Acts 13 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Witness at Pisidian Antioch
The human spirit can come under bondage because of external political and economic oppression and because of self-imposed religious legalism. First-century Jews needed relief from both. Paul came preaching a dying and rising Messiah who would free people from inner bondage so they could cope with external oppression. His message of hope should resonate with all those who long to be able to say, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"
Setting sail from Paphos, Paul and his companions (literally, "those around Paul," a Hellenistic phrase that indicates the change in leadership; contrast 13:2, 7) travel 160 miles to the bay of Attalia on the south central Asia Minor coast. They evidently bypass the port city of Attalia (14:25), proceeding eight miles up the Cestrus River and on to Perga, five miles from the river. John Mark leaves the group at this point and returns to Jerusalem.
The missionary band does not evangelize Perga but takes a six-day journey some eighty miles up the river valleys to Pisidian Antioch. They must pass through rugged, hostile terrain infested with robber bands and onto the central Anatolian plateau, elevation over thirty-six hundred feet.
Pisidian Antioch was also founded by Seleucus I Nicator (see comment at 11:19). The Romans made it a Roman colony in 25 B.C., settling army veterans and their families there. It served as the main garrison city for a number of Roman outposts to the south. Pisidian Antioch sat astride the Via Sebaste, the Roman road from Ephesus to the Euphrates. Such a location and history meant that the population was a diverse mixture of Phrygian, Greek, Jewish and Roman.
Luke gives us a fascinating glimpse of a diaspora synagogue service. He notes in passing the Scripture readings. These came from the Pentateuch, possibly on a triennial lectionary cycle, and often but not always from the Prophets. For the latter, the reader was free to choose a passage from anywhere in the Former and Latter Prophets. A translation into the local language would follow.
Luke notes that at this point the synagogue rulers invite one of Paul's group to preach. These officials supervised and officiated at the service, maintaining order, choosing participants and making sure all went smoothly (Lk 8:41; 13:14; m. Yoma 7:1; m. Sota 7:7). The sermon, a message of encouragement, would both exhort and comfort Jews as they lived in faithful obedience to the law and waited for the final salvation of Israel (Lk 2:25; 1 Macc 12:9). It would be based on a text of the preacher's own choosing but would also weave in texts from the Scripture readings of the day (see Bowker 1967:101-10; Dumais 1979; compare Philo De Specialibus Legibus 2.62).
Paul stands and, with a wave of the hand to gain attention, addresses both Jews and Gentile God-fearers (see comment and note at 8:27). He begins with what could be called the Old Testament kerygma: a rehearsal of four key events of God's gracious promise and liberating fulfillment, together with a declaration of the messianic promise to David (Deut 26:5-10; Josh 24:2-13, 17-18; Ps 68-72; 89:3-4, 19-37).
Paul commences with the confession that God is the God of the people of Israel (literally, "this people Israel"). With Gentile God-fearers in the audience, Paul articulates the particularity of God's dealings with Israel but within an international context. Second, he announces God's choice of the patriarchs for himself. Third, he proclaims the redemption of Israel from Egypt and the leading through the wilderness. This liberation is recounted in language reminiscent of the Pentateuch (Ex 6:6; Deut 1:31; 26:5, 8). Israel knew great blessing during its sojourn in Egypt, for God literally "exalted" them by greatly increasing their numbers (Ex 1:7), yet the people sinned, and God had to "bear with" them forty years in the wilderness (Num 14:34).
Fourth, God caused them to inherit their land after he had overthrown seven nations in the land of Canaan (Deut 7:1; Josh 3:10; 24:11). God's initiatives in mighty fulfillment of his gracious promises to the fathers took about 450 years. This involved four hundred years of sojourn in Egypt (Gen 15:13), forty years of wilderness wandering (Num 14:34) and ten years to possess the land of Canaan (Josh 14:10).
God raised up David and gave him a promise. Paul sets this within the context of God's orderly superintendence of Israel's national life through judges, up to the last judge and first prophet Samuel (compare Acts 3:24; 1 Sam 3:20). Paul highlights, though subtly, the sin that both led to and terminated Saul's forty-year reign (compare Josephus Jewish Antiquities 6.378). The monarchy was instituted because the people took matters into their own hands by asking for a king (note the middle voice--literally, "they asked for themselves"; compare 1 Sam 8:4-9). Saul's reign and the continuance of his line effectively ended when after disobedience God "removed"--deposed--him (compare 3 Kingdoms 15:13). David, by contrast, was a "man after God's own heart, who will do all God's will" (1 Sam 13:14). He is the model for all those who would receive God's covenant blessings of salvation.
