Most of those acquainted with their Bible have heard about the rich, young ruler. He came to Jesus and asked him what he should do to inherit eternal life. He received the surprising answer – to sell all that he had and follow Christ! At this, he went away sad because he had great possessions.
So the story goes in most people’s mind. The problem is that there may be no rich, young ruler. The “rich, young ruler” arises from an unwarranted conflation of these three passages by defective biblical exegesis in which the persons in these three Gospel accounts in Mat 19, Mk 10 and Lk 18 have been rolled into one person. The ruler was rich Lk 18:18,23 but we do not know if he was young Mat 19:20. The differences in these and similar accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is known as the Synoptic Problem, a problem created by unbelieving biblical textual critics, and now you can read about the Synoptic Solution.
There is more than one rich man involved in this incident; in fact, there are three! Further, one of them may have been Saul of Tarsus, although this cannot be proven. If you want to know more, click to download Rich Young Ruler and read on.
This is the first instalment of my commentary on the Holy Bible posted online.
There is discussion in the comments section below.
30 May 2018: The downloadable PDF referenced above mentions Paul’s miscarrying in 1Cor 15:8. I have discussed this here, where I have given a summary of the main points to note in the PDF.
16 thoughts on “Was the rich young ruler actually Saul of Tarsus?”
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I came across some others suggesting the same thing online:
James, thanks for these interesting posts.
Mark 10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life.
Strange to say I was thinking about this man for some time.
By comparing scripture with scripture, and thinking about eternity for this one, as he was running he must be a young man and I connected this man with Mark 14:51 who also fled away.
Mark 14:51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:
14:52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
So my conclusion is that this man can be “Mark”.
In the other Gospels we have the report of Matthew, Luke and John speaking about them but in Mark we cannot identify this man in Mark Gospel.
I have a question: Why do we have the report of this young man?
So I have connected him with:
Mark 10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
Christ “loved him”. I know that our Lord fulfilled the commandment love your neighbour as yourself but my hope is that that love was an everlasting love. This man “having a linen cloth” was following the Lord.
Many commentators agree with you that the young man in Mk 14:51 was Mark himself. I agree with your hope that Christ’s love for the man in Mk 10:21 was more than benevolent love. However, I am unable to say that the young man in Mk 14:51 is the same person in Mk 10:17. I hope you find my explanation helpful.
I know I’m responding to a three year old post but I wanted to throw in my two cents, or dinars or drachmas. For some time I have been fascinated by the life of Mark who seemed to be a bit of an enigma in some senses.
His gospel comes across full of symbolism and beautifully written with the what feels like the heart of an artist. And has been mentioned, many of his stories aren’t just about Jesus but the story of his own journey to the heart of the Son of God.
One day in doing some digging, I came to this story of the young man running naked into the night and wondered if there was some deeper meaning behind his nakedness. Instead I found something even more powerful. We have a rough translation of what he was wearing as “outer garment” yet the wording in Greek implies a garment only worn by someone of great wealth and power.
When I read this, my mouth fell open. I was stunned. So many things began to fit into place. What a beautiful and heart breaking picture of a young man confronted with both truth and insecurity.
In my own relationship with God, I’ve observed that He rarely deals gently with out deepest struggles but instead desires to deal with the worst things first. Once those are conquered it’s all downhill. In like manner, Mark had to deal with his trust in his wealth and, likely, his family’s powerful position. When Jesus spoke to him about selling everything and giving it to the poor, He wasn’t declaring any kind of theological treatise on the need of poverty for salvation. He was speaking from His heart to the heart of a young man that was struggling with his own insecurities. Instead of trusting in the name of the Lord, Mark was trusting in his family’s name. And he couldn’t let it go.
His failure that day with Jesus came back as he fled the garden, yet we are hopeful for Mark. Mark symbolically shows us how the garment of insecurity, wrapped up in his wealth and power, were being pulled off of him. He was getting closer, but not fully there.
Skipping forward for the sake of time, we see that something transformative happened to Mark. Later in life, he becomes a companion of Paul and a gospel writer. I’m grateful to Mark for exposing his insecurities to us all because his honesty gives us all hope. It is my desire to lay ALL my crowns at Jesus’ feet; both the good ones and the bad, knowing that He alone can transform them all.
Stewart, I have just picked up your response.
Your point seems to be that the Gospel of Mark has an element of autobiography in it and that the unnamed persons in Mk 10:17 and Mk 14:51 may be Mark himself. This cannot be proven but it is worth considering.
You mention “that something transformative happened to Mark”. The Gospel of Mark also mentions ‘a young man’ in Mk 16:5, who is usually interpreted as an angel – but Mark does not say so, and if this was also Mark it casts some light upon his decision in Act 13:13 and upon the various misunderstandings and different attitudes about Mark in Act 15:37-39 and Col 4:10, and upon Paul’s change of mind in 2Tim 4:11.
