Acts - Lesson 14
Acts Chapters 12 and 13
In this lesson, you will gain insight into the early Christian church and its growth, as well as the challenges and opposition it faced through the events of Acts 12 and 13, including the arrest and deliverance of Peter, Herod's death, the mission of Barnabas and Saul, and the first missionary journey.
Acts Chapters 12 and 13
NT619-14: Acts Chapters 12 and 13
A. Background information on the church at Jerusalem
B. Overview of the events in chapters 12 and 13
II. The Arrest and Deliverance of Peter (12:1-17)
A. Herod's persecution of the church
B. Peter's miraculous escape from prison
C. The disciples' reaction to Peter's deliverance
III. Herod's Death (12:18-23)
A. Herod's behavior and punishment
B. The reaction of the people to Herod's death
IV. The Mission of Barnabas and Saul (12:25-13:3)
A. The sending of Barnabas and Saul
B. The work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch
V. The First Missionary Journey (13:4-14:28)
A. The departure from Antioch
B. The journey through Cyprus and Pisidia
C. The opposition and opposition in Iconium
D. The work in Lystra and Derbe
E. The return to Antioch
- Acts is often referred to as "Luke: Part 2" suggesting that Luke was the author. Internal and external evidence confirms this authorship. It is believed that Acts was written in the 70's or 80's of the first century as a historical monograph with a biographic focus.
You will gain knowledge and insight about the authorship, date, and genre of the Book of Acts. The lesson will present evidence that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts and provide historical context to help determine the date of its writing. The genre of the Book of Acts will also be discussed, giving you a better understanding of its composition and purpose.
Acts is not a novel because it doesn't fit the style that novels of that time period were written in. It has elements of both common folk literature and elite literature. One motive that Luke had in writing Acts is as an apologetic to support a Jewish perspective. Acts is an apologetic, ethnographic history in a monograph form.
- In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the genre, historiography, purpose, and historical reliability of the book of Acts and its implications for interpretation.
This lesson teaches you about the themes of theology, history, culture, and miracles in the book of Acts, including Christology, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and the historical and cultural context of the first-century Roman Empire and Jewish culture. You'll learn the role of miracles in establishing the credibility of the gospel message and its relationship with faith. By the end, you will have a complete understanding of the main themes in the book of Acts.
In this lesson, you will learn about the role of miracles in the early church and how they were used to support and advance the gospel message in the book of Acts. The purpose of miracles, such as healings and other supernatural events, were seen as signs of the Holy Spirit's power and evidence of the truth of the gospel, which helped attract people to the message. Through exploring specific examples from the book of Acts, you will see how miracles played a crucial role in the growth of the early church and the spread of the gospel.
- This lesson covers the historical context of Acts, including the Jewish World, Roman Empire, political/social structures, and Mediterranean Geography. The purpose and authorship of the book, including Luke as the author, the purpose of the book, and its theology, will be discussed. The narrative structure, major sections, and events will be overviewed.
- The lesson is about the historical and theological context of the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the early Church as described in the first two chapters of the Book of Acts.
In this lesson you will learn about Peter's healing and sermon, the persecution and expansion of the church, and Stephen's martyrdom. You will gain insight into the early church's growth and the challenges they faced, as well as the impact of Stephen's death on the spread of Christianity.
- The lesson teaches about the events in Acts 5-7, including the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the growth of the church, the appointment of the seven, Stephen's defense, and his martyrdom, providing insight into the early Christian community and its challenges.
- The lesson is about the early events of the Church of Jerusalem and the role of the seven men chosen to serve the community, the first major persecution of the Christian Church, the spread of the gospel, and the conversion of Saul to Paul.
- The lesson covers the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem and beyond following Stephen's death, including Philip's preaching in Samaria, conversion of Simon and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the challenges faced by early Christians.
- This lesson provides an overview of Saul's conversion and the events that took place on the Damascus road, including his baptism and ministry, and the implications for our lives today.
- This lesson provides an understanding of the events leading to the inclusion of Gentiles in the early Christian church and the spread of the gospel to non-Jewish people.
- This lesson explores the early Christian church's growth and challenges through the events of Acts 12 and 13, including the arrest and deliverance of Peter, Herod's death, the mission of Barnabas and Saul, and the first missionary journey.
