Tag Archives: Apostles

More on the OTHER “Wee Little Man.”

In searching the website, I discovered that something was missing.  If you remember, last year, I started posting sections of my still-in-progress book on the people called “apostles” in the NT.  In that was a section on James, the brother of Jesus.  Apparently, the part that I had written showing the connection between James the brother of the Lord and “James the Less” (they’re the same guy) was left out.

So today, we remedy that mistake.

James the Less

Most writers believe that Mark 15:40 references the apostle known as James, the son of Alphaeus,1 but there is actually more evidence that the man called “James the less,” or “little James” is James, the brother of Jesus.

First, it is logical to assume, given that he identifies a woman named “Mary” by who her children are, that these children would have already been mentioned at some point in the gospel narrative.  One of those children is “James the less.”  Thus, we should be able to find someone named “James” earlier in Mark’s gospel account who could be identified with this man.

James, the son of Zebedee, is eliminated because (1) he is always called “the son of Zebedee” and connected with John, whereas “James the less” is connected with Mary and Joses; and (2) Matthew 27:56 shows that the mother of Zebedee’s children is a different woman than “Mary, the mother of James and Joses.”

Second, if we accept the logical assumption that Mark wouldn’t throw in a name at the end of the gospel unless it had been mentioned earlier (or was an important figure), then we have to account for his including the name “Joses.”  The “Mary” mentioned in Mark 15:40 is identified by the names of her sons: James the less and Joses.  Thus, we should be able to look back in Mark and find the name Joses.  We find it only once—Mark 6:3, which speaks of “Mary” and her sons “James, and Joses…”

Therefore, if we accept the premise (and we do) that “James the less” must be someone previously mentioned, then so, too, must Joses be someone previously mentioned.  The evidence fits perfectly that Mark 15:40 is describing the mother of Jesus, who was also the mother of James and Joses.2

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 See chapter on that apostle for more information.

2 Compare Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, and John 19:25, which put the same group of women together: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary’s sister, Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s children.  It might be inquired, if this is accurate, why isn’t she called “Mary, the mother of Jesus” in Matthew and Mark?  It is because John mentions her while Jesus is still alive, whereas Matthew and Mark mention her after His death—thus, they identify her by her then-living children.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eleven)

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Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (part one)

The Conflict over John Mark

Paul, always concerned about the spiritual welfare of his brethren in Christ, approaches Barnabas one day with a great idea—Let’s go back and check on all the brethren in the cities we stopped at during our mission trip!  Barnabas was ready to go, and decided they should take John Mark.  Paul was incredulous.  Are you serious?  I’m not going to ask the church to help support someone untrustworthy like him. I know he’s your cousin, but we’re not taking him along!1 Paul was so adamant about not taking Mark along that he and Barnabas—who had been partners in the work for perhaps five years or more—stopped working together at all.2

After Barnabas left with Mark to Cyprus to strengthen the churches he and Paul had planted there, Paul chose Silas, a brother from Jerusalem who had accompanied him to Antioch with the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  Together, with the aid and blessing of the church in Antioch, they went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.3

Circumcision

Traveling over land, Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra—the latter being the place where an angry mob stoned him nearly to death.  In Lystra, Paul found a young disciple named Timothy who was already well-known and well-respected in both Lystra and Iconium (both places where Paul was heavily persecuted).4  This young man would end up being one of Paul’s closest companions and friends for the rest of his life.

In a completely PR5 move, Paul took Timothy (a half-Jew) and circumcised him.  He did this so that Timothy could have more influence with the Jews, access to speaking in their synagogues, and to show Timothy’s respect for the Law of Moses.  But at the same time, Paul shared the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, saying that Gentiles had no obligation to submit to any part of the Law of Moses.  Because of the clear instructions and expectations for the Gentiles, and the show of respect to the Law for the Jews, Paul became all things to all men, and the church grew daily.6

The Macedonian Call

Paul, along with Silas, Timothy, and perhaps some others, traveled and preached through Phrygia7 and Galatia.8  He really wanted to go to the province of Asia (which included the massive city of Ephesus), but the Holy Spirit had other plans for him and told him not to go at that time.9 So instead, Paul heads north through the area of Mysia,10 and planned to enter the province of Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit had other plans, and told him not to go there.11  So, instead, Paul and company went down toward the seaport city of Troas, where he met a doctor named Luke.12

While in Troas, Paul received a vision from the Lord: he saw a man from Macedonia begging him to “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  Immediately, he described the vision to Silas, Timothy, and Luke, and they all agreed that this was what God wanted, so they made plans to sail to Macedonia to preach the gospel.13

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Colossians 4:10, NKJV.  The KJV says that Mark is “sister’s son,” or nephew to Barnabas, but the Greek work means “cousin,” and is so translated in every major translation of the past 150 years (ASV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NASB, MLV, etc.).  The word eventually took on the sense of “nephew,” but not until many years after the New Testament was completed, according to Robertson, Vincent, B.W. Johnson, and others.

