Related to https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/8024/3195 I want to know more information about Paul's family.

According to Acts 23:6 Paul's father was a pharisee:

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

He had a sister and his sister had a son (Acts 23:16):

And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.

According to 1 Corinthians 7:8 I undertand that he hadn't a wife:

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.

Are there any documents/Bible passages that can give us more information about his family?

3 Answers 3


LONG ANSWER: As I understand it, we know nothing else about Paul's family, other than what Acts 23:6 indicates - this verse tells us that Paul's nephew, and thus probably his sister also, cared about him. The fact that the plot became known to Paul's nephew, might be taken as an indication that he was not a Christian and thus still hung in orthodox Jewish circles and had not yet been kicked out of them. It may also be that his Christianity was simply not known to them.

Pharisees would marry at an early age - an unmarried man was by some rabbis not considered a man at all. Other said that God said of those who turned 20 without being married, "cursed be his bones." Moreover, it was seen as man's duty to reproduce - to have at least two kids (some said one boy and one girl, while others said at least two boys). Thus Paul, as a Pharisee, would have been married. In 1 Cor 7:8 and 9:5 ("Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?"), we learn that Paul was unmarried - thus either his wife had died, or they had divorced - perhaps because his wife couldn't take the radical change which was Christianity.

Moreover, we learn about Paul's mother in Rom 16:13: Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Except this verse isn't about Paul's literal mother, but about Rufus' mother who has been "like a mother" to Paul. Similarly Paul's "son" was Timothy (1Tim 1a), and his "brothers" were fellow believers. His "Father" is God. Though I suspect that's not answering the question to the asker's satisfaction.

Paul's children are nowhere mentioned, so either 1) they were not an important part of Paul's missionary activity, or 2) they didn't exist. Either of the two are possible.

Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1-3). Thus his great great great great (etc.) grandfather was Benjamin, second son of Rachel and Jacob.

SHORT ANSWER: No. Saying anything other than what is specifically stated in Acts 23 and 1Cor 7:8 is pure speculation.

  • A Rabbinic citation for men to be married by 20 is Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 29b and 30a sets the minimum age at 16 or 18 at the latest. My summary doesn't have the phrase "cursed be his bones" there or I would edit it in. Mine has "God is angry at him."
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:36
  • I do not see that the Talmud Bavli is relevant to the beliefs of the Pharisees in the Second Temple period. How do you know that the Pharisees married at an early age? Why do you mention "rabbis" in a Second Temple context?
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 19:06
  • @fdb Are you objecting to my assumption that much of the Talmud originated before the time of Jesus? Or are you saying that though the Talmud existed, it did not have much impact on mainstream second temple Judaism? Also: I'm not sure why you object to my mention of rabbis. I'd like to answer your objections, but first I have to understand them. Please be more specific.
    – Niobius
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 18:39
  • The majority view is that the Mishna was written around 200 of the Christian era. It is a document of Rabbinic Judaism, which emerged after the destruction of the Second Temple. “Rabbi” was not used to designate a clergyman in the Second Temple period.
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 18:49

In addition, we know that he was born in Tarsus of Cilicia but raised in Jerusalem. Paul states this in Acts 22:3 where he adds he was trained as a Pharisee "at the feet of" Rabban Gamaliel the Elder. As he was "brought up" in Jerusalem, one may conclude his family moved there when Paul was young.

Whether his biological father was a Pharisee or Paul is referring to Gamaliel is an open question. In Hebrew speech and literature, "sons" does not have to mean a biological relation. It may be used metaphorically in the sense of "followers" or "disciples" (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis 1:671; Jastrow, p. 176).


What do we know about Paul's family?

Paul was a Roman citizen:

Paul the Roman Citizen. “Saul, who is also called Paul” (Acts 13:9), was born about the beginning of the Christian era in Tarsus, the principal city of Cilicia in southeast Asia Minor (9:11; 22:3). His description of himself as a “Hebrew” (2 Cor. 11:22), “a Hebrew born of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), shows that his parents though living in Diaspora among the Greeks were far from being assimilationist Jews, but remained faithful to the language and customs of Palestinian Jewry. An incidental confirmation of this is Paul’s statement in Acts 26:14 that the voice on the Damascus road addressed him “in the Hebrew [probably Aramaic] language” — probably because Hebrew was Paul’s mother tongue rather that because it was Jesus’ habitual speech. According to Jerome (De viris illustribus, 5) Paul’s ancestors belonged to Gischala in Galilee and migrated to Tarsus at the time of the Roman conquest of Palestine (63 B.C.); the accuracy of this tradition is uncertain. Although born into an orthodox Jewish family Paul was born a Roman citizen (22:28); thus his father must have been a Roman citizen before him.