- The First Missionary Journey in Acts 13-15 provides insight into the early Christian church through covering the team sent out, their ministry, and the results of their ministry.
- In this lesson, you will learn about the major issue that arose in the early Christian church regarding the relationship between Gentile converts and Jewish customs, the decision of the Jerusalem Council, and the implementation and response of the Gentile churches.
- In this lesson, you'll learn about the spread of the gospel in Philippi through Paul and Silas and the conversions of Lydia and the jailer, showcasing the gospel's power.
- In this lesson, you will learn about Paul's encounter with the philosophers of Athens and his message to them about the one true God, the judgment of humanity, and the resurrection of Jesus.
- This lesson provides a comprehensive overview of Paul's ministry in the city of Corinth, including the challenges he faced, the Lord's encouragement, and the significance of this episode in the book of Acts.
- This lesson provides insight into Paul's second missionary journey and his preaching, as well as the importance of the Holy Spirit's work and the ministry of the Word.
- The lesson provides an overview of Paul's journey to Jerusalem and the events that took place during his arrival in Jerusalem, the incident at the temple, his arrest, and his appearance before the Sanhedrin and its significance in the early Christian church.
- The lesson covers Paul's defenses in the final four chapters of Acts and his navigation of political and religious tensions while remaining faithful to his beliefs and mission.
- In this lesson, you will gain insight into Paul's journey from Caesarea to Rome, including details about the voyage and shipwreck, the aftermath of the shipwreck, and the significance of Paul's ministry.
The book of Acts portrays, in a narrative way, the life of the early church. The theme of the book is, "the mission of the early church." It tells how Jesus continued to carry out his mission that he started as recorded in the book of Luke, by working through the people of the early church. Dr. Keeener discusses the growth of the church from its Jewish roots through reaching the ends of the earth to fulfill the Great Commission.
Dr. Craig Keener
Acts Chapters 12 and 13
1. Chapter 12
a. The Herodians
Luke is brilliant in the way he arranges his material. He has been talking about Peter and the Jerusalem church, but he will be focusing on Paul in the later part of Acts. In between that he goes back and forth between Peter and Paul. This last point of transition is through speaking of what was happening in Antioch; now the church in Antioch sends Saul and Barnabas with the famine relief to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30. Luke is going to pick up again with Barnabas and Saul after they deliver this in Acts 12:25. In the meantime, Luke’s last focus on Peter and the Jerusalem church takes place in Caesarea Marittima on the coast. In Acts 12:1-17 we learn about Peter’s deliverance. Now the persecution is becoming really serious. Herod Agrippa I is the first Jewish King sense Herod the Great because he was friends with the emperor in Rome. The emperor set him up as King from the year 41-44 AD in Judea. He was the brother of Herodias. If you remember reading in Mark 6 about Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee; he married his brother’s wife Herodias. Herodias’ full brother was Herod Agrippa I; he was a friend of Caligula before Caligula became emperor. He became the first official Jewish king since his grandfather Herod the Great. His grandmother was a Hasmonean princess which made him look good to the people. Herod the Great was ethnically from Idumaea. This was the first Jewish king with the blood of the Hasmoneans, the Maccabees in his veins as well. He was very popular with the people and he was also eager to please which often got him in trouble from Rome. He threw his money around trying to please everyone and ended up in serious debt. He did the same thing in Judea; again, he wanted to please the Judeans, particularly the most conservative. He was emphasizing his Judean identity just as he emphasized his Roman identity when he was in Rome. He was very pro-Pharisaic and frequented the temple. We know this from Josephus. He arrests James, the brother of John and beheads him. It actually says Jacob but in the New Testament, this is always translated James. This is like when John the Baptist was beheaded back in Luke 9:9. In this period, the sword was usually used to behead people rather than an axe. Beheading was considered more merciful. It was especially true for Roman citizens. As a king he held the power of life and death. The Sanhedrin didn’t have this power; they had to have the governor’s approval to put anyone to death, but there was no governor of Judea during this brief period. It was just his own reign. This caused a time of Judean nationalism, by having their own king.
b. James and Peter
What do we do with tragedy strikes us? James has been beheaded and now Peter is arrested which makes two of the leading apostles. What can the church do? Acts 12:3 was during the feast of unleavened bread. From Luke’s first volume in Luke 22:7 at the time of Jesus’ execution; Agrippa sometimes executed people for public entertainment. It was part of his way of pleasing people. Doing it during a festival served as a warning and in addition entertainment. We know the Herod Agrippa I gave generously to gentiles outside of Judea, but his policies were more popular with his Jewish subjects. His soldiers in Caesarea; which were soldiers of Rome hated him as we learned from Josephus, but Jewish Judeans loved him.