2 Acts 15:36-39.  They worked together for a year in Antioch before making the trip to Jerusalem with aid for the churches in Judea; upon returning (no length of time is given for this mission), they worked again in Antioch until they were sent on their missionary journey, which took at least a year (most estimate it as 1½ to 2 years); they came back to Antioch and remained there a “long time” before the circumcision controversy raised its ugly head; they went to Jerusalem, preaching along the way; they returned from Jerusalem, and “continued in Antioch”; and it was “some days” later that Paul made the suggestion of leaving.

3 On the first missionary journey, Paul had sailed to Cyprus, and then after crossing the island, sailed to Asia Minor.  On the second journey, since Barnabas had gone to Cyprus, Paul took the land route to Asia Minor, visiting congregations that he apparently planted, but which are not mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts.  Luke’s purpose in writing did not include giving Paul’s every movement, but to give the history of the establishment of the church and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and perhaps also as an aid for Paul’s legal defense before Caesar, showing his innocence in the matters of which he was accused.  So it shouldn’t be a concern that no mention was made of Paul and Barnabas visiting cities in Cilicia and Syria and planting the church there.

4 Acts 16:1-2.  This indicates that Timothy had been working with the churches in both cities, probably preaching.

5 Public relations.

6 Acts 16:3-5.

7 Acts 16:6.  Phrygia is in Central Asia Minor.

8 Acts 16:6.  “Galatia” was used two ways in the first century.  One referred to the Roman province, and the other to a larger area describing the people who lived in that area, including the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  Luke is using “Galatia” to describe the Roman province, which was to the north.  This is certain because it was after leaving Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (ethnic Galatia) that Luke records them visiting Galatia.

9 Acts 16:6.  It is important to note that Paul wasn’t forbidden to ever enter Asia—he did go there later on during this very missionary journey, and stayed there for three years.  For a more detailed discussion of this forbidding, see this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, comments on this passage.

10 Acts 16:7.  Mysia is a Roman colony, never becoming an official province, that was at the north end of the province of Asia, along the Mediterranean Sea, and bordered the province of Bithynia.  Troas was the chief city in this region.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures on Acts 16:8.

11 Acts 16:7.  Bithynia was a Roman province in the northwestern corner of Asia Minor.  The Holy Spirit (some Greek manuscripts have “the Spirit of Jesus”) forbade Paul to go evangelize there, but it wasn’t because God didn’t want the gospel spread there.  1 Peter 1:1-2 shows that someone had gone to Bithynia and evangelized, and that many were converted.  In AD 110-115, Pliny became governor of Bithynia, and in a letter to the emperor Trajan, wrote that there were many Christians in the area, to the point where most of the heathen temples had been abandoned.  See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Bithynia.”

12 The pronouns “they” and “them” are used until Paul arrives at Troas.  Once Paul is in Troas, Luke starts using the pronouns “we” and “us” (see Acts 16:10), showing that he is now part of their company.  The details of their first meeting and Luke’s conversion (most likely by Paul), we are not permitted to know, for this historian kept himself out of his writings as much as possible.  Luke is called “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14.  See the section in chapter one on the “Companions of Titus” for a fuller discussion of Luke.

13 Acts 16:10.  The phrase “assuredly gathering” (KJV) means they all came to the same conclusion.  Luke uses the pronoun “we,” showing that it was the group that came to the conclusion, and the group that made plans to leave for Macedonia.  Obviously, it was at Paul’s urging, but they were all in agreement.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Ten)

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Paul’s Defense of His Gentile Ministry

While Paul was in Antioch, working with a congregation made up of both Jew and Gentile Christians, some men came from Judea, and began to teach the brethren than unless they were circumcised, in accordance with the Law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.1  This threatened to destroy not only the congregation in Antioch—which had a great number of Gentile Christians—but also all the work Paul had accomplished in his first missionary journey.  The teaching those men were bringing undermined (1) the Holy Spirit, who sent Paul and Barnabas on the mission; (2) the validity of the prophets—including Paul and Barnabas—in Antioch, who received and delivered the message from the Holy Spirit; (3) the confidence of the congregation in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, since they had sent these men and most likely financed a good part of their journey; (4) the good name of the congregation in Antioch, who had sent Paul and Barnabas as “apostles,” representatives of the church at Antioch; (5) God Himself, who had confirmed the apostolic message by miracles; (6) the salvation of a vast number of people, both in Antioch and across Asia Minor.

