Apostle Paul's Roman citizenship
Submit Bible questions, through our easy to use form,
to our team of mature Christians known as the Email Evangelists.
For the first few centuries A.D., Roman citizenship was a highly coveted prize. The book of Acts records that the apostle Paul was apparently proud of his status as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28). However, how did one become a citizen of Rome? How did Paul's citizenship help him AVOID a beating and to receive a fair trial? What were the rights and privileges that came with citizenship?
Acts 22 alludes to two ways of becoming a citizen of Rome. We pick up the story with Paul's visit to Jerusalem's temple with four Jewish converts. Jews see him enter the temple and begin a riot. Roman soldiers save Paul from an almost certain death by beating and take him to a nearby barracks for questioning.
25. But as he was being tied with the thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?"
26. Now when the centurion heard this, he went and reported it to the chief captain, saying, "Do you realize what you are about to do? For this man is a Roman." 27. And when the chief captain came up, he said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" And he said, "Yes." 28. And the chief captain answered, "With a great sum of money I bought this citizenship." And Paul said, "But indeed, I was born free." (Acts 22)
One can become a citizen by either birth or buying the privilege. Paul's birth in a Jewish family occurred in the city of Tarsus within the province of Cilicia (Acts 22:3). Although a Jew, his birth in the city grants him citizenship. This is due to Tarsus' designation as a "free city" by Rome. The commander, however, had to pay a large sum of money to be a citizen.
A third avenue to gain citizenship was through an extended period of military service. In order to attract more soldiers, Rome offered citizenship to those serving in the military for at least twenty-five years and who received an honorable discharge.