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Paul meaning


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🔼The name Paul, Paulos, Paulus: Summary

Small, Cessation, Stopper
A Small Whisper That Propagates Into A Roaring Multitude
Extraordinary, Distinguished
From the Greek verb παυω (pauo), to stop, and Latin adjective paulus, little or small.
From the word επαυλις (epaulis), tent-camp, from αυλις (aulis), tent.
From (1) the verb פעה (pa'a), to propagate a call for support, and (2) the letter ל (lamed), onto.
From the verb פלא (pala'), to be extraordinary.

🔼The name Paul, Paulos, Paulus in the Bible

There are two men named Paulos (that's Greek), Paulus (that's Latin) or Paul (that's English) in the New Testament, namely (1) Sergius Paulus, a Roman proconsul of Cyprus who hosted the Jewish pseudo-prophet Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:7), and of course (2) the evangelist Paul of Tarsus. These two men have the same name, even though in English Bibles the name of the evangelist is commonly truncated to Paul, whereas the name Sergius Paulus is given in its un-truncated Latin form.

The apostle Paul, who authored pretty much half of the New Testament, started his career as Saul of Tarsus (Acts 21:39), and was known as Saul until Acts 13:9, where he begins to be called Paul. The Roman author of the Vulgate, Jerome, proposed that this name change was due to Saul having converted the original proconsul Paul (a common mechanism that also allowed the Jewish historian Yosef ben Matiyahu to adopt the name Titus Flavius Josephus, after the general and future emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus). It's a compelling proposal, also because Saul rhetorically asks Bar-Jesus: "Will you not cease (παυω, pauo, see below) to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?" In Biblical terms, however, the primary association of the Saul-to-Paul name-change is with the Torah's name-change-theme (Genesis 17:5, 17:15, 32:28).

Saul, a Benjaminite and Hellenistic Jew was a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5) trained by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He fiercely opposed Christianity at first. He assisted during the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58; see 2 Kings 10:22 and 22:14) and severely persecuted Christians (Acts 8:3). But he had an encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus and was blind for three days because of it (Acts 9:3, 9:9; note the curious parallel with Sergius Paulus' protégé Bar-Jesus: Acts 13:11). While Saul's eyesight was coming back, he embraced the gospel. He traveled all over the known world, often alone but also accompanied by John-Mark (Acts 13:13), Luke (Colossians 4:14), Silas (Acts 15:40), Timothy and others (Acts 20:4).

The Lord appeared to Paul a second time and told him that he had to go to Rome and witness of him there (Acts 23:11). Paul achieved this by appealing to Caesar while being heard by Porcius Festus (Acts 25:12). According to Ignatius of Antioch, Paul was martyred. That happened probably in the second half of the sixties, on orders of emperor Nero.

The name Paul occurs 163 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.

🔼Etymology of the name Paul

The name Paul (Paulus, Paulos) is part of a group very common Latin and Greek words, which show up all over the classics, and which all have to do with limitedness or minuteness. The Greek word παυρος (pauros) means feeble or little, and the verb παυω (pauo — remotely related, says Spiros Zodhiates) means to stop, retrain, desist. This is the verb that Saul uses to accuse Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:10).

The derived (albeit unused in the New Testament) noun παυλα (paula) means rest, cessation, termination, or some "means of stopping". In his book on the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides uses this noun in his description of an uproar in Athens, where people suspected violation of religious mysteries (and democracy) in favor of a return to tyranny, and "inflamed by these suspicions, they had already imprisoned many men of high character. There was no παυλα (paula) in sight, but day by day the movement became more furious..." (Thuc.6.60):

Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary

The verb παυω (pauo) means to stop or make to cease. From a derived noun παυσις (pausis), meaning a stopping, comes our English word "pause". The noun παυλα, paula, means rest or cessation. Latin words from this same stock are paulatim, meaning gradually or little by little; paulisper, meaning for a little while and paululus, meaning very little. The adjective paulus means little or small. The noun paulum means a little.

A closely related word-group stems from the noun παις (pais), meaning "little one" or "low one", which was the common word for a slave or child. The verb παιζω (paizo) means to act or treat like a child, and the verb εμπαιζω (empaizo) means to ridicule. The noun πωλος (polos) means foal. Adjective φαυλος (phaulos) means foul or vulgar. Possibly unrelated, the verb παιω (paio) means to strike or hit.

