Tag Archives: Silas

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.


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.