Four reasons at least can be stated, which may have induced the Apostles, in the exercise of a wise discretion, to turn in the first instance to this island. It is separated by no great distance from the mainland of Syria; its high mountain-summits are easily seen in clear weather from the coast near the mouth of the Orontes; and in the summer season many vessels must often have been passing and repassing between Salamis and Seleucia. Besides this, it was the native-place of Barnabas. (Acts 4:36).
Since the time when "Andrew found his brother Simon,and brought him to Jesus," (John 1:41, 42) and the Savior was beloved in the house of "Martha and her sister and Lazarus," (John 11:5) the ties of family relationship had not been without effect on the progress of the Gospel. It could not be unnatural to suppose that the truth would be welcomed in Cyprus, when it was brought by Barnabas and his kinsman Mark to their own connections or friends.
Moreover, the Jews were numerous in Salamis. By sailing to that city they were following the track of the synagogues. Their mission, it is true, was chiefly to the Gentiles; but their surest course for reaching them was through the medium of the Proselytes and the Hellenistic Jews. To these considerations we must add, in the fourth place, that some of the Cypriotes were already Christians. No one place out of Palestine, with the exception of Antioch, had been so honorably associated with the work of successful evangelization (See Acts 4:36, 11:19, 20, 21:16).
Seleucia united the two characters of a fortress and a seaport. In consequence of its bold resistance to Tigranes, when he was in possession of all the neighboring country, Pompey gave it the privileges of a "Free City;" and a contemporary of Apostle Paul speaks of it as having those privileges still. Here, in the midst of unsympathizing sailors, the two missionary Apostles, with their younger companion, stepped on board the vessel which was to convey them to Salamis.
As they cleared the port, the whole sweep of the bay of Antioch opened on their left, - the low ground by the mouth of the Orontes, - the wild and woody country beyond it, - and then the peak of Mount Casius, rising symmetrically from the very edge of the sea to a height of five thousand feet. On the right, in the south-west horizon, if the day was clear, they saw the island of Cyprus from the first. The current sets north-east and northerly between the island and the Syrian coast. But with a fair wind, a few hours would enable them to run down from Seleucia to Salamis; and the land would rapidly rise in forms well known and familiar to Barnabas and Mark.
The Jews, as we should have been prepared to expect, were numerous in Salamis. This fact is indicated to us in the sacred narrative; for we learn that this city had several synagogues, while other cities had often only one. (Acts 13:5. Compare Acts 6:9, 9:20, and Contrast Acts 17:1, 18:4) The Jews had doubtless been established here in considerable numbers in the active period which succeeded the death of Alexander.
The unparalleled productiveness of Cyprus, and its trade in fruit, wine, flax, and honey, would naturally attract them to the mercantile port. The farming of the copper mines by Augustus to Herod may probably have swelled their numbers. One of the most conspicuous passages in the history of Salamis was the insurrection of the Jews in the reign of Trajan, when great part of the city was destroyed. Its demolition was completed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt by a Christian emperor, from whom it received its mediaeval name of Constantia.
It appears that the proclamation of the Gospel was confined by Barnabas and Saul to the Jews and the synagogues. We have no information of the length of their stay, or the success of their labors. Some stress seems to be laid on the fact that John (i.e. Mark) "was their minister." Perhaps we are to infer from this, that his hands baptized the Jews and Proselytes, who were convinced by the preaching of the Apostles.
From Salamis they traveled to Paphos, at the other extremity of the island. The two towns were probably connected together by a traveled and frequented road. It is indeed likely that, even under the Empire, the islands of the Greek part of the Mediterranean, as Crete and Cyprus, were not so completely provided with lines of internal communication as those which were nearer the metropolis, and had been longer under Roman occupation, such as Corsica and Sardinia.
But we cannot help believing that Roman roads were laid down in Cyprus and Crete, after the manner of the modern English roads in Corfu and the other Ionian islands, which islands, in their social and political condition, present many points of resemblance to those which were under the Roman sway in the time of Apostle Paul. On the whole, there is little doubt that his journey from Salamis to Paphos, a distance from east to west of not more than a hundred miles, was accomplished in a short time and without difficulty.
Paphos was the residence of the Roman governor. The appearance of the place (if due allowance is made for the differences of the nineteenth century and the first) may be compared with that of the town of Corfu in the present day, with its strong garrison of imperial soldiers in the midst of a Greek population, with its mixture of two languages, with its symbols of a strong and steady power side by side with frivolous amusements, and with something of the style of a court about the residence of its governor. All the occurrences, which are mentioned at Paphos as taking place on the arrival of Barnabas and Saul, are grouped so entirely round the governor’s person, that our attention must be turned for a time to the condition of Cyprus as a Roman province, and the position and character of Sergius Paulus.
