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.

  • Unlike the tribune, Paul might not have looked (or been) particularly rich, thus prompting his doubt.
    – Lucian
    Commented 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.) Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 14:01
  • What would you be left with, if you went through the Gospels - let alone the whole Bible - and cropped out what was not "necessary to the plot"? Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 0:14
  • Do you mind explaining what you're getting at a little more, @RobbieGoodwin? If you cropped out everything that's not "necessary to the plot," you probably would not have much left... but that's my point. Authors include things for reasons, and I'm simply asking what the reasons were. Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 17:51
  • 1
    @RobbieGoodwin - I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're operating in good faith. I've never asserted that huge chunks of the Bible are babble, nor that authors only record what's "necessary to the plot." Instead, my question assumes precisely the opposite! I take it for granted that the biblical authors recorded things for good reasons, as I already said. In many cases, if something wasn't included to advance the plot, it was included for some OTHER very good reason. I suspect this might be one of those cases, so I'm asking for interpretations. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 13:04

7 Answers 7


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.


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.

  • 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. Commented 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
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 20:31

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.


This is my speculation. The Acts is the 2nd book Luke wrote to Theophilus, so he was the audience Luke wanted to address to. But who was Theophilus?

Theophilus means "friend of God", or "beloved by God" or "loving God" in Greek. It is not the name of a person. It is an honorary title and very common among the academic Romans and Jews of the era. There are quite a few speculations about who he was. Here I only offer my favorable answer from my research.

Theophilus was Paul's lawyer. To support this claim people appeal to the formal legalese present in the prologue to the Gospel such as "eye witnesses", "account", "carefully investigated", "know the certainty of things which you have been instructed". The conclusion of the Book of Acts ends with Paul still alive and under arrest awaiting trial, suggesting it was the intention of the author to update Theophilus on Paul's history to provide for an explanation of his travels and preaching and serve as evidence in support of his innocence under Roman law. Some also point to the parallel between the account of Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate narrated in Luke's Gospel with the account of Paul's trials before Roman judges in the Book of Acts. In total, Jesus was declared innocent 3 times by Pontius Pilate as was Paul before various judges.

With the above understanding, we may naturally understand why Luke wrote the dialogue between the commander and Paul in Acts 22:26-28. As the Roman citizen status should give Paul a privilege in his trial.


The narrative does not seem to have any spiritual significance of a symbolic parallelism between the Roman citizenship and the citizenship in the Kingdom of God; neither does it indicate any corruption of the Roman official, for it was possible to buy the citizenship right in a legal way, which he claims to had done. Had it been illegal, he would not have told openly, in public, about his violation of law.

Thus, the passage simply expresses the Roman official’s bewilderment that a Jew persecuted by Jews possesses such a grand privilege as Roman citizenship.


I suggest that Luke has reported this conversation because of its relevance to the way Paul's appeal in Rome was resolved.

We need to remember that the case which sent Paul to Rome was a jurisdiction dispute. The nearest modern parallel would be an extradition request. The authorities in Jerusalem were making charges against Paul which they wanted to be heard in Jerusalem (Acts ch25 vv1-2). They were claiming authority over him, as a Jew. Paul himself must have been acting on the same authority when he got them to send him out to Damascus (ch9 vv1-2). Festus decided to accept their claim by going to Jerusalem to supervise the hearing, and so Paul appealed to Caesar against that decision (ch25 vv10-11). It wasn't an appeal against the charges themselves, because the case had not got that far.

Paul's right to appeal to Caesar is based on his status as a Roman citizen; "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried". So the earlier conversation about citizenship is preparing the reader's mind for this turn of events. I believe that status would have helped him also when he got to Rome. Logically, it should have got the case transferred to the Praetor Peregrinus, who heard disputes between citizens and non-citizens. And it would surely have been an important element in his legal defence (British spelling), on the ground that the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem could have no jurisdiction over citizens.

It is also worth noticing another snippet of apparent small-talk; "On reading the letter, [the governor] asked [Paul] to what province he belonged. When he learned that [Paul] was from Cilicia, he said; I will hear you when your accusers arrive." (ch23 vv34-35)It seems to me that Luke has planted another clue about what happened in Rome. It is likely that Jerusalem's traditional authority over the regional Jews was accepted by Rome but also limited to the Jews of Palestine and Syria. So Paul's lawyer may have been able to resist their claims over Paul and get the case dismissed on the two grounds that Paul was a Roman citizen, in the first place, and born outside their area of jurisdiction, in the second place.

I'm inclined to think that Luke planted these clues for his readers because he knew the outcome of the appeal but did not intend to report it directly. He was telling the story of the progress of the gospel, not the story of Paul's life, and for literary reasons, he preferred to end the narrative at Paul's arrival in Italy.