With so much at stake, it is no wonder that Paul and Barnabas’ argument and debate with these Jews was “not small.”  Paul no doubt showed from the Old Testament Scriptures that salvation was open to the Gentiles as Gentiles—not as proselytes to Judaism, but still these Judean teachers would not back down.  The disturbance was so great that the church sent Paul and Barnabas, as well as some of the other brethren, to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to get an authoritative answer to the question2—even though Paul knew what the answer would be before they ever left.

As they made their way from Antioch to Jerusalem, financed in their journey by the church at Antioch, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, and Paul declared to the Christians they met about the conversion of the Gentiles—in other words, he was sharing the good news about the salvation of Gentiles in Christ while he was on his way to a big event whose purpose was to determine if these Gentile converts were really saved.  Paul knew what the decision would be, and shared the joy with others before the apostles and elders gave their decision on the matter.  This news which he proudly spread to the churches in Samaria brought great joy—the Samaritan Christians wouldn’t have had the same prejudices against Gentiles as the Jews.3

Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed warmly by the church, the apostles, and the elders.  They shared the good news of how God used them as missionaries, but instead of bringing joy to all the people like it did in Samaria, it got some people upset.  Some of the Christians who were also Pharisees stood up and basically denied that the Gentile converts had ever really be saved, because they hadn’t been circumcised, nor did they follow the Law of Moses.4  This caused the apostles and elders to convene a public hearing on the matter.5

After much discussion (or questioning, ASV) on the matter, in which the Pharisees would have been able to present their case, Paul watched as Peter stood and affirmed that the Gentiles had no obligation to follow the Law of Moses to be saved.  Then Barnabas and Paul6 stood, “declaring the miracles and wonders that God had worked by them among the Gentiles,” re-affirming what Peter had said: that God showed His approval of Gentiles coming into the kingdom without the Law of Moses.7  After James gave the verdict, and a letter was written to send to the Gentile Christians, Paul and Barnabas (along with Judas and Silas) went back to Antioch to share the good news—their salvation was secure, and sealed with apostolic approval.

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 15:1.  Several questions arise when considering this event—first and foremost among them How/why did these teachers from Judea get access to the church?  We cannot doubt that they were sincere in their belief, and it is not likely that they attempted to be stealthy about it.  However, this shows the wisdom of not letting someone teach without first knowing them.  This responsibility falls on the elders.  Secondly, these men were teaching that unless one was circumcised after the manner of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.  Yet the covenant involving circumcision pre-dates the Law of Moses, going back to Abraham (Genesis 17:13).  Additionally, Moses wasn’t too good at remembering to circumcise (Exodus 4:24-26).

2 Acts 15:2.  Paul was inspired, as was Barnabas and the other prophets in Antioch.  As such, their answer should have been sufficient to put the matter to rest.  However, Paul’s status as an apostle was not as well-established among the Judean Christians at this point, so it was decided to appeal to a universally-recognized authority among the Christians—the apostles.  It’s interesting that the apostles and elders were mentioned as authoritative in the matter.  It is quite likely that the elders there included many of the 70 men that Jesus sent forth during His earthly ministry.  These were leaders among the first church of Christ (in Jerusalem since Pentecost), and were given great respect by those in Antioch.

3 Acts 15:3.  This final point was brought out by J.W. McGarvey in his original commentary on Acts.

4 Acts 15:4-5.  Some have questioned why it is that this argument was even brought up in the first place.  After all, didn’t they know that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross and fulfilled in Jesus Christ?  Did they not know that God’s New Covenant was in force?  What were the apostles teaching them anyway, if they didn’t know this extremely basic concept?  Part—perhaps even most—of the answer can be found in understanding that the Law of Moses was not just a religious law, but also a civil or national one.  At the death of Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice, the Law of Moses ceased to have any religious power.  But at the same time, it was the law of the land, and so faithful Jewish Christians would be obliged to follow the Law of Moses as the national law, except in instances where it could have violated the law of God.  This is why the Jewish Christians would celebrate the Passover, observe the Sabbath, keep the Jewish dietary laws—because it was the law of the land, which is to be obeyed unless it causes one to violate the law of God.  So Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem, would have never stopped observing the Law of Moses, even after becoming a Christian.  So, since they never stopped observing the Law of Moses, it was very difficult for them to comprehend being right with God without the Law of Moses.

