Was Paul Wealthy?

Polhill speculates 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.

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.

It is possible that Paul took a voluntary vow of poverty after his conversion, renouncing the wealth of his family.  This is based on the early disciples in Acts 2-3 who sold everything and “lived in common.”  While there is nothing that rules out Paul living in poverty, it seems that he may have relied on his wealth to finance his ministry.  He is not known for accepting gifts from churches yet he is able to travel extensively, working in the cities he hopes to reach for the gospel as a tent-maker.

On the other hand, Martin Hengel speculates 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.

Paul’s extensive travels were expensive.  He had to finance travel for his group.  He likely rented a place to stay in Corinth and in Ephesus he rented a room to teach in for over 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?

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?