Paul’s Roman Citizenship

This entry is part 458 of 507 in the series Inquiring Minds
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How was Paul a Roman?

Like many in the Roman Empire, Paul had dual citizenship. He was both a citizen of the Jewish nation of Israel and a citizen of the Roman Empire. Roman citizenship was endowed in at least three ways.

First, a person could be a native Roman citizen, born in a Roman province. Another approach was to buy Roman citizenship, perhaps as a person was coming out of slavery. A third option was to be adopted by a Roman citizen.

Augustus, the second Emperor of Rome was actually adopted by Julius Caesar and made his heir. Roman adoption was a legal way to confer the rights of a son and true Roman citizenship. Roman citizenship could also be bought. We see an example of this when the Roman Tribune in Jerusalem says he bought his Roman citizenship for a large sum (Acts 22:28).

Paul informs him that he was born a Roman citizen. How can this be? How can Paul be both a Jewish citizen and Roman one? He was born in a Roman province. This makes him a dual citizen, another way to become a Roman citizen. First, he is Jewish by birth. He can go to Palestine and be considered a Jewish citizen.

But he is also a Roman citizen by birth in a Roman province. Tarsus was a city in the region of Cilicia, part of the Roman province of Asia Minor. Because Paul was born in a Roman province, he was considered a Roman citizen.

He used his Roman citizenship to his advantage to get him an opportunity to go to Rome. He believed it was his goal to stand before the Roman Emperor and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only way to do this when he got into troubles in Jerusalem was to declare his Roman citizenship.

When he was flogged, he asked the Roman Tribune if it was right to flog a Roman citizen. Roman citizens had higher rights than the native peoples. They were not allowed to be flogged without their case being heard by the Roman Caesar.

So when Paul is flogged for causing a riot in Jerusalem, he appeals to his Roman citizenship. They apparently didn’t even ask him if he was Roman citizen before they violated his rights. This gave him the ability to appeal to Caesar, to go the whole way to Rome. This was the way he would preach the gospel to the Roman Emperor.

Paul’s ultimate goal was probably to see if the Roman Caesar would become a Christian. If that were so, the way the ancient world worked was that everyone in the house of the house leader, in this case the Roman Emperor, would be considered reached by the message of the gospel.

Time and time again in the book of Acts we see entire houses coming to Christ because of the leader of the house, usually the father. If the Roman Emperor became Christian, all of Rome would have been considered to have been reached by the gospel through Paul’s proclamation.

This doesn’t mean that every individual was considered a Christian if the Roman Emperor accepted Christ. But the message would then be proclaimed, probably by decree, to every person in every province.

This would have been the biggest win of Paul’s missionary career. So this was his goal, to set out to Rome and explain why the riot happened in Jerusalem. He was proclaiming the gospel there, which would give him reason to do so in front of the Roman Caesar as part of his defense.

Paul’s dual citizenship as a Jew and a Roman allows him free reign throughout the Roman Empire. As he traveled to different provinces, he was a Roman citizen. But when he needed to go to Jerusalem anywhere in Palestine, uses Jewish citizenship to speak to the people as he did in Acts 22-23.

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