Great Men of God

Acts 13:1

With the death of Herod, the church was again free to preach the gospel. The last great advance in winning souls had been the addition of many gentiles to the church in Antioch. Now Antioch became the springboard for the next great advance.

At this time, the church in Antioch was blessed with several outstanding leaders. The reader of the earlier chapters of Acts already knows Barnabas and Saul. Simeon called Niger (or "black"1) may have been the Simon who carried Jesus’ cross (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Lucius of Cyrene was probably one of the men from Cyprus and Cyrene who first took the gospel to the gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:19–21). Manaen had ties to the royal family descended from Herod the Great, ruler of the Jews when Jesus was born. In the Greek, the expression "brought up with Herod" could mean that as a result of being adopted by the royal family, Manaen was Herod’s foster brother. But it more likely means that as a result of being schoolmates, Manaen and Herod were childhood friends.2 The reference is to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who executed John the Baptist.3

Delving Deeper

A venerable tradition concerning Simon Niger

To merge the identities of Simeon Niger and Simon the crossbearer is a very old idea winning from some modern commentators either an endorsement or at least a concession that it might be true.4 The evidence that they were the same man is circumstantial but compelling.

  1. Since the name Simon is a variant of the name Simeon,5 the two men have the same name. The name is Jewish, an allusion to one of the twelve tribes, but a non-Jew may have acquired it if he began life as a slave in a Jewish home or if, as an adult, he became a Jewish proselyte.
  2. The Gospels say that the man who carried the cross came from Cyrene. In Acts, we learn that preachers from Cyprus and Cyrene founded the church in Antioch. We learn also that a few years later, the prominent leaders of that church included a certain Lucius, said to be a Cyrenian. Thus, he was probably one of the founders. Since another may have been his associate Simeon, we infer that Simeon may also have been a Cyrenian.
  3. Mark names Rufus and Alexander as two sons of Simon the crossbearer. For what reason does he name them? They must have been well-known figures in the early church. Thus, we may presume that their father was a convert to Christ.6
  4. Some scholars have, at least tentatively, identified the Rufus mentioned by Mark with the Rufus mentioned by Paul in his greetings to the Roman church (Rom. 16:13).7 Strengthening this hypothesis is the probability that Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome for the Romans.8 If the two Rufuses are the same man, his standing as a church leader in Rome demonstrates that Simon the crossbearer’s family indeed had a prominent role in the early Christian community. It is possible that Rufus went to Rome as a missionary sent out by Antioch.
  5. Rufus was apparently accompanied by his mother, also mentioned in Paul’s greeting. Paul identifies her as both "his [Rufus’s] mother and mine." The wording is a bit peculiar if she was Paul’s own mother in the flesh. Then he would not have thought it necessary to identify her by first speaking of her relationship to Rufus. He would have said, "Greet Rufus and my mother." If our case so far has followed the right track, she was actually Simon the crossbearer’s wife. Why would Paul think of her as motherlike? When Barnabas brought Saul back to Antioch, he was a young bachelor with no family nearby. Simeon Niger’s wife may have taken a motherly interest in him, making sure he was well-provided with food and fellowship.

Consider the ramifications if Simeon Niger was Simon the crossbearer. We understand better why he was such a fruitful evangelist. Imagine hearing the man preach who not only witnessed the Crucifixion, but also walked with Jesus along the road to Calvary! When coming from his lips, the gospel must have had an especially powerful impact.

Getting Practical

Social diversity within a church

What stands out as an unusual feature of the church in Antioch is the heterogeneity of its leaders. We see the sharpest contrast between, of course, Manaen and Simeon. One was white, the other black. One was an aristocrat, the other perhaps even a former slave. One was a Jew, the other a gentile. Yet the whole group was a variety of men. They differed in their places of origin: Barnabas from Cyprus (Acts 4:36), Saul from Tarsus, Lucius and Simeon from Cyrene, and Manaen from Palestine, probably Jerusalem.9 They also came from diverse religious backgrounds. Simeon had perhaps been brought up in paganism. The others were Jews, but their roads to Antioch converged from places far apart. In relation to the church in its early days, Barnabas was a strong supporter and Saul was a persecutor.

In all respects, the church in Antioch should serve as our example. God is pleased when the church is a melting pot, giving a correct picture of the heavenly congregation of saints, who will merge all races, nations, tongues, and peoples into one glorious, harmonious body (Rev. 7:9).

Scripture records the names of these leaders because at a critical moment in church history, each used his influence to move the church in the right direction. Each set an example of outstanding Christian leadership.

Getting Practical

Heroes for the young

Young people today idolize figures made famous by the media, even though few, if any, picture a godly Christian life. The men Luke lists in this verse are the right models for young people. Each was a true hero, a spiritual giant, who dedicated his life to the glory of God. By comparison, most entertainers and sports stars are not heroes at all, because they seek their own glory. Some are nothing but scoundrels flaunting every manner of wickedness.

The Spirit's Choice

Acts 13:2-3

As the believers in Antioch walked with God, the Holy Spirit showed them what to do next. The Spirit wanted the believers to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a new work. He did not reveal exactly what that work would be. Rather, they would find out as they followed His day-by-day direction. Yet, it was clear that He wanted them to leave Antioch and carry the gospel to new places. He implied that He had already given Barnabas and Saul their call to missionary service.

The church then spent much time in prayer and fasting.

Getting Practical

New Testament view of fasting

Many people imagine that fasting was an Old Testament practice which we may safely neglect today. They forget that Jesus Himself recommended it (Matt. 6:16–18; Mark 2:20; Luke 5:35). Likewise did Paul (1 Cor. 7:5). They forget also that both Jesus (Matt. 4:2; Luke 4:2) and Paul (Acts 14:23; 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27) fasted, setting an example for us. Here in Acts 13 we learn that the church in Antioch used fasting as a tool for determining God’s will.

There is no merit in abstaining from food. The purpose in fasting is to withdraw from the world of physical sensations, so that we can concentrate better on communion with God.

No doubt they asked God to protect these men as they went through many dangers and to give them a great harvest of souls. What they prayed was probably very similar to what we pray for our missionaries today. Before sending off the missionaries, the church laid their hands on the two men. Probably all members joined in this ceremony, just as they all had participated in the fasting and praying.10

Getting Practical

God’s call to missionary service

The events leading to Saul's first missionary journey established a pattern that would generally be repeated whenever God put new missionaries on the field.

  1. God impressed on Barnabas and Saul His desire that they serve Him as missionaries.
  2. He confirmed to the church that He had indeed called these men into His service.
  3. The church prayed for God's blessing on their work.
  4. The church laid their hands on the missionaries.

Pondering a Question

What did the laying on of hands signify?

The ceremony pictured the church as the sender and the apostles as those sent. The hands of the sender resting on the heads of the sent was a vivid expression of at least five thoughts.

  1. The church bestowed on the apostles its approval and blessing.
  2. The church affirmed that they were going out as its representatives.
  3. The church acknowledged its responsibility to support them with prayer and perhaps with material resources.
  4. The church certified that as they went out to do the work of God, they would possess all the authority that Christ granted the church.
  5. The church testified that the same power of the Spirit which the church in Antioch was privileged to exercise would now be available to the apostles.

While primarily a statement about the first missionary journey, the ceremony was also a reminder that the chief responsibility of any local church is to send out laborers who will build new churches, and a reminder too that a Christian worker receives the necessary support, authority, and power only because he is an instrument for accomplishing this task.

Pondering a Question

Does a missionary remain under the authority of the sending church?

Certainly not. He may conduct his ministry in any manner he feels is according to the leading of God. Nor is any church he establishes under the authority of the sending church. The new church is as independent and autonomous as any other local body of Christ. Yet if the missionary accepts support from churches and individuals, he is accountable to them for his use of it. He must verify that he has exercised good stewardship, both by avoiding waste and by pursuing objectives they would approve.

Preaching in Cyprus

Acts 13:4-5

In 47 or possibly early 48 (see Appendix 1), Barnabas and Saul set off, traveling first to the port city of Seleucia on the Mediterranean. John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin, was a third member of the team. He was only a helper to the other men, yet in witnessing for Christ, he could make a contribution that was perhaps unique. Among the three, he may have been the only one who knew and followed Christ while He still walked the earth.

