Saul met Jesus on the Damascus Road in Acts 9. The murderer became the defender. The Pharisee became the grace addict. The persecutor because the persecuted. As the scales of deception fell from his eyes, Saul was awakened to the truth of the gospel, and he was never the same.
But we don’t have a record of God telling him to change his name to Paul. That wasn’t part of Jesus’ commissioning of him, nor do we get any personal thoughts on his altered moniker in his writings. In fact, the only thing we know about the name change comes with a small reference some 4 chapters later, almost dropped in incidentally to the text: “Then Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 13:9). Yet history knows this great teacher and apologist, this author of the bulk of the New Testament, this missionary of missionaries not as Saul – but as Paul.
I suppose you could argue it was a marketing move. A way to distance himself from the man that he once was, in order to further his future ministry.
Or perhaps it was symbolic in Saul/Paul’s mind – a tangible means of showing just how different he had become in Christ.
Perhaps both. But also perhaps there is something in the name itself. See, Paul means “small.”
That’s really different than the connotation of “Saul.” Saul means “asked for.” That’s the name of the first king of Israel, the one the people cried out for when they rejected God as their kind and wanted a human leader like that of the other nations. And Saul certainly fit the bill:
“There was an influential man of Benjamin named Kish son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, son of a Benjaminite. He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man. There was no one more impressive among the Israelites than he. He stood a head taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 9:1-2).
Did you get that? Saul, the one who was “asked for,” looked the part of a king. He was impressive. He was handsome. And more than anything else, his defining characteristic was that he was tall. Really tall. In fact, this is the only time in the Old Testament where an Israelite is described like this.
Saul was tall. Not just all in stature either. Saul, as history would bear out, was pretty tall in his opinion of himself. After all, he was the chosen one. He was the first king. He was the conquering hero.
And he was the one who was threatened by David’s success. He was the one who took on the role of the priest rather than waiting for Samuel. He was the one who constantly acted on his base desires and impulses rather than waiting faithfully on the Lord.
Saul was indeed tall.
And maybe his namesake didn’t feel very tall any more. He had lived like that – a Pharisee simultaneously justifying himself before God and proud of his righteousness before men. He had lived tall, but confronted with the truth of the gospel, he didn’t want to any more.
He knew now just how small he was. And that the “small” was just who Jesus was looking for.