5 Public as far as the church is concerned, at least.  Verse 12 says that there was a “multitude” in attendance, which would have been more than just the apostles and elders.

6 This reverses the order used throughout their missionary journeys, probably showing that Barnabas took the lead in speaking.

7 Acts 15:6-12.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Nine)

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Returning to Antioch

Paul must have been quite the sight as he entered into Derbe.  But people listened to what he and Barnabas taught, and many obeyed the divine commands.  After an apparently persecution-free visit there,1 they returned to the scene of the stoning, Lystra, and met again with the souls who had obeyed the blessed gospel, encouraging them, grounding them in the truth, and warning them that they will have difficult times ahead of them—but that the eternal reward is worth the tribulation here on earth.  How powerful this message must have been when coming from the one who had been viciously attacked and left for dead by an angry mob!  He tells them that even though he was nearly killed, it was worth it for heaven!  Then, from among the gathered disciples, Paul and Barnabas selected and ordained men to serve as elders.2

Departing from Lystra, he returned to Iconium—the same city that he had to flee from in order to avoid being stoned earlier; the same city that was home to some of the very Jews who had chased him to Lystra and actually caused the stoning that left him looking dead.  This shows incredible boldness on the part of Jesus’ own chosen apostle.3  There, he and Barnabas did as they did in Lystra: encouraging the saints to persevere under pressure, and selecting and ordaining godly men to serve as elders.

Doing the same thing in Antioch of Pisidia, they then returned to Perga (where John Mark had left them) and preached the gospel there before going to Attalia and sailing back to Antioch of Syria, from which they had been called by the Holy Spirit in the first place.

Once they returned to Antioch, they gathered the church together and reported all the things that had happened to them.  You can imagine the smiles when Paul shared the joyful news of the obedient believers; the looks of surprise and horror when they described the priest of Zeus and the crowds in Lystra trying to worship mere men; the shock and compassion when Paul’s near-death experience was mentioned.  They were certainly pleased and encouraged by the response to the gospel by the Gentiles, and welcomed these two men back as beloved brothers in Christ.  Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch “a long time” after returning.4

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 It seems most likely that, after believing Paul to be dead, the Jewish persecutors thought the matter over, and went back home.  Paul probably didn’t make his entrance into the city a public event or spectacle, and his departure was probably the same way, giving the persecutors no reason to stay.  Thus, they wouldn’t have heard about Paul’s work in Derbe until much later.

2 Acts 14:21-23.  See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the characteristics that the chosen men had.  There are those who claim that these are simply guidelines, suggestions for those who want to serve as elders; but the Scripture says that an elder must be those things, possess those character traits.  If a man doesn’t meet those qualifications, then he can call himself an elder all he wants—but according to God, he isn’t an elder.  Instead, he is a usurper of the divinely-given office, and will have to give an account to God for his usurpation of authority that doesn’t belong to him.

3 It is possible that the return visits to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia did not involve public preaching, but were instead private, inconspicuous visits.  Paul would not have wanted to push his persecutors into repeating their murderous attempt at Lystra.

4 All of these events can be found described in Acts 14:21-28.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eight)

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The Conflicts in Iconium and Lystra

In Iconium, Paul preached in the synagogue, and a “great multitude” of Jews and Greeks obeyed the gospel.1  The Jews who refused to believe riled up the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas, but these two men continued for a long time to speak boldly, and silenced some of the opposition by their bold preaching and accompanying miracles.  However, the Jews wouldn’t stop, and eventually convinced some of the Gentiles to join with them in a mob for the purpose of assaulting and stoning God’s missionaries.  Paul and Barnabas discovered their intent and fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, where they commenced preaching again.2

While preaching in Lystra, Paul stared intently at a man who was listening to the sermon.  This man was sitting (most likely on the ground), because he was physically incapable of standing.  In fact, he was crippled from birth, and had never walked.  This man, listening, believed what Paul was preaching, and Paul could see that the man had faith to be saved.3  So Paul spoke very loudly, assuring that all the people could hear what he said, “Stand up on your feet!”  And not only did the man stand, but he also amazed the crowd by jumping and walking.4

This brought out a reaction that even Paul and Barnabas couldn’t have foreseen—the people started shouting that “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!”5  Barnabas, apparently the stronger figure, they called Zeus;6 while Paul, the main speaker, they called Hermes.7  The priest of the temple of Zeus was so excited (and perhaps quite concerned about offending the gods) that he brought oxen to sacrifice, and garlands to decorate them with.8  The people all joined in with the desire and cry to sacrifice to these mighty gods who had come to bless them with their presence.

