Saul: Meaning “Asked [of God]; Inquired [of God].” Saul, also known by his Roman name Paul, was “of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born from Hebrews.” (Php 3:5) Since Saul was born a Roman citizen (Ac 22:28), it is logical that his Jewish parents may have given him the Roman name Paulus, or Paul, meaning “Little; Small.” From childhood, he likely had both names. His parents may have named him Saul for a number of reasons. Saul was a traditional name of importance among Benjaminites because the first king over all Israel, a Benjaminite, was named Saul. (1Sa 9:2; 10:1; Ac 13:21) Or his parents might have given him the name because of its meaning. Another possibility is that his father’s name was Saul, and according to custom, the son was named after the father. (Compare Lu 1:59.) Whatever the reason, when among fellow Jews—and especially when studying to be a Pharisee and living as one—he would have used his Hebrew name, Saul. (Ac 22:3) And for over a decade after becoming a Christian, he seemed to have been known mostly by his Hebrew name.—Ac 11:25, 30; 12:25; 13:1, 2, 9.
Caiaphas: This high priest, appointed by the Romans, was a skillful diplomat who held office longer than any of his immediate predecessors. He was appointed about 18 C.E. and remained in office until about 36 C.E. He was the one who examined Jesus and handed him over to Pilate. (Mt 26:3, 57; Joh 11:49; 18:13, 14, 24, 28) This is the only time he is mentioned by name in the book of Acts. Elsewhere in Acts he is referred to as “the high priest.”—Ac 5:17, 21, 27; 7:1; 9:1.
the way of Jehovah: In the following verse, the synonymous expression “the way of God” is used. The Christian way of life is centered on worship of the only true God, Jehovah, and on faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. The book of Acts refers to this course of life simply as “The Way” or “this Way.” (Ac 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22; see study note on Ac 9:2.) Also, the expression “the way of Jehovah” appears four times in the Gospel accounts, where it is part of a quote from Isa 40:3. (See study notes on Mt 3:3; Mr 1:3; Lu 3:4; Joh 1:23.) At Isa 40:3, the original Hebrew text uses the Tetragrammaton. The expression “the way of Jehovah” (or, “Jehovah’s way”) also occurs at Jg 2:22; Jer 5:4, 5.—See study note on Ac 19:23 and App. C3 introduction; Ac 18:25.
The Way: As shown in the study note on Ac 9:2, the expression “The Way” was used with reference to the early Christian congregation. True Christianity is not a matter of outward appearance or mere formal worship. It is a way of life permeated by the worship of God and guided by his spirit. (Joh 4:23, 24) The Syriac Peshitta reads: “the way of God”; the Latin Vulgate according to the Clementine recension reads: “the way of the Lord”; and some translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Hebrew (referred to as J17, 18 in App. C4) use the divine name here and read: “Jehovah’s way.”
letters: In the first century C.E., people relied on letters from a credible source to introduce a stranger and to authenticate his or her identity or authority. (Ro 16:1; 2Co 3:1-3) Jews in Rome referred to this kind of communication. (Ac 28:21) The letters Saul requested from the high priest and addressed to the synagogues in Damascus authorized him to persecute the Jewish Christians in that city. (Ac 9:1, 2) The letters Saul requested apparently asked the synagogues in Damascus to cooperate with Saul in his campaign against the Christians.
Damascus: Located in modern-day Syria, Damascus is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world to be continuously inhabited from the time it was founded. The patriarch Abraham may have passed by or through this city on his way S to Canaan. At some point, he took Eliezer, “a man of Damascus,” into his household as a servant. (Ge 15:2) Nearly a thousand years later, Damascus reappears in the Bible account. (See Glossary, “Aram; Aramaeans.”) At this time, the Syrians (Aramaeans) were at war with Israel, and the two nations became enemies. (1Ki 11:23-25) In the first century, Damascus was part of the Roman province of Syria. By that time, Damascus had a Jewish population of perhaps some 20,000 and a number of synagogues. Saul may have targeted the Christians living in Damascus because the city was located at the crossroads of important travel routes and he feared that Christian teachings would quickly spread from that city.—See App. B13.
