Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Was the Apostle Paul the Rich Young Ruler?

Last January, I wrote a brief post wondering where Saul of Tarsus (later the apostle Paul) was during Jesus' earthly ministry and crucifixion. He was present at Stephen's stoning which means, in the historical timeline of the book of Acts, that he was almost surely alive during His ministry. He was schooled by Gamaliel, and he was a Pharisee, so he would have been familiar with the happenings in Jerusalem. I wondered if he could have been the rich young ruler spoken of in the gospels.

Well tonight at our bible study, we looked at Matthew 19's account (read Matthew 19:16-30 here) in the context of God's seemingly "unfair" system of rewards with the first being last and the last first. It struck me that he would have been the last of the apostles, but first in fame and writer of more NT material than the rest. He was known as the apostle to the Gentiles. When He told His disciples that it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven, they wondered who could enter. Jesus said that with God, all things are possible.

He could have been prophesying about this man right on the spot without any of them knowing it. If this were Paul, the rest of them would have come to know him later on. Paul would fit the rest of this passage, too. He would be one of the twelve who sat on a throne, he was rich, a young ruler. His rejection by Christ because of his covetous heart toward material things could have triggered a resentment toward Him. He went away grieving, but that could have turned to malice and persecution of those who were followers. Of course, all this is speculative reading between the lines. Maybe some archaeologist will dig something up on this someday. Until then...

Read Part 2 and Part 3


  1. Let's start a rumor! This would probably be a best seller... maybe sell the rights to Tim LaHaye!?

  2. That's a very interesting take on the passage - even if it is not Paul - it gives great insight into that situation in the bible.

  3. Yes. Especially Phi 3:6-...mentioned that Paul kept the laws, what he had gained...etc.

    However, there are still unsettling missing elements such as whether he sold all his things to the poor or not. Or perhaps he lost all of it in some tragic he turned bitter towards Christians from someone who called Jesus a "good teacher", the silence of things like this in the Bible, instead of portraying Paul as a rich person who has converted, seems to make Paul a different character. He may have been rich before, but as rich as the rich young richer? that's still hard to say.

    Nonetheless, it is not impossible for God to convert the rich young ruler. Should he be made a saint, it is rather remarkable, just as Paul was, I am sure.

    I believe the Bible sometimes leave certain silence for us to learn to be humble in our own creativity and seek for the Word, diligently, patiently. Constraining ourselves with the belt of Truth.

  4. Steve,

    Your post is very thought-provoking. I am studying the rich young ruler passage. I, too, had the thought of the possibility of Saul of Tarsus being the rich young ruler. (I typed in the google: 'Was Paul the rich young ruler?' That search brought me directly to your blog).


  5. I, too, was studying Phillipians chapter three and the thought came to me that Paul was the rich young ruler as I read his credentials. He couldn't have gained that experience in between the resurrection and the stoning of Stephen anywhere else than in Jerusalem. He had to be there with the Pharisees when they confronted Jesus. The disciples, at the time of the confrontation with the rich young ruler, would not have been on a first-name with the members of the Sanhedrin. It could have well been Saul, but with the Pharisees all having beards and robes, they couldn't distinguish one from another. At the writing of the Gospels, Paul was still traversing Gentile territory. Matthew and Mark don't reveal him as a ruler. It is Luke, Paul's traveling campanion who identifies him as a ruler. More later...God bless.

  6. Regarding Timothy Law's comment:
    There was no question as to whether he lost it all or not. When he was converted, there was no going back to his lucrative Pharisee position, including money changing and sacrificial animal sales. They were redoubtably getting a piece of the pie. After the rich young ruler leaves Jesus, we're told that Jesus loved him. There was no such affections expressed for other Pharisees. Perhaps, it is because Jesus knew what He was going to call him to do.
    After we're told of this account, Jesus goes into the temple and casts out the money changers, attacking the very heart of the matter which kept the the rich young ruler from following Him. After that, it said the leaders hated Him and sought to kill Him. Saul had to be in that group, though maybe not as prominent as later.
    Being rejected as lacking when he was so proud of his record of keeping the law, being rejected but tax collectors and ragtag fishermen accepted, his business
    being driven away and condemned sounds like a firm basis for bitterness, anger and resentment. Approving Stephen's stoning after a scathing accusation by him, Saul was ripe for revenge with the backing of the Sanhedrin.
    What did Jesus say when He met him on the way to Damascus? He was looking for whom? Saul certainly wasn't seeking to be a disciple. Yet, God chose Him to be the one to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles. What a picture of the Sovereignty of God!
    Jesus said it was hard for Saul to kick against the goad. Now, had this been their first meaning, that wouldn't make much sense. If Paul were the rich young ruler, then there were many goads he encountered: rejection by Christ, Jesus cleansing the temple, resurrection, Peter's sermon at Pentecost accusing the leaders of having Jesus killed, and the awakening of his conscience could all have spurred him on. However, silencing Christians did not ease his conscience, he was only hurting himself as kicking against the goads on the ox cart.
    Paul reveals in the letter to the Philippians, that he had been the
    best of the best among the Pharisees. He was sought after by the authorities following his conversion, and the believers were afraid of him. He literally gave it all up to follow Christ. He declares that all that he had in the past, he counts as rubbish compared to the splendor of knowing
    Christ and His resurrection power.
    The idea of selling it was not the
    key factor, nor was it giving it to the poor, for "they will be with you always". Letting go of the world and embracing Christ was the key, which he did. With such confidence, he declared it unto the believers that they already had to true riches, salvation in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
    What better way to prepare him for service than to let reach the ultimate in legalism, and to see the emptiness there! What better way than to be rich, find that it doesn't bring happiness! What better way to prepare to be stoned, thrown in prison, or persecuted than to stand in approval of another being stoned.
    Jesus was sorrowful, perhaps, knowing what that rich young ruler was going to have to suffer. Yet, He loved him, for He knew what He was going to do with him.
    He called Jesus a "good teacher" because he wanted Jesus to return the complement. When he didn't get one in return, it was a slap in the face. If he wasn't rich, then he didn't give up much for the kingdom's sake, did he? However, when he touts his past, he indicates that he had it all.
    Yet, it was well worth it for what he gained when he let it go.
    Did He make Paul go against his will? Oh, no! He just made him willing to go. Praise God!.

  7. No.

    St paul would have mentioned meeting Jesus in his earthly life in his writings.

    The first time St Paul met Jesus (whom he persecuted) was on the road to Damascus.

  8. I learned that there are six types of Mikvehs / Baptisms:

    1. Purification (Acts 21:23-24, John 11:55, Luke 2:22, Lev. 12:2-4)
    2. Repentance (Mark 1:4, Acts 1:5, Matt. 3:1-2,11,)
    3. Identification (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 36-38, 10:48, 16:33, 19:5, John 14:13)
    4. Spirit (Acts 1:8)
    5. Fire (Matt. 3:11)
    6. Suffering (Luke 12:50)

  9. Whether he was or not, it makes for a good study, it makes no difference in my salvation one way or the other, but the comparisons are a good lesson for sure. So thank you on that.

  10. Yes, Jesus choose all 13 apostles and Saul was the last, on the Damascus road.
    It is like God to prepare events ahead of time to achieve his will, and still give us free will.
    I like anonymous's last statement "he just made him willing to go"