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)

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