In today’s essay we are studying Acts 13:13-52, which tells about the mission of Paul and Barnabas at Pisidian Antioch. Having evangelized a large part of Cyprus, Paul, Barnabas and Mark sailed to Pamphylia, which was a coastal Roman province. They probably landed at the port of Attalia and then walked the 12 miles inland to Perga, the provincial capital. Once again I suggest you consult the maps at the back of your Bibles.
The main event that occurred at Perga was the desertion of Mark from the team. Luke says nothing here about Mark’s reason or reasons for leaving, but it is clear from Acts 15:37-38 that Paul believed Mark had deserted him and Barnabas. Scholars have offered several speculations about why Mark might have deserted them there, e.g., homesickness, resentment that Paul had taken over the leadership of the team from his cousin, Paul’s sickness (Gal. 4:13), or weariness of the rigors of the trip. Of course no one knows.
After Mark left, Paul and Barnabas went on another 100 miles to Pisidian Antioch. Now Pisidia was not a Roman province. It was a traditional geographical area within the huge Roman province of Galatia that everyone knew about. It was like Appalachia in our country. Appalachia is a traditional geographical area that everyone is aware of, but it is not a state. Indeed it is part of several states. This city of Antioch is known as Pisidian Antioch to distinguish it from Syrian Antioch, the more important city from which Paul and Barnabas left to begin this journey.
On the first Sabbath day after their arrival in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went to the local synagogue and sat down to worship. At an appropriate point in the worship service, after the reading of the law and the prophets, the synagogue officials invited Paul and Barnabas to speak a word of encouragement to the congregation.
This was a common courtesy in the synagogues of the day. Indeed this was one of the reasons that Paul always began his ministry in a given city by going to the synagogue. It gave him a built-in congregation of both Jews and God-fearers to whom he could preach the gospel.
As you can see in the following verses, Paul was ready for such an invitation; and he immediately rose to speak. To stand to speak was a Greek custom. The Hebrew custom was to sit to speak, as Jesus did in the synagogue at Nazareth early in his earthly ministry (Luke 4:16-21).
Notice that Paul, in his opening sentence, identifies the two groups that make up the congregation: “men of Israel,” or Jews, and Gentile God-fearers. Then we see Luke’s summary of the sermon. Up to this point in the book, we have seen several summaries of Peter’s sermons, but this is his first summary of a sermon by Paul.
Notice that the first part of the sermon consists of a review of Israel’s history from the Exodus to king David, which reminds us a bit of Stephen’s sermon before he was stoned to death. Stephen He also reviewed Israelite history. The idea of this kind of sermon was to show how God prepared the world for the coming of Christ.
Paul told his audience how God chose Israel as his people and made them great by delivering them from Egypt and giving them the land of promise. In verses 19-20 he said that the process took about 450 years. The NIV translation here is much clearer than the NRSV. Apparently Paul, using round numbers, was counting the time in Egypt as about 400 years. Then there were the forty years of wondering in the wilderness, and finally, about ten years of conquering the land.
Paul then very quickly mentioned the judges, Samuel (v. 20) and Saul their first king (vv. 20-21), which brought him to David. David was the king after God’s own heart, the one who carried out all of God’s wishes. The reason Paul wanted to get to David was not only because of his commitment and obedience to God, but also because the savior, the Christ, came from David’s posterity. Notice that Paul leaped immediately from David to Jesus.
Notice that Paul not only told his audience that Jesus came from David’s line, as promised; but he also told them about the forerunner, John the Baptist’s ministry of repentance. And he reminded them that the Baptist denied that he was the Christ and that he was unworthy to untie the thong of the sandals of the coming one (vv. 24-25).
Thus Paul was announcing that Jesus was the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. And he made it clear that it was a message of salvation (v. 26). The people of Jerusalem had unwittingly fulfilled the prophecies by seeking the death of Jesus, even though they had no cause for seeking the death penalty (vv. 27-28). After his death, they buried him in a tomb (v. 29). But God raised Jesus from the dead and he made resurrection appearances to his followers for many days. Those followers then became witnesses to the people (vv. 30-31).
Next, Paul announced the fact that this truth was good news for those to whom he was preaching (vv. 32-33). And he backed up his claims about Jesus with three scriptures (vv. 33-35). The first was Ps. 2:7, the words of which were used by the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism (Lk. 3:22) and proclaimed him to be God’s Son. The second was Is. 55:3, which in Paul’s mind seemed to indicate that the promise made to David and his posterity could not have been fulfilled apart from the resurrection of the crucified Messiah” (F.F. Bruce). And the third scripture was Ps. 16:10, which indicates that the body of the Holy One, the Messiah, could not decay. Paul went on to explain that this scripture could not refer to David, because his body did decay in his tomb. But the body of the one whom God raised up experienced no decay (vv. 35-37).
Some scholars suggest that Luke put words in the mouths of both Peter and Paul, because of the similarities between Peter’s sermon in 10:36-42 and Paul’s sermon here. But the similarities are due more to the subject matter than to Luke’s composition. The apostolic preachers followed a common pattern that is seen in the sermons of both apostles.
In verses 38-41 Paul applied his sermon to his audience by inviting them to receive forgiveness of sins and to believe. By the way, this is another place in Acts where the NIV does a much better job of translation than the NRSV. In verse 39 the NIV reads, quote, “through him [that is, through Christ] everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” Paul meant that all the believer’s sins were forgiven. They were made righteous before the bar of divine justice. And that was something the law of Moses could not accomplish.
Paul concluded his sermon in verses 40-41 with a word of warning and a quotation from the Old Testament. The word of warning was “Beware therefore that what the prophets said does not happen to you.” And the Old Testament quotation was the Septuagint’s version of Hab. 1:5, in which Habakkuk warned Israel that the Babylonians would be God’s instrument of judgment against them. Those who ignored the warning of Habakkuk were overtaken with disaster. And Paul is saying that those who ignore the warning of the gospel message also will face disaster.
The immediate response of the congregation was overwhelmingly positive. The people wasted Paul and Barnabas to return and speak again the next Sabbath (vv. 42-43). But when the next Sabbath came, so many people attended that the Jewish authorities became jealous and strongly opposed the missionaries. Paul and Barnabas declared that they had fulfilled their duty to the Jews by preaching the gospel to them first. Now they would take it to the Gentiles. And they substantiated their decision with a quotation from Is. 49:6 (vv. 44-47).
The Gentiles received the gospel gladly, but the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas. Thus they drove them out of the region. But the missionaries, following the instruction of Jesus, shook the dust of Pisidian Antioch from their feet and joyfully went on to Iconium.