The Way: A designation used in the book of Acts to refer to the Christian way of life and the early Christian congregation. It may have roots in Jesus’ statement at Joh 14:6: “I am the way.” Those who became followers of Jesus were spoken of as belonging to “The Way,” that is, they kept a way of life following Jesus’ example. (Ac 19:9) His life centered on worship of the only true God, Jehovah. For Christians, this manner of life also focused on faith in Jesus Christ. Sometime after 44 C.E., in Syrian Antioch, disciples of Jesus “were by divine providence called Christians.” (Ac 11:26) However, even after that designation was applied, Luke refers to the congregation as “The Way” or “this Way.”—Ac 19:23; 22:4; 24:22; see study notes on Ac 18:25; 19:23.
they did not hear the voice: Or “they did not understand the voice.” At Ac 9:3-9, Luke describes Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. These two accounts taken together give the full picture of what happened. As explained in the study note on Ac 9:7, the men accompanying Paul heard “the sound of a voice” but apparently did not understand the words spoken. Thus, they did not hear the voice the way Paul did. This is in agreement with how the Greek word for “hear” is used at Ac 22:7, where Paul explains that he “heard a voice,” that is, he heard and understood the words. By contrast, those traveling with Paul did not understand the message being conveyed to Paul, perhaps because the voice was muffled or distorted in some way. It is apparently in this sense that “they did not hear the voice.”—Compare Mr 4:33; 1Co 14:2, where the same Greek word for “hear” could be rendered “to listen” or “to understand.”
hearing . . . the sound of a voice: At Ac 22:6-11, Paul himself describes his experience on the road to Damascus. That account taken together with this account gives the full picture of what happened. The Greek words used in both accounts are the same, but the grammar is different. The Greek term pho·neʹ could be rendered both “sound” and “voice.” Here it is in the genitive case and is therefore rendered “the sound of a voice.” (At Ac 22:9, the same Greek word is in the accusative case and is rendered “voice.”) So the men accompanying Paul heard the sound of a voice but apparently could not hear and understand the words spoken. So they did not hear the voice the way Paul did.—Ac 26:14; see study note on Ac 22:9.
the street called Straight: This is the only street mentioned by name in the Christian Greek Scriptures. It is believed to have been the main thoroughfare that ran from E to W through Damascus, which in the first century C.E. was laid out in a grid. The street was about 1.5 km (1 mi) long and 26 m (85 ft) wide, including pedestrian lanes, and it may also have been lined with columns. A main thoroughfare still runs through what remains of the old Roman city and follows the course of the ancient Roman Via Recta, or Straight Street.
in a vision: These words are found in a number of ancient manuscripts.
arrest: Or “imprison.” Lit., “bind; put in bonds,” that is, prison bonds.—Compare Col 4:3.
the sons of Israel: Or “the people of Israel; the Israelites.”—See Glossary, “Israel.”
large baskets: Or “provision baskets.” The Greek word sphy·risʹ used here seems to denote a type of basket that is larger than the ones used on an earlier occasion when Jesus fed about 5,000 men. (See study note on Mt 14:20.) The same Greek word is used for the “basket” in which Paul was lowered to the ground through an opening in the wall of Damascus.—See study note on Ac 9:25.
a basket: Luke here used the Greek word sphy·risʹ, which is also used in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark for the seven baskets in which leftovers were collected after Jesus fed 4,000 men. (See study note on Mt 15:37.) This word refers to a large basket or hamper. In telling the Corinthian Christians about his escape, the apostle Paul used the Greek word sar·gaʹne, which denotes a plaited basket or “wicker basket” made of rope or woven twigs. Both Greek terms can be used for the same type of large basket.—2Co 11:32, 33; ftn.
carried on his activities among us: Lit., “went in and went out among us,” which reflects a Semitic idiom that refers to carrying on activities of life in association with other people. It could also be rendered “lived among us.”—Compare De 28:6, 19; Ps 121:8, ftn.
moving about freely: Or “carrying on his daily life.” Lit., “going in and going out.” This expression reflects a Semitic idiom that includes the idea of freely conducting the regular activities of life or associating with others without hindrance.—Compare De 28:6, 19; Ps 121:8, ftn.; see study note on Ac 1:21.
the Greek-speaking Jews: Lit., “the Hellenists.” The Greek word Hel·le·ni·stesʹ is not found in Greek or Hellenistic Jewish literature, but the context supports the rendering “Greek-speaking Jews,” as is true of many lexicons. At the time, all the Christian disciples in Jerusalem, including those who spoke Greek, were of Jewish descent or were Jewish proselytes. (Ac 10:28, 35, 44-48) The term rendered “Greek-speaking Jews” is used in contrast with a term rendered “Hebrew-speaking Jews” (lit., “Hebrews”; plural form of the Greek word E·braiʹos). Therefore, “the Hellenists” were Jews who communicated with one another in Greek and who had come to Jerusalem from various parts of the Roman Empire, perhaps including the Decapolis. In contrast, most Hebrew-speaking Jews were probably Judeans and Galileans. These two groups of Jewish Christians likely had somewhat different cultural backgrounds.—See study note on Ac 9:29.
