January 16, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV. The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic C: The Second Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)                 

                          

                                                                            

         Lesson: Iv.C.2: Paul/Timothy in S. Galatia To Deliver Council's Decrees (16:1-5)

 

 

Scripture (Acts 16:1-5; KJV)

1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.

2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.

5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Paul’s return trip to southern Galatia appears to have been much less eventful than his first visit.  But the only incident of any significance on which Luke comments is the addition of Timothy to the missionary team. Other than that, he remarks only that the decision of the council was delivered to the churches of this region and that they were growing in maturity and numbers.  This section can be viewed as closing off Luke’s account of the council and, indeed, his whole narrative of the opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles that began in Acts 13:1. 

 

 

 

Commentary

1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.

2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

 

Then he came to Derbe and Lystra.  According to plan, Paul proceeded northward from Antioch, this time on foot, through the Cilician Gates to the cities where he and Barnabas had established churches on the first missionary tour.  This time they went from east to west and so reached the towns in the reverse order from their first visit—Derbe first, then Lystra, and finally Iconium. 

 

And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy. Paul needed an assistant.  Even more than that, he needed a companion.  No man is entirely self-sufficient, and the greater the man, the more he needs someone with whom he can share the heights and the depths of his experience.Paul had found such a man in Barnabas, and now that Barnabas was no longer with him, he selected a young man named Timothy. He lived in Lystra and Paul undoubtedly met him when he was there the first time; now he met him again.  Young Timothy undoubtedly witnessed Paul’s sufferings in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; 2 Timothy 3:10-11) and was drawn by the Lord to the apostle.  He is described as a “disciple,” which indicates that he was probably already a Christian when they met the second time. His conversion dated back to Paul and Barnabas’s first witness in that city (14:20). He was in every way an outstanding young man, well suited for the enviable place which he was about to take by the side of Paul.Timothy was to become Paul’s favorite companion and coworker (Philippians 2:19-23), perhaps the son Paul never had but always wanted.   

 

The son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. Paul knew Timothy’s mother and grandmother and they had prepared him for the decision to accept Christ as his Savior; they were the first in their family to trust Christ (2 Timothy 1:5).

 

He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

After being commission by the elders of the local church (1 Timothy 4:14 and; 2 Timothy 1:6), he joined Paul and Silas. Luke added that Timothy was well spoken of by Christians in Lystra and Iconium.  Derbe is not mentioned because it lay some 60 miles southeast of Lystra. Lystra was only 20 miles or so from Iconium, and a close relationship between the Christians of the two cities would have been natural.

 

 

3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

 

Luke’s note that Timothy’s mother was Jewish and his father Greek (v. 1) is essential to understanding why Paul had Timothy circumcised.  Many scholars have argued that Paul would never have asked Timothy to be circumcised, since he objected so strenuously to that right in Galatians (6:12; 5:11). That, however, is to overlook the fact that Galatians was written to Gentiles and Timothy was considered a Jew. There was no question of circumcising Gentiles.  The decision at the Jerusalem Conference was that it was not necessary to be circumcised in order to be saved.  Gentiles would not be required to become Jews in order to be Christians.  The converse was also true: Jews would not be required to abandon their Jewishness in order to become Christians.  There is absolutely no evidence that Paul ever asked Jews to abandon circumcision as the mark of membership in God’s covenant people. 

 

According to later rabbinic law, a child born of a Jewish mother and a Greek father was considered to be Jewish.  The marriage of a Jewish woman to a non-Jew was considered a non-legal marriage; and in all instances of non-legal marriages, the linage of the child was reckoned through the mother.  According to this understanding, Timothy would have been considered a Jew.  His father, however, being a Greek, would not have had his son circumcised; and the local Jews were aware of this. 

 

Thus Paul had Timothy circumcised.  This is not because there is any merit in circumcision, but because he doesn’t want it to be an issue.  He did not allow Titus to be circumcised for fear that the enemy would think he was promoting their cause (Galatians 2:1-5). Added to that is the fact that Titus was altogether a Gentile, and there was no cultural reason to circumcise him. Timothy was circumcised therefore not as a Christian but as a Jew.

 

To some the apostle seems inconsistent, but should we expect rigid consistency from one who could write: “to the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law . . . I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20, 22).  There are fundamentals of faith in which there can be no deviation.  However, there are customs and rituals which are not essential to salvation, and I believe there is a great deal of elasticity in these areas.  Certainly circumcision had no bearing on Timothy’s salvation, but the rite was performed so that the ministry of Timothy with the Jews would not be handicapped. 

