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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 13


The Church in Antioch, 35-47 a.d. (
Acts 11:19 to Acts 13:3)

19-26. Extension of the Church to Antioch. Admission of Gentile members. Antioch in N. Syria ranked next to Alexandria, as the third city in the Roman empire. It was beautifully situated on the Orontes, about 15 m. from the sea. Its port was Seleucia. The bulk of the population was Syrian by race, but the language and culture were Greek. There were also numerous Jews, who had gathered round their synagogues a remarkable number of proselytes. Antioch was the capital of the province of Syria, and the seat of the Roman governor, so that here Christianity came into contact for the first time with Greek and Roman civilisation. Antioch remained a great Christian centre: among its honoured names were Ignatius and Chrysostom: its school of theology and exegesis was famous, and its bishop was one of the four patriarchs. Here Christianity was first preached on any large scale to Gentiles (see on Acts 11:20). It is probable, however, that most of them were, like Cornelius, in some way attached to the synagogue. St. Paul seems to have been the first to appeal to Gentiles pure and simple: see Acts 14:27.

19. The narrative goes back to Acts 8:1, to trace the chain of causation which led to the foundation of the first great Gentile Church. Christianity, it will be seen, spread along the great trade routes both by land and sea. Phenice] i.e. Phœnicia.

20. Men of Cyprus and Cyrene] these would be Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews), and therefore presumably more liberal in their views than Hebrews. To these unnamed Cyprians and Cyrenians belongs the credit of first preaching systematically to Gentiles. Spake unto the Grecians] i.e. to the Greek-speaking Jews. So the AV. But the context plainly requires ’spake unto the Greeks’ (i.e. unto the Gentiles), and thisreading is adopted by the RV.

22. The Church of Jerusalem on hearing the news acted with commendable self-restraint. They did not hastily condemn the new departure, little as they liked it, but sent a trustworthy person, Barnabas, to examine into the circumstances upon the spot, and to report.

23. Barnabas, after carefully observing the results of the policy, approved it (was glad), and exhorted them all (i.e. both Jews and Gentiles) to persevere in their profession of faith, and to form one united Church. Barnabas thus anticipated Paul in sanctioning the principle of Gentile equality, which involved eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:12), and it was because Paul was likely to be in sympathy with such a policy, that Barnabas summoned him to Antioch.

26. Christians] The giving of this name marked the recognition of the fact that ’the Way’ was something more than a new Jewish sect. The inclusion of numerous Gentiles within the Church, and that without their becoming Jews, and the preaching of Jesus as one whose authority was superior to that of Moses, gave complete justification to those who saw in Christianity a new religion. The form of the word is Latin, so that it may have originated in the Latin-speaking court of the Roman governor. At any rate, the name was not invented by the Jews, who did not admit that Jesus was ’the Christ’ (Messiah). In 64 a.d. Tacitus mentions that the name was in use among the common people at Rome. In the 2nd cent, a corrupted form, ’Chrestians,’ lit. ’the good people,’ was sometimes used.

27-30. The Church of Antioch succours the Church of Jerusalem in time of famine.

27. Friendly-relations clearly prevailed between Jerusalem and Antioch, the former Church sending accredited prophets and teachers to Antioch to assist in the work of evangelisation. Prophets] The gift of prophecy specially distinguished the apostolic from the subapostolic and later ages. It was widely diffused, being exercised by private Christians, and even by women in the Church assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:1). Generally it took the form of inspired exhortation or instruction, but was sometimes predictive. The official prophets, who were recognised as possessing the gift to the fullest extent (e.g. Agabus, Barnabas, Symeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, Judas, and Silas, see Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; Acts 21:10) ranked next to the Apostles, and were regarded with them as the foundation upon which the Church was built (Ephesians 2:20). The chief product of Christian prophecy is the inspired NT.

Unto Antioch] The Bezan text here adds: ’And there was much gladness. And when we were gathered together, one of them named Agabus spake [and signified, etc.].’ This reading, which seems trustworthy, confirms the tradition that St. Luke belonged to Antioch, and was one of the early converts there.