Upset and anxious to stop them—for only the God of heaven is worthy of worship—Paul and Barnabas tore their clothing, running through the chanting crowd, shouting:

“Why are you doing these things?  We are humans, the same as you, and we are telling you to turn from these empty things, and to the living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and everything that is in them; who in times past permitted all nations to walk in their own ways.  However, He did not leave Himself without testimony, in that He did Good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”9

Even with these earnest pleadings, these denials of godhood, they just barely were able to keep the people from sacrificing to them.  The crowd must have been confused by their actions, but some were willing to listen, and several obeyed the gospel.10

While Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra,11 the Jews who had tried to kill Paul in Iconium and Antioch arrived and stirred up the people—quite possibly on the heels of the two missionaries finally calming them down from their fervor to sacrifice.  These Jews persuaded the people—almost certainly accusing God’s messengers of rejecting Zeus and Hermes—and stirred them into such a frenzy that they began to pelt Paul with rocks and stones, knocking him to the ground and continuing the assault until he lay motionless.  Believing he was dead, they dragged his bruised and bloodied body outside the city and left him there.  But while the believers stood sadly around his beaten form, their hearts leapt with joy when they saw movement—Paul moved!  He was alive!  He got up from the ground, and walked back into the city.  But the next day, he and Barnabas left and traveled to Derbe.12

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 14:1.  As noted earlier in this chapter, the biblical writers often use the word “believe” to describe the entire process of salvation.  The reason for this is that true faith (the noun form of the word “believe”) is always accompanied with obedience, as proven abundantly by Hebrews 11.

2 Acts 14:1-7.  Paul was only stoned once, according to his own account, and that didn’t happen until he was in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; 2 Corinthians 11:25).

3 Acts 14:8-9.  The word translated “healed” (or some synonym) in almost every translation is the Greek word sozo, which is usually translated “saved”—93 of the 120 times it appears, in fact.  It seems incredible that when Paul is preaching the gospel, the man’s reaction and faith has nothing to do with being cleansed from sins, but only on being healed of his physical infirmity.  If the faith that came from hearing Paul’s sermon was faith in miraculous healing ability, then Paul preached quite a different gospel here than in other places.  If this word were translated “saved,” like it is so many other times in the New Testament, then there would be no confusion.  H.T. Anderson, in his 1865 translation of the New Testament, and his 1918 translation of the Sinaitic Manuscript, did just that.

4 Acts 14:10.

5 Acts 14:11.  This was a common theme in ancient literature.  See the works of Homer, for example.  Much of the legends surrounding the pantheon of gods include one of the gods coming to earth as a human and consorting with a human, bringing about demigods.  Given that these legends and myths were heavily promoted, especially by the priests of the pagan temples where worship to these “gods” was conducted, it shouldn’t really that surprising that the people would have this reaction.  Since they believed in a plethora of gods, and their literature had said that gods frequently came to earth and walked around as humans, it was logical for them to conclude that the miracle-working men must be gods.

6 Acts 14:12.  The KJV says “Jupiter,” but the Greek is Zeus.  The Romans basically assimilated the legends of the gods into their culture and gave them new names.  What in Greek was Zeus, the Romans called “Jupiter.”

7 Acts 14:12.  KJV says “Mercury,” but the Greek is Hermes.  Hermes was the messenger god, the god of speech and eloquence.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures and Vincent’s Word Studies on this passage for more details.

8 Acts 14:13.  It was common for oxen to be sacrificed to Zeus during this time, and the garlands were used to decorate them during the sacrifices.  See Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse.

9 Acts 14:14-17.

10 Acts 14:18.  The text doesn’t describe anyone being converted, though the healed man (14:8-10) certainly would have obeyed the gospel, and there were others, because when Paul is stoned and left for dead, “the disciples” stood around him (14:20).  Whether these people obeyed the gospel prior to the healing and the sacrificial attempts, or between that event and the arrival of the Jews, is not made clear.

11 The inspired text does not tell us how long there is between the sacrificial fiasco and the arrival of Jewish perpetrators.  It could have taken place the same day, or it could have been several weeks later.  The way the text reads, it is quite possible that these Jews arrived while the sacrificial attempts were taking place, and stirred up the people, accusing Paul and Barnabas of denying the power of the great Zeus and Hermes.

