It’s funny how some things come together at a certain point in time to make you re-imagine an image that you have held for a very long time. At the moment I’m delving into Paul’s letter to the Romans for a series of Sunday studies and Thursday discussions, so am finding out a bit more than usual. I’ve been reading commentaries on Paul’s letters, and on the Acts of the Apostles for decades, and never before have I come across the information that the name Paul is a Latin baby name, and in Latin the meaning of the name Paul is ‘little, small.’ Being born a Roman citizen, he probably had three names in the common Latin format, and that his other name, ‘Saul,’ which we know from Acts, was likely one he took when going to study in Jerusalem.
So that’s one piece of the new image jig-saw. The second is that the latest member of our extended family was born prematurely, and only weighs just over three pounds. We are praying for her and all her loved ones, because she is tiny, being born before her time.
These two pieces of the picture came together and sparked off another memory of a comment that Paul makes about himself and when he became an Apostle: ‘Then [the Risen Jesus] appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one untimely born (1 Cor 15:7f).’ ‘Untimely born’! What if Paul was using this metaphor not just because his call to be an Apostle was later than the others, but also because it was actually part of his own experience – that he had been born prematurely, and because he was a tiny baby, was called ‘Paul.’ I’ve never really heard a fully convincing explanation of why Paul chose that metaphor, but it would certainly make sense if this was part of his personal history.
There’s one last piece of this jig-saw, and that is the traditional images of Paul in the icons of the Church. He is always a small man, with reddish, receding hair and a beard. Of course we don’t have photos of him, but these icons of the memories of those who knew him and passed on stories about him may have more than a grain of truth to them.
So there we have it. The great Apostle to the Gentiles: Tiny. A small man who was also a colossus.
Oh, and there’s that other Apostle who was sent mainly to the Jews – Simon, called Peter, which means, Rock, or as the great Biblical commentator, Raymond Brown, called him, ‘Rocky.’
Rocky and Tiny – the great Apostles of Jesus to the Jews and the Gentiles.