Was Paul the Apostle Ever Married?

Did Paul the apostle, possibly the greatest and most influential Christian evangelist and writer, ever marry? There are at least 3 options to this question.

1. He didn’t marry

This is unlikely, given his status as a Pharisee. Most Jews of the first century, especially those as staunchly religious as Paul, would’ve gotten married early (even before their twenties). It was a matter of tradition, which made it a matter of pride.

Which leaves the following two possibilities.

2. He was betrothed to be married to a lady in Tarsus (his hometown) but when he returned to the city (after spending 4–5 years away), the girl and her family called the marriage off

Why would Paul’s fiancée reject him? The main reason is because Paul was practically a different person after his Arabia years, not least due to the incident along the road to Damascus (where Jesus appeared to him; see Acts 22:6–11).

N.T. Wright speculates that it could be because of Paul’s worldview of Jesus as the crucified Messiah of Israel (one which grew AFTER the incident along the road to Damascus and was developed more substantially during his time in Arabia?). This is a belief which clashed heavily with traditional Jewish notions of redemption, Messiahship, the people of God, etc.

3. He married, but something tragic happened

Jerome Murphy O’Connor (2005) wrote:

“If Paul had a wife, he probably had children. Why does he never mention either? We have absolutely no data on which to base an answer to such a personal question. I personally suspect that they perished in an accident so traumatic that he sealed off their memory forever. It was too painful to be revisited, and too sacred to be disclosed to other.” (p.15)

In Witherington III and Myers’ book on Paul’s life in Arabia, the authors write of a (obviously speculative) romance between Saul and a Jewish trader, Miryam during his time in Arabia. The writing isn’t exactly Booker-prize winning quality, but the authors do a good job portraying Saul gradually falling in love, the courtship, the wedding, the honeymoon and even the couple’s trip to Mount Sinai and, very movingly, Paul’s impending fears that something ominous was about to happen to his marriage.

Tragically enough, in line with O’Connor’s thinking, the story has Miryam suffering a miscarriage and dying soon afterwards. The authors (2020) put this heart-breaking paragraph into Miryam’s final words to her husband Paul (which rival even the last episode of Wanda-Vision?):

“Do not blame yourself. Just know I have loved you, and now you must go everywhere Jesus the Lord wants you to go. I trust I will see you in the next life, the everlasting life we have talked of.” (p.132)

Witherington III and Myers (2020) fictionalize the possibility that Paul’s dying wife accepted Christ on her deathbed and inspired him to go forth with the gospel.

The effect on Paul was, of course, devastating and plays a huge part in his decision to leave Arabia, return to Damascus and eventually escape the city in a basket (1 Cor 11:32–33).

Is all this possible? Well, let’s just say it’s not impossible as far as historiography goes. If this option is true, then there is an interesting parallel between Paul the apostle and Wanda the Scarlet-Witch. Both had to carry unimaginable loss and pain as they fulfilled their world-changing vocations.

I shudder.

References:
Murphy-O’Connor, J. (2005). Paul: His Story. Oxford University Press.

Witherington III, B., & Myers, J. A. (2020). Paul of Arabia: The Hidden Years of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Wright, T. (2018). Paul: a biography. SPCK.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.