Acts 13 Part 4

42. So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

Paul has completed his proclamation. We read no more of how the synagogue meeting proceeded after he made this stirring announcement. The Lord now takes us ahead to the end of the day, when the Jews were going out of the synagogue and returning to their homes. This might have been in the evening, once the Sabbath day had come to an end at what we would call 6:00PM, but they would call the start of a new day.

Now we encounter a textual difficulty. There is a difference between the way the Received Text used by the King James Version and the New King James Version, quoted here, read in this place, and in the way the modern translations based on the Westcott-Hort text read. There has apparently been much tampering with the text here, probably because of a misunderstanding of the message of this passage and what exactly the situation was that it is describing here.

Now what the modern texts read here is that when “they” were going out of the synagogue, “they” begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Some modern translations like the NIV leap to the conclusion that the first “they” is referring to Paul and Barnabas, and the second “they” to the “people.” Yet this makes little sense. Why would the people beg that these words be proclaimed to them the next Sabbath, since these words were already proclaimed to them this Sabbath?

What is apparently going on here is that the Jews are leaving the synagogue. These words have been proclaimed to them. Some of them, both Jews and proselytes, have believed it, and some have, at least so far, remained neutral. Yet these two groups were those to whom this offer was made, according to Paul’s words in verse 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.” This invitation is open to all the Jews, but we see that it is only open to the God-fearing Gentiles who are “among you,” that is, those who have taken the step to become proselytes and actually join with Israel. Yet the other God-fearing Gentiles, those who were present and heard the service, yet who had not taken the step to become circumcised and actually join the congregation of Israel, have also heard the word that Paul spoke. They like what they have heard, but realize that the offer of forgiveness of sins has not yet been made to them. Thus, they ask if a similar offer might be made to them the next Sabbath.

Thus, we would conclude that the Received Text is the correct one here, and the text used by the modern versions like the NIV and NASB is in error. The ones who are going out of the synagogue are the Jews. As they go out, they naturally have to pass by the God-fearing Gentiles who were listening in on the outskirts of the synagogue. These take the opportunity of Paul and Barnabas passing by them to make this request of them. Whether or not this request will be granted, we will see in the following verses.

The idea of “the next Sabbath” here in Greek is, according to The Companion Bible, the intervening (metaxu) Sabbath. This probably means the weekly Sabbath, intervening between the two feast day Sabbaths that began and ended the feast of unleavened bread. It was on the first of these feast Sabbaths that this event has taken place.

43. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

The word for “congregation” here is the same word “synagogue” that we had in the previous verse. The synagogue had broken up, as we said, and the Jews were returning home at the end of the day. Yet many of the Jews and devout proselytes to Judaism who had heard Paul speak and received his message are unwilling to part with him so soon. Thus, they follow Paul and Barnabas, who then speak to them. It seems that, now that they had heard the wondrous message of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, they want to know what they are to do next? Paul and Barnabas reply, telling them that what they must do now is to continue in the grace of God. They have been forgiven by grace, and now it is grace that will keep them.

44. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.

It seems that, though we have no indication that Paul and Barnabas encouraged the Gentiles with any promises that they would make a similar offer of forgiveness to them, that the very thought that such an offer might be made had filled these Gentiles with eagerness. They had gone out and spread the word throughout the city that a great new work of God was taking place, and the result is that almost the whole city comes together to the synagogue the following week to hear the word of God.

What exactly caused such an amazing turnout is hard to say. Perhaps there were more people in this city fed up with the idolatrous worship of the day than we would tend to think. Perhaps it was a case where the rumor of something new and exciting going on drew a crowd. Or perhaps this was the Spirit of God working to bring these people to a place where they could hear His word. At any rate, this is what happened, and this huge crowd gathers together at the synagogue.

The phrase here for “the next Sabbath” is simply the following Sabbath, not the intervening Sabbath, as we had it back in verse 42. Therefore, this may mean the Sabbath at the end of the feast week, rather than the weekly Sabbath in between.

45. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.

The Jews are not happy when they see the multitudes of people showing up at their synagogue. No doubt they in a lifetime of living in Pisidian Antioch have never done anything that had caused such a stir of excitement. Now, Paul and Barnabas after one week of speaking one simple message in the synagogue have stirred up this kind of interest. (Though, of course, it was not Paul stirring it up, but the Lord working through him.) Yet this causes these Jews to be filled with envy. Apparently if they could not affect this city for God, then they did not want anyone else affecting it either!

Because of their envy, they start opposing what Paul was saying, contradicting his words. They also start blaspheming, which probably means they said negative and insulting things against the Lord Jesus Christ, Whom Paul was proclaiming. Their jealousy leads them to reject God’s message to them and the forgiveness of sins that He was offering. How sad that this was their response to such a gracious message!

Now there can be no doubt but that their doing this would have seriously hindered Paul’s message. It is very hard to get your point across when someone is heckling you and opposing and mocking everything you say. Thus, though all these people are there to hear the word, these jealous Jews are seeking to put a stop to it, and hindering it from getting through to them. Therefore the Lord through Paul must do something, for this situation cannot be allowed to continue.

46. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

Now Paul and Barnabas grow bold. It could not have been a very easy thing to stand up and condemn all of your fellow Jews while surrounded by them in their synagogue. Yet they had the Spirit with them, and thus they are bold to say what He leads them to proclaim. In this spirit of boldness, then, they tell the Jews that, though it was necessary that the word of God first be spoken to them, it was not necessary for God to bear with them when they contradict and blaspheme that word. The necessity for the word to first be spoken to them was the order set up and established by God. Paul had already proclaimed in verse 26 that “the word of this salvation has been sent” to those “men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God.” The word “sent” here is a form of the Greek word apostello, the verb form of the word “apostle.” We have discussed that this word means sent with authority or authorized. It was to these sons of Abraham and the Gentile proselytes among them that this word of God was authorized, and thus must be spoken first.

However, now some of these children of Abraham in this synagogue, with some of their leaders chief among them, have rejected that word by contradicting it and blaspheming the One revealed through it. Paul and Barnabas declare to them that by doing this they have actually judged themselves, and have shown themselves to be unworthy of eonian life. By this proclamation of Paul and Barnabas, we can be sure that when the kingdom comes and the Lord chooses those who will enter His kingdom and be a part of that new nation of Israel that He forms then, these Christ-rejecting men in Pisidian Antioch will not be among those who will be given a place in that kingdom. Their judgment has already been made. Indeed, they have made that judgment themselves!

Now that some of those to whom the word was authorized have rejected it, Paul and Barnabas declare that they are no longer obligated to reserve the word for them. There are plenty of Gentiles, as we saw in verse 42, who are eager for such an offer of forgiveness of sins to be made to them. If these to whom the word was sent do not judge themselves worthy to receive it, then this word can be offered to those of the nations who do respond to it in a worthy manner. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas turn to these Gentiles.

Now right here let us say that we must not make too much of this particular event. Paul and Barnabas have turned to the Gentiles in this one city, since some of the Jews there have rejected it. Yet notice that this was not even all of the Jews. We have seen in verse 43 that many of the Jews followed Paul and Barnabas and received the word they were given. These Jews must not be counted among those who were Christ-rejecters. This turning to Gentiles was on account of the Jews who rejected. Yet this says nothing about the many who accepted.

Besides this, we must also not suppose that this meant that this word of Paul’s extended out to all the Jews in the cities not yet reached with the gospel. Some have imagined that Paul’s ministry to the Jews all but ends here, and that from this time on he goes to Gentiles and works almost exclusively with them. Yet a simple examination of the events that occurred immediately in the very next chapter should disillusion us of any such notions. For there we read in Acts 14:1: “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.” In the very next city Paul and Barnabas traveled to, they went first into the synagogue to the Jews to proclaim, and a great multitude of these Jews believed. To imagine that this changed Paul’s ministry, or that from this point on he went to the Jews to the exclusion of the Gentiles, is simply not to accurately interpret what we see in Acts.

