BOYHOOD IN A HEATHEN CITY: Before He Was the Apostle Paul

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Οὐκ ἀσήμου πόλεως πολίτης.—Acts 21:39

 οὐκnot ἀσήμουof insignificant πόλεωςcity πολίτης·citi

Acts 21:39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.”

Though we cannot state with perfect accuracy the date either of the birth or death of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, both may be inferred within narrow limits. When he is first mentioned, on the occasion of Stephen’s martyrdom, he is called a young man,1 and when he wrote the Epistle to Philemon he calls himself Paul the aged.2 Now, although the words νεανίας and πρεσβύτης were used vaguely in ancient times, and though the exact limits of “youth” and “age” were as indeterminate then as they have ever been, yet, since we learn that immediately after the death of Stephen, Saul was entrusted with a most important mission, and was, in all probability, a member of the Sanhedrin, he must at that time have been a man of thirty. Now, the martyrdom of Stephen probably took place early in A.D. 37, and the Epistle to Philemon was written about A.D. 63. At the latter period, therefore, he would have been less than sixty years old, and this may seem too young to claim the title of “the aged.” But “age” is a very relative term, and one who had been scourged, and lashed, and stoned, and imprisoned, and shipwrecked—one who, for so many years, besides the heavy burden of mental anguish and responsibility, had been “scorched by the heat of Sirius and tossed by the violence of Euroclydon,”1 might well have felt himself an old and outworn man when he wrote from his Roman prison at the age of threescore years.2 It is, therefore, tolerably certain that he was born during the first ten years of our era, and probable that he was born about A.D. 3. Since, then, our received Dionysian era is now known to be four years too early, the birth of Christ’s greatest follower happened in the same decade as that of our Lord Himself.3


But all the circumstances which surrounded the cradle and infancy of the infant Saul were widely different from those amid which his Lord had grown to boyhood. It was in an obscure and lonely village of Palestine, amid surroundings almost exclusively Judaic, that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and favour with God and man;” but Saul passed his earliest years in the famous capital of a Roman province, and must have recalled, with his first conscious reminiscences, the language and customs of the Pagan world.

There is no sufficient reason to doubt the entire accuracy of the expression “born in Tarsus,” which is attributed to St. Paul in his Hebrew speech to the infuriated multitude from the steps of the Tower of Antonia.1 To assert that the speeches in the Acts could not have attained to verbal exactness may be true of some of them, but, on the other hand, those who on such grounds as these disparage the work of St. Luke, as a mere “treatise with an object,” must bear in mind that it would, in this point of view, have been far more to the purpose if he had made St. Paul assert that he was born in a Jewish town. We must, therefore, reject the curious and twice-repeated assertion of St. Jerome,2 that the Apostle was born at Giscala,3 and had been taken to Tarsus by his parents when they left their native city, in consequence of its devastation by the Romans. The assertion is indeed discredited because it is mixed up with what appears to be a flagrant anachronism as to the date at which Giscala was destroyed.4 It is, however, worthy of attention. St. Jerome, from his thorough familiarity with the Holy Land, in which he spent so many years of his life, has preserved for us several authentic fragments of tradition, and we may feel sure that he would not arbitrarily have set aside a general belief founded upon a distinct statement in the Acts of the Apostles. If in this matter pure invention had been at work, it is almost inconceivable that anyone should have singled out for distinction so insignificant a spot as Giscala, which is not once mentioned in the Bible, and which acquired its sole notoriety from its connexion with the zealot Judas.1 We may, therefore, fairly assume that the tradition mentioned by St. Jerome is so far true that the parents or grandparents of St. Paul had been Galilæans and had, from some cause or other—though it cannot have been the cause which the tradition assigned—been compelled to migrate from Giscala to the busy capital of Pagan Cilicia.


If this is the case, it helps, as St. Jerome himself points out, to explain another difficulty. St. Paul, on every possible occasion, assumes and glories in the title not only of “an Israelite,”2 which may be regarded as a “name of honor,” but also of “a Hebrew”—“a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”3 Now certainly, in its proper and technical sense, the word “Hebrew” is the direct opposite of “Hellenist,”4 and St. Paul, if brought up at Tarsus, could only strictly be regarded as a Jew of the Dispersion—a Jew of that vast body who, even when they were not ignorant of Hebrew—as even the most learned of them sometimes were—still spoke Greek as their native tongue.5 It may, of course, be said that St. Paul uses the word Hebrew only in its general sense, and that he meant to imply by it that he was not a Hellenist to the same extent that, for instance, even so learned and eminent a Jew as Philo was, who, with all his great ability, did not know either the Biblical Hebrew or the Aramaic vernacular, which was still called by that name.1 Perhaps St. Paul spoke Aramaic with equal or greater fluency than he spoke Greek itself;2 and his knowledge of Hebrew may be inferred from his custom of sometimes reverting to the Hebrew scriptures in the original when the LXX. version was less suitable for his purpose. It is an interesting, though undesigned,3 confirmation of this fact, that the Divine Vision on the road to Damascus spoke to him, at the supreme moment of his life, in the language which was evidently the language of his own inmost thoughts. As one, therefore, to whom the Hebrew of that day was a sort of mother-tongue, and the Hebrew of the Bible an acquired language, St. Paul might call himself a Hebrew, though technically speaking he was also a Hellenist; and the term would be still more precise and cogent if his parents and forefathers had, almost till the time of his birth, been Palestinian Jews.


The Tarsus in which St. Paul was born was very different from the dirty, squalid, and ruinous Mohammedan city which still bears the name and stands upon the site. The natural features of the city, indeed, remain unchanged: the fertile plain still surrounds it; the snowy mountains of the chain of Taurus still look down on it; the bright swift stream of the Cydnus still refreshes it.4 But with these scenes of beauty and majesty we are the less concerned because they seem to have had no influence over the mind of the youthful Saul. We can well imagine how, in a nature differently constituted, they would have been like a continual inspiration; how they would have melted into the very imagery of his thoughts; how, again and again, in crowded cities and foul prisons, they would have

“Flashed upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude.”

