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Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 16:11-15

The Conversion of Lydia

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the[a] district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.


Last week’s entry was about the travels of Paul, Silas and Timothy in Asia Minor and the vision Paul received one night of a call to Macedonia. Luke, the author of Acts, joined the three in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

The four were on their way across the Aegean Sea to Samothrace (Thracia in the map below). From Troas, the journey would not have been far. This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

They then went to Neapolis (verse 11) and on to Philippi, home to the Philippians and an important city of Macedonia (verse 12).

The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless. This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

In the map, Philippi is inland in the southern part of Thrace.

Luke wrote that the four stayed in the Roman colony of Philippi for several days. Matthew Henry’s commentary gives the rationale for beginning the Macedonian ministry there (emphases mine):

they began with the first city, because, if the gospel were received there, it would the more easily spread thence all the country over. (2.) It was a colony. The Romans not only had a garrison, but the inhabitants of the city were Romans, the magistrates at least, and the governing part. There were the greatest numbers and variety of people, and therefore the most likelihood of doing good.

John MacArthur tells us more about Philippi:

One of the reasons it was important was it was located on what was called the Egnatian Highway Now the Egnatian Highway was one of those massive Roman accomplishments, it was a road 490 miles long. Now that would have been built by hand … The Romans had built this road as a military access to the east. It ran from the western coast of Macedonia on the Adriatic Sea to across Macedonia to the Aegean Sea up and then right across the top area there and it went right through Philippi. So Philippi was a very important area. It was an area where there was much traffic and trade and military movement. Incidentally that road was built in about 146 B.C. Another footnote on that, if you took the Egnatian west you’d finally hit the Adriatic Sea. You take a boat across the Adriatic Sea and it would connect up with another road in Italy called the Appian Way which you may be familiar with. Well, that was one long extension of highway just separated by two of those little, that little sea the Adriatic and the Aegean. And so they were well-known geographical areas.

On the Sabbath, the four men went outside the city gates to the riverside to talk to women who had gathered for prayer (verse 13). Henry’s commentary says there was no synagogue and they were not going to preach in a pagan temple. Also note that the man who appeared in Paul’s vision was not to be found in Philippi. Hence the ministry among the women. MacArthur makes an important point:

You say, – You mean that the whole gospel spread in Europe is going to begin with a bunch of women? Listen, my dear friend, the gospel spread all over the world has been beginning with women for years. Just check out the nearest list of missionaries that you have and find out. In Christ there is neither male nor female.

He says that the women were probably exiled Jews:

There’s a sad thing, you know, they loved their temple, they didn’t have that. And you remember when they had been carried off into Babylon they founded those places called synagogues, remember Psalm 137, they sat by the rivers of Babylon and yes, we wept, it says in Psalm 137. And here were some exiled and only women, no men to lead them, no men to teach them. But they faithfully met.

MacArthur surmises that Paul found out where these women worshipped. A waterside location would have also been important for them for ritual cleansing purposes.

One of the women listening to the four was Lydia from Thyatira, later home to one of the churches in Revelation. Lydia sold purple goods (verse 14). Purple goods refers to dye and/or cloth. Thyatira was a long way from Philippi. Lydia probably moved there for better business opportunities.

MacArthur tells us:

Incidentally, Thyatira was famous for purple dye. Homer in the Iliad says the art of the women in Thyatira and the area is the art of dyeing with purple. So we have historical evidence that this woman came from the right place and she did what the women in that area did.

Proper purple was reserved for the wealthiest people in those days, and there was a cheaper kind of dye for everyone else. MacArthur explains the dyeing process and thinks Lydia was involved with the cheaper dye:

There were two kinds of dyes they used. The first kind was for the rich people. You know, most of the purple stuff was for, you know, royalty and all that. And they used to extract this purple dye drop by drop from a little thing called a murex which was a shellfish. And they would catch these shellfish and they would extract drop by drop this precious purple dye and really super rich people would have purple dye from the murex shellfish for their garments. And like everything, once the elite get it all of us peons want to get in on the thing, so the next thing you know they had to come up with a second class dye and they got it from an extraction from a madder root and they used that for the commoner’s dye. Well, she was in this business. And she was the one that the Lord had in mind, unbelievable, as Paul’s first convert in Europe. God was going to begin the work with a woman

Luke included two spiritual details about Lydia: she worshipped God and she opened her heart to Paul’s words.

MacArthur thinks that Lydia was probably a Gentile who became a God-fearer, the name the Jews gave to Gentile worshippers who did not fully convert or follow all aspects of Mosaic law.

Divine grace was working in her as she took in Paul’s words. She and her household were baptised (verse 15). She then invited the four to stay at her house, provided, she said, they judged her as being faithful to the Lord. They must have been reluctant, because Lydia ‘prevailed upon us’, meaning that she insisted they be her guests.

No doubt, she wanted to learn more from them. Henry has this:

She desired an opportunity of receiving further instruction. If she might but have them for awhile in her family, she might hear them daily (Proverbs 8:34), and not merely on sabbath days at the meeting. In her own house she might not only hear them, but ask them questions; and she might have them to pray with her daily, and to bless her household. Those that know something of Christ cannot but desire to know more, and seek opportunities of increasing their acquaintance with his gospel.

MacArthur says the church in Philippi was in Lydia’s home and tells us what happened later when Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians:

Lydia’s house became the place where the church meets. Look at verse 40; “They went out of the prison and returned entered into the house of Lydia and when they had seen the brethren they comforted them and departed.” Now the church met in Lydia’s house. So Lydia became a leader in the church. The little prosukee by the river became God’s ekklesia, God’s church in Philippi. You say, – But it was only womenYou say, – Well, where are the men? Ah, they’re there, verse 40. I don’t know – they must have been in Lydia’s household and the jailor and maybe his household. They [our four preachers, referring to the next part of Acts 16, coming next week] went out of the prison and went into the house of Lydia where they had seen the what? The brethren, there’s got to be some men, that’s a collective term but if it was only women they wouldn’t have used brethren. So there were some men there. But you know, what’s interesting. In later date, that little church that began with that group of women, some of those women still wanted to run things. They did … Phil. chapter 4, you know Paul loved the church at Philippi, he just loved them so much. Look at chapter 1 for a minute verse 3; he says, Phil. 1; “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He says, I’m just so excited about all of you, “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day“, what was the first day? We’ve Just been there, haven’t we? For that first day by the river. Oh, did he love them. But he says, You’ve got one problem named Euodias and Syntyche, both ladies. Verse 1, pardon me, verse 2 of chapter 4, “I beseech Euodias and beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Now he says, I’m going to ask you true-yoke-fellow, the Greek is suzugos and it is likely a proper name so he says, Suzugos, help those ladies, get that issue straightened out. Here were a couple of women who were problematic. Now there’s no hierarchy in the body of Christ, men and women, male and female are one in Christ. But in the church the men are set to put things in order. So he says to this man, Suzugos, you take charge over these women and get them together. They are dear women who labored with Clement and with me in the gospel.

I enjoy reading about Lydia, a great female role model from the ancient world: a good businesswoman, a good hostess — and a good Christian. The world could certainly use more Lydias.

Next time — Acts 16:35-40


Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 16:6-10

The Macedonian Call

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.


Last week’s post introduced Timothy, who was from the area around Derbe and Lystra, where Paul and Silas were visiting the churches that the Apostle and Barnabas had established. They showed the churches the letter from the Council of Jerusalem about not having to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law.

Now the men were going into Asia Minor. John MacArthur tells us:

Paul was there, Silas was there, Timothy was there …

This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

The preachers went to Phyrgia and Galatia (see the centre of the map), but the Holy Spirit forbade them from going further eastward (verse 6). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains why (emphases mine below):

They were forbidden at this time to preach the gospel in Asia (the country properly so called), because it did not need, other hands being at work there; or because the people were not yet prepared to receive it, as they were afterwards (Acts 19:10), when all those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord; or, as Dr. Lightfoot suggests, because at this time Christ would employ Paul in a piece of new work, which was to preach the gospel to a Roman colony at Philippi, for hitherto the Gentiles to whom he had preached were Greeks.

As for Phyrgia and Galatia:

it should seem, the gospel was already planted, but whether by Paul’s hand or no is not mentioned; it is likely it was, for in his epistle to the Galatians he speaks of his preaching the gospel to them at the first, and how very acceptable he was among them, Galatians 4:13-15.

They then travelled northwest to Mysia and tried to go northeast from there to reach Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow it (verse 7).

John MacArthur explains that the men — Paul, in particular — would have accepted these divine decisions and sought to know where to go instead:

if you understand something of the persistence of Paul, you will know that he managed to wiggle a fine line between Bithynia and Asia and go along like that. And here was the persistence of a man that made him what he was. And in a sense we may believe that God actually closed all the visible doors in order to prove the faithfulness and the determination of this man Paul which would make him, really, the kind of man that God was really going to use. And it’s a great thing for us, you know, when you see doors slam, keep moving that may be God’s test of your faithfulness and out of that test may grow your capacity to do the job that really needs to be done. If you find yourself balking and folding when the first door closes it may be that you’ll never see much of a door again after that. But if you’re persistent as they were God will open some marvelous things.