28. Agabus] see Acts 21:10. Great dearth throughout all the world] There was a severe famine in the fourth year of Claudius, 45 a.d., which affected both Judæa and Greece. To this St. Luke probably refers. Claudius] reigned from 41-54 a.d. The prophecy of Agabus was perhaps delivered in 44 a.d.

30. The elders] lit. ’presbyters.’ These officers are here mentioned for the first time. All the Apostolic Churches were governed by presbyters (Acts 14:23), or, as they were sometimes called at first, bishops (Acts 20:28: cp. Philippians 1:1). The presbyters ranked next to the apostles and above the deacons. On them devolved (under the apostles) the government and pastoral care of the Church. They visited and anointed the sick, and entertained strangers (see James 5:14). The more learned of them laboured in the word and teaching, and such were held worthy of double honour (1 Timothy 5:18). They did not exercise what is now called episcopal authority. This was reserved to the apostles and apostolic men. They were essentially local officers. There were several in one Church, and they formed one body or ’college’ (the presbytery, 1 Timothy 4:14). Government by presbyters was adopted by the Church from the Synagogue. Jewish synagogues were governed by a body of presbyters at the head of whom was an officer called ’the ruler of the synagogue.’ Many think that in Christian Churches also the leading presbyter had from the first a special position, similar to that of St. James at Jerusalem, and that towards the close of the apostolic age the title ’bishop,’ at first applied to all presbyters indiscriminately, began to be restricted to him (see Intro, to Pastoral Epistles, notes on 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7).

The usual view is that this visit of St. Paul to Jerusalem is nowhere else alluded to, being passed over in silence in the Epistle to the Galatians. But the writer’s own view is that this visit is that mentioned Galatians 2:1-10. See on Acts 15

Verses 1-3

The Church in Antioch, 35-47 a.d. (Act 11:19 to Act 13:3)

19-26. Extension of the Church to Antioch. Admission of Gentile members. Antioch in N. Syria ranked next to Alexandria, as the third city in the Roman empire. It was beautifully situated on the Orontes, about 15 m. from the sea. Its port was Seleucia. The bulk of the population was Syrian by race, but the language and culture were Greek. There were also numerous Jews, who had gathered round their synagogues a remarkable number of proselytes. Antioch was the capital of the province of Syria, and the seat of the Roman governor, so that here Christianity came into contact for the first time with Greek and Roman civilisation. Antioch remained a great Christian centre: among its honoured names were Ignatius and Chrysostom: its school of theology and exegesis was famous, and its bishop was one of the four patriarchs. Here Christianity was first preached on any large scale to Gentiles (see on Act 11:20). It is probable, however, that most of them were, like Cornelius, in some way attached to the synagogue. St. Paul seems to have been the first to appeal to Gentiles pure and simple: see Acts 14:27.

19. The narrative goes back to Acts 8:1, to trace the chain of causation which led to the foundation of the first great Gentile Church. Christianity, it will be seen, spread along the great trade routes both by land and sea. Phenice] i.e. Phœnicia.

20. Men of Cyprus and Cyrene] these would be Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews), and therefore presumably more liberal in their views than Hebrews. To these unnamed Cyprians and Cyrenians belongs the credit of first preaching systematically to Gentiles. Spake unto the Grecians] i.e. to the Greek-speaking Jews. So the AV. But the context plainly requires 'spake unto the Greeks' (i.e. unto the Gentiles), and thisreading is adopted by the RV.

22. The Church of Jerusalem on hearing the news acted with commendable self-restraint. They did not hastily condemn the new departure, little as they liked it, but sent a trustworthy person, Barnabas, to examine into the circumstances upon the spot, and to report.

23. Barnabas, after carefully observing the results of the policy, approved it (was glad), and exhorted them all (i.e. both Jews and Gentiles) to persevere in their profession of faith, and to form one united Church. Barnabas thus anticipated Paul in sanctioning the principle of Gentile equality, which involved eating with Gentiles (Gal 2:12), and it was because Paul was likely to be in sympathy with such a policy, that Barnabas summoned him to Antioch.

