I received the following question:
During study last night we discussed how the book of Acts is broken into four sections: The Great Unity, The Great Scattering; The Great Paul 🙂 ; and the Great Imprisonment. At some point in the discussion about the Great Scattering my mind went back to questions that continue to give me trouble: How were the Jews of the nations reached that were not a part of Paul’s commission? If the Great Scattering only covered the regions of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19), how and when were those in Egypt and the countries east of Jerusalem reached if Paul was the only Apostle commissioned to the nations from Acts 13 on? Could all of those regions have been preached to before Paul’s commission? Why would the Lord have stopped others from preaching to the Jews of the nations and put the job solely on Paul?
Well, I believe that the Jews of the nations were reached during the Great Scattering period. The book of Acts only follows a very limited number of those who scattered from the stoning of Stephen. It follows Philip up into Samaria, and then back down to Caesarea. Again, he is kind of a pattern of those who went out in the Great Scattering. Then, Acts follows those who go up into Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, because it is from that region that Paul and Barnabas will begin their ministry. However, there were many who scattered from Jerusalem to escape Saul’s persecution. If the man Philip is any example, going alone to Samaria and then to Caesarea, then the large number that were scattered like this by the Holy Spirit could have reached many, many places in the years involved in the Great Scattering. Remember that there is something over a decade between the beginning and the ending of that Great Scattering period. Plenty enough time for many, many places to be reached.
One example is Rome. Paul had never visited Rome (as an apostle at least) when he wrote the book of Romans, and yet the gospel had been proclaimed there.
Romans 15:20. And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, 21. but as it is written:
“To whom He was not announced, they shall see;
And those who have not heard shall understand.”
22. For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you.
Moreover, Paul’s relatives Andronicus and Junia were living in Rome, yet they were in Christ before Paul.
Romans 16:7. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
They could have believed at the great Pentecost in Acts 2 (see verse 10,) but it would be more likely that the gospel was proclaimed in Rome and they believed sometime between Acts 8:1 and Saul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-9.
Do not get too caught up with Acts 11:19. We follow the gospel there because the believers in Antioch are going to be important when it comes to the ministry of Paul. This does not mean that Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), and Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19) were the only places reached in the Great Scattering. Those are the only places that the Spirit chooses to focus on. Yet when we look at the record carefully, it is clear that other places were reached as well. For example, Paul was going to arrest believers in Damascus. Yet we never read of the gospel being proclaimed in Damascus until after Paul came there. How did these in Damascus come to believe? Clearly, there had been someone sent there in the Great Scattering.
Yes, I do think all the regions Paul did not go to had already been reached by the beginning of his ministry in Acts 13. That would include places like Egypt, Babylon, and Persia.
Why did God switch from many proclaimers to just Paul? Because that was His choice, and it pleased Him to do so. Everything the Lord Jesus did was part of God’s plan, and everything the apostles did was as well. That this was the way God wanted it is really all we need to say.
However, we can also say that placing the gospel in the care of one man from Acts 13 on set up that one man to be in the position both to add new truths to it that had not been taught in the Great Unity (as we know Paul did), and also put him in the position to make such a proclamation as he made in Acts 28:28, which brought the whole Acts period to an end. If there had not been one, single koheleth like Paul, who would have been qualified to make such a drastic pronouncement? Paul became Christ’s unique representative on earth, and so was qualified to make such pronouncements on His behalf. If all things were still scattered among a large group of people with no such single figurehead, then no one would have been in a position to make such a game-changing proclamation.