12 Acts 14:19-20.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Seven)

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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.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Six)

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Paul’s First Missionary Journey

The Conflict with Elymas

Leaving Antioch, they went to Seleucia, a seaport town just southwest of Antioch, where they boarded a ship heading to Cyprus.  They landed on the eastern edge of the island of Cyprus, and worked their way westward across the island, preaching in the synagogues along the way.1

Once they got to Paphos, a city on the western coast of the island, their preaching attracted the attention of the proconsul of the island,2 whose name was Sergio Paul.3  He called Saul and Barnabas to meet him, because he wanted to hear the word of God.  However, there was another man who was with Sergio Paul, and who apparently held some measure of influence with him (or at least thought he did).  This man, Elymas, called himself Bar-Jesus (which means “son of Jesus”), but was a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet.4  When they began to preach the word to Sergio Paul, Elymas spoke against them—attempting to negate their message and imply that they were the false prophets, because he did not want the proconsul to obey the gospel.5

Saul (who from this point onward is known as “Paul”) stared him down,6 and by inspiration, called down a curse on him:

O [you are] full of all subtlety and mischief.  You son of the devil!  You enemy of all righteousness!  Will you never cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?  And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is on you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.7

The first recorded miracle of Paul, a former opponent of Christianity who was blinded by God, was blinding another opponent of Christianity.  Immediately after Paul spoke those words, Elymas became blind, and walked around searching for someone to guide him.  This miracle had the desired effect: showing who the true spokesperson for God actually was.  After seeing the miracle, Sergio Paul believed, and was struck with amazement at the teaching about Jesus.  There can be no doubt that the proconsul obeyed the gospel.8

When they left Cyprus, they sailed northwest to Perga, a seaport city in Pamphylia.  It was while there that John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (most likely by sea).  We aren’t told why Mark left them, but it left Paul with a not-too-high regard for his trustworthiness.  Most likely, Paul preached in the city of Perga9 before they traveled to Antioch of Pisidia10 (not to be confused with Antioch of Syria, where Paul and Barnabas had worked together as prophets).

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 13:4-5.  It is possible that there were multiple synagogues in Salamis, the first city that they came to, but it is also certain that they would have preached as often as possible as they traveled through the island.

2 Luke was the target of many skeptics and atheists for this statement, because Cyprus didn’t have a proconsul; at least, that’s what they thought.  Archaeological discoveries have since shown that Augustus Caesar changed their governmental setup, and inscriptions from AD 51-52 have been unearthed which mention the proconsul of Cyprus named Paulus.  See Vincent’s Word Studies on Acts 13:7 for more information.

3 Acts 13:7.  The Greek in this verse is Σεργίῳ Παύλῳ, that is, Sergio Paulo.  Without exception, every translation renders it “Sergius Paulus,” even though the second word is translated “Paul” the other 154 times it appears in the Bible.

4 Acts 13:6-8.  Elymas fought against the truth of Jesus Christ as taught by Barnabas and Saul, yet called himself “son of Jesus,” which he may have done in an attempt to gather followers after himself, as though he was the heir to Jesus’ mantle.  He was a Jew, and his rejection of the truth leads us to conclude that he would have embraced the Law of Moses—which also condemns him because of his involvement in sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10), and his being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20).  See also Malachi 3:10.

5 Acts 13:8.

6 Acts 13:9.  The phrase “set his eyes” (KJV) on him is atenisas, from which we get the word “attention.”

7 Acts 13:9-11.  Paul calls him the “son of the devil” as a contrast to the name Elymas wore, “son of Jesus.”

8 Acts 13:12.  Often, the New Testament writers use the word “believe” to encompass the entire process of obedience to the gospel (Romans 1:16, for example).  Luke would not have recorded the incident in this way if the proconsul had refused to be baptized.  It is possible that the book of Acts was written as part of Paul’s defense before Caesar.  If this is the case, then maybe Luke didn’t specifically mention the baptism in order to not put any unnecessary persecution on Sergio Paul for joining the Christians.

9 The Scriptures do not give us every detail of Paul’s missionary journeys.  It seems very unlikely that he would be in a city for any length of time and not attempt to spread the gospel there.

10 This description by Luke has been the cause of some confusion, as this city was the capitol of southern Galatia, and in the region of Phrygia.  Souter, in James Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (“Antioch”), says that the official title of the city was “Antioch near Pisidia,” and attempts to explain the difficulty.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Five)

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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.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Four)

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Saul’s Early Christian Experiences

After obeying the gospel, having his sins washed away, and ridding himself of the guilt over what he had done to the church, Saul of Tarsus began to meet with the disciples in Damascus.  One can only imagine what the reaction was among those Christians when they first heard about Saul’s conversion.  Many of them were probably like those in Jerusalem, who didn’t believe he was really converted.  However, it is almost guaranteed that Ananias spoke up on his behalf, explaining his own part in Saul’s conversion to the truth.

