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On the Jewish Synagogue.
The Synagogue was the connecting link between the Temple of Jerusalem and the Church of the Christians. It was the synagogue and its services which prepared the mind of those Jews who, obeying the command of the Master, laid the foundation of the Christian Church. It was in the synagogue that the Jews first learned how to dispense with the elaborate ceremonial of sacrifice and offering which the Jews of old time considered the one way to approach the Eternal. It was in those countless synagogues which arose in distant countries during the rule of the Ptolemys in Egypt, and subsequently when Roman rule was making the West and much of the East one nation, that the scattered people, many of whom had never seen Jerusalem and the Temple, worshipped the Eternal without the aid of priest or Levite every Sabbath day with a more spiritual though perhaps with a less ceremonial service.
It is generally supposed that the ‘synagogue,’ as we understand the term, arose during the Captivity; though the frequent references before the Captivity to the schools of the prophets, the words of Psalms 74:8, and more certainly Acts 15:21 , and rabbinic tradition, point to a more ancient date for these congregational meetings, than the period of the Captivity of Babylon.
These synagogues in some places small and unpretending, such as we may imagine the place by the river-side near Philippi (Acts 16:13); in the greater cities of the empire, such as Alexandria, were large and magnificent. The internal arrangements seem to have but little changed. We read of the closed ark on the side of the building nearest to Jerusalem, where the rolls of the Law were kept; the desk in the centre, where the reader read the book of the Law and spoke to the people; the seats all round the building for the men; the women apart in a gallery or behind a screen of lattice-work; the chief seats for the rulers or elders of the synagogue. In all times the service of these synagogues seems to have varied but slightly, and was of course the model which has been copied in the services of the various Christian churches. There were in use set forms of prayer, and regular lessons for each Sabbath day chosen from the Law and the Prophets; and after the reading from the holy books, a sermon was usually delivered by one of the elders of the congregation or by a stranger of known learning and ability. Our Lord was often asked to deliver the discourse in the synagogue in which He happened to be present. Paul, too, as in Antioch (Acts 13:0), seems frequently to have received a similar invitation. The ruler of the synagogue superintended the affairs and arranged the services; with the ruler were associated a council of elders. There was a special person appointed to lead the devotions of the worshippers as reader of the prayers. He was often termed the ‘angel.’ A minister, as in Luke 4:20, was in charge of the building, and took care of the sacred books.
These persons were set apart for their several holy offices by imposition of hands. The synagogue was used also for purposes of instruction and religious disputation.
These synagogues in the time of our Lord seem to have possessed among the people judicial functions; they watched with jealous eyes over the faith of which they were the guardians. Allusion to this judicial authority is made in Matthew 10:17; Matthew 23:34; Acts 22:19; Acts 26:11.
The Church of Antioch.
It the year 44 - 45 Jerusalem ceased to be the central point of Christian activity. For the first twelve years after the resurrection of the Founder of the religion, the history of Christianity could be written in two distinct records, both treating of the same period the one telling of its marvellous progress in spite of persecution and opposition from the great and powerful; the other detailing its internal struggles to free itself from the restraints of Judaism.
For the first few years the followers of Jesus seemed to the ordinary observer but a narrow though enthusiastic band of Hebrew separatists; and such they would probably have remained had not the Master, ruling invisibly from His glory-throne in heaven, watched over His work, and raised up such men as Stephen, and Barnabas, and Paul, who, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, first grasped the idea of a Church world-wide, of a great society to be made up of all races of Gentiles as well as Jews.
The church of Jerusalem was too powerfully influenced by local associations ever to have freed itself from the trammels of Hebrew prejudice; besides which, a hopeless attempt to carry out a beautiful idea impoverished and fatally weakened the influence of the mother church of Christianity. The leading spirits among the Jerusalem Christians, without positively enforcing, certainly encouraged a voluntary sharing of property among its members. The result of such a life, as might have been expected, was a general state of extreme poverty, the ordinary stimulus to all commercial industry and enterprise being removed. But while the Jerusalem Church was thus being gradually impoverished by its communistic policy, and owing to its close connection with Jewish memories and customs, while increasing in numbers, seemed likely to be permanently confined to the narrow limits of a Hebrew sect, nobler, certainly, and more spiritual than the great mass of Jews from whom this sect had separated, but still Hebrew and exclusive, a new centre of Christian life had silently arisen. The religion of Jesus after the year 35 - 36 had rapidly made its way into the hearts and homes of many a dweller in the great Syrian city, Antioch. The Christianity of Antioch was a more robust, more comprehensive religion than the Christianity of Jerusalem. It was free from the narrow prejudices of the mother church. In the restless Gentile city there was no time- honoured temple with its sacred ritual, so dear to every Jew; there was no glorious history of a storied past to influence the Jewish Christian, a great Church, free and all-embracing, had rapidly grown up in Syrian Antioch.
It was this church of Antioch which so generously came forward to the assistance of the mother church at Jerusalem when the great famine of 44 and the following years had begun to press hardly upon the numerous poor congregations of the Holy City; and from this time onward it is the church of this Syrian city which we must regard as the centre of Christian life and progress. It was in Antioch that the first great missionary expeditions were organised; it was from Antioch that Paul and Barnabas, Mark and Silas, started on their noble enterprises. It was to Antioch that they returned to tell the story of their toils and their success.
With the change of capital a new era dawned on Christianity. Henceforth the religion of Jesus was no longer confined to Palestine or Syria; it was proclaimed with strange rapidity in the chief centres of Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt, and Italy: the glad sound of its good news was soon heard in the more distant of the isles of the Gentiles. It was to be no longer merely the faith of an earnest sect of reformed Jews it was to be preached as the religion of the world.
Acts 13:1. The church that was at Antioch. It was a grand work the church of Antioch was about to inaugurate, but a work which to the fathers of the Church who dwelt under the shadow of the proud Jerusalem Temple would seem very strange and contrary to the spirit which had so long dwelt in the Hebrew peoples, and which bound and fettered the first Christian fathers. Conscious of this feeling of non-approval with which so many Jewish Christians would view the Gentile mission work of Antioch, the writer of the ‘Acts’ is very careful to record how blessed was this innovating church of Antioch, how strong in inspired men. The eleventh chapter, Acts 13:27-28, recounts how Agabus and certain prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch; but in this solemn introduction to the story of the Gentile missions, special mention is made of the Divine powers and gifts which belonged exclusively to the Syrian church, and the very names of the more distinguished of these inspired men are given.
