Tag Archives: Acts

Biography of a Young Preacher (Part 1)

From our upcoming book, “Who Were the Apostles?” we present to you a biography of the life of a young preacher named Timothy.  This biography will be presented in seven sections.

The Selection of Timothy

The very first thing said in the Bible about Timothy was that he was a disciple from the Derbe/Lystra area.  That is, he was a Christian when Paul arrived there with Silas on his second missionary journey.  It is generally assumed that Timothy was converted by Paul, because the apostle calls him “my own son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).*[1]  If this is indeed the case, Timothy must have been converted some years earlier during the first missionary journey, either around the time when Barnabas and Paul were thought to be Greek gods,*[2] during their visit to Derbe,*[3] or their return visit to Lystra.*[4] Regardless of when it took place, Timothy owed his spiritual mindset to his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice, who made certain that he was familiar with the Scriptures from the time he was a child.*[5]  It was from this knowledge of the Scriptures that he was “thoroughly furnished into all good works.”*[6]

This young man,*[7] before Paul’s arrival on the second journey, had already become well-known among the brethren in his hometown of Lystra,*[8] but also in Iconium, some 30-40 miles away.  According to McGarvey, this is a strong implication that Timothy had already begun preaching the gospel in local congregations:

…he was well spoken of by the brethren.  The fact that he was thus attested not only at … Lystra, close about his home, but also at the distant city of Iconium, renders it probable that he was already a young preacher, and that the imposition of hands by the elders of the church, which is mentioned later [1 Timothy 4:14], had already taken place.*[9]

Even though Barnabas was no longer with Paul, his effect was still being felt.  The apostle Paul looked at Timothy as someone who would be useful in spreading the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike—just like Barnabas viewed Paul (Acts 11:20-26).  Timothy was already well-known and well-respected by the local brethren, but Paul decided he needed another co-worker, and Timothy was the man he chose.  This wasn’t a slight to Silas, any more than the addition of Luke less than ten verses later was a slight to Timothy.  Paul was always looking for Christians who could be of help in spreading the gospel and encouraging new congregations.

Timothy was much like the church: he was half-Jew, half-Gentile.  His mother was a Jew, but his father was a Greek.  That obviously wasn’t an issue with the brethren in Lystra and Iconium (with whom he was well-respected), but it was an issue with many of the non-Christian Jews who knew that his father was a Gentile (Acts 16:3).  So, in order to eliminate a possible point of contention with the Jews they wanted to convert, Paul circumcised Timothy.*[10]

It is interesting that immediately after Paul circumcised Timothy, we’re told that they went around to the cities delivering the decrees from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem—the letter that said Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised to be right with God.

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *The validity of this translation is not as certain as many have assumed.  Paul does not use the word “my,” nor is there anything in the text to show possession.  The New King James Version renders it more literally: “a true son in the faith.”  It is possible that Paul is simply calling Timothy “a true [or genuine] son [of God] in the faith.”  2 Timothy 1:2 says “my beloved son,” but just like with 1 Timothy 1:2, there is nothing in the Greek to demand the word “my” be added.  It literally says, “To Timothy, a beloved son” (see the NKJV).  However, Timothy is called (in Greek) “my son” by Paul (2 Timothy 2:1) and his relationship with Paul is described as “a son with the father” (Philippians 2:22).

[2] *Acts 14:6-18.  Some have suggested that when Paul was stoned and left for dead, he was brought to Timothy’s house, causing a deep impact on the younger man and a desire to help Paul in any way he could.  No evidence was given for that suggestion, and so it remains in the arena of supposition.

[3] *This preaching visit in Derbe (Acts 14:20-21a) seems to be the least likely of the three suggestions for the time of Timothy’s conversion.  Though Paul and Silas met up with Timothy in “Derbe and Lystra,” the young disciple was well-reported by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium—no mention of his being known in Derbe.

[4] *Acts 14:21b-23

[5] *2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15, Acts 16:1.

[6] *2 Timothy 3:15-17.

[7] *There is no consensus on what his actual age was.  The estimates range from late teens to early 40s.  The word translated “youth” (1 Timothy 4:12) speaks of the earliest years of accountability in the other places where it appears in the New Testament.  It is said that men were considered “youths” or “young men” until around age 40 [some say closer to 30].  Paul says “let no man despise your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12) around AD 60-63.  The events in Acts 16 took place closer to AD 48-50.  Using the information at hand, knowing that at least a decade after Timothy joined Paul (more likely closer to 15 years), he was still called a “youth,” it leads us to the conclusion that Timothy was most likely in his late teens or early twenties when we first meet him in Acts 16.  Barton W. Johnson, in his The People’s New Testament with Notes, suggests that he was twenty years old.  The apocryphal Acts of Timothy claims that he was killed around AD 97 at the age of 80, which—were it true—would mean he was born in AD 17, and was 31 when Paul met him, and in his mid-40s when Paul called him a “youth.”  While this is possible, it doesn’t agree with the general usage of the word in Greek, nor elsewhere in the New Testament.

[8] *Given that Timothy was well-known in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2), and that Luke records that Timothy was a disciple that was in the area of “Derbe and Lystra” (Acts 16:1), the most logical conclusion is that Timothy was from Lystra.

[9] *J.W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, Vol. 2, p. 79.

[10] *This was done, not as a matter of doctrine, but as a matter of expediency.  As a half-Jew, he would have been tolerated in the synagogue as a spectator, but because he was also an uncircumcised half-Gentile, he would not have had the opportunity to speak there.  The non-Christian Jews in the area would have looked down on him as no better than a Samaritan (half-breed).  Later on, Paul refuses to circumcise Titus, who was a full-blooded Gentile, because that would have been trying to bind the Law of Moses on a Gentile.

