13. Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.
Paul and his party, now having completed their journey from the east side of Cyprus to the west side, and having proclaimed the gospel across the island, now are ready to depart the island on the other side. They take a boat, as of course they must to depart an island, and sail north and slightly west, arriving at Perga in Pamphylia. This town was actually up the river Cestius or Cestrus about seven miles from the sea. Thus they probably took the ship up the river. “Perga” means “Earthy,” and the region Pamphylia means “Of every tribe.” Clearly this land was filled with a mixed people. This would have been a trading town, being near the sea, and was also near the temple of Artemis.
Notice that the group of them is now called “Paul and his party.” This is a very strange thing, when up until now we have read of them as “Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 12:25, 13:2,7.) Now, not only is Paul moved from the second, subservient position to first position as the leader, but Barnabas is not even listed, but given a place as one of PAUL’S party. It is as if the Spirit is emphasizing here for us the change. Something happened during this incident in Paphos. A change has taken place. Paul is no longer the companion of Barnabas. Paul is now the leader, and Barnabas is just one of his party. God has made a change, and we would do well to notice it here.
Now here in Perga John departs from them. Having come all this way north with them, something happens that apparently discourages him, and he heads back south and east towards Jerusalem. We are not told why he left, but we learn in chapter 15 that Paul at least thought it was for no good reason. Perhaps the difficulties of travel were wearing on him, or the opposition of men like Elymas made him discouraged. At any rate, he left them, and showed a lack of faithfulness when he should have been willing to sacrifice and stand for the Lord. This was a bad thing. Thankfully, though, it appears that he later learned better.
14. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down.
Now Paul and his company depart from Perga as well. We read of them doing no work there, and it may be that there were no Jews dwelling in that city for them to speak to. Now, they head over land and go straight north to Antioch in Pisidia. Of course, they had left from Antioch, but we must not get these two places mixed up. The Antioch that was their “home base” was in Syria, or Syrian Antioch. This Antioch was in Pisidia, or Pisidian Antioch. The Antioch they came from was on the east side of the Mediterranean Sea just north of Israel. This Antioch is in Asia Minor on the northern side of the Mediterranean. Thus these were two very different places, and we should not get them confused.
“Antioch” means “Driven Against,” according to Strong’s Concordance. The name was derived from various monarchs who held that name, which explains why there were various cities in different places named this. We remember Alexander the Great, who founded or renamed several cities named “Alexandria” in different parts of the world. These cities named “Antioch” are the same kind of thing. This Antioch was actually the capital of Pisidia, and a Roman colony, according to The Companion Bible. “Pisidia” means “Pitchy,” though what this refers to is hard to say.
Now reaching Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas find there a synagogue. Remember, these were Jewish community or cultural centers, not religious buildings as we like to think of them. The Jews who lived in various places around the world would build these in order to come together as a community. With the anti-Jewish sentiments of the day, it was often a matter of “hang together, or we will all hang separately.” For this reason they got together in these synagogues. They would share there all aspects of life, including their faith in the true God. Yet that was not a requirement for these synagogues, and many and various beliefs might have been represented there by the Jews in attendance. To go into a Jewish synagogue and proclaim beliefs not held by the majority there would not be so unusual as to go into a church and do the same thing today. These were not religious centers.
Now the synagogues did follow certain rules and orders of procedure. For example, there were rules as to how many Jewish men had to be in an area before a synagogue could be established. The synagogue might have some teacher such as a Levite in it, but this was not a requirement. It did have a ruler (or rulers,) but he was more a facilitator than anything else, making sure that things proceeded in an orderly and decorous manner. There was no formal “service” like we think of today going on in these buildings. This was just a meeting together of the Jewish community in this city.
Now many would go to synagogue on the Sabbath, yet this was not a requirement. Since this was supposed to be a day of rest and they could do no other work, many thought that this was the best way to spend a Sabbath, since you could socialize and interact with your friends and neighbors. Since most Jews would gather to the synagogues on the Sabbath days, it became a convenient place for men like Paul and Barnabas to come and to make the gospel known to the Jews in a city. Thus Paul and Barnabas go there and sit down.
The Companion Bible notes that the actual phrase here in Greek is “the day of the Sabbath.” This not being the usual word for Sabbath, this likely refers to one of the special, feast-day Sabbaths. The Companion Bible suggests the Sabbath after Passover.
15. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”
The synagogue meeting proceeds, and someone reads out of the Law and the Prophets. Now the rulers of the synagogue send to Paul and Barnabas. Notice that this was no formal thing, and they were not “scheduled” in advance. Yet the synagogue rulers wonder if they have anything to say to the people. Remember that news at that time was largely carried by word of mouth. Travelers were rare, and so a traveler who had been to any place was expected to remember all the names of those in that place and any news he could carry about those people. Though many of these details might be of interest only to specific friends and relatives of these people in the synagogue, it could have been that Paul had news that he felt was of sufficient importance to share with all the people. Thus, the synagogue rulers give him this opportunity.
