The Conflict in Antioch of Pisidia
Upon their arrival in Antioch of Pisidia, a free Roman city, they entered the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath, and they sat down for the reading of the Law and the Prophets. The rulers of the synagogue (that is, the ones in charge of the Sabbath gatherings)1 sent [literally, apostled] someone to go to Paul and Barnabas and tell them, “Men, brethren, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, speak.”
Paul rose from his seat, motioned with his hand for their attention, and said to them: “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen.” He then proceeded to give them a brief recap of their history as a nation, going back to the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the period of the judges, the monarchy under Saul, and then he stopped for a moment to deal with David.
“He [God] raised up David for them, to be their king; about whom He bore witness and said, ‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, to be a man after my own heart, who shall do all my desire.’ Of this man’s seed, God has, according to His promise, raised for Israel a Savior, Jesus.”2
After reminding them that John the Baptist preached baptism of repentance, and foretold of one greater than he, Paul described the perversion of justice that resulted in the murder of Jesus. Then he adds the words, “But God raised Him from the dead,”3 and then showed how it was prophesied in the Old Testament. He concludes this stirring sermon to the Jews with the words:
Therefore, [let] it be known to you, men, brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. And through Him, all that believe are justified from all the things from which you couldn’t be justified under the Law of Moses. Therefore, beware, lest that which is spoken of in the prophets come upon you: “Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish! For I do a work in your days, a work that you shall not ever believe, even though a man declares it to you.”4
Leaving the synagogue, several people (Jew and Gentile both) followed Paul and Barnabas, wanting to hear more.5 Paul took the opportunity to persuade them, and it is likely that some obeyed the gospel soon thereafter.6
The next Sabbath day, most of the city turned out to hear this message from God. However, the Jews saw that the people were listening to these visitors, and their jealousy stopped their minds from listening to the truth presented.7 Instead, they began to contradict Paul’s message, and speaking evil of him—and by doing so, they were blaspheming God.8
Paul’s bold response to their action was to express a truth that would have made them hate him even more:
It was necessary that the word of God was spoken to you first. But seeing that you have cast it away from you, and condemned yourselves as unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. Because this is what the Lord commanded us: “I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.”9
The Gentiles were ecstatic about this message, and many of them obeyed the gospel, and the result was that God’s message was preached throughout the whole area. However, the Jews were incredibly upset, and caused a persecution against Paul and Barnabas by influencing the prominent men and women in the city. As a result, the two missionaries were thrown out of the city. Outside the city limits, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust of their feet at them, and traveled to Iconium.10 But they could be glad that there were now Christians living in the city of Antioch.
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Thayer gives the definition of archisunagogos as “Ruler of the synagogue. It was his duty to select the readers or teachers in the synagogue, to examine the discourses of the public speakers, and to see that all things were done with decency and in accordance with ancestral usage.”
2 Acts 13:22-23.
3 Acts 13:30.
4 Acts 13:38-41.
5 Acts 13:42-43. There are some textual variants in verse 42 which clouds the exact chronology of events. The KJV says the Jews left the synagogue, leaving the missionaries and the Gentiles in the building. The ASV says the missionaries left the synagogue first and talked with others outside after the synagogue meeting ended. Either way, they still talked to Jews and Gentiles.
6 The text does not describe the reaction of the ones who were being “persuaded” by Paul, but he would have been in the city, studying with people throughout the next week. It would be strange indeed if not a single one of the “many” who followed them obeyed the gospel.
7 The Jews were apparently quite influential in this city. When the city was established under the Seleucid kings, its settlers were comprised of Phrygians, Greeks, and Jews (see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Antioch of Pisidia”). Thus, they had a long history in this Antioch. The existence of many “religious proselytes” (Gentiles who converted to Judaism) in Acts 13:43, and the possible mention of Gentiles in the synagogue (verse 42, KJV), shows that they held a place of prominence in the city, religiously speaking. So it is no surprise that when someone comes in, convincing the people that the Law of Moses was fulfilled/removed, and draws huge crowds, the Jews would be upset. Robertson, commenting on verse 45, says “Nothing is specifically stated here about the rabbis, but they were beyond doubt the instigators of, and the ringleaders in, the opposition as in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5). No such crowds … came to the synagogue when they were the speakers.”
8 Acts 13:45. Luke says they were “blaspheming,” though it is incredibly unlikely that they were intentionally blaspheming (speaking evil against) God. Thus, the blaspheming must be against Paul—but the effect was that they were also (unknowingly) blaspheming against God.
9 Acts 13:46-47.
10 Acts 13:48-52. The word “expelled” (verse 50, KJV) is ekballo, which means to throw out. Whether this means the mob of people literally tossed them outside the city, or just forced them to leave, the result is the same: they were removed from the city.