David received a promise (2 Sam 7:12-16; compare 22:51; Ps 89: 29, 36; 132:11, 17), which Paul declares was fulfilled when God brought to Israel the Savior Jesus. Paul both tempers and heightens the Jewish hope. He avoids the use of Messiah, with its connotations of a purely political deliverer. He indicates that the liberation is much greater, for God is its source, bringing the final salvation according to the Old Testament (Is 49:6, 8; 45:21-22; compare Ps 27:1; 89:26; Lk 1:69; 2:11; Acts 5:31; 13:26).
This focus on the spiritual or vertical dimension of salvation continues in Paul's mention of the last prophet, John the Baptist, the messenger who would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah (Lk 1:76-77). John preached repentance and baptism (literally, "a baptism of repentance"), a ritual washing as a visible sign of repentance in preparation for the Messiah's coming holy kingdom. He made very clear both that he was not the Messiah and that this coming Savior was much greater than he. He said he did not even qualify to perform the most menial of tasks, untying the Messiah's sandals as he prepared for daily washing. John issued this denial repeatedly (elegen, imperfect pointing to repeated, customary action) as he was "finishing his course" (NIV work; compare Acts 20:24; 2 Tim 4:7).
Through John's steadfast denial of very natural Jewish expectations, Paul puts his audience and us on notice. We must be careful lest we misunderstand what God is doing to provide salvation.
With greater intimacy (brothers) Paul readdresses his audience, proclaiming the promise's fulfillment. To us, as opposed to the patriarchs, this message of salvation (literally, "the message of this salvation") has been sent by God (not simply from Jerusalem, an option Williams [1985:223] notes; compare Lk 24:49; Gal 4:4, 6).
The central events of the kerygma, Jesus' death and resurrection, now come into view. Paul emphasizes three features of Jesus' death: its cause, its character and its reality.
1. Cause. Inhabitants of Jerusalem, ignorant of Jesus' messiahship and of the Scriptures (NIV does not represent this parallelism), fulfilled those very Scriptures by condemning him to death and making sure Pilate carried out the sentence. Though they were immediately culpable, ultimately God ordained it. He had planned it long ago and declared it through the prophets (Acts 2:23; 4:28; 3:17-18). It came to a complete fulfillment (Lk 12:50; 18:31; 22:37; 24:44). The people's ignorance was not simply a lack of knowledge but "a false understanding, a false path in knowing and thinking" that led them to turn away from a relationship to God in Jesus Christ (Schutz [1976:407] citing Otto Michel; compare Rom 10:3; 2 Cor 3:14-4:6).
One of the great ironies of our sinful human existence is that religion can make us blind to the true way of salvation. Even years of studying the Bible can leave us without understanding of the liberation Christ desires to bring. The experience of the people of Jerusalem in Jesus' day must ever stand as a warning to the religious.
2. Character. Luke is often faulted for not presenting Jesus' death as a substitutionary atonement (so Willimon 1988:124 here). Yet critics fail to take into account that when Luke notes Jesus' death as an innocent sufferer, he is presenting the objective conditions of vicarious atonement. For unless his death was a waste, a perverse miscarriage of justice, Jesus had to be suffering the penalty for someone's sins. So here Paul maintains Jesus' innocence: no proper ground for a death sentence. Pilate declared as much three times during the proceedings (the charges--Lk 23:2, 5; the governor's judgment--23:4, 14-15, 22; compare Acts 3:13-14). Jesus even received a proper burial (compare Lk 23:53, 55). At the same time Paul portrays Jesus' suffering as that of a criminal--he was condemned by the Jews, who requested a Roman execution for him, and he was crucified (hanging on the tree was a cursed death; compare Gal 3:13/Deut 21:23; Acts 5:30; 10:39).
3. Reality. To mention Jesus' burial is to affirm the reality of his physical death, a truth on which many ancient and modern heresies stumble. Note how later Paul recalls it as an essential of the gospel (1 Cor 15:4).
As Paul proclaims Jesus' resurrection he emphasizes its divine origin: God raised him from the dead (compare 3:15; 10:40; 13:37; Rom 10:9; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Col 2:12; 1 Thess 1:10). He highlights its supernatural character when he says that Jesus "appeared" to those who had accompanied him from Galilee (compare Gen 12:7; Judg 6:12; Luke 1:11; 24:34; Acts 2:3; 7:2; 9:17; 26:16). He stresses the resurrection's historical reality. Eyewitnesses had opportunities to see Jesus over a period of many days (compare Acts 1:3). They were in a good position to identify him, since they had been part of his ministry band and had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem (compare 1:21-22; 10:40-41). Theophilus and inquirers into Christianity's credibility in any time or place are given assurance once again that the central events of its saving message can stand, indeed invite, the test of public scrutiny.
