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The Era of Gentile Missions
Summary —Fasting and Prayer at Antioch. The Holy Spirit Directs Paul and Barnabas to Be Sent Forth. Their Ordination. They Preach the Word in Cyprus. Elymas Rebuked. The Proconsul Converted. The Missionaries Sail to Perga. The Gospel Preached in Antioch of Pisidia. The Persecution Raised by the Jews. The Departure to Iconium.
1. There were in the church at Antioch. For description of Antioch and account of the founding of the church in that city see 11:19, notes. Also 11:26. This was the mother church of Gentile 470Christendom. It was at this period the most important city of Asia, and the third city of the world. For description, see notes on 11:22. Prophets and teachers. These offices were not identical (Eph. 4:11), though the first included the last. A prophet was an inspired teacher, not necessarily one who predicted the future, but one who spoke God's message by inspiration. Barnabas. One of the prophets. See notes on 11:22. Simeon called Niger. Nothing more is known of him. As Niger means “black,” some have fancied that he was an African, but Niger was as common a Roman surname as Black is now. Lucius of Cyrene. The men who planted the church at Antioch were “of Cyprus and Cyrene” (see note on 11:20). Lucius was probably one of these. The name occurs again in Rom. 16:21. And Manaen. His mother was probably the nurse of Herod when the latter was a babe. Herod Antipas, the husband of Herodias, the murderer of John the Baptist, is meant. He was now dethroned and an exile in Gaul. And Saul. The greatest of these men is named last. His greatness was not yet demonstrated.
2. As they ministered. These men worshiped before the Lord, fasting, and no doubt asking for guidance in the extension of Christianity. The Holy Ghost said. By an inspiration given to some one of these prophets. “God has spoken at sundry times and in divers manners unto the fathers by the one of these prophets.” Compare 20:23. Separate me Barnabas and Saul. Both had been tried and shown to be worthy. They are now, by Divine direction, to be formally consecrated to the work of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. From this time Antioch is the great missionary center. Whereunto I have called them. God called; men separated, or formally set apart.
3. When they had fasted and prayed. This verse shows how they were set apart. It was by fasting, prayer, and the laying on of hands. They were not thus set apart to an order or rank in the kingdom, but to a work unto which they were called. They were not made priests, or bishops, but missionaries. This act did not make Paul an apostle. Christ chose him, as he had Peter, John and the others. They sent them away. As the missionaries of the church at Antioch to the heathen. We find that they return to report to the church (Acts 14:27) after a long missionary tour.
4. So they … departed unto Seleucia. This was the seaport of Antioch, at the mouth of the Orontes, about sixteen miles distant in a direct course. At that period it was crowded with shipping. The massive walls of its harbors are still seen, though the city is a ruin. They sailed to Cyprus. The large island which could be seen in clear air from the coast of Asia. It was chosen as the first field, probably because it was the old home of Barnabas (4:36). It had a large Jewish population.
5. At Salamis. The eastern seaport. A day's run would carry them from Seleucia to Salamis. The distance is only about fifty miles. Preached … in the synagogues. That there was more than one shows that the Jews were very numerous. In the reign of Trajan, a half century later, they were numerous enough in Cyprus to almost exterminate the Gentile population, and were only put down after the arrival of the Roman general, Hadrian, afterwards emperor, with a great army. They had also John. Mark. He probably acted as baptist. He was related to Barnabas (Col. 4:10).
6. When they had gone through the isle. The island was about 130 miles long by fifty wide. Salamis being at the east and Paphos at the west extremity. Paphos. This was at this time the capital. It was noted for the worship of Venus. Found a certain sorcerer. A magician. Though the law 471(Deut. 18:9–22; Lev. 19:31) forbade witchcraft and magic, yet contemporaneous history shows that at this period the Jewish magicians had great influence. Marius, Pompey, Crassus, Cæsar, and Tiberius were all more or less under their sway. A false prophet. Falsely professing inspiration.
7. Was with the deputy. In the Revision, “Proconsul.” The Roman provinces at this time were divided into senatorial and imperial. The senatorial were ruled by a proconsul. We learn from other sources that Cyprus at this time was a senatorial province ruled by a proconsul. Sergius Paulus. Nothing more is known of him than is here related. A prudent man. An inquiring man. Hence he was anxious to hear Barnabas and Saul.
8. But Elymas. Another name of Bar-Jesus, meaning, the wise man. He had probably assumed it. Withstood them. As a Jew he was opposed, and his interests, too, were opposed. He did not wish to lose his hold on the proconsul. Hence he sought to prevent his acceptance of the faith.
9. But Saul, who is also called Paul. From this date he is the chief figure of the Acts. Barnabas, who had hitherto been the leader, falls behind. The origin of the name Paul is unknown. It is a Roman name, that of a great Roman family, and it is likely that the great apostle had two names, one Jewish, the other Gentile, a common thing anciently. Peter, Daniel, Esther, and many others afford examples. Filled with the Holy Ghost. Acting under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.
