Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus (Acts 13)

Sergius Paulus was Paul’s first recorded convert on his first missionary journey that took place around A.D. 46 (Acts 13:6-12). This conversion took place in the city of Paphos on the island of Cyprus, off the coast of Syria. Paul and Barnabas landed at Salamis, on the eastern coast of the island, and travelled overland to Paphos, on the western coast – a journey of about 169 km that would have taken at least a week. Cuprys was a Roman province ruled by a proconsul, or governor, from Paphos. Cicero, in a letter to one Sextilius Rufus (ca. 50 B.C.), indicated that Paphos was the administrative centre for the island.

Romans typically had three names: a praenomen, a nomen and a cognomen. The praenomen was a personal name, the nomen a clan name and the cognomen the name of a particular branch within the clan. Thus, in the name Gaius Julius Caesar, Gaius was the personal name (praenomen), Julius was the name of the clan (nomen) and Caesar the name of the extended family or subclan (cognomen) within the Julius clan.

The name Sergius Paulus provides only the nomen and the cognomen. Either of the two inscriptions found in Cyprus may refer to the Sergius Paulus named in Acts 13:7. One records that a man named Paulus was proconsul around the year A.D. 50 (probably too late to relate to Paul’s visit), while the other designates a Quintus Sergius Paulus as proconsul during the reign of Caligula, from A.D. 37-41. In addition, a Latin inscription from Rome rers to a Lucius Sergius Paulus, who held an administratve postion during the reign of Claudius, from A.D. 41-54.

These inscriptions demonstrate that the Roman family Sergius Paulus was prominent during the period of Acts, and it is entirely feasible that a member of that family could have been serving as proconsul of Cyprus at the time of Paul’s first missionary journey.

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