Paul approaches the climax of his sermon by bringing together the word of promise and its fulfillment. On the one hand he tells the good news (5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 40; 10:36; 11:20) that in raising up Jesus--bringing him into the arena of human history--God has fulfilled what he promised to the fathers. On the other hand Paul quotes Old Testament texts that articulate the promises and their means of fulfillment.
Paul begins with the divine declaration to the Lord's anointed: You are my Son; today I have become your Father (Acts 13:33/Ps 2:7; compare 2 Sam 7:12-16). The Jews and early church did take this psalm messianically (Psalms of Solomon 17:21-23; Strack and Billerbeck 1978:3:675-77; Heb 1:5; 5:5/Ps 2:7; Acts 4:25-26/Ps 2:1-2). Jesus is God's Son in the fullest sense of the word, for he shares his very nature (see comment at Acts 9:20). For this reason he can be the means by which God completely fulfills the promises made to the fathers.
The crowning good news is that God raised him [Jesus] from the dead, never to decay. Isaiah 55:3 undergirds this assertion by setting Jesus' resurrection within the larger context of the covenant blessings that flow to God's people because of God's "pledged mercies" to David (Kaiser 1980:227-28; Bruce 1988:260). They are "the unassailable proofs of grace which Yahweh will give in faithfulness to His promises" (Hauck 1967:491; 2 Sam 7:8-16; 2 Chron 6:42). If the "pledged mercies to David" centered on the promise that he would reign forever, they are given to God's people in the form of the blessings of life under that "forever reign."
The link between the "pledged mercies" and Messiah's resurrection involves this interpretational reasoning. If the Messiah has to undergo an atoning death for the sins of the people but is to reign forever, a resurrection must decisively intervene. If that "forever reign" is to happen at all, the king must experience a resurrection that will so transform him that "his flesh will never return to decay," the normal destiny of humans (Ps 16:10/Acts 13:35). In fact, Paul's hermeneutic for identifying the risen Jesus, not the dead David, as the reference of this assertion depends on this distinction. Using the same interpretational tools as Peter--the question of identity and a literal understanding of You will not let your Holy One see decay--Paul establishes that the Messiah rises (compare 13:30; see comment at 2:25-31).
If we would receive the divinely intended spiritual good from the Old Testament, we must fix our eyes firmly on the fulfillment, Jesus Christ, and ask of each passage of promise, What does it teach us of Christ? What can we learn about the salvation that is appointed for the last day?
The sermon reaches its climax as Paul solemnly proclaims salvation blessings, the forgiveness of sins and a release "from all for which the law was unable to provide justification." Here is the promised liberation--a spiritual salvation. The law could never "justify from"--that is, acquit of sin--since it could not produce perfect obedience in the one who observed it (compare 7:53; Jer 31:32-34; Lk 18:14; Acts 15:7-11; Gal 2:16; 3:11). Do we know this liberation? And these salvation blessings are for everyone who believes, again implying that Gentiles as well as Jews are within the scope of God's offer of salvation (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38-39; 10:43).
Parallel to the offer of liberation is the warning of judgment for those who fail to recognize that God is truly effecting salvation through Jesus (supported by Hab 1:5/Acts 13:41; compare 1QpHab 2:7-16). Understood typologically, the spiritual pattern seen in God's surprise move of raising up the evil Chaldeans to punish Judah, even to the point of exile, could well be repeated in Paul's day and ours. The difference is that then God's work was judgment, whereas now it is salvation. But the warning is the same: Take heed lest you miss what God is doing. And the remedy is still the same: repentance. The warning was necessary, and is necessary today for those of a legalistic mindset to whom the "good news" of Jesus' offer of salvation by faith alone is unbelievable.
From what transpired immediately, a week later and in the subsequent weeks or possibly months we can trace out a divinely ordained spiritual dynamic in Jewish and Gentile response to the gospel and the Christian missionary's reaction.
As Luke reports division, he highlights for us the positive response. The people invited (compare 13:15) Paul and Barnabas to speak further about these things on the next sabbath. Many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism (proselytes), however, made a definite positive decision, for they followed Paul and Barnabas (used only here in Acts to indicate Christian commitment; compare Lk 5:27; 9:23, 59; 18:22). By encouraging them to continue in the grace of God, Paul is not urging them to pursue Christ as they had trusted in God's grace given in the Old Testament (contrast Marshall 1980:229). Rather, in light of his exhortation (Acts 13:38-39) and the parallel thought at Acts 11:23, they are to remain in the salvation offered in the gospel (13:23, 26, 38-39) and not return to the performance way of obedience of the Old Testament law and Jewish tradition. This encouragement was well placed when we remember the attacks that these churches subsequently sustained from Judaizers (compare Gal 1:6-7; 3:1-6; 5:7-12; 6:11-13).
