Today we have a longer passage. I’ll rely on you to study this passage carefully for yourself, providing only an outline and commentary. I’ll encourage you to be like those ancient believers in Berea who “searched the scriptures daily” to see if what Paul was telling them was true.
vv13-14a — Luke describes their route as departing from Paphos, the same city where their journey across Cyprus had ended and where the encounter with Sergius Paulus and Elymas had taken place. Paphos is a seaport, and they sailed from there to Perga in Pamphylia. Notably, John Mark left Paul and Barnabas there and returned to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t describe John Mark’s reasons, but there may have been a disagreement that arose between them. In any case, his departure was the basis of a later split between Paul and Barnabas.
They journeyed on from the region of Pamphylia to the region of Pisidia and the city of Antioch. This is NOT the same Antioch that was the location of the church that had sent Paul and Barnabas out. According to WikiPedia, “After the death of Alexander the Great, Seleucus I Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Dynasty, took control of Pisidia. Captured places were Hellenised and, in order to protect the population, fortified cities were founded at strategically important places, usually on an acropolis. Seleucus I Nicator had nearly 60 cities founded, and gave to 16 of them the name of his father Antiochos.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antioch,_Pisidia)
Pamphilia lay along the southern coast of modern-day Turkey, north-northwest of Cyprus, and its capitol was Perga. Their journey from there was on foot, for the region of Pisidia lay north of Pamphilia in south-central Turkey, separated from the coast by the Taurus mountains. Pisidian Antioch was a fortified Greek city with an acropolis, most likely used to defend against invasion from the Galatians around 250 BC.
vv14b-16a — Luke gives us more insight into what took place when Paul and Barnabas entered the local synagogue as a starting point in any given city. His description indicates that they simply mingled with the other Jewish worshippers on the Sabbath as visitors from far away and sat down in their midst. There would have been informal conversation prior to the formal parts of the service, and probably during these conversations both Paul and Barnabas would have been politely required to explain who they were and why they were there. Paul’s credentials as a Pharisee would not only have resulted in immediate acceptance, but as we see, an opportunity to speak as well. So it is that after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue invited them to address the people gathered there. Paul stood up and motioned with his hand to get their attention.
Before we move into Paul’s message, I’ll just offer a reminder — as you study the passage, try to set aside any preconceived notions you have about its words or meaning. Simply focus on the words on the page as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul is quite clear and easy to understand.
v16b — Pay attention! Who does Paul identify as his audience? In his mind there were two groups present in the synagogue that day — (1) men of Israel, and (2) “you who fear God.” Was Paul being redundant, applying both terms to the same group? Or was he identifying not only those who were of Jewish descent (genetic Jews), but also Gentiles who had adopted the Jewish religion and God as proselytes? I believe it was the latter, especially since they were now in a predominantly Gentile part of the world. As proselytes, those who “fear[ed] God” would have learned Israel’s history and would have identified with God’s prophetic promises to Israel. So Paul was speaking to both groups on an equal basis.
vv17-22 — Paul rehearses the history of Israel, beginning with Abraham (“our fathers”) and Moses, the wandering in the wilderness, the time of the Judges, and the kingdoms of Saul and David. Interestingly, he does not mention the division of David’s kingdom and the resulting scattering of the northern kingdom and the captivity of the southern kingdom, although certainly the synagogue where he was speaking was a result of one or the other. Instead, Paul will use the promises God made to David as a springboard for his next statements. So far, his audience would have been in perfect agreement with him.
vv23-31 — Now Paul recites recent history. The promise to David of an eternal heir and savior has been fulfilled by God! This heir’s name is Jesus. He was preceded by John the Baptist, who spoke of him. This news is current events! Here again in v26 Paul makes the double distinction of genetic descendants of Abraham and Gentile proselytes. He then recites the events of Jesus’ trial, execution, burial, resurrection and pre-ascension appearances, putting the blame squarely at the feet of the High Priest and the religious ruling community in Jerusalem (v27). This must have been very shocking to his listeners, but so far Paul had said nothing that they could say wasn’t true. The atmosphere at this point must have been electric!
vv32-37 — Paul says that what he is telling them is wonderful news, and goes on to prove the possibility that Jesus is the Messiah on the basis of the scriptures, quoting from David’s own psalms. Their main objection, as happened with the leaders in Jerusalem, would have been over resurrection, and Paul addresses this (vv34-35) before they even have a chance to raise it.
vv38-39 — Pay attention when a verse begins with the word “Therefore…” (What is the “therefore” there for?) The logical conclusion of Paul’s statements is that this Savior is able and willing to forgive sins — even theirs! Everyone who believes and accepts this forgiveness is freed from God’s requirements — even the requirements of the Law of Moses which they could never obey perfectly. (Note that this is quite different from the understanding of many in the Jerusalem church, who persisted in requiring new believers to undergo circumcision and other Jewish rites.)
vv40-41 — Paul puts a powerful punctuation mark at the end of his message. He anticipates that the leaders of the synagogue are about to object and try to undo everything he has said. So he quotes from Habakuk 1:5, warning them that those who scoff at God’s actions will perish, no matter how unbelievable His actions may seem to them! The leaders must have stood speechless before the clarity of Paul’s logic. But not for long.