So they ‘passed by’ — or through, probably preaching in — Mysia on their way westward to Troas, on the coast (verse 8). Henry gives us some insight about Mysia, which was not the nicest of places:

They came to Mysia, and, as it should seem, preached the gospel there; for though it was a very mean contemptible country, even to a proverb (Mysorum ultimus, in Cicero, is a most despicable man), yet the apostles disdained not to visit it, owning themselves debtors both to the wise and to the unwise, Romans 1:14.

Troas’s major city was Troia, or Troy, home of the Trojans. MacArthur explains:

Now Troas was named Alexander Troas for Alexander, Alexander the Great. It was a town that became somewhat well-known, ten miles away from Troas was the city of Troy and I’m sure we’re all aware of Trojans which comes from that.

Now this particular place had been a Greek city, a free Greek city until Caesar Augustus made it a Roman Colony. So Troas became a Roman Colony. This whole territory along the coast there on the eastern seaboard of the Aegean Sea was very famous. Helen of Troy, the great heroes of the Trojan War, Homer, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Thales, Heraclitus a lot of very, very famous Greek names came from that area there. It was as Greek really as the land of Greece just across the Aegean Sea. It had been saturated and infiltrated by these Greek people.

In Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia urging him to ‘help us’ (verse 9) and recognised this as divine intervention. MacArthur elaborates:

God immediately gave them direction in verse 9. “A vision appeared to Paul. He saw a Macedonian man” perhaps he recognized him because of his attire or maybe the man said he was from Macedonia, apart from what he did say. “He said, Come over into Macedonia and help us.” There was the call of God in a dream, in a vision, at night.

The men prepared to go to Macedonia. The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless.

This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

It is interesting to look at the cities on the map. We find some of the names or people in the New Testament, specifically in Paul’s letters (e.g. Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth) and in Revelation (Smyrna).

In closing, note a change of person in verse 10: ‘we’, meaning that Luke, the author of Acts, joined the men in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

MacArthur tells us:

Here, somehow, Luke joins up. Now we don’t know the circumstances. We do know that Luke was a doctor, he was a physician, and it may have been that Paul had one of his chronic ailments act up in Troas and they managed to find a local doctor. When this local doctor plugged into Paul they had a house physician from then on because he went with them. But here, apparently, Luke joins up and it becomes a ‘we’ so the author is indicating himself in the situation.

It isn’t much of a journey by boat from Troy to reach Thrace.

More on their mission next week.

Next time — Acts 16:11-15

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 16:1-5

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas

16 Paul[a] came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers[b] at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.


Last week’s post discussed the point at which Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways after a heated quarrel over whether to take John Mark with them. Paul did not want to make the same mistake twice. The post mentions the verses from Paul’s letters wherein he wrote, some years later, good words about both John Mark and Barnabas. Outside of that, we read no more of Barnabas or John Mark, both of whom went to Cyprus to strengthen the churches there.

Acts 16 is rather exciting as we read of Timothy and Lydia for the first time. Paul and Silas ended up in prison, Paul drove an evil spirit out of a woman and a jailer converted.

Paul and Barnabas had established churches in Derbe and Lystra (Acts 14, also see here). Timothy was from that area (verse 1). He was the son of a Greek Gentile and a Jewish woman who converted. Her name was Eunice, and her mother’s name was Lois. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Paul speaks of them both with great respect, as women of eminent virtue and piety, and commends them especially for their unfeigned faith (2 Timothy 1:5), their sincerely embracing and adhering to the doctrine of Christ.

If, like me, you are puzzled by a Jew and Gentile marrying so long ago, Henry explains (emphases mine):

The marriage of a Jewish woman to a Gentile husband (though some would make a difference) was prohibited as much as the marriage of a Jewish man to a Gentile wife, Deuteronomy 7:3. Thou shalt no more give thy daughter to his son than take his daughter to thy son; yet this seems to have been limited to the nations that lived among them in Canaan, whom they were most in danger of infection from.

The congregations at the churches in Lystra and Iconium — also in the area — spoke highly of Timothy. Timothy was another part of God’s plan to increase the Church. John MacArthur tells us:

What a perfect choice. Here’s a guy that’s from the Roman Empire. He’s got an in with the gentiles and he’s got the potentiality of having an in with the Jews. He’s the perfect man, the kind of the man of the world that can go both ways, and again God’s selection of personnel is just remarkable as he selects out this one young man.

Now people say, “How old was Timothy when this started?” The best guess would be between 16 and 25 years old. He was a young man and I think Paul enjoyed the opportunity to disciple young men. He hadn’t had great success with John Mark. I think he looked forward to success with Timothy. I think this is a great way to teach incidentally.

Henry has more:

he was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium; he had not only an unblemished reputation, and was free from scandal, but he had a bright reputation, and great encomiums were given of him, as an extraordinary young man, and one from whom great things were expected. Not only those in the place where he was born, but those in the neighbouring cities, admired him, and spoke honourably of him. He had a name for good things with good people.

Paul wanted Timothy to minister alongside him and had him circumcised because everyone knew him as a Greek Gentile (verse 3). That verse made me pause. Acts 15 was all about the Jerusalem Council, which determined that converted Gentiles did not need to be circumcised.

Both Henry and MacArthur emphasise that Timothy was half Jewish and half Gentile. In order for Timothy to minister effectively to Jews as well as Gentiles, he would have to have a sign that he was indeed Jewish, even if he was seen to be a Gentile because of his patrilineal side.

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

You know what? Some people have read this and Ramsey in his book just goes bananas at this point and accuses Paul of all kinds of things. He says, “Paul was a Judaizer here. Paul has fallen into the circumcision air. He was down there in Jerusalem and the circumcision came and said, ‘Well you’ve got to be circumcised’ and what does he do? He goes and circumcises some guy. That isn’t necessary for salvation” but beloved, that isn’t the point. It doesn’t say he circumcised Timothy so he could get saved. It says he circumcised him because of what? The Jews in those quarters.

Now watch this. Timothy was a half-Jew and half-gentile. IF he was not circumcised the Jews would assume then that he had accepted his gentile identity. True? Because circumcision was the very mark of Judaism. So the Jew would’ve assumed that he accepted gentile characteristics, and so Paul recognizing that the key to reaching the Jewish people and that was the first place he went in every new town wasn’t it, the Synagogue? The key was that Timothy had all this Jewish character. He had been brought up in a synagogue situation. All he needed to do was just get circumcised and he would have full entrance and full acceptance among the Jews and it wouldn’t hinder his work among the gentiles. And so it was for expediency’s sake; it was not for salvation’s sake. It was just to allow the ministry to function more smoothly.

Paul explains this manner of thinking in 1 Corinthians 9. MacArthur tells us Paul wanted to reach Jews and Gentiles on equal terms, which is why he wrote:

To the Jews I became as a Jew. To those that are under the law as under the law though I myself am not under the law.” He says, “I become all things to all men that” what? “That by any means I might win some.” Now that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-20 and following. Paul is looking at expediency.


Titus came along and Paul forb[ade] Titus to be circumcised. Absolutely no, and some people are confused why he let Timothy get circumcised and not Titus simple answer. Titus was a gentile. To circumcise a gentile would then have been to impose legalism but to circumcise a Jew already a Jew was simply to allow him the liberty to be more effective. He would’ve been wrong to circumcise Titus. He would’ve been wrong not to circumcise Timothy for the sake of effectiveness.

MacArthur explains that this principle of being all things to all men still applies today. Some mistakenly look at it as meaning wishy-washy unity at all costs. No, it means the ability to reach people on their own cultural and/or religious terms when giving them the Good News:

If you’re going to witness to Jews you’re going to need to know be able to know a little bit about Judaism. If you’re going to witness to somebody who’s in the Roman Catholic church you ought to be able to know a little bit about them so that you can approach them on a tactful basis and the same is true with other religions and other systems of religion and so forth. If you’re gonna talk to a man who happens to be a fanatic on this and this, maybe if you know a little about what he knows about you can gain an entrance into his heart.

Henry posits that Paul confirmed Timothy in the Holy Spirit after his circumcision:

It is probable that it was at this time that Paul laid his hands on Timothy, for the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost upon him, 2 Timothy 1:6.

Timothy joined Paul and Silas as they travelled to the churches in the various cities. Remember that Paul wanted to go back and visit the churches that he and Barnabas established (Acts 15:36):

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Also important during these visits was to show each church the decision about circumcision that the Jerusalem Council reached (verse 4). Recall that the Judaisers had followed Paul and Barnabas after they established churches and gave the Gentile converts false teachings about having to be circumcised. Now Paul returned to prove to them that that the Judaisers were wrong. MacArthur reminds us:

The decision of the Jerusalem Council, and what did they decide? Go back to verse 11, chapter 15. Here’s their message. “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” That was their message wasn’t it? Salvation by grace through faith, but there was something else to it. Oh yes. You remember they had said, “We want to add this, that you abstain from blood and things strangled and fornication and things offered to idols.” Why? So you don’t offend.

As a result of these visits, the churches were strengthened in the faith and their numbers grew (verse 5).

We shouldn’t confuse that increase with the modern day false teaching of ‘church growth’. These churches grew because they maintained purity in doctrine, worship and behaviour. They were Spirit-filled. They did not need to have coffee mornings or children’s playtime in the afternoon. These were people who, first and foremost, loved God through His Son Jesus Christ. They had the love, they had the doctrine and, because of these things, through the Holy Spirit, it grew from there.

