9

Acts 7:58:

Then they dragged him [Stephen] out of the city and began to stone him, and the witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

However, Paul was likely born between the years of 5 BC and 5 AD1. Stephen was martyred in 342 or 35 AD3.

This would make Paul between 29 and 40 years old at the time of Stephen's death. So how can he be considered a "young man"?

My understanding is that he would be considered a man from the age of 13 - so I would have guessed that a "young man" would have been a teenager or at most in his early twenties.

Or is Wikipedia wrong about Paul's year of birth? Other sites4 have Paul's birth in 10 AD.

1 Source: Wikipedia.

2 Source: Wikipedia, though it merely states the date without justification.

3 Source: Smoodock's Blog and SonOfMan.org.

4 Source: SonOfMan.org, nndb.com & ask.com.

  • >Or is Wikipedia wrong about Paul's year of birth? I think this is the source of your problem. Wikipedia is hardly an authoritative source. I'm not aware of any evidence in Scripture about Paul's age, other than this reference. Since this is the only reference, wouldn't it be logical to derive his age from this reference, rather than to question this reference based on some supposed outside date? – user5763 Aug 22 '14 at 17:52
12

It's an interesting question, and one that has caught the eye of commentators for a long time. Let's get the text of Acts 7:58b first:

[NASB] ... and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
[SBL GNT] ... καὶ οἱ μάρτυρες ἀπέθεντο τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας νεανίου καλουμένου Σαύλου

The term here is νεανίας [neanias], used only in Acts in the NT (7:58; 20:9; and 23:17), although none of these contexts gives much help for determining how youthful a neanias might be. It is also used about 30 times in the Septuagint (LXX),1 however, as well as more widely of course. In the LXX, it can sometimes simply refer to fighting men (2 Sam 6:1; 1 Kgs 12:21).

R.J. Knowling included a pithy but helpful comment on this problem in the old Expositor's Greek Testament (1897), vol. 2 pp. 201-202, including the observation that

Josephus applies the term to Agrippa I. when he was at least forty. Jos., Ant., xviii., 6, 7. [+ Whiston]2

Knowling suggests the possible range for the term anywhere between 24 and 40, so roughly the boundaries suggested by OP's research. More recently, Craig Keener's (massive) Acts commentary reflects on the issue.3 He adds some consideration about the "phases of life" in both Roman and Jewish settings, all of which adds to the wooliness (not the clarity) of the lower and upper limits suggested by this term. Keener himself opts for a younger birth-date for Saul.4

In any case, it appears that "young man" in Acts 7:58 contrasts with "old man" on the broad scale of adult male life. The dates involved do not present a problem, as they might appear to in our contemporary West's youth-obsessed culture.


Notes

  1. Jdg. 16:26; 17:7, 11; 19:3, 9, 11, 13; Ruth 3:10; 1 Sam. 20:31, 37; 2 Sam. 6:1; 1 Ki. 12:21; 1 Chr. 19:10; 1 Es. 8:88; 2 Ma. 3:26, 33; 7:25, 30; 10:35; 12:27; 4 Ma. 8:5, 27; 9:13, 21, 25; 14:9; Prov. 7:7; 20:29; Zech. 2:8; and Dan. 1:10.
  2. I'm not sure that this is the correct reference; might need some adjustment in a future edit.
  3. Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 3:1-14:28 (Baker Academic, 2013), pp. 466ff..
  4. For random comparison, it's often noted that the study of Ezekiel 1 was restricted to men over thirty in b. Ḥagigah 13b -- another kind of age of "maturity"?
| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    I first read "R.J. Knowling" as "J.K. Rowling," and thought "What?" I think I need caffeine. – Frank Luke Aug 21 '14 at 13:30
  • 1
    @FrankLuke - ha! :D You know, I had half a mind to put "[sic]" after that, because the possible confusion occurred to me, too. As info in ExGrkT vol. 2 says, R.J. Knowling was NT Professor at King's College London. Turns out he was quite prolific, too although none of his titles are in Archive.org. Wee shame, as his Acts commentary looks quite useful. They are found in Google Books, too. – Dɑvïd Aug 21 '14 at 13:53
2

David, above, writes:

Knowling suggests the possible range for the term anywhere between 24 and 40, so roughly the boundaries suggested by OP's research. More recently, Craig Keener's (massive) Acts commentary reflects on the issue. He adds some consideration about the "phases of life" in both Roman and Jewish settings, all of which adds to the wooliness (not the clarity) of the lower and upper limits suggested by this term. Keener himself opts for a younger birth-date for Saul.