Their first stop after setting sail was Cyprus. Their choice of this island as a starting place for their work may have rested on two primary considerations.

  1. Some Jews there had already heard the gospel (Acts 11:19). Any who did not receive it initially were perhaps now, after a time of feeling the Spirit's wooing in their hearts, ripe to respond in faith.
  2. Barnabas once lived in Cyprus (Acts 4:36). He was familiar with the people and the customs. In circles where he was known, he no doubt enjoyed a good reputation that would create open doors.

The city they entered first was Salamis on the east coast, which they reached after sailing about sixty miles to the southwest.11 It was a good strategic choice because it was formerly the capital of the island and still it was the island's most important city.12 Also, it was home to many Jews. According to Philo (c. 20 BC—c. AD 50), Cyprus in his day was "full of Jewish colonies."13 In Salamis, the apostles found more than one synagogue, perhaps several.

The missionaries followed a strategy that Paul retained throughout his years of ministry. They focused on the Jews first, attending Sabbath-day services and offering themselves to preach. They only had to secure permission from the chief ruler of the synagogue, who would have looked favorably on men with their credentials. As a Levite (Acts 4:36), Barnabas belonged to the tribe traditionally entrusted with responsibility to instruct the people in the will of God (Deut. 31:9–13; 33:8–11; 2 Chron. 30:22; Neh. 8:7–8). As for Saul, he was not only a highly trained rabbi; he was also a former pupil of Gamaliel and likely also a former member of the Sanhedrin.

Delving Deeper

The strategy in going to synagogues first

Not only in this first missionary journey, but also throughout his evangelistic travels, Paul, whenever he entered a new city, targeted the Jews first if possible. If the city held a synagogue, he went there on the Sabbath and proclaimed to the largely Jewish audience that their long-awaited Messiah was Jesus. The strategy of giving Jews priority had a threefold basis.

  1. Before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples that they should be witnesses to the whole world, starting in Judea (Acts 1:8). He implied that Jews should be the first to hear the gospel.
  2. Paul's goal in every city was to establish a church, and from its inception, every church needed leaders. If local converts included Jewish men, they were the best qualified to step into leadership roles, because they were already well-grounded in the Scriptures and, if they had been devout in their religious faith, they were already well-acquainted with godly living. A group of Jewish fathers and their families therefore provided the nucleus of a church that could survive and grow after Paul moved on to other places.
  3. In many synagogues, Paul found some God-fearers—gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel. Of all gentiles, these were by far the most receptive to the good news of salvation in Christ. Witnessing to them brought quick results, which were essential if Paul was to fulfill God's plan for his ministry. He was called by God to build new churches throughout whole regions and nations.

The Clash with Bar-Jesus

Acts 13:6-12

The account does not give us the results of the apostles' ministry in Salamis, but Barnabas's return to the island a year or two later (Acts 15:39) suggests that he wished to nurture the converts left behind from his previous visit. After leaving Salamis, Barnabas, Saul, and Mark headed for Paphos, a principal city on the opposite end of the island. They probably took the road along the southern coast because it provided the shortest route, requiring a walk of about ninety miles, and passed through several cities where they could preach.14 Paphos had been serving as capital city of the island since AD 15, when Salamis was devastated by an earthquake.15

There in Paphos they went to the residence of the governor, Sergius Paulus, described as a "prudent" man. That is, he was wise and discerning. Somehow he had heard about Barnabas and Saul, and he called for them to come and present themselves. Once they arrived, he asked them to preach the Word of God.

Yet he had come under the influence of another Jewish religious teacher, a false prophet and "sorcerer" (literally, "magician"16) named Bar-Jesus, which means "son of Joshua [or Jesus]."17 He was also called Elymas, which probably means "wise,"18 but, as Luke informs us, the word had come to mean "sorcerer." Perhaps, in an effort to clothe themselves in an aura of higher knowledge, enough sorcerers had adopted the name that "sorcerer" had become the first meaning it evoked in the popular mind. To predispose us against believing that the name suited Bar-Jesus, Luke has already stated that the truly wise man in the chamber was the governor.

Delving Still Deeper

Interpretation of the sorcerer's name

Luke introduces the sorcerer as "a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus." Nowhere else in the Book of Acts do we find someone called a false prophet. The term refers of course to a deceiver posing as a true prophet—as a spokesman for the real God of heaven. Being a Jew, Bar-Jesus no doubt advertised himself as a man capable of doing magic because he was a pious follower of the Jewish God, Creator and Master of all the forces in nature. His name Son of Joshua supported his pretensions by suggesting that he followed in the footsteps of that great leader who led Israel into the Promised Land.

Yet it is also possible that he adopted the specific name Bar-Jesus because he wanted to picture himself as a disciple of the famous miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth. He was then able to claim Jesus as the source of his own magical powers. Jesus was a name that he was exploiting for personal gain.

In Roman times, many magicians looked upon Jewish names as powerful tools useful in incantations and other occult practices.19 A surviving papyrus written by a practitioner of magic shows that one name they exploited was Jesus.20 Jesus’ ability to heal the sick was so well-known that both the Tosephta and the Talmud, voluminous ancient writings which preserve the rulings of the Pharisees on how Mosaic law should be interpreted, strongly forbid Jews to borrow His name for that purpose.21 Perhaps some Jewish magicians had emphasized their connection with Jesus to the extent of calling themselves sons of Jesus. Therefore, in Luke's eyes, Elymas deserved the title of false prophet not only for the general sin of false teaching, but more so for the even more damnable sin of claiming to exemplify Christ.

It is significant that Luke is not content to give us the man's name, but adds an interpretation. That is seldom his practice elsewhere. The one exception is when he introduces Barnabas (Acts 4:36). The name conferred on Barnabas by the apostles was appropriate because it truly described him. He was a "son of consolation." But having affirmed that in one man's case we can trust his name as a window to his character, Luke could not name the sorcerer as Bar-Jesus without cautioning us that the meaning intended by the man himself is spurious.

Many expositors suppose that the governor called for the apostles because their preaching had caused a commotion in the Jewish community and he wished to evaluate whether he should view them as threats to civil disorder. His interest in the Word of God was not spiritual searching but, as it were, official investigation.

But when we examine this sort of skepticism, we see flaws.

  1. Luke has not mentioned any opposition in the Jewish community. Perhaps the apostles won a more sympathetic hearing in Cyprus than Paul later met in other regions.22 The Cypriot Jews had already been exposed to gospel preaching, Barnabas was a man they respected, and Saul bore impressive credentials.
  2. Sergius Paulus had already sought spiritual guidance from Elymas, a Jewish prophet, although a false prophet. Why else would Elymas have been present on this occasion? He must have belonged to the group of men who attended the governor and conversed with him about weighty matters of philosophy and religion or matters more practical. No doubt his specific role was to serve as a soothsayer, such as belonged to the retinue of many Roman rulers.23 From the sorcerer's Jewish identity we infer that the governor had a strong interest in the religion of the Jews.

Delving Still Deeper

Historical confirmation of details

The account of the team's encounter with Sergius Paulus includes several details supported by historical records.

