The first person recorded by Luke in Scripture whom the Apostle Paul converted to Christianity was a Roman proconsul by the name of Sergius Paulus, but it wasn’t until the late 19th Century that archeological evidence was unearthed which corroborated the historical accuracy of Luke’s account:
“Now when they had gone through the island [i.e. Cyprus] to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the Word of God…Then the proconsul believed…” (Acts 13:6-7, 12)
Cyprus must have been an interesting place for Paul and Barnabas to visit. The island was heavily influenced by Greek culture. It was a staging area for all sorts of Roman activities throughout the eastern Mediterranean. And, as the text suggests, it was influenced by the occult.
Their outreach to the Cypriots occurred around AD 47. Luke, the author of Acts, is careful to refer to Sergius Paulus as “proconsul.” This is the proper title for a Roman ruler sitting in authority on Cyprus at that time.
Prior to this, a Roman ruler on the island would have been referred to as a “propraetor.” In 58 BC, Cyprus was annexed by Rome. From that point forward, an appointee of the Roman emperor administered control over the island. In the Roman vernacular of the day, such a ruler would be referred to as an “imperial legate” or “propraetor.”
In 22 BC however, Rome changed the status of Cyprus from that of an annexed territory to that of a full-fledged province. Once a territory became a province, it fell under the authority of an appointee of the Roman senate. As such, a proconsul assumed ruling authority for the island.
“One of the most remarkable tokens of [Luke’s] accuracy is his sure familiarity with the proper titles of all the notable persons who are mentioned…Cyprus, for example, which was an imperial province until 22 BC, became a senatorial province in that year, and was therefore governed no longer by an imperial legate (a propraetor) but by a proconsul. And so, when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Cyprus about AD 47, it was the proconsul Sergius Paulus whom they met…1
Luke is not just accurate in his use of titles. Historians and archeologists have collected evidence for the existence of this particular proconsul.
In 1877, an archeological dig was taking place in the area near ancient Paphos on Cyprus. Supervising the excavation was Luigi Palma di Cesnola. Cesnola had been a Medal of Honor recipient for his efforts during the American Civil War. After the war ended, he was appointed U.S. Consul in Cyprus. Once there, he led a number of excavations. (Incidentally, he would eventually be named the first curator of New York’s Metropolitan Museum.) He located an inscription that proved a proconsul named Paulus did exist. The inscription was in a marble block that was used to consecrate a monument in the first century, and it read as follows:
“Apollonius to his father…consecrated this enclosure and monument according to his family’s wishes…having filled the offices of clerk of the market, prefect, town-clerk, high priest, and having been in charge as manager of the records office. Erected on the 25th of the month Demarchexusius in the 13th year (of the reign of Claudius). He also altered the senate by means of assessors during the time of the proconsul Paulus.
The 13th year of the reign of Claudius would be AD 54, or just after the time of Paul and Barnabas’ visit. It could be that he is one in the same as the Sergius Paulus who was reached out to by Paul and Barnabas.
Additional evidence for the existence of Sergius Paulus comes from a first century Roman source. Pliny the Elder, as history refers to him, was a Roman naval commander who lived from AD 23-79. He was also a statesman, naturalist, and historian. A good deal of what we know about ancient Rome comes from his writings. Being in such influential positions, he came to personally know many of the important Roman political figures of the day.
In his discussions on Cyprus, Pliny reveals one more detail that is pertinent to Luke’s account in Acts 13: “There existed different groups of magicians from the time of Moses such as Jannes and Lotape, of whom the Jews had spoken of. And in fact many thousands yearly follow after Zoroastrian ways especially during recent times on the Island of Cyprus.”
Here, Pliny confirms the presence of magicians (or what Luke calls sorcerers) on Cyprus in the first century. They were so prominent that he actually gives them a place in his discussion of the island.
Before we leave Sergius Paulus, one more item is worth reviewing. Scripture tells us Asia Minor was the next place Paul and Barnabas journeyed to after leaving Cyprus. In fact, they headed specifically toward Antioch in Pisidia (see Acts 13:13f).
An inscription is on display in the Yalvac Museum within Turkey that was found in the vicinity of Pisidian Antioch. The whole word Paulii and portions of Sergii are visible on it. It would seem that the family of Sergius Paulus had a large estate in this area. The inscription itself may even be a reference to the proconsul. Maybe Paul and Barnabas headed there at the request of the Roman commander with the hopes of leading his family to Christ.
Here are some figures that are worth noting about the book of Acts. Luke identifies 110 individuals by name. Many of these have been verified in history through some extra-biblical source. In addition, Luke references 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 islands. Every one of these has now been located archeologically with certainty, with the possible exception of Phoenix (mentioned in Acts 27:12 as a port on Crete).
Sir W. M. Ramsay, a 19th-century English historian, held a pervasive anti-biblical bias and believed the historical accounts in the Book of Acts were written in the mid-2nd century. Ramsay was skeptical of Luke’s authorship and the historicity of the Book of Acts, and he set out to prove his suspicions.
He began a detailed study of the archaeological evidence, and eventually came to an illuminating conclusion: The historical and archaeological evidence supported Luke’s first-century authorship and historical reliability.
In his 1895 book, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, Ramsay was forced to concede, “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense… In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
This upgrades Luke from the Fantasy section to place it in Historical Fiction. It does not prove the existence of Paul as a person at all.
In your essay you claim to provide ‘historical and archeological evidence’ for a historical Paul the Apostle. However, thing is you do not have any. You refer to a Roman proconsul in Cyprus named Sergius Paulus mentioned in the Book of Acts. The character you refer to is to be found in Acts 13:6-12 and his name from the Greek transcription (Σεργίῳ Παύλῳ) is indeed Sergio Paulo or in the Latin form Sergius Paulus (or Paullus). So far, so good.
