Author: Ron Graham
—Verse by verse
This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 13:43-52. These verses describe how Paul and Barnabas are persecuted in Antioch Pisidia, and driven out of the city.
Paul and Barnabas Persecuted in Antioch Pisidia
¶“43Now when the synagogue meeting broke up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas. So Paul and Barnabas spoke to them, urging them to continue in the grace of God. 44The next Sabbath almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God. 45But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed.” (Acts 13:43-45).
¶“46Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, 'It was necessary that God’s word should be spoken to you first. But since indeed you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, 'I have set you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.' ' ” (Acts 13:46-47).
¶“48As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God. As many as were designated for eternal life believed. 49The word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region.” (Acts 13:48-49).
¶“50However, the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their borders. 51But Paul and Barnabas shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:50-52).
1 Jews Reject Paul’s Ministry
¶ "Now when the synagogue meeting broke up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas. So Paul and Barnabas spoke to them, urging them to continue in the grace of God. The next Sabbath almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed." (Acts 13:43-45).
- Devout proselytes. A proselyte is a Gentile convert to Judaism who would renounce paganism and idolatry, be circumcised (if a man), keep the law of Moses, and worship in the synagogue every Sabbath —becoming a Jew though not of Jewish descent. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders of his day, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves" (Matthew 23:15).
- Receiving or rejecting. Paul’s message in the synagogue (Acts 13:13-41) polarised the Jewish religious community. Many followed Paul and Barnabas, eager to hear more, and a huge crowd turned out the next Sabbath to listen. The rest, however, opposed Paul and Barnabas, unreasonably contradicting their teaching.
- Blasphemed. We might expect some of the Jews to contradict the gospel, but we would not expect them to blaspheme, even though angry and jealous. They regarded blasphemy as a sin worthy of death (Matthew 26:64-66). Perhaps Luke is not referring to blasphemy against God as such, but rather to insulting Paul and Barnabas. However I think Luke might well be thinking of blasphemy against God —in the person of Jesus. The Jewish opponents of Christ would be likely to say blaphemous things against Jesus, but they wouldn't think it blasphemy, because they didn't believe that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God.
2 Paul Turns to the Gentiles
¶ "Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, “It was necessary that God’s word should be spoken to you first. But since indeed you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ ” " (Acts 13:46-47).
- To the Jew first. Jews were now living all over the world. They had meeting places called synagogues where their local congregations met and were administered. It was Paul’s practice, when he came to preach in a city, to first go to the synagogues. There he would hope to preach the gospel to the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles. One of Paul’s mottos was, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16, Romans 2:9-10). He saw this practice as "necessary" (Acts 13:46).
- You thrust God’s word from you. Paul lays blame upon these jealous Jews. They were able to accept the gospel; their own scriptures spoke of Jesus Christ; but they thrust the message from them. This made them fully responsible for any judgment against them that they were not made worthy of eternal life. Pilate once asked a Jewish mob of the same ilk, "What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matthew 27:22). They wanted him crucified.
- Behold we turn to the Gentiles. Paul had done what was necessary for the Jewish community in Antioch. Now he could reach out to the pagan Gentiles and bring to them the light of the gospel. This mission had already been acknowledged by Peter and the apostles in Jerusalem, because of the experience with Cornelius. Peter said, "In every nation, the one who fears God and does what is right is accepted with God" (Acts 10:34-35). The point is that this can be true without having to become a Jewish proselyte. A Gentile would need to renounce paganism and idolatry certainly. But being circumcised; keeping the law of Moses; and worshipping in the synagogue every Sabbath; these were not required of the Gentile Christian. That, however, was to cause Christianity’s first serious controversy.
- Salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth. Paul quotes from Isaiah 49:6. However this is also the great commission: "Go therefore, and make disciples of every nation..." (Matthew 28:19). "You will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the uttermost parts of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
3 Gentiles Welcome Paul’s Message
¶ "As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God. As many as were designated for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region." (Acts 13:48-49).
- Glorified the word of God. The Gentiles were overjoyed that they could have salvation and life without the yoke of the Jewish law being laid on their necks. This gospel spread rapidly.
Appointed to Eternal Life
Special attention needs to be given to the use of τασσω tasso in Acts 13:48 by comparison with 1Corinthians 16:15. In the latter passage, the household of Stephanas devoted themselves for ministry. In Acts 13:48 certain Gentiles at Antioch in Pisidia believed Paul’s preaching because they had been devoted to eternal life. God fearing people, they were determined to seek light and salvation. Thus disposed, they were designated for eternal life, unlike those who had rejected the gospel, to whom Paul said, "You judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life" (Acts 13:46).
Some would falsely say that those who believed were “indisposed” to eternal life by their “total depravity and inability” to receive the gospel. Nevertheless they had been, before the foundation of the world, “predestinated and foreordained” to eternal life. Therefore the Holy Spirit by “irresistable grace” moved them to believe, against every inclination of their “sinful nature”.
I leave it to you to compare that interpretation with what I have said above, and make up your own mind.
¶ "However, the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their borders. But Paul and Barnabas shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 13:50-52).
- Stirred up persecution. Although Paul and Barnabas were now not preaching to the Jews but to the pagans, the Jewish leaders still perceived that they were suffering losses. Many Jews and proselytes would be delighted to take salvation to the Gentiles and to desert the synagogues in favour of the Christian assemblies. So the Jewish leaders used their influence in the city to have Paul and Barnabas driven out. The city officials would be more than happy to avoid a commotion or uprising —for which the Roman rulers would punish the city chiefs. So they forced Paul and Barnabas to leave town. Paul and Barnabas turned this persecution into opportunity: the work in Antioch can go on without them, because nobody could kick the Spirit of Jesus out of town! There are other towns anyway, so they went to Iconium.
- Shook the dust off their feet. This was what Jesus had told his disciples to do when a city rejected them (Matthew 10:14-15). It was a symbolic act, as though to say, “We will leave this town; we are free of obligation to you now; and we won't carry with us any burden from you; not even the dust from your road that has got on our feet and sandals.”