In Acts 12:4, Agrippa I resided in Jerusalem. This was presumably the place of Peter’s imprisonment. It may have been in the fortress of Antonia which was near the upper city where most of soldiers were located. There was a whole Roman Cohort lodged there. Some scholars have argued that perhaps Agrippa I would have used only Jewish soldiers during this period, but that’s not what we read in Josephus. There would have been four shifts with four soldiers on each shift. At any given time there would have been four soldiers guarding Peter with a chain linking Peter to a soldier. Then you would have had two guards standing watch outside. In Acts 12:8-11 the angel of the Lord appears and tells Peter to put his sandals on and his outer garments. The prison didn’t normally provides clothes so whatever you were arrested in, it is what you had. The outer cloak could be used as a blanket. So, he puts them on and his chains drop off and the doors open by themselves. This language is heard in many other ancient works; Euripides mentioned Dionysus freeing his followers; he made the chains drop off and locked doors open. This language of the doors opening by themselves is also shown in Homer to Josephus. It reminds us what we saw earlier in Acts 5; you cannot fight against God. James died, Peter survived; we don’t always understand why God intervenes in one situation and doesn’t in another situation. There was still work for Peter to do as shown in Acts 15 helping with the Gentile mission. Of course, Agrippa had more direct power than the Sanhedrin. His guards were much more efficient than the guards you read about in Acts 5. Peter was asleep in jail and most likely he was going to die, but people were praying for him and I believed they prayed for James also.
As mentioned, Peter was probably somewhere in the Upper City, perhaps in the Fortress of Antonio which was on the Temple Mount where the Roman cohort was. From this fortress, there was a straight route to the Upper City. You would have had only to take one main road and cross over an arch and then you would be in the Upper City. The home to which he goes to was John Mark’s mother’s house. It had an outer gate with a servant who was functioning as a porter. This was a home of some means. We see in Colossians 4:10 that Mark and Barnabas were relatives. We also know that Barnabas had some means also from Acts 4 verses 36-37. All of this supports the idea that this was a well-to-do home; certainly better off than the average home. Also from Acts 4:36, we know that Barnabas was a Levite; so this could have been a Levite family who could have had some ties with the priestly Aristocracy. There were also some well-to-do priests living in the Upper City as well as some living in Jericho. There was a prayer meeting going on as the church used homes to meet in during this time. This went on for the first three centuries of the churches’ existence. We read about this in Romans 16:5 and other places in the New Testament. Some poor synagogues did this before they had their synagogues built. The Jerusalem mega-church could meet in the Temple which was considered a public space, but during this period as persecution was severe, homes were much better and safer.
c. John Mark’s House
We know that Mary was John Mark’s mother; Mark was a Latin name, hence this comes from a family probably more favorable to Rome. It doesn’t necessarily indicate Roman citizenship nor does it indicate typical Judean nationalism. Again, they are probably tied to more well-to-do people of Jerusalem. Mary was the most common name for a woman in Judea and Galilee. We have this name in the Gospels and the first half of the Book of Acts. The names used in Acts are obviously suitable for the location. They are not names that the church would have made up and projected back on Judea or Jerusalem. The servant’s name is Rowda which means rose which is a name used today in some circles as well. Household servants actually were better off than freed people who worked in the fields. They were often better off economically and had more social mobility and more likely to eventually achieve a higher status when they became free. However, this wasn’t always true for the women. Women slaves and sometimes boys in the gentile world experienced sexual harassment. Even in Jewish circles, it was forbidden to sexually harass servants but this suggests that this temptation existed. But his is John Mark’s mother’s house, so Rowda wasn’t likely experiencing this. From what we see of the narrative, she knows Peter and she is part of the Christian community there. This is not condoning slavery but simply saying that this was part of the culture. She didn’t seem to be in a particularly bad situation compared to others in the ancient Mediterranean world. Seventy to eighty percent of people were rural subsistent farmers or those who worked on other people’s estates.