Every blessing in your Bible study.
Barnabas recounts his transformation from a rich young ruler to a selfless follower of Jesus. When Barnabas asks Jesus, “What must I do to follow you?”, Jesus replies, “Give all you have to the poor.” Once Barnabas witnesses the feeding of the 5,000, he finally understands God’s abundance. He begins to give his wealth away and, for the first time, experiences the joy of giving. He eventually realizes, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”
You write as if you think that there is only one person involved and that it is Barnabas.
You have missed my point that biblical exegesis suggests that there are three different people. There was a rich man Mk 10:17, a rich young man Mat 19:18 and a rich ruler Lk 18:18, but they were different people. There was no ‘rich, young ruler’.
I have studied the arguments in favour of Barnabas, but I have yet to be convinced. He appears to be too old to be the ‘rich young man’, so is he one of the other ones? The circumstantial evidence I have read amounts to this:- Barnabas was a Levite Act 4:36, Jericho was a Levitical city, and Jesus was near to Jericho when this incident took place. A Levite ought to have no possessions, so Jesus was calling him back to the law of Moses. However, Barnabas was from Cyprus, so why was he visiting Jericho? Jericho belonged to Benjamin Jos 18:21.
Can you point to any references in support of Barnabas?
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I feel that the rich young ruler of Mark 10:17ff must be the young man who fled naked in Mark 14:51. Jesus makes it clear in Mk 10: that salvation is not of man but of God. The earnest rich young ruler evidently was not Jewish (he didn’t address Jesus as ‘Rabbi’) nor was he acquainted with God (seen when Jesus answers to him that only One is good, that being God.) Furthermore, he was convinced that salvation came through one’s own good works (his own first question reveals this – what must I do in order to inherit eternal life?) Hence he was most likely a Gentle, wealthy and perhaps influential. He left grieved and not scoffingly, revealing that he genuinely wanted to follow Jesus but for the hindrance of his great wealth. Jesus’s request of the man of what he should do to inherit eternal life, to sell all he had and give to the poor and then follow Jesus was truly difficult for man, just like a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. Yet, why did Jesus mention this? The man genuinely wanted to follow Jesus. He genuinely had a problem that was near-impossible for a human being to surmount, dependence on riches. His disciples heard all of this. Peter’s answer that they had left all and followed Jesus too is significant. Likewise is Jesus’s answer to Peter, that there are many who are first who would be last. The man who followed Jesus to the point of being divested in Mk 14:51 and Peter’ denial of Jesus in the same chapter highlight this contrast. Peter’s reply that they had left all to follow Christ reveals that he too was not fully convinced that he, Peter was saved because the Lord willed it but because he, Peter wanted to. The whole episode points to salvation belonging to God. Just as the Lord saved Peter, that same Lord could have saved the rich young ruler if He willed it, and I believe He did will it.I believe the young man who followed Jesus at the end was the same man. He was obedient to the end. We don’t know how he disposed of his wealth, it isn’t mentioned, but if the Lord willed to save him, the Lord certainly would have.
Jesus told him “Go, and sell all you have.” He went away didn’t he, albeit grieved? Wasn’t he obedient, in going? Jesus said “…then come, and follow Me.” Didn’t he come running after Jesus to the point of being divested so that he could follow no more? If it were the same man, doesn’t it again reveal his obedience? How can we conclude that the man turned away from Jesus in this context?( If he were the same man of course?) I believe there is a seriously beautiful aspect to how powerful Jesus is to save the lost or slow to respond (Nicodemus in John 3 is another case) if we make the connect this connection, that the follower of Jesus who fled naked was the rich young ruler.
Thanks for your thoughts. My comments are:
1. there are various theories given by commentators about the young man in Mk 14:51. I encourage you to read my article and you will see that there was no rich, young ruler.
2. On the subject of Rabbi: each Gospel account uses ‘Good Master’ didaskalos ‘a teacher’ but this very word is used in Jn 1:38 to explain Rabbi – ‘They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,).’ The disciples regularly called Jesus ‘Master’, so this cannot prove that these rich men were not Jewish.
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Paul living in his own hired house in Rome Act 28:30 says he must have had a good source of money.
Sorry to pick this up so late.
Even if Paul was wealthy when he was young, he may have spent much of it supporting his travelling entourage. He ministered to his own necessities Act 20:34 and thanked the Philippians for sending ‘once and again to my necessity’ Php 4:16. One needs more evidence than hiring his own house to prove that he was wealthy at this stage of his life. The local Christian congregation in Rome may have paid for the hire.
Thanks for your contribution.