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In Acts 22, Paul is about to be flogged, but mentions to a centurion that he is a Roman citizen. The centurion gets the tribune in charge of the situation and brings him to Paul, and this conversation ensues...

27 The tribune came and asked Paul,[e] “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.” Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”

In particular, I'm curious why Luke has recorded this conversation between the tribune and Paul about how they acquired their Roman citizenship.

Paul's claim to citizenship is, of course, generally crucial to the progress of the narrative - it keeps him from getting flogged and allows him to continue progressing through the proper channels of the legal system all the way until his final appeal to Caesar.

But the conversation about how Paul and the tribune got their citizenship is not necessary to the plot. It seems that Luke must have included it for a reason, but I'm not confident what that reason might be.

I have two theories:

  1. It does seem that there could be parallels to Jewish and Gentile citizenship in God's kingdom, but I couldn't work out any exact literary device at play there.
  2. It could also be that Luke is framing Paul as in the right, and emphasizing the corruption of the Roman tribune (much like the various gospel authors emphasize the "kangaroo court" nature of Jesus' trial).

Does one (or both) of these theories cover it? Is there something else going on here? I've looked at several commentaries, but nobody seems to dive into the question of why this conversation was recorded rather than omitted.

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  • Unlike the tribune, Paul might not have looked (or been) particularly rich, thus prompting his doubt.
    – Lucian
    Jun 1, 2021 at 13:43
  • Yes, that's undoubtedly true as far as why the conversation OCCURRED, by I'm interested in why the conversation was RECORDED by Luke. What does Luke want us to take away from this conversation? (I'm operating under the assumption that Luke didn't record this insignificant conversation just because it happened to occur, but I'm open to the criticism that that's a false assumption.) Jun 1, 2021 at 14:01

2 Answers 2

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OP says: It does seem that there could be parallels to Jewish and Gentile citizenship in God's kingdom, but I couldn't work out any exact literary device at play there.

I doubt the parallels here since no one is born as a citizen in the kingdom of God or able to purchase citizenship in God's kingdom.

Gill:

and Paul said, but I was free born; being born at Tarsus; which, as Pliny says (l), was a free city, and which had its freedom given it by Mark Antony, and which was before the birth of Paul; and therefore his parents being of this city, and free, he was born so.

(l) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 27.

Paul contrasted his citizenship against the tribune's. The tribune was a 1st-generation citizen. Paul was at least a 2nd-generation citizen from a city that historically had been loyal to the emperor. This gave Paul a bit more clout in his plot to appeal to the court of the emperor.

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  • For clarity, the connection to Jewish and Gentile citizenship would be Jews claiming a sort of birthright citizenship in God's people by nature of their physical descent from Abraham, vs. Gentiles being citizens that were grafted in. Could connect to the context of Paul being accused of bringing a Gentile into the temple. I'm NOT saying Luke necessarily intends us to see some sort of connection there, just that it was one trail my thoughts went down while turning this over in my mind. Thanks for this answer, though, it's helpful. Jun 1, 2021 at 14:36
  • One is born (again) into the kingdom by baptism (John 3:5), and one purchases it through Christ's sacrifice (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23).
    – Lucian
    Jun 1, 2021 at 20:31
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I do not want to pour any sort of cold water on any spiritual answer, but I think Luke's motives may be revealed in verse twenty-nine. But, before I get there, another argument.

Luke wants the reader to know in general

That is the important context is not the passage context, but the book context. There any many possible applications of this verse (a citizenship that cannot be bought, but only born again; using the gifts God gave at birth for the kingdom and many others) that I shall not get into. In addition, if the book was indented to be read by those who share Paul's Roman citizen birthright then they will be offended on his behalf as he is mistreated, possibly making them more sympathetic to him.

Verisimilitude of the narrative

Acts 22: 29 (KJV) reads:

29 Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

The key word I would like to emphasise is "straightway" (Εὐθέως) which begins Luke's sentence. If 27-28 were omitted, then this would not be quite true but it is essential for the narratives power. People at the time would may have found that the passage did not ring true if they immediately gave this scruffed-up tentmaker wide-berth and took him at his word. Thus, Luke accurately recorded the events in question so that they would ring true to the first reader.

The chief captain's role in the story is only brief, so cutting that down would not be cutting it down very much. While, in its current form it is a rich mine for devotion and devotions.

In conclusion, I think Luke's motive for writing this two verse interpolation was for the benefit of the original audience - to help them empathise and that the events rang true to them.

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