  1. The Romans used a multitude of administrative titles, but, as we will demonstrate repeatedly throughout this commentary, any title given by Luke can be relied on for accuracy. "Deputy" is a translation of anthupatos, Greek for the Roman title of proconsul,24 held by the ruler of a senatorial province as distinguished from an imperial province.25 The basic difference between them was that in the latter, troops were required to maintain order. As a province well-integrated into the empire, Cyprus was a senatorial province, where the ruler was, as Luke affirms, a proconsul.26
  2. The name Paulus (generally spelled "Paullus") appears in many ancient writings with reference to a prominent figure in Roman affairs.
    1. One inscription found in Rome identifies a L(ucius) Sergius Paullus and four others as curators of the Tiber River during the reign of Claudius Caesar, who reigned from AD 41 to 54.27 Although it is impossible to be sure that he was the same man that we find in Acts 13, the office of curator was reserved for a member of the Roman senate, as the governorship of Cyprus was also, and the probability that two members of the senate bore the same fairly unusual name is extremely slight.28
    2. At Soloi on the north coast of Cyprus, an inscription by a certain Apollonius was found on a block of marble presumably from a family tomb.29 The writer celebrates his own career, giving as one of his chief accomplishments something he did "in the proconsulship of Paullus."30 The engraving is dated as the emperor's tenth year.31 If the unnamed emperor is Claudius, the date would be AD 50,32 consistent with identifying the proconsul as the Sergius Paulus who held this office a few years earlier, as we learn in Acts 13 (see Appendix 1). But T. B. Mitford, the scholar whose analysis of the inscription has been most influential, argued, primarily on the basis of epigraphy, that its date must be long after the reign of Claudius.33 Today, the accepted date is a century later.34 But Mitford's conclusion does not have a strong basis. His case depends mainly on the squarish alphabet, typical of a later time. Yet he admits that the same style was "in common use at Jerash [in modern Jordan] in the first century," as well as at other places.35 It depends secondly on the writer's boast that he had held a civic office which supposedly did not appear in the region until the time of the emperor Hadrian (AD 117–138). Yet Mitford acknowledges evidence that the office had already appeared in Jerash by AD 60.36 The most inviting interpretation of the known facts is that Soloi had somehow come under the influence of cultural trends at Jerash, a city about two hundred miles to the southeast.
    3. In his Natural History (an encyclopedia of the natural world), Pliny the Elder devotes book 1 to listing all the topics he would cover and all the sources he would employ in the remaining books. He credits Sergius Paullus as one source for books 2 and 18.37 As J. B. Lightfoot pointed out, it so happens that these books offer curious, little-known facts and fables about Cyprus.38 According to book 2, for example, the people of Paphos imagine that rain never falls on the open court holding a famous shrine of Venus.39 Paphos was, of course, the governor's seat.
    4. An inscription found at Kythraia in north Cyprus mentions a Quintus Sergius Paullus who was also a proconsul of Cyprus. The date is uncertain, perhaps during the reign of Caligula (AD 37-41).40 Although strictly a matter of speculation, he was possibly a brother of Lucius.41
    5. In Pisidian Antioch (a city visited later by Paul during his first missionary journey), a wall stone was found with an inscription honoring Lucius Sergius Paullus the younger, son of Lucius.42 In a script characteristic of the latter portion of the first century, it recognizes this son as a high official in the province. The nod to a father also named Lucius strongly suggests that he was a man of some reputation. Sir William Ramsay (1851–1939), the archaeologist whose pioneering work in Asia Minor did much to establish the authenticity of the Book of Acts, identified the elder Lucius as the Sergius Paulus we find in Acts 13, a reading of evidence endorsed by some recent scholars.43
    6. Another inscription in the same region speaks of a Sergia Paulla, daughter of Lucius, who was married to C. Caristanius Fronto, then, in AD 74, an imperial legate in the province.44 He was doubtless the man by the same name who rose quickly under the smile of the emperor to the highest public office in the empire,45 becoming In AD 90 "suffect consul," the title given a consul who replaced another man unable to finish the consular term of one year.46 If the younger Sergius Paullus was son of the Cypriot proconsul, Sergia Paulla was probably his sister.47 In other words, two children of the proconsul became prominent citizens of the empire.
    7. From a second-century inscription in the same region, we learn that another woman in the Paullus family, a Sergia Paullina, may also have married a man elevated to consulship.48 On a tombstone in memory of a Gnaeus Cornelius Severus, who was a freedman of her husband, she identifies herself as the wife of Cornelius Severus. Very likely this was the Cn. (Gnaeus) Cornelius Severus who served as consul in AD 112.49 It was not uncommon for a nobleman to bestow his name on freed slaves.50 Some scholars conjecture that this woman was a daughter of Sergius Paullus the younger.51
    8. Yet two more inscriptions from the same region and period imply that the Paullus family were influential landholders in the region of Antioch and north Galatia.52
    9. A Lucius Sergius Paullus II held the consulship in AD 168.53 Some scholars propose that he was the grandson of the younger Lucius Sergius Paullus.54
  3. Pliny the Elder attested in his Natural History that in Cyprus, sorcery was prevalent. "There is yet another branch of magic, derived from Moses, Jannes, Lotapes [a corruption of Yahweh, the name of God55] and the Jews, but living many thousand years after Zoroaster. So much more recent is the branch in Cyprus."56 Pliny's meaning is a bit cloudy, but he may be implying that the branch in Cyprus was an extension of the Jewish branch.

As Barnabas and Saul preached to the governor, Elymas stood by and tried to argue with them. Finally, Saul grew so annoyed that he sharply rebuked Elymas, describing him in terms that were a searing contradiction of his deceptive claims. The sorcerer called himself Elymas, implying that he was full of wisdom, but he was a man full instead of subtlety and mischief. He called himself Bar-Jesus, implying that he was Jesus' son, but he was a child of the devil. As a Jew, he presented himself as a teacher of the religion with a uniquely exalted code of moral law, but he was an enemy of righteousness.

With a boldness and confidence flowing from the Holy Spirit, Saul called upon the Lord to strike Elymas with blindness "for a season" (that is, temporarily). Immediately, the sorcerer lost his sight, as if a mist had settled upon his eyes. He was helpless to move unless someone guided him by the hand.

Pondering a Question

Of all the ways that Saul might have used to counter the sorcerer's opposition, why did he choose to strike the man with blindness?

The motive behind Saul's harsh treatment of Elymas was not anger or spite. Saul was controlled not by the flesh, but by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he was acting for the good of Elymas. He remembered from his own experience on the road to Damascus that blindness is very useful for humbling a proud man. He brought physical blindness on Elymas in the hope that it would open his spiritual eyes.57

Moreover, Saul's way of dealing with Elymas was a quick and easy demonstration that any power the sorcerer claimed was no match for the power in Saul.

Whether Elymas ever repented of his sins, we do not know. But we do know that the miracle brought the governor to faith in Christ. He recognized that Saul had the power of God. The gospel that Barnabas and Saul were presenting was so different from anything he had heard before that he was astonished, yet he understood that it was different because it was true. It was not the sort of teaching that men devise, but the sort that would come from a perfect, holy God.

Delving Deeper

The true savior

Every human religion exalts man, making him his own savior through works, rituals, or occult practices. Only Christianity identifies God as the Savior.

If an expositor has a low view of Scripture, he may accuse the apostles of misunderstanding the governor's reaction to their dramatic contest with Bar-Jesus. Paulus did not actually become a believer. He merely voiced toleration of their work on the island. In such a denial of the proconsul's conversion, we also see flaws.

  1. Why would Elymas have striven so hard "to turn away the deputy from the faith" if the governor was not obviously listening with a seeker's heart and mind?
  2. Luke reports that the governor "believed" after being struck with astonishment at Paul's miracle. It is far fetched to imagine that Luke fell victim to mistaken judgment on this scale. Elsewhere in his writings we find sober judgment.

Delving Deeper

Further evidence the proconsul accepted Christ

Evidence has come to light that not only Sergius Paullus the proconsul, but also some members of his family in the next several generations, were Christians. No less than twenty-three inscriptions in Rome refer to a collegium (that is, "association") that met in the house of Sergia Paullina.58 The founder was L. Sergius L. f[ilius]. With no other reasonable explanation offering itself, some scholars have concluded that the collegium must be a house church.59 They identify the founder as the younger Sergius Paullus and the lady host as his daughter, the one who married the future consul Cornelius Severus.

Further evidence has emerged suggesting that a daughter of Sergia Paullina married M'. [Manius] Acilius Glabrio,60 who served as consul in AD 124.61 Glabrio's father was his namesake M'. [Manius] Acilius Glabrio, who established a precedent for his son by serving as consul in AD 91.62 The elder Glabrio was executed by the emperor Domitian (AD 81–96). The account of his death in Dio Cassius's Roman History clearly implies that he was one victim of Domitian's ruthless persecution of Christians.63

The name by which Saul was known throughout the rest of his life—Paul—appears for the first time in the Book of Acts when Luke recounts the apostle's clash with Elymas. Saul was, of course, a Hebrew name. Before his conversion, as an ambitious young man in Jewish circles, the apostle had always called himself Saul for perhaps two reasons: not only to bond more closely with other Jews, but also to encourage comparison with his namesake, the first king of Israel. The name had a royal flavor. Then after his conversion, he kept this Jewish name merely because his ministry was mainly to Jews.

