Acts 21:39
But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech you, suffer me to speak to the people.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(39) A citizen of no mean city.—The boast was quite a legitimate one. In addition to all its fame for culture, the town of Tarsus bore on its coins the word METROPOLIS-AUTONOMOS (Independent).

21:27-40 In the temple, where Paul should have been protected as in a place of safety, he was violently set upon. They falsely charged him with ill doctrine and ill practice against the Mosaic ceremonies. It is no new thing for those who mean honestly and act regularly, to have things laid to their charge which they know not and never thought of. It is common for the wise and good to have that charged against them by malicious people, with which they thought to have obliged them. God often makes those a protection to his people, who have no affection to them, but only have compassion for sufferers, and regard to the public peace. And here see what false, mistaken notions of good people and good ministers, many run away with. But God seasonably interposes for the safety of his servants, from wicked and unreasonable men; and gives them opportunities to speak for themselves, to plead for the Redeemer, and to spread abroad his glorious gospel.A Jew of Tarsus - A Jew by birth.

Of no mean city - Not obscure, or undistinguished. He could claim an honorable birth, so far as the place of his nativity was concerned. See the notes on Acts 9:11. Tarsus was much celebrated for its learning, and was at one time the rival of Alexandria and Athens. Xenophon calls it a great and flourishing city. Josephus (Antiq., book 2, chapter 6, section 6) says that it was the metropolis, and most renowned city among them (the Cilicians).

39. a citizen of no mean city—(See on [2089]Ac 16:37). No mean city; it being the metropolis, or chief city, in Cilicia, built by Perseus, as some think; howsoever, having the privilege of the Roman freedom; as Acts 22:28.

I beseech thee: St. Paul begs leave to speak unto the people, that he might not seem to affect popularity, or to be guilty of any insurrection or tumult. Thus he had leave also of Agrippa, before that he made that famous apology, Acts 26:1. 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 (o), and Mela (p); and is by some thought to be the same with the Tarshish of the Old Testament:

a citizen of no mean city; Pliny (q) calls it a free city, and Solinus (r) says it is the mother, or chief of cities, and Curtius (s) 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 (t) 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, , 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 (u); 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 "a Tarsian" (w), as the apostle is here. Hermogenes, a very celebrated rhetorician, some of whose works are still extant, came from hence (x). Jerom (y) 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 (z) 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.

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.

(n) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 27. (o) Geograph. l. 5. c. 8. (p) De orbis situ, l. 1. c. 13. (q) Ib. ut supra. (Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 27.) (r) Polyhist. c. 51. (s) Hist. l. 3. c. 4. (t) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 1.((u) Strabo, Geograph. l. 14. (w) Laert. Vit. Philosoph. l. 7. (x) Vid. Fabricii Bibl. Graec. l. 4. c. 31. sect. 4. 5. (y) Catalog. Script. Eccles. sect. 15. fol. 90. G. & Comment. in Philemon. ver. 23. Tom. 9. fol. 116. L. (z) Ep. ad Tarsenses, p. 75.

But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 21:39-40. I am indeed (μέν)—not the Egyptian, but—a Jew from Tarsus (and so apprehended by thee through being confounded with another), yet I pray thee, etc.

ἄνθρωπος] In his speech to the people Paul used the more honourable word ἀνήρ (Schaefer, ad Long. p. 408). See Acts 22:3.

οὐκ ἀσήμου] See examples of this litotes in the designation of important cities, in Wetstein ad loc. Comp. Jacobs, ad Achill. Tat. p. 718. A conscious feeling of patriotism is implied in the expression.

κατέσ. τ. χ.] See on Acts 12:17.

πολλῆς δὲ σιγῆς γενομ.] “Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant,” Virgil. Aen. ii. 1.

τῇ Ἑβρ. διαλ.] thus not likewise in Greek, as in Acts 21:37, but in the Syro-Chaldaic dialect of the country (Acts 1:9), in order, namely, to find a more favourable hearing with the people.