 

The Life of Silas (Part 4)

An Apostle of Jesus Christ

The next stop of substance for Silas was Thessalonica.  It is to this city that he, Paul, and Timothy came and taught in the synagogue for three weeks that the Messiah needed to suffer and rise from the dead, and that Jesus was that Messiah.  Some of those Jews believed the message, and a very large number of Gentiles did as well, and they began to associate themselves with Paul and Silas.  But as happened several times on these missionary journeys, many Jews became upset and wanted to kill Silas and Paul.*[1]  The brethren, fearing for the safety of their friends and “fathers” in the faith,*[2] sent Silas and Paul to Berea in the middle of the night.*[3]

In Berea, they found a more open-minded group of Jews who were willing to examine the claims of Paul and Silas from the Scriptures.  Because of that, many of them believed; but the Jews from Thessalonica came and stirred up the people, and Paul was taken by some brethren to Athens.  Meanwhile, Silas and Timothy stayed behind in Berea, working with the converts there until they heard back from Paul.*[4]  When the message came, Silas and Timothy left immediately.*[5]

Silas and Timothy met up with Paul in Athens,*[6] but somewhere along the way, it appears Paul sent them both out again on specific missions.  Timothy was sent to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-6), and Silas was perhaps sent to Philippi.*[7]  Meanwhile, Paul moved on from Athens to Corinth, where he was later joined by Silas and Timothy, who had returned from Macedonia.*[8]

Silas preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in Corinth,*[9] though we are not informed how long this lasted.  He was there with Paul when both letters to the church in Thessalonica were written (see 1:1 of each letter), and it is in the first of these letters that Paul makes an interesting statement:

Even after we [Paul, Silas, and Timothy—1:1] had suffered before, and were shamefully treated, as you know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel with much contention.  For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile…neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, not a cloak of covetousness; God is witness; nor of men did we seek glory, neither of you, nor of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:2-6).

Paul makes it clear that he, Silas, and Timothy were missionaries sent by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel.  Paul had seen the vision, and the three of them (along with Luke) determined that they needed to obey the divine call to preach in Macedonia (where Thessalonica was located).  In this sense, they were all “apostles of Christ,” being sent by Him with a divine mission.*[10]

After a long period of time, Paul left Corinth, and nothing more is said about his missionary relationship with Silas.  In fact, the Bible mentions nothing more about Silas except that around a decade later, he made it back to Jerusalem and helped to write First Peter.*[11]  And there, more than ten years after he’s disappeared from the scenes of recorded history, he’s called “a faithful brother.”  There’s nothing more that needs to be said.  Those three words say is all.

Tradition

According to some Christians a few hundred years after Christ’s death, Silas was one of the seventy men sent out by Jesus Christ in Luke chapter ten.  Other sources state that he became an elder of the church in Thessalonica, and died as a martyr there, “having undergone many sorrows and misfortunes for the Lord’s sake.”*[12]

In the Nag Hammadi Library, an anti-gnostic writing called “The Teachings of Silvanus” (written approximately AD 150-200) was discovered.  This was noteworthy, since the Nag Hammadi Library was made up of almost entirely Gnostic literature.

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *Luke says that the disbelieving Jews and their Gentile thugs were looking for “them.”  It was not, as some perhaps have assumed, that they were only interested in Paul.  Silas was a target as well.

[2] *If Timothy was Paul’s “son” in the faith, then that means it is perfectly legitimate to call Paul Timothy’s “father” in the faith.  It does not mean that it was a religious title, nor was it an office.  It simply describes a relationship.

[3] *These incidents are recorded in Acts 17:1-10a.

[4] *Paul was definitely the lightning rod for the Jewish persecutors.  When he was sent away, it appears the persecutors dissipated and returned home.

[5] *Acts 17:15.

[6] *In the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul refers to himself, Silas, and Timothy as a group (see 1:1).  He says “we thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and sent Timothy…to strengthen you” (3:1-2).  Thus, we have definitive proof that Silas had arrived at Athens.

[7] *Acts 18:5 shows that both Silas and Timothy had returned from Macedonia (in which was both Thessalonica and Philippi).  Their arrival allowed Paul to cease his “tent-making” work, which seems to indicate that Silas brought funds with him.  Paul told the Corinthians that brethren which came from Macedonia supplied his needs (2 Corinthians 11:9), and Paul also stated that the only congregation which aided him financially was in Philippi (Philippians 4:15).

[8] *Acts 18:5.

[9] *2 Corinthians 1:9

[10] *There are those who argue that Paul is using an “editorial” or “royal” literary device, and that when he says “we,” he’s really just referring only to himself.  Even though this view is presented by many commentators (Barnes, Coffman, Hampton, Dunagan, and implied by McGarvey and Lipscomb), it does not hold up under examination of the text.  If it were some “editorial” device, then Paul was very sloppy in applying it, sometimes speaking in the singular, while other times speaking in the plural (2:17-18, 3:1-5, 5:25-27).  Since the letter is clearly sent by the three men (1:1), we should understand the words “we” and “us” as referring to the three from whom the letter was sent.

[11] *1 Peter 5:12-13.  The Bible places Peter as a “pillar” of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-9).  John Mark (who is also mentioned in the same passage) lived in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12, 25, 13:13).  “Babylon” is the name given in the book of Revelation to the city whose destruction would avenge the blood of the apostles and prophets (Revelation 18:20-19:2); which Jesus said was Jerusalem (Matthew 23:34-37).  Thus, the evidence shows that Silas was in Jerusalem when 1 Peter was written.

