Saul in Antioch
After a period of time had passed,1 the word had spread in many of the churches that Peter had baptized some Gentiles into Christ. Then the first recorded integrated congregation, Antioch, began to grow with an influx of Gentiles obeying the gospel.2 When word of this reached Jerusalem, the church sent Barnabas to Antioch to see what was happening. When he arrived and saw the great work that was being done, he was glad and encouraged the brethren there. But he also saw this as an opportunity to bring Saul in. Barnabas must have remembered that Jesus had foretold Saul would “carry my name before the Gentiles.”3 So he left Antioch and went to Tarsus to find him.
What Saul did while in Tarsus, we are not told. It is almost certain that Paul taught or preached while he was there. Possibly he tried to convert his family to Jesus Christ. Regardless of what happened, Saul was certainly glad to see his friend Barnabas and hear the news about the Gentiles being brought into the kingdom of Christ. That meant that he was going to be put to use in the service of the Lord.
Saul accompanied Barnabas back to Antioch, and they remained there for a full year, working with the congregation, teaching many people, and also fulfilling prophecy. The Old Testament Scriptures say:
The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name.4
The Lord Jehovah shall…call His servants by another name.5
So when Barnabas and Saul came to Antioch, after the Gentiles had seen the righteousness of Christ, they called the disciples this new name (by inspiration): Christians.6
During that year in Antioch, some prophets (including Agabus, who will figure into Paul’s life years later) came from Jerusalem, foretelling that there would be a horrible famine throughout all of Palestine.7 The Christians in Antioch, being good-hearted towards their brethren, gathered up what they could, and sent it to Judea in the care of Barnabas and Saul—two men who had proven themselves to be trustworthy and reliable to the church there.8
Arriving in Jerusalem, Saul and Barnabas delivered the gift to the church there (most likely to James and the elders), and having fulfilled their mission, they went back to Antioch, taking Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, with them.9 That choice, to bring John Mark with them, would end up causing some very hard feelings years later.
Some time after returning to Antioch, Saul and Barnabas, along with some other prophets, were ministering to the Lord,10 and fasting, when the Holy Spirit spoke to them: “Separate for me Barnabas and Saul now, for the work to which I have called them.”11 The other prophets laid their hands on them, showing that they were commissioning them as emissaries of the church at Antioch.12
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Estimates vary from a few months to a few years.
2 Acts 9:19-21.
3 Acts 9:15.
4 Isaiah 62:2.
5 Isaiah 65:15b.
6 Acts 11:26. Most translations say “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” However, the word “called” is not in the passive voice, as it is rendered in most translations, but in the active voice. That is, “they” (Barnabas and Saul) are the ones who actively gave the name. The Greek word used is always something delivered by God. It is translated “admonished by God” (Hebrews 8:5); “warned by God” (Matthew 2:12, Acts 10:22, Hebrews 11:7). The MLV translates it here in Acts 11:26, “divinely-called.”
7 The KJV translates it as “the whole world,” but Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, uses the word to refer exclusively to the Promised Land. This makes much more sense than “the whole world,” since the Christians in Antioch decided to send relief specifically and exclusively to the Christians in Judea. Had it been “the whole world,” they would have needed to take care of themselves as well.
8 Acts 11:27-30.
9 Acts 12:25.
10 Acts 13:2. The word translated “ministering” is from leitourgeo, which is where the word “liturgy” originated. Some have taken this to mean that these prophets were officiating over a liturgical worship service in Antioch (where everything is structured, done the same way, said in the same way, etc.). However, the word’s main meaning is serving at one’s own cost, such as someone who took it upon himself to pay expenses to run or improve the city. The secondary meaning is simply religious service. The second meaning is certainly in view. See notes on this passage in this author’s The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.
11 Acts 13:1-2. Most translations leave out the word “now,” which comes from the Greek de. It means “now,” or “at once.” The Holy Spirit told them it was time to get to work without delay. The word “called” is the same one used in Acts 2:39, and means called for a specific purpose, work, or ministry.
12 Acts 13:3. Later, they return to Antioch, “from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled” (Acts 14:26, KJV). Robertson argues, based on Philippians 4:15, that the church in Antioch did not support the missionary effort monetarily, but the grammar of that verse doesn’t fit.