d. Faith Through God’s Grace
In Acts 12:14-16 is about learning faith through God’s grace. Sometimes God answers our prayers even when we don’t have much faith. James had been executed, possibly in spite of their prayers. But notice in their prayer meeting in 12:5; the church is praying for Peter, for his release. So what happens when God releases him? They are not really expecting it! They are surprised; Rowda comes to the door and sees that it is Peter; she is so excited that she runs back tells the others while Peter is left standing at the door! But they don’t believe her; just like the disciples didn’t believe the women at the tomb in Luke 24. First, they think she’s crazy; it’s his ghost they say! This was just like they thought that Jesus was a ghost in Luke 24. There were some popular traditions which the righteous became like angels after death. But ironically, the angel had just delivered Peter and this was the real Peter. The narrative isn’t condemning their faith necessarily; even Peter didn’t think he was being released by the angel. He thought that he was seeing a vision until he got out in the cold night air. So Peter didn’t believe it even though he was going through it at the time. Meanwhile, Peter is pounding on the gate door. Keep in mind that there were other porters probably in the neighborhood. Many people had guards in the Upper City of Jerusalem at their gates. So when they finally let him in, Peter recounts to them what had happened. Rowda is the only one who initially believed it.
In chapter 12:17, James or Jacob, being a common Jewish name; it isn’t the same James who was beheaded in chapter 12:2. This is the James who appears later in Acts 15:13. It seems to be taken for granted that Luke’s ideal audience has already heard of this particular James; that is why he isn’t introduced in some special way. 1 Corinthians 15:7 and Galatians 2:9; this was Jesus’ younger brother. He was highly known for his devoutness. Later on when he was martyred, the people of Jerusalem protested and especially those who were most devout in the law, probably the Pharisees protested James’ execution. There were people who were upset with Peter, he was traveling around with uncircumcised gentiles, but James is probably safe with Agrippa; people don’t necessarily want James to be executed. James was someone who was already identifying with the very conservative Jewish Jerusalem culture. This could have been part of his upbringing as well. In verses 18 and 19, we see that Agrippa is so arrogant that he is will condemn others to death. He examines the guards for information, perhaps under torture. Under Roman laws, slaves could be examined under torture. He examines them and then executes them because he can’t blame anybody else except these four guards. This was a capital case and they had obviously been negligent, under such, Roman soldiers could be executed if they let the prisoner escape. You must assume collusion with all the guards cooperating. Two of them were chained to Peter and the chains were undone and the other two guards were outside. There was no way Peter could have gotten past without them seeing him, unless God made it that way, the guards not seeing him. Of course Agrippa would not have accepted such an explanation. But in this, you can see Agrippa’s arrogance. Before this narrative is finished, God is going to condemn him to death.
e. Agrippa I is struck down in Caesarea
In Acts 16:27, you remember when the Philippian jailer is ready to fall on his sword and then in Acts 27:42 where the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners in fear of them escaping. In both of those cases, they might not have been executed but it was still a risk. In this case though, Agrippa isn’t a very nice person. He salvages his own honor in being able to blame these guards who he assumes must be guilty and thus executes them. In verse 20, he is approached by an emissary from Tyre and Sidon for they depended on imports for food in Tyre and Sidon. Much of it was still an island state which had been rebuilt. There was still a ramp between the island and the land that had been built earlier by Alexander the Great. They depended partly on Judea for their food, but Agrippa had been holding some of it back. So they came and spoke for flattering to him in order to get his to release it. Josephus tells us that this actually took place in the theater in Caesarea. So Agrippa returns to Caesarea Marittima which was the Roman capital of Judea, even though he normally lived in Jerusalem. Agrippa liked to show off his power and he does this in verse 21. Luke mentions his royal rope which is also mentioned by Josephus. He emphasizes the splendor of the rope. Agrippa’s self-display on other occasions lead to anti-Jewish riots in Alexandria. Josephus portrayed this particular scene in the theater of Caesarea which was built by his grandfather Herod the Great. The foundations of the theater still exist today. So, this was a special occasion where they were gathered, most likely the Emperor’s birthday if we understand the text correctly. Josephus says that Agrippa was flaunting his power, that his flatterers praised him as a god which was common in the Greek world. He was a friend of Gaius Caligula who was now dead and Claudius was emperor. But Gaius Caligula was the emperor who tried to set up his own image in the temple in Jerusalem in order to be worshipped as a god. Agrippa discouraged that; at this point Agrippa is happy to be adored or flattered as if he was a god. Remember that he liked to please people and these are gentiles, not Jews. Even Germanicus, a famous general, people hailed him as a god in Alexandria. Everybody but the Emperor was to deflect such praise. The Emperor wouldn’t like others to accept such praise. Agrippa didn’t deflect the honor in this case and Josephus said that he immediately collapsed and died. He was 54 years old; he had had five days of stomach pains before this. Death from bowl diseases and worms was particularly horrible and considered an appropriate death for tyrants. We have some other stories of tyrants who died this way.
