Acts 21:39

39 Paul replied, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people."

Acts 21:39 Meaning and Commentary

Acts 21:39

But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus
And not that Egyptian; he was not of that country, much less that man; but a Jew, both by birth and religion; he was born of Jewish parents, and brought up in the Jewish religion; though his native place was Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, where it is placed by Pliny {n}, Ptolomy F15, and Mela F16; and is by some thought to be the same with the Tarshish of the Old Testament:

a citizen of no mean city;
Pliny F17 calls it a free city, and Solinus F18 says it is the mother, or chief of cities, and Curtius


F19 speaks of it as a very opulent one; which when Alexander drew near to with his army, the inhabitants of it set fire to, that he might not possess their riches; which he understanding, sent Parmenio to prevent it: through this city, as the same historian, in agreement with Pliny and others, observes, ran the river Cydnus; and it being summer time when Alexander was here, and very hot weather, and being covered with dust and sweat, he put off his clothes, and cast himself into the river to wash himself; but as soon as he was in, he was seized with such a numbness of his nerves, that had he not been immediately taken out by his soldiers, and for the extraordinary care of his physician, he had at once expired. Josephus F20 calls this city the most famous of the cities in Gallicia; and derives it, and the whole country, from Tarshish, the grandson of Japheth, ( Genesis 10:4 ) his words are,

``Tharsus gave name to the Tharsians, for so Cilicia was formerly called, of which this is an evidence; for the most famous of the cities with them, and which is the metropolis, is called Tarsus; Theta being changed into Tau for appellation sake.''

Though some say it was built by Perseus, the son of Jupiter and Danae, and called Tharsus, of the hyacinth stone, which is said to be found about it: others think it was so called, (para to tersanyhnai) , because the places of this country were first dried up after the flood: it was not only a city of stately buildings, as it was repaired by Sardanapalus, and increased after the times of Alexander; but there was a famous academy in it, which, for men of learning, exceeded Athens and Alexandria F21; though these exceeded that in number of philosophers: here it is thought lived Aratus the poet, from whom the apostle cites a passage, in ( Acts 17:28 ) and of this place was the famous Chrysippus, who is called (tarseuv) , "a Tarsian" F23, as the apostle is here. Hermogenes, a very celebrated rhetorician, some of whose works are still extant, came from hence F24. Jerom F25 reports it as a tradition, that the parents of the Apostle Paul were of Giscalis, a town in Judea; which with the whole province being destroyed by the Romans, they removed to Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, whither Paul when a young man followed them; but certain it is, that the apostle was born there, as he himself says, in ( Acts 22:3 ) . Ignatius, in F26 the "second" century, writing to the church at Tarsus, calls them citizens and disciples of Paul; citizens, because he was of this city; and disciples, because of the same faith with him; and very likely the first materials of the church in this place were converts of his; since it is evident that he went hither after he was a preacher; see ( Acts 9:30 ) ( 11:25 ) .

And I beseech thee suffer me to speak unto the people;
first he desired to speak with the captain, and that was in order to obtain leave to speak to the people; and which he asks in a very handsome and submissive manner, and hopes to have his request granted him, since he was not the person he took him for, but was a Jew by birth, and a citizen of a very considerable Roman city; and was not a mean, sordid, vagabond creature, nor need he fear that he would sow any discord and sedition among the people.

F14 Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 27.
F15 Geograph. l. 5. c. 8.
F16 De orbis situ, l. 1. c. 13.
F17 Ib. ut supra. (Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 27.)
F18 Polyhist. c. 51.
F19 Hist. l. 3. c. 4.
F20 Antiqu. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 1.
F21 Strabo, Geograph. l. 14.
F23 Laert. Vit. Philosoph. l. 7.
F24 Vid. Fabricii Bibl. Graec. l. 4. c. 31. sect. 4. 5.
F25 Catalog. Script. Eccles. sect. 15. fol. 90. G. & Comment. in Philemon. ver. 23. Tom. 9. fol. 116. L.
F26 Ep. ad Tarsenses, p. 75.

Acts 21:39 In-Context

37 Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, "May I say something to you?" The tribune replied, "Do you know Greek?
38 Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?"
39 Paul replied, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people."
40 When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
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