Did God Change Saul’s Name?

When I was young, I played soccer in Wichita Falls. My coach began to call me “Nate the Great”, based off some popular detective books for children. That didn’t stick for very long, and I began to go by the name given on my birth certificate, Nathan.

All throughout my childhood, teenage, and college years, I went by Nathan (or in college, Papa Roach).

After I graduated and moved to Phoenix, I decided one day to start going by Nate. This was not a deeply thought out decision, it just kinda happened.

What that has now led to is the confusing reality that anyone who has met me in the last four years calls me Nate, but my family and wife still call me Nathan.

In the New Testament, we hear of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58). He was a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, and he was persecuting the church. First he stood idly by while Stephen was stoned, then he began a systematic persecution of the church, traveling from town to town and taking all who belonged to ‘the Way (of Jesus)’ into custody.

In Acts 9 we see his insane conversion. We see him go from a persecutor of the church to a man who would be used by God to reach the Gentiles with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was reading this morning in Ephesians, and we see something interesting.

Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 1:1-2

The man who approved of the stoning of Stephen is now writing letters to the churches in Ephesus to encourage them in the gospel.

But there’s something else there.

Did you see it?

He addresses himself as Paul.

Now, most people in church understand this. They understand that the Saul we read about in Acts and the Paul we read about (also in Acts starting at 13:19) are the same person. But here’s the reality. I believe that the majority of us have a complete misunderstanding about why this name change took place (including myself for a very long time).

God did not change Saul’s name to Paul.

There is a very popular misunderstanding of what took place with Saul. So many people believe that God changed his name to signify his new life in Christ.

This isn’t heretical by any means, but it’s not true.

If anything I think it’s not nearly as cool as what actually took place.

Now, let’s acknowledge together that God has done the name change thing before. He does it a lot as a matter of fact. We see Him in conversation change Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. We see Jesus do the same, changing Simon’s name to Peter. These things certainly happened in Scripture. That’s because in ancient cultures, names had a profound impact, significance, and meaning. Today, that’s not always the case (I’m looking at you North West).

But in the case of Saul/Paul, that’s not what happened at all (Dr. Seuss should’ve written books on Scripture).

Saul started referring to himself as Paul, in order to reach the Gentiles with his Roman name (Paul was a common surname and it may or may not have been in Paul’s family).

Do you grasp that?

God didn’t change his name.

Paul changed his name to better reach the people that he was on mission to reach.

He was by no means a perfect man. He was angry, discouraged, anxious, lonely. But he knew Christ, and that led him to give his life fully over to Christ (Philippians 1:21).

When Paul accepted the Christian faith and began his mission to the Gentiles, he identified with his listeners by using his Roman name. In all of his letters, Paul identified himself with his Roman name, linking himself with the Gentile believers to whom God had sent him with the gospel of Christ.

Life Application Bible Commentary: Ephesians

Saul’s name was a big deal. It harkened back to the days of the first king of Israel, also a dude named Saul. King Saul was a Benjaminite (of the tribe of Benjamin), just like the New Testament Saul. That means that New Testament Saul had a very significant, honorable, glorified name. And he gave it up for the people he was seeking to reach. He gave up that honorable name.

Paul is an example all throughout the book of Acts of a man who gave up his rights for others.

Like seriously, he was a Roman citizen. This means he was not supposed to get beat like he did all over the place. And yet, Paul only uses that right twice (once to avoid a flogging, once to appear before the Emperor to talk about Jesus).

In a culture like our own obsessed with rights, we can learn something from what Paul did.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to comfort.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to put your opinions about any number of things on Facebook.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to use your money for yourself.

Fill in the blanks for yourself.

Saul changed his name to reach others for Jesus.

What are you willing to do to reach others?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Running From A God You Know

The first chapter of the book of Jonah simultaneously shows us how prone we are to sin and running from God. Yet, it also shows us in stark clarity how gracious and great God is.