Rather, what Paul is doing here is all in line with his policy in the Acts period given him by God. We can see what this was by examining Romans 11. In verses 13-15, he tells the Gentiles who believed in Rome the reason he turned to Gentiles as he did in Pisidian Antioch and other places.

13. For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14. if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Here, Paul declares that the purpose for his being commissioned to the nations was to provoke to jealousy his own flesh, the Jews, and save some of them. We will see this policy working in Acts 18 in Corinth. Paul reveals more about this Gentile work in verses 16-18.

16. For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18. do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

He compares these Gentiles to a wild olive branch that is grafted into a good olive tree. The olive tree is Israel, and these Gentiles are being grafted into it. They are subservient to Israel, however, as the root of that nation is supporting them, and not the other way around. Therefore we see a situation developing here in Acts 13 totally different from that we experience today. In our day, the truth is that all nations are now considered joint and equal in God’s sight as is declared in Ephesians 3:6.

6. that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,

In Greek here, the words “heirs,” “body,” and “partakers” all have a common prefix. We might make this “joint-heirs,” “joint-bodies,” and “joint-partakers.” All nations are now equal or joint. This is a very different situation from Israel having an olive tree, and all other nations being wild branches grafted into it. In fact, these two passages of Romans 11 and Ephesians 3 cannot be true at the same time. Either the Gentiles are subservient branches grafted into an Israelite company, or else they are joint heirs with equal privileges with Israel. The latter is truth for today. Yet the former is the situation that we see developing in Acts 13.

This was the first invitation to believe that was made to any who were not Israelites since the household of Cornelius. Certainly, this was a step down the road to a new work of God. Yet this was not the situation we live in today, for these Gentiles were being grafted into Israel, not entering as joint partakers, as we do. Yet certainly this was an important event, and a turning point in the book of Acts.

47. For so the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

As a justification for this unprecedented turning to the Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas site Isaiah 49:6. This verse is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we can see if we examine it in context.

5. “And now the LORD says,
Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant,
To bring Jacob back to Him,
So that Israel is gathered to Him
(For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD,
And My God shall be My strength),
6. Indeed He says,
‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

The LORD here proclaims that He will not just restore the tribes of Israel, but that He will also give His Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, as a light to the nations to be His salvation to the ends of the earth. This was said of the Lord Jesus, and was spoken of His kingdom, which will eventually bring God’s salvation to even the remotest places of the earth. Now, Paul and Barnabas claim this for their own ministry. Since the Lord will bring salvation to the nations, they too can now do this in Antioch. So He has commanded them.

48. Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Now the Gentiles who had come to the synagogue, hopeful that an offer of forgiveness of sins might be made to them, as we saw in verse 43, hear these words. Needless to say, these words brought gladness to them, since they knew that now they too were to be the recipients of a Divine offer. Joyfully they glorify the word of the Lord, which has been given so graciously to them.

Now the result of this is that some of these Gentiles believe. We know that “almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God,” as verse 44 told us. Of this number, we do not know how many believed. No doubt those who had originally made request that such an offer be made to them, as we read in verse 42, were among those who believed. These were Gentiles who already made a habit of listening in to the synagogue service and hearing the words of God that they read and discussed. Of those who came just this week because of what their friends and neighbors told them, there is no way of knowing how many believed.

Now we have this statement that as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. This is a favorite verse of those who wish to believe that no one is saved by his own choice, but that God determines in advance every person who is to believe before that person is even born, or even before the earth was created. Yet I do not believe that this is what this verse is saying. The word for “appointed” is a form of the Greek word tasso, which means to order or arrange. These people of the nations were arranged in a way so that they were ready to receive eternal life. This arranging had come about in various ways, though a crucial part of it was when they chose to attend the synagogue on this momentous day. The arranging was something that they had in part done themselves, though God working on their hearts certainly must have had something to do with it. Yet what matters is that their hearts were arranged and ready to receive the word on this day. Ultimately this arranging had culminated in them being at the synagogue on this day and ready to hear the words of eternal life spoken by Paul and Barnabas. This was not something that had been appointed by God before the world began or anything like that. These people were arranged in such a way that they were ready for life, and upon hearing the word from Paul and Barnabas, they received it.

