August 11, 2014

 

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 A: The First Missionary Journey (Acts 13, 14)                             

                                                                            

Lesson: IV.A.1: The Holy Spirit Set Paul and Barnabas Apart (13:1-3)                   

 

 

Scripture (Acts 13:1-3; KJV)

 

1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

 

 

Introduction

 

Acts 13:1-14:28 tells of Paul’s first missionary journey, which he made in the Company of Barnabas; but, in this lesson (Acts 13:1-3), Barnabas and Saul, are Divinely called to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, are set apart and Sent Forth by the Church at Antioch.

 

The first seven chapters of this book might be titled, The Church among the Jews; the next five (chapters eight through twelve), The Church in Transition from Jews to Gentiles; and the last sixteen (chapters thirteen through twenty-eight), The Church among the Gentiles. Though Christianity had already spread beyond the limits of Palestine, still the Church continued to be a stranger to formal missionary effort. Casual occurrences, particularly the persecution at Jerusalem (Acts 8:2), had up till then brought about the spreading of the Gospel. It was from Antioch that teachers were first sent forth with the definite purpose of spreading Christianity, and organizing churches, with regular organizations and traditions—“And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (Ac 14:23).In every church implies that there were elders in each church; that is, that in each church there was more than one. See Acts 15:21, where a similar phraseology occurs, and where it is evident that there was more than one reader of the Law of Moses in each city. Compare Titus 1:5, “I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst ...ordain elders in every city;” Acts 20:17; “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.” It could not mean, therefore, that they appointed a single minister or pastor to each church, but they committed the whole affairs of the church to a bench of elders.

 

 

Commentary

 

1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

 

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch

 “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch”may be restated as, “Now there were at Antioch in the church that was there.” This was Antioch in Syria, where there was an existing Gospel church, and where the disciples were first called Christians; from there Saul and Barnabas had been sent to Jerusalemduring a time of famine, with a collection taken-up for the poor saints there, and now they had returned to Antioch. Prophets were a regular part of the ministry of the Church at that time (see Acts 11:27Acts 21:9, 10Romans 12:6, 71 Corinthians 12:10, 281 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:22, 24, 31, 32; Ephesians 4:11; Acts 4:26). Remember, Luke is writingfrom the standpoint of many years later. The mention and naming of the prophets and teachers in the clauses which follow is intended to indicate how rich Antioch was in prominent resources for sending forth messengers of the Gospel, which was now to take place. Thus the mother-church of Gentile Christianity had become the seminary of the mission to the Gentiles.

 

In this chapter and forward the scene of the great drama of Christianity is transferred from Jerusalem to Antioch. The role, which has previously been played by Peter and John and James, is now taken up by Barnabas and Saul, soon, however, to be classified as Paul and Barnabas. The completeness of the details in this narrative suggests that the writer himself was at Antioch during this period.

 

We have now come to the history of those three great journeys which the Apostle to the Gentiles undertook in his special work. It is fitting that the point of departure should be Antioch, the city in which Gentiles had first been joined to the Church in large numbers, and where, as of yet, there had risen no difficulty about the way in which they were received.

 

Certain prophets and teachers

The “teachers” would appear to differ from the prophets in that they were not under the rapturous influence of the Holy Spirit, and did not utter encouragements or prophecies, but were instructors of Christian truth, under the teaching of the Spirit. Some of them, it seems, were the acknowledged pastors of the church, and some only occasionally resided at Antioch: Paul and Barnabas were of the latter group.Teachers are mentionedseveral times in the New Testament, as an order of ministers. (See 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Peter 2:1) Their precise rank and duty are not known. It is probable that those mentioned here as prophets were the same persons as the teachers. There were some at Antioch, such as Agabus and others, who were both prophets and teachers; who had both a gift of foretelling things to come, which implies a more direct message from God, coming from the Holy Ghost, and of explaining the prophecies of the Old Testament, through systematic instruction, in which reason and reflection had a part, and of teaching the people evangelic[i] truths; these, at least some of them, came to Antioch from Jerusalem—“And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem to Antioch” (Acts 11:27). The higher gift of prophecy commonly included the lower gift of teaching. Jesus said this about John the Baptist, But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Luke 7:26).John was known to be a prophet; and his fame drew vast numbers to see and hear him, since there had not been a prophet among the Jews for hundreds of years.