the Greek-speaking Jews: Lit., “the Hellenists.” Most likely, these were Jews who communicated in Greek rather than in Hebrew. These Jews had probably come to Jerusalem from various parts of the Roman Empire. At Ac 6:1, the term applies to Christians, but the context here at Ac 9:29 shows that these Greek-speaking Jews were not disciples of Christ. The Theodotus Inscription, found on the hill of Ophel in Jerusalem, provides evidence that many Greek-speaking Jews came to Jerusalem.—See study note on Ac 6:1.
the fear of Jehovah: The expression “the fear of Jehovah” is found many times in the Hebrew Scriptures as a combination of a Hebrew word for “fear” and the Tetragrammaton. (Some examples are found at 2Ch 19:7, 9; Ps 19:9; 111:10; Pr 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 19:23; Isa 11:2, 3.) However, the expression “fear of the Lord” is never used in the Hebrew Scripture text. The reasons why the New World Translation uses the expression “the fear of Jehovah” in the main text, although most Greek manuscripts of Ac 9:31 read “the fear of the Lord,” are explained in App. C1 and C3 introduction; Ac 9:31.
Tabitha: The Aramaic name Tabitha means “Gazelle” and apparently corresponds to a Hebrew word (tsevi·yahʹ) meaning “female gazelle.” (Ca 4:5; 7:3) The Greek name Dorcas also means “Gazelle.” In a seaport such as Joppa, with its mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, it may be that Tabitha was known by both names, according to the language being spoken. Or Luke may have translated the name for the benefit of Gentile readers.
robes: Or “outer garments.” The Greek word hi·maʹti·on appears to have been a loose robe, but more often it was a rectangular piece of material.
Tabitha, rise!: Peter followed a procedure similar to that used by Jesus in resurrecting Jairus’ daughter. (Mr 5:38-42; Lu 8:51-55) This is the first reported resurrection performed by an apostle, resulting in many becoming believers throughout Joppa.—Ac 9:39-42.
a tanner named Simon: See study note on Ac 10:6.
Simon, a tanner: A tanner worked with the hides of animals, using a lime solution to remove any fur or traces of flesh and fat. Then he treated the hide with a potent liquor so that it could be used to make articles of leather. The tanning process smelled bad and required a great deal of water, which may explain why Simon lived by the sea, likely on the outskirts of Joppa. According to the Mosaic Law, a person who worked with the carcasses of animals was ceremonially unclean. (Le 5:2; 11:39) Therefore, many Jews looked down on tanners and would hesitate to lodge with one. In fact, the Talmud later rated the tanner’s profession as lower than that of a dung collector. However, Peter did not let prejudice keep him from staying with Simon. Peter’s open-mindedness in this case makes an interesting prelude to the assignment that came next—visiting a Gentile in his home. Some scholars consider the Greek word for “tanner” (byr·seusʹ) to be a surname of Simon.
In the first century C.E., the city of Damascus likely had a layout similar to what is shown here. It was an important center for trade, and water drawn from the nearby Barada River (the Abanah of 2Ki 5:12) made the area around the city like an oasis. Damascus had a number of synagogues. Saul came to that city intending to arrest “any whom he found who belonged to The Way,” an expression used to describe the followers of Jesus. (Ac 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22) On the road to Damascus, however, the glorified Jesus appeared to Saul. After that, Saul stayed for a time in Damascus at the house of a man named Judas, who lived on the street called Straight. (Ac 9:11) In a vision, Jesus directed the disciple Ananias to Judas’ house to restore Saul’s sight, and Saul later got baptized. So instead of arresting the Jewish Christians, Saul became one of them. He began his career as a preacher of the good news in the synagogues of Damascus. After traveling to Arabia and then back to Damascus, Saul returned to Jerusalem, likely about the year 36 C.E.—Ac 9:1-6, 19-22; Ga 1:16, 17.
1. Road to Jerusalem
2. Street called Straight
4. Temple of Jupiter
6. Musical Performance Theater (?)
Saul falls to the ground near Damascus, blinded by a flash of light. He hears a voice say: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Ac 9:3, 4; 22:6-8; 26:13, 14) Jesus has interrupted Saul’s plan to arrest Jesus’ disciples in Damascus and take them bound to Jerusalem for trial. Saul’s journey of some 240 km (150 mi) from Jerusalem turns out completely different from what he expected. Jesus’ message transforms Saul (later known by his Roman name, Paul) from a determined persecutor of Christians to one of Christianity’s boldest defenders. Paul’s zealous ministry is described in detail in the book of Acts.