Somewhere around this time (the Bible isn’t clear on exactly when it took place), Saul traveled to Arabia, before returning to Damascus.1  How long he was there, what happened while he was there, or even exactly where there is—all of these are questions to which we are simply not given the answer.2  Some have suggested that it was in Arabia that Saul was baptized with the Holy Spirit, receiving his apostolic orders and the ability to pass on miraculous abilities.3

During his time in Damascus, Saul started preaching in the synagogues, gathering the evidence from the Scriptures and putting it all together, showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.4  By doing this, he stirred up the Jews, causing them great confusion and aggravation (something he was going to experience for the rest of his life); and he also amazed all those who heard him because of his complete change of heart.  “Isn’t this he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and came here for the same purpose, that he might bring them tied up to the ruling priests?”5

The Christians were being encouraged, and it is probable that several of the Jews obeyed the gospel during those days.  But after “many days” passed (most likely three years since his conversion), the Jews decided they’d had enough and plotted together to kill him.  They watched the city gates day and night, waiting for the opportunity to grab him and kill him6—they didn’t take kindly to traitors, especially because his change was a condemnation of their own practices.

However, Saul was aware of their plot, and after discussing it with the other Christians in the city, it was decided that they would take him at night, put him in a basket, and lower him down the wall of the city so he could escape.  From there, he traveled south, back to the city where he had been hailed as a hero by the Jews, and feared by a struggling and decimated Christian population—Jerusalem.7

Once Saul arrived, he located some of the Christians (having persecuted them heavily, he would have had a good idea where many of them lived or met), and tried to join them.  Saul’s history in the city, his reputation as a murderer of Christians, was still fresh in their minds, and they rejected his attempts, believing that Saul was lying about having been converted.  It’s not a stretch to imagine them running, hiding, locking their doors, having private meetings with other Christians who were all afraid that Saul had come back home.

However, Barnabas learned about Saul’s conversion (whether he simply believed Saul or it was revealed to him by inspiration, we are not told),8 and took it upon himself to bridge the gap that separated Saul from the Jerusalem Christians.  He took Saul to the apostles9 and declared to them how Jesus had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and had spoken to him.  He certainly would have told them about his baptism.  Then he added how Saul had boldly preached the name of Jesus in the synagogues at Damascus.  Barnabas’ words held a great influence, and the apostles and Christians in Jerusalem forgave Saul for his persecution, and welcomed him as a faithful brother in Jesus Christ.10

As a member of the church in Jerusalem, Saul was very active in publicly proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ.  He even debated against the Hellenistic Jews,11 frustrating them so much that they tried to kill him.12  Like in Damascus, when the brethren discovered what was happening, they sent Saul away for his safety, as well as their own.  They took him to Caesarea, on the western coast of Judea, and sent him (most likely by ship) to his hometown of Tarsus.13

With Saul gone, the fires of controversy mellowed, and the churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had rest, and the church grew.14

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Galatians 1:17

2 In Galatians 1:17-18, Paul mentions “after three years,” but that phrase comes after he mentioned the return to Damascus—and that time period might encompass the entire time since his conversion.  So the only thing it tells us about the length of his Arabian stay is that it must have been less than three years—and most likely it wasn’t a long stay at all, since Luke didn’t see fit to even mention it, even in passing.  Regarding where this Arabia was, we shall quote from Vincent’s Word Studies on Galatians 1:17: “It is entirely impossible to decide what Paul means by this term, since the word was so loosely used and so variously applied. Many think the Sinaitic peninsula is meant (Stanley, Farrar, Matheson, Lightfoot). Others, the district of Auranitis near Damascus (Lipsius, Conybeare and Howson, Lewin, McGiffert). Others again the district of Arabia Petraea.”

3 It is never said in the Scriptures that Saul/Paul ever received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  However, there must have been some point in time where he received the miraculous abilities direct from heaven, for only an apostle could pass on the miraculous gifts (which Paul could do, see Acts 19:1-7), and Paul declared that his apostleship did not come from man, but from God (Galatians 1:1).  Since Luke doesn’t reveal it to us (Saul/Paul is first recorded to have done a miracle in chapter 13), we are left to guess.

4 Acts 9:20-22.  The word “proving” (KJV, verse 22) literally means “to put together.”  Thus, Saul was presenting the evidence and showing how it all fit together to prove that Jesus is that Christ they had been waiting for.