 

Paul always works through the Jewish synagogues where possible.  His fixed procedure was to reach out to the cities through the synagogues; and to preach the gospel to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles.  But such a course would have been impossible had not Timothy been circumcised.  To have had a member of his entourage be of Jewish linage and yet uncircumcised would have hampered his effectiveness among the Jews.  It was at the very least a matter of missionary strategy to circumcise Timothy (1 Corinthians 9:20).  It may have been much more, since Timothy would be working with both Jews and Gentiles in the churches, and it was essential that he not offend them. That perhaps was why Paul had Timothy circumcised (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).  Again, it was not a matter of Timothy’s salvation or personal character, but rather of avoiding serious problems that would surely become stumbling blocks as the men sought to serve the Lord—“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:13-15). Paul never abandon his own Jewish heritage. He may well have wanted Timothy to be true to his—“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” (Romans 3:1).  In any event, Paul had no missionary companion more thoroughly involved in his subsequent work than Timothy.  Paul considered him a “son”—“For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord. . .” (1 Corinthians 4:17; also see 1 Timothy 1:2).  Not only did he address letters to him, but he also listed him as co-sender in six others (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1).  He considered him his “fellow worker” (Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 16:10) and, indeed, as much more—“as a son with his father” in the work of the gospel (Philippians 2:22).

 

Timothy is from this point Paul’s constant companion?  Though at the moment he appears to be junior to Silas.  There is, however, nothing in Acts or the genuine Pauline epistles (e.g., 1 Corinthians 16:10-11; Philippians 2:22) to indicate for certain that Timothy was a young man—an inference drawn from the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy 4:12), from which also we learn that his mother’s name was Eunice and his grandmother’s Lois, and that they were godly women (2 Timothy 1:5).  Though their names are Greek, they had probably both been Jews by religion, before being converted. 

 

So far as appears, Timothy is the first Gentile who after his conversion comes before us as a regular missionary; for what is said of Titus (Galatians 2:3) refers to a later period.

 

 

4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.

 

Now three, the missionary group continues along the way, visiting the churches “from town to town.” Luke did not specify the towns they visited, but one would assume they were Iconium and Pisidian Antioch and any other villages where there may have been a Christian community resulting from the first missionary tour.  They shared the decrees from the Jerusalem Conference.  These decrees were, in brief, as follows:

  1. As far as salvation is concerned, faith alone is necessary.  Circumcision or law-keeping should not be added to faith as a condition for being saved.
  2. Sexual immorality was forbidden for all believers and for all time, but this reminder was probably addressed primarily to converted Gentiles, since this was (and is) their troubling sin.
  3. Meats offered to idols, meat from animals that had been strangled, and blood were forbidden as food, not as matters essential to salvation, but to facilitate fellowship between Jewish and Gentiles believers.  Some of these instructions were subsequently revised (see 1 Corinthians 8-10; 1 Timothy’s 4:4, 5).

 

Assuming Paul wrote Galatians after the first missionary journey, but before the Jerusalem Council, the report of the decision would be strong confirmation of the gospel which he preached and about which he wrote.  All of these churches were in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia and not a part of Syro-Cilicia, to which the decrees were addressed.  Perhaps they felt that these churches were involved because they were the product of the Antioch mission.  Luke did not mention Paul announcing them in any other cities after this, and Paul never mentioned them in his letters. 

 

 

5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

 

In the years that followed, Timothy played an important part in the expansion and strengthening of the churches.  He traveled with Paul and was often his special ambassador to the “trouble spots” in the work, such as Corinth.  Paul took a great interest in him and showered his affection upon him.  Apparently Timothy never disappointed him, for he was with him to the end, and there is not the slightest sign of anything but great happiness in the relationship.  He became shepherd of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and probably joined Paul in Rome shortly before the apostle was martyred (2 Timothy 4:21).

 

Verse 5 concludes the narrative of Paul’s return visit to these churches of his first mission.  This summary statement is not superficial or careless, however.  It underlines the importance of Paul’s concern to fortify and nurture the churches of his prior missionary efforts.  He was not only concerned with planting the seed but also to see them grow and bear fruit.  This led him to undertake the rigorous trip to southern Galatia through rugged terrain and mountain passes.  For Paul, this was another tremendous ministry in Galatia.  Not only does he visit the churches which had been founded the first time, but multitudes in other places turn to Christ.  New churches are formed and there is an increase in number daily (not the churches, but the number of their members).  He accomplished what he sought; the churches were strengthened, they flourished, and they were more prepared than ever to carry on when he left. 

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