But Saul was not his only name. Having inherited Roman citizenship, he surely had Roman birth names as well, and the Roman name Paul was doubtless one of these.

Delving Deeper

Roman names

The Roman fashion then was to give a child three names.64 The first, in Paul's day rapidly fading from use, was the praenomen, a personal name. The second was the nomen, a family or tribal name. Last was the cognomen, often an inherited name giving some notable feature of the individual who first received or adopted it. Originally it was used to distinguish individuals with the same first two names. Paul was probably the apostle's cognomen, certainly not his praenomen, although some scholars have suggested that it was none of the usual three but only a signum, or supernomen—that is, a Latinate name that his family neither inherited nor received by the favor of someone in the family of true Pauls, but simply adopted for itself.65 In other words, one of Paul's forefathers merely decided that besides their usual nomen and cognomen, the family would go by the name of Paul.

Scripture does not furnish any of the apostle's other Roman names. To deepen the mystery, it refrains from telling us even this name until Acts 13. Its sudden appearance when Paul is standing before another man named Paul has baffled commentators. The strange coincidence demands an explanation.66 Some church fathers suggested that Paul was not a birth name of the apostle, but a name he adopted only after his victory at the palace of the governor.67 The Romans felt less bound to given names than we do. The great difficulty in this explanation is the timing of the new name's appearance. Luke uses it for the apostle while the battle with the magician is still raging and before the proconsul is converted to Christ. It therefore cannot be a name taken after the victory was won.

The last time Saul appears as the apostle's usual name is in verse 7, speaking of him as one summoned by the governor. Then comes the introduction of his new name in verse 9. Luke seems to be suggesting exactly when the apostle began to use it. For the first time in his life of ministry, he introduced himself as Paul the Roman citizen when he stood in the residence of Sergius Paulus. Why there? We can detect two likely reasons.

  1. There his life took a sharp turn away from Jewish culture, leading him into the culture of gentiles. Using his Roman name gained more respect from the Roman governor and his train. The same advantage in calling himself Paul awaited this apostle to the gentiles wherever he went in the future. So in Paphos, under the Spirit's leading, he changed his identity, becoming Paul rather than Saul.
  2. Before Sergius Paulus, his Roman name bore the further advantage of being identical with the governor's name. It is hard to imagine that Paul would have shunned the opportunity to inform the governor that he was another Paul. It was a bond sure to pull out feelings of sympathy.

Delving Deeper

Overlapping names

We still another mystery to resolve. How did it happen that on Paul's first missionary journey, the first person of significance in his path was another Paul? Did the Jewish Paul deliberately go to Paphos because he knew the governor was a personal relative? No, Paul boasted that he came from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1). Therefore, none of his forefathers was a Roman proselyte to Judaism who bequeathed Roman names and citizenship to his descendants. And it is virtually certain that a member of the Roman senate was not the offspring of a Jew.

The answer hinges on Paul's own background. How did he become a Roman citizen? He had not obtained citizenship by any effort or stratagem of his own, but had received it at birth, a standing possible only because his father was also a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25–28). How had Paul's family come to this place of privilege? The church father Jerome implied that Paul's father, a resident of Giscalis (Gischala) in Galilee, had been taken captive and enslaved by a Roman soldier during one of the Roman campaigns in the region.68 The closest match in actual history is Pompey's conquest of Galilee in about 65 BC.69 But Paul did not come from a family of slaves. So, if Jerome's account by our reading is true, the soldier must have subsequently released Paul's ancestor from slavery, a benevolent act that brought with it admission to Roman citizenship.70 The Jewish writer Philo confirms that someone, doubtless Pompey, carried Jewish captives to Rome and later set them free.71 Since citizenship came to Paul's family probably more than a century before his encounter with Sergius Paulus, the ancestor who won the distinction was probably not Paul's father, but his grandfather.72 As we affirmed earlier, a slave granted freedom and citizenship also acquired his benefactor's name.73

We come to the fascinating possibility that the Roman officer who enslaved and then released Paul's (grand)father was a member of the distinguished Roman family with the cognomen Paullus.74 If correct, the mystery we have been probing suddenly evaporates. It is obvious why Sergius Paulus appears at this early moment in Paul's career. Paul, knowing who was proconsul in Cyprus, chose to make him a first target of evangelistic outreach. Why? Not because he was a relative, but as a gesture of gratitude for what another member of the proconsul's family had done for Paul's family. In return for the gift of citizenship in Rome, Paul offered the proconsul citizenship in heaven.

Until the moment of this incident, Saul took second place to Barnabas. But after Saul showed unusual faith and courage in opposing the sorcerer, he became the team leader. The change in leadership is indicated by a new ordering when his name appears with others. Frequently before verse 9, Barnabas is put first (Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7), but after verse 9, first place generally goes to Paul (Acts 13:43, 46, 50). In verse 13, for example, the traveling group is described as "Paul and his company."

Paul's elevation in ministry at this time gave him another reason to call himself Paul, not Saul. Paul means "little."75 To deflect the human praise he might receive now that he was a general in God's army, Paul took a name signifying that he was nothing in himself, but solely a creature of grace. He was no more than a little man used by a mighty God.

Pondering a Question

How did the change in leadership come about?

Barnabas, the proper leader beforehand, must have initiated the change. Throughout his years of ministry, Barnabas devoted himself to building up others as servants of the Lord. He is especially remembered for assisting Saul in making the transition from church enemy to church leader. When Saul came to Jerusalem after his conversion, Barnabas was the one who lowered the barriers to his acceptance by the apostles and the community of believers (Acts 9:26–28). He was also the one who brought Saul out of obscurity in Tarsus to prominence in Antioch (Acts 11:25–26). He then shepherded Saul in his new responsibilities until he was ready to join Barnabas in a groundbreaking missionary journey. Later, he let Saul be the principal decision maker in their work together.

Why would a mature saint surrender leadership to a protégé? Barnabas must have known that when the Lord met Saul on the road to Damascus, He assigned him the task of evangelizing the gentiles (Acts 26:16–18), and the Spirit must have instructed Barnabas that the task leader should be Saul. Therefore in due time, as soon as Barnabas felt that Saul was ready, he put Saul in first place. The move showed that he was selfless enough to set the good of others above personal glory.

Just as Barnabas was an encourager to Paul, so he was also to Mark. He took Mark on the first missionary journey, obviously hoping to make him fruitful in the Lord’s work. We will see that at a later point in Mark’s life, Barnabas again sought to engage him in ministry (Acts 15:36–39).

The story of Barnabas teaches us the essence of godly leadership. Instead of always striving for power, it is always seeking to help.

The meaningful names of the antagonists standing before Sergius Paulus add another dimension to the story.

The son of consolation and the son of Jesus come together in the same scene. Both the men and their names are clearly presented as contrastive parallels. They are both "sons." When they meet in combat, the victor is the man whose name tells the truth about his parentage.

The decisive battle is waged between the wise one (in his own eyes) and the little one (in his own eyes). Humility wins.

The reader is evidently expected to understand that the two men whose names spoke of simple virtue easily bested the man whose name spoke of proud deceit.

Mark's Departure

Acts 13:13

Paul and Barnabas now sailed from Paphos, intending to take the gospel to the vast unreached areas of Asia Minor. After a voyage of about 175 miles to the northwest,76 they landed on the southern coast near the city of Perga in the coastal region of Pamphylia, an ancient Greek colony that in Paul's day was part of the Roman province of Galatia.77 To reach the city, they had to walk inland about ten miles.78

For some reason not given, John Mark decided against going on. Perhaps the reason is that he resented Paul supplanting Barnabas as team leader. Instead of giving more help to the work, he went back to Jerusalem. Years later, Paul still viewed him as a quitter (Acts 15:36–39), but eventually Mark regained Paul’s respect (2 Tim. 4:11).

Pondering a Question

Why did Mark go back home?

One answer often given as a possibility is that he resented Paul supplanting Barnabas as team leader.79 Yet Mark consented to join a second missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas, even though the leader would certainly be Paul (Acts 15:36–39). If this new willingness to serve Paul represented a change of heart, Paul would probably have agreed to his participation.