Certain prophets and teachers. The Church of the first days during the lifetime of the apostles possessed certain supernatural gifts; we find in the ‘Acts’ and ‘Epistles’ many references to these powers. In a well-known passage (1 Corinthians 12:8-11), St. Paul speaks of these gifts at some length; they certainly existed in the early years which succeeded the first Pentecost. The exercise of these powers by a few gifted persons is mentioned in the writings of the apostles as a matter of ordinary occurrence. But when the apostles and the first generation of believers had passed away, and the foundations of the Church of Jesus had been surely laid, these powers, given for a certain time and a special purpose, seem to have ceased. In writings later than the books of the New Testament, the mention of such supernatural gifts is very rare. The power bestowed on men for a certain season to assist in working out a great work, may after the death of the last of the apostles have lingered a brief while in the person of some old and honoured brother, once the companion or pupil of John, or even of Paul; and an exercise of the old gift of ‘prophecy’ or of ‘healing’ by one of these grey and time-worn soldiers of the cause, who in their youth sat at the apostles’ feet, and from them received some portion of the blessed influence of the Spirit, is probably alluded to in those rare passages in early Christian writings when mention is made of the fading splendour of these Divine powers.
The ‘prophets’ and ‘teachers’ here spoken of were men to whom the power was at times given of communicating truths connected with the religion of Jesus under a Divine inspiration, and occasionally of predicting future events. The ‘prophets,’ who seem to have been the more gifted order, were all teachers; but the teacher was not necessarily a prophet. We can hardly estimate now the extraordinary influence which the burning words and the wise instructions of these divinely-inspired men must have had in those first days on the congregations of Christians.
Barnabas. This eminent man is mentioned first in the list as being the most prominent person among the Antioch Christians. One of the first members of the little band of believers who were gathered at Jerusalem, he was distinguished in the earliest days of the faith by his generous gift to the brethren (Acts 4:36-37). After the death of Stephen, many of the believers were scattered abroad; some of them chose Antioch as their home (Acts 11:19-20). Among these exiles Barnabas occupied a leading position. The work in the great Syriac capital appears to have been singularly successful, and soon a large and increasing brotherhood was established there.
In all generous and devoted work, Barnabas was ever prominent. He it was who induced the older apostles first to look kindly on the Pharisee Saul after his conversion; he it was who, again recognising the splendid powers, and reading well the great heart of Saul, went subsequently to Tarsus, and having sought out, induced the future apostle to come to Antioch to help him in his work there; and later it was Barnabas in company with this same Saul who carried to the impoverished congregations of Jerusalem the offerings of the kindly Antioch church.
No one in the early Church exercised a more noble influence than the Cypriote Barnabas; no one laboured more earnestly or more successfully to carry out his Risen Master’s plans. As a Levite and one of the old Jerusalem brotherhood, he was especially fitted to act as mediator between the two representative churches of early Christianity, the one which looked backward only, and, fondly holding fast to a noble but worn-out tradition, was reluctant to enlarge its borders; the other, which looked only forwards, and forgetting the things which were behind, kept its eye fixed on the vast Gentile lands, whose fields were white already for harvest, but across which no reaper as yet had ever passed. If Christian history has scarcely done justice to this great memory, it is because the name of Barnabas was overshadowed by one far greater. His work and name are both alike well-nigh forgotten in the greater glory which surrounds the name and work of Paul.
Simeon called Niger. Nothing is known of this Simeon. Some have conjectured he was identical with that Simon the Cyrenian who carried the cross of Christ on the crucifixion morning.
Lucius of Cyrene. It is possible that this was the Lucius mentioned by St. Paul as his kinsman (Romans 16:21).
Manaen. We are told here that Manaen was brought up with Herod Antipas the tetrarch, who was at this time an exile at Lyons. The Greek word translated ‘brought up with,’ might signify either ‘foster-brother’ or ‘comrade.’ It was very much the practice for persons of high rank to associate other children with their own in their studies and pastimes. This Manaen was no doubt a person of considerable position and rank at Antioch. Ewald remarks that it is evident that men and women of the higher orders joined the ranks of Christians in Palestine in very early days, as we see from the example of this Manaen and also of Joanna (Luke 8:3).
Saul. Mentioned last, because no doubt up to this time he occupied a position lower in the Church than the other prophets and teachers mentioned here.
Acts 13:2. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted. That is, while the solemn service of the Church was going on, came the word of the Lord to one, doubtless, of the prophets then present. The word translated ‘as they ministered’ was the general word used in the Old Testament for ‘priestly service.’ The writer of the ‘Acts’ here uses it to express generally the Christian divine service, including prayer, the singing of hymns and psalms, the office of preaching, the whole crowned by the solemn partaking of the Lord’s Supper. It is not certain if this was the ordinary service of the Antioch church which the Christians were in the habit of attending the first day of the week, or if it was a special solemn gathering, called together in consequence of some intimation of the Holy Ghost to one of the inspired prophets, that a voice would come from God to the congregation. The latter is probably the case, as we read ‘they fasted,’ no doubt in preparation for the hour when they looked for the revelation.
The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. Chrysostom writes on these words: ‘Here we may see a proof of the divinity of the Holy Ghost. The prophets were ministering to the Lord. He does not say, Separate Barnabas and Saul to the Lord, but to Me for the ministry to which ‘have called them, showing that He is coequal with God.’
Acts 13:3. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them. This their final consecration took place on another occasion. Ewald suggests it was performed at one of the usual public assemblies held always on the first day of the week.
This simple ceremony of ordination was well known in the story of Israel; the disciples of Antioch, after fasting and prayer, laid their hands on the heads of the chosen two, and sent them forth to the work to which the Holy Ghost had called them. This act at Antioch in the year 45 was the solemn ordination of Paul and Barnabas to the apostleship. Before this public ceremony, we find them placed among the ‘prophets’ and ‘teachers’ of the Church; after, they were known as apostles (Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14). They ranked then with the original Twelve who had been chosen by Christ; so Paul writes to the Corinthian church ‘how he was not behind the very chiefest of the apostles.’ Barnabas for years had held a prominent position in the church of Jerusalem; he was the most distinguished of the Antioch prophets and teachers; and Paul, who had been called by the Lord Himself, had seen visions and had received revelations. These two were specially designated to the Antioch Christians by the Holy Spirit, to be set apart for a peculiar work; and the Antioch church, following out the Divine command, publicly ordained them to the apostleship by the solemn and ancient ceremony of laying on of hands.
Acts 13:4. Departed. It was the first attempt of the two missionary apostles, and no doubt it was an anxious question with them whither they should first bend their steps, into which of the isles of the Gentiles they should first bear the message of the Redeemer. Cyprus was chosen, for it was the fatherland of Barnabas, who looked for at least a kindly reception and a welcome among his connections and family; at all events, they would not be quite friendless, these two solitary men, at the first stage of their dangerous mission journey.
Unto Seleucia. This was the port of Antioch, some fifteen miles from the city; it was built and strongly fortified by Seleucus Nicator about 345 years before this time. This sovereign is said to have built sixteen Antiochs and nine Seleucias. This city and harbour, to distinguish it, was called ‘Seleucia on the sea.’ It was from this port of the luxurious and wicked Antioch that used to sail year by year, to Rome and Italy, that swarm of miserable and degraded beings Juvenal tells us of, when he writes of the corruption of Rome, and how much of it was due to Syria and its fatal influences ( Sat. iii. 62).
