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In Acts 16:37 we read that Paul was Roman (emphasis mine)

But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.

And in Acts 22:3 we read that he was born in Tarsus (Cilícia)

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

How did he become a Roman citizen, if he was born in Tarsus?


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Paul was born a Roman citizen:

And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born (Acts 22:28).

This means that a) Paul's father was a citizen and or b) Tarsus was a free city in which every free man born there was a citizen. The commentators are divided on which possibility is preferred:

For example from Ellicott:

This implies that St. Paul’s father or grandfather had received the citizenship; how, we cannot tell. Many of the Jews who were taken to Rome by Pompeius as slaves first obtained their freedom and became libertini, and afterwards were admitted on the register as citizens...The mention of kinsmen or friends at Rome...makes it probable, as has been said, that the Apostle’s father may have been among them. (Ellicott also points out that at this time in history it was the Emperor's prerogative to make someone a citizen)

From Gill's:

Paul said, but I was free born; being born at Tarsus; which, as Pliny says, 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.

(Note that the significance of Tarsus being a free city is disputed)

In either case, it is very likely that Paul's father was a citizen. We are not told how one of Paul's ancestors obtained this privilege. Per commentaries by Jamieson-Fausset-Brown & by Meyer, possibilities include:

  • Some special service to the empire
  • Purchase (perhaps legal, perhaps by bribing an official)
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    Simple, straight-forward answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Feb 26, 2022 at 19:14
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    @Dottard thank you. You are up quite early today! Feb 26, 2022 at 19:21
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    Yes - I have a big day today with relatives, etc so needed an early start.
    – Dottard
    Feb 26, 2022 at 19:25

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