The scenes in which the whole life of David had been spent were far less majestic, as well as far less varied, than many of those in which the lot of St. Paul was cast; yet the Psalms of David are a very handbook of poetic description, while in the Epistles of St. Paul we only breathe the air of cities and synagogues. He alludes indeed, to the Temple not made with hands, but never to its mountain pillars, and but once to its nightly stars.1 To David the whole visible universe is but one vast House of God, in which, like angelic ministrants, the fire and hail, snow and vapor, wind and storm, fulfill His word. With St. Paul—though he, too, is well aware that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly visible, being apprehended by the things that He hath made, even His eternal power and divinity”—yet to him this was an indisputable axiom, not a conviction constantly renewed with admiration and delight. There are few writers who, to judge solely from their writings, seem to have been less moved by the beauties of the external world. Though he had sailed again and again across the blue Mediterranean, and must have been familiar with the beauty of those Isles of Greece—

“Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phœbus sprung;”

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

though he had, again and again, traversed the pine-clad gorges of the Asian hills, and seen Ida, and Olympus, and Parnassus, in all their majesty; though his life had been endangered in mountain torrents and stormy waves, and he must have often wondered as a child along the banks of his native stream, to see the place where it roars in cataracts over its rocky course-his soul was so entirely absorbed in the mighty moral and spiritual truths which it was his great mission to proclaim, that not by one verse, scarcely even by a single expression, in all his letters, does he indicate the faintest gleam of delight or wonder in the glories of Nature. There is, indeed, an exquisite passage in his speech at Lystra on the goodness of “the living God, which made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein,” and “left not Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”1 But in this case Barnabas had some share in the address, which even if it do not, as has been conjectured,2 refer to the fragment of some choral song, is yet, in tone and substance, directly analogous to passages of the Old Testament.3 And apart from this allusion, I cannot find a single word which shows that Paul had even the smallest susceptibility for the works of Nature. There are souls in which the burning heat of some transfusing purpose calcines every other thought, every other desire, every other admiration; and St. Paul’s was one. His life was absorbingly, if not solely and exclusively, the spiritual life—the life which is utterly dead to every other interest of the groaning and travailing creation, the life hid with Christ in God. He sees the universe of God only as it is reflected in the heart and life of man it is true—as Humboldt has shown in his Cosmos—that what is called the sentimental love of Nature is a modern rather than an ancient feeling.1 In St. Paul, however, this indifference to the outer world is neither due to his antiquity nor to his Semitic birth, but solely to his individual character. The poetry of the Old Testament is full of the tenderness and life of the pastures of Palestine. In the discourses and conversations of our Lord we find frequent allusions to the loveliness of the flowers, the joyous carelessness of birds, the shifting winds, the red glow of morning and evening clouds. St. Paul’s inobservance of these things—for the total absence of the remotest allusion to them by way of even passing illustration amounts to a proof that they did not deeply stir his heart—was doubtless due to the expulsive power and paramount importance of other thoughts. It may, however, have been due also to that early training which made him more familiar with crowded assemblies and thronged bazaars than with the sights and sounds of Nature.2 It is at any rate remarkable that the only elaborate illustration which he draws from Nature, turns not on a natural phenomenon but on an artificial process, and that even this process—if not absolutely unknown to the ancients—was the exact opposite of the one most commonly adopted.1


But if St. Paul derived no traceable influence from the scenery with which Tarsus is surrounded, if no voices from the neighboring mountains or the neighboring sea mingled with the many and varied tones of his impassioned utterance, other results of this providential training may be easily observed, both in his language and in his life.

The very position of Tarsus made it a center of commercial enterprise and political power. Situated on a navigable stream by which it communicated with the eastern-most bay of the Mediterranean, and lying on a fruitful plain under that pass over the Taurus which was known as “the Cilician gates,” while by the Amanid and Syrian gates it communicated with Syria, it was so necessary as a central emporium that even the error of its having embraced the side of Antony in the civil war hardly disturbed its fame and prosperity.2 It was here that Cleopatra held that famous meeting with the Roman Triumvir which Shakspeare has immortalized when she rowed up the silver Cydnus, and

“The barge she sat in like a burnished throne
Burnt on the water; the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd thatThe winds were love sick with them.”

Yet it continued to flourish under the rule of Augustus, and enjoyed the distinction of being both a capital and a free city—libera and immunis. It was from Tarsus that the vast masses of timber, hewn in the forests of Taurus, were floated down the river to the Mediterranean dockyards; it was here that the vessels were unladen which brought to Asia the treasures of Europe; it was here that much of the wealth of Asia Minor was accumulated before it was despatched to Greece and Italy. On the coins of the city she is represented as seated amid bales of various merchandise. The bright and busy life of the streets and markets must have been the earliest scenes which attracted the notice of the youthful Saul. The dishonesty which he had witnessed in its trade may have suggested to him his metaphors of “huckstering” and “adulterating” the word of life;1 and he may have borrowed a metaphor from the names and marks of the owners stamped upon the goods which lay upon the quays,2 and from the earnest-money paid by the purchasers.3 It may even have been the assembly of the free city which made him more readily adopt from the Septuagint that name of Ecclesia for the Church of Christ’s elect of which his Epistles furnish the earliest instances.1

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

It was his birth at Tarsus which also determined the trade in which, during so many days and nights of toil and self-denial, the Apostle earned his daily bread. The staple manufacture of the city was the weaving, first into ropes, then into tent-covers and garments, of the hair which was supplied in boundless quantities by the goat flocks of the Taurus.2 As the making of these cilicia was unskilled labour of the commonest sort, the trade of tentmaker3 was one both lightly esteemed and miserably paid. It must not, however, be inferred from this that the family of St. Paul were people of low position. The learning of a trade was a duty enjoined by the Rabbis on the parents of every Jewish boy.4 The wisdom of the rule became apparent in the case of Paul, as doubtless of hundreds besides, when the changes and chances of life compelled him to earn his own livelihood by manual labour. It is clear, from the education provided for Paul by his parents, that they could little indeed have conjectured how absolutely their son would be reduced to depend on a toil so miserable and so unremunerative.1 But though we see how much he felt the burden of the wretched labour by which he determined to earn his own bread rather than trespass on the charity of his converts,2 yet it had one advantage in being so absolutely mechanical as to leave the thoughts entirely free. While he plaited the black, strong-scented goat’s hair, he might be soaring in thought to the inmost heaven, or holding high converse with Apollos or Aquila, with Luke or Timothy, on the loftiest themes which can engage the mind of man.