We can raise the same objection to another explanation for Mark's departure—that he learned of Paul's intent to offer the gospel freely to gentiles whereas he sided with Judaizers in the church who opposed any direct outreach to gentiles unless they were required to live like Jews.80 These Judaizers first enter Luke's story in chapter 15. But if Mark shared their outlook, he would not have made himself available for the second journey unless he and Paul had been reconciled in this matter. Moreover, it is unlikely that his philosophy of ministry would have differed from his elder cousin's.

Although we may not categorically dismiss all other common explanations for Mark's return home, it seems most likely that he quit because he saw further involvement as either too dangerous or too strenuous.81 In the down-to-earth language of Matthew Henry, "he wanted to go and see his mother."82

Perhaps it seemed too dangerous because Paul was heading inland to places on the fringes of the empire where there might be little or no Jewish presence. In Cyprus, the ministry centered on synagogues, but now they were going to preach in marketplaces if necessary. Mark might have been overwhelmed by fear of confronting a hostile gentile world.

Perhaps further involvement seemed too strenuous because, perhaps for the first time, he realized exactly what Paul proposed to do. In Cyprus he had hiked well over a hundred miles, but now in Perga he faced the prospect of climbing a mountain and trudging many hundreds of miles (it would prove to be about 780 miles83) over rugged, seesawing roads.

As he heard more of Paul's plans for evangelism and looked at the rolling wilderness ahead, he decided that the coming journey was more than he bargained for, and he went home. It follows that Paul rejected him as an assistant in later work because he had, in Paul's view, proved too cowardly or too weak for missionary adventures.

Getting Practical

Virtue in perseverance

In any hard task for God, it is easy to find very convincing reasons to give up and go home. Perseverance regardless of the difficulties is a mark of great spiritual maturity.

One reason an increasing percentage of missionaries are not remaining on the field is that many who are going out are too immature. They are not ready to man the front lines in God's war against the powers of darkness. Mark was likewise unready for the work. By his departure from Paul he damaged his reputation for years to come.

Delving Deeper

Mark’s later remorse

In his Gospel, Mark speaks of a young man who deserted Christ on the night of His arrest (Mark 14:50–52). It has long been widely believed that the young man was the author himself.84 So far as we can tell, he brings himself into the narrative at no other place. His single appearance, showing that the same man who forsook Paul and Barnabas had also forsaken Jesus, suggests that being a quitter was a long-lasting burden on Mark’s conscience. He understood with a heart full of regret that fearfulness was a deep flaw in his character.

His confession of panic in the garden therefore strengthens the case that fear of some kind drove him from the ministry team after it came to Perga.

Preaching in Pisidia

Acts 13:14-22

Paul and Barnabas did not stay long in Perga, but commenced a taxing journey to Pisidian Antioch. They had to walk northward 160 miles85 along a slope ascending from sea level to an altitude of 3600 feet.86 They probably chose the easier but longer route called the Via Sebaste, a paved, relatively new, and well-traveled Roman road that curved westward and back eastward as it rose from the coast and linked Lycia-Pamphylia with the southern portion of the province known as Galatia.87 Along the way, as it toured a series of map-worthy towns, the Via at first wended through cultivated fields filled with olive trees and grape vines, then traversed hardwood forests, and, in its most demanding miles, climbed through forests of cedar and spruce to mountain meadows. About halfway to the apostles' destination, they came to a region now known as the lake district, because on every hand the vista is studded with sparkling waters settled into mountain basins.88

Delving Deeper

Location of Antioch

The Antioch they reached after their climb was one of sixteen Antiochs in the ancient world.89 Its common name therefore specified its location, yet was slightly inaccurate. Although the city overlooked the region known as Pisidia, it was an outpost of Phrygia, another region to the northwest.90 Nevertheless, people called it Pisidian Antioch to distinguish it from a Phrygian Antioch much farther from the border.91 Although actually beyond Pisidia, the Antioch visited by Paul's party was still within southern Galatia.92

Delving Still Deeper

Possible reasons for haste

Many readers are puzzled that Luke makes no mention of Paul and Barnabas attempting to start a church in Perga. The easy explanation is that they refrained from preaching there because it contained no synagogue to serve as springboard for reaching both Jews and gentiles. Yet it appears that on their way north they also made no stop to witness for Christ at any of the other towns or cities lying along their road. The account is silent about evangelism until they reach Antioch.

The question as to why Paul went straight from Paphos in Cyprus to Antioch near Pisidia has provoked much discussion. One popular explanation takes its cue from an interesting coincidence. After winning Sergius Paulus to faith in Christ, Paul went directly to the city where, according to several inscriptions, his family were influential landholders at a slightly later time—during the latter portion of the first century and the early portion of the second. Some students of Acts have decided that the coincidence must be more than mere chance. They have therefore built what they feel is a reasonable scenario, as follows.93 The Paullus family were already established in the same Galatian area at the time of Paul's visit to Cyprus. After the proconsul found salvation, his fervent desire was to send the gospel to his own family not far away, and he extracted from Paul a promise to go next to Antioch. So, Paul's immediate journey to that city was to fulfill an obligation. Yet he went gladly, by his own preference, because he expected an unusually fruitful outreach, for he carried with him the endorsement of a powerful man, no less than a Roman senator and proconsul, and a man that the people of Antioch knew and respected. Against this explanation is the total absence of evidence that Paul, after coming to Antioch, actually exploited his ties with Sergius Paulus. He went first to the Jews, as we will see, and the elite in the city did not prove receptive to this message.

Some are convinced that Paul's epistle to the Galatians provides the true explanation for his journey bypassing other cities so that he might come more quickly to Antioch: "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first" (Gal. 4:13). Ramsay's interpretation of this text is that Paul went to Antioch and other cities in the mountainous region of Galatia in the hope of finding escape from the hotter climate along the coast, where he suffered more acutely from bouts of chronic malarial fever.94 The difficulty in this conjecture is that a long hike into the mountains seems a strange choice for a sick man looking for relief.

A better explanation of this text considers what Paul says further on in the same epistle. "For I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me" (Gal. 4:13, 15). Later he says, "Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand" (Gal. 6:11). The medical doctor A. Rendle Short drew the most plausible inference. "A simple explanation of all these passages is that Paul had some disease of the eyes which from time to time flared up, was repulsive to look at, and interfered with his sight. Trachoma, a chronic and intractable form of conjunctivitis exceedingly common in Palestine, would correspond exactly."95 Trachoma arises from a bacterial infection that has virtually disappeared from the developed world, but has always been prevalent in societies lacking good sanitation.96 We may speculate that Paul's trachoma started or became much worse just before coming to Perga, perhaps as a result of exposure to bacteria while on board ship. Risk of this disease is correlated with "lack of water, absence of latrines or toilets, poverty in general, flies, close proximity to cattle, crowding."97

Yet it would be straining probability to conclude that eye disease sent Paul from Perga to southern Galatia. Paul was not so unrealistic as to imagine that a walk northward would make his eyes feel better. Using health reasons to explain why he went to Antioch starts with a misunderstanding of Galatians 4:13. He says that he first preached to them "through infirmity of the flesh." A more literal rendering is this: "In weakness of the flesh I announced the glad tidings to you at the first."98 He is not saying why he went to them. Rather, he is merely reminding them that throughout his visit, he was struggling with a serious malady, which later in the epistle we discover was an affliction of his eyes. We conclude that despite the trachoma that assaulted him after sailing on the Mediterranean, he did not shrink from further missionary work, but plodded forward over hundreds of miles to reach the lost with life-saving truth.

Getting Practical

A sound missions strategy

The probable reason Paul delayed evangelistic efforts until he reached Antioch is that Antioch was the most important city in southern Galatia.99 In relation to the surrounding region, it was a stronghold of Roman interests, a military capital, a commercial and cultural center, and the site of a pagan temple drawing worshipers from distant places. With a population estimated at 10,000, it was also larger than other cities nearby. It affirmed its importance by means of its outward appearance. Visitors could not help but admire its well-designed walls and streets and public buildings, all laid out so that at their focal point, in the place of greatest prominence, was a splendid imperial temple dedicated to Augustus.100

Restricting evangelism to regional centers was a deliberate strategy that Paul and Barnabas had already used in Cyprus. They focused their efforts on Salamis and Paphos, the two leading cities on the island. It was a strategy that Paul followed throughout his career. He targeted the hubs of civilization—Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus—while giving little attention to minor cities along the way. The reason is obvious. Once the gospel is established in a regional center, the new believers will, in obedience to Jesus' command (Acts 1:8), take it to their own Judea and Samaria—their immediate neighbors—thus finishing the job of evangelizing the region as a whole.