Churches with pure doctrine do not need growth gimmicks or formulaic programmes! John MacArthur’s is a case in point.

It is apposite at this point to find out more about Timothy. MacArthur explains the use of ‘was’ regarding Timothy’s father in verse 1:

As an interesting footnote the particular imperfect tense that is used in relationship to Timothy’s father indicates that Timothy’s father was perhaps dead. It would be that he was a Greek with the emphasis on the “was” indicating that perhaps at the point it was written he was dead, so he may have been just the son of a widow, but Paul saw something good in him, something potential.

He also gives us an interesting insight into verse 3 — Paul’s desire to have Timothy join him — and what happened years later:

The last time Eunice and Lois saw Paul you know where he was? He was blood-soaked and he was lying on the city dump. He had just been stoned. And here he was saying, “I’d like to invite your son to come along on our missionary efforts. How about it, Mom?” That’s quite a sacrifice, right? They don’t know what’s gonna happen but they let him go, and you know they had a little official meeting? They sure did.

1 Timothy 4:14 this gives us a little indication of that meeting. Paul says to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given to thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbyters or the elders.” In other words they had a little commissioning and they laid their hands on them. Here Paul was reminding Timothy not to forget that they had ordained them. Same things in 2 Timothy 1 verse 6 he says, “I want to put you in remembrance. Stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” so they had a little commissioning service ordaining him, laying hands on him, praying for him, standing behind him, and they sent him out as a representative of the church right there in Lystra and Derbe, and the Lord had filled up the ranks of his team – Paul, Silas, Timothy.

If Timothy’s father was dead, Paul stepped in as spiritual adviser and mentor. He loved Timothy as if he were family:

Paul called Timothy, “My true child in the faith” verse Timothy 1:2. He called him “My son” he called him “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” 1 Corinthians 4 and he called him “my beloved child” in 2 Timothy 1. Now many people for many years have read those and have said, “Now that means that Paul led Timothy to Christ” but you know something? You cannot find that in Scripture. Nowhere does it say that Paul led Timothy to Christ. You say, “But he calls him his spiritual son.” Ah, but watch this beautiful fact. I just love this.

2 Timothy 1:5 he says, “I’m running to you, Timothy. I call to remembrance the unframed faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother, Lois and your mother, Eunice and I am persuaded that it’s also in you” which indicates that he really did not necessarily know about Timothy, all the facts. You know who I believe Paul led to Christ? Lois and Eunice the first time through. You know who I believe led Timothy to Christ? Lois and Eunice.

Looking at all of those verses together, we see that another beautiful part of God’s plan came to fruition. What blessings for Paul, Timothy, Eunice and Lois.

More to come next week.

Next time — Acts 16:6-10

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:36-41

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.


Last week’s entry discussed the encouraging letter to the Gentiles in the church of Antioch (Syria) from the church in Jerusalem, the product of the Jerusalem Council.

The Jerusalem Council was now over. Paul, Barnabas and Silas, from Jerusalem, stayed on a while in Antioch to continue to nurture the church there. Recall that Barnabas started the church in that great trading city and called for Paul (Saul, at that time) to come and help him minister to the ever increasing numbers of converts there.

After theologically reasurring the Gentiles, they were ready to leave. Paul suggested to Barnabas that they go to the churches in other areas which they founded (verse 36). Paul felt a spiritual obligation to return to build up their faith. He also had much love for his congregations.

Barnabas agreed but wanted to take John Mark, his relative (verse 37). Matthew Henry says John Mark was Barnabas’s nephew. John MacArthur says he was Barnabas’s cousin. Either way, they had a blood relationship.

Those who have been following this series recognise John Mark’s name from Acts 12 and Acts 13 (here and here). The second Acts 13 link explains why John Mark possibly did not want to be in that part of Asia Minor. It was dangerous with the Taurus Mountains and bandits. Another possible factor was that, Paul effectively became head of the Antioch church. John Mark might not have liked that his relative Barnabas was no longer the spiritual leader. In any event, John Mark returned to Jerusalem.

Paul certainly had not forgotten. St Luke, the author of Acts, saw fit to mention that John Mark had bailed out at Pamphylia (verse 38). Consider Paul’s personality based on the information Luke gave us in Acts. Paul was strong-willed and on fire for Christ. John Mark had a track record with him that was not very good. He probably did not want to make the same mistake again.

MacArthur explains:

Well, Paul was a strong guy and there’s one thing that’s hard for strong people to tolerate – weakness. Paul was courageous and there’s one thing hard for courageous people to tolerate, that’s cowardice.

Then, in contrast to all the Spirit-led behaviour we have read previously, Paul and Barnabas had a ‘sharp disagreement’ such that they went their separate ways (verse 39).

Matthew Henry’s commentary warns those of us — myself included — who feel empathy for the two men in their strongly felt passions:

We must own it was their infirmity, and is recorded for our admonition; not that we must make use of it to excuse our own intemperate heats and passions, or to rebate the edge of our sorrow and shame for them; we must not say, “What if I was in a passion, were not Paul and Barnabas so?” No; but it must check our censures of others, and moderate them.

MacArthur says (emphases mine):

Verse 39, “The contention was so sharp” paroxysm, a sharp contention, “between them that they departed asunder.” It doesn’t say that they shook hands, put their arms around each other and said, “Well bless you, brother but we’re going to part.” You know what the word is for departed asunder? It’s only used one other time in the New Testament and that’s Revelations 6:14 when an apocalyptic disaster, the Heavens departed. So when they departed, they departed. There wasn’t a lot of love there.

It is pretty amazing that they didn’t call a time out and reconcile the next day through prayer and apologies.

That said, God works everything to His plan. This split also produced good for the Church.

Barnabas and ‘Mark’ (note the name change) went to Cyprus (verse 40).

Acts 13 describes the founding of the church in Cyprus: here and here. At the instruction of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 13:1-3, which represents the narrative shifting from Jerusalem to a Gentile Church), Barnabas, Saul and John Mark (author of the Gospel of Mark) set sail from Seleucia for Cyprus to preach the Good News in synagogues from east to west on the island. They began at Salamis on the east coast and travelled to the west coast. Their final destination was Paphos, off the coast of which the goddess Venus was said to have been born. The sorcerer (‘magician’) Bar-Jesus — also known as Elymas — was Satan’s instrument to disrupt their ministry. Sergius Paulus was a learned man who was the island’s Roman governor. He summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear about the Word of God.

The second link (previous paragraph) has the story of Paul’s confrontation with the sorcerer Elymas. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Paul struck Elymas — Bar-Jesus — blind for his attempt to subvert Paulus Sergius’s conversion. Elymas needed friends to guide him around.

Both Henry and MacArthur mention that Cyprus was Barnabas’s homeland, so the many churches he had helped to establish there on a coast-to-coast journey with Paul and Mark, were especially important to him.

Paul and Silas went in another direction, with the blessing of the church in Antioch (verse 40). That is of note. Antioch did not give a recommendation to either Barnabas or Mark. Henry explains that those in Antioch thought that Barnabas should have accepted Paul’s — the leader’s — decision and not argue about it:

They thought he was in the right in refusing to make use of John Mark, and could not but blame Barnabas for insisting upon it, though he was one who had deserved well of the church (Acts 11:22) before they knew Paul; and therefore they prayed publicly for Paul, and for the success of his ministry, encouraged him to go on in his work, and, though they could do nothing themselves to further him, they transferred the matter to the grace of God, leaving it to that grace both to work upon him and to work with him.

MacArthur arrives at the same assessment but thinks Barnabas and Mark hurried to Cyprus as a result of a lack of commendation:

One, Paul really was an apostolic authority over Barnabas and I feel that if Barnabas was truly the man that he should’ve been at that moment he would’ve submitted to Paul’s apostolic authority. This is an issue I think is important. Paul was in terms of Christ the one who stood in rank next to Christ, and had Barnabas been what he should’ve been there would’ve been some submission.

Second reason. The Lord in the end – and since I believe in the sovereignty of God this is important – the Lord in the end did not have Mark go with Paul, did he? And it seems to me that that then was the plan of God that Mark not go originally. Now God of course had all of this within the framework of His plan but God did not plan for Mark to go and so it seems perhaps then that Barnabas was truly out of line in bringing Mark along or desiring to.

Third reason, verse 40. “Paul chose Silas and departed being commended by the brethren under the grace of God.” The church definitely recognized the duo of Paul and Silas and perhaps they had the mind of the Spirit on that and so they commended them. There is no such commendation of Barnabas and Mark. In fact you get the idea a little bit in verse 39 that they kind of hustled to Cyprus.

Fourthly, I feel in my own mind that it was a lot better for Mark to go with Barnabas than it would’ve been for him to go along with him anyway. I think it would’ve been awfully tough on Mark to go along with Paul when he knew all the time that Paul didn’t trust him, so I think the Spirit worked it out beautifully. That’s just my opinion for what it’s worth and you can deal with it in your own mind. Anyway, they took off, but I want you to remember this.