But both Josephus and Luke spoke of Agrippa’s horrible death. Luke says that he was eaten by worms and died. So Agrippa who exercised the power of life and death, who wanted to kill Peter; Peter ends up surviving and Agrippa ends up dying. The one who really holds the power of life and death is God and thus we don’t have to be afraid. We can know that he is in charge of everything.
f. Missionaries are Sent Out from Antioch
In chapter 12:25-13:3, we see that Antioch has sent out missionaries. This wasn’t a common practice in Judaism. Travelers did take the message of Judaism with them as they traveled, but remember that Saul of Tarsus has a calling that God has given to him and Barnabas knows about this. And so at this time, they are being sent out by the church. In chapter 1:8, the Judean Apostles are still in Jerusalem at this point. We still hear about them in chapter 15:6 where they expect that the gentiles will come to Jerusalem to receive the Law of God or at least hear about it from Jerusalem. But Antioch has been particular successful in the gentile mission. Chapter 11:19-26 we see that they had a special vision for this. In chapter 12:25, the journey back to Antioch from Jerusalem where Barnabas and Saul had delivered support to Jerusalem and then returned. The journey was about four hundred miles or about six hundred and forty kilometers. It was a significant journey. It was customary for ancient teachers to take their disciples with them and so Barnabas takes Mark with them. Perhaps he was a teenager at this point somewhere around the age of thirteen; a boy was considered a young man in not only Jewish circles but much of the Mediterranean world. It was, of course, safer to travel in groups. Rabbi’s thought it was good to talk about the Torah when they were traveling. They most likely talked about this as they traveled to Antioch, perhaps especially about the mighty works of God in their own lives. Luke, for example, could have got some of things he wrote in the Book of Luke from what Paul told him. Perhaps they talked about some of the parables about grace, etc.
2. Chapter 13
a. Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius Manaen and Saul
In Chapter 13:1, they are back in Antioch where Barnabas and Saul are among the leaders in the church. The overseers are prophets and teachers; these were people who spoke the Word of the Lord, prophetically or by teaching. Simeon and Manaen (Manaen is a Greek form of Manokum); Simeon and Manaen are both Jewish names, but Simeon’s surname is Niger which was a respectable Roman name. He may have even been a Roman citizen. But in this case, it is Simeon called Niger, a nickname. When it was used as a nickname in Latin, Niger meant black. So Simeon could have been a North African Proselyte. In any case, he is Jewish and presumably having the name Simeon, he was born Jewish. The province of Cyrene in North Africa had a large Jewish population; perhaps a quarter of Cyrene was Jewish. So Lucius from Cyrene could have been Jewish; Lucius was typical a gentile name and in the diaspora Jews used such names. We see that there was geographical diversity within the group. This reflected some of the diversity of the population. The leadership team was largely Jewish ethnically, even if they were from different regents and different backgrounds. This was naturally as they would know the Torah and Old Testament the best and would be able to teach it. Manaen is very interesting; he was brought up with Herod the tetrarch. If he was a slave that grew up in Herod’s house, he could have eventually been freed. There were freed slaves of Caesar who sometimes were more powerful than senators. But, we are not sure, he may have been a freed slave or he may have not been. Antipas fell a decade before this narrative. Herod Antipas was banished because he had petitioned Caesar to be king. His wife Herodias had talked him into doing this because of her brother Herod Agrippa I became king. She thought that her husband deserved kingship. The emperor said that nobody talks about being a king unless it first comes from me. So, Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias lost their position of power.