A sound missions strategy implements the same principle that guides good decisions in many practical realms of life. The quickest way to burn down a field of weedy growth is to scatter some large brush piles throughout the area and set them ablaze

The city targeted by the apostles promised a good harvest of souls. First, it was a military center affording opportunities to reach soldiers, who were always an audience receptive to the gospel. About 3000 veterans lived in the city.101 Second, it had a substantial Jewish population. Josephus testifies that two centuries earlier, two thousand Jewish families had been resettled in the general area of Phrygia.102 Third, it was a Roman colony, therefore more open to the ministry of a Roman citizen like Paul.

On the Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue in Antioch and sat down with the congregation. The service went according to custom. First there were prayers followed by readings from both the Law and the prophets. Then one or more suitable teachers chosen beforehand arose and gave instruction, often focused on explaining and applying the readings.103

After the preliminaries during the service attended by Paul and Barnabas, the rulers of the synagogue invited them to speak. It has been suggested that the apostles were recognized as teachers because they wore the dress of Pharisees.104 But it is more likely that the apostles were called upon because the rulers had met them before the service began. Perhaps when Paul and Barnabas entered the city during the previous week, they had sought out the leaders of the Jewish community and introduced themselves, with the result that the rulers of the synagogue scheduled Paul and Barnabas to preach in the next Sabbath service.105

Paul, accepting the invitation, stood up and began his sermon. In his opening words he addressed two kinds of people in the audience. There were Jews and there were God-fearers. As we explained before, "God-fearers" was the usual name for gentiles who regularly attended a synagogue and worshiped the God of Israel.

Like Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin, Paul’s began with a review of Israel’s history. The lesson Stephen drew from it was that the nation had always been rebellious, but Paul intended a very different lesson. He wanted to show how gracious God had always been to His people. In days long ago, He chose their fathers to receive His special favor. After the twelve tribes fell into bondage in Egypt, He delivered them and exalted them above their enemies. He tolerated their disobedience in the wilderness. He secured a home for them in Canaan by destroying other nations. For their protection and guidance, He provided judges to rule them about four hundred and fifty years. Then, for the same purpose, He gave them a king, Saul, and afterward He replaced Saul with a better king, David, who was a man after God’s own heart.

Delving Deeper

An apparent contradiction

Paul measures the period of the judges as 450 years. Yet according to 1 Kings 6:1, the time span from the exodus (an earlier starting point by at least fifty years) to the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (a later terminal point by more than eighty years; see 2 Sam. 5:4 and Acts 13:21) was only 480 years. Many critics have complained that Paul has fallen into gross inaccuracy. But his true meaning appears in a better translation. He says, literally, "About 450 years after these things he gave judges."106 In other words, the Lord gave judges about 450 years after Jacob’s family migrated to Egypt.107 Israel’s sojourn in Pharaoh’s land lasted about 400 years (Acts 7:6), forty years elapsed during their wilderness wanderings (Deut. 29:5), and the nation’s conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership took perhaps another ten years, giving a sum of 450 years. Paul inserts "about" before the number to inform us that it is approximate.

Declaring Christ

Acts 13:23-41

Continuing, Paul revealed why God had always treated the Israelites as His chosen people. He preserved them and bestowed upon them His special care so that someday they could produce the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Paul reminded his audience of God’s disclosure to David and the prophets that the Messiah would come from David’s line.

Pondering a Question

Where does the Old Testament prophesy the Davidic lineage of Christ?

The first great king of Israel was David, who reigned about 1000 BC. When David asked the Lord for permission to build Him a temple, the Lord refused, but rewarded his devotion by making an everlasting covenant with him and his descendants. "And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam. 7:16). The psalmist’s elaboration of this covenant is more explicit. "His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me" (Ps. 89:36). "His seed [singular108]" who would possess an eternal kingdom is Christ.

Many prophecies of the Old Testament concur that the future king of the world—that is, the Messiah—will be David’s descendant (1 Chron. 17:11-14; Ps. 89; 132; Isa. 9:6-7). Jeremiah called the Messiah a branch of David (Jer. 23:5). Similarly, Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as a branch from the root of Jesse, David’s father (Isa. 11:1). Later prophets simplified the image and called Him just the Branch (Jer. 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12; Ps. 132:17, where "bud" is a verb form of the word "Branch" in Jer. 23:5109).

Paul now made the sensational announcement that he had been preparing his audience to accept. He said that the Messiah had recently come. He was Jesus. Paul said no more to identify Him because Jews everywhere had no doubt heard something about Jesus’ life and ministry.

In just a few words, Paul presented a strong case that Jesus was the Christ.

1. He was David’s seed—that is, a descendant of David. The apostles could declare this fact without fear of contradiction because the truth was well-known. During Jesus’ lifetime, many outside the group of His close followers hailed Him as the son of David (Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30). The crowds greeted Him as a king rightfully entitled "the son of David" when He rode a donkey into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His death (Matt. 21:9, 15). When Jesus was on trial, Pilate, the Roman governor, asked Him whether He was the king of the Jews (John 18:33). Later, Pilate ordered a sign declaring "King of the Jews" to be hung over Jesus’ cross (John 19:19–22). It is obvious that even the Romans knew about Jesus’ royal pedigree.

Delving Deeper

General knowledge of Jesus’ descent

Jews today still revere the Babylonian Talmud, a vast collection of rabbinical teachings and traditions reduced to writing in about AD 600. This ancient document preserves several traditions concerning Jesus.

One of the oldest of these, originating between AD 70 and 200,110 declares, "On the eve of Passover, Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of Passover."111 The Talmud preserves how Ulla, a third-century rabbi, commented on this tradition: "Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him? He was a deceiver, and the All-merciful says: 'You shall not spare him, neither shall you conceal him.' It was different with Jesus, for he was near to the kingship."112

The claim that the Sanhedrin gave Jesus special treatment because He was "near to the kingship" is not true. It is merely an effort to sidestep the accusation that the Sanhedrin treated Jesus unjustly. But it is significant as proof that the Davidic descent of Jesus was widely known and was never disputed even by His enemies.

2. John the Baptist, a man all Jews accepted as a prophet of God, testified that Jesus was the Christ. John said that he was not worthy even to untie Jesus’ shoelaces (John 1:26–27). Untying these was a first, small chore when a servant washed the feet of a visitor to his master’s home. Thus, what John meant was that he was not worthy even to begin washing Jesus’ feet.

3. In rejecting Jesus and sending Him to die as a common criminal, the Jewish leaders brought to pass exactly what Scripture prophesied of the Messiah’s treatment by His own people.

Delving Deeper

Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s death

Many Old Testament texts foresee that the Jews would heap abuse upon their Messiah, but the most famous and the one most likely on Paul’s mind when he preached in Antioch is Isaiah 53, which we discussed at some length in our commentary on Acts 8. Isaiah gives a vivid picture of the Messiah’s self-sacrifice for our sake.

  1. He would bear our sins. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (v. 6).
  2. He would take the punishment for our sins upon Himself. "He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (v. 5).
  3. He would be condemned by a court of law. He was "numbered with the transgressors" (v. 12).
  4. The verdict of death by execution would fall upon Him despite His complete innocence. He had "done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth" (v. 9).
  5. At the end of His suffering He would die. He "made his grave with the wicked" (v. 9).

4. God raised up Jesus from the dead. He then appeared to His own followers so that they could declare to all that He was alive.

