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Bible Commentaries

Bridgeway Bible Commentary
Acts 11

 

 

Verses 1-18

Reaction of the Jerusalem church (11:1-18)

Many in the Jerusalem church criticized Peter for what had happened in the house of Cornelius. Their minds were so moulded by Jewish thinking that they could think of Christianity only as an improved form of Judaism. They were pleased when Gentile proselytes or God-fearers accepted Jewish ways, but they were not pleased when people of any nationality entered the community of God's people without any thought for the Jewish laws concerning foods, cleansing and circumcision (11:1-3).

Peter therefore explained to his critics how God had corrected his prejudice against the Gentiles (4-14) and how the Gentiles had received all God's blessings on the same basis as the Jews (15-17). Although they accepted Peter's explanation and praised God (18), they were not fully convinced, and soon trouble broke out again (see 15:1,5).


Verses 19-26

A new work in Antioch (11:19-26)

While the apostles and others were spreading the gospel in various places, an interesting work grew up in Antioch in Syria. Some Christians who had been scattered from Jerusalem at the time of Stephen's death preached among the Greek population of Antioch and many believed (19-21). When the leaders of the Jerusalem church heard this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. This was a wise choice, for Barnabas was from nearby Cyprus and had a much broader outlook than those Jews who had never been outside Judea. He had the ability to understand and help the new converts, and under his wise guidance the church grew rapidly (22-24).

Within a short time there was more work than Barnabas himself could manage. He wanted a helper, but the person had to be of the right sort. Therefore, he did not go back to Jerusalem to look for help, but went to Tarsus to get Saul. The last mention of Saul in the story was ten years earlier (see note following 11:30), and now he returned with Barnabas to help the Antioch church. For the next year they preached and taught, among Christians and non-Christians, with the result that the church grew even more (25-26).

The language spoken in Antioch was Greek. Consequently, when the disciples spoke about Jesus, instead of using the Hebrew word 'Messiah' they used the equivalent Greek word 'Christ'. The local citizens heard the disciples use this word continually and, although it had no significance for them, it gave them an easy name by which to identify this group of religious people - 'Christ's people' or 'Christians'. Elsewhere in Acts, Christians are called believers, disciples, followers, brothers and saints (or God's holy people) (see 5:14; 9:1,32; 11:1). To the Jews they were known as Nazarenes (see 24:5).


Verses 27-30

Fellowship between churches (11:27-30)

Towards the end of Barnabas and Saul's year in Antioch, some prophets from Jerusalem visited the Antioch church. One of them warned of a coming famine that would bring much suffering to the believers in Jerusalem. The Antioch believers (who were Gentiles) demonstrated the meaning of true fellowship by sacrificing their own money and goods to help their troubled Jewish brothers (27-29). The offering was taken to Jerusalem by Barnabas, Saul and Titus (30; Galatians 2:1).

This was only Saul's second visit to Jerusalem since he had become a Christian fourteen years earlier. His first visit was three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18; Acts 9:26-30). The only certain knowledge we have of the other eleven years concerns the last year, which he spent with Barnabas in Antioch (v. 26). Now, with Barnabas, he went from Antioch to Jerusalem (v. 30; see Galatians 2:1). While in Jerusalem they met the leading apostles, Peter, John and James the Lord's brother, who reassured them that their work among the Gentiles had the full support of the Jerusalem leaders (Galatians 2:9-10). Barnabas and Saul then returned to Antioch (Acts 12:25).

Prophets

In biblical language, prophets were spokesmen for God, preachers who brought God's message to the people of their time (Ezekiel 3:4; Ezekiel 3:27; Haggai 1:13). They were not primarily predictors (which is the usual meaning in everyday speech today), though in urging people to turn from sin they may have foretold the blessings or judgments that would follow their obedience or disobedience (Isaiah 1:18-20; Jeremiah 17:7-10). In Old Testament times the prophets were Israel's great preachers, and John the Baptist continued the line of prophet-preachers into the New Testament era (Matthew 11:13-14; Luke 3:3-7; Luke 3:16-18).

When Jesus established the new community of God's people, the Christian church, he appointed that prophets have a part to play in the church's life. Like apostles, they were one of his gifts to help the growth of the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). Also, like apostles, they became less necessary as the authoritative Christian teaching became increasingly available in written form. It seems that they were not needed after the first century. They were Christ's special provision to ensure that the early church was built on a proper foundation and in accordance with God's plan (Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:4-6).

Prophets sometimes gave special directions in particular situations (Acts 11:27-30; Acts 13:1; Acts 21:9-11), though their main ministry was the steady teaching of God's message to build up the believers (Acts 15:32; 1 Corinthians 14:3-5; 1 Corinthians 14:31). They may have received messages direct from God (1 Corinthians 14:6; Revelation 1:1-3) and may have preached without preparation (1 Corinthians 14:29-31). But they were still responsible for what they said and for the control they exercised over themselves (1 Corinthians 14:32). Likewise the hearers were responsible to examine what was said and not to accept anything without testing it first (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:10).

In exceptional circumstances, people who were not recognized prophets in the church may have prophesied (Acts 19:6). Because this increased the possibility of false prophets, God gave to certain Christians the ability to discern more readily the difference between the true and the false (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:24; 1 Corinthians 12:10; Revelation 2:20).

 


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Bibliography Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 11:4". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/acts-11.html. 2005.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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