Acts 13

The Word Made Fresh

1At Antioch there were prophets and teachers in the church, including Barnabas, Simeon (also known as Niger), Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who was a member of Herod the tetrarch’s court, and Saul. 2They were fasting, and while they were worshiping the Lord the Holy Spirit told them, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for the work I have called them to do.” 3They fasted and prayed, and then placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them out.

4Encouraged by the Holy Spirit they went to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5At Salamis they spoke the word of God in the Jewish synagogues, and John helped them. 6They traveled the whole island, all the way to Paphos where they met a false prophet of the Jews, a magician named Bar-Jesus. 7He was summoned by the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man who wished to hear God’s word. 8But the magician (whose name translated is Elymas) spoke against them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9Then Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked him in the eye 10and said, “You son of the devil. You enemy of all that is right, stop trying to make the Lord’s straight pathway crooked. 11Listen – the Lord’s hand is against you, and you will be blind for a spell and unable to see even the sun.” Immediately Elymas found himself in mist and darkness and had to go around groping for someone to lead him by hand. 12When the proconsul saw this, he believed, and he was astounded by what they had taught him about the Lord.

13Then Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John left them and went back to Jerusalem, 14and they went from Perga to Antioch in Pisidia. On the sabbath day they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15There were readings from the law and the prophets, and then the synagogue leaders said to them, “Brothers, if you have a word of encouragement for us, please share.”

16So, Paul stood and gestured that he would like to speak. He said, “Men, Israelites, and all who fear God, listen. 17The God of Israel chose our ancestors and enlarged our people during their sojourn in Egypt. With a powerful arm God led them out, 18and for about forty years accompanied them in the wilderness. 19God destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan and gave our ancestors their land as an inheritance for around four hundred fifty years, then sent judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21They asked for a king, and God gave them Saul, son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. He reigned for forty years, 22and then the Lord removed him and made David their king, saying, ‘I have found that David, son of Jesse, is a man after my own heart and he will do all that I wish.’ 23From this man’s posterity God brought a Savior, Jesus. 24John had already preached a baptism of repentance to the people of Israel before Jesus came. 25As John was completing his work he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the one, but he is coming after me. I’m not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’

26“Brothers, you are the descendants of Abraham, and along with others who fear God, we have been given this message of salvation. 27But because the people of Jerusalem and their leaders didn’t recognize him for who he was, nor did they understand the prophets whose words are read every Sabbath, they made those words come to pass when they condemned him. 28They found no legal reason to pass the death sentence, but they asked Pilate to have him put to death. 29So, everything that had been written about him was fulfilled, and they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead! 31And for many days he appeared to those who had come with him from Galilee to Jerusalem; and now they are his witnesses to all the people. 32We are here to give you the good news that what God promised to our forebearers 33has come to pass for us, their children. God raised up Jesus just as it is written in the second psalm –

‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’

34“And as to his rising from the dead, never again to return to it, he has spoken these words;

‘I will give to you the sacred promises that were made to David.’

35“In another psalm it is also said, ‘You will not let your Holy One experience decay.’

36“After David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he died and was buried beside his ancestors, and his body decayed. 37But the one God raised from the dead did not experience the decay of the body. 38So, be it known to you, brethren, that through this man the forgiveness of sins is promised to you, 39and by this everyone who believes is freed from all the sins the law of Moses could not free you from. 40Be careful, then, that what the prophet said doesn’t happen to you: 41‘Look, you mockers – be amazed and perish, because in your time I am going to do something you will never believe, even if someone tells you about it.’”

42As they were leaving, the people begged them to speak about these things again the next Sabbath day. 43When the meeting ended, many of the Jews and the true converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44The next Sabbath nearly everyone in the city gathered to hear God’s word.

45But the Jews were jealous when they saw the crowd and they cursed and contradicted what Paul told them. 46But Paul and Barnabas both spoke out boldly. They said, “It was necessary for the word of God to be spoken to you first, but since you have rejected it and shown yourselves to be undeserving of eternal life, we’ll go now to the Gentiles 47because that is what the Lord has told us to do. He said, “I have made you to be a light for the Gentiles so that you might bring salvation to every corner of the world.’”

48The Gentiles were happy to hear this. They praised the word of the Lord, and those who were to receive eternal life became believers. 49So, the word of the Lord spread throughout that area. 50But the Jews stirred up the devout women of status and the important men of the city, and persecuted Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of their area. 51So, in protest, they shook the dust off their feet and went to Iconium, 52and the disciples were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit.