[12] *The official website for Orthodox Church in America (http://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2013/07/30/102132-apostle-silvanus-of-the-seventy)

The Life of Silas (Part 3)

Silas’ Missionary Journey with Paul

Leaving Syria and Cilicia behind, Silas accompanied Paul to the province of Lycaonia, to the cities of Derbe and Lystra, where Paul had previously gone from being called a Greek God to being beaten almost to death with stones within a very short amount of time.*[1]  It is there that Silas meets a young man named Timothy, with whom his name would be connected more than once.*[2]  Silas, Timothy, and Paul traveled through Lystra, Derbe, and then through other parts of Asia Minor,*[3] strengthening the churches with the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and then finally arriving at Troas.

Troas was located on the western edge of Asia Minor, and though Luke doesn’t record Silas and Paul engaging in any evangelistic activity, they must have done something for the Lord in that city.  It is while they are in Troas that the company of Silas, Paul, and Timothy is joined by a fourth companion: Luke.  Whether Luke was converted at this time and joined with them, or whether he had already heard the gospel from others and just jumped at the opportunity to work more for the Lord, the fact remains that Luke discovered somehow that Christian preachers were in the city and joined himself to them.*[4]

It was in Troas that Paul received a vision of a man in Macedonia begging him to “Come over into Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).  Silas, being a prophet, agreed that this vision was quite clear and that they needed to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel.  So they boarded a ship bound for Europe, and departed west to Philippi, one of the major cities of that Roman province.

In Philippi, Silas and the others went to a river outside of the city, sat down, and started teaching some women who were gathered there on the Sabbath to pray.  Lydia, who believed the preaching and was baptized, asked Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke to stay in her house while they were in the city.*[5]

While in that city, perhaps the most memorable event of Silas’ life (at least to Christians today) took place.  He, along with Paul and the others, had been preaching for “many days,” and a girl had been following them around.  This girl was possessed by a demon,*[6] and was proclaiming “These men are the servants of the most high God, which show to us the way of salvation!”  This girl was also owned by some men who used her “skills” to make money.  So when Paul cast the demon out of her, these men were very upset.  They grabbed Silas and Paul, drug them before the rulers of the city, had them severely beaten, and then threw them into prison.*[7]

That evening, Silas, beaten and bloodied, sore from the abuse and with his feet tightly locked down, began to pray and sing.  Paul, in the same condition, was doing the same thing.  Neither one of them hid their praises to God, for “the prisoners heard them.”  What an amazing attitude Silas and Paul had!  At midnight, as they were praying and singing, a violent earthquake shocked the inmates as the prison doors all opened, and all the prisoners’ chains were loosed.*[8]  The jailor woke up and ran to the prison—then his heart sank when he saw the open doors.  So certain that the prisoners had all escaped, he took out his sword, preparing to kill himself.*[9]

Silas listened as Paul yelled, “Don’t hurt yourself; we’re all here!”  And he watched as the jailor, who just hours before had confidently chained their feet tightly in the stocks, came trembling in fear, falling down to the ground in front of Silas and Paul.  The jailor eventually stood up again and brought them out of the prison, and the first thing on his mind was “What must I do to be saved.”  He had heard what Silas and Paul had been preaching, and he had heard about the salvation offered.*[10]  The results of the earthquake were enough to convince him that Silas and Paul were speaking the truth, and that they served the true God—just as the demon-possessed girl had been saying.

After telling the jailor to believe in Jesus Christ so he could be saved, Silas and Paul preached the word of the Lord to him and his family.*[11]  The jailor was so moved that he washed their wounds and wasted no time in making sure he and he family were baptized.  Silas rejoiced, as did Paul, that more souls were added to the book of life.

The next day, Silas and Paul were asked to leave quietly, but Paul wouldn’t have anything to do with it.  He invoked Silas’ (and his own) Roman citizenship, and demanded what was, in effect, a public apology from the magistrates of the city.*[12]  After the city leaders personally released Silas and Paul from prison, the two men went back to Lydia’s house and met with the brethren before collecting Timothy and departing towards Thessalonica.*[13]

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *The text of Acts 14:8-20 does not reveal any passage of days between the attempted deification of Barnabas and Paul and the Jews’ vicious stoning of Paul.  It reads as though it all took place the same day, especially when you read verse 20.  There may have been a time lapse between verses 18-19, but it is also possible that there wasn’t.

[2] *See Acts 17:14-15, 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

[3] *Luke, the detailed historian, records that they traveled through Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia on their way to Troas. Paul wanted also to preach in Bythinia and Asia, but the Holy Spirit had other plans (Acts 16:1-10, see notes on that passage in the author’s “The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts”).

[4] *If Luke was converted in Troas at this time, his use of the words “we” and “us” to describe his involvement in the interpretation of a vision, the decision to go to Macedonia, and the preaching of the gospel point to a somewhat longer stay in the city than we generally suppose.   A brand-new convert would not have instantly risen to the level of standing that Luke had attained in Acts 16:9-10.

[5] *Lydia was apparently in Philippi on business, as a seller of purple, since Luke says that she was from “Thyatira,” which is a city in Asia Minor.

[6] *Literally, this is a “python spirit.”  See comments on Acts 16:16-18 in “The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts” by this author.

[7] *Apparently Luke and Timothy were able to escape, or else the men were only concerned with the two who were viewed as the leaders of the group.  We know Luke was present, for he says the girl “followed Paul and us” (Acts 16:16).

[8] *The effects of the earthquake prove that it was miraculous.  No natural earthquake could unlock chains around the feet of prisoners and open all the doors.  Such a violent earthquake, one would assume, would also cause some serious damage to the structure, causing parts of it to crash into at least some of the prisoners, causing serious injury or even death.  But there were no such incidents.  It was an earthquake orchestrated and directed by God Himself, with only the effects that He wanted it to have.

[9] *The penalty for allowing the prisoners to escape would have been death.  In most instances, it probably wouldn’t have been a quick and painless death.  The magistrates of the city would have wanted to make an example out of him, and there would have been great shame brought on his family in the process.  Thus, the jailor figured suicide was the best course of action.