26. Christians] The giving of this name marked the recognition of the fact that 'the Way' was something more than a new Jewish sect. The inclusion of numerous Gentiles within the Church, and that without their becoming Jews, and the preaching of Jesus as one whose authority was superior to that of Moses, gave complete justification to those who saw in Christianity a new religion. The form of the word is Latin, so that it may have originated in the Latin-speaking court of the Roman governor. At any rate, the name was not invented by the Jews, who did not admit that Jesus was 'the Christ' (Messiah). In 64 a.d. Tacitus mentions that the name was in use among the common people at Rome. In the 2nd cent, a corrupted form, 'Chrestians,' lit. 'the good people,' was sometimes used.

27-30. The Church of Antioch succours the Church of Jerusalem in time of famine.
27.
Friendly-relations clearly prevailed between Jerusalem and Antioch, the former Church sending accredited prophets and teachers to Antioch to assist in the work of evangelisation. Prophets] The gift of prophecy specially distinguished the apostolic from the subapostolic and later ages. It was widely diffused, being exercised by private Christians, and even by women in the Church assemblies (1Co 14:1). Generally it took the form of inspired exhortation or instruction, but was sometimes predictive. The official prophets, who were recognised as possessing the gift to the fullest extent (e.g. Agabus, Barnabas, Symeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, Judas, and Silas, see Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; Act 21:10) ranked next to the Apostles, and were regarded with them as the foundation upon which the Church was built (Eph 2:20). The chief product of Christian prophecy is the inspired NT.

Unto Antioch] The Bezan text here adds: 'And there was much gladness. And when we were gathered together, one of them named Agabus spake [and signified, etc.].' This reading, which seems trustworthy, confirms the tradition that St. Luke belonged to Antioch, and was one of the early converts there.

28. Agabus] see Acts 21:10. Great dearth throughout all the world] There was a severe famine in the fourth year of Claudius, 45 a.d., which affected both Judæa and Greece. To this St. Luke probably refers. Claudius] reigned from 41-54 a.d. The prophecy of Agabus was perhaps delivered in 44 a.d.

30. The elders] lit. 'presbyters.' These officers are here mentioned for the first time. All the Apostolic Churches were governed by presbyters (Act 14:23), or, as they were sometimes called at first, bishops (Acts 20:28 : cp. Php 1:1). The presbyters ranked next to the apostles and above the deacons. On them devolved (under the apostles) the government and pastoral care of the Church. They visited and anointed the sick, and entertained strangers (see Jam 5:14). The more learned of them laboured in the word and teaching, and such were held worthy of double honour (1Ti 5:18). They did not exercise what is now called episcopal authority. This was reserved to the apostles and apostolic men. They were essentially local officers. There were several in one Church, and they formed one body or 'college' (the presbytery, 1Ti 4:14). Government by presbyters was adopted by the Church from the Synagogue. Jewish synagogues were governed by a body of presbyters at the head of whom was an officer called 'the ruler of the synagogue.' Many think that in Christian Churches also the leading presbyter had from the first a special position, similar to that of St. James at Jerusalem, and that towards the close of the apostolic age the title 'bishop,' at first applied to all presbyters indiscriminately, began to be restricted to him (see Intro, to Pastoral Epistles, notes on 1 Timothy 3:2; Tit 1:7).

The usual view is that this visit of St. Paul to Jerusalem is nowhere else alluded to, being passed over in silence in the Epistle to the Galatians. But the writer's own view is that this visit is that mentioned Galatians 2:1-10. See on Acts 15:0

Verses 1-52


St. Paul as a Missionary

1. Prophets] see on Acts 11:27. Simeon that was called Niger] Niger was a Roman cognomen. Lucius of Cyrene] doubtless one of those Cyrenians who first preached at Antioch (Acts 11:20). Manaen] the OT. form is ’Menahem.’ Which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch] Two meanings are possible. Either, (1) Menabem’s mother had been Herod’s wet-nurse; or (2) Menahem had been brought up with Herod as his fosterbrother. The tetrarch (Herod Antipas) was the son of Herod the Great, by Malthace, and received (after his father’s death) Galilee and Peræa. In 39 a.d. he was banished to Gaul, where he died.

