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.

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