[10] *It is quite possible that the first time the jailor heard anything about the salvation offered was at the marketplace where Silas and Paul were accused and then beaten.  Someone certainly would have given testimony to what the demon-possessed girl was saying about how they were servants of God who were showing the way of salvation (Acts 16:16-17).

[11] *This man was told to believe, but he had not yet even heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, Silas and Paul had to preach it to him.  The preaching of the gospel includes preaching baptism (see Acts 8:35-36).  After hearing the word of the Lord, the jailor and his family were baptized.  Those who seek to use this passage of Scripture (especially verse 30-31) to teach a faith-only salvation do not read the whole passage.

[12] *The magistrates had the right to beat people and throw them in prison, but for them to go to the prison and bring prisoners out was an admission of guilt on their part, and a declaration of the innocence of the ones they were releasing.  This action, and the announcement of their Roman citizenship, would have made the magistrates wary of saying anything against them, should they ever return; and it probably helped the Christians in Philippi in any future run-ins with the city leaders.

[13] *Luke leaves the missionary group at this juncture.  While their arrival in Philippi was described with the words “we” and “us,” he continues the narrative with the word “they” (Acts 17:1), showing that he is no longer with them.

The Life of Silas (Part 2)

Apostle of the Antioch Church

After fulfilling his mission in Antioch, Silas was allowed to go home, but he decided instead to stay in Antioch for a while, working with the congregation there.*[1]  After some time had passed,*[2] Paul thought it would be good to go back to the congregations he and Barnabas has planted during their first missionary journey as apostles of the church in Antioch.  Barnabas agreed, and wanted to take his nephew, John Mark with them—the same John Mark who had abandoned them on that first journey.  This didn’t sit well with Paul, and so they split from each other.  Barnabas took John Mark with him, and Paul chose another man who he had been able to get to know: Silas.*[3]

We do not know when Paul and Silas first met.  They might have met during their youth in Jerusalem;*[4] they might have met for the first time when Saul tried to join the disciples in Jerusalem shortly after his conversion; it may well have been that they didn’t meet until the gathering in Jerusalem to discuss whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised.  Regardless of when they first met, the probably had plenty of conversation on the way from Jerusalem to Antioch with the letter; and Paul would have been impressed with Silas’ desire to teach and preach the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike.*[5]

When Paul and Silas left Antioch, they were “recommended” [literally, “delivered”] to the grace of God by the brethren there.  That is, they were sent out for this work by the church in Antioch, who prayed and probably helped finance to help the work.  Silas was now an apostle of the church at Antioch.*[6]

Paul and Silas’ first stops were the churches of Syria and Cilicia.  Paul didn’t visit these churches on what is generally called his “first missionary journey.”*[7]  However, his visiting of these churches is logically and biblically explained by two facts: (1) the letter which was sent with Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and Judas was addressed to the Gentile Christians in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia;*[8] and (2) Paul had done evangelistic work in the area of Syria and Cilicia fourteen years before the events of Acts 15 (Galatians 1:21-2:1).

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *Acts 15:34 is absent in some Greek manuscripts, but it is much more likely that it was accidentally omitted by a scribe than it is that someone intentionally inserted this sentence into the text (as some claim).

[2] *Luke simply says, “some days,” which doesn’t give us a clear time lapse.  It could have been just a few weeks, but multiple months seems more likely.  The longer period of time is supported by the fact that John Mark has appeared on the scene again, when last we saw, he was in Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).  Some have suggested that Silas had gone back to Jerusalem and perhaps returned to Antioch with Peter (Galatians 2).  Others have suggested that Silas and Mark returned to Antioch together around the time of the events of Acts 15:36-ff (see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia entry on “Silas”).

[3] *These events are described in Acts 15:36-40.

[4] *This is nothing more than guesswork, since we do not know how old either man was—there may have been a decade or more difference in their ages.

[5] *Silas encouraged and strengthened the Gentile Christians in Antioch (Acts 15:32) after having been a prominent member of the church in Jerusalem, which was primarily [if not completely] comprised of Jews (Acts 15:22).

[6] *This same phrase, “recommended to the grace of God” is used to describe the role of the Antioch church in the work of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:26.  Since they were “apostles” (14:14) of the church in Antioch (see also 13:1-4) by means of this “recommending,” then Silas was also an apostle of the church in Antioch on the basis of Acts 15:40.

[7] *Luke is very detailed in recording the missionary travels of Paul.  Syria and Cilicia are not mentioned in the first missionary journey at all.

[8] *See Acts 15:23.  Luke records that the letter was read in Antioch, and the Christians there were “confirmed” or “strengthened.”  But there was no record of any of these four men making it outside of that city until Paul and Silas went to Syria and Cilicia.  This hypothesis is proven true in Acts 16:4-5.

The Life of Silas (Part 1)

From the pages of the upcoming book (still under construction), “Who Were the Apostles?” we now present part one of the life of Silas, one of the “non-apostle apostles.”

Apostle of the Jerusalem Church

Silas, most likely short for Silvanus,*[1] first appears on the biblical scene as a co-worker with Judas Barsabbas.*[2]  He was chosen by the brethren in Jerusalem, along with the apostles and elders, to take the letter (likely written by James)*[3] to the Gentile Christians in Antioch.  He was one of the “chief men” of the church in Jerusalem, possibly even one of the elders.*[4]

Silas was both a Jew and a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38), but how he attained citizenship is not recorded for us.  He could have been born a citizen, like Paul, or perhaps he was able to purchase his citizenship (Acts 22:28).  His Jewish ancestry is evident because (1) he was a member of the church in Jerusalem, where very few, if any, Gentiles were members, (2) he was a prominent member of the church in Jerusalem, showing that he had been there for quite some time—probably meaning he was a disciple of Jesus before the Gentiles were accepted into the church, (3) his name appears to be derived from the Aramaic word for “Saul,” which is a Jewish name,*[5] (4) there is no hint that the issue of what to do with Gentile converts to Christianity in Jerusalem prior to Acts 15 was ever brought up—implying that Silas was a Jew, and (5) it is very unlikely that the Jerusalem church would send a Gentile as their official ambassador.

