The course of the Apostolic history having brought us into the region to which Saul had retired, and introduced him again to our notice, we naturally become desirous to know where he had been and what he had been doing since we parted from him last.
He then embarked at Caesarea for Tarsus; and it is now to Tarsus that Barnabas goes to seek Saul, and it would seem to be at Tarsus that he found him. This would, at the first view, seem to imply that he had spent all the intervening time in his native city. It is probable that he did make some stay in Tarsus on his first arrival. But we have already gathered from one of his own intimations, rightly understood, that he, during this time, labored in Cilicia and Syria—doubtless in such parts of Syria, the northern parts, as bordered on Cilicia. It would seem, therefore, that he made Tarsus his head-quarters, whence he made missionary excursions in various directions to neighboring places, and to which he frequently returned. With this agrees the brief intimation of the proceedings of Barnabas. He went to Tarsus not to fetch Saul or to confer with him, as certain of finding him there, but to seek him—as expecting that he should either find him at Tarsus, or learn at that place where he was. So it is not clear that he did find Saul there on his arrival, for it is said that “when he had found him,” implying that there was some delay in finding him, and suggesting that Saul was in fact absent when Barnabas reached Tarsus, but that he there ascertained where he was likely to find, and either followed him or sent for him thither.
Still, as thus explained, Tarsus became the principal residence of Saul during this period; and the instructed imagination strives to realize the circumstances of his return to, and sojourn in, his native place—a man greatly changed. Once more we behold him in the home of his childhood—and it is the last time that we are distinctly told of his being there. Now at length, if not before, we may be sure that he would come into active intercourse with the heathen philosophers of the place. In his last residence at Tarsus, a few years before, he was a Jew, and not only a Jew but a Pharisee, and he looked on the Gentiles around him as outcasts from the favor of God. Now he was a Christian, and not only a Christian, but conscious of his mission as the apostle of the Gentiles. Therefore he would surely meet the philosophers, and prepare to argue with then on their own ground, as afterwards in the “Market” at Athens with the “Epicureans” and the “Stoics.” Note: Act_17:17-18. Many of the Stoics of Tarsus were men of celebrity in the Roman Empire; and now among these eminent sages, some of whom had been tutors of emperors, appeared one whose teaching was destined to survive when the Stoic philosophy should have perished, and whose words still instruct the rulers of every civilized nation. How far Saul’s arguments may have had any success in these quarters we cannot even guess; but although certain salutary impressions eventually productive of good may have been made, the fact that the first fruits of the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius and his friends had not yet probably been gathered in at Caesarea, forbids us to suppose that any actual conversions among the Gentiles at Tarsus had been effected during at least the early part of Saul’s residence there. And although he may not, until after that great event, have become fully aware of the breadth of his own commission as the apostle of the Gentiles, we cannot doubt that he was, during this time, preparing, whether consciously or not, for its great requirements and weighty duties. Among the Jews at Tarsus—in its synagogues—we cannot suppose that he was silent or unsuccessful. In his own family we may well imagine that some of those Christian “kindred” whose names are handed down to us Note: Rom_16:7; Rom_16:11.—possibly his sister, the playmate of his childhood—and his sister’s son, Note: Act_23:16-22. who afterwards saved his life—were at this time, by his own exertions gathered into the fold of Christ.
Much of this is necessarily conjectural. But “whatever length of time had elapsed since Saul came from Jerusalem to Tarsus, and however that time had been employed by him—whether he had already founded these churches in his native Cilicia, which we read of soon after, Note: Act_15:41.—whether he had there undergone any of those manifold labors and sufferings recorded by himself, Note: 2 Corinthians 11. but omitted by St. Luke—whether by active intercourse with the Gentiles, by study of their literature, by traveling, by discoursing with their philosophers, he had been making himself acquainted with their opinions and prejudices, and so preparing his mind for the work that was before him; or whether he had been waiting in silence for the call of God’s providence, praying for guidance from above, reflecting on the condition of the Gentiles, and gazing more and more closely on the plan of the world’s redemption—however this may be, it must have been an eventful day when Barnabas, having come across the sea from Seleucia, or round by the defiles of Mount Amanus, suddenly appeared in the streets of Tarsus. The last time the two friends met was in Jerusalem. All that they then hoped, and probably more than they then thought possible, had occurred. God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life. Note: Act_11:18. Barnabas had seen ‘the grace of God’ Note: Act_11:23. with his own eyes at Antioch, and under his own teaching, ‘a great multitude’ Note: Act_11:24. had been ‘added to the Lord.’ But he needed the assistance of one whose wisdom was higher than his own, whose zeal was an example to all, and whose peculiar mission had been miraculously declared.” Note: Howson, in Life and Writings of St. Paul; i. 128.
Saul doubtless accompanied his old friend with great readiness to Antioch: and the result of a year of their joint labor in that city was last evening noticed.