🔼The name Paul, Paulos, Paulus: Summary
- Small, Cessation, Stopper
- A Small Whisper That Propagates Into A Roaring Multitude
- From the Greek verb παυω (pauo), to stop, and Latin adjective paulus, little or small.
- From (1) the verb פעה (pa'a), to propagate a call for support, and (2) the letter ל (lamed), onto.
🔼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):
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.
🔼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:
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):
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).