Delving Deeper

Strong proof of Jesus’ resurrection

The Resurrection is the best-attested event in antiquity. We have affirmations of it in the writings of no less than five eyewitnesses: Matthew (Matt. 28), Mark (Mark 16:9–19), John (John 20–21), Peter (1 Pet. 1:3), and Paul (1 Cor. 15:8). James and Jude, two more eyewitnesses (both were in the Upper Room at Pentecost, and Paul in First Corinthians 15:7 specifically names James as an eyewitness), do not in their epistles refer to the Resurrection, yet in speaking of Jesus as the living Lord (Jas. 2:1; 5:7–9; Jude 4, 21), they are surely expressing certainty that He rose from the dead. So, the number of eyewitnesses that can be called upon to validate the Resurrection as a historical fact is seven, the perfect number.

By comparison, any ancient event ignored by Scripture has meager confirmation in surviving records. These are not altogether void of eyewitness testimony. Josephus, who served as Roman spokesman during the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, furnishes a lengthy story of the holocaust in his Wars of the Jews. Julius Caesar gives a detailed account of his ruthless bloodletting among the Gauls in his Gallic Wars. But what we know otherwise about the Greek and Roman world generally depends on secondhand information relayed to us by one of the major historians, such as Tacitus, Josephus, Suetonius, or Plutarch. Occasionally, they agree with each other or with some surviving inscription or official document. But rarely in our study of antiquity, if we exclude Scripture as a source, do we find an event attested by two eyewitnesses. To find an event attested by three would be a challenge. I myself know of none. But an event attested by five—actually seven—eyewitnesses? We can say with confidence that none exists. The strong evidential foundation underlying our belief in the Resurrection has no parallel in extrabiblical records of man’s history in the era of Christ, or indeed in all the millennia before modern times.

5. His resurrection fulfilled several prophecies in the Old Testament. Paul emphasized David's prophecy in Psalm 16 that the Holy One would die, but not see corruption—the same prophecy that Peter had used so effectively in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:24–31). The Jews thought that David was speaking about himself, so Paul pointed out that David did not escape corruption after he died. His body decomposed like any other dead body. The Holy One who would rise from the grave before His body succumbed to decay was Christ.

Paul then explained why it is important to believe in Jesus. By believing in Him, we gain two great benefits. First, we obtain forgiveness of sins and avoid the penalty we deserve. Second, we are justified before God. That is, God credits us with the moral perfection of Jesus. We need to be perfect ourselves in order to live forever with a God who is perfect. The Jews thought they could be justified just by keeping the law of Moses, but Paul said they were badly mistaken. He did not show the fallacy in their thinking, because he expected them to see the obvious. To keep the whole law is impossible—every person's life is a continual slipping into sin of one kind or another.

Paul's closing words were a stern warning taken from "the prophets." He quoted Habakkuk 1:5, which he applied to the future day when Christ would die for the sins of mankind. When the world heard what Christ had done, many would not believe. Whoever despised Him and despised the message of salvation would perish in his sins.

Getting Practical

A complete message

Paul's final warning to unbelievers is an example for us. If we encounter resistance when witnessing for Christ, we should, with gentleness and evident compassion, warn of the consequences in rejecting Him.

Great Interest

Acts 13:42-43

Paul's sermon had an electrifying effect on the synagogue. After the service, the Jews left first, as was evidently the custom. But Paul and Barnabas stayed behind and greeted the gentiles, who begged them to preach again on the following Sabbath. These God-fearers were eager to hear more, because they wanted to make the right decision. They did not want to suffer the awful fate that, according to Paul's sermon, awaited anyone who despised God's work of salvation.

When Paul and Barnabas walked outside, a large number of Jews and Jewish proselytes were waiting for them. They fell in behind the apostles as they walked along and listened as they exhorted the group of followers "to continue in the grace of God." This advice applied equally to those who already believed and those who were inclined to believe. By welcoming the gospel, they had allowed God's grace to work in their hearts. Now they needed to remain open to whatever else God would teach them.

Turning to the Gentiles

Acts 13:44-49

As the gentiles requested, Paul and Barnabas returned to the synagogue on the following Sabbath. The news of their appearance a week earlier had caused such a stir that nearly every Jew and gentile in the city came to hear them preach again. The synagogue was packed. Probably never before had the Jews seen such a multitude gather to hear the Word of God.

Pondering a Question

How could "almost the whole city" fit in the synagogue?

Since the gathering crowd would have been much larger than the synagogue could hold, many commentators accuse Luke of exaggeration when he says "almost the whole city." Some view his words as an inexcusable lie intended to boost the reader's admiration of Paul, others as excusable hyperbole—that is, as an overstatement which expresses how amazing the number was, but which we are expected to recognize as not literally true.113

The simple answer is that as people were arriving at the synagogue, it soon became obvious that the space inside would be inadequate, and a decision was made to transfer the service elsewhere, probably to a venue outside. Schnabel, with his characteristically good judgment, suggests several possible sites, one being the open space in front of the synagogue itself.114

If Luke were descending into lie or hyperbole, he would not have bothered to attach "almost" to "the whole city."115

Some of the regular attendees were glad. But some, especially among the Jewish leaders, were very upset. One reason was jealousy. They resented the apostles’ ability to draw far more people than ever came to hear them. Probably another reason was fear—fear that if the new teaching was widely accepted, they would lose control of the synagogue. Leadership would pass to others.

Delving Deeper

Reasons for resistance

Other factors may have been involved as well. Perhaps the Jewish leaders were simply distrustful of anything new. That is, they were content with their traditions, and they jumped to rejection of the gospel without investigating all the facts supporting it.

Perhaps also their reaction revealed prejudice against the gentiles. They liked having the gentiles sit in the back and listen to Jewish teachers. But maybe they sensed that Paul brought a leveling message, proposing to create a new body of believers that would bring gentiles into equality with Jews, whereas the Jews liked to be superior.

For whatever reasons, at least some Jewish leaders presented themselves to the crowd and began to denounce Paul and Barnabas. They contradicted what Paul taught and blasphemed the name of Jesus. But Paul and Barnabas did not shrink into silence. They boldly rebuked their opponents. They stated that it was their duty to preach the gospel to the Jews first. But now that the Jewish leaders had scorned their opportunity for eternal life, the apostles would turn to the gentiles and offer them the gospel. Paul quoted Isaiah 49:6, which prophesied that Christ would provide salvation not for the Jews only, but for the whole world.

The gentiles were delighted at this turn of events. The gentiles "glorified the word of the Lord"—the word that promised salvation to all. They were glad that above the gate of heaven there was no sign reading "Jews only." The message that Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch of Pisidia apparently won few converts among the Jews, but many among the gentiles.

The ones who believed were "ordained to eternal life." That is, throughout eternity beyond time, God had always known and loved those He would fashion into the likeness of Christ. Their coming to Christ was the outworking of an eternal plan.

The new believers were so excited about the gospel that they quickly spread it to the whole surrounding region.

Apostles Expelled

Acts 13:50-52

Meanwhile in Antioch, the Jews hostile to the apostles were busy trying to stop them. They enlisted on their side a number of important people, both women and men. The women were possibly devout Jews, very attached to their religious traditions, but more likely they were aristocratic gentile woman who had been attending the synagogue as God-fearers.116 The men were gentile leaders of the city. These two factions when combined had enough power to make Paul and Barnabas leave town.

Here is where Paul may have first heard the accusation that the new sect known as the Way was not a legal religion. The religion of the Jews was a religio licita—that is, the Romans had granted it official toleration and conceded to it certain rights. Jewish enemies of the gospel were quick to argue that this toleration should not extend to any religious body so distinct from traditional Judaism as the church.

Paul and Barnabas were not defeated. They merely shook the dust of Antioch off their shoes and marched on to another town.

Pondering a Question

What was the meaning in shaking the dust off their shoes?

Shaking off the dust was a gesture that Jesus told His disciples to perform whenever they left a city resistant to the truth (Matt. 10:14). It signified that they were departing clean from all the dirt of unbelief found in that city. It therefore served both as a reminder to the disciples to shake off the city’s influence and as a public testimony to all the watching unbelievers that they had not deterred the disciples from their mission.

The new disciples left behind in Antioch were still filled with joy about their salvation. The source of their joy was the Holy Spirit, whose presence in their hearts would have multiplied not only their joy, but also many other wonderful virtues, including love and peace (Gal. 5:22).