1-3: Of the leaders named here, Manaen is mentioned nowhere else. Simeon appears at the Council of Jerusalem (15:14) and Lucius is named as one of Paul’s companions in Rome (Romans 16:21). Note that some of the leaders in the church in Antioch have come from Libya. Note also that the faith is not absent in the halls of government. I wish Luke would tell us more about how they know the Holy Spirit has spoken to them. Somehow they know that to be the case, and Saul and Barnabas become a missionary team.

4-12: They sail to Cyprus with John (John Mark) and tour the island from east (Salamis) to west (Paphos). At Paphos the Gentile governor of the island, Sergius Paulus, summons them and wants to hear what they have to say. Bar-Jesus, a Jew and probably one of the proconsul’s advisers, opposes them. Sergius Paulus is intelligent; Bar-Jesus is deceitful. Luke underlines the conversion of the proconsul by turning the names of Bar-Jesus and Saul into their Greek names, Elymas and Paul. It was common for Jews who mingled with the Gentile world to assume a more international sounding name. It will be Paul from now on. Elymas is struck blind, Luke tells us, for his opposition to the gospel. I must note, however, that Jesus never punished anyone.

13-15: From Paphos they sail north-northwest to Perga, situated on the Cestrus River a few miles inland in what is now Turkey. Perga is the cathedral city of the goddess Artemis. Up to this point Barnabas has been the leader, but from now on Paul will be mentioned first, and the rest of the book of Acts will concern his missionary activity exclusively. John (Mark) leaves them and returns to Jerusalem. Paul later says Mark had “deserted” them (see 15:36-39). They did not attempt to preach in Perga, perhaps because there was no synagogue there, and initially Paul’s missionary activity was to the house of Israel. So, they travel to Pisidian Antioch where they attend the synagogue gathering on Friday evening. The leader asks if they have a word.

16-25: Paul addresses his comments both to the Jews and to “you that fear God,” meaning Gentiles sympathetic to the Jewish faith. His sermon uses a familiar form; a brief history of God’s relationship with the people of Israel, the promise of a Savior, and the appearance of John the baptizer announcing the coming of the Messiah. Now he will turn to the story of Jesus, but he has made it clear that it will be a continuation of the story of Israel.

26-41: Paul stops for a second, and then starts his sermon again, this time addressing all of them as “my brothers,” but he tailors his sermon specifically for use in a foreign land, drawing a distinction between his listeners in Asia Minor and “those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers.” It was a prominent feature of early Christian preaching that all of this was in keeping with what the prophets foretold. To that end he quotes several passages from the Psalms (2:7 and 16:10) and the prophets (Isaiah 55:3 and Habakkuk 1:5). He points out the sharp contrast between Jesus and David: David died, but Jesus’ body did not “see decay.” Jesus is the One through whom forgiveness is given. The Law does not have such power; it only has the power of convicting us of sin.

42-43: Paul and Barnabas have made a big splash. The people are eager to hear them again, but some of the leaders slink home that night licking their imaginary wounds, green with envy. That’s just too many cliches to bode well for our team.

44-47: The next Friday the synagogue is crammed. The leaders have crafted an argument against Paul and Barnabas. Verses 46 and 47 are arguably among the most important verses in the New Testament. Ever since their experience in Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas have no doubt debated the place of Gentiles in this new faith. When the confrontation in Antioch reaches an impasse, they fall back on what was surely an already agreed upon Plan B: if the Jews refuse the gospel, turn to the Gentiles. Rather than arguing themselves hoarse, they simply capitulate. Quoting Isaiah 49:6 they leave the synagogue, forever changing the face of Christianity. The verse they quote is an extraordinary one. They quote only the last part of it. Here is the whole of it: “It’s too easy a thing for you to serve me by raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the remnants of Israel; I’m going to give you as a light to all the nations, and you shall deliver my salvation to the remotest parts of the earth.”

48-52: Paul and Barnabas are now having great success receiving many converts from among the Gentile population in Antioch of Pisidia, but their success comes at a price. The synagogue officials line up some powerful opposition in the city against Paul and Barnabas and drive them out of the city and the whole district. But our dynamic duo takes it in stride and shakes off the dust from their feet in a gesture suggested by Jesus himself when he sent out the first missionaries (Luke 10:11), and they leave behind a new church — “the disciples” in verse 52 is not a reference to Paul and Barnabas. They are apostles now. The disciples referred to here are the new converts in the city.


Thank God for Paul and Barnabas and the others who risked their lives to tell people about Jesus. Is our faith strong enough to do the same?