Before considering further the influence exercised by his birthplace on the future fortunes of St. Paul, we must pause to inquire what can be discovered about his immediate family. It must be admitted that we can ascertain but little. Their possession, by whatever means, of the Roman citizenship—the mere fact of their leaving Palestine, perhaps only a short time before Paul’s birth, to become units in the vast multitude of the Jews of the Dispersion—the fact, too, that so many of St. Paul’ “kinsmen” bear Greek and Latin names,3 and lived in Rome or in Ephesus,4 might, at first sight, lead us to suppose that his whole family was of Hellenising tendencies. On the other hand, we know nothing of the reasons which may have compelled them to leave Palestine, and we have only the vaguest conjectures as to their possession of the franchise. Even if it be certain that συγγενεῖς means “kinsmen” in our sense of the word, and not, as Olshausen thinks, “fellow-countrymen,”1 it was so common for Jews to have a second name, which they adopted during their residence in heathen countries, that Andronicus and the others, whom he salutes in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, may all have been genuine Hebrews. The real name of Jason, for instance, may have been Jesus, just as the real name of Paul was Saul.2 However this may be, the thorough Hebraism of the family appears in many ways. Paul’s father and grandfather had been Pharisees,3 and were, therefore, most strict observers of the Mosaic law. They had so little forgotten their extraction from the tribe of Benjamin—one of the two tribes which had remained faithful to the covenant—that they called their son Saul,4 partly perhaps because the name, like Theætetus, means “asked” (of God), and partly because it was the name of that unfortunate hero-king of their native tribe, whose sad fate seems for many ages to have rendered his very name unpopular.5 They sent him, probably not later than the age of thirteen, to be trained at the feet of Gamaliel. They seem to have had a married daughter in Jerusalem, whose son, on one memorable occasion, saved Paul’s life.6 Though they must have ordinarily used the Septuagint version of the Bible, from which the great majority of the Apostle’s quotations are taken,1 and from which nearly his whole theological phraseology is derived, they yet trained him to use Aramaic as his native tongue, and to read the Scriptures—an accomplishment not possessed by many learned Jewish Hellenists—in their own venerable original Hebrew.2


That St. Paul was a “Hebraist” in the fullest sense of the word is clear from almost every verse of his Epistles. He reckons time by the Hebrew calendar. He makes constant allusion to Jewish customs, Jewish laws, and Jewish festivals. His metaphors and turns of expression are derived with great frequency from that quiet family life for which the Jews have been in all ages distinguished. Though he writes in Greek, it is not by any means in the Greek of the schools,3 or the Greek which, in spite of its occasional antitheses and paronomasias, would have been found tolerable by the rhetoricians of his native city. The famous critic Longinus does indeed, if the passage be genuine, praise him as the master of a dogmatic style; but certainly a Tarsian professor or a philosopher of Athens would have been inclined to ridicule his Hebraic peculiarities, awkward anakolutha, harshly-mingled metaphors, strange forms, and irregular constructions.4 St. Jerome, criticising the οὐ κατενάρκησα ὑμῶν of 2 Cor. 11:9, 12:13—which in our version is rendered, “I was not burdensome to you,” but appears to mean literally, “I did not benumb you”—speaks of the numerous cilicisms of his style; and it is probable that such there were, though they can hardly be detected with certainty by a modern reader.1 For though Tarsus was a city of advanced culture, Cilicia was as intellectually barbarous as it was morally despicable. The proper language of Cilicia was a dialect of Phœnician,2 and the Greek spoken by some of the cities was so faulty as to have originated the term “solecism,” which has been perpetuated in all languages to indicate impossible constructions.3

The residence of a Jew in a foreign city might, of course, tend to undermine his national religion and make him indifferent to his hereditary customs. It might, however, produce an effect directly the reverse of this. There had been abundant instances of Hellenistic Jews who Hellenised in matters far more serious than the language which they spoke; but, on the other hand, the Jews, as a nation, have ever shown an almost miraculous vitality, and so far from being denationalized by a home among the heathen, have only been confirmed in the intensity of their patriotism and their faith. We know that this had been the case with that numerous and important body, the Jews of Tarsus. In this respect, they differed considerably from the Jews of Alexandria. They could not have been exempt from that hatred which has through so many ages wronged and dishonored their noble race, and which was already virulent among the Romans of that day. All that we hear about them shows that the Cilician Jews were as capable as any of their brethren of repaying hate with double hatred, and scorn with double scorn. They would be all the more likely to do so from the condition of things around them. The belief in Paganism was more firmly rooted in the provinces than in Italy and was especially vigorous in Tarsus—in this respect no unfitting burial-place for Julian the Apostate. No ages are worse, no places more corrupt, than those that draw the iridescent film of an intellectual culture over the deep stagnancy of moral degradation. And this was the condition of Tarsus. The seat of a celebrated school of letters, it was at the same time the metropolis of a province so low in universal estimation that it was counted among the τρία κάππα κάκιστα—the three most villainous k’s of antiquity, Kappadokia, Kilikia, and Krete. What religion there was at this period had chiefly assumed an orgiastic and oriental character, and the popular faith of many even in Rome was a strange mixture of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Phrygian, Phœnician, and Jewish elements. The wild, fanatical enthusiasms of the Eastern cults shook with new sensations of mad sensuality and weird superstition the feeble and jaded despair of Aryan Paganism. The Tarsian idolatry was composed of these mingled elements. There, in Plutarch’s time, a generation after St. Paul, the sword of Apollo, miraculously preserved from decay and rust, was still displayed. Hermes Eriounios, or the luck-bringer, still appears purse in hand, upon their coins. Æsculapius was still believed to manifest his power and presence in the neighboring Ægæ.1 But the traditional founder of the city was the Assyrian, Sardanapalus, whose semi-historical existence was confused, in the then syncretism of Pagan worship, with various representatives of the sun-god—the Asiatic Sandan, the Phœnician Baal, and the Grecian Hercules. The gross allusiveness and origin of this worship, its connection with the very types and ideals of luxurious effeminacy, unbounded gluttony, and brutal license, were quite sufficient to awake the indignant loathing of each true-hearted Jew; and these revolts of natural antipathy in the hearts of a people in whom true religion has ever been united with personal purity would be intensified with patriotic disgust when they saw that, at the main festival of this degraded cult the effeminate Sardanapalus and the masculine Semiramis—each equally detestable—were worshipped with rites which externally resembled the pure and thankful rejoicings of the Feast of Tabernacles. St. Paul must have witnessed this festival. He must have seen at Anchiale the most defiant symbol of cynical contentment with all which is merely animal in the statue of Sardanapalus, represented as snapping his fingers while he uttered the sentiment engraved upon the pedestal—

