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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Silas or Silyanus

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The companion of Paul on his second missionary journey. The shorter (Greek) form of the name is peculiar to Acts, the longer (Latin) form appears four times in the Epistles. Its derivation is uncertain, but may be either of two Hebrew roots, שׁלח or שׁאל, which would give respectively the meanings of ‘sent’ and ‘asked for.’ The fact that Josephus mentions four Jews of the name of Silas points to its Semitic origin.

The first appearance of Silas in Acts is at the close of the Council of Jerusalem, when he and Judas surnamed Barsabbas, described as chief men among the brethren, are chosen to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, with a letter notifying the decision. Being prophets, they not only deliver the letter but remain for a time at Antioch, exhorting and confirming the brethren, and then return to Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards, the rupture between Paul and Barnabas takes place, and Silas is selected by Paul as his new associate, and starts with him on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:22-41). As this implies the presence of Silas again at Antioch, it may be supposed that Paul has sent for him to Jerusalem, or that he has returned of his own accord after reporting to the primitive Church the fulfilment of his original mission; Acts 15:34 (Authorized Version , ‘it pleased Silas to abide there still’), which appears with variations in some ancient Manuscripts , is generally regarded as a gloss. On the subsequent journey Silas is not mentioned till Philippi is reached, when his name becomes associated with that of Paul in all the circumstances of the imprisonment, the conversion of the jailer, and the official release. Incidentally, like Paul, he is credited with the possession of the Roman citizenship (Acts 16:19-40). Thereafter, he shares the work and troubles of the Apostle at Thessalonica, and proceeds thence with him to BerCEa, where he and Timothy are left, when Paul retires before his Jewish opponents (Acts 17:1-14). From Athens a message is sent by Paul, instructing them to come to him with all speed (Acts 17:15), but he has left that city and arrived at Corinth before they rejoin him (Acts 18:5). At this point the name of Silas disappears from the story.

The references to Silvanus in the Epistles accord with the account of Paul’s companion in Acts and confirm the theory of their identification. In both Epistles to the Thessalonians, probably written at Corinth, he appears as joint-author with Paul and Timothy, and unites in their friendly greetings (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1). In 2 Corinthians 1:19 he is again mentioned with them as a co-worker in the gospel at Corinth. The inference is that he was the same person as Silas, whom Acts represents as the companion of Paul and Timothy both at Thessalonica and at Corinth. The final reference-1 Peter 5:12 (‘by Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly’)-only shows that in later years he was associated with the author of that Epistle, and assisted him in its production. One passage, when compared with Acts, may be supposed to present a difficulty, if it is presumed that Silas and Timothy were inseparable from the time when they parted with Paul at BerCEa till they rejoined him at Corinth. 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 conveys the impression that Timothy had been with Paul in Athens, and had been sent thence to Thessalonica to comfort the Church there and bring news of its condition. It is possible that Timothy paid a visit to Athens which has not been recorded in Acts, but it is unnecessary to infer that Silas accompanied him, and that consequently there is a lacuna in Acts, so far as he is concerned.

Notwithstanding the corroboration of the notices in the Epistles, the identification of Silas with Silvanus has not passed without question. On the ground of an alleged tendency in Acts to connect Paul as closely as possible with the Church of Jerusalem, Weizsäcker suggests that, in the account of the second missionary journey, Silas has been substituted for Silvanus, the actual companion of Paul. As a member of the primitive Church and its agent in conveying the decree regarding circumcision to Antioch, Silas would be a pledge of relationship between Paul and Jerusalem on the second journey, as Barnabas had been on the first; and so lie would be regarded by the author of Acts as a more appropriate associate for the Apostle. For this theory, however, the reasons adduced have not been found convincing, even by those who admit the supposed tendency in Acts. Scarcely more success has attended the various critical attempts to identify Silas or Silvanus with other friends and fellow-labourers of Paul, such as Luke (Van Vloten) and Titus (Märcker and Seufert). Of the theories advanced in this connexion perhaps the least probable is that which finds two Silases in Acts-one the messenger of the Jerusalem Church to Antioch (Acts 15:22-32), the other the companion of Paul on his second journey (ACTS Acts 15:40 to Acts 18:5)-and identifies the latter with both Silvanus and Titus (Zimmer).

To Silas has been attributed a share, more or less independent, in the writing of several Epistles. Thus it has been suggested that some passages of 1 Cor. (1 Corinthians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16 f., 1 Corinthians 15:20-34, 1 Corinthians 16:13-18) are interpolations by him, and that he wrote the apocalyptic portions of the Epistles to the Thessalonians (R. Scott). Even the whole of 1 and 2 Thess. has been supposed to be the work of the Silvanus mentioned in 1 Peter 5:12. Silas (Silvanus) is also one of the authors to whom Hebrews has been ascribed; but there is no traditional support for this view, and too little is known of him to furnish a compelling argument. As in the case of Barnabas, his connexion with the Jerusalem Church tells rather against his authorship of such an Epistle as Hebrews. There is good reason, however, for associating the name of Silas, with 1 Peter, and the part borne by him in the production of that Epistle is obtaining increasing recognition. According to 1 Peter 5:12, he was at least the amanuensis by whose hand it was written; but, if the Petrine origin be accepted, various considerations, such as the Pauline cast of the Epistle and its correct Greek, suggest that both matter and style were largely influenced by him. Some scholars, indeed, suppose that Peter entrusted its composition entirely to Silas, and contented himself with revising and approving it. Others go further, and think that Silas may have written it independently, after the death of the Apostle.

Literature.-Works on Paul and the Apostolic Age generally, esp. A. C. McGiffert, History of the Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, and C. v. Weizsäcker, Das apostolische Zeitalter, Freiburg i. B., 1886 (Eng. translation , 2 vols., London, 1894-95); Van Vloten, ‘Lucas und Silas,’ in ZWT [Note: WT Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie.] x. [1867], xiv. [1871]; Märcker, ‘Titus Silvanus,’ in Gymnasialprogramm, 1864; Seufert, in ZWT [Note: WT Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie.] xxviii. [1885]: Zimmer, in ZKWL [Note: KWL Zeitschrift für kirchl. Wissenschaft und kirchl. Leben.] ii. [1881]; R. Scott, The Pauline Epistles, Edinburgh, 1909; J. Weiss, SK [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] lxv. [1892] 253; J. Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., Edinburgh, 1911, pp. 80 f., 296, 331 f., 439.

D. Frew.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Silas or Silyanus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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