So, Manaen doesn’t have any strong political connections, however he comes from a very respecting and probably educated background. He may be Luke’s source for the material about Herod Antipas. Some of this material doesn’t appear in the other Gospels. There were a couple of in-house connections with Herod Antipas; Luke may have learned of these things from Paul.
b. Barnabas and Saul are sat apart by the Holy Spirit
In Acts 13:2, they were worshipping and fasting together. This was typically used for mourning or repentance. Some Jewish people used it in order to seek special revelation from God. But here, they were seeking God in prayer. One time back in my life, I wanted to fast a day each week, just over a particular issue. It was just to seek God and show my devotion sacrificially to God. In any case, fasting in conjunction with prayer we see that the Holy Spirit spoke. The Holy Spirit is often associated with prophetic speech. Remember the leaders were prophets and teachers and so most like one of the prophesized. It told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul to the ministry in which I have called them. This was a confirmation for they had already heard from the Lord. This was something which the Lord had already spoken to them about. It’s great when the Lord confirms things to us like this. This was particularly important in this case as they already had an active ministry within the church. Now they are being sent out to begin the work in other places. Sending may have meant that their trip was paid, at least one way.
c. Traveling to Cyprus
In Acts 14:4-14, we have the proconsul of Cyprus, who became a believer. It was customary for messengers to travel by two. This was also safer in having someone with you. Students of the Torah preferred having companions so they could study as they traveled. Normally Roman roads were good and generally safe, providing you were traveling during the day. In one place in Nigeria, we heard that there were robbers at night. Unfortunately our car broke down one night we were traveling. While my Nigerian friend changed the tire, I was to watch for oncoming vehicles to make sure that they didn’t hit us. Travel was easier than ever before in the Roman Empire or ever again until more recently. In Acts 13:4, they traveled from Antioch to Seleucia a nearby port city on the coast. It was about fifteen miles or twenty four kilometers to the west. There was also the river Orontes going out to the coast. This city was also a wealthy merchant city with strong fortifications. Cyprus was a natural place for them to go as Barnabas was a Cypriot and knew the countryside and its people. It was about sixty miles or ninety five kilometers by sea from Seleucia. They come to Salamis, a very large city; most likely over a hundred thousand people. It had a large Jewish community with several synagogues. Visiting teachers skilled in the Torah would usually be asked to speak in local synagogues. So Paul was from Jerusalem and he had studied under Gamaliel. A minority of scholars have said that we can’t believe that Paul actually spoke in synagogues because of his mission being to the gentiles. But in Romans 11, we see that he also had a vision for reaching the Jewish people. Romans 9 said that he would be willing to be cursed for their sake, just like Moses was willing to lay down his life for his people. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul speaks of being beaten with thirty-nine stripes which was the kind of beatings you got in the synagogues. So Paul obviously spent time in synagogues. He could have repudiated the synagogue community being a Roman citizen as Roman law would have protected him, but in doing so, he would have been excluded from the Jewish community. The fact that he kept being beaten this way shows that he continued to go to the Synagogues. They didn’t get beaten in all of them of course. So, Paul confirms in his own letters that he did speak in synagogues. At this point, Barnabas seems to be the leader of the team as they were referred to as Barnabas and Saul.
In the early 2nd century, the Cypriot Jewish community attacked Salamis and in retaliation the Jewish community was obliterated. In Acts 13:6, it says that they traveled most likely through the shorter southern road. Some of the towns they visited included Vidiyum, Amathus, and Kurian. Nea Paphos was the provincial capital for Cyprus. It was a Greek harbor town on the west coast which maintained trade relations with Judea. There was a famous shrine of Aphrodite that was in Old Paphos about eleven kilometers southeast. This was a predominately pagan area. They were brought in before the governor and interestingly there is a palace that has been excavated in Nea Paphos which is thought to be that of the governor. So we may know something of what the room looked like where Paul and Barnabas were brought to. There was an axe where there apparently was an important chair, probably where the governor sat. There were murals on the wall of various mythological scenes. There was also a Jewish magician there. They were actually thought to be the best in the Roman Empire. Of course, they were forbidden in Scripture and mistrusted among pious Jews. But because Jews were thought to have the hidden name of God, they were often respected by others in realm of magic. Roman aristocrats often attached philosophers to their courts and sometimes they took in astrologers. It was later that Felix who was the Roman governor of Judea that had befriended a Jewish magician from Cyprus. So, we know that there were Jewish magicians from Cyprus even some decades after this.