If you look at every time Jonah is mentioned in this first chapter (this is not an exhaustive list), you get a portrait of a despondent runaway who knows how big God is yet continues to run:

The word of the Lord came to him, telling him to go to Nineveh and preach the gospel (v. 1)
He fled to Tarshish instead, which if you look at a map of this time period, was in the completely opposite direction (v. 2)
In the midst of a huge storm that was the result of his sin, Jonah slept in the hull of the ship (v. 5)
Despite all the stupidity that he exemplified, he was able to articulate to the other sailors that God was both the maker of all land and all the seas (v. 9)
Jonah knew that he was in the wrong. He knew that he was clearly disobeying the orders of God, yet he was more willing to face death than to face Nineveh (v. 12)

All of this paints a picture of a man who knew God yet wanted nothing to do with God’s salvation of a people that he himself hated (see Jonah 4:2). It’s easy for me to look at this story and say wow what an idiot, if I had a word from the Lord to go share the gospel with a specific person, I would NEVER run from that, subconsciously or otherwise. Yet, if we’re super honest with ourselves, this happens more than we’d like to admit.

You see, God has called us to our community. The one we’re in right now. The one you’re in right now. It’s easy to push aside our calling to share the love of God with our community by just saying that command is for a later date.

What I mean by that is it’s easy to say “okay, once I graduate high school, then I’ll live missionally.” That leads into ‘after college’, ‘when I’m more rooted with a family and job that I enjoy’, ‘when I’m not as busy with my family and my job’. There is always an excuse to be like Jonah and not be faithful to what God has called us to.

If we’re being honest, it’s easy to know a whole lot about God, just like Jonah, and still not live into the mission that God has called us to.

So I am encouraged that we see the story of Jonah in Scripture. Maybe one reason it’s in the Bible is to encourage us that sometimes we’re stupid and yet God is still good, great, and gracious.

Let’s look at how God shows up in this first chapter of Jonah:

He desired Nineveh (a wicked place full of wicked people) to be saved (v.1)
He’s aware of the wicked rulers and nations in our midst, so don’t lose heart (v. 2)
He controls the seas, powerful enough to bring a storm that scared seasoned sailors (v. 4)
He made all the cosmos, as testified about by Jonah (v. 9)
He is faithful to those who call on His Name. The sailors, though pagans, were saved from the storm because they put their faith in the Lord (v. 14)
He appoints everything in our lives (this may be a stretch to say from this one verse, but it was definitely intimately involved in Jonah’s life since he brought a big fish to this exact spot at this exact time (v. 17)

I am encouraged by the greatness and graciousness of God on display in this chapter.

His greatness. God heard the cries of the nations rising up to Him regarding the vile wickedness of Nineveh. This is encouraging to note given the fact that we live in a world saturated with evil leaders and governments. God hears the cries of the oppressed, and as followers of Jesus we are called to uphold those who are being oppressed as well, regardless of political leanings (I know current issues are complicated, but let us not become complicit in wickedness, our devotion is first and foremost to our God and King not whatever country you are reading this from).

God also shows His greatness via the storm that He sends to grab Jonah’s attention. Now, side-note here. I don’t believe that every storm and trial in our lives is a result of disobedience to the commands of God in our lives. Life is not black and white like that. That being said, sometimes that is the case. Let us be mindful of where we have run from God’s call, and let us be repentant (something we don’t see Jonah do in this chapter)

His graciousness. The grace-giving nature of God is all over this text. First, He doesn’t obliterate Nineveh off the face of the earth. Instead he sends a prophet to warn them of His coming wrath if they do not repent. God is slow to anger, abounding in love. What a wonderful picture of His mercy, just below the surface of this text.

Secondly, God saves the sailors. Sure, they all came into this encounter with the storm with their own gods. That being said, they respond in what I believe to be reverent, right fear of God after Jonah proclaims who he serves (again, hilarious since he’s blatantly running from Him). In verse fourteen they offer up what I believe to be a heartfelt and legitimate prayer to God, and then in verse sixteen they put their complete faith in the Lord.

Lastly, God saves Jonah. Now there’s far more to the story of Jonah then just what we see in chapter one, but it is clear to see that God was kind, patient, and gracious to Jonah by appointing (v. 17, NASB) a big fish to swallow him up.

When I look at the story of Jonah, I see myself. When I look at the story of Jonah, I see a great and gracious God.

In His Name,

Nate Roach