We may add, that the permission to speak granted by the tribune is too readily explainable from the unexpected disillusion which he had just experienced, Acts 21:39, to admit of its being urged as a reason against the historical character of the speech (Baur, Zeller), just as the silence which set in is explainable enough as the effect of surprise in the case of the mobile vulgus. And if the following speech, as regards its contents, does not enter upon the position of the speaker towards the law, it was, in presence of the prejudice and passion of the multitude, a very wise procedure simply to set forth facts, by which the whole working of the apostle is apologetically exhibited.Acts 21:39. Ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος μέν εἰμι Ἰ.… δέομαι δέ …: there is no strict antithesis, “I am indeed a Jew of Tarsus” (and therefore free from your suspicion); but without speaking further of this, and proceeding perhaps to demand a legal process, the Apostle adds “but I pray you,” etc. Mr. Page explains, from the position of μέν: “I (ἐγώ) as regards your question to me, am a man (ἄνθρωπος μέν), etc., but, as regards my question to you, I ask (δέομαι δέ …),” see reading in [363]. On St. Paul’s citizenship see note below on Acts 22:28. St. Paul uses ἄνθρωπος here, but ἀνήρ, the more dignified term, Acts 22:3, in addressing his fellow-countrymen; but according to Blass, “vix recte distinguitur quasi illud (ἄνθρωπος) ut ap. att. sit humilius,” cf. Matthew 18:23; Matthew 22:2.—λαλῆσαι: Blass has a striking note on Paul’s hopefulness for his people, and the proof apparent here of a man “qui populi sui summo amore imbutus nunquam de eo desperare potuit,” Romans 9-11—Ἰουδ. not only Ταρ., which would have distinguished him from Ἀιγ., but Ἰουδ., otherwise the chiliarch from his speaking Greek might have regarded him as no Jew, and so guilty of death for profaning the Temple.—οὐκ ἀσήμου πόλεως: litotes, Acts 20:29, on Tarsus see Acts 9:11. The city had on its coins the titles μητρόπολις αὐτόνομος. For ἄσημος, cf. 3Ma 3:1, and in classical Greek, Eurip., Ion., 8. οὐκ ἄσ. Ἑλλήνων πόλις, i.e., Athens (Wetstein), see further Acts 22:27. Hobart (so too Zahn) mentions ἄσημος as one of the words which show that Luke, when dealing with unprofessional subjects, shows a leaning to the use of professional language; ἄσημος is the technical term for “a disease without distinctive symptoms,” and Hippocrates, just as Luke, says, μία πόλεων οὐκ ἄσημος, Epis., 1273. So again in Acts 23:13, ἀναδιδόναι, a word applied to the distribution of nourishment throughout the body, or of blood throughout the veins, is used by Hippocrates, as by Luke, l.c., of a messenger delivering a letter, Epis., 1275 (see Hobart and Zahn); but it must be admitted that the same phrase is found in Polybius and Plutarch. Still the fact remains that the phraseology of St. Luke is here illustrated by a use of two similar expressions in Hippocrates, and it should be also remembered that the verb with which St. Luke opens his Gospel, ἐπιχειρεῖν, was frequently used by medical men, and that too in its secondary sense, just as by St. Luke, e.g., Hippocrates begins his treatise De Prisca Med., ὁκόσοι ἐπειχείρησαν περὶ ἰατρικῆς λέγειν ἢ γράφειν (see J. Weiss on Luke 1:1); so too Galen uses the word similarly, although it must be admitted that the same use is found in classical Greek and in Josephus, c. Apion., 2

[363] R(omana), in Blass, a first rough copy of St. Luke.39. But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus] The A. V. does not often follow the Greek so closely as this. And here it is better to read with the Rev. Ver., “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia” (see Acts 6:9, notes).

a citizen of no mean city] Tarsus was the metropolis of Cilicia, and a city remarkable for its culture, and the zeal of its inhabitants for philosophic studies.

and … people] An objection has been here raised that it is extremely improbable that the chief captain could have held this conversation with St Paul amid the tumult, and also that he would have granted permission to speak to a man whom he had just taken as his prisoner, and whom he afterwards arranges to examine by scourging (Acts 22:24). But we have only to remember that the Apostle and his interlocutor were high up above the crowd, and so away from the noise; that the staircase crowded with soldiers, who could not rapidly be withdrawn because they were restraining the multitude, made some delay absolutely unavoidable, and that, added to this was the surprise of the chief captain that his prisoner could speak Greek, and we have enough warrant for accepting the story as it is here told. Moreover the Greek which the Apostle used was of a very polished character, shewing the education and refinement of the speaker, and making good his claim to respect.Acts 21:39. Μὲν) Μὲν imparts ἦθος to the beginning of a speech: ch. Acts 22:3, ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι ἀνήρ.—[λαλῆσαι, to speak) With what great prudence did the apostle forthwith avail himself of the opportunity afforded by circumstances! Wheresoever he beheld a multitude, the desire of speaking took possession of him: ch. Acts 19:30.—V. g.]Verse 39. - I am a Jew for I am a man which am a Jew, A.V.; in for a city in, A.V.; give me leave for suffer me, A.V. A citizen of no mean city; οὐκ ἀσήμου πόλεως, an elegant classical expression. Οὐκ ἄσημος Ἐλλήνων πόλις (Euripides, 'Ion.,' 8). Mean (ἀσήμου)

Lit., without a mark or token (σῆμα). Hence used of uncoined gold or silver: of oracles which give no intelligible response: of inarticulate voices: of disease without distinctive symptoms. Generally, as here, undistinguished, mean. There is a conscious feeling of patriotism in Paul's expression.

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