The rich young ruler and the apostle Paul – a supposal

It occurred to me a while back that the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’, has remarkable parallels with the apostle Paul.

At the time, both men were young. In the seventh chapter of Acts, maybe a couple of years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul (Saul then) is described as a ‘young man’.

Again, at this time in their lives, both thought that they had their lives in order. They both thought that they were ok as far as keeping the law of God was concerned.

At this time, too, they both had reasons to be angry with Jesus.  Jesus had told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and to follow Him; the young man turned his back and went away grieved because he had many possessions. Paul’s anger is not explained, but it is revealed in his agreement with the stoning of Stephen and his subsequent persecution of Jesus through his people.

Now, the converted Saul (Paul) tells us some things about his life.

Paul tells us that the commandment which made him realise he was a sinner and needed saving was the tenth: ‘You shall not covert’. This is the command that deals with our heart attitude to possessions.

Paul had known what it is like to be rich, but happily suffered the loss of all things when he came to faith in Jesus.

When he was asked by the other apostles to remember the poor, his reply was that it was the very thing that he was eager to do. I think it also significant that it is Paul alone of all the New Testament writers who records the words of Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than receive’. Just before saying this, Paul had urged the elders at Ephesus to support the weak.

I have no direct proof, but I think there is a case for considering, at least, whether or not the apostle Paul might have been the rich young ruler of the gospel accounts. If not, at least Paul has some strong links with him in his past attitudes, and he shows the fruit of having repented of those sins that he once shared with the rich young ruler.


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