Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Rich Young Ruler

A couple years ago, I began to suspect that "the rich young ruler" in the Gospels is actually Saul of Tarsus, later to become the persecutor of the early church and later one of the greatest promoters of Christianity, Paul the Apostle.

Matthew 19:16 New King James Version (NKJV)
Jesus Counsels the Rich Young Ruler
16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
Mark 10:17 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The Rich Young Ruler
17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

So I googled "Saul of Tarsus rich young ruler"

It seems that this thought has occurred to a few others, although one or two discount it.
One goes so far as to say the guy never existed. So much for liberal theology.

There was a post at Z's a few days ago about Christians and finances and whether we should all give our money away.
The Rich Young Ruler was mentioned.
I commented there.

So a couple nights ago I awoke in the middle of the night in a panic about a work issue, and to fall asleep, I read some Bible.

I read again about the rich young ruler and wondered again about Saul and if this was indeed him, What was the connection between the event as a young man and his behavior a few years later, if it was him?

Then it hit me.

Paul's writings in the New Testament primarily refer to the superiority of Faith over Works.
We cannot earn our way into heaven. We are expected to work, but only in response to God's Grace and Mercy. The thought that anything would be needed on our part in addition to the work of Christ on the cross demeans the value of that sacrifice, as if it were not enough.

What did the The Rich Young Ruler ask?
"What must I do?"
The correct answer in most cases would be "nothing".
But Jesus knew that this man had to be shown that it was impossible to earn your way, so He gave this man something impossible for him to do.
Of course, with the indwelling of the power of the Holy Spirit, all things are possible, but this guy didn't have that. Yet. That was another lesson that Paul taught in his writings.

Therefore, it's obvious that the command doesn't apply to us. It wasn't intended for us. It's actually possible for us and many have given all.

But it very well may have embittered the young man against Christianity as he knew it, because he had approached Christ with reverence and had seemingly been rebuked.
What if he had asked further and Jesus had explained it to him? Would he have believed Him?

What if this incident had eaten at him for years?
On the road to Damascus, Jesus said,
Acts 9:5 (KJV)  I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

What did " kick against the pricks" mean? God had been goading him in his spirit. Poking him.
The Christian Message was eating at him. God had been dealing with him.

Would this not be consistent with the interplay between Jesus and The Rich Young Ruler?

So it's not even just whether he was just The Rich Young Ruler, it's the relation of that incident to his Christian development and the message of the Epistles he wrote.

My friend Sparky (and by extension Baysider) contends that Paul never met Jesus and she had me questioning whether he had or not.
I know that Paul said he was an apostle out of time, indicating that he was appointed later than the others.
I don't think that precludes him having met or seen Jesus.
This link examines whether Paul might have met Jesus and saves me a lot of typing out something I've felt for years.

Your thoughts?


  1. I’ve not heard this theory.
    The story that our LORD Jesus gave to us about the rich ruler couldn’t fit the man who would become our Apostle Paul. Saul/Paul was a tent maker and a Pharisee zealout. He had to ask permission from the ruling class, the Priests, to get permission to persecute the Christians, or as followers were known then, those who followed The Way.
    Also, Saul/Paul never met Jesus in person. Paul only met Him on the road to Damascus.
    This theory doesn’t fit.
    That was fun! Made me think. Hope your day is blessed. ~:)

    1. You had me going there so I looked up this:

  2. Interesting thought experiment. My reaction is Sparky + 1 exactly. But the concept, as you say in conclusion, is exactly Paul's background as a diligent pharisee - doing. I'm not even sure Paul did all those things for 'salvation' or to do God's will in the best way he knew before he really met Jesus.

    1. Thanks Baysider. Please see the link I gave Sparky and referred to in an edit to the post.

      If nothing else, the takeaway can be that the point of Jesus' command was not to give this guy something to do, but to point out he couldn't keep the Law.

    2. I suspected this myself. He said he knew plenty(wealth). He studied under Gamaliel as a Pharisee. He would no doubt have been curious to see Jesus himself.

    3. I still lean this way.
      If Jesus was such a "rock star", why wouldn't an up and coming religious person check him out?
      Thanks for commenting.