Was St. Paul a Poor Tentmaker?

The article below is excerpted from Dr. Kinnaman’s book, Out of the Dust, published in 1945. We discovered this excerpt reprinted in our copy of the March 2000 issue of The Kingdom Digest, which is now defunct.

We have provided some brief biographical information about this noted Bible Archeologist and Christian scholar, Dr. John O. Kinnaman, at the end of his essay.

Can A Biography of St. Paul Be Written?

By J.O. Kinnaman, Ph. D., D. D.

Scarcely has any man had so much written concerning him as St. Paul. The number of books relating to him has never been counted, so far as I know, and there has never been a concurrence in final results of all or any of the writers.

The question has often occurred to the writer. Can a biography of St. Paul be written? The answer to the question must always be relative, because of the fact that research and archaeology are always finding new data concerning the great apostle, and all materials, both old and new, must be ever rearranged into a new pattern.

Then, will this new pattern ever take a permanent form? In other words, shall we finally arrive at a time when either we shall know all about Paul, or have finally, exhausted all possible sources of information concerning him? We have not yet arrived at either point in time, for new data is coming to us at the present, and sources seem not to be exhausted.

Let us in this chapter summarize, as far as possible, the life of the apostle, and glance at the recent discoveries regarding his life.

Most people have an entirely erroneous notion regarding the city in which Paul was born, Tarsus. Somehow the average conception is that it was an inconsequential provincial town located somewhere in Asia Minor. But such a conception is entirely wrong. It was provincial in that it was located in one of the provinces of the Roman Empire, but there the figure ends.

Tarsus was a city of great importance to the Roman Empire as a whole, in that it was a great port of entry for commerce from the west i.e., European commerce; at the same time, it was at this port that a great caravan route from India ended. Here the exchange in world commerce took place.

(Tarsus is at the confluence of the red lines at 35 degrees longitude and ca. 37 degrees latitude. Photo from my copy of A Bible Atlas, copyrighted 1928, now in public domain.)

Not only was it a great center of world-commerce, but in its roads anchored the home fleet of the Empire’s navy. Let us get this thoroughly in mind, and then we can more easily understand Paul’s reference to it.

On the cultural side of life, the city was not a sluggard, but a leader in the educational tempo of the Empire. Here was located the greatest Greek University that ever existed. The reader may ask: Was not the University of Athens, with its magnificent history, the superior of all institutions of learning?”

The answer must be, No.” The University of Tarsus was the most complete and outstanding institution of higher learning up to that time. Kindly bear this in mind as you read.

Tarsus stands today about fifteen miles from the sea, on the, banks of the river Tagus. The river meanders through the great naval roads, now changed into a great swamp, where the frogs hold nightly concerts, and finally sluggishly reaches the sea. Sixty percent of the city of the time of Paul is still standing while forty percent is covered by earth bearing olive and other fruit trees.

Here, two years later than the birth of our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the man we usually know as St. Paul was born and named by his family Saul. The father did that which no Jew had dared do for more than 1100 years — he named his firstborn son for the first king of the organized Hebrew State, Saul. He removed the taboo” that had attached to the name, and gave the boy an unasked distinction.

If we could settle the exact date of the birth of Jesus, we could also establish the birthday of Paul; but we all know the disputes over chronology, and all that we can say with any assurance is that Paul was about two years younger than Jesus.

We do not positively know the name of Paul’s father, but it is generally agreed that he was called Kish. We have not time nor space to enter into a discussion of the matter, but the name may be accepted, tentatively, for the purpose of narrative.

Evidence seems to point to the fact that Paul had a sister twelve years older than he. What her name was cannot even be conjectured. But that is nonessential.

Paul’s father was a Roman citizen. Whether his grandfather was is a matter of dispute at the present with no archaeological evidence. How the man became a citizen is also a question that cannot be authentically answered as yet. There were many methods, by which he could acquire citizenship.

Which was his particular method cannot be stated. But the fact that he was a citizen throws extensive light upon another phase of Roman law, and life. This man, the father of Paul, could not have been a poor, poverty-stricken individual.

The fact that he was provincial and of a race not Roman, yet a Roman citizen, establishes the fact that he must have possessed some wealth. For 1,500 years it has been popularly believed that Paul was a poor man and forced to labor with his hands, tent-making, to support himself. But this is an entirely erroneous belief.

