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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Acts 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-52

Chapter 13

THE FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY (Acts 13:1-3)

Acts 13:1-52; Acts 14:1-28 tell the story of the first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas set out from Antioch. Antioch was 15 miles up the River Orontes so that they actually sailed from Seleucia, its port. From there they went across the sea to Cyprus where they preached at Salamis and Paphos. From Paphos they sailed to Perga in Pamphylia. Pamphylia was a low-lying coastal province and they did not preach there because it did not suit Paul's health. They struck inland and came to Antioch in Pisidia. When things grew too dangerous there they went 90 miles further on to Iconium. Once again their lives were threatened and they moved on to Lystra, about 20 miles away. After suffering a very serious and dangerous attack there they passed on to Derbe, the site of which has not yet been definitely identified. From Derbe they set out home, going back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia on the way. Having this time preached in Perga in Pamphylia, they took ship from Attalia, the principal port of Pamphylia, and sailed via Seleucia to Antioch. The whole journey occupied about three years.

SENT OUT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT (Acts 13:1-3 continued)

13:1-3 In the local church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers. There were Barnabas, and Simeon who is called Niger, and Lucius from Cyrene, and Manaen, who was brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. When they were engaged in worshipping God and in fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, "Come now, set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them in my service." So after they had fasted and prayed they laid their hands on them and let them go.

The Christian Church was now poised to take the greatest of all steps. They had decided, quite deliberately, to take the gospel out to all the world. It was a decision taken under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. The men of the Early Church never did what they wanted to do but always what God wanted them to do.

Prophets and teachers had different functions. The prophets were wandering preachers who had given their whole lives to listening for the word of God then taking that word to their fellow men. The teachers were the men in the local churches whose duty it was to instruct converts in the faith.

It has been pointed out that this very list of prophets is symbolic of the universal appeal of the Gospel. Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus; Lucius came from Cyrene in North Africa; Simeon was also a Jew but his other name Niger is given and, since this is a Roman name, it shows that he must have moved in Roman circles; Manaen was a man with aristocratic connections; and Paul himself was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia and a trained rabbi. In that little band there is exemplified the unifying influence of Christianity. Men from many lands and many backgrounds had discovered the secret of "togetherness" because they had discovered the secret of Christ.

One extremely interesting speculation has been made. Simeon not improbably came from Africa, for Niger is an African name. It has been suggested that he is the Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus' Cross (Luke 23:26). It would be a thing most wonderful if the man whose first contact with Jesus was the carrying of the Cross--a task which he must have bitterly resented--was one of those directly responsible for sending out the story of the Cross to all the world.

SUCCESS IN CYPRUS (Acts 13:4-12)

13:4-12 So when they had been sent out by the Holy Spirit they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed away to Cyprus. When they were in Salamis they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogue of the Jews; and they had John as their helper. They went through the whole island as far as Paphos, and there they found a man who was a dealer in magic, a false prophet and a Jew. His name was Bar-Jesus and he was with the pro-consul Sergius Paulus who was an intelligent man. The pro-consul summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. Elymas (for such is the translation of his name), the man of magic, opposed them and tried to turn the pro-consul away from the faith. But Saul--who is also Paul--filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him and said, "You who are full of all deceit and all villainy, you son of the devil, you enemy of righteousness, will you not stop twisting the straight ways of God? And now, look you, the Lord's hand is on you and you will be blind and you will not see the sun for a season." And thereupon a mist and a darkness fell upon him; and as he groped about he looked for people to lead him by the hand. When the pro-consul in astonishment saw what had happened he believed in the teaching of the Lord.

It was to Cyprus that Paul and Barnabas first went. Barnabas was a native of Cyprus (Acts 4:36), and it would be typical of his gracious heart that he should desire to share the treasures of Jesus first of all with his own people. Cyprus was a Roman province, famous for its copper mines and its shipbuilding industry. It was sometimes called Makaria, which means the Happy Isle, because it was held that its climate was so perfect and its resources so varied that a man might find everything necessary for a happy life within its bounds. Paul never chose an easy way. He and Barnabas preached in Paphos, the capital of the island. Paphos was infamous for its worship of Venus, the goddess of love.

The governor of Cyprus was Sergius Paulus. These were intensely superstitious times and most great men, even an intelligent man like Sergius Paulus, kept private wizards, fortune tellers who dealt in magic and spells. Bar-Jesus, or Elymas--an Arabic word which means the skilful one--saw that if the governor was won for Christianity his day was done; Paul dealt effectively with him.

From this point on Saul is called Paul. In those days nearly all Jews had two names. One was a Jewish name, by which they were known in their own circle; the other was a Greek name, by which they were known in the wider world. Sometimes the Greek name translated the Hebrew. So Cephas is the Hebrew and Peter the Greek for a rock; Thomas is the Hebrew and Didymus the Greek for a twin. Sometimes it echoed the sound. So Eliakim in Hebrew becomes Alcimus in Greek and Joshua becomes Jesus.

