The Apostle Paul gives us a little insight into his background in Philippians 3:5-6, “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”

  • From this we learn that Paul was circumcised when he was eight days old. This shows us that Paul’s parents were obedient to the law for Genesis 17:12 says, “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you…”
  • He was from the stock of Israel which means he was from the patriarch Israel, or Jacob; showing he was able to trace his genealogy back as far as any Jew could.
  • Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was one of the two tribes which remained when the ten tribes revolted under King Jeroboam.  With the tribe of Judah, it always maintained its allegiance to God.  This points out that Paul was not from the tribes of Israel that had rebelled.
  • Paul was a ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews’. That’s a term showing that both his mother and father were Hebrews.  Although Paul was born in Tarsus, a Greek city (Acts 21:39), he came from pure Hebrew stock.  The term “Hebrew” predates the term “Israelite” (Abraham was the first one called a Hebrew in Genesis 14:13), however, Hebrew, Israelite, and Jew are all considered to be synonymous.
  • Paul was also a Pharisee which was the strictest sect of the Jewish religion. Paul said in Acts 26:5, “…after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Was Paul a Roman or a Jew?  Actually, he was both.  Let’s read Acts 22:25-28, “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.”  There was great advantage in that day to being a Roman citizen.  The text shows us that Roman citizenship could be bought.  The chief captain said, “With a great sum I obtained this freedom.”  He was speaking of the freedom of Roman citizenship.  Paul replied that he was ‘free born.’  There are a couple of thoughts on how Paul, an Israelite could be born with the rights of Roman citizenship without purchasing it.  One thought is that because Paul was actually born in Rome, he had the rights of a Roman citizen.  This is common today.  If an American is born in a foreign country, he is a natural citizen of both countries, so this could explain Paul’s words.  Another thought is that Paul’s parents, or someone in Paul’s lineage had purchased citizenship for his family and descendants.  Either one of these thoughts show us how Paul could be a Hebrew, an Israelite, a Jew, and yet be a Roman citizen.  As to the identity of Paul’s father, we have no record of that.

With all we know about Paul, we can see that he was destined to be a great leader of the Jews.  He was faithful to the Pharisee sect.  He had Roman citizenship.  He had a good Jewish pedigree.  But, as a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, all that meant nothing to him.  He said in Philippians 3:7-8, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”  What a wonderful example to us of one who left behind all the privileges one man could ask for.  They were dung, or trash to him.  This world held no attraction to Paul.  May we commit our lives to the Lord and be able to say the same thing!  (206.10)