5 Acts 9:21.

6 Acts 9:23-24.

7 Acts 9:24-26a.

8 Barnabas was a prophet (Acts 13:1), so receiving the message directly from God wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

9 At this point, there are some difficulties.  According to Paul’s own testimony in Galatians 1:17-19, when he went to Jerusalem, he met with Peter, but saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother (see chapter on him for more details on his status as an “apostle”).  Yet Luke says that Barnabas took him before “the apostles.”  Vincent suggests that this visit was just before Peter and James, seeking to harmonize the two passages.  It is possible that the Jerusalem visit of Galatians 1:17-21 is a different one from Acts 9, though both chapters record him traveling to Cilicia afterwards, which seems to indicate that they are the same event (Acts 9:30, Galatians 1:21).  Ultimately, Vincent’s suggestion, though not thoroughly satisfactory, seems to be the most likely explanation.

10 Acts 9:26-28.

11 Acts 9:29.  The ASV has “Grecian Jews,” which is a more explanatory translation.  The word “Hellenist” describes Jews who spoke Greek, and were not fluent in Hebrew/Aramaic—if they spoke it at all.  These Jews did not reside in the Promised Land (Judea, Samaria, Galilee), but in other areas of the Roman Empire.  See also Acts 6:1.

12 Acts 9:29.  There was a class/racial divide among the Hellenistic Jews and the Jews from Judea.  The Hellenists in general viewed themselves as more educated than their Judean counterparts.  Meanwhile, the Judean Jews viewed themselves as more faithful to God because they could still speak Hebrew/Aramaic.  Saul is placed in an interesting position, because he was not born in Judea, but was fluent in both Greek and Hebrew.  His education (and likely inspiration as well) made him too great of a challenge for the “educated” Hellenists.  Thus, these factors all worked together to make them want him gone.

13 Acts 9:30.

14 Acts 9:31.  It is interesting that Luke records Saul’s departure as one of the things that brought peace and growth to the churches in that area.  While Saul had the best of intentions, and was forcibly proving his case, his tactics may have been closing people’s minds to the truth instead of opening them.  Let us at least consider that as a possibility and think about the way we come across to others.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Two)

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To those who have asked or wondered, yes, I realize that there was still more of the life of Peter to cover.  I ended up teaching those sections without notes, and so I’m behind on that.  It will get done at some point.  🙂

Saul the Persecutor

Saul first appears on the biblical stage, by name, as an enemy of the cross.  It is possible that, living in Jerusalem, Saul was among the groups of Pharisees who saw, questioned, and aggravated Jesus during His earthly ministry.1  But the first time we see his name is in connection with the death of Stephen.  It is possible that, being from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, that Saul is one of the men who was arguing with Stephen in Acts 6.

Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and them of Cilicia, and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.  And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke.  Then they suborned men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law.  Because we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us.2

After Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, the Jews were outraged.

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.  But [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, “Behold!  I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God!”  Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him together, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. … And Saul was pleased with his death.3

After hearing the sermon, Saul accompanied the mob (and was perhaps involved in it) that threw Stephen out of the city.  According to Deuteronomy 17:7, the witnesses against someone had to be the first ones to stone him.  So it was these witnesses who removed their outer garments and left them in the care and supervision of Saul.  This event seemed to awaken a bloodlust in Saul, an indignation against anyone who would dare promote the name of Jesus, for we see soon afterwards:

As for Saul, he was devastating the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women away, and committed them to prison.4

Years later, Saul spoke about his actions against the church:

I truly thought within myself that I ought to do many things antagonistic to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  I did these things in Jerusalem, and I shut up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the chief priests.  And when they were murdered, I voted against them.  And I punished them often in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme.  And being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even into foreign cities, in which I also went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests.5

He also said that, “beyond measure, I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.”6

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Since Saul was a “young man” when Stephen was killed, he would have been even younger (and thus not in any sense a leader) when Jesus was on the earth, some 3-7 years earlier.  Therefore, if Saul was among the groups of Pharisees, it would be no surprise that he isn’t mentioned at all.  Additionally, only two Pharisees are mentioned by name in the gospel accounts: Simon (Luke 7) and Nicodemus (John 3); and both of them are mentioned because they were involved in a one-on-one discussion with Jesus.  All that to say, the fact that Saul is not named in the gospel accounts does not prove he wasn’t there.

2 Acts 6:9-14.

3 Acts 7:54-58; 8:1.  The word “consenting” (KJV) literally means “was pleased with.”  It gave Saul pleasure to see Stephen get stoned.

4 Acts 8:3.  See Modern Literal Version.

5 Acts 26:9-12.

6 Galatians 1:13, KJV.