wealthy family and had Roman citizenship, why not minister to that group of people? That is who he would have had the most connection with and they would feel comfortable with him because they could all relate to each other. They would be more willing to listen to what Paul had to say because of the similar status. I do not necessarily feel that Paul “targeted” the wealthy, but I am sure he went to them more often. After all, we all tend to lean toward the areas and the people that we feel most comfortable with. We do know that he went to all people to share with as many as possible because in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 Paul says that “…to the Jews I became like a Jew…to the weak I became weak…”

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  7. In Schnabel’s book, he does talk about how Paul’s parents are well off, even though it is not exact evidence it would make sense. I like to think he was, simply because he is very high up in ranks within the Church and the Sanhedrin. If in Acts 7, when they were stoning Stephen, he was watching and giving approval, and I do not think they would seek approval from a common on-looker, they would look to someone with power, someone with money.

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  8. Kimmy has some very strong points. I know that it did not just come out and say that he was wealthy, but it gave every indication that he was. No where does it say that Paul was poor. Of all the apostles that Jesus picks, we all know their occupation and that they came from the lower end. Jesus was going about tings differently when he picked Paul to do His work.
    I also feel that the fact that Schnabel does talk about his education, is a huge indication of his wealth. Today, no one would go to college if there was no finanical aid or loans. Only the wealthy people would be in school. Also, Luke talks about in the book of Acts how Peter was brought before the high priests and they looke down apon them for being uneducated. This shows that God is using many different people to do his work. Not just the people that come from nothing.

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  9. Paul, as a child was taught by the best during his upbringing in jerusalem. The fact that he was even able to get such an education was because his family moved there, which means that they were a “well-to-do” family. What really helped Paul were the connections he made through his possition in society because he was able to get to places that others couldnt. God uses people as they are and he also uses individuals past (good or bad) to benifit their ministry. There are many examples today, where someone who no one would have ever expected to be in ministry grow up to become a pastor. Paul’s conversion was transforming but he was still the person he was with the same past and the same education, teh same family, and the same connections. All that would benifit Pauls ministry for the best.

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  10. Well as pretty much everyone has said earlier, it certainly makes a lot of sense that Paul would have come from a wealthy family. The evidence, though not definite, does seem to point that direction. He has seemingly direct access to the Sanhedrin, was trained under Gamaliel, and moved to Jerusalem to get a good education. I would like to believe that Paul was raised wealthy because it certainly adds to how God was able to change him after his conversion. He was first legalistic, maybe prideful, and maybe wealthy, then God humbled him to believe in God’s grace, rely on Him for support, and eventually persecuted a ton. I would like to believe that is the way it was because it is a really good example of how God can just change lives and turn people around for Him.

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  11. It definitely makes sense that Paul would have come from a wealthy family, just even for his education. It would make him more credible for all that he would have to say later on. I think because he came from wealth, more people were willing to listen to what he had to preach. I am sure that other people who saw how Paul stewarded his wealth would see that as another part of his ministry as well. God could use Paul as a wealthy man, just as he can use people from all different stages and backgrounds.

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  12. The thought of Paul coming from a wealthy family is not a shocking idea. We do know that Paul had no significant resources with regard to finances. He gets gifts from various churches (2 Cor. 11). However, we do know Paul was a skilled man, he made tents, having this kind of skill would help him make some money. Other places we could speculate about Paul’s wealth is in understanding the things he had, like his citizenship, “one might need to spend 18 months wages or more” (Long). Somewhere Paul got the money to do this and the Bible does not tell us there were money trees back then (or now). Another speculation I personally have if the thought of people listens to those with wealth. When Paul was persecuting individuals, he talked to the high priest to get an okay, although there could be a few reasons why he got that opportunity, it could be base on his wealth status, which gives him a privilege.
    Some ways this could possibly affect Paul is the people he ministered too. If Paul did come from a wealthy family, and we know he is from Tarsus and goes back to Tarsus, he could be going back to the type of people he grew up with because he has that connection already established. He understands their place in life. Paul being wealthy, then poor would make for a good connection to Jesus life story and make him a “better” man, but he could also just be average, getting by, relying on God to provide.

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  13. The idea that Paul may have been from a wealthy family is not something that is surprising. Because of the education that he was given, it would make sense that he would have come from wealth. Paul was trained by Gamaliel and was a Pharisee for a while. Like Jipp states “there are no limitation in terms of peoples or geographical locales to which God’s gospel can move” (Jipp 81). Paul is a great example of this. Because he came from a background that looks so different than the disciples background, he was able to use his story to minister to a different crowd of people. That is one thing that I absolutely love about the Christian faith. God has given all of us a story that is unique and different in order to use it to help reach other people. You never know what God can do with your story. He took Paul, a man who persecuted people who believed in him, and changed his heart to use him for ministry. There is no limit to the power of God and what he can do with your story. The story of Paul is a great reminder of that.

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  14. I think that the idea of Paul coming from a wealthy is something that is completely valid and there is a very good chance that it did happen. Like all things, money and resources have their benefits when used correctly. This can be used in ministry too. Wealth and resources give many more opportunities. Although, there may be more opportunities; they might not be used in the best way. The first verse in Acts 9 mentioned how Saul was persecuting God. He then heard a voice and was told to go into the city and then he would receive further instruction. Paul then went on to proclaim the gospel for the rest of his life.

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  15. I think that the evidence certainly is adding up to point to the fact that Paul definitely could have come from some wealth and also may have been acquiring a good deal of wealth on his own too. The fact that he was able to live in whatever circumstance he was called to be in at the time, and that he was able to purchase citizenship meant that he definitely had access to some funds. However, I think that if God is calling someone to carry out things for him such as missionaries, or the type of stuff Paul does, God will provide the necessities for that person. This doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t have to work, he was a tent maker so he had a job. I think that whatever his job was though, God would have provided for him in order to do the ministry that he was doing for God

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