From thence they sailed to Cyprus. The beautiful island was only a few hours’ sail from Seleucia, being distant about forty-eight miles from the Syrian coast. Cyprus is 130 miles long, and in one part of the island 50 miles in breadth. It was famous for its corn and oil and fruits. Its history has been a chequered one. Successively Persia, Egypt, and Rome have been its masters; the wave of Saracen conquest reached it in the ninth century; the Crusaders restored it to Christendom in the thirteenth century, and it subsequently became part of the territories of Venice. The Ottoman Turks conquered it in the sixteenth century, since which period it has formed part of their dominions. At the lime of the journey of Paul and Barnabas, Jews, it is said, constituted one-half of the population; this was no doubt one of the reasons which weighed with the missionary apostles when they chose it as the first scene of their labours (see also notes on Acts 11:19-20).
Acts 13:5. At Salamis. At this time Salamis was the chief mercantile city of the island; very many of the inhabitants here were Jews. In the reign of the Emperor Trajan it was desolated in a terrible revolt of the Cyprian Jews; the revolt ended in the expulsion of the Jews from the island.
They had also John to their minister. Among other duties which fell to the lot of John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, was of course included the important office of baptizing most if not all the converts. This rite was seldom administered by an apostle, as we see from 1 Corinthians 1:14; see, too, Acts 10:48.
Acts 13:6. Unto Paphos. Salamis was at the eastern extremity of Cyprus, Paphos at the western. The apostles had thus passed through the whole length of the island. New Paphos was then the capital and the residence of the governor; it was only a few miles distant from Old Paphos, where the famous temple of Venus stood.
They found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew. On the presence of this Jew, who professed to be a magician, with the Roman governor of Cyprus, Howson (St. Paul, chap, 5) writes: ‘All the Greek and Latin literature of the empire, from Horace to Lucian, abounds in proofs of the prevalent credulity of this sceptical period. . . . The faith of educated Romans was utterly gone. We can hardly wonder when the East was thrown open the land of mystery, the cradle of the earliest religions that the imagination both of the populace and the aristocracy of Rome became fanatically excited, and that they greedily welcomed the most absurd and degrading superstitions. Not only was the metropolis of the empire crowded with hungry Greeks, but Syrian fortune-tellers flocked into all the haunts of public amusement. Athens and Corinth did not now contribute the greatest or the worst part of the dregs of Rome, but, to adopt Juvenal’s words, “The (Syrian) Orontes itself flowed into the Tiber.” . . . Every part of the East contributed its share to the general superstition. . . . The more remote districts of Asia Minor sent her music and her medicines, Chaldea her Babylonian numbers and her mathematical calculations. To these ... we must add one more Asiatic nation, the nation of the Israelites. . . . The Jewish beggar-woman was the gipsy of the first century, shivering and crowding in the outskirts of the city, and telling fortunes, as Ezekiel of old said, “for handfuls of barley and pieces of bread.” . . . Not only were the women of Rome drawn aside into this varied fanaticism, but the eminent men of the declining republic and the absolute sovereigns of the early empire were tainted and enslaved by the same superstitions. The great Marius had in his camp a Syrian, probably a Jewish prophetess, by whose divinations he regulated the progress of his campaigns. . . . Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar, at the close of the republic, when their oracles were silent, sought information from Oriental astrology. No picture in the great Latin satirist (Juvenal) is more powerfully drawn than that in which he shows us the Emperor Tiberius sitting on the rock of Capri with his flock of Chaldeans round him.’
Acts 13:7. The deputy of the country. The word rendered ‘deputy’ is the Greek term for the Latin ‘proconsul.’ In the Roman empire there were two classes of provincial governments. The one class was under the direction of the senate and people. In these senatorial provinces the presence of an armed force was not supposed to be needed to ensure a peaceful administration. The rulers of these peaceful provinces were termed proconsuls; they carried with them into their governments the ensigns of a consul, the lictors and the fasces. These held office at first only for a year, but this restriction was after a time relaxed, and these governors remained five years, or longer, in office. Such a province was Cyprus.
The other class of provinces less peaceful, as it was supposed, needing the presence of a military force to preserve order were governed by a military officer styled a ‘propraetor’ or ‘legatus,’ appointed by and removed at the pleasure of the emperor. Syria was a province of this description. The sub - districts of these ‘imperial’ provinces were under the charge of procurators. Judea, at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, was under the charge of one of these, the procurator Pontius Pilate, whose commanding officer was the legatus of Syria.
Sergius Paulus. Nothing certain is known of this Roman official. Renan (St. Paul, chap. 1 ) suggests that he may fairly be identified with the naturalist of this name mentioned by Pliny.
A prudent man better rendered a ‘man of understanding.’ The proconsul was one of those many high-class Romans of that period, who, finding no satisfaction in the strange, fantastic system of idolatry at Rome and the East, sought for a nobler faith. It was this restless, uneasy spirit which led Sergius Paulus, while seeking truth, to make a friend of the wandering Magian Elymas, who professed to be a Jew one of that strange nation which claimed for ages the title of the exclusive servants of the one true God.
Acts 13:8. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation). Elymas is an Arabic word which means the ‘wise,’ the ‘Magian,’ or ‘magician.’ It was evidently self-interest which induced the vagrant Jew to depreciate the stranger missionaries in the eyes of the proconsul. They, he saw, were in earnest; and he feared with reason, if his patron listened to them, his chances of further gain in Cyprus were gone.
Acts 13:9. Then Saul (who also is called Paul). This abrupt statement of the writer of the ‘Acts’ is the only explanation given of a change in the great apostle’s name. Before the visit to the coast of the governor of Cyprus he is always called Saul; after the visit to Cyprus he is ever spoken of as Paul. By this name in all his epistles he speaks of himself; by this name James and the Jerusalem Council write of him in their letters to the Gentile churches (Acts 15:25); by this name Peter years after speaks of him, calling him ‘his beloved brother Paul’ (2 Peter 3:15). The question arises, Whence came this second name? Two distinct classes of explanation have been suggested: ( a) He received the name of Paul at this time in Cyprus, and in some way or other the name is connected with his friend and convert, the Roman Sergius Paulus. Either the grateful proconsul, finding the Christian missionaries, from whom he had learned the way of salvation, would receive no recompense or reward, persuaded the more prominent of the two to exchange his Jewish for his own illustrious Gentile appellation, as a memorial of what he had received from them, or his friends gave him the name in memory of the work done in Cyprus. (b) Saul possessed the Gentile name of Paul even before he was a Christian. This adoption of a Gentile name in addition to the original Hebrew name was a practice well known among the Jews. Thus we find Belteshazzar Daniel; Esther Hadassah; Simon Peter, in the present chapter Simeon Niger; John Mark; so in the case of the Jew of Tarsus, Saul Paulus: ‘Saul, who also is called Paul.’ Paul, it must be remembered, was a Hellenistic Jew and also a Roman citizen, and as such very probably, indeed, possessed two names the one Hebrew, the other Latin. On the whole, the second explanation seems the more probable account of the two names of the Gentile apostle. From this time onward the Roman name ‘Paul’ is only made use of. Hitherto the life of the Pharisee of Tarsus had been spent almost exclusively among Jews; from henceforth his life and work lay among the Gentile subjects of Rome, who would know and speak of the great apostle only as ‘Paul of Tarsus.’
Filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him. From the narrative it is clear that the Jewish teachers the true and the false met together in the presence of the Roman governor, who, in the end, was convinced by the arguments and power of Paul. The disputes turned, no doubt, on the meaning of the words of the old prophets of Israel respecting the coming of Messiah, His kingdom here, and His future sitting in judgment. The clever Magian evidently gave a false meaning to the words and prophecies, perhaps asserting that the resurrection of the dead was past already, as did the false teacher alluded to in 2 Timothy 2:18 (see also Colossians 2:8); for Paul, in Acts 13:10, recognises in his burning reproaches Elymas’ power and ability ‘O full of subtilty and all mischief’ and charges him with endeavouring, by his false though fair-seeming teaching, to prevent the noble Sergius Paulus from walking in the ways in which man should walk before God. As is so often the case in false teaching, the restraints to evil living, the checks to a selfish, luxurious, indulgent life, which a belief in the Messiah of Paul always imposes, were removed by the loose, imperfect doctrine of the Jewish Magian.
Acts 13:11. Thou shalt be blind. Miracles of punishment are very rare in the New Testament. Peter and Paul each once at least worked a miracle of wrath in the name of their Master, Peter, in the case of Ananias and his guilty wife in the presence of a great Jewish assembly; Paul, before the Roman governor of Cyprus. In both these instances of a terrible severity, it was not simple unbelief which was punished, but a course of conduct which, in the one case, set the example of religious hypocrisy, and in the other gave its sanction to a self-indulgent, evil life. Elymas was punished for a deliberate using of talents and power to persuade men to be enemies of righteousness, and haters of the pure life loved by the Lord.
Not seeing the sun for a season. Even here the punishment might be only of temporary duration, the gracious purpose being to awaken repentance in him, as well to show the Roman that the doctrine of the Lord preached by Paul and Barnabas was with authority. Gloag’s remarks here on the miracle-power of the apostles are good: ‘We are not, however, to suppose that the apostles possessed the power of working miracles at pleasure, but only when they felt a Divine impulse urging them to perform one. Paul struck Elymas with blindness because he felt inspired to perform that miracle; but he could not cure Epaphroditus of his sickness, or remove from himself the thorn in the flesh. The miraculous power with which he was invested was not under his own control, but under the control and direction of Him who bestowed that power.’
Acts 13:12. Believed. That Sergius Paulus was baptized is the natural inference. ‘Believed’ is the ordinary expression used in the early Christian records for turning to the Lord and joining the Church (so Acts 4:4; Acts 11:21; Acts 19:18). The proconsul of Cyprus is another instance of men of high rank joining the Christian brotherhood in very early times (see note on Acts 13:1 of this chapter).
Acts 13:13. Paul and his company. Paul now was evidently the leading person of the mission; he and Barnabas had exchanged places; the disputation before Sergius Paulus, and the miracle of punishment worked on the Magian, placed Paul in a new position. The ungrudging spirit of Barnabas seems at once to have conceded the first place to his more gifted fellow-worker.
Perga in Pamphylia. Perga was a large and flourishing city, almost as famous for the worship of the goddess Diana as was Ephesus. For some reasons not known to us, the apostles stayed but a very short time in Perga; on their return, we read in Acts 14:25 how they preached the word there.
The flourishing inland cities of Asia Minor, such as Antioch and Iconium, were the home of many Jews; these, at a distance from Jerusalem and its stern exclusive spirit, appear to have drawn into their synagogues many proselytes and hearers. Mixed marriages between these Jews and the Gentile natives of the country appear not to have been uncommon (see Acts 16:1-3 ). Paul, whose home was in the not distant Cilician Tarsus, and who had recently spent two or more years there, was of course acquainted with these mixed Jewish and Gentile congregations, and considered that among them the preaching of Jesus as Messiah would receive a welcome.
And John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. It is not told us why the nephew of Barnabas abandoned the work here. Some suggest as a reason for his desertion, his dislike to Paul’s evident intention to found a great Gentile Church; his Jerusalem training and associations preventing him from sympathising with a policy which would place the Gentile on an equality with the Jew in the kingdom of God. But the more probable reason for his desertion was, that he shrank from the dangers and hardships of the mission. See for a detailed account of the life and work of this John Mark, note on chap. Acts 15:39.
Acts 13:14. They came to Antioch in Pisidia. Antioch in Pisidia was one of the many Antiochs (see note on Acts 13:4 ) built by Seleucus Nicator, about 350 years before the visit of Paul and Barnabas. It was a city of considerable importance, and a Roman colony (on the meaning of ‘colony,’ see note on chap. Acts 16:12). Vast ruins of the once celebrated Pisidian capital were identified some forty years ago by an English traveller.
Acts 13:16. Men of Israel, and ye that fear God. ‘Men of Israel,’ that is, the Jews and proselytes worshipping in the congregation. ‘Those that fear God’ included those Gentile natives of Pisidia and strangers who had given up idol- worship, and who worshipped the God of Israel, without, however, being circumcised. They are usually termed ‘proselytes of the gate.’
First Division of the Sermon Sketch of the Story of Israel till the Days of David.
Acts 13:17. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers. The Eternal chose Israel out of the various peoples of the world for ‘His own,’ to keep burning, in the midst of the varied populations given up to idolatry, and exposed to the terrible consequences which followed impure idol- worship, the light of the knowledge of the one true, pure God. The special work of Israel was not what is usually termed human learning, nor were the schools of Jerusalem and the Holy Land at any period resorted to by foreigners, and yet the Hebrew nation ranks with the Greeks as educators of the human race. It has been well and truly said, if we take away two nations from the history of the world, the people of the earth might still have sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, though in their most flourishing periods they have scarcely counted one-hundredth part of the human race; and this influence, which they alone shared with the people of antiquity most famous for letters, was only a small part of the work worked in the world by the people whom God chose for ‘His own.’
Exalted the people. Not only by increasing their numbers, but exalting them in the eyes of the nations by the mighty works wrought by Moses previous to the exodus.
With an high arm. The expression ‘high arm’ is the same used in Exodus 6:6 (LXX.), rendered in the English Version ‘with stretched-out arm.’ The figure was probably originally suggested to Moses and the children of Israel by the familiar hieroglyphic which represents ‘Might’ by two outstretched arms.
