Q: #529. How old was Paul (Saul) when Stephen was stoned?
A: We read the following in (Acts 7:59), “And cast him (Stephen) out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” The first key to answering this question is to look at the words “young man” in Greek. One Greek word is used for “young man,” and that is “neanias.” It means “a youth (up to about 40 years old)” – Strong’s. In other words, the Greek definition of a “young man” in the Bible was stretched farther than we would define it today (i.e. teens, or maybe early twenties).
Having established this, we need to determine when was Paul born, and what year Stephen was stoned to death. First, when Paul was born is not precisely known. However, most scholars agree on a date within the range of 1 to 5 A.D. (about 5 – 10 years after Jesus was born). Next, what year that Stephen was stoned? The dating for this is a bit more narrow, with most scholars believing it was around 33 A.D., give or take a year (about 4 – 5 years after the death of Jesus).
Putting the above together, we come up with an age for Paul (Saul) of 28 to 32 years old at the time of Stephen’s stoning.
***Note: One thing which bolsters the date that Paul was born is that in (Phm 1:9), Paul refers to himself as “the aged.” The Greek word used for “aged” here is “presbutes.” According to a number of sources, including the Jewish Mishna, this Greek word was generally used to refer to those 60 years of age and older. Since the book of Philemon was written between 60 – 62 A.D. (during Paul’s first imprisonment), and Paul was likely just over 60 when he wrote it, this points to an early A.D. time for his birth. (Paul’s conversion was approximately 1 – 3 years after Stephen’s stoning, and his death was in about 67 A.D., making the length of his ministry anywhere from 31 – 33 years.)
Another question which comes up in relation to this is, “What part did Paul (Saul) play in the stoning of Stephen?” Did he take part in the stoning? Was he in charge of those who did the stoning?
I find no evidence for either of the latter two questions. We are told that Paul (Saul) was “consenting” to the stoning in (Acts 8:1)(Acts 22:20). However, it seems clear that he played no part in it. As out of control as the mob was against Stephen, it appears that they did decide to follow Jewish law in regards to the (“so-called”) blasphemy of Stephen. First, the condemned was to be “cast him out of the city,” and then “stoned,” with the “witnesses” (they were “false witnesses” – Acts 6:13) doing the stoning (Acts 7:58-59). Taking the one to be stoned out of the city was commanded by God in (Lev 24:14)(example: Lk 4:29), and having “witnesses” to the sin casting the first stones was commanded in (Deut 17:6-7)(Deut 13:9-10).
Since Paul was not a “witness,” he would not have thrown a first stone. And, he likely was not expected to throw a stone at all, which would explain why the “witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet… of Saul.” They knew that he would not be taking part, so they wanted him to watch their clothes.
There is some evidence that Paul might have been a part of the Sanhedrin (Acts 26:10), and he may have even been a member at the time of the stoning. However, it was rare that the Sanhedrin ever took part in punishing those they found guilty. They would condemn people, and then have others carry out the punishment (i.e. Acts 5:21-42, Lk 23:13-25). Therefore, “if” Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin at the time of Stephen’s stoning, he almost certainly would not have taken part in it. Did he order it, or lead the people who did do it? It is possible, but there is no evidence for this.