So Saul was also Paul. It may well be that from this time he so fully accepted his mission as the apostle to the Gentiles that he determined to use only his Gentile name. If so, it was the mark that from this time he was launched on the career for which the Holy Spirit had marked him out and that there was to be no turning back.

THE DESERTER (Acts 13:13)

13:13 Paul and his friends put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and went back to Jerusalem.

Without his name even being mentioned this verse pays the been Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:2). It was Barnabas who had set out as the leader of this expedition. But now it is Paul and Barnabas. Paul has assumed the leadership of the expedition; and the lovely thing about Barnabas is that there is from him no word of complaint. He was a man prepared to take the second place so long as God's work was done.

The main interest of this verse is that it is a strand in the biography of John Mark--for the John mentioned here is the man we know better as Mark--who was a deserter who redeemed himself.

Mark was very young. His mother's house seems to have been the centre of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 12:12) and he must always have been close to the centre of the faith. Paul and Barnabas took him with them as their helper, for he was kinsman to Barnabas; but he turned and went home. We will never know why. Perhaps he resented the deposition of Barnabas from the leadership; perhaps he was afraid of the proposed journey up into the plateau where Antioch in Pisidia stood, for it was one of the hardest and most dangerous roads in the world; perhaps, because he came from Jerusalem, he had his doubts about this preaching to the Gentiles; perhaps at this stage he was one of those many who are better at beginning things than finishing them; perhaps--as Chrysostom said long ago--the lad wanted his mother. At any rate he went.

For a time Paul found it hard to forgive. When he set out on the second missionary journey Barnabas wanted to take Mark again but Paul refused to take the one who had proved a quitter (Acts 15:38) and he and Barnabas split company for good over it. Then Mark vanishes from history, although tradition says he went to Alexandria and Egypt and founded the church there. When he re-emerges almost 20 years later he is the man who has redeemed himself. Paul, writing to the Colossians from prison in Rome, tells them to receive Mark if he comes to them. And when he writes to Timothy just before his death, he says, "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful in serving me" (2 Timothy 4:11). As Fosdick put it, "No man need stay the way he is." By the grace of God the man who was once a deserter became the writer of a gospel and the man whom, at the end, Paul wanted beside him.

AN ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY FOR A SICK MAN (Acts 13:14-15)

13:14-15 From Perga they went through the country and arrived at Pisidian Antioch. They went into the synagogue on the first day of the week and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent to them with this message, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation to say to the people say on."

One of the amazing things about Acts is the heroism that is passed over in a sentence. Pisidian Antioch stood on a plateau 3,600 feet above sea-level. To get to it Paul and Barnabas would have to cross the Taurus range of mountains by one of the hardest roads in Asia Minor, a road which was also notorious for robbers and brigands.

But we are bound to ask, why did they not preach in Pamphylia? Why did they leave the coast with the word unproclaimed and set out on that difficult and dangerous way? Not so very long afterwards Paul wrote a letter to the people of Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. It is the letter called the Letter to the Galatians for all these towns were in the Roman province of Galatia. In it he says, "You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first" (Galatians 4:13). So when he came to Galatia he was a sick man. Now Paul had a thorn in the flesh which in spite of much prayer remained with him (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Many guesses have been made as to what that thorn was--or stake as it probably should be translated. The oldest tradition is that Paul suffered from prostrating headaches. And the most likely explanation is that he was the victim of a virulent recurring malaria fever which haunted the low coastal strip of Asia Minor. A traveller says that the headache characteristic of this malaria was like a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead; and another likens it to a dentist's drill boring through a man's temple. It is most likely that this malaria attacked Paul in low-lying Pamphylia and that he had to make for the plateau country to shake it off.

Note that it never struck him to turn back. Even when his body was aching Paul never ceased to drive on and to be an adventurer for Christ.

THE PREACHING OF PAUL (Acts 13:16-41)

13:16-41 Then Paul stood up and made a gesture with his hand and said, "You Israelites, and you who are God-fearers, listen to this. The God of this people Israel chose out our fathers and he exalted the people when they lived as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with a lofty arm he brought them forth from it. For forty years he bore with their ways in the wilderness. He destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan and gave them possession of their land, for about four hundred and fifty years. After that he gave them judges up to the time of Samuel the prophet. Thereafter they asked for a king. And God gave them Saul, the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin for forty years. God removed him and raised up David as king for them. In testimony to him he said, 'I found in David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will do all things that I wish.' It was from the seed of this man, according to his promise, that God brought Jesus, a Saviour for Israel, after John had previously preached, before his coming, a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. When John was fulfilling his course, he said, 'What do you suppose me to be? No. I am not he. But, look you, there is coming after me one the shoe of whose feet I am not fit to unloose.' Brethren, you who are sons of the race of Abraham, you God-fearers among us, it was for us that the word of this salvation was sent out. Those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize this man and they fulfilled the words of the prophets which are read every Sabbath when they condemned him in judgment. Though they found in him no charge which merited the death penalty, they asked Pilate that he should be put to death. When they had completed all that had been written about him they took him down from the tree and put him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead and he was seen for many days by those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now witnesses of him to the people; and we bring you the good news of that promise, that was made to the fathers; we tell you that God has fulfilled this to our children by raising up Jesus, even as it stands written in the second psalm, 'Thou art My son; this day have I begotten thee.' And when he raised him from the dead no longer to return to destruction he spoke thus, 'I will give to you the holy things of David which are faithful,' because he says in another passage, 'Thou wilt not allow thy holy one to see corruption.' For David in his own generation served the will of God and fell asleep, and he was added to his fathers and he did see corruption. But the one whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let this be known to you, brethren, that through this man the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to us. And from all the things from which you could not be acquitted by the Law of Moses, everyone who believes in this man is acquitted. So then, take heed lest there come upon you that which was spoken in the prophets--'See, you despisers, and wonder, and be wiped out from sight, because I work a work in your days, a work in which you will not believe, even if someone tell it to you.'"

