By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Various Passages from Acts
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Acts in conjunction with this article.
The Gentile’s Emissary
Last week we took a few moments to consider the matter of Christianity’s Hebrew Roots; this week we are going to take a few moments to look at the man who was specifically chosen to take the Good News to the Gentiles. Last week it was mentioned that the Western Church and her Christians sometimes are not always aware that their faith grew out of Hebraic and Jewish roots. This is an important item to recognize, because Jehovah’s chosen vessel to the Gentiles did his best to help the Gentiles understand the vast beauty of the Hebrew Scriptures and promised Messiah. While we are about twenty centuries from the physical life of Paul, his work remains with us today and probably has the greatest influence on how Gentiles (Western churches and disciples, in particular) interpreted, continue to interpret, and will interpret Jehovah’s Good News.
Paul: A Hebrew
There has been much written about the Apostle Paul, even the Wikipedia entry about Paul is so thoroughly detailed that if printed it would require over ten pages.1 Not only is he a very interesting man, his writings continue causing interpretative variations resulting in difficulties and tension among Christians. While his service to the kingdom of God and the church is incalculable, it seems that knowing something of his biography could help us understand the Message he is attempting to communicate to the Gentiles.
Paul is not a Gentile, he is a Hebrew. He claims his identity as such and traces his lineage back to the tribe of Benjamin.2 Specifically, Benjamin was the last of Jacob’s (Israel’s) twelve sons, but was also Rachel’s last son because she lost her life during his birth.3 Having this information about Paul’s background is tremendously import, because when we first meet him in the Book of Acts he is not identified as Paul, but by his Hebrew name: Sha’ul (Saul in English).4
Interestingly enough, it is not until several chapters later that Luke gives a parenthetical statement informing the readers that Sha’ul is also known as Paul.5 From this, we can ascertain that Sha’ul used an alias. While he identifies himself as Paul in his epistles, to emphatically claim that Sha’ul changed his name to Paul may not be warranted by Scripture. It is possible that he is simply using the name by which the churches and Christians had come to know him. In any event, we do know that his given name was Sha’ul and he is also known as Paul. In either case, his culture and background were Hebrew.
Sha’ul: The Bilingual
While Hebrew was his national culture and his personal background, it is also important to note that Sha’ul was capable of dialoging in dual languages. Not only could he understand6 and speak Hebrew7 it seems that based upon the response of the chief captain (commander), Sha’ul was also capable of speaking Greek.8 This is highly important because of the writings that we have of the New Testament.
While New Testament Greek is Koine, it is also sometimes affirmed that the NT has poor grammatics. Perhaps this is due, in part, to the fact that for someone like Sha’ul his native tongue is not Greek, but Hebrew. While he is bilingual, and highly guided and influenced by the Holy Spirit, this does not necessitate that Paul’s writings are free from Hebrew influence and his culturally conditioned thought processes.
It is also of interest to note that when writing his epistles, Sha’ul uses what is termed an amanuensis. This is a person who is “employed to copy manuscripts or write from dictation.”9 A specific example of this is Tertius. Tertius is referenced in Romans, where it states emphatically that he “wrote” the epistle.10 Consequently, Romans comes from the mind and spirit of Sha’ul to the saints at Rome through the pen of Tertius. This does not make the epistle any less inspired, but it does reveal various methods of communication. It seems that Sha’ul is not alone in this, it appears that Simon Peter (Kefa) also used an amanuensis.11
While it is possible for one to be bilingual, speaking two languages does not necessarily mean that one is proficient in writing both languages. While it seems that this writer nor the Bible are able to disprove that Sha’ul could write Greek, it also seems that neither can prove that he could write Greek. Instead, it seems the only conclusion we can draw is that Sha’ul could speak Greek (see early note). Let us suppose for a moment that Paul truly could not write Greek, first, this in no way removes Jehovah’s abundant Holy Spirit influence on Paul. Second, this may shed light on the several passages where Paul states that he wrote a salutation by hand.12 Additionally, this possibility seems to cast reasonable doubt on the critics’ claim that Paul cannot be the author of certain epistles, when they were historically attributed Paul as author. If this is possible, then perhaps Sha’ul did not need an amanuensis, but a translator.
Sha’ul: A Bridge
Whether referenced as Paul or by his given name of Sha’ul, he serves as, perhaps the greatest bridge between two cultures. Sha’ul, a Hebrew man trained up in faith under Gamaliel,13 was zealous for Jehovah and defended the Jewish faith according to Pharisical teachings14 and was also an early destroyer15 of the then new assembly founded by the Jewish carpenter named Yeshua. Yet, he came to be the greatest ambassador the world has known. Sha’ul was perfect for God’s calling.
Sha’ul not only had the ability to understand Hebraic faith, but Paul also had the ability to relate that faith to non-Hebrews. He had the great task of helping the beneficiaries of the removed middle wall of partitian16 to understand the faith into which they were being grafted.17 Is it any wonder that the Gentiles were, and seem to remain, unsure of the Scriptures intention, and readily rejected by the Hebrew culture of the day. It is the classic clash of two cultures. Only through greater study, increased faith, and developed appreciation can both Hebrews and Gentiles come together and worship Jehovah together in the assembly.
1. “Paul, the Apostle.” Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle, February 4, 2006.
2. “Tribe of Benjamin.” Philippians 3.5; NASB.
3. “Rachel’s Death.” Genesis 35.16-19; NASB.
4. “Saul Introduced.” Acts 7.58; NASB.
5. “Paul Is Saul (Sha’ul).” Acts 13.9; NASB.
6. “Paul Understood Hebrew.” Acts 26.14; NASB.
7. “Paul Spoke Hebrew.” Acts 22.2; NASB.
8. “Paul Spoke Greek.” Acts 21.37; NASB.
9. “Amanuensis.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ISBN 080542836-4, p. 54.
10. “Tertius an Amanuensis.” Romans 16.22; NASB.
11. “Silvanus, Peter’s Amanuensis.” I Peter 5.12, cf. I Peter 1.1; NASB.
12. “Salutation by Paul’s Hand.” I Corinthians 16.21, Colossians 4.18, and II Thessalonians 3.17; NASB.
13. “Sha’ul trained by Gamaliel.” Acts 22.3; NASB.
14. “Sha’ul a Pharisee.” Acts 26.5; Philippians 3.5; NASB.
15. “Sha’ul an Early Destroyer.” Acts 7.58, 26.2-15; NASB.
16. “Removed Middle Wall.” Ephesians 2.14; NASB.
17. “Being Grafted In.” Romans 11.17, cf. Romans 11.1-12.1; NASB.