d. Sergius Paulus
Sergius Paulus was a Roman citizen. He was a first generation Roman citizen who actually lived in the east. They were also members of the senatorial class. His family lived in the interior of Asia Minor. He grew up as a Roman citizen but had experience in the eastern culture and their ideas. So, these magicians were reputed for their ancient wisdom and mysteries and sometimes considered exotic, especially by those in the western part of the empire. In Acts 13:7-8, Sergius Paulus was apparently the pro-council of Cyprus certainly in the years 45-46. We don’t have his name attested as pro-council of Cyprus during this period. In fact, we only have the name of perhaps twenty percent of the pro-councils of Cyprus. Most of those names have been lost to us. We do know that the information fits the career of Sergius Paulus and it makes sense that he would have been pro-council of nearby Cyprus with his family being senatorial and living reasonably close in Asia Minor.
e. From Saul to Paul
In Acts 13:9, Saul is introduced as Paul here. For the first time hearers of the Book of Acts may have known that his name had been changed to Paul. But Roman citizens had three names, trinomial and the Roman codomain which is what Paul would be. This identifies him probably as a Roman citizen. Almost everybody we know of who had the name Paul was a Roman citizen. Usually Jewish parents sometimes gave their kids Roman names but we don’t know of Paulus as being used this way. This would not have gone over well in Jerusalem with this kind of name. Even though Saul was originally from Tarsus, a Roman codomain normally would mean that he was a citizen. His Roman name sounded similar to his Jewish name and sometimes they would mean the same thing. Shaul in Aramaic and Saulus in Greek and Paulus in Latin; Saulus would probably not have been used; it was a great name for a Benjamite which we know from Paul’s own letters that he was; it wasn’t’ the best name in the Greco-Roman world where Saulus meant something very negative. So, it made more sense for him to go by the name of Paul, especially when he was in a Roman environment. So now, that he is in a Roman environment, he transitions to his Roman name. It makes a good connection because Paulus was speaking to Sergius Paulus.
f. Elymas Bar-Jesus and Other Magical Works
In Acts 13:10-11, the Jewish magician Elymas Bar-Jesus is speaking against the message of Barnabas and Saul, now Paul. Paul takes the lead in this encounter and after this it becomes normally Paul and Barnabas. The magician is struck blind and Paul says that he will be blind for a season. There is a play on physical blindness and spiritual blindness. You have this with the Old Testament prophets. Paul calls him the son of the devil. That is also ironic because his name was Bar-Jesus, the son of Jesus. Jesus was a somewhat common name coming from Joshua in the Old Testament. He isn’t really the son of Jesus but instead the son of the devil. This is a power-encounter; this magician claimed supernatural power but the God’s power is so much greater.
My brother-in-law, Emmanuel Nosunga is a professor of chemistry at the University of Brazzavile. He has a PhD in chemistry from a French University, just like my wife has a PhD in history from a French University. Emmanuel is a great person; he is a scientist who has published scientific articles. Emmanuel also teaches Sunday school in his church, the Evangelical Church of the Congo. He recounted something to me that happened with some of his students. There were three boys who always stuck together and at one point, one of them got very sick and eventually died. The next one also fell very sick and after about a month he died. And then immediately the third one fell sick and at this point the boy came to the Sunday School Teachers and asked them to pray for him. The three of us had agreed among ourselves and with the person who told us that we would receive supernatural powers and that we weren’t supposed to tell anyone else, otherwise the spell would not work. We had met a man in the street and he wanted to take some of our blood; once taken from each of us, we would get this supernatural power. The oldest one fell sick after he had a nightmare of the man coming to him and stabbing him with the same knife. He then fell sick and eventually died after a couple of months. The night that he died, the second person had the same nightmare and he fell sick and the night that he died, the third person had the same nightmare. He then realized that this wasn’t working the way it was supposed to have been. That is when he came to the Sunday school teachers to ask them to pray for him. So my brother-in-law and the other teachers prayed and fasted for nine days. They prayed for him to be delivered from this and the boy was delivered from it. The boy, now a young man is very well. My family and I had our own unexpected encounter where a tree broke off at the roots in a context of us being cursed right where we had just stood. I couldn’t understand how that could happen until I read Job 1; Oh! Satan does have the power to blow down homes and do things like this. But God protected us. I don’t really like telling my own stories about this because they aren’t pleasant.