The Results of Paul’s Message
vv42-43 — The effect on many of the people who attended that day was profound. Luke tells us that they wanted to hear it again on the next Sabbath. Note in v43 that Luke removes any doubt about Paul’s classification of his audience into two groups. Here Luke identifies them as (1) Jews and (2) God-fearing proselytes! This was important because Paul’s message was equally applicable to both groups — a radical concept in the Synagogue! As Paul and Barnabas accompanied these new believers out of the Synagogue, they encouraged them to “continue in the grace of God.” There is much hidden in this simple phrase that is only evident when you consider the mindset of synagogues, Jews and proselytes. Paul and Barnabas were encouraging them to continue in a new direction, the “grace of God.” New as opposed to what? Their old direction was to pursue God under the Jewish Law of Moses. Here we find the first clear indication in Acts that because of the work of Jesus Christ, “grace” has superceded Law!
vv44-47 — What a stir Paul and Barnabas had created! The next Sabbath “nearly the whole city” turned out to hear what this was all about. The Jews, however, became jealous and began attempting to repudiate Paul’s statements. (Luke says their words were “blasphemy”, a strong statement indeed.) Paul and Barnabas addressed the crowd firmly and clearly. Paul’s first statement is amazing: ”It was necessary that the Word of God should be spoken to you [the Jews] first; since you repudiate it, and [consequently] judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles!” (Notice that Paul does not say that God has judged them unworthy of eternal life, they have judged themselves unworthy of it! They cannot lay the blame for their unworthiness at God’s feet! Paul was such a great lawyer along with everything else…)
The Great Commission is retrospectively in view here, but with a twist. When Christ gave the Great Commission to the Twelve, it implied that the Gospel of the Christ and His Kingdom would be spread throughout the world by a willing Israel. The new twist is that forgiveness of sins (without mention of Israel’s promised kingdom) will spread throughout the world in spite of an unwilling and unrepentant Israel!
Paul puts a scriptural nail in the Jewish leader’s coffin by quoting Isaiah 42:6 as justification for turning to the Gentiles.
vv48-49 — The Gentiles present did what we should still be doing today — rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord! They had no difficulty understanding that God had done an “end run” around the stiff-necked Jewish leaders. As a result, many believed. Here’s one of those nasty “predestination” passages — according to Luke, the ones who believed were appointed by God to believe, and none were left out! So the Word of the Lord spread rapidly throughout the region.
vv50-51 — The Jewish leaders in Pisidian Antioch were not defeated, however. They took aside the intelligencia of the city and incited them against Paul and Barnabas. As a result, they were driven out of Pisidia. Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust of their feet against them” (a mideastern protest against bad hospitality) and traveled on to the neighboring region of Iconium.
v52 — Luke states that “the disciples” were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Who did Luke mean by “the disciples?” Paul and Barnabas? Those who, like Luke, traveled with Paul and Barnabas but remain unnamed? Or the new believers they left behind in Pisidian Antioch? The Greek word for disciples here is mathetes, or learners. Zodhiates’ notes state that the word as used in the New Testament means more than a mere student, however. It means one who not only has learned something, but has chosen to adhere to it. It is used only in the four Gospels and in Acts. Paul does not refer to believers as “disciples,” but rather as “saints.” Part of our problem in being misled by this word is that we often fail to distinguish between Disciples (with a capital “D”) and disciples (with a lower-case “d”). When capitalized, we recognize it as a pre-ascension term for the Twelve. It’s all to easy to extend the notion of the capital “D” to Paul, Barnabas, and their travelling companions. While Paul is indeed an Apostle by the direct appointment of the risen Lord, he is not one of the Twelve! His apostleship and message are distinct from theirs. He would not have described himself or his fellow ministers and traveling companions as “disciples.” That leaves the new believers Paul and Barnabas left behind in Pisidian Antioch as being “continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Gentiles, and some of the Jews, in Pisidian Antioch understood what had changed. As a result they were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Could Luke have said that of us today? Let us endeavor to be so, and to “continue in the grace of God.”
Next blog topic — Iconium!