Also note the accidental similarity with the (unrelated) word επαυλις (epaulis), tent-camp, from αυλις (aulis), tent:

Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary

The noun αυλη (aule) describes any enclosed space, hence the verb αυλιζομαι (aulizomai), to lodge and the noun αυλις (aulis), tent or night-dwelling. Prefixed with επι (epi), on or upon, this word forms επαυλις (epaulis), meaning tent-camp, as used in Acts 1:20 (quoting Psalm 69:25), and in Song of Solomon 8:9, in the term "encampment of silver" (αργυρος, arguros, silver or money).

The Greeks loved a good pun, and Paul frequently visited the tent-metaphor: of the human body and the tabernacle that would become the temple and ultimately the Body of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:1-8). And his day-job, rather ostensibly, was that of "tent-maker" (see our note on σκηνοποιος, skenopoios, shelter-maker), as mentioned in Acts 18:3.

🔼The name Paul to a Hebrew audience

Anybody with knowledge of Hebrew would have noticed the obvious association of the name Paul with the Hebrew verb פעה (pa'a), to propagate a call for support from mind to mind. Paul's most effective method of spreading the gospel was not to boom it into stadiums, or sugarcoat it, or market it subliminally, but by allowing it to propagate through populations on the merit of its own attractiveness:

Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary

The verb פעה (pa'a) describes a verbal expression that propagates through a population by merit of its positive or negative appeal rather than its substance or usefulness (although it might have substance or be useful). It's used to describe the bleating of sheep, the rallying cry of a warrior and the calls of a woman who enters labor and needs the help of her kin.

Noun אפע ('epa') describes the fate of a rumor that doesn't pan out under scrutiny. Noun אפעה ('epa'a) describes a mental serpent, namely the contagious nature of an alarm cry (with or without good cause).

To an audience playful enough, the name Paul would have reminded of a combination of the verb פעה (pa'a) and the letter ל (lamed), which means goad (Acts 26:14):

Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary

The particle ל (le) means to or onto and may describe a physical or mental motion toward or a behavioral effort, an evolutionary one or express determination or purpose. The name of this letter, lamed, describes a cattle prod or goad.

Altogether the name Paul describes how a very small initial whisper may build up to a massive roaring multitude, if the initial whisper contains the Creator (1 Kings 19:12, James 3:5, 1 Kings 18:44).

More striking, even, is the obvious similarity between our name Paulos and the Hebrew root פלל (palal), to discern, or פלא (pala'), to be extraordinary:

Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary

Root פלל (palal) is all about distinguishing and discerning, and often emphasizes representation of something unseen or not present. It's frequently used in the sense of to entreat or pray on someone's behalf.

Noun תפלה (tepilla) means prayer. Noun פליל (palil) describes an inspector or umpire and noun פלילה (pelila) refers to the place at which an umpire operates; a judge's office. Adjective פלילי (pelili) means "for a judge" or "to be judged" and noun פליליה (peliliya) means verdict or assessment. Noun פול (pol) means beans (and was probably imported but fits right in).

Verb פלה (pala) means to be distinct or separated. Pronoun פלני (peloni) refers to "a certain person/place."

Verb פלא (pala') means to be extraordinary. Nouns פלא (pele') and מפלאה (mipla'a) refer to extraordinary things or deeds. Adjective פלאי (pil'i) means extraordinary.

Verb אפל ('pl) means to disappear, depart or set (of the sun). Nouns אפל ('opel), אפלה ('apela), מאפל (ma'apel) and מאפליה (ma'pelya) mean darkness. Adjective אפל ('apel) means gloomy. Adjective אפיל ('apil) means late or belated (i.e. long unseen).

Verb נפל (napal) means to fall (down, down to, into or upon). The plural form נפלים (napalim) literally means 'fallen ones' or 'settled ones'.

Noun נפל (nepel) refers to an abortion or untimely birth. Noun מפל (mappal) describes that what falls. Nouns מפלה (mappala) and מפלה (mappela) mean ruin, and noun מפלת (mapplet) refers to a ruined thing or a falling.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul makes much ado about someone having his father's woman. The wording seems to suggest that we're not dealing with the man's mother, so she was perhaps the father's concubine or wife after the death of the son's mother. It's unknown whether she legally divorced the father, or whether she was his widow (something comparable had happened with Abishag the Shunammite), but probably not, as Paul violently condemns the man (and justly so, see Deuteronomy 22:30). But, as usual, there's a great deal more to all this.

The quintessential violator of his father's marriage bed was Reuben, who slept with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22), the mother of Dan and Naphtali, for which he was condemned and relieved of his prominent status as firstborn (Genesis 49:3-4). Because of Reuben's sin — and that of Simeon and Levi, sons 2 and 3, who avenged the rape of their sister Dinah (Jacob had 13 children) with brute violence — Judah (son number 4) became prominent and this is basically why today Israelites are collectively known as Jews.