Paul’s Sermon in the Synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia, 17 - 41 .
This discourse falls naturally into three divisions:
(a) Acts 13:17-22. A sketch of the grand old story of the chosen people till the days of David.
( b) Acts 13:23-37 Paul speaks of David’s great descendant foreseen by the prophets, and points out how all prophecy was fulfilled in the crucified descendant of David, Jesus. He tells them, this crucified but now risen Jesus is their promised Messiah.
(c) Acts 13:38-41. Every one, Gentile as well as Jew, who receives this Jesus as Messiah, may find in Him forgiveness of all sins.
A Rough Paraphrase of Paul’s Antioch Sermon , from the Abstract or Condensed Report given by the Compiler of the Acts of the Apostles .
The preacher began with a short sketch of the story of the chosen people, lightly touching on some of its grander and nobler chapters. For instance, he told them how, when Israel was a stranger in Egypt, God, as a father towards a child, watched over their fortunes, training them to a higher life, and raising them in the estimation of the peoples of the world. He told them how they came out from Egypt, borne up by the glorious arm of the Lord. He reminded them of the conquest of Canaan, and spoke of the establishment of the monarchy of Saul, and closed the sketch of the older story of Israel with a reference to David, the man after God’s own heart; and from David he passed at once to David’s great Descendant, whom John the Baptist, the well- known and generally acknowledged prophet, saluted as Messiah.
‘This Son of David was to be the Great Deliverer,’ this was the subject of the second division of his sermon in the Antioch synagogue. Surely Israel, argued Paul, ought to have received Him, for His Divine mission was attested 1 st, by His resurrection from the dead; 2 d, by the strange fulfilment in His person of all that was written in the prophets concerning the sufferings of Messiah. Then he told the Antioch Jews and Gentile proselytes that to them were the glad tidings sent, for the Jerusalem Jews in their stubborn self-will had rejected Him; and this sin of theirs was not lessened because through them all that the old prophets wrote of Messiah had been fulfilled. They should have kept their eyes fixed on the high and lofty things prophesied of Him; and knowing well what was foretold concerning Messiah’s sufferings, should surely have prevented their rulers from being the chief actors in His humiliation and death.
What a strange, inconceivable folly, to fall into the very sin foretold in the sacred records they were ever listening to! But when these blind ones leaders of Israel had worked on Him (Christ) all the fearful things predicted in the Old Testament, and left Him in the grave, then God, on His side, began to work His work, and raised the crucified Messiah from the dead. God’s vast work, begun in the resurrection of Jesus, Paul the missionary told them he was helping to carry on, by speaking thus before the present audience in the synagogue at Antioch, by pointing out to them that the well-known promises to the fathers that a Redeemer for time and eternity should arise was now fulfilled to them, the children, in the person of the risen Jesus.
Alone through this Messiah Jesus, said the preacher Paul, can come remission of sins; alone through faith in Him can men be justified from every sin, a justification they sought in vain in the law of Moses.
Men, then, must beware lest, in rejecting this Messiah, the doom of death foretold in the prophets come upon them.
We possess in this report of the speech either the memoranda of one present (probably St. Luke), and who doubtless wrote these memoranda down at the time, or else it is a copy of the very notes of Paul himself.
Although a full abstract of the great sermon, it is only an abstract, but it evidently preserves many of the very words used by Paul. The last portion unfolds the doctrines known in Christian theology especially as Pauline, and in fact summarises the earlier chapters of his famous Epistle to the Romans, where his view of ‘justification by faith only’ is laid open in all its breadth and fulness.
The sermon, in its historical introduction, follows that school of early Jewish Christian teaching of which St. Stephen’s apology is the great example. Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee, must have heard those winning, eloquent words in the Sanhedrim hall, must have felt their power, and recognised how unanswerable, from a Jewish standpoint, was the argument. The grand old story of Israel was as welcome a theme to the Jew of Pisidian Antioch as it was to the Hebrew of the Hebrews who had never wandered beyond the shadow of the Lord’s house at Jerusalem; and the early Christian preacher seems to have won the attention of many an Israelitic congregation by thus appealing to the undying spirit of Jewish nationality.
In the central part of the discourse, Paul, like Peter in his first recorded sermon in the early chapters of the ‘Acts,’ makes the resurrection the great proof of the Messiahship of Jesus, and with Peter cites the same verse of a well-known Psalm. This making the resurrection the central point of early Christian preaching was no doubt the universal practice of the Jerusalem apostles, who could appeal to so many eye-witnesses of the strange, mighty fact; and Barnabas had no doubt, during their long friendship, instructed Paul in the method of teaching adopted by the apostles of the Lord.
The third division of the discourse may be said to have been exclusively Pauline in character. To speak of the ‘impossibility of being justified by the law of Moses was hardly a development of Christian belief. Jesus had already proclaimed that the reign of the law of Moses’ was over for ever, but still this open declaration that justification could alone be found by faith in Jesus, a great truth which the preacher afterwards fully elaborated in the Epistle to the Romans, and that the Gentile equally with the Jew might attain to this great salvation, marked a new point of departure in Christian theology.
Acts 13:18. Suffered he their manners. Another word is found in the most ancient Greek MSS., which signifies, ‘He (God) bare them (in the wilderness) as a nursing father,’ as in Deuteronomy 1:31.
Acts 13:19. Seven nations in the land of Chanaan. Compare Deuteronomy 7:1. These ‘seven’ were the principal and most powerful tribes of Canaan.
Acts 13:20. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years. According to the received text, it would seem that the period during which the judges ruled in Israel was four hundred and fifty years; and this seems to agree with the chronology of the Book of Judges and the date given by Josephus, but it varies from the statement given in 1 Kings 6:1. These questions of obscure dates, especially in a period so confused as the times of the judges, are of little or no importance. In the present instance, however, the apparent discrepancy is done away with by the discovery of what is evidently the true reading. In the majority of the oldest Greek Mss ., the words, ‘about the space of four hundred and fifty years,’ precede the words, ‘and after that he gave them judges.’ The passage, then, runs thus: ‘He divided their land to them by lot’ (or better rendered, ‘He gave them their land for a possession’) ‘for about four hundred and fifty years, and after that he gave them judges until Samuel.’ The only remaining question is, when did the four hundred and fifty years commence? The birth of Isaac, on the whole, seems to be the period when God chose their fathers for the possession of the land.
Acts 13:21. By the space of forty years. The Old Testament does not mention the length of Saul’s reign. The statement here, however, agrees with Josephus, who speaks of Saul reigning eighteen years before Samuel’s death and twenty-two after it.
Acts 13:22. And when he had removed him. That is, by death. It was not until Saul had perished that David became king, although he had been anointed during the lifetime of Saul.