 

It was forbidden for women to teach; “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12), though they might prophesy; “And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9).

 

The prophecy of Joel was now to receive a wider fulfilment—“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Acts 2:17).

 

As Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger

“Barnabas” was a Levite, from the country of Cyprus—“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)” (Acts 4:36)—who sold his land and brought the money to the apostles; and who was sent to Antioch by the church at Jerusalem, when they heard that many there believed, and turned to the Lord. Barnabas was a preacher according to Acts 4:35-36Acts 9:27Acts 11:22and Acts 11:26. His name is placed first (the arrangement appears to have been made according to seniority) and Saul last; it was only due to his missionary labors, which were only now beginning that he acquired his superiority.

 

Little is known of “Simeon,” for no mention of him is made elsewhere; but, by his first name he appears to be a Jew, who was called Niger by the Romans; very likely from the blackness of his complexion, for that word signifies “black.” The nickname was probably given to him to distinguish him from the many others with the same name, possibly, in particular, from Simon of Cyrene—Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Jews were, and are still, in the habit of having another name beside their national one, for use when they mixed with people from other nations.

 

The five men named are not to be regarded only as a part, but as the whole body of the prophets and teachers at Antioch, in keeping with the idea that the Spirit made the selection. To what individuals the designation “prophet” or “teacher” belongs, is not, expressly said; but if it is in accordance with Acts 4:36, the prophets are mentioned first and then the teachers—the three named first are to be considered prophets, and the other two teachers.

 

And Lucius of Cyrene

“Lucius of Cyrene” (a country in Africa) was very probably one of the synagogue of the Cyrenians, and seems to be one of the men of Cyrene, that went abroad (Acts 11:20) when persecution arose at the death of Stephen (Acts 6:9). He is said to be with the apostle Paul when he wrote the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:21).

He is called bishop of Cyrene; and some believe him to be the same Lucius mentioned in Romans 16:21—“Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.” Others think he is Luke the Evangelist: on the ground that Cyrene was famous for its School of Medicine, some writers have identified him as the author of the Acts, but the two names Lucius and Lucas are radically different: Lucius may be an abbreviation of Lucanus. It has been conjectured that Luke was born and instructed in medicine in Cyrene, and left that place for Tarsus, where he made Paul's acquaintance, and was, perhaps, converted by him.

 

And Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch

“Manaen” may be thought of as the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch. He is called “the son of King Herod's nurse” in the Ethiopic version; which explains their being brought up, nourished, and suckled together; so, we may assume Menaen’s mother was Herod’s nurse. He appears to have been brought up at the court of Herod the Great.  Manaen seems to be the same as Menachem, or Menahem, a name used frequent by the Jews. There was one with this name, who was very intimate with Herod the great, and was in his service, though that was prior to him being vice president of the Sanhedrim. This is all that we know about this man, because he is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.

 

How differently these two foster brothers turned out—the one, abandoned to a lustful life and stained with the blood of the most distinguished of God's prophets, though he had his periods of reformation and seasons of remorse; the other, a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus and prophet of the Church at Antioch! That this man became a Christian and a prophet is something remarkable.

 

And Saul

Saul (Paul) is listed last of all, but soon he will become first. After this, the book of Acts is almost exclusively occupied with him; and his influence on the New Testament, on Christendom, and on the world is unmatched. The position of Saul’s name at the end of the list seems to indicate that it was copied from one which had been made before he had become the most prominent of the whole company of the prophets. Saul was an apostle; and yet he is mentioned here among the “prophets and teachers,” showing that these words denote “ministers of the gospel” in general, without reference to any particular order or rank.

 

Saul was ordained long before this was written, but that was not of men, or by man (Galatians 1:1). At his conversion he was expressly called to preach to the Gentiles; and that call was renewed at the time Jesus appeared to him during his trance in the temple.