Later on, as Timothy’s ministry developed, Paul recommended Mark to him. Paul also recommended him to the Colossians. Henry states:

… Paul afterwards seems to have had, though not upon second thoughts, yet upon further trial, a better opinion of John Mark than now he had; for he writes to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:11), Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry; and he writes to the Colossians concerning Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, that if he came to them they should receive him, bid him welcome, and employ him (Colossians 4:10) …

The lesson here being that we should not be too harsh in judgement (‘great deal of temper’ below means ‘restraint’):

(1.) That even those whom we justly condemn we should condemn moderately, and with a great deal of temper, because we know not but afterwards we may see cause to think better of them, and both to make use of them and make friendship with them, and we should so regulate our resentments that if it should prove so we may not afterwards be ashamed of them. (2.) That even those whom we have justly condemned, if afterwards they prove more faithful, we should cheerfully receive, forgive and forget, and put a confidence in, and, as there is occasion, give a good word to.

On Henry’s first point, I know someone who really disliked a then-new business associate of his to the point that they had harsh words for each other during a meeting with several other participants. It turned out, some weeks later at a subsequent meeting, that each had misunderstood what the other was saying. They were aiming for the same solution via different routes. Fortunately, the two became friends, worked closely together for several years and met each other socially for dinner.

Paul and Silas went through Syria and then on to Cicilia (verse 41). No doubt Paul was delighted not only to visit the churches outside of Antioch, as Henry puts it, but to also introduce Silas to them. Afterwards, Paul was probably also pleased to return to preach in his homeland, Cicilia, in Asia Minor. Together, the two strengthened the churches.

In conclusion, existing churches were strengthened by return visits from two teams of preachers and teachers. The lead men — Paul and Barnabas — also had with them new assistants, as it were, who would have their own ministries. Silas might have been further along his spiritual journey than Mark, because he was a ‘prophet’ (Acts 15:32). The Holy Spirit was working through the four marvellously.

In closing, a word about John Mark being Mark of the Gospel. Henry doubted it, but MacArthur is quite sure of this. We can also be confident that Paul and Barnabas reconciled:

Barnabas later was commended by Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:6, Paul mentions him there. He held no continuing animosity, not Paul, not at all, and Mark, I mean Paul absolutely loved Mark but Paul was in Rome in jail and he wrote to Timothy and he says, “Timothy, come and be with me. Demas has forsaken me having loved the present world. Luke alone is with me, and by the way when you come would you bring Mark, for he is profitable to me?” Now that’s restoration, isn’t it? That’s the loving heart of Paul so Barnabas did a good job on Mark, really shaped him up, and Paul loved him. Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and Mark was a companion of Peter, 1 Peter 5:13. In fact many scholars say that the information in the Gospel of Mark comes from Peter and perhaps Peter was instrumental in working with Mark as the Holy Spirit used him to write.

Next time, we read more about Timothy, who was from the area surrounding Derbe and Lystra. Paul and Barnabas had established churches there (Acts 14, also see here).

Next time — Acts 16:1-5

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:30-35

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.[a] 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.


Last week’s post discussed the letter to the Gentiles from the church in Jerusalem, which made it clear that Gentiles, like Jewish converts, were saved by faith through grace. Therefore, there was — and is — no scriptural requirement to obey Mosaic law as the false teachers from Judea had said.

The crux of the letter is this:

28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The church in Jerusalem sent Judas Barsabbas and Silas to accompany Paul and Barnabas to the church in Antioch (Syria). When the congregation in that city was assembled, the four emissaries from Jerusalem delivered the letter (verse 30).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

But this was not all; it was that they might know that no more than this was forbidden them, that it was no longer a sin to eat swine’s flesh, no longer a pollution to touch a grave or a dead body.

John MacArthur emphasises the message of grace:

Can you imagine hanging around waiting to hear if your salvation’s any good? And so they arrived back there, “and when they had gathered the multitude,” and unfortunately the word multitude in English does not translate to Greek, the Greek word is, the fullness of the whole, w-h-o-l-e. What it means is everybody was there. This was a hot item, the whole church together, they delivered “When they gathered the fullness of the delivered the epistle.” And can you imagine when they read this? We are going to lay no burden on you, your grace is valid, and, and they said, is this for sure, for sure? And Paul and Barnabas, for sure, for sure, Judas and Silas, this is it, this is it. Only thing…a few things you’ve got to remember, don’t do these few things because you will offend the Jews. Oh, terrific, terrific, great thing.

Upon reading the letter from Jerusalem, the church of Antioch rejoiced (verse 31). The Gentile men did not have to be circumcised. No one had to obey Mosaic law.

Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

They rejoiced for the consolation; and a great consolation it was to the multitude, (1.) That they were confirmed in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, and were not burdened with that, as those upstart teachers would have had them to be. It was a comfort to them to hear that the carnal ordinances were no longer imposed on them, which perplexed the conscience, but could not purify nor pacify it. (2.) That those who troubled their minds with an attempt to force circumcision upon them were hereby for the present silenced and put to confusion, the fraud of their pretensions to an apostolical warrant being now discovered. (3.) That the Gentiles were hereby encouraged to receive the gospel, and those that had received it to adhere to it. (4.) That the peace of the church was hereby restored, and that removed which threatened a division. All this was consolation which they rejoiced in, and blessed God for.

The King James Version of verse 31 is as follows:

31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

MacArthur discusses the Greek word for ‘consolation’, also used as a name for the Holy Spirit — Paraclete:

Verse 31, “When they read, they rejoiced for the consolation.” You know what the word means in Greek? Comfort, its paraklet, comforter. They, you know grace is comforting, isn’t it? How would you like to have to keep your salvation by works? Would you be comforted in that? I don’t think so. You couldn’t be comforted. Grace is comforting, there’s no comfort in legalism just guilt, fear, threat, look at the Old Testament, they never, ever knew the comfort of the peace of conscience. Remember in Hebrews, they never had that purged conscience, never had comfort. Grace alone brings comfort.

Judas and Silas, referred to as ‘prophets’, encouraged and strengthened the congregation in Antioch (verse 33).

MacArthur tells us:

these prophets were ranked next to Apostles in the church in terms of importance, they spoke directly from God.

Henry has more:

They comforted the brethren (so it may be rendered), and this would contribute to the confirming of them; for the joy of the Lord will be our strength. They exhorted them with many words; they used a very great copiousness and variety of expression. One word would affect one, and another another; and therefore, though what they had to say might have been summed up in a few words, yet it was for the edification of the church that they used many words, dia logou pollou–with much speech, much reasoning; precept must be upon precept.

Judas and Silas spent considerable time in Antioch before returning to Jerusalem (verse 33).

This brings us to the contentious verse 34, which is in the King James Version and some other translations:

34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

Henry’s commentary accepts the verse as valid:

Silas, when it came to the setting to, would not go back with Judas to Jerusalem, but let him go home by himself, and chose rather to abide still at Antioch, Acts 15:34. And we have no reason at all to blame him for it, though we know not the reason that moved him to it. I am apt to think the congregations at Antioch were both more large and more lively than those at Jerusalem, and that this tempted him to stay there, and he did well: so did Judas, who, notwithstanding this, returned to his post of service at Jerusalem.

MacArthur, on the other hand, does not think verse 34 is authentic:

Look at verse 35, verse 34 isn’t in the manuscripts. Apparently a scribe put it there, it says, it says it pleased Silas to abide there. Some scribe stuck that in because Silas is back in Antioch in Verse 40, and this scribe figured that if he left there, he’d have trouble getting him back in those verses in-between. But all you’ve got to do is leave a little time gap, no problem.

Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch to teach and preach along with many others (verse 35). Henry says that as Antioch was the main city in Syria, it was a crossroads for people from other lands, therefore, getting the Good News out, especially in different languages and means of expression was essential. Also, as we will find out next week, Paul and Barnabas continued travelling and preaching after their stay in the city:

Antioch, being the chief city of Syria, it is probable there was a great resort of Gentiles thither from all parts upon one account or other, as there was of Jews to Jerusalem; so that in preaching there they did in effect preach to many nations, for they preached to those who would carry the report of what they preached to many nations, and thereby prepare them for the apostles’ coming in person to preach to them.

What an exciting time that must have been for the early Church. The enthusiasm must have been tremendous.

Next time — Acts 15:36-41

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:22-29

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers[a] who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”


Last week’s post discussed James’s remarks to the Jerusalem Council. James spoke after Peter did, referring to him as Simeon. James’s opinion was that the church in Jerusalem should write to the Gentile churches stating the few restrictions by which they should abide:

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Recall that the Judaisers — the circumcision party — wanted Gentile converts to abide by Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James were among those who said that was not what God intended for the Church.

The reference to blood had to do with the Gentile custom of drinking blood in pagan ceremonies.

The ‘what has been strangled’ part eventually went by the wayside, but while Gentile converts were living side by side with Jewish converts and Jewish people, it was deemed prudent that Gentiles not give offence to those who had grown up in a different tradition.

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives this explanation. ‘Shambles’ below was an ancient name for the street where butchers traded. York still has The Shambles, where butchers were located for centuries. Emphases mine below:

(1.) The matter of the injunction, which is according to the advice given by James, that, to avoid giving offence to the Jews, [1.] They should never eat any thing that they knew had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, but look upon it as, though clean in itself, yet thereby polluted to them. This prohibition was afterwards in part taken off, for they were allowed to eat whatever was sold in the shambles, or set before them at their friend’s table, though it had been offered to idols, except when there was danger of giving offence by it, that is, of giving occasion either to a weak Christian to think the worse of our Christianity, or to a wicked heathen to think the better of his idolatry; and in these cases it is good to forbear, 1 Corinthians 10:25, &c. This to us is an antiquated case. [2.] That they should not eat blood, nor drink it; but avoid every thing that looked cruel and barbarous in that ceremony which had been of so long standing. [3.] That they should not eat any thing that was strangled, or died of itself, or had not the blood let out … the apostles required no more of them than what was required of the proselytes of the gate, which was to observe the seven precepts of the sons of Noah

The Apostles, the elders — and, amazingly, the whole church — agreed to send carefully chosen men from the congregation to Antioch (Syria) to accompany Paul and Barnabas with the gist of James’s message (verse 22).