The word “eternal” here is the Greek word aionion, which we make English as eonian. It has not just to do with life of unending duration. Rather, it speaks of the quality of that life. Eonian life is a life that you would want to live forever, a life that flows with every good thing from the hand of God that would make life forever worth living. Ultimately, it is life for the eon, that great, future flow of God that we commonly call the kingdom. These people, by believing, guaranteed for themselves life in that great eon to come.

49. And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.

We see that these rejecting Jews did not finally hinder the word of God, for it continued to spread throughout all the region. Now, however, it was not just Jews who believed, but Gentiles as well. The result is that a great company of believers was formed in this place through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas.

50. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

The Jews who were their enemies did not give up, however. While God made a counter move to their rejection of the word by opening the offer of salvation to Gentiles, they too made a counter move and sought aid from the devout and prominent women of the city. No doubt the popularity of the message that Paul and Barnabas were teaching meant that they could not count on defeating them through numbers, for the numbers were on the side of the apostles. Therefore, they must seek to gain power with the prominent people, rather than with the majority of people. Thus they turn first to these leading women, and these they stir up, no doubt using passionate and clever arguments. They seem to have played on the emotions of these leading women, and in this way won them to their side. The leading women being aroused, it did not take much for them to get the chief men of the city on their side as well. When their women are aroused, these have little choice but to go into action as well.

Now no doubt these devout and prominent women and chief men were not Israelites. Whether or not they were among those who attended the synagogue on the momentous Sabbath day we previously studied is hard to say. Yet it is certain that these were not among those who believed the words preached by Paul and Barnabas. Now, they allow themselves to be won over to the side of the Lord’s enemies. These Gentiles at least were not arranged to eonian life.

With these powerful friends on their side, the Jews act. They raise up persecution against Paul and Barnabas. The result of this is that they get them expelled from their region. Being unable to disprove or oppose the message they were proclaiming, they instead get it silenced. Such is often the recourse of those who find themselves on the losing side of an argument, and yet do not have the integrity to admit it.

51. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium.

Paul and Barnabas do not waste time mourning over their ejection from Pisidian Antioch. Instead, they shake off the dust of their feet against them. This was a great sign of rejection, and it was one that the Lord Jesus had appointed for his apostles when He sent them out in Luke 9 and 10. In Luke 10:12, He promises them that when they shook the dust off their feet against a city, “I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.”  This was a solemn sign indeed. The city of Pisidian Antioch will have this as a damning testimony against it in the day when the Lord judges all. Of course, the city is represented both by these scheming Jewish leaders, these excitable prominent women, and these chief men who conspired with them. These were the leaders of this city, and they are the ones who will be condemned in that day. Those in the city who eagerly heard the word and believed, however, have nothing to fear from the Lord’s judgment. They did what God called upon them to do. They have nothing to look forward to but eonian life.

52. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Lest we should confuse the leaders of the city, against whom the apostles shook off the dust on their feet, with the common people who believed, this verse assures us that these disciples were not rejected, as their leaders were. Rather, they were filled with joy and with holy spirit. They had forgiveness of sins, as Paul had promised them. Though Paul may have had to leave them and their leaders may have been against them, these things could not hinder their joy. What might these wicked men take away from them? They had eonian life!

The words “Holy Spirit” here do not have the articles in front of them, and just read “spirit holy” in the Greek. This is speaking of the power of the Spirit, not His Person. His power was with them, and they could rejoice in it. Though Paul was not with them, they were not left powerless. Though the wicked rulers had driven out the apostles, they were not left alone.