David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart. This expression is not found in this form in the Old Testament, but is made up of two passages from Psalms 89:20, where the Eternal, speaking, says, ‘I have found David my servant,’ and 1 Samuel 13:14, where Samuel speaking to Saul says, ‘The Lord hath sought Him a man after His own heart.’
In our estimate of the character of this king ‘after God’s own heart,’ we must ever remember his nobility of aim and purpose, his unwearied labour for the welfare of the peoples committed to his charge, his devotion to God, his longing after a purer and better life, his bitter remorse whenever he fell; and at the same time, without attempting to extenuate the dark and terrible sins which marred his splendid reign, we must remember the wild and half-savage state of society in the midst of which David lived, and the terrible temptation to which an absolute and irresponsible ruler of such a society was then exposed. One characteristic especially distinguished David’s rule he rigidly guarded the people from idolatry and all the abominations which attended idol-worship, and kept them faithful to the adoration of the pure and holy God of their fathers.
Second Division of the Sermon. Of the Promised Messiah, Jesus, the Son of David, 23 - 37 .
Acts 13:23. Of this man’s seed. This was the first requisite, for unless He were descended from David, Jesus could not be the Messiah foretold by the prophets.
God, according to his promise, raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus. The first part of the Antioch sermon spoke of the history of Israel under the protection and guidance of the unseen Messiah; the second part of the discourse tells of this Messiah’s appearance on earth .
‘According to His promise.’ Paul returns to and speaks of the long looked-for promise in the thirty-second verse. Instead of the word translated ‘raised’ (unto Israel), the word contained in the older Mss. here signifies ‘brought’ (unto Israel). It is the very word used in the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 3:8: ‘Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. ‘
Acts 13:24. When John had first preached before his coming. The literal translation of the Greek gives a clearer meaning: ‘John having preached before His coming.’ Paul mentions this preaching and testimony of the Baptist to Jesus as a thing well known. A vast number of the Jews seem to have acknowledged John’s authority as a prophet. His mission created a great stir in the Holy Land; and later we read of his disciples at Ephesus, some twenty-five years after the death of the Baptist (Acts 19:3).
Acts 13:25. And as John fulfilled his course. Better rendered, ‘And as John was fulfilling his course.’ This was an expression peculiar to Paul; see 2 Timothy 4:7: ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course.’ Compare also Paul’s words in Acts 20:24, Galatians 2:2. The words signify,
‘ When the work and ministry of John the Baptist was near its close.’ It was just before that imprisonment which was terminated in the cruel death inflicted by Herod, that John said, not once, but, as Alford remarks, habitually
Whom think ye that I am? The reading of three of the oldest MSS. would require, instead of ‘ Whom think ye? ’ ‘ What think ye that I am?’ This slight change, if made, would in no wise alter the sense, but would impress more forcibly John’s fear of being mistaken for that glorious One whose way he was preparing.
There cometh one after me. The very words and thoughts used by Luke (and Paul) in the Third Gospel in the account of the mission of the Baptist. Respecting the expression itself (‘whose shoes,’ etc.), it was looked upon as the office of the lowest slaves to unfasten their master’s sandals.
Acts 13:26. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. Before speaking at length of the Crucified as Messiah, Paul excites the attention of the congregation by pointing out that to them who were then listening to his words was this salvation offered. In the word ‘brethren,’ he appeals lovingly to them as belonging to one race with himself; while, in the expression, ‘children of the stock of Abraham,’ he again reminds them of the glorious hopes of Israel. The Gentile listeners who were present, under the term, ‘whosoever among you feareth God,’ he associates with all true Jews. ‘To you all in this distant Pisidian Antioch, comes now the word of the Lord.’
Acts 13:27. For they that dwell at Jerusalem. For. Paul went on to say, in that proud home of our common faith, in the holy city, our rulers and priests have rejected Him. They have ignored those voices of the prophets which are ever ringing in their ears; therefore to you now, Jews of the dispersion and Gentiles who fear God, the apostles of the Lord are sent with the glad tidings of salvation. In other words, we find the same truth expressed in Acts 13:46, ‘Lo, we turn to the Gentiles;’ and years after, again in the imperial city, we hear Paul telling the Jews of Rome that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and that they will bear it (Acts 28:28). The righteous judgment of God in all its awful severity was shown twenty- two or twenty-three years later in the destruction of the holy city and in the final dispersion of the Jewish race.
Which are read every Sabbath day. How wildly foolish does the conduct of the Jewish rulers seem to those who calmly review the whole story of the chosen people! For these very priests and scribes, who gloried in their reverential care for the ‘law and the prophets,’ to fall into the awful sin these holy writings foreshadowed, seems an act of blind folly almost inconceivable.
Acts 13:28. And though they found no cause of death in him. They accused Jesus of blasphemy and sedition, but were utterly unable to prove either charge.
Acts 13:29. All that was written of him. That is, the various indignities predicted in those prophecies which speak of the sufferings of Messiah. Compare, for instance, Psalms 22:0; Isaiah 53:0; Zechariah 11:12-13; Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:7.
They took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. The burial and probably the act of taking the body from the cross, was actually performed by the hands of friends, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea; but in Paul’s rapid summary of the terrible facts, it was not judged necessary to make any distinction between the various agents in the transaction; besides which, to the le tter even the statement is strictly accurate. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both of them rulers.
The Argument of the following ten verses, 28 - 37 , is as follows :
I. Act 13:28-29 . The Jews put the innocent Jesus to death, and then laid Him in the grave.
II. Act 13:30-31 . But God raised Him from the dead; and of the resurrection we possess many eye-witnesses.
III. Act 13:32-33 . In this resurrection of Jesus, God hath fulfilled His great promise to the fathers of Israel, for it is His resurrection which is the great proof of His Messiahship.
IV. Acts 13:34-37. The Risen One, according to the Word of God contained in the writings of the prophets, will never die.
Acts 13:30. But God raised him from the dead.
Paul with great force and power here contrasts the work of God with the work of men. Men rejected, scorned, and then crucified Jesus; God raised Him from the dead.
Acts 13:31. And he was seen many days of them. This was the most convincing proof of the Messiah- ship of Jesus. It was a proof which the apostles in their preaching ever used with great power. With these first teachers of Christianity the resurrection of their crucified Master rested on no tradition, however well supported and attested, but on the testimony of many living men who had seen, and touched, and talked with the Lord Jesus after that He was risen from the dead.
Which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. This refers especially to those Galilean disciples who were with Him on His last journey to Jerusalem. Some of the holy women are here included, and many others whose names are not preserved. We know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that there were over five hundred of these eye-witnesses of some part or other of the Lord’s second life on earth (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Acts 13:32. And we declare unto you. And thus, Paul went on to say, while the apostles and eyewitnesses are at this moment carrying out their mission in the Holy Land to the Jews, we (Paul and Barnabas) are preaching to you in these distant lands the same glad truths.
