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
    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
  • 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"? 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. 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. Aug 31, 2022 at 13:04

5 Answers 5


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. 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

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.

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