2. As they ministered to the Lord] i.e. celebrated divine worship. From the Gk. word used is derived our word ’liturgy.’

And fasted] see on Matthew 6:16; The Holy Ghost said] an expression vividly suggesting the personality of the Holy Ghost, and His office as the Guide of the Church. Acts is so full of such expressions (Acts 10:19; Acts 8:29, Acts 8:39; Acts 11:12; Acts 13:4; Acts 16:6) that it has even been called ’the Gospel of the Holy Ghost.’ In this case the Holy Ghost probably spoke by one of the prophets. Separate me Barnabas and Saul] Some regard this incident as the ordination of Paul and Barnabas; others as their solemn setting apart for missionary work. Henceforth they are called ’apostles’ by St. Luke (Luke 14:4, Luke 14:14).

3. This was the apostolic custom to fast at ordinations: see Acts 14:23.

Acts 13:4 to Acts 15:35; First Missionary Journey and Council of Jerusalem. During this journey St. Paul conclusively established his right to the title of Apostle, (1) by the success of his labours, Acts 13:49; Acts 14:1, Acts 14:21; (2) by signs and wonders, Acts 13:11; Acts 14:3, Acts 14:10 and (3) by the foundation and organisation of churches, Acts 14:23. It will be noticed that St. Paul takes the lead, and soon becomes a more prominent figure than Barnabas. Although upon a mission to the Gentiles, St. Paul always addresses the Jews first (Acts 13:46).

Acts 13:4-13. Cyprus. This island was familiar ground to Barnabas (Acts 4:36). It contained a large Jewish population, to which the apostles mainly confined their attention (Acts 13:5). The principal town was Salamis, but the seat of government was Paphos (see Acts 13:6). Cyprus was at this time a senatorial province, and the governor is therefore correctly described as proconsul (Acts 13:7). The principal exports of Cyprus were copper and timber. The deity chiefly worshipped was Aphrodite (Venus). Paphos, the centre of her worship, had an evil reputation for laxity of morals.

5. Their minister] Possibly for the administration of baptism, which St. Paul usually performed by deputy (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).

6. A.. sorcerer] lit. ’a magus.’ Here in a bad sense: see on Matthew 2:1.

7. Deputy] Gk. anthupatos, i.e. ’proconsul,’ the correct title of the governor of a senatorial province. Sergius Paulus] a member of the ancient patrician gens of the Sergii. An inscription has been discovered in Cyprus, which speaks of the proconsulship of this Paulus.

8. Elymas] The name is Arabic, meaning ’the wise,’ an equivalent of the Gk. magus.

9. Paul] Saul, as a Roman citizen, had the well-known Roman name Paul. It is here introduced, because the apostle, for the first time, comes into intimate contact with the Roman world. The name Saul in Gk. has the ridiculous sense of ’waddling.’ Observe that from this point Paul becomes a more prominent figure than Barnabas. Filled with the Holy Ghost] This miracle of wrath was justified by a special revelation.

13. John departing from them] Mark may have objected to the conversion of so many Gentiles. Others suggest personal resentment against St. Paul, whose reputation was now eclipsing that of St. Barnabas, Mark’s cousin. Failure of courage or of perseverance is also possible.

14-52. Antioch of Pisidia. St. Paul’s Sermon in the Synagogue.

The cities which the apostles now proceeded to evangelise (Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe) were situated in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia, and it is now very generally supposed that the Epistle to the Galatians was addressed to the churches in these cities. If so, we can use that Epistle to illustrate this narrative. The other view that the Galatian Churches were situated in N. Galatia is less probable, because no missionary journey in N. Galatia is mentioned in Acts.

14. Perga] An important city, the capital of Pamphylia. Antioch in Pisidia] rather, ’Pisidian Antioch.’ This Antioch was really in Phrygia, but from its position was called ’Antiochia ad Pisidiam,’ ’Antioch bordering on Pisidia.’ It was the centre of military and civil administration for S. Galatia, and commanded the great high-road from Syria to Ephesus and the West. We gather from Galatians 4:13 that St. Paul preached in Galatia on account of an illness which overtook him on his travels. Prof. Ramsay supposes that having caught malarial fever at the low-lying Perga, he determined to try the effect of the mountain air of Antioch. The Synagogue] The sabbath service of the synagogue consisted then as now of, (1) the recitation of the Shema (i.e. of Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41); (2) fixed prayers and benedictions; (3) a lesson from the Law; (4) a lesson from the Prophets, intended to illustrate the law; (5) a sermon or instruction. The ruler of the synagogue (at Antioch there appears to have been more than one) decided who was to read or preach.

