Paul: Latin and Greek

by André Piet
July 6th 2012

Usually, the name Paul is taken to mean, in Latin, as “little one”. There are very good reasons for this. In the first place, Paul was by birth a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), so it’s obvious that he also had a Latin name. In the second place, in the book of Acts, Saul becomes Paul, precisely when he comes into contact with the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paul (Acts 13:7). It has been suggested that Saul, as a Roman Jew, from the time of his birth had a double name: Saul (Sha’ul) was his Jewish name and Paul his Roman name. That Saul, from the time of Acts 13:9, consistently is called Paul, underlines the fact that from that moment his Jewish identity disappears into the background.

With this, not everything is adequately considered. There are good reasons to connect the name Paul also with the Greek language. For in addition that Paul was a Roman citizen, he also was a Greek-speaking individual. When we follow this line, then we see that the name is associated with the root PAU, which means “cease” or “stop”. Our word “pause” is, via the Latin, derived from this Greek word. It should certainly not escape us that the change of name, from Saul to Paul in Acts 13:9, is directly followed by the correct use of the verb ‘pauo. Paul says to the Jewish magician: “… enemy of all righteousness, will you not CEASE perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10), whereupon the Jew, indeed, became blind for a time. So Paul made this man to stop (to cease). And with this the name PAULOS, in the Greek sense of the word, receives its perfect meaning, because the masculine ending-LOS, means someone who causes a stop (stopper).

How illustrative, in this way, becomes the picture in Acts 13! Saul explains to a non-Jew the Evangel, but is thwarted by a Jewish magician, who is smitten with blindness and is thus brought to a stop (pau). Does this not beautifully picture the current interruption (pause) in the history of salvation?! “Through their fall, salvation is come to the Gentiles …” (Rom.11:11). Indeed, for a time and with an “until” (Rom.11:25).

It is pre-eminently the name Paul which stands for this temporary setting-aside of the Jewish people.

In summary, I see no reason to choose between Paul as a Roman or as a Greek name. The name, Paul, is undoubtedly of Latin origin (think of Sergius Paul) but the Greek associations of the name force themselves naturally upon us, within the typical context of Acts 13.


Translation: Peter Feddema

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