Now the word “synagogue rulers” is archisunagogoi in Greek, which we might say means the “arch-synagogue members.” But since the idea of the Greek prefix “arch” is of the leader or ruler, we understand this to mean the rulers of the synagogue. These men had authority over what went on in the synagogue, so they had the right to apostello or to commission men to speak to Paul and Barnabas. This they did.
Now these rulers knew that these visitors might have news good or bad to share with the people. Yet at this time, it seems they would like to hear only good news, and so they ask for a word of exhortation. This word is parakleseos in Greek, related to the word for “paraclete” or advocate. An advocate is one who pleads for another, and a paraclete is one who comes alongside another to help or comfort. What these synagogue rulers want is comforting or encouraging words from Paul and Barnabas.
16. Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:
Paul responds to this official invitation by standing up and motioning with his hand. This was the sign that all should pay attention to him, as he was about to say something important. Remember that, as we have said, there was no formal religious service that took place in the synagogue. There were things like the reading of the Law and Prophets that went on, and yet people could or could not pay attention to these as they saw fit. There was a lot of socializing taking place, and people might be in their separate groups and talking with each other, and not paying much attention to what was going on in the “meeting.” Yet when one stood up and beckoned with his hand, this was the sign for all to cease whatever they were doing and pay attention. That is the sign Paul gives here.
Now Paul speaks, and he addresses his words to the men of Israel. Of course, we recognize that there would have been many such in this synagogue. These were not Israelites by citizenship, for most if not all of them would have been born outside the land of Israel out among the nations. Yet they were Israelite by ancestry, and they counted themselves as such if they were meeting in the synagogue.
Secondly, he addresses his words to those who fear God. This was not a subset of the Israelites there. Rather, these were what we might call reverent Gentiles. Among the nations where the Jews dwelt, there were often those of the Gentiles who got sick of the superstition and immorality that went on in the worship connected with the heathen temples of the day. These would see in the religion and the God of the Israelites a different kind of faith, a different kind of behavior, and a different kind of God. Thus, many of them would become God-fearers, and would connect themselves to the synagogues of the Jews. Many would not go so far as to become proselytes. There could be many reasons for this, the fear having to undergo the painful and dangerous procedure of circumcision as an adult not the least among them. Yet they did fear God, and would like to listen in on the meetings of the Israelites and hear the words of their Scriptures and watch how they celebrated their God. This the Israelites were happy to allow them to do, and they were thus given a place at the synagogue meetings. Paul here singles these God-fearing Gentiles out to address as well, and encourages them to hear his words.
17. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it.
Paul now goes back and reviews the history of the people of Israel for those to whom he is speaking. Since there are Gentiles in his audience, he reminds them that the God of this people Israel (for that is Who God was) chose their fathers. Here, obviously, “fathers” is put for “ancestors,” for these fathers were many generations before the Israelites living at that time. These fathers are probably Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, we see that this is a brief summary of the book of Genesis. Paul is doing much the same thing that Stephen did in his address to the Sanhedrin, as we saw it back in chapter 7, in that he will review Israel’s history and the history in the Scriptures in order to make his point.
God also exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers (that is, foreigners,) in the land of Egypt. He did this by pouring out the ten plagues upon the land of Egypt while sparing His people from the same plagues. Then, with an uplifted arm, He brought the Israelite fathers out of Egypt. An “uplifted” arm is a strong arm, for a “weak” arm hangs down. God’s arm was uplifted in power, as He brought millions of Israelites on foot out of Egypt in one night! This was an utterly impossible task logistically, and yet God did it. He showed His power indeed when He brought His people out of Egypt. Thus the Holy Spirit through Paul summarizes the events in the book of Exodus.
18. Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness.
The Lord through Paul now points out the “ways” of the Israelites in the wilderness. We know that they constantly rebelled, murmured, and disobeyed the LORD as they journeyed through the wilderness. We can read the record of this in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Thus Paul will lead his audience into the idea that those in Israel who have rejected the Lord Jesus as their Messiah have done the same thing that their fathers did.
19. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.
The seven nations mentioned here are listed for us in Joshua 3:10 as “the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites.” These nations the Lord destroyed before the Israelites in the land of Canaan, which then became the land of Israel. Once He had destroyed these nations, He distributed this land to them by allotment, giving certain lands to each of the twelve tribes. This made Israel a lot like the United States of America, in that it was (at least initially) a collection of strong, tribal governments in a loose coalition with very little in the way of national government power. Of course, in both Israel and the United States this changed over time to a stronger, centralized government with increasingly weaker tribal control.
This verse summarizes the book of Joshua and the conquest of the land. Remember that “Joshua” in Hebrew and “Jesus” in Greek are the same name. Yet Joshua is not mentioned by name here, and Paul makes it clear that it was actually the LORD Who did these things, and gave them their land by lot.
20. “After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.
After they had the land, the LORD gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years. This was a long period of time indeed! During this time, as I said, Israel had no strong, central government, but had these informal judges as rulers over the tribes, which largely governed themselves and saw to their own affairs. Thus Paul summarizes the book of Judges.
21. And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.
After this, the people became dissatisfied, and wanted a king. This God gave them in the form of Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin. He ruled over Israel for forty years. This begins to summarize the books of Samuel.