Acts 13:33. God hath fulfilled. The Greek word here may be rendered ‘hath completely fulfilled,’ completely, because in the resurrection which is here about to be mentioned, the ascension and exaltation of Messiah are both involved.
In the second psalm. Some of the fathers and one ancient MS. read here, ‘in the first psalm.’ This singular variation is accounted for by the first psalm being frequently not numbered, but simply looked at as a psalm of introduction. It is not the Custom of Paul or the New Testament writers to quote so exactly as in this instance, never giving the number of the chapter or the psalm whence the reference was drawn; the exception in this case was probably owing to the high importance attached by the early Christian teachers to this great Messianic prophecy appearing as it does on the first page, so to speak, of the sacred psalter.
Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. The Eternal speaks in this psalm to Messiah, ‘Thou art my Son, today the day of Thy resurrection I have declared Thee have exhibited Thee as begotten.’ He had been the Son of God from all eternity; but by His triumphant resurrection after His humiliation He was openly declared or shown to be so. Paul later expands the same great thought: ‘He (Jesus Christ) was declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4).
Acts 13:34. No more to return to corruption. That is to say, Christ will never again endure death death which is invariably followed by corruption. His sacred body, however, underwent no change or corruption while it lay in the grave; so that here ‘to return to corruption’ is simply ‘to die.’ The doctrine of the eternity of Christ’s existence is often urged by Paul (see especially Romans 6:9). We can trace in this and in other sermons of the Gentile apostle, outlines of the great arguments and doctrines which he afterwards pressed home with so much power in his epistles.
I will give you the sure mercies of David. The literal translation of these words is more forcible: ‘I will give to you (perform to you) the holy and sure mercies of David.’ This quotation slightly varies from the words, but fully expresses the sense of the original (Isaiah 55:3). One of these mercies was a promise to David that after he (the king) had fulfilled his allotted days and slept with his fathers, God would raise up a successor of his house, whose reign should be perpetual, the throne of whose kingdom God would establish for ever (see 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16). This ‘promise’ Paul tells them belongs ‘to them,’ that is, to them and all who accept the salvation he was offering them in his Master’s name; and the promise was, that a king Messiah should appear, whose reign should be perpetual. Now Jesus, whom Paul preached, had been shown to be the Messiah by His resurrection: the promise, then, made it certain that He (Jesus) would live and reign for ever, without any more interruption by death or corruption.
Acts 13:35. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. He, that is, God; as in the preceding verse, ‘He ( God ) said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.’ Although in the psalm quoted (Psalms 16:0) David is speaking, he is only speaking evidently the words put into his mouth by God. David is the interpreter, so to speak, of the Holy Spirit. Although the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb, it underwent no corruption, and until the day of resurrection lay as though on a couch (see Calvin’s note here).
Acts 13:36. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep. The words of the psalm just quoted were spoken certainly by King David, but they cannot possibly find their fulfilment in him, for an everlasting salvation was promised through a Messiah who should reign for ever; but when David had accomplished his allotted work, he died, full of years and honours certainly, the man after God’s own heart, and with all his errors and shortcomings a great and magnificent sovereign; but, when he reached the usual term of human life, he fell on sleep.
And was laid with his fathers. The word of the original Hebrew and also in the Greek version of the LXX. is a distinct recognition of the existence of the soul after death. The soul went to Sheol, the place where the souls of the departed rest; there the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the fathers of David, already were. It is a different expression to any of those used for death and burial. (See Gesenius on the Hebrew original of this word used Genesis 25:8; Gen 35:29 ; 2 Kings 22:20; Judges 2:10.
Saw corruption. That is to say, the body, the mortal part, of King David.
Third Division of the Sermon Paul declares to the Congregation of the Synagogue at Antioch the Doctrine of Justification by Faith in Jesus, 38 , 39 Solemn Warning against Rejection of Messiah, 40 , 41 .
Acts 13:38. Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. Paul having now shown that in Jesus the Crucified and Risen One all the great prophecies concerning Messiah were fully accomplished, solemnly declares to his listeners that the Messianic blessings of forgiveness and justification can alone proceed from Him, and will only be shared by those who receive Him as their Lord. Thus at the close of the Antioch sermon the Gentile apostle gives us the first rough outline of that great doctrine of Justification by Faith the doctrine which in after years, guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul laid open in all its marvellous fulness when he wrote to the Church of Rome his great epistle which tells of the mysteries of the Cross of Christ.
Acts 13:39. By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. In other words, Paul said to them, ‘Jesus Christ, if ye believe on Him as Messiah, will do for you what the Law could not do. In Him shall you be justified from all your sins that is, you shall be freed from the galling chains and fetters of guilt.’
In these words at the close of the Antioch sermon Paul proclaims that in Jesus Christ the Messiah all men may find peace, and may obtain forgiveness of every sin. He gently puts aside the Law in which the Jews had trusted as incapable of procuring in any way for those who submitted to it, forgiveness and reconciliation with God. He shows to them a new and better way of approaching the Eternal a way, too, which he points out may be trodden by all alike, by Gentiles as well as by Jews.
Acts 13:40. In the prophets. The general warnings contained in that volume of the Old Testament Scriptures so named by the Jews. They are to beware lest the terrible denunciations of the old prophets find their fulfilment in them.
Acts 13:41. Behold, you despisers, and wonder and perish. The quotation is from the LXX. Version of Habakkuk 1:5. The prophet in the first instance refers to an invasion of the land by the Chaldeans. But the words of Habakkuk reached far beyond the temporary punishment inflicted by the Chaldean invasion; they reproached another and greater sin than even that which dishonoured the unhappy land in the prophet’s days. The sin which he now warned Israel against committing was the deliberate rejection of the long-promised Messiah; and the punishment in which the despisers of Jesus would perish was carried out to its bitter end only a few years after Paul’s words were spoken in the Antioch synagogue, in the destruction of the Holy City and the utter and complete ruin of the whole Jewish nation.
Further Preaching of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, 42 - 49 .
Acts 13:42. And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. The reading of the more ancient MSS. here is as follows, ‘And as they were going out they besought,’ the interpolated words being introduced either from a desire to make the sense clearer, or perhaps because an ancient Church lesson began at this place, some words were judged needful to explain the context. Neander says the procedure may have been this: As Paul and Barnabas were going out before the general dispersion of the assembly, the rulers of the synagogue may have requested that they would repeat their discourse on the next Sabbath. The people having then withdrawn, many of the Jews and proselytes followed the speakers for the purpose of declaring their assent to what they had heard, or of seeking further instruction.
Acts 13:43. To continue in the grace of God. No doubt the very words of Paul used to these Jews and proselytes who followed the missionaries to their temporary home in the city. It was a very favourite expression of his (see Act 20:24 ; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 2:21).