John MacArthur picks up on the unanimity among the Christians in Jerusalem:

They were not only pleased with the decision, they were pleased to send along two of their leaders. I’ll tell you something friends, and I’ll just digress for a minute. You know why it pleased all of those people? … if everybody is Spirit filled and Spirit controlled then everybody’s goin’ come out agreeing You say, that’s a different kind of church than I’m used to. Well you know what was the genius…what’d I tell ya was the genius of the early church? They were subject to the Spirit’s control

Verse 22 also tells us that Judas — not the betrayer, but another — and Silas were chosen as being leading men in the Jerusalem congregation. This is the only time we read about Judas Barsabbas, but St Luke, the author of Acts, thought it was important to mention him. Henry posits Judas might have been related to Joseph Barsabbas, a candidate for apostlehood (Acts 1:23).

MacArthur has more about Silas:

… of Silas we know very much. Silas, called Silas in the book of Acts is called Silvanus by Paul and Peter, and he wasthe guy who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey, he was a citizen of Rome, he was the one who carried the first Epistle of Peter.

Some might ask why Paul and Barnabas didn’t just go back themselves. Why would they need Judas Barsabbas and Silas?

They sent these messengers, (1.) To show their respect to the church at Antioch, as a sister-church, though a younger sister, and that they looked upon it as upon the same level with them; as also that they were desirous further to know their state. (2.) To encourage Paul and Barnabas, and to make their journey home the more pleasant (for it is likely they travelled on foot) by sending such excellent men to bear them company; amicus pro vehiculo–a friend instead of a carriage. (3.) To put a reputation upon the letters they carried, that it might appear a solemn embassy, and so much the more regard might be paid to the message, which was likely to meet with opposition from some. (4.) To keep up the communion of the saints, and cultivate an acquaintance between churches and ministers that were at a distance from each other, and to show that, though they were many, yet they were one.

MacArthur says that by having Judas and Silas accompany them, Paul and Barnabas wanted to convey a message that came straight from the church in Jerusalem, not just the two of them:

Jerusalem sent two of its best, to give a solid report on what the decision was salvation’s by grace through faith, plus nothing! You tell ‘em that, not just Paul and Barnabas but you tell ‘em from us in Jerusalem. That’s our commitment.

He explains the Greek word used for ‘leading men among the brothers’, or ‘chief among the brethren’ in older translations:

The Greek word hegeomon, is an interesting word. It, it is the word for commander. We don’t usually think of church leadership as commanders.

It is the word used of the procurator of Judaea, it is the word used of the governor of a province. Keep this in mind beloved, God has always sent in the church authority.

Verse 23 gives us the greeting to the letter and the churches to which it was addressed. The greeting is as egalitarian as it can be — from brothers to brothers — considering Jerusalem was the head church and these were former Jews addressing Gentile converts. Jerusalem was not lording it over the newer outpost churches or the Gentiles there. The Holy Spirit was at work.

MacArthur explains the churches mentioned and omitted:

Now you say, it doesn’t talk about Cyprus and Galatia where they founded the churches, well they were extensions of Antioch. They would have been included in the Antioch. And the word Cilicia, you say, well when did the churches get founded in Cilicia? I’ll tell ya when, remember when the Apostle Paul was hustled out of Jerusalem ‘cause he caused so much trouble? I mean that was when he was a Christian, he brought down so much persecution that the Christians decided that he needed to get outa town. So they sent him to Tarsus, you know what he did? He went to Tarsus for a while and then he took off to Cilicia and founded churches.

The remaining verses in today’s reading give us the text of the letter.

The letter began with the problems the Judaisers were causing (verse 24). The Jerusalem church acknowledged the troublemakers were from there but with no instruction to say or do what they did. It’s a way of saying the church in Jerusalem accepted responsibility for these false teachers, which is rather humbling.

Note that the letter acknowledged the deep distress and mental turmoil the Gentiles were going through because of these horrible men and their egregious falsehoods: ‘troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds’. This was serious business.

MacArthur explains:

Now I want ya to notice the word, troubled, that is a very interesting word.

It is a different word than verse 19. You remember I told you the word trouble in verse 19 means to annoy or to hassle, it’s like a gnat, you know just, just a, just an annoyance, an irritation. Let’s not…irritate them by imposing some foolish ritual on them. But here the word is a tremendously strong word, it means to deeply upset, to deeply disturb, to perplex, to create fear. A very severe kind of response. In fact it is used in John 14, the very same word. Remember when Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Those disciples were not just annoyed, they were really torn up. He had just announced His death, and they were shaking, they were horrified, they were in terror.

Knowing that, the letter stated, the church in Jerusalem met to discuss the matter and, having come to a unanimous agreement, decided to send two of their esteemed men to accompany the ‘beloved’ Paul and Barnabas (verse 25) who risked their lives for Christ (verse 26).

Those verses mean that the church of Jerusalem heartily approved of Paul, Barnabas as men and the way they presented the Good News to Gentiles. Henry has more:

[1.] “They are men that are dear to us; they are our beloved Barnabas and Paul–men whom we have a value for, a kindness for, a concern for.” Sometimes it is good for those that are of eminence to express their esteem, not only for the despised truth of Christ, but for the despised preachers and defenders of that truth, to encourage them, and weaken the hands of their opposers. [2.] “They are men that have signalized themselves in the service of Christ, and therefore have deserved well of all the churches: they are men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:26), and therefore are worthy of double honour, and cannot be suspected of having sought any secular advantage to themselves; for they have ventured their all for Christ, have engaged in the most dangerous services, as good soldiers of Christ, and not only in laborious services.” It is not likely that such faithful confessors should be unfaithful preachers.

The letter from the Jerusalem church went on to say that those hearing it could equally rely on Judas and Silas to be faithful to those same teachings (verse 27).

The next sentence of the letter mentioned that their decision to send it seemed good to the Holy Spirit as well as to them (verse 28). The Jerusalem congregation considered the matter and their decision with seriousness in wanting to arrive at a decision of which the Holy Spirit would approve. The unanimity attested they had arrived at the correct decision.

The decision was exactly as James had put it: no further burden other than no idolatry, no blood, no strangled creatures and no sexual immorality (verse 29).

I really like how the letter ends: avoid these things and ‘you will do well. Farewell’.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 15:30-35

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:12-21

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant[a] of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
     says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”


Last week’s post discussed the proceedings of the Jerusalem Council, specifically Peter’s words to those assembled from both the pro-Gentile converts and the anti-Gentile converts, the latter being what is referred to in the New Testament as the circumcision party.

After hearing Peter’s words, the assembly fell silent (verse 12). John MacArthur says:

… you know why? Pretty tough to argue with that speech, pretty tough, they kept silence …

Then, Paul and Barnabas spoke of the signs and wonders God had wrought through them with the Gentiles (verse 12). St Luke, the author of Acts, did not detail this. First, because he already alluded to it in Acts 15:3-4. Secondly, he had also referred to this in Acts 14:27-28, Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch (Syria).

MacArthur makes a good point (emphases mine):

“and they listened to Barnabas and Paul,” and you know what they were doing? “Declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” You say, well what is that supposed to mean? Watch this one, God, now get it, does not get involved in confirming by miracles false doctrine. Are you with me? Paul and Barnabas were traveling around preaching salvation by what? Grace and faith. God was attesting to their message by what? Miracles. God…I don’t see the Judaizers having any confirming miracles, do you? I don’t see God running around with the party of the circumcision confirming their witness by miracles. But everywhere Paul and Barnabas went they preached grace through faith, and you know what happened? They had miracle after miracle after miracle, God was confirming what they were saying. You say, well how do you know they were preaching grace? l3:38, “Be it known onto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” That was their message, grace without law. And you know what? God kept doing miracles to prove that they were from Him. Do you understand that point? God only confirms true doctrine with miracles. God is not in the business of confirming false prophets.

Then James spoke, addressing the assembled as ‘brothers’, requesting them to listen to him (verse 13). Incidentally, we do not know which James this is. Neither Matthew Henry or John MacArthur says.

James referred to Peter as Simeon (Simon), recapping what Peter had just said (verse 14). However, note how James said it: God visiting the Gentiles to take from among them a people in His name. James backed that up by telling those assembled that this was something the prophets foretold (verse 15). That was no doubt directed towards the circumcision party.