“Eat, drink, enjoy thyself; the rest is nothing.”2

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

The result which such spectacles and such sentiments had left upon his mind, had not been one of tolerance, or of blunted sensibility to the horror of evil. They had inspired, on the one hand, an overpowering sense of disgust; on the other, an overwhelming conviction, deepened by subsequent observation, that mental perversity leads to, and is in its turn aggravated by, moral degradation; that error in the intellect involves an ultimate error in the life and in the will; that the darkening of the understanding is inevitably associated with the darkening of the soul and spirit, and that out of such darkness spring the hidden things which degrade immoral lives. He who would know what was the aspect of Paganism to one who had seen it from his childhood upwards in its characteristic developments must-read that most terrible passage of all Scripture, in which the full blaze of scorching sunlight burns with its fiercest flame of indignation upon the pollutions of Pagan wickedness. Under that glare of holy wrath, we see Paganism in all its unnatural deformity. No halo of imagination surrounds it, no gleam of fancy plays over its glittering corruption. We see it as it was. Far other maybe its aspect when the glamour of Hellenic grace is flung over it, when “the lunar beam of Plato’s genius” or the meteoric wit of Aristophanes light up, as by enchantment, its revolting sorceries. But he who would truly judge of it—he who would see it as it shall seem when there shall fall on it a ray out of God’s eternity, must view it as it appeared to the penetrating glance of a pure and enlightened eye. St. Paul, furnished by inward chastity with a diviner moly, a more potent haemony, than those of Homer’s and Milton’s song—unmoved, untempted, unbewitched, unterrified—sees in this painted Circe no laughing maiden, no bright-eyed daughter of the sun, but a foul and baleful harlot; and, seizing her by the hair, stamps deep upon her leprous forehead the burning titles of her shame. Henceforth she may go for all time throughout the world a branded sorceress. All may read that festering stigma; none can henceforth deceive the nations into regrets for the vanished graces of a world which knew not God.1


But besides this unmitigated horror inspired by the lowest aspect of heathen life, St. Paul derived from his early insight into its character his deep conviction that earthly knowledge has no necessary connection with heavenly wisdom. If we may trust the romance of the sophist Philostratus, and if he is not merely appropriating the sentiments which he had derived from Christianity, the youthful Apollonius of Tyana, who was afterward held up as a kind of heathen parallel to Christ, was studying under the orator Euthydemus at Tarsus at the very time when it must also have been the residence of the youthful Paul;2 and even Apollonius, at the age of thirteen, was so struck with the contrast between the professed wisdom of the city and its miserable morality, that he obtained leave from his father to remove to Ægæ, and so pursue his studies at a more serious and religious place.3 The picture drawn, so long afterward, by Philostratus, of the luxury, the buffoonery, the petulance, the dandyism, the gossip, of the life at Tarsus, as a serious boy-philosopher is supposed to have witnessed it, might have no historical value if it were not confirmed in every particular by the sober narrative of the contemporary Strabo. “So great,” he says, “is the zeal of the inhabitants for philosophy and all other encyclic training, that they have surpassed even Athens and Alexandria, and every other place one could mention in which philological and philosophical schools have arisen.”1 The state of affairs resulting from the social atmosphere which he proceeds to describe is as amusing as it is despicable. It gives us a glimpse of the professorial world in days of Pagan decadence; of a professorial world, not such as it now is, and often has been, in our English and German Universities, where Christian brotherhood and mutual esteem have taken the place of wretched rivalism, and where good and learned men devote their lives to “gazing on the bright countenance of truth in the mild and dewy air of delightful studies,” but as it was also in the days of the Poggios, Filelfos, and Politians of the Renaissance—cliques of jealous savans, narrow, selfish, unscrupulous, base, skeptical, impure—bursting with gossip, scandal, and spite. “The thrones” of these little “academic gods” were as mutually hostile and as universally degraded as those of the Olympian deities, in which it was, perhaps, a happy thing that they had ceased to believe. One illustrious professor cheated the State by stealing oil; another avenged himself on an opponent by epigrams; another by a nocturnal bespattering of his house; and rhetorical jealousies often ended in bloody quarrels. On this unedifying spectacle of littleness in great places the people, in general, looked with admiring eyes and discussed the petty discords of these squabbling sophists as though they were matters of historical importance.2 We can well imagine how unutterably frivolous this apotheosis of pedantism would appear to a serious-minded and faithful Jew; and it may have been his Tarsian reminiscences which added emphasis to St. Paul’s reiterated warnings—that the wise men of heathendom, “alleging themselves to be wise, became fools;” that “they became vain in their disputings, and their unintelligent heart was darkened;”1 that “the wisdom of this world is folly in the sight of God, for it is written, He who graspeth the wise in their own craftiness”. And again, “the Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise that they are vain.”2 But while he thus confirms his tenet, according to his usual custom, by Scriptural quotations from Job and the Psalms, and elsewhere from Isaiah and Jeremiah,3 he reiterates again and again from his own experience that the Greeks seek after wisdom and regard the Cross as foolishness, yet that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men, and that God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the base things of the world to confound the mighty; and that when, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by “the foolishness of the proclamation”4—for in his strong irony he loves and glories in the antitheses of his opponent’s choosing—“by the foolishness of the thing preached” to save them that believe.5 If the boasted wisdom of the Greek and Roman world was such as the young Saul had seen if their very type of senselessness and foolishness was that which the converted Paul believed, then Paul at least—so he says in his passionate and scornful irony—would choose for ever to be on the side of, to cast in his lot with, to be gladly numbered among, the idiots and the fools.