From the time when Augustus united the world under his own power, the provinces were divided into two different classes. The business of the first Emperor’s life was to consolidate the imperial system under the show of administering a republic. He retained the names and semblances of those liberties and rights which Rome had once enjoyed. He found two names in existence, the one of which was henceforth inseparably blended with the Imperial dignity and Military command, the other with the authority of the Senate and its Civil administration.
The first of these names was "Praetor," the second was "Consul." Both of them were retained in Italy; and both were reproduced in the Provinces as "Propraetor" and "Proconsul." He told the senate and people that he would relieve them of all the anxiety of military proceedings, and that he would resign to them those provinces where soldiers were unnecessary to secure the fruits of a peaceful administration. He would take upon himself all the care and risk of governing the other provinces, where rebellion might be apprehended, and where the proximity of warlike tribes made the presence of the legions perpetually needful. These were his professions to the Senate: but the real purpose of this ingenious arrangement was the disarming of the Republic, and the securing to himself the absolute control of the whole standing army of the Empire.
The scheme was sufficiently transparent; but there was no sturdy national life in Italy to resist his despotic innovations, and no foreign civilized powers to arrest the advance of imperial aggrandizement; and thus it came to pass that Augustus, though totally destitute of the military genius either of Cromwell or Napoleon, transmitted to his successors a throne guarded by an invincible army, and a system of government destined to endure through several centuries.
Hence we find in the reign, not only of Augustus, but of each of his successors, from Tiberius to Nero, the provinces divided into these two classes. On the one side we have those which are supposed to be under the Senate and people. The governor is appointed by lot, as in the times of the old republic. He carries with him the lictors and fasces, the insignia of a Consul; but he is destitute of military power. His office must be resigned at the expiration of a year. He is styled "Proconsul," and the Greeks, translating the term, call him [greek word] On the other side are the provinces of Caesar.
The Governor may be styled "Propraetor," but he is more properly "Legatus," - the representative or "Commissioner" of the Emperor. He goes out from Italy with all the pomp of a military commander, and he does not return till the Emperor recalls him. And to complete the symmetry and consistency of the system, the subordinate districts of these imperial provinces are regulated by the Emperor’s "Procurator" [greek word], or "High Steward."
The New Testament, in the strictest conformity with the other historical authorities of the period, gives us examples of both kinds of provincial administration. We are told by Strabo, and by Dio Cassius, that "Asia" and "Achaia" were assigned to the Senate; and the title, which in each case is given to the Governor in the Acts of the Apostles, is "Proconsul." The same authorities inform us that Syria was an imperial province, and no such title as "Proconsul" is assigned by the sacred writers to "Cyrenius Governor of Syria," (Luke 2:2) or to Pilate, Festus, and Felix, the Procurators of Judea, which, as we have seen, was a dependency of that great and unsettled province.
Dio Cassius informs us, in the same passage where he tells us that Asia and Achaia were provinces of the Senate, that Cyprus was retained by the Emperor for himself. If we stop here, we naturally ask the question, - and some have asked the question rather hastily, - how it comes to pass that Luke speaks of Sergius Paulus by the style of "Proconsul"? But any hesitation concerning the strict accuracy of the sacred historian’s language is immediately set at rest by the very next sentence of the secular historian, - in which he informs us that Augustus restored Cyprus to the Senate in exchange for another district of the Empire, - a statement which he again repeats in a later passage of his work.
It is evident, then, that the governor’s style and title from this time forward would be "Proconsul." But this evidence, however satisfactory, is not all that we possess. The coin, which is engraved at the end of the chapter, distinctly presents to us a Cyprian Proconsul of the reign of Claudius. And inscriptions, which could easily be adduced, supply us with the names of additional governors, who were among the predecessors or successors of Sergius Paulus.
It is remarkable that two men called Sergius Paulus are described in very similar terms by two physicians who wrote in Greek, the one a Heathen, the other a Christian. The Heathen writer is Galen. He speaks of his contemporary as a man interested and well versed in philosophy. The Christian writer is Luke, who tells us here that the governor of Cyprus was a "prudent" man, who "desired to hear the Word of God." This governor seems to have been of a candid and inquiring mind; nor will this philosophical disposition be thought inconsistent with his connection with the Jewish impostor, whom Saul and Barnabas found at the Paphian court, by those who are acquainted with the intellectual and religious tendencies of the age.
For many years before this time, and many years after, impostors from the East, pretending to magical powers, had great influence over the Roman mind. All the Greek and Latin literature of the empire, from Horace to Lucian, abounds in proof of the prevalent credulity of this sceptical period. Unbelief, when it has become conscious of its weakness, is often glad to give its hand to superstition.