Some several decades ago the majority of high schools in the U. S. A., through the Smith-Hughes Bill, put courses in the schools for instructing and training girls in domestic science.” Then the Forgotten Boy” was remembered, and he was given manual training.” That was nothing new at all.

A thousand years before our Savior was born, it was a Hebrew law that each Hebrew boy must learn and master some manual art, or trade. The Roman government, knowing of that regulation, thought it a very fine thing, and a law was passed that affected the Roman youth in the same manner. Thus, Paul was caught between the blades of the scissors: he was a Hebrew and a Roman. He must learn some useful trade.

It happened that Paul’s father owned and operated a factory for the manufacture of military tents that went to the Roman government. The man was thrifty, and had his own flocks as well as the factory. Paul learned the trade nearest to hand.

The father was ambitious for his son and wanted him to be what we would today call a lawyer. So, the child was sent to two schools in the city in which he was born: the school of the Rabbis, and the Greek Military School, where the American college now stands.

Thus, Paul learned the language and literature of the Hebrews and, at the same time, the broad held of Greek culture adapted to his age. While attending the Greek Gymnasium, Paul, of course, took military training. Thus, we can easily understand why Paul wrote so familiarly regarding armor, weapons and other military equipment, and from whence he derived some of his startling figures of speech.

At about the age of twelve or thirteen, Paul had completed the preparatory schools of his city, and was ready to attend the university. The university which his father wished the boy to attend was located in Jerusalem, and its descendant now bears the title of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.”

In the meantime, the sister had married a man living in Jerusalem, and she actually went there to live. When Paul wished to attend the university, he went to live with his sister. Like modern university men, he would periodically visit home and home folk.

On these journeys, he would pass through Damascus, where one of his instructors lived, Shammai by name. The house in which he lived is still standing and the furnishings have been kept as nearly as possible as they were when the famous Doctor of Laws owned it.

It is interesting to note that Paul came under the teachings of two men with diametrically opposite philosophies. One was a liberal,” and the other a conservative.” Gamaliel, the President of the university, was a gentle, thoughtful, loving man, while Shammai was exactly the opposite. These were the two who had more influence upon shaping the character and outlook of Paul than any other men. Paul was very much inclined to the teachings of Gamaliel.

In due season, Paul graduated” from the university and received his degree in law. Just what he did immediately afterwards is a matter of conjecture, not knowledge. It is probable that he remained in Jerusalem, and, he may have played at what we now call politics. Ultimately, he was appointed a member of the Sanhedrin, the legislative body of the Hebrew people.

To be appointed a member of this legislative body, one must be a graduate lawyer (Hebrew), and must be a married man, preferably one with children. Paul apparently qualified in all respects excepting the children. With him in the Sanhedrin was the one who was to be the first martyr of the church, Stephen, later known as St. Stephen.

It seems strange that Jesus and Paul never met face to face in Jerusalem since each spent considerable time there and each visited the Temple when the other must have been present. It is usually taken for granted that they never met until that day on the road to Damascus. But is that the fact in the case?

There is one scene portrayed in the Gospels that may answer that question. The rich young ruler who came to Jesus to inquire about eternal life and turned away sorrowfully when told what to do, may well have been Paul.

When we stop to realize that Paul either wrote or supervised the writing of seventy-five percent of the entire New Testament, we are more than ever inclined to consider this rich young ruler none other than Paul. Now I am not saying that the young man was Paul, but through the law of probabilities, it easily could have been so.

It was through the influence of Paul that Stephen was martyred. Paul guarded the cloaks of those who stoned the martyr to death. Paul never forgot that scene so long as he lived. It haunted him to his dying day. That act was the beginning of his persecution of the church.

Let us remember that Paul was a Roman citizen and had all the privileges and responsibilities of a Roman. He applied to the authorities of Palestine to go to Damascus for the purpose of arresting any who could be proven to belong to the hated sect, Christians, and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.

We must remember that the authorities in Palestine had no jurisdiction over the territory in which Damascus is located, and their warrant of arrest would not be honored in that city.

Only a Roman arresting officer could go and bring back to Jerusalem anyone wanted there. If that be true, then at this point the question intrudes itself: Was Paul a Roman FBI man? We allow the reader to draw his own conclusion regarding the matter.

