Why was Paul proud to say he was from Tarsus, “no ordinary city”?
Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city.”
- Acts 21:39
Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem for causing a riot, and was asking permission to address the people. By asserting that he was from Tarsus, Paul was implying that he should not be dismissed as a sua ku (Singapore slang for ‘country bumpkin’).
Tarsus (in present-day Turkey) was certainly ‘no ordinary city’ – it was prosperous, privileged to be exempted from Roman taxation, and a leading cultural and educational centre. As a Roman citizen (Acts 22) from Tarsus, Paul was from a family of considerable wealth and status.
Set in a fertile agricultural plain, one of Tarsus’ famous products was a thick, waterproof material woven from the hair of black goats. The black tents of Tarsus were used by travellers, nomads and armies all over the region. Although not stated in the Bible, it is likely that tentmaking was Paul’s family’s business which he learned as a boy. The skill came in useful later to support himself in his ministry (Acts 18).