James went on to cite Amos 9:11-12 (verses 16-18), rephrasing it a bit. This is what the verses say:

The Restoration of Israel

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”[a]
    declares the Lord who does this.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful exposition of these verses:

It is written, Amos 9:11,12, where is foretold, (1.) The setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah (Acts 15:16): I will raise up the tabernacle of David, that is fallen. The covenant was made with David and his seed; but the house and family of David are here called his tabernacle, because David in his beginning was a shepherd, and dwelt in tents, and his house, that had been as a stately palace, had become a mean and despicable tabernacle, reduced in a manner to its small beginning. This tabernacle was ruined and fallen down; there had not been for many ages a king of the house of David; the sceptre had departed from Judah, the royal family was sunk and buried in obscurity, and, as it should seem, not enquired after. But God will return, and will build it again, raise it out of its ruins, a phoenix out of its ashes; and this was now lately fulfilled, when our Lord Jesus was raised out of that family, had the throne of his father David given him, with a promise that he should reign over the house of Jacob for ever, Luke 1:32,33. And, when the tabernacle of David was thus rebuilt in Christ, all the rest of it was, not many years after, wholly extirpated and cut off, as was also the nation of the Jews itself, and all their genealogies were lost. The church of Christ may be called the tabernacle of David. This may sometimes be brought very low, and may seem to be in ruins, but it shall be built again, its withering interests shall revive; it is cast down, but not destroyed: even dry bones are made to live.

Note the mention of Edom in Amos 9:12:

Then Israel shall possess the remnant of Edom (so it is in the Hebrew); but the Jews called all the Gentiles Edomites, and therefore the Septuagint leave out the particular mention of Edom, and read it just as it is here, that the residue of men might seek (James here adds, after the Lord), and all the Gentiles, or heathen, upon whom my name is called. The Jews were for many ages so peculiarly favoured that the residue of men seemed neglected; but now God will have an eye to them, and his name shall be called upon by the Gentiles; his name shall be declared and published among them, and they shall be brought both to know his name and to call upon it: they shall call themselves the people of God, and he shall call them so; and thus, by consent of both parties, his name is called upon them.

These verses from Amos point to the fulfilment of God’s promise, with Gentiles brought into the Church:

This promise we may depend upon the fulfilling of in its season; and now it begins to be fulfilled, for it is added, saith the Lord, who doeth this; who doeth all these things (so the Seventy); and the apostle here: he saith it who doeth it, who therefore said it because he was determined to do it; and who therefore does it because he hath said it; for though with us saying and doing are two things they are not so with God. The uniting of Jews and Gentiles in one body, and all those things that were done in order to it, which were here foretold, were, [1.] What God did: This was the Lord’s doing, whatever instruments were employed in it: and, [2.] It was what God delighted in, and was well pleased with; for he is the God of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, and it is his honour to be rich in mercy to all that call upon him.

James concluded, offering a ‘judgement’ — informed opinion, not a diktat — that the Gentiles should not have burdens (Mosaic law) imposed upon them (verse 19). That said, James thought that the Gentiles should be keeping the broader law, which is in the Ten Commandments: no idolatry, no sexual immorality.

He also added to that what has been strangled and also blood (verse 20). Henry says that even in the time of Noah — before the law of Moses — the Jews had an aversion to these two things. MacArthur says these two principles were a matter of fellowship. Today, we would not serve our Jewish friends pork, for example.

MacArthur also tells us that Gentiles drank blood:

Gentiles drank blood, did you know that? And in their pagan ceremonies, they drank it, couldn’t imagine anything worse, but they did. And so he says for the sake of fellowship, follow some principles. Now do you see what we’re seeing here? This is so beautiful. You can’t take grace and run with it. You can’t say oh, I’m saved by grace, I don’t have to do anything, everything is perfect, and then just take off and stomp all over everybody.

Verse 21 might appear puzzling, but it is saying that, since Moses is still preached in the synagogues, let us not, as followers of Christ, be offensive to the Jews.

MacArthur says we should not get carried away with Christian freedom:

There’s no need to violate these things just for the sake of freedom, that is what the Bible calls using your freedom as a cloak of maliciousness, you see.


Next week — Acts 15:22-29

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:6-11

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”


Last week’s post introduced the background to the Jerusalem Council, the topic of Acts 15.

John MacArthur says that many theologians consider the Jerusalem Council to be the Magna Carta of the Church.

Briefly, Pharisees who converted were telling Gentile converts they had to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law in order to be notionally proper Christians. Said Pharisees went so far as to disassociate themselves from the Gentile converts who were uncircumcised.

These Pharisees were known as the circumcision party and as Judaisers. Both terms are in the New Testament. A group from Judea was going to new churches in Gentile lands spreading this false teaching. John MacArthur and other Bible scholars think that they could have been trailing Paul and Barnabas, who established these new churches, and infiltrated after they left. Paul had to deal with this issue in his letters to the Galatians, Galatia being in Asia Minor. These were determined men, some of them were political zealots. Last week’s post has more information about them.

Today’s reading describes how the Jerusalem Council unfolded. Note (verse 6) how the elders and Apostles spontaneously gathered together to discuss this issue which, left unresolved, could have fractured the Church into two parts — a Jewish one and a Gentile one.

Matthew Henry says the Jerusalem Council shows the example that churches must resolve issues when they arise rather then letting them play out:

Here is a direction to the pastors of the churches, when difficulties arise, to come together in solemn meetings for mutual advice and encouragement, that they may know one another’s mind, and strengthen one another’s hands, and may act in concert.

Much debate had been taking place before Peter rose to speak (verse 7). Some translations use ‘disputing’, but MacArthur says:

the word doesn’t really mean fighting, it really means discussing, back and forth …

Judaisers were among those debating.

Luke, the author of Acts, did not tell us exactly when Peter spoke, but it was before the end, since Paul and Barnabas spoke next, followed by James. Henry’s commentary says of Peter (emphases mine):

He was not master of this assembly, nor so much as chairman or moderator, pro hac vice–on this occasion; for we do not find that either he spoke first, to open the synod (there having been much disputing before he rose up), nor that he spoke last, to sum up the cause and collect the suffrages; but he was a faithful, prudent zealous member of this assembly, and offered that which was very much to the purpose, and which would come better from him than from another … When both sides had been heard, Peter rose up, and addressed himself to the assembly

Peter said that ‘early on’ — meaning at the first Pentecost, which MacArthur says was ten years earlier — God chose him to be the first to preach to the Gentiles. Luke recounted this in Acts 10, with the conversion of Cornelius and those close to him. Up to then, either Jews or Samaritans (half-Jews) converted.

Henry points out that Peter spoke when he did because:

he had himself been the first that preached the gospel to the Gentiles.

Also, Peter was the first to get blowback for it when the ‘circumcision party’ criticised him afterwards in Jerusalem for converting Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). The issue was resolved at the time. Henry’s commentary reminds us:

He put them in mind of the call and commission he had some time ago to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; he wondered there should be any difficulty made of a matter already settled: You know that aph hemeron archaion–from the beginning of the days of the gospel, many years ago, God made choice among us apostles of one to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and I was the person chosen, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word, and believe, Acts 15:7. You know I was questioned about it and cleared myself to the universal satisfaction; every body rejoiced that God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life, and nobody said a word of circumcising them, nor was there any thought of such a thing. See Acts 11:18. “Why should the Gentiles who hear the word of the gospel by Paul’s mouth be compelled to submit to circumcision, any more than those that heard it by my mouth? Or why should the terms of their admission now be made harder than they were then?”

Yes, everyone glorified God:

18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter went on to say that God knows men’s hearts — i.e. knows those who are His — and He went on to give the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles just as He had to the Jews (verse 8). He made no distinction between the two peoples and cleansed their hearts by faith (verse 9). And that was all. God attached no conditions. He generously gave them the free gift of the Holy Spirit. He generously gave them the free gift of grace to strengthen their faith. They were saved by faith through grace. No wonder people glorified God (Acts 11:18). That’s exciting news then and now! That’s what God continues to do.

Peter then asked, with that in mind, why were some of those assembled testing God, in effect, by asserting their conditions were higher than His by demanding Mosaic law, a law that the Jews couldn’t bear and one that does not save (verse 10).

Peter used the word ‘yoke’ — the heavy wooden brace put on an ox’s neck — to describe Mosaic law. Remember what Jesus said (Matthew 11:28-30):

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Peter concluded by affirming that ‘we believe’ — a reminder for the Judaisers — that both Jew and Gentile will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).

MacArthur points out:

God does not cleanse people from sin, whose salvation is not legitimate, right? … The Jews just kept doing more sacrifices without any relief of their consciences. Christ came along and clears the conscience, forgiveness is complete. So Peter says, look, he says they’ve already been purified by faith, what is law goin’ add to that? It’s done. Then Peter points out another fantastic evidence, that salvation is by free grace alone.

Salvation via faith through free grace is a marvellous note on which to close.

More on the Jerusalem Council next week.

Next time — Acts 15:12-21

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:1-5

The Jerusalem Council

15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.[a] 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”


Last week’s post was about Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch — the one in Syria — on their return to Jerusalem.

This is an essential passage showing how close the Church came to splitting between Jewish and Gentile converts. As we see from the title, Acts 15 is all about the Jerusalem Council which prevented this split.

This is very important, especially for Christians who are enthralled by Hebraic Christianity.

First, a review of the reading, then an analysis to follow.

Some men had gone to Antioch from Judea to preach to the converted Gentiles that if they were not circumcised according to Mosaic law, they could not be saved (verse 1).

This, of course, was contrary to God’s will and to what Paul and Barnabas had preached in Antioch when they founded the church there. Consequently, Paul and Barnabas took against this false teaching, fiercely debating the issue with the false teachers. The church in Antioch appointed the two of them along with selected members of the church there to go to Jerusalem and sort the matter out once and for all (verse 2).