The name Joseph belonged to Israel's quintessential dreamer, which is a theme that particularly Matthew emphasizes (Luke calls namesake Joseph, the father of Jesus, his "father-by-law": Luke 3:23): there are 5 major dream sequences between Matthew 1:20 and 2:22. The original Joseph's dreams showed his brothers — including his beloved juvenile brother Benjamin — in a worshipping circle around him (Genesis 27:5-11). In an obvious parallel (Hebrews 2:11, Romans 8:29), the evangelist John tells of a mysterious "disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20), who hence appears in paintings as a beardless or even woman-like youth (Genesis 45:14). The extra-Biblical myth of the Holy Grail, likewise, appears to have evolved from Joseph's silver cup (Genesis 44:2).

Reuben tried to save Joseph from their brothers (Genesis 37:21-30), but ultimately failed, and Joseph ended up in Egypt. Given up for dead, Joseph "resurrected" as the Egyptian empire's second in command, a position from which he could save his extended family. All this is rather obviously paralleled by the gospel's themes.

When the world at large succumbed to famine, Joseph was able to force the brothers to bring him his beloved baby-brother Benjamin, and he is the ancestor of Paul (Romans 11:1). Reuben wrested young Benjamin from the embrace of his father Jacob by stating that Jacob could kill his own two sons if he didn't bring Benjamin back (Genesis 42:37). The oldest of the two sons was named Pallu, from פלל (palal), which is obviously not without resemblance to the name Paulos.

To the same Corinthians, Paul explains that Jesus appeared to him last, as "to one untimely born" (1 Corinthians 15:8), which not only brings to mind the (literal) Benjamin of the Israelite tribes. The Hebrew word for untimely birth is נפל (nepel), also from our verb פלל (palal), which links Paul playfully to the Nephilim, who appeared on earth when the sons of God had mated with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:2), which is not dissimilar to Reuben's infraction, also because ultimately one of the daughters of men would become the mother of God's Son (see Ezekiel 16:8 and of course Luke 1:35).

Like many major cities, Corinth too was sacked and ruined by the Romans, and like a raped slave, annexed to Rome's obscene harem. In those days, the primary desire on everybody's mind (Haggai 2:7; see Revelation 22:2) was freedom from this Roman phage that was destroying the free world, and when Paul wrote that "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1), his original audience would doubtlessly have drawn a breath of hope to be rid of the Romans, some day.

The celebrated founder of the dynasty of autonomous kings of Corinth was the familiar mythical character Sisyphus, who enforced his laws with unyielding violence, not unlike the brothers Levi and Simeon (Genesis 49:5-7, see Psalm 2:7-9 and Revelation 2:27). Sisyphus specifically attracted an accusation of improper xenia, or ritualistic hospitality to strangers (see Hebrews 13:2), which in the convoluted Attic legal system was closely related to bastardy, or childbirth outside legal marriage (explains Daniel Ogden in Greek Bastardy in the Classical and Hellenistic Periods).

Joseph was obviously not Jesus' biological father because Jesus only had one human parent, namely Mary, who was a close relative of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36), who was a Levite (Luke 1:5). That means that Joseph's fatherhood of Jesus was purely a legal matter (evidently arrived at via two separate legal clauses, famously resulting in two separate genealogies of Christ): Jesus was Joseph's legal son, very much in the same way that Augustus was Julius' adopted son-by-law. The word for this is νομιζω (nomizo), meaning to "legalize", from the noun νομος (nomos), meaning law. Jesus was Joseph's son-by-law, which means that the "human nature" of which Paul speaks (Romans 1:3) is law (not biological descent). Or in other words: what separates humans from animals is not their raw IQ but their lawfulness (meaning: a thinking in rules, or algorithms, rather than feelings). Hence, a human who is lawless is not human but animal (Jude 1:10).

As enthusiastic patron of proper xenia, father Zeus punished Sisyphus by forcing him to daily roll a rock up a hill only to see it tumble down again every evening. That familiar story is rather obviously played with in Luke 4:16-30, in which Jesus pleads for the inclusion of foreign elements (specifically Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Sidonian Zarephath). Like Sisyphus, the men of Nazareth drive Jesus up their local hill, but the story concludes in the Rock triumphantly going "his own way", which is down the hill, while nobody with a penchant for iron law and a sore case of xenophobia has a chance to stop him.