How the citizenship came into Paul’s family is not known. Paul’s native Cilicia fell within the provincia of more than one Roman general in the 1st cent B.C. — e.g., Pompey and Antony — and the grant of citizenship to approved individuals was included in the imperium conferred on these generals by law. But whether one of these generals or someone else granted Roman citizenship to Paul’s family and why it was so granted are unknown. In a letter dated February 18, 1953, Sir William Calder said of Paul: “Had not his father (or possibly grandfather) been made a citizen by Antony or Pompey? Were they not a firm of skēnopoioi [tentmakers], able to be very useful to a fighting proconsul?” This suggestion is as reasonable as any that could be made on this point, but the evidence is uncertain.

As a Roman citizen Paul had three names — praenomen (first name), nomen gentile (family name), and cognomen (additional name) — but only his cognomen, Paullus, is known. His nomen gentile if known might give some clue to the circumstances of his family’s acquisition of the citizenship (for new citizens commonly assumed their patron’s nomen gentile). His cognomen may have been chosen because of its assonance with his Jewish name Saul — Heb. Šāʾûl, in the NT sometimes spelled Saoul and more often Saulos, the latter form rhyming with Gk Paulos. Since he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5) his parents may have named him Saul after the most illustrious member of that tribe in their nation’s history, Israel’s first king.

On more than one occasion Paul appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen — at Philippi (Acts 16:37), to protest his having been beaten with rods by the lictors attendant on the chief magistrates of the colony before he had received a proper trial; some years later, at Jerusalem (22:25), to avoid being scourged (much more murderous than a beating with rods) by authorities who wanted to know how he had enraged the Jews in the temple court. He later availed himself of his citizen rights when he appealed to Caesar (25:11).... The rights of Roman citizens were laid down in a long succesion of laws (most recently the lex Julia de vi publica), going back traditionally to the lex Valeria of 509 B.C. They included exemption from certain ignominious forms of punishment, protection against summary execution, and the right of appeal to the sovereign authority.

When a man claimed his citizen rights — when he said civis Romanus sum (“I am a Roman citizen”) or its equivalent in Greek — how did he prove his claim? Certainly it was a capital offense to claim falsely to be a Roman citizen, but how did an official know whether the claim was true? A new citizen might have a duly witnessed copy of his certificate of citizenship; auxiliary soldiers received such a document when they were enfranchised, and civilians may have been given something similar. But Paul was not a new citizen. He might, however, have produced a diptych containing a certified copy of his birth registration. Each legitimate child of a Roman citizen had to be registered within (it appears) thirty days of birth (cf. F. Schulz, Journal of Roman Studies, 32 [1942], 78ff; 33 [1943], 55ff).

If he lived in the provinces, his father or some duly appointed agent made a declaration in the appropriate record office that the child was a Roman citizen (civem Romanum esse professus est); the declaration was recorded in the official register, and the father or agent received a copy in diptych form, properly certified by witnesses.

It is doubtful that an itinerant Roman citizen customarily carried this diptych around with him. F. Schulz was sure that Paul did so and produced it for corroboration when he claimed civic privileges (Journal of Roman Studies, 33 [1943], 63f). A. N. Sherwin-White, however, thought it more likely that such certificates were normally kept in the family archives (Roman Society and Roman Law in the NT [1963], p. 149; cf. Roman Citizenship [1939]).

A further point to consider is that registration of Roman citizens at birth was apparently enacted by the lex Aelia Sentia of A.D. 4 and the lex Papia Poppaea of 9; if Paul was born even a year or two before the earlier enactment, he might not have been registered in this way.


This information on Paul the Roman Citizen was taken, in its entirety, from F.F. Bruce, "Paul the Apostle", in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 3: K-P, ed. by. G. Bromiley (Eerdmans, 1995), pages 709-710.

  • 1
    It should be noted that this is basically F.F. Bruce, New Testament History (Doubleday, 1971), pp. 234-236, which in part reproduces material from his earlier article, “St. Paul in Rome, Part 1,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 46/2 (1964): 326-345 (see pp. 333-336). There are two reasons for noting the source: (1) to give credit where credit is due; and (2) to enable interested readers to follow up in the original source. Perhaps this came mediated, though, because there are some odd errors (so, reason #3!) which are hard to explain otherwise.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 0:47
  • Hi DrFry and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics--Stack Exchange. I'm going to delete this answer for the moment, since we really are serious about attribution. If you edit this answer to show what you quoted and from where (and provide a little context explaining how the quotation answers the question), we can see about undeleting this answer for you. Feel free to flag a moderator when you're done editing. Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 1:16
  • Just to add my 2p worth, this is a good answer and interesting material, and quoting sources is not only fine but actively encouraged. It is helpful to indicate which parts are quotations and to attribute them though. Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 7:28

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