10–12. Child of the devil. Under his influence. The right ways of the Lord. God's plan of salvation in Christ. The hand of the Lord is upon thee. In judgment. Thou shalt be blind. He was fighting against the light. Hence physical blindness for a season. A mist and a darkness. As though a cloud had gathered about him. Then the deputy … believed. The language implies that he became a Christian. The “believers” were those who accepted Christ.
13. Now when Paul and his company. Henceforth Paul is the leader. From Paphos they sailed northward to Perga on the Asiatic mainland, an important city of Pamphylia. John departing. Why he left we do not know, but we know Paul did not approve of it. See 15:39. Perhaps he feared the dangers before them. 472
14. They came to Antioch. They seemed to have passed at once from Perga to the Antioch that lay in the interior. It must be distinguished from the Antioch of Syria (11:22) before named. There were several Antiochs, this one being the capital of the province of Pisidia. Vast ruins still mark its site. They went into the synagogue. In every Gentile city where there was a Jewish synagogue the gospel was preached first to the Jews by the apostolic preachers. The course of Paul and Barnabas here is an example of their custom.
15. After the reading. In the synagogue worship the reading of the Scriptures made a very important part. As copies of the Scriptures were very rare, this reading was necessary to convey scriptural instruction to the people. They were read in course, two lessons each Sabbath, one from the five books of Moses, the other from the other books of the Old Testament. Plumptre insists that we are enabled by two curious coincidences to fix, with very little uncertainty, the precise Sabbath on which the mission work at Antioch opened. The opening words of Paul refer to Deut. 1:31, and this was the lesson for the forty-fourth Sabbath in the year, which fell in July or August; the corresponding second lesson from the prophets being Isa. 1:1–27, from which he also quotes. He starts, as was natural, from what the people had just been listening to, as the text of his discourse. The rulers of the synagogue. The synagogue was governed by a board of elders.
16. Then Paul stood up. Invited to speak by the usual courtesy extended to visiting brethren, he arose, according to the Greek custom. In Judea speakers sat. Among the Greeks they stood. The address that follows, the first reported address of Paul, is worthy of special study especially as an example of the character of his preaching in the synagogue. It begins with a short recapitulation of the glorious history of Israel, a theme always apt to secure the favor of a Jewish audience, and when he has ascended to David, the hero king and the pride of every Jew, he passes from him to the promised Son of David, and thus preaches Christ. Had he begun at once with the latter, the great object of his discourse, he would have aroused prejudice and perhaps closed their ears. It will be observed here before a Jewish audience, as well as at Athens before a heathen audience, he first secured a common ground with his hearers, and upon it founded his argument for the gospel. Men of Israel, and ye that fear God. There were two classes present, Jews and “the devout Greeks.” The latter had given up heathenism, had learned to “fear God,” and were anxious to learn more about him; hence were wont to attend the synagogue.
17–19. Destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan. For their names, see Deut. 7:1.
20. After that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years. This statement seems to conflict with 1 Kings 6:1, which assigns 480 years to the period between the 473coming out of Egypt and the fourth year of the reign of Solomon. This would allow only about 300 years to the period of the Judges. David's reign was forty years, Saul's the same, the period in the wilderness the same, Joshua ruled about twenty-five years, add four years for Solomon, and we have 149 years, which, taken from 480 years, leaves 331 for the time of Judges and Samuel. The apparent discrepancy between Paul and the writer of 1 Kings is removed, however, by the Revision, based on the oldest and best Greek text. It changes the place where “and after that” occurs, so that the passage reads, “When he had destroyed the seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land for an inheritance, for about four hundred and fifty years: and after these things (i. e., after the allotment of the land and all before mentioned) he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.” The 450 years, in my judgment, includes the period from the departure out of Egypt to the reign of David, the two greatest eras in Jewish history before Christ.
22. He raised up unto them David. The Lord called the young shepherd to the throne. A man after mine own heart. The language does not occur in this form in the Old Testament, but is implied in 1 Sam. 13:14. This does not imply that David was perfect, but that he sought to do the Lord's will, instead of showing stubborn disobedience, like Saul. He exhibited nobility of purpose, sought the welfare of the people, and aimed at a purer life.
23. Of this man's seed, … according to his promise. For the promise of a Savior of David's seed, see 2 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 11:1; Zech. 3:8; 6:12.
24, 25. When John had first preached. John, who preached before the Savior's coming, is named because he was well known to the Jews, and most of them regarded him a prophet. See Matt. 3:1–12 and John 5:32–35.
26. Men and brethren. Having declared the coming of the Savior of the seed of David, he now shows to whom his salvation was offered, not only to “children of the stock of Abraham,” but to “whosoever among you feareth God,” Gentiles as well as Jews.