On their way, they visited the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria to tell the people of the many, many Gentiles who converted (verse 3), which made those listening very happy indeed.

When they reached Jerusalem, the church there formally greeted — ‘welcomed’ — them. Paul and Barnabas told how God worked through them to build strong churches in various faraway towns and cities, converting Gentiles as well as Jews (verse 4).

However, some Christians who were former Pharisees, objected saying that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised (verse 5). The use of the word ‘party’ in that verse is the same as reference to a political party today. There are references to the ‘circumcision party’ in the New Testament. These are the same people. They are also referred to as Judaisers.

Judaisers believed that no Gentile man could truly become Christian without circumcision. Their reasoning was that, as the Messiah — Jesus — was promised to the Jews, every true Christian in their eyes had to follow Jewish law. Gentiles were not worthy, because they had not initially been included in the promise of a Messiah. Therefore, they had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved.

John MacArthur compares their false teaching to a house with an enclosed front porch (see no. 8). You can sit on the front porch all you like without ever being invited into the main house, where all the real activity takes place. The Judaizers were willing to welcome Gentiles to a certain extent, but they would have to stay on the front porch until they earned their way — via circumcision — into the inner sanctum, i.e. eternal salvation. Wrong.

There were some exceptions to this, but all had to do with either people who were part Jewish — the Samaritans — or Gentiles who had renounced paganism and worshipped with the Jews without getting circumcised, such as Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Not surprisingly, the Gentile converts in Antioch, so happy that they, too, could be saved, were troubled by these false teachers from Judea. So were Paul and Barnabas.

MacArthur says that this was fracturing the church in Antioch, because the converted Jews would no longer eat with converted Gentiles or — worse — go to the Lord’s table with them. Even Peter fell for this when he went to Antioch. Paul was furious (emphases mine):

And you know a guy that you’d expect better out of really goofed up, and it’s Peter. In Galatians 2:11 Paul tells us what Peter did, Peter was at Antioch too, at the time that some of these people, whether the same group or not we don’t know, but some Judaizers showed up, of the circumcision party, that was the group that believed you had to get circumcised to get saved. “When Peter was come to Antioch,” verse 11 of Galatians 2, Paul said, “I withstood him to the face,” that must have been quite a confrontation, Peter was no slouch, “because he was to be blamed.”

There was also a political aspect here. Some of these Judaisers were Zealots, keen on overthrowing Roman rule by any means necessary. Some thought that by making Gentile Christian men get circumcised, they could increase their numbers in order to dominate Rome. Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that, if an insurrection were successful, some of those Zealots were quite willing to blame Gentiles, who would then have been imprisoned or killed:

But now that they hear the doctrine of Christ is received among the Gentiles, and his kingdom begins to be set up in the midst of them, if they can but persuade those that embrace Christ to embrace the law of Moses too they hope their point will be gained, the Jewish nation will be made as considerable as they can wish, though in another way; and “Therefore by all means let the brethren be pressed to be circumcised and keep the law, and then with our religion our dominion will be extended, and we shall in a little time be able to shake off the Roman yoke; and not only so, but to put it on the necks of our neighbours, and so shall have such a kingdom of the Messiah as we promised ourselves.”

John MacArthur says it is possible that the Judeans who were preaching falsely to the Gentiles might have been tailing Paul and Barnabas on their long journey, going to the churches after they left town:

… these guys may well have traversed the paths of Paul and Barnabas, if they did that they were pretty zealous, wouldn’t you say? If they went to all of that trouble? Transportation in those days being what it was, by foot, everywhere through the Taurus Mountains, the whole bit. If that did happen, and we can’t be dogmatic, but if it did they were zealous. Even their journey to Antioch alone gives some indication of their zeal. And along that line, I think they were probably, some of them at least sincere. Feeling that a whole lot of pagans who didn’t know anything about Judaism couldn’t jump in at the end of a process, they had to come the whole route, including Judaism and the law of Moses.

We find that, according to those in Jerusalem, not only was circumcision necessary, following Mosaic law was, too (verse 5).

MacArthur points out that this could have harmed the Church immeasurably, because there would have been a Jewish church and a Gentile church, which is not at all what God intends:

Now here you had a terrible, terrible potential disaster, because this was to impose legalism on the Gentiles, this could have been a…absolutely destructive, it could have created two churches, it could have created the Gentile church who would have maintained their salvation by grace, and the Jewish church maintaining their salvation by law, and you would have had two churches, the very thing our Lord prayed for that they may be what? One would have been violated from the very beginning. And so it became a crucial issue to deal with this.

MacArthur spends some time in his sermon explaining how St Paul had to tackle these same false teachings in his letters to the Galatians, warning against resubmitting to the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) — ceremonial law. MacArthur has more on Paul — an ex-Pharisee himself — and Galatians:

In chapter 3 verse 11, just in case you didn’t get the message, he says, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident because,” even in Habakkuk, in the Old Testament it says, “The just shall live by,” what? by “faith. And the law is not of faith.”

You can’t mix the two. Over in chapter 5 verse 6, this is a clear statement, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but,” what’s the next word? “Faith.” Now you see Paul in his own mind was clear on this issue, it wasn’t a problem for him.

Several years ago, when I first started my website, there was a book making the rounds on certain Protestant websites about living the ‘perfect’ life by following the Book of Leviticus. It was not written by a convert, but by a pastor who had always been in the Church. You can’t get saved by following the law. Divine grace is a free gift from God. Faith via grace saves us, not circumcision or, for the ladies, ritual baths. Nor do Mosaic dietary rules save. What did we see in Cornelius’s story? The Lord gave Peter a divine vision about food, before sending him off to preach to the Gentile, Cornelius.

In Galatians, Paul taught other lessons relating to Mosaic law. One was that we should not glorify in other people’s flesh, meaning that Judaisers were thrilled when a Gentile Christian began to follow the old law,. They were counting up the numbers of misled converts. The other lesson was that if the law supersedes Christ, then He died in vain:

In chapter 6 … “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh,” ha, they wanta show off their legalism, “they constrain you to be circumcised.” So he knew there were teachers doin’ this, “they make the issue in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised.” But look at 13, “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law, but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” What does that mean?

That they made glory over the fact that you became a Jew. You see they have an exalted..’such an exalted view of Judaism, that the very fact that you had to become what they are to get saved, makes them think they’re somethin’. If everybody’s gotta come…become what I am to be saved, then I must really be somethin’. Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory in the flesh.” That’s what he means. I should glory only in what? “In the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in Christ Jesus (verse 15) neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” So law, legalism, ritual, ceremony, circumcision, the whole thing means nothing in salvation, absolutely nothing. Now in chapter 2 verse 21 of Galatians he kind of gives what might be a summary statement. “I do not make void the grace of God.” You know what happens if you add law to grace? You know what you do to grace? You make it void. “If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

MacArthur explains the essentials about grace and salvation:

If righteousness is ours through law, then we don’t need grace. In other words if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re innocent, go free, I don’t need grace, right? I didn’t break the law. But if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re guilty, go free, that’s grace. And every man is guilty. We’ve all broken the law, law can’t satisfy, we shattered the law, only grace. You can’t confuse law and grace, they don’t go together, if you add law to grace you don’t have grace. If you add grace to law for that matter you don’t have law. And so the Apostle Paul was clear, he just simply said there is no connection between the two. Nobody ever got saved by keeping the law all the law did was show you how bad you were, nobody ever was justified by the law, only by grace, and if ya try to mix the two you destroy grace. God wants to confirm every man a sinner and then give him grace.

In other words, there is no front porch — legalism — to salvation.

The story of the Jerusalem Council continues next week. Peter also makes a brief appearance.

Next time — Acts 15:6-11

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 14:1-7

Paul and Barnabas at Iconium

14 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.[a] So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.


Last week’s entry discussed Paul and Barnabas’s joint ministry in Antioch in Pisidia, part of Galatia.

Acts 13 ends with these verses:

50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

My post cites a John MacArthur sermon on the nature of this persecution (emphases mine):

Now we don’t know the exact nature of it but in 2 Timothy 3:11, Paul talks about his persecution in Antioch and in 2 Corinthians 11, he says he was beaten with rods and with whips and that’s probably what happened there. They really let them have it and then they “expelled them from their borders.”

Students of Acts know that Paul often went to evangelise large cities instead of towns and villages. MacArthur explains why:

He left the evangelization of the village to the people that got saved in the city. I think it would be good if some missions realized that this is the pattern of the New Testament. Now times were that he did go to small towns but usually large cities and then when they got saved, they would go to the villages.

Iconium was one of those exceptions:

Now this little old frontier town, which was officially a Roman colony since Emperor Hadrian, was little out in the boondocks a hundred miles from Antioch. Its population was the usual conglomeration of ex-soldiers, expatriates, Jews, Romans, Greeks, Syrian merchants and some half-civilized natives who inhabited the area and it was a typical kind of frontier dusty, dirty place, not much bigger than a village, though it was a fair sized city

Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue together to preach powerfully — ‘in such a way’ — that many Jews and Gentiles believed (verse 1).

MacArthur says that they preached in synagogues because a) they wanted to reach the Jewish population first, b) the converted Jews could help convert Gentiles and c) if they had approached the Gentiles first, the Jews would have had nothing to do with them.