In carrying the letter with Judas Barsabbas, Silas was an apostle of the church in Jerusalem.*[6]  His mission was to take this letter to the Gentile Christians in Antioch (and it was spread throughout Syria and Cilicia)*[7] and to verbally convey the same information to them (Acts 15:27).

Like Judas, Silas was also a prophet, endowed by God with a measure of miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit.*[8]  If tradition is correct, and Silas was one of the seventy that Jesus bestowed miraculous gifts upon in Luke 10, it may be that Silas continued to have these abilities and wasn’t required to have the apostles lay hands on him, since he would have received his abilities straight from Jesus Christ many years earlier.*[9]  He used this gift of prophecy to help encourage and strengthen the Christians in Antioch (Acts 15:32).

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *Joseph J. Fitzmeyer, in The Anchor Bible Commentary on Acts, presents the case that the name “Silas” is the Greek form of the Aramaic name “Seila,” which, in Hebrew, is “Saul.”  If this is the case, then perhaps this is one of the reasons why Luke starts using the name “Paul” for Saul of Tarsus.

[2] *See the section about this man for more information.

[3] *For more information, see the author’s introduction to the letter from James in “Justified by Works: A Study of the Letter from James.”  See also the section on “James, the brother of Jesus Christ” in this book.

[4] *This was the opinion of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, see their entry on Judas Barsabbas

[5] *Again, see Fitzmeyer’s work in the Anchor Bible Commentary for more information.

[6] *The Greek word “sent” (Acts 15:27), which is contained in the letter from Jerusalem, is the verb form of “apostle.”

[7] *Acts 15:23

[8] *See this author’s book, “The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.”

[9] *This is a theory of the author of this work, but it is not held dogmatically.  It is possible that the miraculous gifts that Jesus bestowed on those seventy men ceased at some point prior to His death on the cross, and that they required the apostles to lay hands on them as seen in Acts 8.

Who was Judas Barsabbas?

[We’re sorry that we’ve not been getting posts up as regular as you might like, but we hope that the quality of the content is worth the delay]

Today, we continue our special ongoing gift of a book we’re working on, tentatively titled “Who Were the Apostles?”  And this one is yet another of the “Non-apostle Apostles,” men who were not of the 12 chosen by Jesus, but were still called “apostles” in the Scripture.

Judas Barsabbas

 

When the apostles and elders in Jerusalem needed two men to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, they chose one man whose name is familiar to Bible students (Silas), and another one whose name is usually forgotten.  Judas Barsabbas*[1] was a prominent member of the church of Christ in Jerusalem.*[2]  The first thing the Bible says about him is found in Acts 15:22:

Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; specifically Judas, surnamed Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren.

Judas, or Judah, was a common Jewish name.  His surname, Barsabbas, is given to distinguish him from the four other Judas’s that appear in the book of Acts.*[3]  It is also possible that this man is the brother of the man who was not selected to replace Judas, Joseph Barsabbas (Acts 1:23).*[4]

Going by the text of Acts 15, it appears the church was excited to have Judas as their representative in taking the letter to Antioch.  The fact that this letter was about accepting the Gentiles into the church as Gentiles (and not as proselyte Jews) also shows us something about his character: he was not judgmental against the Gentiles like many of the Jews were.  He was happy to accept them as his brethren in Christ.  It is in Acts 15:27 that we see Judas Barsabbas was an apostle of the church in Jerusalem.*[5]

His mission, as given by the apostles and elders, was twofold: (1) to deliver the letter to the Gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, and (2) to verbally vouch for the truthfulness of the letter (Acts 15:27).[6]*  This, Judas accomplished, and the brethren in Antioch “let [him] go in peace…to the apostles” (Acts 15:33).*[7]  Most likely, Judas returned to Jerusalem and gave a report to the apostles and elders there about how the letter was received.*[8]  This report probably included that Silas decided to stay behind in Antioch for a while.*[9]

Judas Barsabbas was a Christian, baptized in order to have his sins forgiven, but he was also a preacher and an encourager.  Luke records for us that he “exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them” (Acts 15:32).*[10]  He is also a man upon whom the apostles laid their hands—he is called a “prophet,” which means he had the miraculous ability to speak messages given to him by the Holy Spirit.*[11]

Judas Barabbas was an apostle of the church in Jerusalem, the twelve apostles, and the elders there (Acts 15:23, 27).  He finished his mission and disappears from the biblical record.  There are untold thousands of Christians about whom little-to-nothing is known.  But, like Judas, there were certainly many who served the Lord in loving their brethren, and whose desire was to encourage each other in order to make sure that they would all be in heaven someday.  What a joyous thought!

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *The King James Version spells the name “Barsabas,” but the Greek has a double b in the final syllable, thus the correct spelling is “Barsabbas.”

[2] *The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia suggests that Judas Barsabbas (along with Silas) may have been an elder of the church in Jerusalem.

[3] *Judas, one of the twelve apostles (Acts 1:13), Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:16-19), Judas of Galilee who apparently claimed to be the Messiah (Acts 5:37), and Judas in whose house Saul of Tarsus was staying in Damascus (Acts 9:10-11).

[4] *This identification seems unlikely, since Luke specifically says Joseph’s surname was “Justus,” and that he was just “called Barsabbas.”  It seems that for Joseph, “Barsabbas” was more of a nickname, like “Barnabas” (Acts 4:36).