16-41. St. Paul’s sermon falls into three parts: (1) the historical introduction (Acts 13:16-25); (2) the preaching of salvation through the Incarnation, the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus, who is God’s Son, to whom the prophets bore witness (Acts 13:26-37); (3) the practical application and appeal (Acts 13:38-41). The introduction reminds us of Stephen’s apology, but whereas Stephen laid the main stress upon Moses, St. Paul lays it upon David. The description of our Lord’s rejection by the rulers, and of His death and resurrection reminds us strongly of St. Peter’s earlier speeches at Jerusalem, but St. Paul adds the further claim that Jesus is God’s Son (Acts 13:33). The Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, and not by the works of the Law, finds expression in Acts 13:39: cp. Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2., etc., which show that this doctrine was actually preached to the Galatians.

18. Suffered he their manners] Both here and in Deuteronomy 1:31 the true reading probably is ’bare he them as a nursing father.’

19. By lot] RV ’for an inheritance.’

20. Judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years] This period for the judges (more precisely 443 years) is also adopted by Josephus, but is inconsistent with 1 Kings 6:1. Another reading, adopted by the RV, makes the period of 450 years extend from the death of Joshua to the reign of David.

22. See Psalms 89:20; 1 Samuel 13:14;

24. His coming] i.e. His entry upon the Messianic office (to be dated from His Baptism).

26. To you] RV ’to us.’

33. In the second psalm] There is another reading ’in the first psalm,’ which may be correct, as there is evidence that the first two psalms were sometimes counted as one. In the passage referred to (Psalms 2:7) the Messiah is declared to be begotten as the Son of God on the day when Jehovah scatters His enemies before Him. So at the Resurrection, when the enemies of Jesus were confounded, He was ’declared to be the Son of God with power,’ and made ’the first begotten of the dead’ (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5).

34. I will give you the sure mercies of David] RV ’I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ See Isaiah 55:3. But how does this text prove the Resurrection of Jesus, and His unending life? Because unless Jesus had risen to unending life and power, the Messianic promises made to David could never have been fulfilled.

35. See Psalms 16:10, and cp. St. Peter’s use of the passage, Acts 2:31.

40. In the prophets] The particular prophecy quoted is Habakkuk 1:5. Habakkuk had threatened the Jews with destruction by the Chaldaeans (Babylonians). The passage, as applied by St. Paul, looks forward to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

42. RV ’And as they went out, they besought,’ etc. The request for another sermon (according to the RV) was general and not confined to the Gentiles.

45. What irritated the Jews was not the substance of the gospel message, but the fact that it was proclaimed to the heathen as well as to themselves.

46. Lo, we turn to the Gentiles] This momentous decision to appeal to the Gentiles directly, and not through the instrumentality of the Synagogue, required courage in the face of current prejudice. See further Acts 18:6; Acts 28:28.

47. See Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:32.

48. As many as were ordained to eternal life believed] This expresses the Pauline and Apostolic doctrine of predestination, according to which God desires the salvation of all men (1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:10, etc.), but inasmuch as He foresees that some (in the exercise of their free will) will actually repent and believe, while others will refuse to do so, He ordains the former to eternal life, and the latter to eternal death (Romans 8:28-30,; etc.).

50. Devout and honourable women] i.e. proselytes to Judaism, and (probably) wives to the chief men of the city. Coasts] i.e. borders.

51. Shook off the dust] see Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5, and cp. Acts 18:8. Iconium] a Phrygian city of considerable importance situated in a most beautiful and fertile plain 80 m. SE. of Antioch. It is now called Konia.

52. In spite of the (apparently) successful persecution, and the departure of the apostles, the new converts stood firm, and were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost: cp. Acts 2:46; Acts 4:31.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Acts 13". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/acts-13.html. 1909.