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?

20 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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?

  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…”

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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

  16. From the evidence presented, it does appear that Paul had some considerable wealth. Just the fact alone that Paul came to study in Jerusalem from Tarsus is an indicator of a large monetary investment. In our modern society, it can be hard to imagine the sheer expense that would have been involved in travel at that time. I cannot imagine many people had the funds to travel so far to not only study, but study under one of the most prominent rabbis of the day, Gamaliel (Polhill 2091). It appears that Paul’s family would have had some connection to obtain such an education. And usually, those connections involved some type of monetary funds. Paul’s subsequent journeys (Arabia and his missionary journeys) also would have required a considerate amount of funds which it appears he had available to him. Because Paul appears to have been in a different social status than the other apostles, it does make sense that he would minister to those people. He would have possibly had connections with Roman citizens and those of the higher class, which would naturally lend opportunities for him to share the gospel. I wonder if sometimes today we forget that the message of salvation needs to be shared with everyone, regardless of whether they appear to need it or not. As you said, modern evangelism often targets those who are “down and out” (Long), but “down and out” does not simply mean in a physical, monetary sense. Anyone who does not have the knowledge of God’s salvation is “down and out”. Paul’s connections and status may have opened doors that may not have been opened to others. Instead of thinking those of a higher class would not have a need for Jesus, Paul takes advantage and shares the gospel with them. I think the reminder for us is to recognize and be willing to minister to anyone who we may be offered the chance to.
    Reference
    Polhill, John B. (Ed). The Acts of the Apostles. In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

  17. Paul seems to be a very educated man because of his knowledge of philosophy and the scriptures which points to the fact that he had the opportunity to have an education. To obtain an education you needed to have money which would point to his family being well off. By having the money that Paul had this allowed him many resources and benefits as it still does today. Although I do not believe that Paul used his Roman citizenship and money in the correct way because he did not reach out to the wealthy Romans. Although if God was calling out to Paul to carrying out commands such as Paul had He will provide those resources for them such as it is possible, He did this for Paul. Although Paul did not have the best start to his ministry by persecuting Christians this is all apart of the plan that God had for him which makes him appealing to the people of today. Paul did horrible things just as the everyday person does and for us to be able to relate to that allows for us to understand that we as people can apply this to our lives and be saved through Jesus Christ. The story of Paul is something that we can still apply to our lives today and we must continue to do so through our spiritual walk.

  18. Paul was born during the Hellenistic period in the home of a Pharisee. In Acts, we see that Paul introduces himself as a Jew and a native of Tarsus. The ESVSB notes that “Tarsus was known as a home to philosophers, especially those of the Stoics school. Archaeologists have uncovered a basalt street with limestone gutters from the New Testament period, and one can also see foundations of a huge second century- A.D. temple” (Acts 9:30 notes). Tarsus was known as a nicer and well-established city. The city was the center of Greek philosophical and literary education. So the chances of Paul coming from a wealthy family are pretty high.
    Paul tried his hardest to not let his wealth affect his ministry, he did not want to be a burden to his audience. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 tells us that Paul and his companions worked day and night to not burden any of the people they stayed with. Paul always had a plan in mind to work with his hands rather than rely on others. He did of course also receive aid and assistance from communities when the Lord provided. Considering Paul wasn’t letting work for his money, I’d say his wealth wasn’t affecting his ministry.
    Paul already knew the people of Tarsus and he knew their ways of life since he grew up with them. So I don’t think he necessarily targeted then rather he went back to what was comfortable and what he knew when assistance was needed.

  19. There are a lot of hints that point to the idea that Paul had a wealthy background. To name a few he studied in Jerusalem with Gamaliel, he sponsored a vow, and he was a Roman citizen (Long). Another one that came to mind was his position before he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He had permission from the high priest to persecute those of the Christian faith and he had a group of people with him. I think that Paul’s wealth definitely had an impact on his ministry. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says that he “has become all things to all people.” This is always interpreted and applied to the modern church in a way where it tells us to relate to and build relationships with others as a way of ministering to them. People don’t like to just be preached at. What catches their attention and makes them feel valued and want to listen is the intentionality of building a relationship. The idea that Paul targeted the wealthy community in his ministry would make sense. He had a better chance of understanding and relating to those within the community and building relationships with them than some of the other disciples who didn’t have the same background.

  20. In Philippians 4:12 Paul says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (ESV).” Here it is common to focus on Paul’s suffering as a source of inspiration for Christians who are going through struggles and this is used as a lesson on contentment. However, Paul gives equal attention to the good fortune he has had. He knows about having plenty, and abundance just as well as hunger, and need. While many of us may know the reality of hunger, and need, not all of us know what it is to experience plenty, and abundance. Between this and the factors that you mentioned in this post such as sponsoring vows, and meeting trade and travel expenses, the cost of writing and sending letters and his education, it seems reasonable to assume that Paul had at the very least the financial ability to support himself and others. Much like today I imagine it would take a certain amount of money to start a business like tentmaking in Paul’s day and that money doesn’t come from nowhere. There is also the possibility that his finances and his experiences with abundance might be holdovers from his likely lucrative time as a pharisee which he set aside when he began his new life with Christ. However, there is a danger in speculation here as with many factors in Paul’s life, such as his potential marriage, or blindness. Scripture doesn’t tell us about Paul’s finances, and as much as I can ask for it he is under no obligation to show me his tax returns. We can’t know and we don’t need to know, though the act of speculating is fun for its own purposes so long as it is left at that.

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