[5] *The Greek word translated “sent” is the verb form of “apostle.”

[6] *Judas and Silas were sent because “by the mouth of two or three witnesses” everything was to be established (Matthew 18:16, 2 Corinthians 13:1).

[7] *The same thing is spoke of about Silas, but Silas decided to stay in Antioch instead of returning to Jerusalem.

[8] *The text does not explicitly state that Judas returned home, but it seems to be implied, since Luke records only that Silas decided to stay in Antioch.  Some Greek manuscripts add the words “and Judas alone proceeded,” but that phrase does not appear in any notable English translations.  In other manuscripts, the entire verse is missing, and many English translations omit it completely or include it in brackets.

[9] *Acts 15:34.

[10] *The word translated “exhort” can mean “to encourage,” and is frequently translated “comfort” in the New Testament.

[11] *The only way that miraculous abilities were passed on to other Christians was by the laying on of the hands of an apostle.  This truth can be seen clearly in Acts 8:12-18 and 19:6; it is also referenced in Romans 1:11 and 2 Corinthians 12:12.

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 4)

Stumbling and Separating

While they were in Antioch, Peter came up to visit, and was in full fellowship with the Christians there—both Jew and Gentile. Barnabas and Paul were spending time with them as well, but then trouble arose. Some Jews from Jerusalem came up, and Peter was afraid of what they would think and say if they saw him eating with Gentiles—regardless of the fact that they were Christians—so he got up and ignored them. The other Jews that were there saw Peter leave the company of the Gentiles, and so they followed suit.[1] This mass exodus from showing fellowship with the Gentiles was so pervasive and persuasive that even Barnabas fell prey to it. He joined Peter—a man who had been his friend for years—and avoided eating with the Gentiles. Paul was shocked and appalled at the hypocrisy of these Jewish Christians—but then he adds the words “even Barnabas.”[2] The hypocrisy was so overwhelming that it even got Barnabas—the last person Paul ever expected to turn away from the Gentiles.

How horrible must Barnabas have felt when he listened to his protégé put Peter in his place, realizing that those words also condemned him. Barnabas humbly repented of his hypocrisy, and no doubt apologized to the Gentile Christians for getting caught up in peer pressure. Barnabas even apologized to Paul, and all was forgiven.

Some time after that event, Barnabas was approached by Paul with an idea: “Let’s go visit our brethren in every city where we’ve preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”[3] Barnabas was open to the idea, but wanted to bring John Mark with them. Paul was very insistent that John Mark had abandoned them before, and that he didn’t want such a person accompanying them.

Luke says “the contention was so sharp between them that they departed asunder from one another.”[4] Barnabas tried to reason with Paul, but Paul was hard-headed in this matter. You can imagine the argument.

Paul: Barnabas, no! John Mark cannot be trusted. I will have nothing to do with him.

Barnabas: Paul, that’s exactly what the Christians in Jerusalem said about you. I stood up for you then, and I’m standing up for John Mark now. Give him another chance.

Paul: No, I’m not going to risk being abandoned by him again.

Barnabas was willing to give John Mark another chance, but Paul wasn’t. As a result, the two men who had been so closely linked for years divided. Barnabas was disappointed in Paul’s decision, but that didn’t mean he didn’t still love him. Barnabas and Paul were still in full fellowship with each other, even though they were no longer working together. Barnabas takes John Mark with him, and they sail off to his home country of Cyprus,[5] where they work with the churches that Barnabas had helped plant years earlier.[6] But because Barnabas insisted on giving John Mark another opportunity to prove himself, he basically disappears from the rest of the biblical record.

Paul does bring his name up one last time in his letter to the Corinthians, years later, showing that (1) Barnabas was still very well-known and well-respected throughout the churches, (2) that he and Paul were still friends and fellow-workers in the kingdom, and (3) that Barnabas was seen as a person in the church whose actions and teachings could be trusted. Paul appeals to the example of the apostles, of the brothers of the Lord (James and Jude among them), and then of Barnabas. This tells us that Paul still thought highly of the man who defended him, who sought him out, and who worked side-by-side with him for years.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] For at least some of them—perhaps even most of them—this was done because they were following the example of an apostle of Jesus Christ, and not out of an animosity towards the Gentiles.

[2] Galatians 2:13, ASV.

[3] Acts 15:36.

[4] Acts 15:39.

[5] See Acts 4:36, 15:39.

[6] See Acts 13:4-13, 15:39.

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 3)

Apostle of the Church—in front of the Apostles

Barnabas did not shy away from debate. There were men who came from Judea to Antioch claiming that unless these Gentile converts were circumcised and kept the Law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.[1] It was Barnabas, as well as Paul, who stood up to them: Luke doesn’t mention anyone else. This was something that shook the church at Antioch greatly, something which Barnabas and Paul could not sit idly by and allow to happen. Barnabas stood up, as did Paul, and there was a very heated argument and debate over the matter. It is most likely that this debate took place in the assembly of the saints on the Lord’s Day, since “the brethren” were present when it happened.

These troubling teachers from Judea suggested that the matter could be solved by going to Jerusalem and letting the apostles and elders make the determination.[2] To this, Barnabas and Paul agreed, and the church at Antioch sent them to Jerusalem.[3] Barnabas was again an apostle of the church at Antioch, as was Paul. On their way to Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul took their time and stopped at several cities, proclaiming the salvation of the Gentiles—the same thing they were going to Jerusalem to prove—and caused happiness to flow throughout the church in those places.[4]

Arriving in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed back with open arms. Barnabas was well-known and well-loved by the apostles, and was remembered fondly by the members in that city for his good deeds and work for the Lord. It was here in Jerusalem that Barnabas brought money from the sale of his land to aid hungry Christians. It was here in Jerusalem that Barnabas proclaimed their biggest persecutor had been converted. It was here in Jerusalem that Barnabas brought a sizable gift from the church in Antioch to aid with the famine relief. When Barnabas came, it always seemed to be an uplifting event—and this time was no different.