27–37. Paul now recapitulates the facts of the Gospel, viz: (1) Christ rejected by the rulers; (2) the 474Scriptures that they read every Sabbath fulfilled by condemning him; (3) the demand upon Pilate to slay him, when he had declared there was no cause of death; (4) the Scriptures fulfilled in his death; (5) the abundantly attested resurrection; (6) he declares that the promise made the fathers was now fulfilled to their children (see Gen. 12:3; 22:18, etc.) Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. See Psa. 2:7. Paul gives the thought in Rom. 1:4: “He was declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead.” No more to return to corruption. Never more to endure death. I will give you the sure mercies of David. The mercies promised to David, one of which was a descendant whose throne should be everlasting. See Isa. 55:3, and compare 2 Sam. 7:10. Thou wilt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost. See Acts 2:27–31, notes.
38–41. Through this man. The risen Savior. Only through Christ does God offer pardon. See 4:12; Rom. 3:25 and 8:1–4. By him all that believe are justified. If you believe on Jesus as the Messiah and accept him in faith, he will do for you what the law could never do, justify you before God. The law could not bring peace. Beware therefore. The address closes with a warning of the danger 475of rejecting Christ. Verse 41 is freely quoted from Habakkuk 1:5. His words referred primarily to the invasion of the Chaldeans, but reached beyond to a greater punishment for the greater sin of rejecting Christ. Only a few years after Paul quoted this at Antioch “the despisers wondered and perished” in the awful calamity of the Jewish nation, brought on by refusing the Savior.
42, 43. When the Jews were gone out. The Revised text gives a different sense: “As they (Paul and Barnabas) went out,” they were asked to speak again the next Sabbath. When the congregation broke up. When the services were over, many, both Jews and proselytes, followed them to learn more, and possibly yielded to Christ. Persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. By trusting in and obeying him. This could not be done if they refused Christ when he was preached to them.
45. When the Jews saw the multitudes. The vast concourse, in large part Gentiles, anxious to hear of the “ensign to whom the Gentiles shall seek,” aroused Jewish bigotry. Nothing ever stirred the Jews of either Palestine or of Gentile countries to such hatred as the declaration that Christ is a Savior of the Gentiles as well as the Jews. See 22:21. Contradicting and blaspheming. Contradicting the application of the prophecies to Jesus, which Paul made in his address; blaspheming by denying and speaking contemptuously of the Son of God.
46. It was necessary. The preachers met this attitude of the Jews by boldly stating their purpose to turn from them to the Gentiles. It was God's will that the Gospel should first be offered to the chosen people. See Acts 1:8; 3:26; Rom. 1:16. While the chosen people were to have the first opportunity, yet “God had put no difference” between Jew and Greek. As soon as the Jewish audiences manifested a self-willed, contradictory spirit, instead of engaging in idle disputation, the apostles were wont to turn to the Gentiles.
47. For so hath the Lord commanded. It was not only the Lord's will that they should preach first to the Jews, but that they should then turn to the Gentiles. So the Lord had shown in their own 476prophets. Isaiah 49:6 is quoted, where Christ is declared to be “a light of the Gentiles,” and appointed “for salvation to the ends of the earth;” a world Savior.
48. When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad. Glad, not only that the gospel was offered to them, but that in sacred writings of the Jews, it was declared that the Gentiles should have the gospel. They, too, had always been embraced in God's plan of redemption. As many as were ordained to eternal life. This passage has been used as a proof text for the extreme Calvinism that makes God arbitrarily select some for salvation and reject others. Wesley, on the other hand, says: “The original word rendered ordained is not once used in the Scriptures to express eternal predestination of any kind. The sense is that those, and those only, now ordained, now believed. Not that God rejected the rest; it was his will that they also should be saved, but they thrust salvation from them. Nor were those who then believed forced to believe. Grace was offered to them and they did not thrust it away.” It is God's ordination that those of humble, teachable, honest hearts, seeking the truth and life, shall come to life when it is offered, and such accepted the gospel on this occasion. Believed. “Made a public profession of their faith.”—Dean Howson.
50. The Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women. Gentile women who had learned to revere the One God, women of high rank (see Revision). A Roman writer (Strabo) declares that the women in this part of Asia exerted a powerful influence. And the chief men. Probably the husbands of these women. Raised persecution. There was probably no appeal to the magistrates, who were Romans (Antioch of Pisidia was a Roman colony), but they excited tumultuous opposition. The missionaries retired for the time, because their work was interrupted. They were not exiled, for they returned afterward (14:21).
51. They shook off the dust of their feet. See Luke 9:5. The Master's command was obeyed. Iconium. In Lycaonia, about fifty miles east of the Pisidian Antioch. At a later period, Iconium became celebrated as the capital of the Turks, before Constantinople fell into their hands. The Turkish sultan was long called the Sultan of Iconium. It was only after the Turkish conquests in Europe that the capital was moved to Constantinople. It is still a place of 30,000 inhabitants, and is called Konieh.
52. The disciples were filled with joy. Those of Antioch. Even if Paul and Barnabas were driven away, they had left them a glorious inheritance. 476
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