Most people know that Paul was a pious Jew, a former Pharisee trained alongside other Jewish sages at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Many New Testament readers also see Paul as a radical convert to Christianity, but he never actually called himself a Christian.

Defending himself before the procurator Felix, Paul states, “I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Torah and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). Standing before another council, Paul identified himself as “a Pharisee, son of Pharisees” in the present tense (Acts 23:6). Defending himself before King Agrippa, Paul insisted that he always “lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). What is amazing is that all these words were spoken after his encounter with the risen Christ, not before!

Of course, Paul was a follower of Christ. There is no dispute. But he chose to identify himself over and over as a Jew of Pharisaic persuasion. In its earliest form, the term Χριστιᾱνός (“Christian” or “Christ-follower”” was a politically-loaded term, affirming one’s loyalty to the Jewish Christ, rather than to the Emperor or the gods of Rome. This means that, in the first century, to be a “Christian” meant affiliation with something intrinsically Jewish.

So, was Paul a Christian? It’s a complicated question. As a Jew, Paul’s loyalty was clear and he did not need another name to show his belonging to the Jewish Christ. For Paul, being a Jew and a Pharisee who followed the Messiah Jesus was enough.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. The difficulty I had with Paul NOT being a Christian convert had to do with my English language. Jesus statement “Come to me” does not mean the same thing as Saul’s statement “Who are you, Lord?” “Come to me” implies we already see (because we read/heard about Jesus). “Who are you, Lord” implies Saul came before seeing (recognizing) Jesus. How would Saul (being spiritually blind) have found Jesus? This makes me wonder if the words “Come to me” in Hebrew would have included being led in some way! Repentance? Spirit? Angels?
    • Kat, I am not following. Here is the passage you are referring to. There is nothing about "come to me" here. 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:4-6)
    • I will want to counsel you that in an attempt to have deep knowledge of the scripture, you must not loose sight of the simplicity of Christ.
  2. So then, in Acts 26:28 when King Agrippa said to Paul, "...you almost persuade me to be a Christian..." was Paul speaking and testifying as a Christian or as a Pharisee? Nobody in their right mind would ever deny that Paul was most certainly a Jew, but Paul was NEVER persucuted for being a Pharisee. He was not executed for being a Pharisee. If Paul was not a Christian, then NOBODY ever was (or is) a Christian.
    • Dear Chuck, Paul actually was persecuted for being a Pharisee who preached about Messiah who rose from the dead. Unless you want to tell me that Paul or Luke are lying… …“Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” 7 As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. (Acts 23:6-8)
    • @Chuck: I'd be surprised if in Paul's day, that being a "Christian" and being a "Jew" were mutually exclusive identities as it is nearly always thought of today. Thus Paul could consider himself both as a "Christian" and a "Jew" at the same time w/o contradiction.
  3. As a modern day Messianic Jew I have to consider the time these statements were taken and the idoms they must have meant in the first century. Paul naturally couldn't state that he was a Christian because being a Christian didn't hold the same meaning as it does today. Paul was a Pharisee that was a follower of Yesuha the Christ.* We would consider Paul a Christian by today's standards.
  4. Which of he apostles and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ called himself a CHRISTIAN ?
    What was all the Pauline epistles about ?
    Who converted the apostle PAUL from Judaism to become or rather commissioned him to “serve the gentiles” ?
    And who is a CHRISTIAN ?
    Are you a CHRISTIAN ? And if yes, why do you call yourself a Christian ?
  5. The question is whether or not a person has been sealed with the deposit of the Holy Spirit or not. It is impossible to verbally utter the phrase "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior" without the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. Public record. Check everyone.
    • Dear Sir. People all over the world say with their mouths every day the phrase "Jesus Christ is my Lord Savior' and are far from God. Just saying it with your mouth and not having it in your heart is not surrendering to our Savior.

      + More answers (1)
  6. The term Je.Sus.(christ) wasn't even used to refer to the Messiah during Saul's life. And, as you probably know, the term christian is a pagan title as is the false diety name from which it is derived. Even the RomanCatholicChurch admits this. Paul was one of the Natsarim.
    • Linda, I think you may be taking things a bit too far. There is nothing pagan within the word Christian. It just means one who belongs to Christos (Gr) or Mashiach (Hb) - nothing linguistically pagan here. In the name Jesus I suggest this little article https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/jesus-hebrew-name-yeshua-yahshua/
  7. I agree with prof. Pinchas Shir that Israel Bible equips us with tools to enter into the concept of Jews understanding of the scripture. So I am here to learn not to argue because i want also to know why there are many translations.
  8. The fact that Paul was actually convinced to believe Christ and be converted from being a hardcore persecuting Jewish Pharisee of Pharisees to next preaching the very Christ he persecuted, makes Paul a real Christian the way we really understand what it means to be a Christian today.
    • Paul did not "convert" because the only 2 options for religious belonging for him were Judaism or Paganism. Jesus did not covert or did not initiate anything for anyone to convert to as well... The entire "conversion language" and separate camps to which one can belong did not come up in history till much, much later.
  9. That Paul never titles himself a Christian shouldn't be too surprising as that word is hardly used in the scriptures (3 times in my version). Paul does describe himself as "in Christ", a number of times, and calls himself a follower of The Way, the term then for a Christian.
  10. Christian was a label. We have no knowledge of who used it to describe Christians. It was probably a secular label for people who follow Christ. In the end it is a label only. Paul followed Christ, so do We. Yours is a straw-man argument and serves no purpose.
    • The purpose is to cause people to think about the issue! To consider how people define these ideas for themselves. I don't care about winning arguments :)
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