Speaking before the whole church in Jerusalem, along with the apostles and elders, Barnabas and Paul both rehearsed all the things that God had done with them, sending them on a missionary journey, blessing their efforts to bring the Gentiles to Christ, and confirming their message with miracles. Some of the Pharisees among the church opposed them, and there was much debate again. At that point, Peter stood up and reminded them of his experience with Cornelius, how that Gentile man received the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. The not-so-subtle message was, “If you condemn Barnabas and Paul for not circumcising Gentiles who become Christians, then you’re also condemning me, and condemning God for accepting the Gentiles.”

This statement of Peter silenced the crowd, and they all began to listen to Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas is listed first in Acts 15:12 because he had a much greater reputation and influence with the Christians in Jerusalem; he probably did most of the talking as well. He commanded the attention of the multitude, and told them how God Himself verified that He accepted their ministry to the Gentiles—without circumcision—permitting them to perform miracles and wonders.[5]

After hearing their testimony, James (the brother of the Lord) stated they were going to write a letter expressing the Holy Spirit’s decision (Acts 15:28), and send it with Barnabas and Paul. But they also were going to send two of their own with them, Judas Barsabas, and Silas[6] as representatives of their congregation. The letter, given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, places Barnabas’s name first. Even at this point in time, after their first missionary journey, Barnabas was still more influential and well-known throughout the churches than Paul was. It was at this time that James, Peter, and John publicly gave Barnabas and Paul the “right hands of fellowship,”[7] ending the debate on whether Gentiles could be accepted into the church as Gentiles.

Barnabas and Paul, along with Silas and Judas, went to Antioch, called the whole church together and presented the letter to them. Everyone was very pleased and comforted by it. So for a long time, Barnabas and Paul worked with the church in Antioch.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] Acts 15:1

[2] One has to wonder if Paul considered himself one of the official “apostles” at this point, because if he did, he could easily have stated, “I am an apostle,” and settled the matter right then and there. It is possible that Paul recognized his reputation as a turncoat from Judaism, and decided it would be more judicious to allow the other apostles to speak on the matter—even though they would say the same thing that he did.

[3] Acts 15:3. The KJV says “brought on their way by the church,” which seems to indicate that the church in Antioch took care of their travel expenses to Jerusalem.

[4] Acts 15:3.

[5] When God permitted someone to perform miracles, it was a confirmation of the message that was being preached. Since Barnabas and Paul were able to perform miracles, it showed that God approved of their message. See Mark 16:20. For more information on this subject, see this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

[6] These two men will be discussed in more detail later in this book.

[7] Galatians 2:9. There is some debate among commentators about the timeline and where this passage fits in, but there shouldn’t be. This harmonizes perfectly with what was taking place in Acts 15.

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 2)

Apostle of the Holy Spirit

In Antioch, a group of prophets (including Barnabas) were serving God and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Barnabas (and Saul) for a specific work, to act as a missionary throughout Asia Minor. Barnabas, along with Saul, brought his nephew John Mark along on the journey. Barnabas had gone from being an apostle of the church at Jerusalem and of the church at Antioch to being an apostle of the Holy Spirit.[1] Their first stop of note was when Barnabas (and Saul) were called by Sergius Paulus, desiring to hear the word of God. It is here that Barnabas shows another trait: humility. A sorcerer named Elymas tried to keep Sergius Paulus from obeying the gospel. Barnabas could have taken the lead and put him in his place, but he didn’t, because Saul (now going by the name of Paul) took care of it.[2] Barnabas had the background—loved and respected by the apostles. Barnabas had the prominence—an apostle of two different congregations, and listed first among the prophets in Antioch. But he knew that Paul was destined for great things in the work of the church. He had told this to the apostles in Jerusalem, and he didn’t stand in Paul’s way. Instead, Barnabas humbly let Paul take the spotlight. By the end of this event, it was no longer “Barnabas and Saul,” but “Paul and his company.”[3] John Mark, for some unknown reason, went home at this point.

Barnabas continued to be an encourager, certainly to Paul, but also to the people they met on their journey. Acts 13:43 shows Barnabas and Paul encouraging Jews and religious proselytes to follow the grace of God. But at the same time, Barnabas also stood up to those who would hinder others from obeying the gospel. When the Jews stirred up people and spoke against the message of Christ, Barnabas, along with Paul, expressed the rejection of the Jews and the acceptance of the Gentiles. The persecution continued, however, and Barnabas and Paul were thrown out of the city.

In Iconium, Barnabas preached the gospel, and the Jews were divided. Some of them tried to stone Barnabas, but he was able to escape the city with Paul.[4] The pair went to Lystra, where Barnabas and Paul both preached. After Paul healed a man, the people all began to cry out that Barnabas and Paul were gods coming to earth in the form of men.[5] It’s interesting that they called Barnabas “Zeus,”[6] since Zeus is the most powerful Greek god. In carvings and reliefs, Zeus is always pictured as being very muscular and tall. It is possible that Barnabas was an imposing figure,[7] while Paul wasn’t as much. Paul was the main speaker, and so they called him “Hermes.”[8]

The priest of Zeus tried to offer a sacrifice to them, and the people were joining in, but Barnabas (along with Paul) ran back and forth telling them to stop. He tore his clothes, pleading with the people, “Why are you doing these things? We are men, just like you!” And he pleaded with them to turn away from the worship of false gods and to turn to the one true God of heaven. It took all that Barnabas and Paul had to keep them from offering that sacrifice. And once that catastrophe was averted, other Jews came in and stoned Paul, dragging him outside of the city, and leaving him for dead. But the next day, Barnabas and his beaten and bloodied friend went to Derbe and preached.[9]

From that point, Barnabas and Paul made their way back to Antioch, stopping at the churches they planted and encouraging the members. When they made it to Antioch, their mission was “fulfilled” (Acts 14:26) and they reported to the whole church all the things that had happened.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] The message given directly by the Holy Spirit originated with Jesus Christ (John 16:12-15), and thus it is also accurate to say that during this missionary journey, Barnabas was an apostle of Jesus Christ. That does not mean that he was one of the twelve apostles, or that he was able to pass on miraculous gifts; it simply means that he was one sent on a mission by Jesus Christ Himself.