Acts 13:44. And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together. During the week which had passed since the first preaching of Paul, the apostles had doubtless been earnestly engaged in teaching and spreading their doctrines in private assemblies and meetings; and the result was a very great concourse of people on the following Sabbath day in and round the Jewish synagogue. The doctrine of Messiah as preached by Paul seems to have been welcomed with readiness by these peoples of Asia Minor.
Acts 13:45. When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy. It is the Jews only, not the proselytes, who were enraged at the sight of the crowds who flocked to hear the stranger missionaries. The old exclusive pride of the race of Abraham was stirred up at the thought of these masses of idolaters sharing with the chosen people in all the promised glories of Messiah’s kingdom.
It was this feeling which prompted the bitter opposition we hear of in the next clause.
Spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Denying the application of the various Messianic prophecies quoted by the apostles, and most probably accusing and denying that Holy One whose Cross and Resurrection formed the central point of the stranger missionaries’ preaching.
Acts 13:46. It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you. Necessary because the Master had so commanded it (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16); necessary because this was part of the Divine plan. This was, however, merely a command in reference to priority. Gentiles would have been admitted into the kingdom of God even if the Jews had not rejected the Lord Jesus. The apostles do not seem to have attempted either to meet the Jews’ argument or to have tried to refute their blasphemies. From their haughty refusal to share with Gentiles the glories of Messiah’s kingdom, the missionaries recognised at once that these self-willed, stubborn men had condemned themselves as unworthy to partake of the blessed promises of Messiah; and so they simply pronounced the words, ‘Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.’
Acts 13:47. I have s et thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. The apostles now show the assembled crowds that it was no momentary impulse of anger which had moved them to that solemn declaration of their intention to speak directly to the Gentile world. It was in obedience to the word of the Lord, spoken centuries before by the mouth of Isaiah (Isaiah 49:6). They could see, then, in their own sacred oracles, that the work of Messiah was not by any means to be confined to the Jews. A far grander field was to be subjected to the influence of His blessed Spirit. For similar indications of Messianic blessings to be poured on the Gentile nations, see Isaiah 2:1-10; Isaiah 42:6. On the threshold of the Gospel story, too, we find the aged Simeon, who, though waiting for the consolation of Israel, yet saluting the rising of the same glorious Light over the darkened Gentile lands (Luke 2:32).
Acts 13:48. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord. These Heathens openly expressed their joy and gratitude when they found from Paul that even in the sacred and jealously guarded oracles of the Hebrew race, they too, who had no connection with the Land of Promise, and who could claim no kinship to the chosen people, were all included in the grand scheme of salvation by Messiah.
And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. This famous statement has given rise to much and at times even to bitter controversy. There are two schools of interpretation, both supported by distinguished scholars and exegetes.
The one school we will term A., endeavours to set aside the ordinary rendering of the Greek word translated ‘ordained’ as in the English Version, as ‘praeordinati’ in the Vulgate, as ‘destinati’ by Augustine, and in place of it to substitute an expression which would bring prominently forward human effort rather than God’s predestination. The best example of this school perhaps is that translation which takes the Greek word rendered ‘ordained’ in a military sense, and thus gives the passage: ‘And whosoever belonged to the company of those who hoped (or endeavoured) to obtain eternal life, believed.’ This rendering gives an admirable sense, and at the same time removes from the passage all reference to the ‘decretum absolutum’ which Calvin finds so distinctly put forward here; but, as it has been truly observed, the context affords no ground at all for such an interpretation of the word. There is no doubt that the only admissible explanation is the one adopted by the other school of interpretation which we will term B. Preserving then rigidly the rendering of the English Version, we have to determine what meaning should be attached to the words ‘ ordained to eternal life’ Those ‘ordained’ are they of whom Holy Scripture so often speaks as ‘The Chosen,’ ‘The Called of God’ all spiritual life, be it remembered, in its origin, progress, and completion, being from Him and His eternal counsel alone. But, on the other hand, this and similar clear declarations of God’s sovereignty in no wise exclude man’s perfect freewill. We have equally plain authoritative statements that God willeth all to be saved; and He teaches us none shall perish except by wilful rejection of the truth.
Dean Alford’s words in a very able note on Romans 8:28 are golden: ‘ God’s sovereignty (which includes His elective and predestinating decrees) on the one side, man’s free-will on the other, are plainly declared to us. All attempts to bridge over the gulf between the two in the present imperfect condition of man are futile. . . . Our duty and our wisdom is to receive, believe, and to act on both these Divine statements.’
Believed. That is, made a public profession of their faith.
Acts 13:49. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all that region. Antioch in Pisidia now evidently became a, centre whence Christianity was diffused through all the neighbouring country.
Acts 13:50. The devout and honourable women. Strabo, quoted by Howson ( St. Paul, chap. vi), makes special mention of the position of the female sex in the towns of Western Asia, and speaks in strong terms of the power which they possessed and exercised in controlling and modifying the religious opinions of the men.
And the chief men of the city. Most probably the husbands and kinsmen of the devout and honourable women just referred to.
Raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. Pisidian Antioch was at this time a Roman colony; but we read of no attempt on the part of the Jews to excite the Roman magistrates against the Christian party. The persecution was probably a tumultuous outbreak, and the apostles for the sake of peace retired from the place. We find them in Acts 14:21 again in the city. They would hardly have returned so soon, had they been formally banished by the act of the Roman government.
Acts 13:51. They shook off the dust of their feet against them, acting thus in accordance with the Master’s command (Luke 9:5). The scribes taught that the dust of a heathen land defiled by the touch. Hence the shaking of the dust off the feet implied that the city was regarded as profane.
Came unto Iconium. This city was celebrated in the Middle Ages as the capital of the Seljukian Sultans. It was the first stage in the long and brilliant career of the Ottoman Turks. Iconium, Broussa, Adrianople, and lastly Constantinople, have been successively the capital cities of their vast empire. At the time of the visit of Paul and Barnabas, Iconium was a populous city and the capital of a distinct territory, and was ruled by a tetrarch. At the present time it is a town of about 30 , 000 inhabitants; it is still called Konieh, but travellers relate that little if anything remains of Greek or Roman Iconium, save a few ancient inscriptions and fragments of sculpture which are built into the Turkish walls. It is about fifty miles east of Pisidian Antioch, near the foot of Mount Taurus. One curious relic of its former rank in the Ottoman monarchy it retains in the family of an ancient sovereign race, whose head, when a new sultan is proclaimed in Constantinople, always waives his right to the Ottoman throne in favour of the heir of the reigning house of Osman.
Acts 13:52. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost. The members of the Antioch Church, instead of being depressed and disheartened by the enforced departure of their teachers, Paul and Barnabas, conscious of the intense happiness which had now become their inheritance as Christians, were ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost.’
Chrysostom tells us how the sufferings of a Master, far from discouraging the disciple, gives fresh ardour to his purpose.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 13". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
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