This is an extremely important passage because it is the only full-length report of a sermon by Paul that we possess. When carefully compared with the sermon of Peter in Acts 2:1-47 the main elements in it are seen to be precisely the same.

(i) Paul insists that the coming of Jesus is the consummation of history. He outlines the national history of the Jews to show that it culminates in Christ. The Stoics believed that history simply kept on repeating itself. A modern cynical verdict is that history is the record of the sins, the mistakes and the follies of men. But the Christian view of history is optimistic. It is certain that always history is going somewhere according to the purpose of God.

(ii) Paul states the fact that men did not recognize God's consummation when it came in Jesus Christ. Browning said, "We needs must love the highest when we see it." But a man, by taking his own way and refusing God's way, can in the end afflict himself with a blindness which is unable to see. The misuse of freewill ends not in liberty but in ruin.

(iii) Although men, in their blind folly, rejected and crucified Jesus, God could not be defeated and the resurrection is the proof of the undefeatable purpose and power of God. It is told that once on a night of gale, a child said in awe to his father, "God must have lost grip of his winds tonight." The resurrection is the proof that God never loses grip.

(iv) Paul goes on to use a purely Jewish argument. The resurrection is the fulfilment of prophecy because promises were made to David which were obviously not fulfilled in him but which are fulfilled in Christ. Once again, whatever we make of this argument from prophecy, the fact remains that history is neither circular nor aimless; it looks to that which in the purpose of God must come.

(v) The coming of Christ is to one kind of people good news. Hitherto they had tried to live life according to the Law but no man could ever fulfil that Law completely and therefore any thinking man was always conscious of failure and guilt. But in Jesus Christ men find that forgiving power which sets them free from the condemnation that should have been theirs and therefore restores real friendship with God.

(vi) But what is meant for good news is in fact bad news for another kind of people. It simply makes worse the condemnation of those who have seen it and have disobeyed its summons to belief in Jesus Christ. There is excuse for the man who has never had a chance; but there is none for the man who has seen the splendour of the offer of God and has rejected it.

TROUBLE AT ANTIOCH (Acts 13:42-52)

13:42-52 As they were going out, they kept asking that these things should be spoken to them on the next Sabbath. When the synagogue service had broken up many of the Jews and worshipping proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas. They talked with them and tried to persuade them to abide in the grace of God.

On the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God. When the Jews saw the crowds they were filled with envy and they argued against what Paul said, making blasphemous statements. Paul and Barnabas, using the boldest language, said, "It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you, but since you reject it and since you have proved that you are unfit for eternal life, look you, we turn to the Gentiles; for thus has the Lord enjoined us, 'I have appointed you for a light to the Gentiles so that you may be for salvation even to the utmost bound of the world.'" When the Gentiles heard this they were glad and they glorified the word of God; and all who were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was carried throughout the whole district. But the Jews incited the devout women who were women of position and the chief men of the city and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas; and they ejected them from their bounds. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Antioch in Pisidia was an inflammable city. It was a very mixed place. It had been founded by one of Alexander the Great's successors about 300 B.C. Jews very often flooded into new cities in order to get in on the ground floor, to use a modern phrase. Since Antioch was a road centre it had become a Roman colony in 6 B.C. In the population there were therefore Greeks, Jews, Romans and not a few of the native Phrygians who were an emotional and unstable people. It was the kind of population where a spark could cause a conflagration.

The one thing that infuriated the Jews was that any of God's privileges could be for the uncircumcised Gentiles. So they took action. At this time the Jewish religion had a special attraction for women. In nothing was the ancient world more lax than in sexual morality. Family life was rapidly breaking down. The worst sufferers were women. The Jewish religion preached a purity of ethic and cleanness of life. Round the synagogues gathered many women, often of high social position, who found in this teaching just what they longed for. Many of these women became proselytes; still more were God-fearers. The Jews persuaded them to incite their husbands, who were often men in influential positions, to take steps against the Christian preachers. The inevitable result was persecution, Antioch became unsafe for Paul and Barnabas and they had to go.

The Jews were intent on keeping their privileges to themselves. From the beginning the Christians saw their privileges as something to be shared. As has been said, "The Jews saw the heathen as chaff to be burned; Jesus saw them as a harvest to be reaped for God." And his Church must have a like vision of a world for Christ.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 13:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-13.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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