The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. Evidently the word had spread and brought fruit through those who had heard the gospel. Again, the preaching of the Word, in particular a word about the Lord Jesus Christ, is central to the church's missionary enterprise and its advance. The negative response seems only to be hinted at.
The initial rejection comes when the Jews' jealousy is aroused by the crowds of Gentiles flooding into synagogue service. Though envy over the newcomers' success may be a factor (Marshall 1980:229), the main issue seems to be Paul's willingness to receive Gentiles directly into the people of God. He offers them an equal share in the spiritual blessings of the Messiah's kingdom simply based on faith, without requiring that they become Jews first (Longenecker 1981:429). The Jews speak out against Paul's message abusively--from the Christian perspective "blasphemously" (compare Acts 18:6; 26:11).
The final rejection occurs when the unbelieving Jews [incite] the God-fearing women of high standing--that is, Roman women who are attracted to Judaism but have not received Paul's message (13:50). These, in turn, probably influence their husbands, the leading men or magistrates of the city (compare 28:7). Thus the Jews [stir] up persecution against Paul and Barnabas (8:1; 2 Macc 12:23) and have exile imposed on the missionaries. The magistrates banish them from the municipality. Since the magistrates' tenure was only for a year, the banishment is in effect temporary (Williams 1985:229; a violent expulsion is not necessarily indicated, despite Stott 1990:228).
Though the church's battle is for human hearts and minds and its weapons are spiritual, Christians must be prepared to face governmental attempts to restrict their evangelizing activities. Today, with the militant advance of Islam, the revival of traditional religions tied to resurgent nationalism, and secular humanism's systematic attack on religious faith expressions in public life, Christians have many opportunities to encounter the tactics employed against Paul and Barnabas at Pisidian Antioch.
In an initial but decisive withdrawal from the Jews, Paul and Barnabas set forth the divine priority of Christian mission: "to the Jew first." Although Paul consistently spoke of himself as "apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom 11:13; 15:16; Gal 1:16; 2:9), his mission was always to be carried out by going to "the Jew first" (Rom 1:16-17). This priority was a matter of theological necessity, and it applies to the conduct of Christian mission today. We must make sure Jews are not overlooked but are a priority in any evangelistic thrust into an unreached-peoples area.
The Jews' rejection of the gospel was a decision to judge themselves unfit for eternal life, the life of the age to come (compare 5:20; 11:18; 13:40-41, 48). Because of this and the Lord Jesus' mandate (Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8), Paul now turns to direct his preaching completely to the Gentiles. He finds his warrant in Isaiah 49:6, the Father's command to the Servant-Messiah. The Gentile mission is not "plan B." The declaration and quotation comfort Theophilus (and us as well) by asserting that the Gentile mission was part of God's original intent.
At their final, forced withdrawal, the missionaries [shake] the dust from their feet in protest against them (NIV adds in protest, v. 51). Some take the action as a sign of contempt, parallel to the Jews' practice of shaking off the dust of "unclean" foreign lands as they reentered the Holy Land (Lake and Cadbury 1979:160). Others, more correctly, see it, according to the Lord's instruction, as a sign of disassociation from a community doomed to destruction (Lk 9:5; 10:10-11; compare Acts 18:6). Such destruction will be so complete that if one is to avoid it, one must remove from oneself the very dust of the place. Because the disassociation is from the persecutors, Paul can later return to the city and work there.
Sometimes people reject the gospel so decisively that the only way to speak "the good news" is to inform the opponents of "the bad news" of the eternal judgment that they continue to face, in the hope that this "shock therapy" will lead to repentance (compare Rev 9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21).
Jewish rejection never defeats the advance of the gospel (13:48-49, 52). There is always further progress. The Gentiles rejoice that the gospel is indeed for them (compare 15:31). They honor (literally, "glorify") the word of the Lord. And they believe and come to salvation (13:12; 14:1, 23; compare 13:39; contrast 13:41). Using predestination terminology, Luke is careful to point out here, as elsewhere, that this faith is above all God's work (2:41, 47; 5:14; 6:7; 11:21, 24; 21:19-20; compare Is 4:3; Dan 12:1; Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3; Rev 20:12-15; 21:27; Jubilees 30:20; 1 Enoch 104:1). We too must always keep before us the antinomy of faith as a personal human decision and as a divine gift according to God's election.
In conclusion, Luke notes that the gospel spreads to the whole region from this main garrison city with road links to five outposts (Acts 19:10). Qualitatively the gospel sustained itself in the disciples' joy though their church planter was forced to leave them (13:52; compare 8:8; 5:41; 11:23; 12:14; 15:3). Outward circumstances do not finally determine the well-being of the spiritually liberated.