Acts 13:9 (NIV) Then Saul, who was also called Paul, .....

This verse does not explain much how Saul became Paul. Who changed his name? Why was it changed?

3 Answers 3


Actually, we don't know that his name was changed at all. He may have had both names to start with as per the custom of his day as both a Jew by blood and a Roman citizen. After his conversion and change of direction he seems to have decided his other name was a better moniker.

Many mistakenly assume the Lord changed Saul's name to Paul sometime after Saul converted from Judaism to Christianity, which happened during his encounter with Christ on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Unlike the instance of Jesus changing Simon's name to Kepha (Gk. Petros) as a way of signifying the special role he would play in the Church (Mt 16:18, Jn 1:41-42), in Paul's case there was no name change.

Saul of Tarsus was born a Jew, "circumcised on the eight day, of the race of Israel, or the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee" (Phil 3:5). The Hebrew name given him by his parents was Saul, but, because his father was a Roman citizen (and therefore Saul inherited Roman citizenship), Saul also had the Latin name Paul (Acts 16:37, 22:25-28), the custom of dual names being common in those days. Since he grew up in a strict Pharisee environment, the name Saul was by far the more appropriate name to go by. But after his conversion Saul determined to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, so he dusted off his Roman name and became known as Paul, a name Gentiles were accustomed to.

(source: catholic.com)

The suggestion that the confusion is born out of having had multiple names from birth is born out by other sources such as Protestant writer F.F. Bruce, although his conclusion is that both names would have continued in use and it is only the preference of the NT writers in which we see a change.

He was born into an orthodox Jewish family, and as his father was a Roman citizen, he inherited this distinction, a rare one among eastern Jews. In Jewish circles he bore the name of Saul, but in the Gentile world he was commonly known by his Roman cognomen Paullus, Anglicized as Paul [...]

Saul’s father was a Roman citizen… [so] Saul was born a Roman citizen… As a Roman citizen, he had a Roman name, consisting of three parts: praenomen, nomen gentile and cognomen.2 What his praenomen (first or personal name) and nomen gentile (family name) were we can only guess; his cognomen, however, was Paullus, by which (in its English form Paul) we usually call him.

In family circles, however, he was known by his Jewish name Saul.

2. The threefold Roman name may be illustrated from the full names of such famous Romans as Gaius Julius caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Lucius Cornelius Scipio.

(source: F. F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame)

In any event, we do not have a Scriptural source for the why and how of the name change. The most direct hint we have is the one you mention in Acts that simply notes he was "also known as". This is combined with the references to him by both names and and our own deductions from the correlation in how he was generally referred to before and after his life changing encounter with the Christ he had been persecuting.


How was Saul changed to Paul?

It's possible that Paul changed his own name, especially to divorce himself from his former Jewish activities, where he arrested and murdered many of Jesus' own. He may have changed his name to be better received by the church, because he was notorious throughout the whole church by the name of Saul. Church people feared him and it was recorded that many still did not trust his conversion as genuine, even years after they heard about it, so therefore refused to trust him.

Saul as a name means 'asked or prayed for', and Paul means little or small. Paul would certainly agree with becoming less or smaller so Christ could become greater. It is a meek humble name, in its' meaning, which are traits God likes.

  • @Mawaia, God may have changed his name, like he changed Peter's name for the very same purpose.
    – Hello
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 9:41

Paul, himself, never uses the name Saul, which occurs in reference to him only in Acts of the Apostles. Acts first refers to 'Saul' as Paul in verse 13:9, which follows immediately after mention of Sergius Paulus, described as the deputy (proconsul) of the country. It is possible that Saul was already known as Paul, and the author of Acts chose this encounter as an opportune point at which to introduce the name Paul. Another possibility suggested by the conjunction of Acts 13:7 and 13:9 is that Saul chose to adopt the name Paul in honour of the proconsul:

Acts 13:7,9: 7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God . . . 9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,

Rex Wyler refers in The Jesus Sayings, page 43, to Josephus' mention of a Saul who violently persecutes Jewish peasants, hobnobs with powerful men in Judea, appears related to Herodian rulers, and participates in scenes parallelled in Acts. Wyler reports that the parallels suggest to some scholars that this could either be the Paul of Acts, or perhaps the model from which later writers devised certain scenes. The Saul (or Saulus) that Josephus describes was active in the mid to late 60s, which is actually too late to have been Paul himself, but possible as a model for the portrayal of Saul in Acts of the Apostles. A careful reader of Acts can see Saul portrayed as totally disreputable, in contrast to the saintly Paul who replaces him in the narrative. On this analysis, it is possible that Paul never used the name Saul, but that the author of Acts of the Apostles used this name in order to provide a graphic contrast between the early 'Saul' and the later 'Paul', knowing that the name Saul could be associated by many of his contemporaries with another infamous Saul described by Josephus.

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