[2] Acts 13:6-13

[3] Acts 13:13

[4] Acts 14:1-6

[5] “The Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C. AD 17) (Metamorphoses VIII, 626ff) records the ancient myth concerning a visit of Zeus and Hermes to the neighboring region of Phrygia, disguised as mortals. All turned them away except one old couple, Philemon and Baucis, on the Lycanonian border. Later a flood came in judgment and drowned all except this couple” (Kent, pp. 116-117, cited by Mark Dunagan in his notes on Acts 14:12).

[6] KJV renders it “Jupiter,” but the Greek word is Zeus.

[7] If this is the case, it could show why the church in Antioch was confident that Barnabas could get the money they collected safely to Jerusalem—no one would mess with Barnabas.

[8] Hermes, or “Mercury” (KJV) was the messenger of the gods.

[9] These events are recorded in Acts 14:11-20

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (part 1)

Encourager and Apostle of the Church

Joses is a unique individual. This Levite is the first Christian outside of the twelve apostles to be named in the book of Acts (4:36).[1] [2] He was so well-known and well-loved by the twelve that they gave him the nickname “Barnabas,” which means “son of exhortation.”[3] This nickname stuck, and it is the only name by which he is mentioned throughout the rest of the Bible.

Barnabas sold some land to make sure that the poor Christians in Jerusalem had enough to eat, and he placed it in the care of the apostles. Other people did similar things, but Barnabas is the one who is singled out in the history of the early church, because he plays a much bigger role later on. But from this, we can see that Barnabas truly cared for his brethren in Christ. He wasn’t concerned about building wealth for himself, nor was he worried about owning a lot of land. He was more interested in “how can I help others.” He was a helper and an encourager. This made him stand out in the eyes of the apostles.

Barnabas next appears some years later,[4] and still showing these same qualities. Saul of Tarsus, the former Christian-killer, had seen the light and obeyed Christ, but he had a very difficult time convincing the church of that. In fact, the Christians in Jerusalem wanted nothing to do with him—they thought he was lying, attempting to trick them so that he could drag them all into prison (Acts 9:26). But while the whole church at Jerusalem rejected Saul, Barnabas stood up for him. Barnabas met with Saul and heard his side of the story. Then he arranged a meeting with the apostles, where he—Barnabas—told them that Saul had seen Jesus in the road, and that the Lord had spoken to him, and that he had preached boldly in Damascus. Barnabas didn’t just arrange this meeting, he put his entire reputation on the line by standing up for Saul of Tarsus. And it was because of the support of Barnabas that Saul became a welcome member there (Acts 9:27-28).

Some time soon thereafter, Saul’s life was threatened, so the brethren sent him back to his home of Tarsus. But then came momentous news, that the Gentiles were now being accepted by God into His church! Cornelius and his family had been converted, and then several Christians in Antioch began converting large numbers of Gentiles. It is here that Barnabas again appears.

The church in Jerusalem heard this wonderful news and sent Barnabas to Antioch. The Greek word used in Acts 11:22 for “sent forth” is the verb form of “apostle.” Barnabas was, at this point, an apostle of the church in Jerusalem, sent to see what was happening in Antioch. When he arrived, he was overjoyed and served as an encourager to them, bringing many people to the Lord. But Barnabas had other plans as well. He remembered a young man named Saul who was a bold preacher, and who had to be sent back home to Tarsus to keep him safe. Barnabas went to Tarsus and found his friend. Saul had not lost his zeal for the Lord and they both returned to Antioch, where they worshiped with the church for a whole year (Acts 11:23-26).

Around that time, a prophet came to Antioch, telling them about a great famine that was going to come upon Judea. The Christians in Antioch all pitched in to aid their brethren, and when it came time to choose two men that they trusted enough to send to Jerusalem with all that money, it was Barnabas and Saul. The word “sent” in Acts 11:30 is the verb form of “apostle.” Barnabas went from being an apostle of the church in Jerusalem—sent to Antioch—to being an apostle of the church in Antioch—sent to Jerusalem. And when their mission was completed, they went back to Antioch (Acts 12:25-13:1). Barnabas was a man who made sure he saw his mission through to the end, and didn’t shirk in the face of difficulty.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] The church did not come into existence until the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. There were disciples of Jesus mentioned by name in Acts 1, but at that point, there was no church to be a part of.

[2] A very few ancient Greek manuscripts have “Joses Barnabas” instead of “Joseph Barsabas” in Acts 1:23, and from that, some have suggested that Barnabas was one of the two men considered to take Judas’ place as an apostle. The evidence is against this. First, the significant majority of manuscripts do not say “Joses Barnabas.” Second, the man in Acts 1:23 is called “Justus,” and that name is never used to describe the man we know as Barnabas. Third, when Barnabas appears on the scene in Acts 4:36, Luke introduces him as someone that has not yet appeared in the book (giving name, surname, birthplace, Jewish ancestry, etc…). These considerations eliminate the idea that Barnabas was the one who wasn’t chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.

[3] KJV says “son of consolation,” Acts 4:36.

[4] Estimates range from just a few months to nearly 10 years, depending on which commentary you read.