“He who hath felt the Spirit of the Highest
Cannot confound, or doubt Him, or defy;
Yea, with one voice, O world, though thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side—for on this am I!”

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

St. Paul, then, was to the very heart a Jew—a Jew in culture, a Jew in sympathy, a Jew in nationality, a Jew in faith. His temperament was in no sense what we ordinarily regard as a poetic temperament; yet when we remember how all the poetry which existed in the moral depths of his nature was sustained by the rhythms and imagery, as his soul itself was sustained by the thoughts and hopes, of his national literature—when we consider how the star of Abraham had seemed to shine on his cradle in a heathen land, and his boyhood in the dim streets of unhallowed Tarsus to gain freshness and sweetness “from the waving and rustling of the oak of Mamre”1—we can understand that though in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, but a new creation,2 yet for no earthly possession would he have bartered his connection with the chosen race. In his Epistle to the Romans, he speaks in almost the very language of the Talmudist: “Israel hath sinned (Josh. 7:11), but although he hath sinned” said Rabbi Abba bar Zavda, “he is still Israel. Hence the proverb—A myrtle among nettles is still called a myrtle”3 And when we read the numerous passages in which he vaunts his participation in the hopes of Israel, his claim to be a fruitful branch in the rich olive of Jewish life; when we hear him speak of their adoption, their Shechinah, their covenants, their Law, their worship, their promises, their Fathers, their oracles of God, their claim of kinsmanship with the humanity of Christ,1 we can understand to the full the intense ejaculation of his patriotic fervor, when—in language which has ever been the stumbling-block of religious selfishness, but which surpasses the noblest utterances of heroic self-devotion—he declares that he could wish himself accursed from Christ2 for his brethren, his kinsmen, according to the flesh.3 The valiant spirit of the Jews of Tarsus sent them in hundreds to die, sword in hand, amid the carnage of captured Jerusalem, and to shed their last blood to slake, if might be, the very embers of the conflagration which destroyed the Temple of their love. The same patriotism burned in the spirit, the same blood flowed in the veins, not only of Saul the Pharisee but of Paul the prisoner of the Lord.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

It will be seen from all that we have said that we wholly disagree with those who have made it their favorite thesis to maintain for St. Paul the early acquisition of an advanced Hellenic culture. His style and his dialectic method have been appealed to in order to support this view.4 His style, however, is that of a man who wrote in a peculiar and provincial Greek, but thought in Syriac; and his dialectical method is purely Rabbinic. As for his deep knowledge of heathen life, we may be sure that it was not derived from books, but from the fatal wickedness of which he had been a daily witness. A Jew in a heathen city needed no books to reveal to him the “depths of Satan.” In this respect how startling a revelation to the modern world was the indisputable evidence of the ruins of Pompeii! Who would have expected to find the infamies of the Dead Sea cities paraded with such infinite shamelessness in every street of a little provincial town? What innocent snow could ever hide the guilty front of a life so unspeakably abominable? Could anything short of the earthquake have engulfed it, or of the volcano have burnt it up? And if Pompeii was like this, we may judge, from the works of Aristophanes and Athenæus, of Juvenal and Martial, of Petronius and Apuleius, of Strato and Meleager—which may be regarded as the “pièces justificatives” of St. Paul’s estimate of heathendom—what Tarsus and Ephesus, what Corinth and Miletus, were likely to have been. In days and countries when the darkness was so deep that the very deeds of darkness did not need to hide themselves—in days and cities where the worst vilenesses of idolatry were trumpeted in its streets, and sculptured in its market-places, and consecrated in its worship, and stamped upon its coins—did Paul need Greek study to tell him the characteristics of a godless civilization? The notion of Baumgarten that, after his conversion, St. Paul earnestly studied Greek literature at Tarsus, with a view to his mission among the heathen—or that the “books” and parchments which he asked to be sent to him from the house of Carpus at Troas,1 were of this description—is as precarious as the fancy that his parents sent him to be educated at Jerusalem in order to counteract the commencing sorcery exercised over his imagination by Hellenic studies. Gamaliel, it is true, was one of the few Rabbis who took the liberal and enlightened view about the permissibility of the Chokmah Jovanith, or “wisdom of the Greeks”—one of the few who held the desirability of not wholly dissevering the white tallı̂th of Shem from the stained pallium of Japhet.1 But, on the one hand, neither would Gamaliel have had that false toleration which seems to think that “the ointment of the apothecary” is valueless without “the fly which causeth it to stink;” and, on the other hand, if Gamaliel had allowed his pupils to handle such books, or such parts of books, as dwelt on the darker side of Paganism, Paul was not the kind of pupil who would, for a moment, have availed himself of such “ruinous edification.”2 The Jews were so scrupulous, that some of them held concerning books of their own hagiographa—such, for instance, as the Book of Esther—that they were dubious reading. They would not allow their youth even to open the Song of Solomon before the age of twenty-one. Nothing, therefore, can be more certain than that “a Pharisee of Pharisees,” even though his boyhood were spent in heathen Tarsus, would not have been allowed to read—barely even allowed to know the existence of—any but the sweetest and soundest portions of Greek letters, if even these.1 But who that has read St. Paul can believe that he had ever studied Homer, or Æschylus, or Sophocles? If he had done so, would there—in a writer who often “thinks in quotations”—have been no touch or trace of any reminiscence of, or allusion to, epic or tragic poetry in epistles written at Athens and at Corinth, and beside the very tumuli of Ajax and Achilles? Had Paul been a reader of Aristotle, would he have argued in the style which he adopts in the Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans?2 Had he been a reader of Plato, would the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians have carried in it not the most remotely faint allusion to the splendid guesses of the Phaedo? Nothing can be more clear than that he had never been subjected to a classic training. His Greek is not the Greek of the Atticists, nor his rhetoric the rhetoric of the schools, nor his logic the logic of the philosophers. It is doubtful whether the incomparable energy and individuality of his style and of his reasoning would not have been merely enfeebled and conventionalized if he had gone through any prolonged course of the only training which the Sophists of Tarsus could have given him.1

by Frederic William Farrar



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1 Acts 7:58.