 

 

2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

 


As they ministered to the Lord

“As they,” that is, the five prophets and teachers mentioned in verse 1; and whose ministry included preaching the Gospel, teaching the people the doctrines of it, expounding prophecies, and leading in prayer. They, the prophets and teachers, ministered at an assembly of the Church. The word translated here as ‘they ministered’ (from which the word "Liturgy" is derived), signifies any solemn ministration or holy service. In the Old Testament the word rendered, ‘to minister’ (usually with the addition of “to God,” or “to the Lord”) is often applied to the ministrations of priests and Levites (See Exodus 28:35Numbers 8:26). The word is used in Hebrews 10:11—“And every priest stands daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (Also see Luke 1:23Hebrews 9:21) Joshua is called Moses’ minister in Joshua 1:1, and the angels are called “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). Its classical use was to designate any office performed by an individual for the public good. Hence in the New Testament it is applied to Church alms (2 Corinthians 9:12), to gifts for the support of the ministry (Philippians 2:30), to the office of magistrates (Romans 13:6), etc. The restricted application of the term minister to the service used in the celebration of the Eucharist came along much later.

 

“As they ministered to the Lord”—the word “ministered” denotes the performance of official duties of any kind, and was used to express the priestly functions under the Old Testament. Here it signifies the corresponding ministrations of the Christian Church. It is probable that this took place on some day set apart for fasting and prayer. The expression "ministered to the Lord" means as they were engaged in prayer to the Lord, or as they were engaged in divine service.

 

And fasted

Fasting was done as a solemn act of devotion to the work which was before them. The Jews practice of fasting went far back in their history, and those who came to believe in Christ had not yet left it off; their custom was to fast on Mondays and Thursdays: “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12).Whether it was on one of those days, that these men were ministering and fasting, is not certain; but this we may be sure of, it was not on the Jewish Sabbath, for on that day they never fasted. The Sabbath was not a fasting, but a feasting day with the Jews; for they were obliged to eat three meals, or feasts, on a Sabbath day, one in the morning, another at evening, and another at the time of the meat offering: even the poorest man in Israel, who was maintained by alms, was obliged to keep these three feasts. The whole seven days, or week, were commonly called the Sabbath by the Jews; hence, “the first of the Sabbath,” and the second of the Sabbath, and the third of the Sabbath; that is, the first, second, and third days of the week. Now the two days in the week on which they fasted were Monday and Thursday, the second and fifth days; on which days the Law of Moses, and the book of Esther were read, by the order of Ezra; and fasts for the congregation were held on those days.


The Holy Ghost said

“The Holy Ghost said”—by direct revelation to some of the prophets mentioned in verse 1, either with an articulate voice, or by an internal impulse, upon the minds of the prophets. The mode of communication may have been, as in Acts 20:23—“Save that the Holy Ghost witnesses in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me”—through the lips of the prophets, speaking as by a sudden burst of simultaneous inspiration—“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on you, that you by them might war a good warfare (1 Timothy 1:18).This is the origin of the question in the Ordination of Deacons, “Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office?” 


Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them

 

“Separate me Barnabas and Saul”—now the Lord would have them separated from their brethren, as Aaron and his sons were from theirs, and be sent from Antioch to perform a new work: this shows the Spirit to be a person, since speaking and commanding in an authoritative way, and calling to a work, are ascribed unto Him; and that He is a divine person, and truly God, and equal with God, since calling to a sacred office is attributed to Him; and a separation to it is ordered for “Barnabas and Saul”—for His service, honour, and glory; He does not say separate them to the Lord, or to God, but to Me. The separation by the Holy Ghost, at least as it pertains Saul had been from his mother's womb—But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace” (Galatians 1:15). This is another case of the very close resemblance between parts of the Acts and the Epistle to the Galatians, which looks as if Paul was writing about the same time as he was giving to Luke the details of his own history (see Acts 8:19). Their ordination was to the apostolic office. Barnabas and Saul are never called apostles until after their ordination or consecration—Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out” (Acts 14:14).

 

This clause seems to indicate that the command given was in answer to a prayer, and that it was to be acted on at once. The implication is that they were to be set apart for a new work. Up to this time they had been among the prophets and teachers of the Church. Now they were to receive a solemn visible mission, after having received the inspired command, and consecrating them to the work of the Apostleship to the Gentiles. Saul had from the first been a “vessel of election,” and so specially severed for this work, and we can see why Barnabas, who had been the first to introduce Saul to the Church at Jerusalem, and whose education may have been very like Saul’s, was appointed to be the sharer of Saul’s labors.

