Paul – Saul from Tarsus

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Paul (now using his Greek name Paulos rather than the Greek form of his Hebrew name, Saulos; cf. Acts 13:9) and Barnabas returned to Antioch. They were commissioned by the leaders of Antioch’s international church to follow the call of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9).

The Spirit didn’t give details; like Abraham, they were just to go (Acts 13:1–3; cf. Gen 12:1, 4) and, like the patriarch their general direction of travel was to the west, into a land that for them was yet unknown. Paul and his various traveling companions would be constantly on the move, sometimes settling down for a while (Abraham’s Beer-sheba would become Paul’s Ephesus; his Hebron Paul’s Rome) but then journeying on; approaching new places, forging new relationships; no longer at home anywhere but gradually becoming so everywhere in the new land of his divine call—with an unwavering faith in a new covenant and a harvest as vast as the stars of the open Mediterranean sky and the grains of sand along its endless shore: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:29; cf. Gen 15:5; 22:17).

Taking a young John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin, as their assistant (Acts 13:5; cf. 12:12; Col 4:10), Paul and Barnabas sailed from Seleucia (Antioch’s bustling port) to Cyprus, homeland of Barnabas. Cyprus offered a brilliant mosaic of cultures and people groups hailing from across the eastern Mediterranean, including a large, vibrant and, apparently, relatively tolerant Jewish community. Paul and his small team worked their way from Salamis to Paphos, the provincial capital, teaching in synagogues along the way.

This became their modus operandi: even though Paul’s ministry focused on Gentiles, he typically made contacts first in a city’s synagogue – he was still a skilled and personally observant rabbi; (cf. Acts 18:18; 20:16; 21:23–26; Rom 1:16; 9:1–5; 10:1–4; 11:1–24). The island’s proconsul, Sergius Paulus, was well-acquainted with his Jewish subjects, and as a result of Paul’s preaching and miracle-working he responded favorably to the new message about Jesus. Cyprus became the first Roman province to be governed by a Christian (Acts 13:4–12); for Paul it couldn’t have been a more promising start.