22. And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’
The LORD removed Saul. We know from the record in Samuel that this was because of his disobedience and rebellion against the LORD. In his place, the LORD raised up David as king. He testified regarding David as we have it here: that he was a man after His own heart, and would do all His will. This appears to be an amalgamation of Psalm 89:20, wherein the LORD mentions finding David, and I Samuel 13:14, where He calls him a man after His own heart. Thus we complete the summary of the books of Samuel.
23. From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus—
Having taken them through Samuel, Paul now breaks off his summary of the Old Testament to bring them to the important truth he wanted them to understand. It was from the seed of this man David, he tells them, that according to promise God raised up for Israel a Savior. Then he names the Savior: Jesus. Notice that he declares Him to be Israel’s Savior. We know that He is the Savior of the world, and that He saves all men, Jew or Gentile. Yet He is also Israel’s Savior, and if that nation is ever to be saved and restored, it must be through Jesus Christ that this is done. That salvation cannot come through their own efforts, nor a decree of the United Nations, nor anything else but the LORD working directly to bring it about. If His promises are ever to be fulfilled, He must fulfill them, for He is Israel’s Savior.
24. after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
The Resultant Version has this, “The previous proclaiming of John, before His personal entrance, was the baptism of repentance to the entire people of Israel.” John made his proclamation previous to the Lord personally taking the stage to perform His ministry in the sight of Israel. John’s proclamation was an identification with the metanoia company in Israel. As we have discussed before, these were those who had the after-mind, and who had made up their minds that no matter what came after they would accept and submit to it as the Lord demanded. This is what John proclaimed to all the people living in the land of Israel.
25. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’
Now John is brought forward as a witness. As John was fulfilling his course, he made this proclamation. Again, we have no one place in the gospels where such a statement is recorded. We could amalgamate John 1:20 with Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7-8, and Luke 3:16 to produce something like this. Yet this is either a summary of what John said, or a proclamation not elsewhere recorded wherein he put all these things together.
The idea of him finishing his course is interesting. Finishing is a form of pleroo, which is the word “to fill up” or “fill full,” as we say, “fulfilling.” Another way to put this would be “completing.” The “course” is only mentioned here by Paul in regards to John, and by Paul in regards to himself in Acts 20:24 and II Timothy 4:7. Paul seems to regard it that he has a course of ministry laid out for him by the Lord, and he must fulfill this course. Here, he applies the same thing to John the Identifier. He had a plan that God had laid out for him that he had to fulfill. Fulfill it he did, and as he did he said these words.
John first asks who they think he is? Perhaps one in the crowd here suggested that they thought he was the Christ. John denies this, saying that he is not. Then, he assures them that there is One coming after him. The implication is that this One is He, the Christ. The sandals of this One’s feet, John tells them, he is not worthy to loose. High praise for the Lord Jesus Christ? If He was a man, then yes, but He was much more than a man. He was God Himself, and as such, John’s words are not a compliment, but a mere statement of fact. How unworthy even the best of men is in the presence of the living God!
26. “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.
Now Paul calls upon those who heard him. Once more he directs his words towards certain men in the audience. First, he lists men and brethren, those who are sons of the generations of Abraham. Remember that a son is a representative. Abraham’s family is represented at any one time by those living descendants of his who are on the earth at that time. As an example of this, we might speak of those who were Americans during the time of the American Civil War, and who fought on both sides of that great conflict. We know that of those who made up the Americans of the day, not one is left, but all have died. Does this mean that there are no Americans on earth today? Most certainly not! For those Americans had children, and they are represented now by those who are Americans now and who are the current representatives of this nation. In the same way, every successive generation of Abraham’s family dies off, but there is a new generation to represent that family going forward. So it is to the living representatives of the family of Abraham that God through Paul speaks here.
Secondly, he speaks to those among them who fear God. This phrase is very similar to that which we have in verse 16, and could lead us to believe that these are the same God-fearers he is speaking to here. Yet there is a difference here, and that is that these God-fearers are spoken of as being among them. As we said, the God-fearers were given a place to sit to the side of the synagogue where they could listen in to what was going on, but were not allowed to participate. Yet here, Paul speaks to those who are among the Israelites. This would seem to limit these God-fearers to those who had taken the next step, and had actually identified themselves with Israel by becoming proselytes. These God-fearers therefore were actually “among” the Israelites in the synagogue. Some might argue that there is no such difference here, but I believe that the Lord does not change His phrases like this arbitrarily. This phrase limits the God-fearers meant to only those who were actually “among” the Israelites.
Now to these two kinds of people in his audience Paul declares that the word of this salvation has been sent. The word for “sent” is the word apostello, which is the verb form of the word “apostle.” We have often come upon this word in this, the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Here, the word has been apostled to these people. When apostello is used of people, it means “commissioned,” but when it is used of an inanimate thing like “salvation,” it has more the force of “authorized.” We see this same kind of usage of this word in Acts 10:36, where the Lord through Peter declares, “The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—.” Thus this word now that Paul was proclaiming was at this time authorized to these two groups of people.