2 Philem., verse 9. It should, indeed, be mentioned that whether we read πρεσβύτης or πρεσβευτὴς, the meaning may be, “Paul an ambassador, ay, and now even a chained ambassador, of Jesus Christ.” Compare the fine antithesis, ὑπὲρ οὗ πρεσβεύω ἐν ἁλύσει, “I am an ambassador in fetters” (Eph. 6:20). The tone of his later writings is, however, that of an old man.

1 Jer. Taylor.

2 Roger Bacon calls himself “senem,” apparently at fifty-three, and Sir Walter Scott speaks of himself as a “grey old man” at fifty-five. (See Lightfoot, Colossians, p. 404.) According to Philo a man was νεανίας between twenty-one and twenty-eight; but his distinctions are purely artificial. It seems that a man might be called νεανίας and even νεανίσκος till forty. (Xen. Mem. i. 2, 35; Krüger, Vit. Xen. 12.)

3 These dates agree fairly with the statement of the Pseudo-Chrysostom (Orat. Encom. in Pet. et Paul., Opp. viii., ed. Montfaucon), that he had been for thirty-five years a servant of Christ, and was martyred at the age of sixty-eight.

1 Acts 22:3.

2 Jer. de Viris Illustr. 5: “De tribu Benjamin et oppido Judaeae Giscalis fuit, quo a Romanis capto, cum parentibus suis Tarsum Ciliciae commigravit.” It has been again and again asserted that St. Jerome rejects or discredits this tradition in his Commentary on Philemon (Opp. iv. 454), where he says that some understood the term “my fellow-prisoner” to mean that Epaphras had been taken captive at Giscala at the same time as Paul, and had been settled in Colossæ. Even Neander (Planting, p. 79) follows this current error, on the ground that Jerome says, “Quis sit Epaphras concaptivus Pauli talem fabulam accepimus.” But that fabula does not here mean “false account,” as he translates it, is sufficiently proved by the fact that St. Jerome continues, “Quod si ita est, possumus et Epaphram illo tempore captum suspicari, quo captus est Paulus,” &c.

3 Giscala, now El-Jish, was the last place in Galilee that held out against the Romans. (Jos. B. J. ii. 20, § 6; iv. 2, §§ 1–5.)

4 It was taken A.D. 67.

1 Jos. B. J. vi. 21, § 1; Vit. 10. He calls it Πολιχνη.

2 John 1:47; Acts 13:16; Rom. 9:4.

3 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5.

4 See Acts 6:1, and infra, p. 125.

5 Parentum conditionem adolescentulum Paulum secutum, et sic posse Stare illud, quod de se ipso testatur, ‘Hebraci sunt?’ et ego, &c., quae illum Judacum magis indicant, quam Tarsensem” (Jer.).

1 Philo’s ignorance of Hebrew is generally admitted.

2 Acts 21:40: τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ—i.e., of course, the Syriac. These Jews of Palestine would for the most part be able to understand the Bible, if not in the original Hebrew, at any rate through the aid of a paraphrased.

3 E.g., in 1 Cor. 3:19; 2 Cor. 8:15; 2 Tim. 2:19. Whether there existed any Volksbibel of extracts besides the LXX. I will not discuss. See Ililgenfeld, Zeitschr. xviii. (1875), p. 118.

4 The Cydnus no longer, however, flows through Tersoos as it did (Strabo, xiv. 5; Plin. II. N. vi. 22; Beanfort’s Karamania, 271 sq.).

1 Acts 17:24; 1 Cor. 15:41.

1 Acts 14:17.

2 By Mr. Humphry, ad loc.

3 Job 5:10; Ps. 104:15, 147:8, 9.

1 Compare the surprise expressed by the Athenian youth at Socrates’ description of the lovely scene at the beginning of the Phaedrus, § 10, Σὺ δέ γε ὧ θαυμάσιε ἀτοπώτατός τις φαίνει. There is an admirable chapter on this subject in Friedländer, Sittengesch. Roms. vii. 5, § 3. The reader will recall the analogous cases of St. Bernard riding all day along the Lake of Geneva, and asking in the evening where it was; of Calvin showing no trace of delight in the beauties of Switzerland; and of Whitefield, who seems not to have borrowed a single impression or illustration from his thirteen voyages across the Atlantic and his travels from Georgia to Boston.

2 “For I was bred,

In the great city, pent ’mid cloisters dim,

And saw nought lovely save the sky and stars.”


1 I allude to the famous illustration of the wild olive graft (Rom. 11:16–25). St. Paul’s argument requires that a wild slip should have been budded upon a fruitful tree—viz., the ἀγριέλαιος of heathendom on the ἐλαία of Judaism. But it is scarcely needful to remark that this is never done, but the reverse—namely, the grafting of a fruitful scion on a wild stock. The olive shoot would be grafted on the oleaster, not the oleaster on the olive (Aug. in Ps. 70). It is true that St. Paul here cares solely for the general analogy, and would have been entirely indifferent to its non-accordance with the ordinary method of ἐγκεντρισμός. Indeed, as he says that it is παρὰ φύσιν (11:24), it seems needless to show that this kind of grafting was ever really practised. Yet the illustration would, under these circumstances, hardly have been used by a writer more familiar with the facts of Nature. The notion that St. Paul alluded to the much rarer African custom of grafting oleaster (or Ethiopic olive) on olive, to strengthen the latter (cf. Plin. H. N. xvii. 18; Colum. De re Rust. v. 9; Palladius; &c.), is most unlikely, if only for the reason that it destroys the whole force of the truth which he is desiring to inculcate. (See Ewbank, ii. 112; Tholuck, Rom. 617; Meyer, 343.) He may have known the proverb, ἀκαρπότερον ἀγριελαίου. See, however, a somewhat different view in Thomson, Land and Book, p. 53.