With his task before him, Paul set out for Damascus, one hundred and eighty miles away by the shortest route. I have often been asked: How did Paul make that journey? Most people, if you ask them, say that Paul went on horseback and fell from his horse.

But Paul does not say anything about a horse, or any animal for that matter. The idea of Paul riding a horse is one of those popular notions” derived, as is usual in such cases, from the painting of some artist.

Acts 26:14 gives the account, and it reads as follows: And when we were all fallen to the earth…” The English translation here is very close to the Greek text, and there is no variant in the oldest known texts.

Of course, Paul could have been riding a horse; but he also could have been riding a camel, or he could have been walking. The fact is, his mode of transportations is unknown, and he does not give us any hint regarding it.

We shall not recount that which befell Paul in Damascus, for that is well known and needs no comment. But what became of him for at least the next five years? There are several blank periods in the life of Paul that the New Testament account does not cover.

Of course, the New Testament account does not pretend to be a biography, but to give mere high lights” in the long and eventful life of a very busy man. Luke, when he wrote some of the Acts of some of the apostles, did exactly that thing. He handpicked the events that would emphasize and illustrate the facts he wished to set forth.

Therefore, we may well expect these gaps in the continuity of the life-story of the man whom we are studying. Did Paul go directly back to Jerusalem, as appears at one place in the Acts, or was the going to Jerusalem some years after the time of his escape from Damascus?

If he went directly back to Jerusalem, was he running the risk that he would have incurred by remaining in Damascus? If you were in the same situation, what would YOU do?

It seems to me that the best reconstruction of the movements of Paul after his escape from the Syrian city is that he took the caravan route directly south to the hidden but classical city of Petra, a city that lies hidden within the walls of an extinct volcano.

This city was begun by the caveman, taken over by the ancient Egyptian about the IVth Dynasty, and became a great outpost for the Empire at the crossroads of several great caravan routes. For centuries Egypt held this post; then, in the breaking up of the Middle Kingdom, it passed to others.

Finally, it came under Greek influence, and it was during this era that the most beautiful of its buildings were carved from the cliffs. The most outstanding one is, in literature, called a temple; but it was not a temple unless one wishes to call a great library by such a name. The name great library” scarcely expresses its importance.

It was in this hidden city, so most Biblical Archaeologists maintain, that Paul spent the next several years of his life after fleeing Damascus (some say ten, while others concede only five years; I am inclined to support the five-year tenure). Here Paul studied and meditated and prayed that he might be led aright regarding his chief calling in life.

We must now get a little more of Paul’s background from an educational viewpoint. After Paul graduated from the University of Palestine at Jerusalem, he went right back to his native city, Tarsus, and entered the Greek University of Tarsus.

This was the greatest Greek University in the world at that time. In addition to its regular literary courses, it gave Roman Law. Athenodorus, the onetime tutor of Emperor Augustus, was its President. Here Paul completed his university work.

There is evidence that Paul could speak, read and write eighteen different languages (I do not mean dialects but languages), and there seems to be evidence that he was master of a nineteenth one. He also studied Roman Law, and became one of the greatest jurists that the Roman Empire ever produced.

Paul was the most highly educated man the world ever saw — Aristotle, Plato and others not excepted. He produced a philosophy and a theology that has never been surpassed.

His works have been studied, commented upon and written about for the past two thousand years, and are still being lived, written about, argued about and discussed today even more than ever before, while the Greek and other philosophers are remembered only by the specialist or by the bored Greek student.

Paul finally left Petra, fully satisfied as to his future course of action, filled with the Holy spirit, and determined to run his course” regardless of where it might lead.

It is generally conceded that Paul arrived in the City of Rome during January, 61 A. D. He landed at Puteoli (Pozzuoli), and walked over the Via Appia, one hundred and eighty miles, to Rome, where he was handed over by Julius, the Centurion of the XIth Legion, to Afranius Burro, Prefect of the Praetorium.

He was given what we now call bail,” for he was a Roman citizen and as such was entitled to that privilege. After two years, no accusers had come forth to challenge his appeal to Caesar (the Supreme Court of the Roman Empire), and, he was restored to his full rights as a Roman in November or December 63 A. D.