Roman society was aristocratic, where the ruling class was called the Patricians and the peons were call the Plebeians. Paul is suggesting that he was a Patrician, placing himself above the Tribune:

The patricians (from Latin: patricius) were originally a group of ruling class families in ancient Rome. The distinction was highly significant in the Roman Kingdom and the early Republic, but its relevance waned after the Conflict of the Orders (494 BC to 287 BC). By the time of the late Republic and Empire, membership in the patriciate was of only nominal significance. The social structure of ancient Rome revolved around the distinction between the patricians and the plebeians. The status of patricians gave them more political power than the plebeians, but the relationship between the groups eventually caused the Conflict of the Orders. This time period resulted in changing of the social structure of ancient Rome.

After the Western Empire fell, the term "patrician" continued as a high honorary title in the Eastern Empire. In many medieval Italian republics, especially in Venice and Genoa, medieval patrician classes were once again formally defined groups of leading families. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Grand Burgher families had a similar meaning. Subsequently, "patrician" became a vague term used to refer to aristocrats and the higher bourgeoisie in many countries.

Origin According to Livy, the first 100 men appointed as senators by Romulus were referred to as "fathers" (Latin patres), and the descendants of those men became the patrician class. This account is also described by Cicero.1 The appointment of these one hundred men into the Senate gave them a noble status.1 That status is what separated the patricians from the plebeians. Some accounts detail that the one hundred men were chosen because of their wisdom.1 This would coincide with the idea that ancient Rome was founded on a merit-based ideal.1 According to other opinions, the patricians (patricii) were those who could point to fathers, i.e., those who were members of the clans (gentes) whose members originally comprised the whole citizen body.2

Other noble families which came to Rome during the time of the kings were also admitted to the patriciate, including several who emigrated from Alba Longa, after that city was destroyed by Tullus Hostilius. The last-known instance of a gens being admitted to the patriciate prior to the 1st century BC was when the Claudii were added to the ranks of the patricians after coming to Rome in 504 BC, five years after the establishment of the Republic.[3][4][5][6]

The criteria for why Romulus chose certain men for this class remains contested by academics and historians, but the importance of the patrician/plebeian distinction is accounted by all as paramount to ancient Roman society. The distinction between the noble class, the patricians, and the Roman populace, the plebeians, existed from the beginning of ancient Rome.[7] This distinction became increasingly important in the society until the period of the late republic.

The patricians were given noble status when named to the Senate, giving them wider political influence than the plebeians, at least in the times of the early Republic.[8] The patricians in ancient Rome were of the same status as aristocrats in Greek society.[9] Being of the noble class meant that patricians were able to participate in government and politics, while the plebeians could not. This privilege was important in ancient Roman history and eventually caused a large divide between the two classes.

During the middle and late Republic, as this influence gradually eroded, plebeians were granted equal rights in most areas, and even greater in some. For example, only plebeians could serve as the tribune of the plebs. There were quotas for official offices. One of the two consulships was reserved for plebeians. Although being a patrician remained prestigious, it was of minimal practical importance. With the exception of some religious offices which were devoid of political power, plebeians were able to stand for all of the offices that were open to patricians. Plebeians of the senatorial class were no less wealthy than patricians at the height of the republic. Originally patrician, Publius Clodius Pulcher willingly arranged to be adopted by a plebeian family in order to qualify to be appointed as the tribune of the plebs...

Being a Tribune was the only office that a Plebeian could hold in Rome:

Tribune of the plebs, tribune of the people or plebeian tribune (Latin: tribunus plebis) was the first office of the Roman state that was open to the plebeians, and was, throughout the history of the Republic, the most important check on the power of the Roman Senate and magistrates. These tribunes had the power to convene and preside over the Concilium Plebis (people's assembly); to summon the senate; to propose legislation; and to intervene on behalf of plebeians in legal matters; but the most significant power was to veto the actions of the consuls and other magistrates, thus protecting the interests of the plebeians as a class. The tribunes of the plebs were typically found seated on special benches set up for them in the Roman Forum. The tribunes were sacrosanct, meaning that any assault on their person was punishable by death. In imperial times, the powers of the tribunate were granted to the emperor as a matter of course, and the office itself lost its independence and most of its functions.1...

Paul was (apparently, allegedly, unhistorically, per Luke-Acts) an aristocrat from birth, while the Tribune was at the bottom rung of the Roman aristocracy.

In the NT, the Jews are worthless rebels against Rome, Christ killers, the spawn of Satan and what not, but Paul was the model Roman citizen, an aristocrat with not only Jewish authority but also Roman authority. NT: Jews, bad, Romans good.

Now, hopefully we all realize that this conversation was not observed by Luke, but rather made up, to secure the favor of the aristocracy of Rome towards Christianity. The conversation never occurred, but Luke makes his point. Paul was untouchable.


2 Tim 3:16-17 The difference of how a Roman citizen got his citizenship did matter. Being "born a Roman citizen gave special rights (Acts 16:37-38, Acts 22:25-28),of citizenship which were entitlements due a born Roman Citizen giving him A right to appeal to Ceaser. Paul's citizenship and it's function in the narratives of Acts. -White rose.ac.uk" Why did it need to be pointed out? I submit, to identify Paul's Roman credentials that would be used to further God's purposes in Paul's ministry.

  • 1
    As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Apr 5 at 2:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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