Tarsus In The Bible

Tarsus was a major religious center, a great Mediterranean seaport and an important commercial centre. It was located on the River Cydnus, which flows into the Sea of Marmora, about 25 miles east of Adana. However, it is also believed that there are Hellenistic influences in the area. Scholars have established that Paul received his education here. This is why the old city centered around Tarsus is known as “Saint Paul’s School”. The city is still populated today although it does not have any political status outside Turkey.

Little is known about John’s youth, but from the time he was a teenager until his last public appearance in 67 A.D., the apostle must have been in and out of Tarsus. What did he do there?

The Bible is filled with stories and background information on Christ, but it also contains historic facts about places and the people who lived in them. Many places mentioned in the Bible were real cities that existed during and long before the time of Christ.

Tarsus, in the Bible, refers to the bustling metropolis on the southeastern coast of Turkey. The Book of Acts and Paul’s letters to the churches founded in Asia Minor both mention Tarsus as his birthplace. From there and later from Jerusalem, Paul preached a message that took him to Damascus, Rome and Spain.

Tarsus In The Bible

Tarsus was the chief city in Cilicia and was located in the eastern part of modern-day Turkey. It is just off of the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus is about 590 miles (950km) from Jerusalem traveling by land. When Alexander the Great conquered much of Asia, Egypt, and Greece in the fourth century BC, Tarsus was part of that empire. Likewise, during the first century AD when the Roman Empire was at its height, Tarsus was controlled by the Romans.

According to an early tradition recorded by Jerome, Paul moved to Tarsus from Gischala in Galilee. Other sources maintain that Paul was born there.

Tarsus In The Bible

It is difficult to overestimate the influence of the apostle Paul. He is known worldwide as one of the greatest Christian missionaries. His inspired writings cover a large portion of the New Testament, and it is safe to say that he remains one of the most read authors in human history. His abrupt turnaround from zealous persecutor of Christians to one of Christianity’s greatest proponents surely shaped the history of the early Christian church. But who was Saul of Tarsus before he became the apostle Paul? What do we know about his life prior to meeting Christ on the Damascus Road?

Saul of Tarsus was born in approximately AD 5 in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia (in modern-day Turkey). He was born to Jewish parents who possessed Roman citizenship, a coveted privilege that their son would also possess. In about AD 10, Saul’s family moved to Jerusalem. Sometime between AD 15—20 Saul began his studies of the Hebrew Scriptures in the city of Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel. It was under Gamaliel that Saul would begin an in-depth study of the Law with the famous rabbi.

There has been some debate over whether Saul was raised in Jerusalem or in his birthplace of Tarsus, but a straightforward reading of his own comments indicates that Jerusalem was his boyhood home (Acts 22:3). We know that Paul’s sister’s son was in Jerusalem after Paul’s conversion (Acts 23:16), which lends weight to the idea that Paul’s entire family had moved to Jerusalem when he was young.

It is quite possible that Saul was present for the trial of Stephen—a trial that resulted in Stephen becoming the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54–60). The historian Luke tells us that Stephen’s executioners laid their garments at the feet of Saul (Acts 7:58), who was in full approval of the mob’s murderous actions (Acts 8:1). Saul later ravaged the church, entering the homes of believers and committing them to prison. Saul’s anti-Christian zeal motivated him not only to arrest and imprison male Christians (the “ringleaders”) but to lock up female believers as well (Acts 8:3).

Paul’s post-conversion correspondence to various churches reveals even more about his background. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul describes himself as a Hebrew, an Israelite, and a descendant of Abraham (2 Corinthians 11:22). In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul says he was a Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5).

While on his way to Damascus to arrest and extradite Christians back to Jerusalem, Saul was confronted by the very One whom he was persecuting (Acts 9:3–9; 22:6–11; 26:12–18). What followed was one of the most dramatic conversions in church history. Saul of Tarsus became the apostle Paul, an ardent missionary to an unbelieving world and a fine example of faithful service in the face of fierce persecution (Acts 14:19; 16:22–24; 2 Corinthians 11:25–26). Saul’s education, his background as a Pharisee, his Roman citizenship, and his unflagging zeal all contributed to his success as a missionary, once those credentials and traits had been subjugated to the lordship of Christ.

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