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Acts 9 tells us Paul went to Damascus to persecute the followers of the Way.

But in previous Chapter (Acts 8) We read that they had fled to Samaria and Judea following Stephen's death. Now those two places are nowhere near Damascus. So how did the believers end up there before Saul had an encounter with God?

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2 Answers 2

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The operative statement in Acts 8:1 says this:

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

I do not believe that the diaspora was confined to these places alone. Note the comments of Ellicott:

Throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria.—Jerusalem was naturally the chief scene of the persecution, and the neighbouring towns, Hebron, and Gaza, and Lydda, and Joppa, became places of refuge. It was probably to this influx of believers in Christ that we may trace the existence of Christian communities in the two latter cities. (See Notes on Acts 9:32; Acts 9:36.) The choice of Samaria was, perhaps, suggested by the hatred of that people to the Jews. Those who were fleeing from a persecution set on foot by the priests and rulers of Jerusalem were almost ipso facto sure of a welcome in Neapolis and other cities. But the choice of this as a place of refuge indicated that the barriers of the old antipathy were already in part broken down. What seemed the pressure of circumstances was leading indirectly to the fulfilment of our Lord’s commands, that the disciples should be witnesses in Samaria as well as in Judæa (Acts 1:8). It seems probable, as already suggested (see Note on Acts 7:16), that there was some point of contact between the Seven, of whom Stephen was the chief, and that region.

Indeed, there is a further reference to Acts 8:1 in Acts 11:19 which says:

Meanwhile those scattered by the persecution that began with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message only to Jews.

Note the use of the same Greek verb διασπείρω (diaspeiro = "scatter") is used in only three places in the NT, Acts 8:1, 4, 11:19, all referring to the same thing.

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  • I would dispute also the "nowhere near" claim. I found a distance calculator gving Jerusalem-Damascus as 136 miles. Historic trade-routes would take them there, so they would think nothing of the distance. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 22:43
  • @StephenDisraeli - good point - agreed.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 22:43
  • @Dottard I didn't know Acts 11:19 was a reference to 8:1. Now speaking of Acts 11:19 ...those scattered by the persecution travelled "as far as" ... Antioch. Now looking at the map. Damascus comes on the way to Antioch. (Modern day Antakya) So it's possible that some of them decided to stay in Damascus. I agree with you 👍 But I don't understand why you quoted Ellicott's commentary on acts 8:1 because Hebron, Lydda and Joppa were still in Samaria and Judea region.
    – user52365
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:26
  • @KokoGurung - your last sentence is correct - but the distance between these places is very little - a day's journey! Acts 11:19 confirms this - they moved as far as Antioch. Cyprus is much further than Antioch.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 20:32
  • @Dottard. That means even in Acts 11:19 the diaspora wasn't just confined to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. And as far as doesn't mean they only fled to these three cities. It means they may have went to every other town/city that came in between during their journey. Including Damascus. Like I seen in the map.
    – user52365
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 4:51
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The answer to the question can be found in Acts 2, which describes the day the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Acts 2:5 states that there were God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem at the time. Acts 9-11 mention several nations that presence in Jerusalem at the time:

From the East: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia (v. 9)

From the South: Arabs (v. 11)

From the West: Egypt and Libya (v. 10)

From the North: Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, and visitors from Rome (vv. 9-10)

From the Islands: Cretans (v. 11)

These areas cover a vast region, including Damascus. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that there were God-fearing Jews from faraway places who also lived in Damascus.

In Acts 9, Paul went to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus may or may not related to the fleeing Jews in Acts 8, as it is not explicitly stated in the text. What is clear, however, is that Paul was aware of the presence of followers of Jesus in Damascus, which is likely why he went there.

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