Tarsus, the birthplace of Saul (later the apostle Paul), was the principal city of the region of Cilicia in the southeast corner of Asia Minor, part of modern-day Turkey. (Ac 9:11; 22:3) Tarsus was a large, prosperous trading city, strategically located along a prime E-W overland trade route that threaded through the Taurus Mountains and the Cilician Gates (a narrow gorge with a wagon road cut through the rock). The city also maintained a harbor that connected the Cydnus River with the Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus was a center of Greek culture and had a sizable Jewish community. This photograph shows some of the ancient ruins that remain in the modern-day settlement of the same name, situated about 16 km (10 mi) from where the Cydnus River empties into the Mediterranean Sea. During the city’s history, a number of noted personalities visited Tarsus, including Mark Antony, Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar, as well as several emperors. Roman statesman and writer Cicero was the city’s governor from 51 to 50 B.C.E. Tarsus was famous as a seat of learning in the first century C.E., and according to the Greek geographer Strabo, as such it outranked even Athens and Alexandria. With good reason, Paul described Tarsus as “no obscure city.”—Ac 21:39.
The extensive Roman road system helped early Christians to spread the good news throughout the empire. The apostle Paul no doubt traveled many miles on these roads. (Col 1:23) The diagram shown here illustrates the typical construction of a stone-paved Roman road. First, the path was marked. Next, builders dug a trench for the road and filled the trench with layers of road base made of stones, cement, and sand. The workers paved the road with large stone slabs and installed curb stones that helped keep the paving in place. The materials used and the camber of the road allowed water to drain from its surface. Outlets placed at intervals along the curbs let water escape into ditches that ran beside the road. The builders did such excellent work that some of their roads are still in existence today. Most roads in the Roman Empire, however, were not this sophisticated. The most common types were made simply of packed gravel.
The text shown here, carved on a limestone slab measuring 72 cm (28 in.) in length and 42 cm (17 in.) in width, is known as the Theodotus Inscription. It was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century on the hill of Ophel in Jerusalem. The text, written in Greek, refers to Theodotus, a priest who “built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and for teaching the commandments.” The inscription has been dated to the time before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It confirms the presence of Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem in the first century C.E. (Ac 6:1) Some believe that this synagogue was “the so-called Synagogue of the Freedmen.” (Ac 6:9) The inscription also mentions that Theodotus, as well as his father and his grandfather, had the title ar·khi·sy·naʹgo·gos (“presiding officer of the synagogue”), a title used a number of times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Mr 5:35; Lu 8:49; Ac 13:15; 18:8, 17) The inscription also states that Theodotus built accommodations for those visiting from abroad. The lodging mentioned in the inscription would likely have been used by Jews visiting Jerusalem, especially those who came during the yearly festivals.—Ac 2:5.
This video shows the seaport of Joppa, located on the Mediterranean Coast halfway between Mount Carmel and Gaza. Modern Yafo (Arabic, Jaffa) merged with Tel Aviv in 1950. Now Tel Aviv-Yafo occupies the ancient site. Joppa was situated on a rocky hill rising to a height of about 35 m (115 ft), and its harbor is formed by a low ledge of rocks about 100 m (330 ft) from the coast. The Tyrians floated rafts of timber from the forests of Lebanon to Joppa to be used in constructing Solomon’s temple. (2Ch 2:16) Later, the prophet Jonah, seeking to flee his assignment, went to Joppa and boarded a ship bound for Tarshish. (Jon 1:3) In the first century C.E., there was a Christian congregation in Joppa. In that group was Dorcas (Tabitha), whom Peter resurrected. (Ac 9:36-42) And it was while staying at Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa that Peter received the vision that prepared him to preach to the Gentile Cornelius.—Ac 9:43; 10:6, 9-17.
Some homes in Israel had an upper story. That room was accessed by means of an inside ladder or wooden staircase or an outside stone staircase or a ladder. In a large upper chamber, possibly similar to the one depicted here, Jesus celebrated the last Passover with his disciples and instituted the commemoration of the Lord’s Evening Meal. (Lu 22:12, 19, 20) On the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., about 120 disciples were apparently in an upper chamber of a house in Jerusalem when God’s spirit was poured out on them.—Ac 1:13, 15; 2:1-4.
In Bible times, clothing was among a person’s most important belongings. Dorcas generously made “garments and robes” for those who were widows. (Ac 9:39) The Greek word rendered “garment” (khi·tonʹ) refers to a kind of tunic; it could also be translated “inner garment” (1). According to Greek and Roman custom, men usually wore tunics that were short and women usually wore tunics that went down to the ankles. The Greek word rendered “robe” (hi·maʹti·on) could also be translated “outer garment” (2) and refers to a kind of garment that was usually worn over the tunic, or inner garment.