Doctor Rodney Ragwan, an Indian Baptist from South Africa, a good friend of mine, a colleague in a seminary where I taught before, told me a story from his grandfather. He heard it from his father and when I was working on the miracles and doing an appendix on this sort of thing. Rodney contacted his father in order to get the story directly from an eyewitness. His grandfather was an Indian Baptist in Durban. He met somebody at the market who claimed that his spirit was very powerful. He said that his spirit was going to come and visit him that night around midnight and he would see that his spirit was more power than anything he had. That night while the family was praying and fasting until about 11:45, they heard massive steps around the house. Rodney’s father remembered this in great detail as it was the kind of thing that would stick in your memory. But nothing happened; the next day in the market the man admitted to Rodney’s grandfather that his spirit couldn’t get in.
Many spirit practitioners have been converted through power encounters. This is common in Indonesia, Philippines, and also Southern Africa. Condney Ronda in Indonesia, who I mentioned before; he was unharmed by witchcraft attacks that had been used to kill others. Everyone expected him to die but he didn’t experience any harm. The witchcraft worker repented and accepted Christ. This was a scene where they were burning items of witchcraft; these were people who claimed to use curses to kill people. Twelve years later, he remains well. In 2011 they were baptizing witch doctors that were converted during his revival meetings in a mountain area in Indonesia.
g. Pisidia Antioch
In Acts 13:13-41 Paul’s sermon in the city of Pisidia Antioch. But first the background on that sermon; Paul and Barnabas visited a number of cities, all of which was along the Way of Augusta, the main road which was built about a half century earlier. Rome wanted to make sure its armies could move swiftly in the interior of Asia. In Acts 13:13, as they sailed north from Paphos to the southern coast of Asia Minor; they probably landed at Italia, the main harbor for Perga. Then they probably traveled by road from Perga about ten miles or sixteen kilometers north. Perga was five miles from any navigable water. This is Perga in Pamphylia which was part of Lycia in this period. This was from 43-68 AD. Perga was a significant city on the coast which may have had over a hundred thousand people. So, they probably traveled northeast along the Augusta Highway. There were other routes that they could have taken but this was the best one and the most likely one to where they were traveling. Antioch near Pisidia, not Antioch of Syria, wasn’t nearly as large as Perga or other cities along the coast. It was a Roman colony because Rome had wanted to station its own people along the way as it was a way of keeping Asia Minor secure. This was made up of five thousand colonists plus others; this wasn’t a very large population compared to some of the coastal areas. They were known particularly for their worship of the god Main. The biggest temple was a recently built temple in honor of the emperor. So, it was much smaller than the coastal cities, however, we know from archaeology that the family of Sergius Paulus lived in this regent. If he had supplied them with letters of recommendation as what probably transpired. We believe he later became a senator and served in Rome in a later generation. So, this would be one reason why they would go to the interior. They could also speak in the Synagogue that was there on the Sabbath which was the only time Jews had public gatherings. Of course there were the festival days as well. If the Jewish community was large enough, sometimes they would also have schools.
In verse 15, the readings of Scripture that were used, Paul would start with the normal Scripture readings. There was a reading from the Torah and the Prophets. In this period, some think they perhaps were able to choose their own readings, especially in the diaspora, outside of Judea and Galilee. A Synagogue sermon would normally be a homily on the text that was read. Paul’s sermon probably included the prophets. The rulers of the synagogue invite him to speak which would be natural. Here is someone actually from Judea visiting and trained as a speaker of Scripture. Rulers of the synagogue were often an honorary office and it could refer to the highest officials of the synagogue. People were often given this office that was particularly of an honorable respectable class. These were often donors of the synagogue as well. In Acts 13:16, in the diaspora as opposed to what we see by Jesus in Matthew 5:1. In the diaspora, a speaker would normally stand to speak. You know Jesus reads and then sits to expound on what he reads in Luke 4, but in the diaspora, the speaker would normally stand. So Paul stands and then we have a Scripture based exposition in Acts 13:16-43, quite different from the way Paul preaches to the gentiles. Paul adapted to different audiences when he spoke as well as in his letters. This was considered a good rhetorical principal in antiquity. Well, next time we will pick up with the content of this sermon at this synagogue at Pisidia Antioch. Some people really like what Paul had to say but some didn’t.