 

“For the work whereunto I have called them”—not the apostolic office, for Saul was called to that by the express revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12), and Barnabas was not an apostle. The work which the Holy Ghost had appointed, and called them to before this, by some communication, perhaps, to themselves: in the case of Saul at least, such a designation was indicated from the first—“And he said to me, Depart: for I will send you far hence to the Gentiles” (Ac 22:21). The “work” to which they were now set apart was that of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles in the regions around Antioch. It was not any permanent office in the church, but was a temporary assignment to a missionary enterprise in extending the Gospel, especially through Asia Minor, and the adjacent regions. Accordingly, when, in the fulfillment of this mission, they had traveled through Seleucia, Cyprus, Paphos, Pamphylia, Pisidia, etc., they returned to Antioch, having fulfilled the work to which they were separated. (See Acts 14:26-27). “Whereunto I have called them,” proves that they received their commission to this work directly from God the Holy Spirit. Paul and Barnabas had been influenced by the Spirit to engage in this work, but they were to be sent forth by the consensus and authority of the church.

 

 

3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

 

And when they had fasted and prayed

They were fasting when they were commanded to set them apart. Yet this probably refers to an appointed day of prayer designated for this very purpose. The first formal mission to the Gentiles was an important event in the church, and they engaged in this assignment with deep solemnity and by humbling themselves before God.

 

This enterprise was a new one. The gospel had been preached to the Jews, to Cornelius, and to the Gentiles at Antioch. But there had been no solemn, public, and concerted plan for sending it to the Gentiles, or of appointing a mission to the pagan world. It was a new event, and was full of danger and hardships. The primitive church felt the need of divine direction and aid in this great work. Two missionaries were to be sent forth among strangers, to be exposed to perils by sea and land; and the commencement of the enterprise demanded prayer. The church humbled itself, and this primitive missionary society sought, as all others should do, the divine blessing to join with the labors of those employed in this work. The result showed that the prayer was heard.

 

This did not take place when they had finished fasting and praying, at the time the Holy Ghost made an impulse on their minds, to separate two of their brethren to a work they were appointed to; but at another time, which was designated for that purpose. When they fasted and prayed, not for direction, who they were to set apart and send; for Barnabas and Saul had previously been pointed out to them, but so they might have every needful gift and qualification for the work, and be successful in it.

 

The repetition of the words, fasted and prayed, that had been used in verse 2 seems to imply that the fast was prolonged till the laying-on of hands had been completed. The new command called for that intensity of spiritual life of which fasting was more or less the normal condition. Fasting and praying are a good preparation for entering into any business, for the act acknowledges that all success must come from God. Our blessed Saviour himself would not enter upon his ministry till he had fasted forty days (Matthew 4:2, compared with Matthew 4:17). 

 

And laid their hands on them

This was not an ordination; the Apostle Paul, specifically, was not ordained an apostle by man, but by Jesus Christ; who personally appeared to him, and made and ordained him his minister and apostle; not by men inferior to himself, as Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen were. But this was a gesture and ceremony used among the Jews, when they wished any blessing or happiness to come to any persons; and so these prophets, when they separated Paul and Barnabas from their company, and they were leaving them, put their hands on them (That is, those who are mentioned in Acts 13:1.), and wished them all prosperity and success. This was the formal act by which the Church indicated its acceptance of the divine mission of those on whom hands were laid, and prayed for them to receive the divine blessing. This could not be an ordination, since both of them were stated and authorized ministers of the word, and one of them an apostle long before this. When they had prayed for them, and wished them well, they sent them away to do the work they were called to; not in an authoritative way, but in a friendly manner they parted with them, and bid them farewell.

 

They sent them away

Barnabas and Saul received a double call—by the Spirit first, and next by the Church. It was said of their mission, “They being sent forth by the Holy Ghost.” We have in this event the true principle of appointment to sacred offices? The church by its teachers “sent them away” under the direction of the Holy Spirit. All missionaries are sent by the church; and the church should not forget its ambassadors in their great and perilous work. With this departure of Barnabas and Saul the second and main part of the Acts of the Apostles begins.

 

 

 


[i] Belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the belief that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ.

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