The Fire of Rome” occurred while Paul was in Rome. This fire began June 18th, 64 A.D., and caused the first persecution of the Christians. He was not molested during the first phase of this persecution, so far as can be determined.

If this be true, then the question arises: When was Paul martyred? Tradition says 67 A.D. So far as present knowledge is concerned, we must say we do not know the true date.

Dr. Lanciani, the most famous of all Roman archaeologists, says that St. Paul was executed, beheaded, on the Via Laurentina, near some springs known as Aquae Silviae, where at present is a memorial chapel built in the fifth century. Tradition has it that Paul was beheaded beneath the boughs of a stone pine” tree.

One of the group of buildings here is the church of St. Paolo alle Tre Fontane. Behind this chapel a cache of coins of Nero was found in 1875, and several fossilized pine cones were unearthed.

The matron Lucina claimed the body of Paul from the executioner, and placed it in one of her catacombs on the east side of the Via Ostiensis, back of the apse of the present church, where the sandstone cliffs rise 126 feet above the valley of the Tiber.

There the body remained until the persecution of Valerian (253-260 A. D.) What followed? In the Calendar Bucherianum, under date of June 29th, 258 A.D., is this entry:

Tertio Kalendas Julias, Tusco et Basso consulibus, Petri in Vaticano, Pauli in Via Ostiensis—Utriusque in catacombas.”

When Constantine made Christianity the State religion, Paul was in a Roman tomb in an angle formed by the meeting of the Via Ostiensis and a small side road that provided a shortcut to a tow path on the bank of the Tiber.

Constantine cast a bronze casket in which he placed the remains of the apostle, and upon the lid he placed a cross of gold weighing 150 pounds. Nothing of this casket is known to remain at the present time.

What took place after that, and when, is very hard not only to trace, but to conjecture. It seems that the Eastern Christians attempted to steal the bodies of St. Paul and Peter, but were frustrated in the attempt.

It also seems that later both were buried in a marble tomb” on the Via Appia where the church of St. Sebastian now stands. This was called the catacombs,” and the term referred originally only to this spot.

Monsignor Barnes says regarding the present tomb of St. Paul:

St. Paul lies in a stone coffin immediately under the High Altar.” Dr. Lanciani sums it up as follows:

The grave of St. Paul has come down to us, most likely, as it was left by Constantine the Great, enclosed in a metal case. The Saracens of 846 A.D. damaged the outside marble casing and the marble epitaph, but did not reach the grave. As to the nature of the grave itself, its shape, its aspects, its contents, I am afraid our curiosity will never be satisfied.”

This church has always been dear to the Kings of England; they have always been the defenders of St. Paul outside the Walls” (San Paolo fuori le Mura).

This cathedral burned July 15th, 1823, and the marble casing of the grave was first seen in modern times July 28th, 1838, when the altar above was demolished. There was a marble floor composed of four slabs with this inscription: PAVLO APOSTOLA MART(yri).


We are assuming that Dr. Kinnaman added the yri” in parentheses because those final letters may have been missing or obliterated on the marble slabs. The Latin inscription translates to The Apostle Paul, Martyr.” Here is a bit of background about the author.

QUOTE: John Ora Kinnaman (February 23, 1877 — September 7, 1961), known as J. O. Kinnaman, was an American biblical scholar and biblical archaeologist…

Born in Bryan, Ohio, [in northwestern Ohio, not far from where I lived on a farm as a boy—JWB] Kinnaman graduated from Tri-State College, Indiana in 1894, and received his PhD in archeology from the University of Rome in 1907.

He then accepted a teaching position at Benton Harbor College, where he would be later be made Dean.

Kinnaman was one of the 20 people to be on the expedition led by Howard Carter that discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, and the last remaining survivor of the expedition.

[Apparently, the curse of King Tut” had no effect on Dr. Kinnaman, as he lived to be 84 years of age.]

He would later pursue the field of Near-East archeology, where he served as the Member of the Palestinian Exploration Fund of Great Britain, Vice President of the Society for the Study of the Apocrypha of Great Britain, Life Member of the Society of International Archeologists, Editor-in-Chief of The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, and Editor of The Bible Digest. END QUOTE Source: Wikipedia.

We have other fascinating articles written by Dr. Kinnaman which we shall post from time to time.


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