Getting Practical

Signs of the Spirit

Many people today are interested in religion if it relieves their boredom and adds excitement to their lives. Especially attractive is the false religion we might call emotionalism, which replaces true worship with dramatic experiences falsely attributed to the Holy Spirit. These include laughing or sobbing uncontrollably, jumping with hysterical joy or falling down as if slain, speaking gibberish or becoming dead silent, as well as many other childish and disreputable forms of behavior. But the first and primary evidence of the real Spirit is the quiet virtues listed in Galatians 5:22.

Getting Practical

Normal Christianity

In the conversions recorded in Acts, the result was a dramatic change from living for self to living for God. We should view the Christianity of the early church as normal Christianity, not as exceptional Christianity. In our churches today, we do not see many dramatic turnarounds after decisions for Christ. Why? One reason is that many people who come forward for salvation in postmodern America view religion not as truth, but as something to try. They have a consumer mentality. To counter this trend, the church should always keep truth claims in the forefront. It should always clearly recommend Christianity on the grounds that it is true, not on the grounds that it works. It does work as a solution to problems and as a source of purpose in life, but it works because it is true.


  1. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 541; Merrill F. Unger, "Niger," in Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 792.
  2. Harold W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), 14.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Richard N. Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 416; Philip W. Comfort, New Testament ed., New Commentary on the Whole Bible (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990), 306; John Phillips, Exploring Acts: The Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1986), 244-245.
  5. Arndt and Gingrich, 785–786. The original name of Peter is spelled both ways (compare Acts 15:14 and 2 Pet. 1:1 with Luke 5:4 and John 21:15).
  6. Longenecker, 416; James Morison, A Practical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1892), 427; R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 641; Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (repr. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.), 2.587.
  7. Longenecker, 416; Morison, 427; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 2.231.
  8. John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), 107–116.
  9. Hoehner, 14–15.
  10. F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 294; Longenecker, 417.
  11. Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul & the Early Church, vol. 2 of Early Christian Mission (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 1075.
  12. Schnabel, 1079–1080; Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007), 442; Longenecker, 419.
  13. Philo De Legatione 282.
  14. Schnabel, 1075, 1080–1082.
  15. Ibid., 1080, 1082; Bock, 443.
  16. George Ricker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (N.p., 1897; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1981), 474.
  17. Unger, "Bar-jesus," Dictionary, 125.
  18. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 297; Bock, 443.
  19. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 410.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Tos. Hullin 2.22–24; TB Avodah Zarah 27b. The first of these refers to "Jesus son of Pantera," a name that rabbinical texts often use for Jesus. See discussion of its possible meaning in F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 57–58.
  22. W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908), 72–73.
  23. Bock, 445; John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Publishing Group, 1999), 86.
  24. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 295.
  25. Ibid.; Polhill, 17–18.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Schnabel, 1084.
  28. Rainer Riesner, Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 140.
  29. T. B. Mitford, "Notes on Some Published Inscriptions from Roman Cyprus," Annual of the British School at Athens, 42 (1947), 203–204.
  30. Ramsay, St. Paul, 74.
  31. Mitford, 205.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid., 205–206.
  34. Schnabel, 1086.
  35. Mitford, 205.
  36. Ibid.; Riesner, 138.
  37. Pliny Natural History 1.2, 1:18.
  38. J. B. Lightfoot, Essays on the Work Entitled Supernatural Religion (London: Macmillan and Co., 1893), 295; Riesner, 141-142.
  39. Pliny Natural History 2.210.
  40. Schnabel, 1086; Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 297.
  41. Schnabel, 1085-1086; Riesner, 140, 146.
  42. William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), 150–151; Schnabel, 1085.
  43. Ramsay, Recent Discovery,150-152; Schnabel, 1085. Riesner, 140, prefers to identify him as the elder's grandson.
  44. Ramsay, Recent Discovery, 152–157; Schnabel, 1085.
  45. Schnabel, 1085.
  46. Ibid.; Igor Wypijewski and Wojciech Pietruszka, "C. Caristanius Fronto from Sutrium?" Tyche: Contributions to Ancient History, Papyrology and Epigraphy 28 (2013): 191.
  47. Ramsay, Recent Discovery, 157; Schnabel, 1085.
  48. Cilliers Breytenbach, Paulus und Barnabas in der Provinz Galatien (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996), 183; Schnabel, 1085.
  49. "List of Roman consuls," Wikipedia, Web (, Jun22, 2017; Schnabel, 1086.
  50. Polhill, 16.
  51. Schnabel, 1086.
  52. Ibid., 1085.
  53. "List of Roman consuls."
  54. Schnabel, 1086.
  55. Charles C. Torrey, "The Magic of 'Lotapes,'" Journal of Biblical Literature 68 (1949): 325–327.
  56. Pliny Natural History 30.2.11.
  57. Chrysostom Homilies on the Acts 28.
  58. Schnabel, 1086; Riesner, 141; Marta Sordi, The Christians and the Roman Empire, trans. Annabel Bedini (1983; repr., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 185-186.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Ibid.
  61. "List of Roman consuls."
  62. Ibid.
  63. Dio Cassius Roman History 67.14.1–3; Schnabel, 1086; Sordi, 185; Riesner, 141.
  64. "Roman naming conventions," Wikipedia, Web (, June 23, 2017.
  65. Schnabel, 925.
  66. Polhill, 17, 86.
  67. Schnabel, 1087–1088; Jerome Lives of Illustrious Men 5.
  68. Jerome Lives of Illustrious Men 5; Schnabel, 926; Riesner, 152.
  69. Polhill, 16; Riesner, 152-153.
  70. Ibid; Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891), 2.2.57; Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 187.
  71. Philo The Embassy to Gaius 155–157; Polhill, 16; Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 187.
  72. Polhill 8, 16.
  73. Ibid., 16; Riesner, 146.
  74. Riesner, 145-146.
  75. Unger, "Paul," Dictionary, 831.
  76. Schnabel, 1074.
  77. Ibid., 1089–1090.
  78. Ibid., 1074.
  79. Ibid., 1092; Polhill, 87; Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 187.
  80. Longenecker, 421; Thomas Walker, Acts of the Apostles (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965; repr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1984), 318; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Acts of the Apostles: An Exposition (n.p.; Our Hope Press, 1912; repr., Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1977), 238–239.
  81. Schnabel, 1092; Polhill, 87.
  82. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. complete and unabridged in one vol. (repr. Peabody Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 2120.
  83. Schnabel, 1074.
  84. Morison, 408–409; C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to Saint Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 438; France, 595–596.
  85. Schnabel, 1074.
  86. Bock, 450; Polhill, 87; Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 300.
  87. Schnabel, 1075–1076, 1614.
  88. Ibid., 1093.
  89. Longenecker, 422; Polhill, 87.
  90. Strabo Geography 12.6.4.
  91. Schnabel, 1093–1094; Longenecker, 422.
  92. Schnabel, 1094; Polhill, 88.
  93. Polhill, 91; Schnabel, 1088.
  94. Ramsay, St. Paul, 94–97.
  95. A. Rendle Short, The Bible and Modern Medicine: A Survey of Health and Healing in the Old and New Testaments (Exeter, Devon, England: Paternoster Press, 1953; repr., Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 77.
  96. "Trachoma," Wikipedia, Web (, July 3, 2017.
  97. Ibid.
  98. Berry, 675–676.
  99. Schnabel, 1098; Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 300; Bock, 450.
  100. Schnabel, 1099–1103.
  101. Ibid., 1099.
  102. Jos. Ant. 12.3.4.
  103. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 301.
  104. Longenecker, 423.
  105. Polhill, 88.
  106. Berry, 475.
  107. Bruce, Acts, 3rd ed., 304; Bock, 452.
  108. Jay P. Green, Sr., The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew/English, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983), 3:1474; Davidson, 243.
  109. James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (repr., McLean, Va.: MacDonald Publishing Co., n.d.), 140, 153; James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible with Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version, in Strong’s Concordance, 100; Green, 3:1518, 3:1792.
  110. Bruce, Origins, 55.
  111. TB Sanhedrin 43a.
  112. Ibid., trans. Bruce, Origins, 56.
  113. Schnabel, 1105.
  114. Ibid., 1105-1106.
  115. Ibid., 1105.
  116. Ibid., 1107.

Further Reading

This lesson appears in Ed Rickard's In Perils Abounding: Commentary on Acts 1-14. For further information, click here.