The faith of educated Romans was utterly gone. We can hardly wonder, when the East was thrown open, - the land of mystery, - the fountain of the earliest migrations, - the cradle of the earliest religions, - that the imagination both of the populace and the aristocracy of Rome became fanatically excited, and that they greedily welcomed the most absurd and degrading superstitions. Not only was the metropolis of the empire crowded with "hungry Greeks," but "Syrian fortune-tellers" flocked into all the haunts of public amusement. Athens and Corinth did not now contribute the greatest or the worst part of the "dregs" of Rome; but (to adopt Juvenal’s use of that river of Antioch we have lately been describing) "the Orontes itself flowed into the Tiber." Every part of the East contributed its share to the general superstition.
What we know, from the literature of the period, to have been the case in Rome and in the Empire at large, we see exemplified in a province in the case of Sergius Paulus. He had attached himself to "a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus, and who had given himself the Arabic name of "Elymas," or "The Wise."
But the Proconsul was not so deluded by the false prophet, as to be unable, or unwilling, to listen to the true. "He sent for Barnabas and Saul," of whose arrival he was informed, and whose free and public declaration of the "Word of God" attracted his inquiring mind. Elymas used every exertion to resist them, and to hinder the Proconsul’s mind from falling under the influence of their Divine doctrine. Truth and falsehood were brought into visible conflict with each other. It is evident, from the graphic character of the narrative, - the description of Paul "setting his eyes" on the sorcerer, - "the mist and the darkness" which fell on Barjesus, - the "groping about for some one to lead him," - that the opposing wonder-workers stood face to face in the presence of the Proconsul, - as Moses and Aaron withstood the magicians at the Egyptian court - Sergius Paulus being in this respect different from Pharaoh, that he did not "harden his heart."
The miracles of the New Testament are generally distinguished from those of the Old by being for the most part works of mercy and restoration, not of punishment and destruction. Two only of our Lord’s miracles were inflictions of severity, and these were attended with no harm to the bodies of men. The same law of mercy pervades most of those interruptions of the course of nature which He gave His servants, the Apostles, power to effect.
One miracle of wrath is mentioned as worked in His name by each of the great Apostles, Peter and Paul; and we can see sufficient reasons why liars and hypocrites, like Ananias and Sapphira, and powerful impostors, like Elymas Barjesus, should be publicly punished in the face of the Jewish and Gentile worlds, and made the examples and warnings of every subsequent age of the Church. A different passage in the life of Peter presents a parallel which is closer in some respects with this interview of Apostle Paul with the sorcerer in Cyprus.
As Simon Magus, - who had "long time bewitched the people of Samaria with his sorceries," - was denounced by Peter "as still in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity," and solemnly told that "his heart was not right in the sight of God;" (Acts 8:21-23) - so Apostle Paul, conscious of his apostolic power, and under the impulse of immediate inspiration, rebuked Barjesus, as a child of that Devil who is the father of lies, (John 8:44) as a worker of deceit and mischief, and as one who sought to pervert and distort that which God saw and approved as right. (With Acts 13:10 compare Acts 8:21) He proceeded to denounce an instantaneous judgment; and, according to his prophetic word, the "hand of the Lord" struck the sorcerer, as it had once struck the Apostle himself on the way to Damascus; - the sight of Elymas began to waver, and presently a darkness settled on it so thick, that he ceased to behold the sun’s light.
This blinding of the false prophet opened the eyes of Sergius Paulus. That which had been intended as an opposition to the Gospel, proved the means of its extension. We are ignorant of the degree of this extension in the island of Cyprus. But we cannot doubt that when the Proconsul was converted, his influence would make Christianity reputable; and that from this moment the Gentiles of the island, as well as the Jews, had the news of salvation brought home to them.
And now, from this point of the Apostolical history, PAUL appears as the great figure in every picture. Barnabas, henceforward, is always in the background. The great Apostle now enters on his work as the preacher to the Gentiles; and simultaneously with his active occupation of the field in which he was called to labor, his name is suddenly changed. As "Abram" was changed into "Abraham," when God promised that he should be the "father of many nations;" - as "Simon" was changed into "Peter," when it was said, "On this rock I will build my church;" - so "Saul" is changed into "Paul," at the moment of his first great victory among the Heathen.
What "the plains of Mamre by Hebron" were to the patriarch, - what "Caesarea Philippi," by the fountains of the Jordan, was to the fisherman of Galilee, - that was the city of "Paphos," on the coast of Cyprus, to the tent-maker of Tarsus. Are we to suppose that the name was now really given him for the first time, - that he adopted it himself as significant of his own feelings, - or that Sergius Paulus conferred it on him in grateful commemoration of the benefits he had received, - or that "Paul," having been a Gentile form of the Apostle’s name in early life conjointly with the Hebrew "Saul," was now used to the exclusion of the other, to indicate that he had receded from his position as a Jewish Christian, to become the friend and teacher of the Gentiles?