2 Tarsus resisted the party of Brutus and Cassius, but was conquered by Lucius Rufus, b.c. 43, and many Tarsians were sold as slaves to pay the fine of 1,500 talents which he inflicted on the city. (Appian, Bell. Civ. iv. 64.) Τάρσος … πάρʼ αὐτοῖς τῶν πόλεων ἀξιολογωτάτη μητρόπολις οὖσα (Jos. Antt. i. 6, § 1).

1 2 Cor. 2:17, καπηλεύοντες; 4:2, δολοῦντες.

2 Eph. 1:13; 4:30, ἐσφράγισθητε.

3 2 Cor. 1:22, ἀρʼῥαβών.

1 קָהָל 1 Kings 12:3 (LXX.) The word “Church,” in its more technical modern sense (as in Eph. and Col.), is developed out of the simpler meaning of congregation in St. Paul’s earlier Epistles.

2 See Philo, De Victim. 836; Plin. H. N. v. 32.

3 σκηνοποιὸς, Acts 18:3; σκηνορʼῥάφος, Ps. Chrys. Orat. Encon. (Opp. viii. 8, Mentfauc.). When Chrysostom calls him a σκυτοτόμος, “leather-cutter” (Hom. iv. 3, p. 864, on 2 Tim. 2), this can hardly be correct, because such a trade would not be favoured by strict Pharisees. On the use of cilicium for tents see Veget. Milit. iv. 6; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. iii. 313. It served for many other purposes, as garden rugs, mantelets, shoes, and beds. (Colum. xii. 46; xxxvii. 7; Mart. xiv. 140; Jer. Ep. 108.) To handle the “olentis barba mariti” could not have been a pleasant trade. It was “bought from the shepherds of Taurus, and sold to Greek shippers of the Levant.” To this day cilice means hair-cloth in French.

4 On this subject see my Life of Christ, i. p. 82, n. Gamaliel himself was the author of the celebrated aphorism, that “learning of any kind (כל תורה, i.e., even the advanced study of the Law) unaccompanied by a trade ends in nothing, and leads to sin” (Pirke Abhôth. ii. 2). R. Judah said truly that “labour honours the labourer” (Nedarim. 49, 2); R. Meir said, “Let a man always teach his son pure and easy trades” (Toseft. in Kidd. f. 82, 1); R. Judah says, that not to teach one’s son a trade is like teaching him robbery (Kiddushin, f. 30, 2).

1 The reason why he was taught this particular trade may have been purely local. Possibly his father had been taught the same trade as a boy. “A man should not change his trade, nor that of his father,” says R. Yochanan; for it is said, “Hiram of Tyre was a widow’s son, … and his father was … a worker in brass” (1 Kings 7:13, 14); Erechin, f. 16, 2.

2 1 Thess. 2:6, 9; 2 Thess. 3:8; 1 Cor. 9:12, 15.

3 Rom. 16:7; Andronicus, Junia, or perhaps Junias (=Junianus); 11, Herodion; 21, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater (συγγενεῖς).

4 See infra, ad loc., for the question whether ch. 16 is a genuine portion of the Epistle to the Romans.

1 As in Rom. 9:3.

2 When a Greek or Roman name bore any resemblance in sound to a Jewish one, it was obviously convenient for the Jew to make so slight a change. Thus Dosthai became Dositheus; Tarphon, Tryphon; Eliakim, Alkimos, &c.

3 Acts 23:6.

4 שָׁאוּל, Shaûl.

5 It is found as a Hebrew name in the Pentateuch (Gen. 36:37; 46:10; Ex. 6:15; Numb. 26:13); but after the death of King Saul it does not occur till the time of the Apostle, and again later in Josephus (Antt. xx. 9, 4; B. J. ii. 17, 4; Krenkel, Paulus, p. 217).

6 Acts 23:16.

1 There are about 278 quotations from the Old Testament in the New. Of these 53 are identical in the Hebrew, Septuagint, and New Testament; in 10 the Septuagint is correctly altered; in 76 it is altered incorrectly—i.e., into greater divergence from the Hebrew; in 37 it is accepted where it differs from the Hebrew; in 99 all three differ; and there are 3 doubtful allusions. (See Turpie, The Old Testament in the New, p. 267, and passim)

2 V. supra, p. 16.

3 Among numerous explanations of the πηλίκοις γράμμασιν of Gal. 6:11, one is that his Greek letters were so ill-formed, from want of practice, as to look almost laughable.

4 See infra, Excursus I., “The Style of St. Paul”; and Excursus II., “Rhetoric of St. Paul.”

1 “Multa sunt verba, quibus juxta morem urbis et provinciae suae, familiarius Apostolus utitur: e quibus exempli gratiâ pauca ponenda sunt.” He refers to κατενάρκησα (2 Cor. 11:9), ὑπὸ ἀνθρωπίνης ἡμέρας (1 Cor. 4:3), and καταβραβευέτω (Col. 2:18); and adds, “Quibus, et aliis multis, usque hodie utuntur Cilices” (Jer. Ep. ad Algas, qu. 10). Weistein, however, adducas ἀποναρκάω, from Plut. De Liber. Educ. p. 8, and ναρκάω occurs in the LXX. (Gen. 32:25, 32; Job 33:19) and in Jos. Antt. viii. 8, § 5; νάρκη is the torpedo or gymnotus. Since καταναρκάω is only found in Hippocrates, Dr. Plumptre thinks it may have been a medical word in vogue in the schools of Tarsus. Gregory of Nyssa, on 1 Cor. 15:28, quotes ἐκένωσεν (Phil. 2:7), ὁμειρόμενοι (1 Thess. 2:8), περπερεύεται (1 Cor. 13:4), ἐριθείας (Rom. 2:8), &c., as instances of St. Paul’s autocracy over words.

2 See Hdt. i. 74, vii. 91; Xen. Anab. b. ii. 2.6.

3 Σολοικισμός. See Strabo, p. 663; Diog. Laert. i. 51. But the derivation from Soli is not certain.

1 De Def. Orac. 41; Hausrath, pp. 7–9. See, too, Plutarch, περὶ δεισιδαιμονίας καὶ ἀθεότητος, ii.; Neander, Ch. Hist. i. 15 sq.