There is a lengthy treatment of Paul's youth and early career in Chapters 2 to 4 of The Life and Epistles of St. Paul by Rev. W J Conybeare and Very Rev J S Howson (first published 1856, and appears in many subsequent editions). In a footnote on page 37, and referring to Acts 7 v 58, they write, simply: "It must be remembered, however, that the term νεανίας was applied to all men under 40".

Whilst adding that the year of Paul's birth is not known, they note (p. 37) that in a sermon attributed to St. Chrysostom, his year of birth was given as 2 BC. If that were correct, and (a) holding to the widely-accepted date of 33 AD for Christ's crucifixion and (b) placing the stoning of Stephen at say 35 AD, Paul would have been 36 or 37 years old on that occasion.

REF: The Life and Epistles of St. Paul by Rev. W J Conybeare and Very Rev J S Howson (1898).

| improve this answer | |
1
  1. Perhaps the disciple Luke was trying to communicate some deeper spiritual truth at this point in the trajectory of the life of Saul. While my fellow colleagues have supplied ample evidence for the physical years of age, permit me betoken the passage associated with your original question.
  2. The term, “young,” is not necessarily used to describe Saul’s age here. If looking only to the New Testament, one might resolve quickly that the reverse might be true. Remember though, the cultural anthropology of tribalism even among the Jewish people frames itself and identity in previously accepted models of thought and writing style.
  3. Although Luke wrote his letters in the Κοινές Greek, the Holy Spirit may have been encouraging a phrase at the moment of Luke’s penmanship quoting any number of the 56 passages where נַעַר na‘ar is used in the Jewish Bible. Using HCSB with Strong's Exhaustive Concordance; and the handy Apple® calculator app on my trustworthy iPad X, we can conclude that the term “young” is used a total of two-hundred-thirty-eight times in the Older Testament. But “young man” becomes one word in Hebrew. Although the percentage of the target occurrence be smaller still, a whopping 3.94%(!), i.e. 3 verses out of 76, we both might be surprised at what can be found.
    1. Genesis 41:11 • 12 “Now a young Hebrew, a slave of the captain of the guards, was with us there. We told him our dreams, he interpreted our dreams for us, and each had its own interpretation.”
      1. Paul like Joseph was orphaned by circumstance.
      2. Paul like Joseph would be styled Vizier of Sustenance.
      3. Paul like Joseph was quick-witted and could dream visions.
    2. 1 Samuel 9:1-2 • (HCSB Strong's) There was an influential man of Benjamin named Kish son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, son of a Benjaminite. 2 He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man. There was no one more impressive among the Israelites than he. He stood a head taller than anyone else.
      1. Saul like Paul delegated orders of action.
      2. Saul like Paul communicated with the dead.
      3. Saul like Paul stood nearly a head taller than anyone else.
      4. Paul just like Saul as a young man was spiritually inferior (both were likely 30).
    3. 1 Kings 11:27 • (HCSB Strong's) 28 Now the man Jeroboam was capable, and Solomon noticed the young man because he was getting things done. So he appointed him over the entire labor force of the house of Joseph.
      1. Unlike Jeroboam who lead Israel astray unto captivity amid depredations, Paul desired to lead Israel into ever closer awareness of Jehovah’s wisdom.
      2. Unlike Jeroboam who erected pillars and fortifications so Israelite citizens were made to worship at Mt. Gerizim, Paul wished that all humanity might believe in the narrative begun on Mt. Moriah.
      3. Unlike Jeroboam who retreated for protection to the lap of Pharaoh’s luxury, Paul boldly preached, survived stonings, shipwrecks, and was even lowered from a window while hiding inside a basket and after all this, was willingly decapitated without hesitation.

At about 30 years of age and much like Jeroboam, Paul was but a spiritual baby. At nearly 30 years of age Saul and Paul were each spiritually inferior. Genesis 41:46a though locks in your answer: (HCSB Strong's) 46 Joseph was 30 years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So it would seem Wikipedia in 2014 was wrong! If you have an iPad, go to iBooks and type in Biblical Genealogy or Disciples....have fun studying! • The Kroe Caws for YHWH (12.2.2018)

| improve this answer | |
  • Further, if you’re interested in genealogy and actually dating specific other moments, “The Untold Story of the New Testament,” is a fantastic appraisal of history. Best of all, you’ll learn great trivia including the fact that Titus was Luke’s younger brother (2013). – bdavid Dec 4 '18 at 11:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.