It cannot be denied that the words in Acts 13:9 - "Saul who is also Paul" - are the line of separation between two very distinct portions of Luke’s biography of the Apostle, in the former of which he is uniformly called "Saul," while in the latter he receives, with equal consistency, the name of "Paul." It must also be observed that the Apostle always speaks of himself under the latter designation in every one of his Epistles, without any exception; and not only so, but the Apostle Peter, in the only passage where he has occasion to allude to him, (2Peter 3:15) speaks of him as "our beloved brother Paul."
We are, however, inclined to adopt the opinion that the Cilician Apostle had this Roman name, as well as his other Hebrew name, in his earlier days, and even before he was a Christian. This adoption of a Gentile name is so far from being alien to the spirit of a Jewish family, that a similar practice may be traced through all the periods of Hebrew History. Beginning with the Persian epoch (B.C. 550-350) we find such names as "Nehemiah," "Schammai," "Belteshazzar," which betray an Oriental origin, and show that Jewish appellatives followed the growth of the living language. In the Greek period we encounter the names of "Philip," and his son "Alexander," and of Alexander’s successors, "Antiochus," "Lysimachus," "Ptolemy," "Antipater;" the names of Greek philosophers, such as "Zeno," and "Epicurus;" even Greek mythological names, as "Jason" and "Menelaus." Some of these words will have been recognized as occurring in the New Testament itself. When we mention Roman names adopted by the Jews, the coincidence is still more striking. "Crispus," (Acts 18:8) "Justus," (Acts 1:23) "Niger," (Acts 13:1) are found in Josephus as well as in the Acts. "Drusilla" and "Priscilla" might have been Roman matrons.
And though we imagine, as we have said above, that Saul had the name of Paul at an earlier period of his life, - and should be inclined to conjecture that the appellation came from some connection of his ancestors (perhaps as manumitted slaves) with some member of the Roman family of the Aemilian Pauli; - yet we cannot believe it accidental that the words, (Acts 13:9) which have led to this discussion, occur at this particular point of the inspired narrative.
The Heathen name rises to the surface at the moment when Apostle Paul visibly enters on his office as the Apostle of the Heathen. The Roman name is stereotyped at the moment when he converts the Roman governor. And the place where this occurs is Paphos, the favorite sanctuary of a shameful idolatry. At the very spot which was notorious throughout the world for that which the Gospel forbids and destroys, - there, before he sailed for Perga, having achieved his victory, the Apostle erected his trophy, - as Moses, when Amalek was discomfited, "built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-Nissi, - the Lord my Banner." (Exodus 17:15).
It is not difficult to imagine the reasons which induced Paul and Barnabas, on their departure from Seleucia, to visit first the island of Cyprus. It is not quite so easy to give an opinion upon the motives which directed their course to the coast of Pamphylia, when they had passed through the native island of Barnabas, from Salamis to Paphos. It might be one of those circumstances which we call accidents, and which, as they never influence the actions of ordinary men without the predetermining direction of Divine Providence, so were doubtless used by the same Providence to determine the course even of Apostles.
As Apostle Paul, many years afterwards, joined at Myra that vessel in which he was shipwrecked, (Acts 27:5, 6) and then was conveyed to Puteoli in a ship which had accidentally wintered at Malta (Acts 28:11-13) - so on this occasion there might be some small craft in the harbor at Paphos, bound for the opposite gulf of Attaleia, when Paul and Barnabas were thinking of their future progress. The distance is not great, and frequent communication, both political and commercial, must have taken place between the towns of Pamphylia and those of Cyprus.
It is possible that Apostle Paul, having already preached the Gospel in Cilicia, might wish now to extend it among those districts which lay more immediately contiguous, and the population of which was, in some respects, similar to that of his native province. He might also reflect that the natives of a comparatively unsophisticated district might be more likely to receive the message of salvation, than the inhabitants of those provinces which were more completely penetrated with the corrupt civilization of Greece and Rome.
Or his thoughts might be turning to those numerous families of Jews, whom he well knew to be settled in the great towns beyond Mount Taurus, such as Antioch in Pisidia, and Iconium in Lycaonia, with the hope that his Master’s cause would be most successfully advanced among those Gentiles, who flocked there, as everywhere, to the worship of the Synagogue. Or, finally, he may have had a direct revelation from on high, and a vision, like that which had already appeared to him in the Temple, or like that which he afterwards saw on the confines of Europe and Asia, (Acts 16:9) may have directed the course of his voyage.
Whatever may have been the calculations of his own wisdom and prudence, or whatever supernatural intimations may have reached him, Paul sailed, with his companions Barnabas and John, in some vessel, of which the size, the cargo, and the crew, are unknown to us, past the promontories of Drepanum and Acamas, and then across the waters of the Pamphylian Sea, leaving on the right the cliffs which are the western boundary of Cilicia, to the innermost bend of the bay of Attaleia.