2 Strabo, xiv. 4; Athen. 12. p. 529; Cic. Tusc. Disp. v. 35. Hausrath, p. 7, finds a reminiscence of this in 1 Cor. 15:32, which may, however, have been quite as probably derived from the wide-spread fable of the Epicurean lly dying in the honey-pot, καὶ βέβρωκα καὶ πέπωκα καὶ λέλουμαι κἂν ἀποθάνω οὐδὲν μέλει μοί.

1 V. infra, on Rom. 1:18–32.

2 Philostrat. Vit. Apoll. i. 7.

3 Ὁ δὲ τὸν μὲν διδάσκαλον εἴχετο τὸ δὲ τῆς πολεως ἦθος ἄτοπόν τε ἡγεῖτο καὶ οὐ χρηστὸν ἐμφιλοσοφῆσαι. τρυφῆς τε γὰρ οὐδαμοῦ μᾶλλον ἅπτονται, σκωπτόται τε καὶ ὑβρισταὶ πάντες (Philostr. Vit. Apollon. i. p. 8, chap. 7, ed. Olear. 1709).

1 Strabo, xiv. 4, pp. 672, 673. See, too, Xen. Anab. i. 2, 23; Plin. v. 22; Q. Cart. iii. 5, 1. The Stoies, Athenodorus, tutor of Augustus, and Nestor, tutor of Tiberius, lived at Tarsus; and others are mentioned.

2 Ποταμός τε αὐτοὺς διαρʼῥεῖ Κύδνος, ᾧ παρακάθηνται, κάθαπερ τῶν ὀρνίθων οἱ ὑγροί. (Philostr. ubi supr.).

1 Rom. 1:21, 22.

2 1 Cor. 3:18–20.

3 Job 5:13; Ps. 94:11; Is. 29:14; 33:18; 44:25; Jer. 8:9; 1 Cor. 1:18–27.

4 1 Cor. 1:21, διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος.

5 1 Cor. 1:18, 25; 2:14; 3:19; 4:10; 2 Cor. 11:16, 19.

1 Hausrath, p. 20.

2 κτίσις, Gal. 6:15; 3:28.

3 Sanhedrin, f. 44, 1. Rom. 3:2; 9, passim

1 Rom. 9:1–5; 10:1; 11:1.

2 Rom. 9:3.

3 Any one who wishes to see the contortions of a narrow exegesis struggling to extricate itself out of a plain meaning, which is too noble for its comprehension, may see specimens of it in commentaries upon this text. This, alas! is only one instance of the spirit which so often makes the reading of an ordinary variorum Pauline commentary one of the most tedious, bewildering, and unprofitable of employments. Strange that, with the example of Chirst before their eyes, many erudite Christian commentators should know so little of the sublimity of unselfishness as to force us to look to the parallels of a Moses—nay, even of a Danton—in order that we may be able to conceive of the true nobleness of a Paul! But there are cases in which he who would obtain from the writings of St. Paul their true, and often quite simple and transparent, meaning, must tear away with unsparing hand the accumulated sobwebs of centuries of error.

4 See Schaff, Hist. of Anct. Christianity, i. 68.

1 2 Tim. 4:13.

1 See Life of Christ, Exc. IV. vol. ii. 461. The study of Greek literature by the House of Gamaliel is said to have been connived at by the Rabbis, on the plea that they needed a knowledge of Greek in civil and diplomatic intercourse on behalf of their countrymen (see Etheridge, Heb. Lit. p. 45). Rabban Shimon Ben Gamaliel is said to have remarked that there were 1,000 children in his father’s house, of whom 500 studied the law, and 500 the wisdom of the Greeks, and that of these all but two perished [in the rebellion of Bar-chocba?] (Babha Kama, f. 83, 1). The author of the celebrated comparison, that “because the two sons of Noah, Shem and Japhet, united to cover with one garment their father’s nakedness, Shem obtained the fringed garment (tallith), and Japhet the philosopher’s garment (pallium), which ought to be united again,” was R. Jochanan Ben Napuchah (Midr. Rabbah, Gen. 36.; Jer. Sotah, ad f.; Selden, De Synedr. ii. 9, 2; Biscoe, p. 60). On the other hand, the narrower Rabbis identified Greek learning with Egyptian thaumaturgy; and when R. Elieser Ben Dama asked his uncle, R. Ismael, whether one might not learn Greek knowledge after having studied the entire law, R. Ismael quoted in reply Josh. 1:8, and said, “Go and find a moment which is neither day nor night, and then abandon yourself in it to Greek knowledge” (Menachôth, 99, 2).

2 1 Cor. 8:10, ἡ συνείδησις αὐτοῦ ἀσθενοῦς ὄντος οἰκοδομηθήσεται εἰς τὸ τὰ εἰδωλόθυτα ἐσθίειν. Ruinosa aedificatio, Calv. ad loc.

1 See Sota, 49, 6; and the strong condemnation of all Gentile books by R. Akibha, Bab. Sanhedr. 90, a. (Gfrörer, Jahrh. d. Heils. i. 114; Philo, ii. 350; Grätz, iii. 502; Derenbourg, Palest. 114.) In Yadayim, iv. 6, the Sadducees complain of some Pharisees for holding that the Books of Ecclesiastes and Canticles “defile the hands,” while “the books of Homeros” do not. The comment appended to this remark shows, however, the most astounding ignorance. The two Rabbis (in loco) take “Meros” to be the proper name, preceded by the article, and deriving Meros from rasas, to destroy, make the poems of Homer into books which cavil against the Law and are doomed to destruction! Grätz denies that המירם is Homer.

2 “Melius haec sibi convenissent,” says Fritzsche, in alluding to one of St. Paul’s antinomies, “si Apostolus Aristotelis non Gamalielis alumnus fuisset.”

1 See Excursus I., “The Style of St. Paul;” Excursus II., “Rhetoric of St. Paul;” and Excursus III., “The Classic Quotations and Allusions of St. Paul.” I may sum up the conclusion of these essays by stating that St. Paul had but a slight acquaintance with Greek literature, but that he had very probably attended some elementary classes in Tarsus, in which he had gained a tincture of Greek rhetoric, and possibly even of Stoic principles.


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