Next you refer to Roman inscpritures with the name of this very proconsul to proove his historicity and conversely the existence of a historical Paul the Apostle who, according to the Book of Acts, met this proconsul on Cyprus to convert him to Christianity. Let us keep in mind that the Book of Acts supposedly was written in the time between 90-130 AD, about 30-70 years after the assumed death of Paul.
A closer look at these inscriptions shows us three different ones:
1. an inscription found in Northern Cyprus however from the 2nd Century AD, thus excluded as a reference by historians
2. another inscription found in Cyprus with the name of one Ouintus Sergius, proconsul under Caligula
3. a third inscription from Rome with the name of L.Sergius Paulus, curator of the Tiber
The peculiar thing with Roman names is that there are three of them: pronomen-nomen-cognomen like in Gaius Julius Caesar i.e. gens is Julii, Gaius first name and Caesar is the third element (cognomen). So the character from the Book of Acts obviously is from gens Sergeii, cognomen Paulus. That is all we know, no first name given. Now this can either be Quintus Sergius (Paulus) or L(ucius) Sergius Paulus. The first one was proconsul under Caligula 37-41 AD, thus earlier than the supposed trip of Paul the Apostle to Cyprus. From L.Sergius Paulus all we know from the inscription is that in 47 AD he became curator of the Tiber in Rome. It should be noted that neither Cyprus nor Paul the Apostle nor a christian curator were mentioned anywhere.
Furthermore it is interesting that Paul in his letter to the Romans (one of the seven documents from the time between 50 and 60 AD thus within the supposed lifetime of Paul and assigned to him personally) did not greet or mention proconsul Sergius Paulus but 25 different folks. This seems surprising provided that Paul really met him on Cyprus and successfully converted him to Christianity.
Only 10-15 years after the assumed death of Jesus Christianity was in dire straits and despised as well as combatted by the Romans. Is it really a viable option that Paul converted a high-ranking Roman statesman while being in a Roman province?
However let us assume that it really was L.Sergius Paulus who was pronconsul of Cyprus and Paul really met him, regardless of the question if he did convert him to Christianity. Then all you have is proof that at this time existed a proconsul of Cyprus named L.Sergius Paulus. Period. The Holy Bible is no historical document or scientifc paper but a volume of stories embedded in a more or less correct historical context. We find high-ranking characters like Tiberius or Pontius Pilate as well as cities, landscapes, customs or events that really did exist at this time. It is for example seen as a historical fact that at this time the Romans occupied Judea and Jerusalem and destroyed the city in 70 AD.
However even if we assume that L.Sergius Paulus was a historical person it is not possible to logically deduce from this fact that Paul the Apostle was a historical figure as well. This is false reasoning as you cannot deduce the existence of a certain person from the existence of a second one just because it is written that they met somewhere in a story drafted by a third person much later. Unless of course you are a strong believer and see the Holy Bible as the only source of truth. Then however there would be no need to look for further evidence to support your point, you just may believe what is written in the Book of Acts and that’s that.
Don’t get me wrong, I am neutral an neither am I an atheist nor a zelous believer and would indeed be happy if someone found real historical evidence on the existence of Paul. Just like Tacitus or the Testimonium Flavianus are valuable sources on the existence of a historical Jesus. So far I did not find anyone who presented a similar non-biblical source but let us keep our fingers crossed and our eyes open.
Regarding the three inscriptions, what prevents the first one from having been done by local Christians after Paul’s lifetime? Is it on a public building, or the home of the man referenced? If the latter, couldn’t he have simply been younger and/or lived longer than Paul?
Amen, and thank you very much! It seems to me Sergius Paulus adopted Saul for saving his eternal life from the sorcerer Elymus ‘bar Jesus’, making him a ‘naturalized’ Roman (as from Acts 13 onward he is called ‘Paul’). Paul being Native Born Roman seems implausible having studied at the feet of the great Gamaliel, and he never mentions Roman citizenship when writing of his origins. Similarly, as Josephus Flavius had been born Yosef ben Metatyahu and later adopted by emperor Vespasian (family name Flavius), and even took first name Titus after Vespasian’s son Titus, to become Titus Josephus Flavius, Paul’s citizenship/adoption was a common practice among Senate class Romans to show great gratitude.
I’m a decon at a non-denominational christian church in Florida, USA. I do research and Theological study among other mission work. But always promoting Gods story and His truth to be told. I find this article great for support of the Book of Acts and before I give high accolades to the archeological evidence I would like support. So do you have a refrence list for these archeological digs and confirmations? Back up information and catalogues.
If you do, I would have new material for proclaiming the truth of the gospel.
Please send me, asap, the refrence list for all confirmations and claims of all 110 individuals, 34 countries, 52 cities and 9 islands and any other corroboration of evidence that Lukes account is historically accurate. So very awesome indeed.
Christians For Truth
Jim, you should be able to find the material you’re looking for at the following links:
(((they))) keep trying and trying – been at it for 2000 years – yet the veracity of Scripture is constantly being proven.
However, somehow, WE just keep stumbling along, listening to the jew and their minions like hagee and hinn… as it is written ‘ AWAKE AWAKE! oh daughter of Zion and clothe yourself with strength.’
It makes me tingle all over with joy every time the historical veracity of the Bible is proven. 2000 years later, and the jews still can’t disprove one iota of it – so they lie about it and have usurped its heritage for themselves so Christians would not look any further into it than cursory inspection of the NT.