On St Luke’s mention of Jew and Gentile, Matthew Henry makes a good scriptural point:

Observe here, 1. That the gospel was now preached to Jews and Gentiles together, and those of each denomination that believed came together into the church. In the close of the foregoing chapter it was preached first to the Jews, and some of them believed, and then to the Gentiles, and some of them believed; but here they are put together, being put upon the same level. The Jews have not so lost their preference as to be thrown behind, only the Gentiles are brought to stand upon even terms with them; both are reconciled to God in one body (Ephesians 2:16), and both together admitted into the church without distinction.

However, the Jews who did not believe Paul and Barnabas’s message started agitating Gentiles against them (verse 2). ‘Brothers’ in that sentence refers to our two preachers — and the converts.

Henry says the Jews were envious that the Gentiles took easily to a belief in Jesus:

Unbelieving Jews were the first spring of their trouble here, as elsewhere (Acts 14:2): they stirred up the Gentiles. The influence which the gospel had upon many of the Gentiles, and their embracing it, as it provoked some of the Jews to a holy jealousy and stirred them up to receive the gospel too (Romans 11:14), so it provoked others of them to a wicked jealousy, and exasperated them against the gospel … The Jews, by false suggestions, which they were continually buzzing in the ears of the Gentiles, made their minds evil affected against the brethren, whom of themselves they were inclined to think favourably of … Thus they soured and embittered their spirits against both the converters and the converted. The old serpent did, by their poisonous tongues, infuse his venom against the seed of the woman into the minds of these Gentiles, and this was a root of bitterness in them, bearing gall and wormwood. It is no wonder if those who are ill affected towards good people wish ill to them, speak ill of them, and contrive ill against them; it is all owing to ill will. Ekakosan, they molested and vexed the minds of the Gentiles (so some of the critics take it); they were continually teasing them with their impertinent solicitations. The tools of persecutors have a dog’s life, set on continually.

Yet, Paul and Barnabas stayed in Iconium ‘a long time’ (verse 3). MacArthur says, in Greek, that is a vague turn of phrase:

Now that phrase, “a long time,” in the Greek is used elsewhere to speak of time as much as three years and as little as a month, so somewhere between a month and three years, likely several months, they remained in that city and they continued to preach and they continued to teach, speaking boldly in the Lord.

Note that the Lord ‘bore witness to the word of his grace’ by giving the two men the divine power to work ‘signs and wonders’:

The whole gospel is grace, isn’t it? And you say, “Well, how is the Lord giving testimony?” By those miracles. They’d preach and the Lord would give them the power to do miracles and people would believe and so the Lord was giving testimony by granting signs…semeion; sign points to something. It pointed to the power of God and wonders. It created wonder in their minds. It was done by the Apostles. This was the gift of miracles as the Lord confirmed the Word of grace.

Many of us, myself included, wish those powers were still granted, but MacArthur says they were specifically for the Apostolic Era, because the books of the New Testament had not been written at the time:

there were special gifts just for the Apostles which we don’t have today. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, just a brief review, “Truly the signs of an apostle…says Paul; and there he says there are some signs that belong to Apostles…were wrought among you…and here they are…signs, wonders and mighty deeds.” Now Paul says that Apostles were given the ability to perform signs which created wonder and they had the ability to perform mighty deeds. This is the gift of miracles. It is a temporary gift given to them to confirm their preaching. If a preacher comes to town and preaches, how are you going to know he’s telling you the truth? If you got three guys giving you three messages, you believe the one who raises the dead, right? You believe the one who has the wonders accompanying him because it shows that God is attaching to his ministry supernatural evidence and so God attached to the Apostles supernatural evidence. You say, “Don’t we need that today?” No, because anybody, any place, can determine whether we speak the truth by comparing us with the Scripture and so the Scripture becomes the confirmation today, whereas miracles were the confirmation in the day before the Scripture was completed.

Also, some people needed a tangible reason to believe:

It was confirmed to us by them with signs, wonders, mighty deeds and diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit, so when the gospel was preached in the early days, there were certain special gifts given to these men in order that they might confirm their message and that the message might be believable as it was accommodated by supernatural miracle. So in the apostolic day, they not only had these permanent kinds of gifts, these edifying, body-building gifts, but they had the gifts geared to convince unbelievers. Miracles is one that they had, obviously, from verse 3.

Note that St Luke, the author of Acts, was inspired to impress upon us that Paul and Barnabas spoke ‘boldly for the Lord’.

As we have seen, Acts is all about boldness — boldness even in the face of persecution:

Somebody told me…I forget who it was…recently that the thing they had learned most out of the Book of Acts and appreciated most and had made the most difference in their life as a Christian was the concept of boldness. Now for us who have been studying the Book of Acts for any time, it’s a review, isn’t it, because we’ve seen so much boldness in the Book of Acts, we’re almost overwhelmed by it but here it is again and the reason the Spirit repeats it so often is because it’s truly a part of the early church and it’s also because we need to know about it. We need to be reminded that boldness is a basic ingredient to the Christian experience

While all the conversions were taking place, the residents of Iconium became increasingly divided (verse 4). No one was lukewarm about Paul, Barnabas or their message. They either loved them or loathed them.

Note the use of ‘apostles’ in that verse. While the Church considers Paul an Apostle because he encountered Christ during his Damascene conversion, there is no scriptural record of Barnabas having had a similar experience. Note also that ‘apostles’ is in lower-case, although in some translations it has an upper-case ‘A’. Regardless, MacArthur says the word in that context means ‘messengers’:

The word apostolos, which is translated Apostle here, I feel, perhaps would be better translated “messenger.” It is so translated, for example, in Philippians 2:25. The word does mean messenger. For example, you have a word diakonia in the New Testament or diakonos which means servant. Sometimes it’s used just to speak of servant. Other times, diakonos is transliterated “deacon” when it’s speaking of the office. Every Christian is a servant but not all Christians fit the qualifications of a deacon and so the same word is used in some senses for the title; in other senses, in a general sense. The word apostolos is sometimes also used as an official title. In other senses, it is used to speak of a messenger from apostello, one who is sent, and so apparently, Barnabas is simply included as a messenger and we might even conclude that in a secondary sense, he is an Apostle as an early church sent one. Some commentators say he’s called an Apostle because he’s sort of sliding in on the apostolic coattails of Paul, but it’s best to see it in its widest possible meaning as a messenger from God rather than in the narrow significance capital A, the official Apostle.

Henry has a shorter explanation, meaning that Barnabas was designated by the Holy Spirit:

Barnabas is here reckoned an apostle, though not one of the twelve, nor called in the extra-ordinary manner that Paul was, because set apart by special designation of the Holy Ghost to the service of the Gentiles.

With regard to the severely divided city, Henry posits:

We may here see the meaning of Christ’s prediction that he came not to send peace upon earth, but rather division, Luke 12:51-53.

Some might think that Paul and Barnabas should never have gone there, however:

Yet the apostles must not be blamed for coming to Iconium, although before they came the city was united, and now it was divided; for it is better that part of the city go to heaven than all to hell.

Henry has this lesson for us:

We may here take the measures of our expectations; let us not think it strange if the preaching of the gospel occasion division, nor be offended at it; it is better to be reproached and persecuted as dividers for swimming against the stream than yield ourselves to be carried down the stream that leads to destruction. Let us hold with the apostles, and not fear those that hold with the Jews.

Iconium’s people had stirred themselves into a violent frenzy against Paul and Barnabas, whom they wanted to rough up then stone to death (verse 5).

MacArthur describes the atmosphere:

They just rushed on them. It was a furious mob. This was nothing but a lynching only without a rope, with rocks instead. The whole mad mob just lost its cool, reached the end of its tether. The polarization had finally just kind of maximized to the place where tolerance was no longer possible and they just flew in a rage after Paul and Barnabas and it says, in the classic understatement characteristic of the King James, they wanted “…to use them despitefully,” which being interpreted means they wanted to blast them out of existence. They wanted to bring upon them contempt, injury and death and they were going to stone them, verse 5 says.

MacArthur says that stoning was a Jewish punishment, one that Gentiles did not practice:

This was a Jewish form of execution and it was a Jewish form of execution in connection with blasphemy, so the Jews had perhaps convinced the Gentiles first of all that these guys were guilty of blasphemy against God and also perhaps convinced the Gentiles of the terrible thing they were doing to the town by splitting it up and creating problems, so the Gentiles joined in and the whole big mob came to kill Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas were aware of the threat to their lives, so they fled to Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia (verse 6), to preach the Gospel (verse 7).

They were bold men, however, they were also sensible men who wanted to stay alive and preach the Good News. If Iconium would no longer have them, then other places would.

MacArthur gives this analysis:

Well, boldness is one thing; stupidity is another. There’s obviously the time when the Spirit of God says, “Now it would be wise, men, to go to Lystra.” I mean it’s fine to be bold but God wants living, bold servants and it’s apparent that it came to the place now where they would not really have any necessity to stay. Their ministry had been completed there…it’s obvious. Everything had polarized. The thing was done …


You say, “Well, they shouldn’t have chickened out.” Listen, Matthew 10:23, Jesus gave explicit orders. He said this: “When they persecute you in this city, flee unto another.” Remember that…Matthew 10:23? He said, “Even shake the dust off the feet. Get out.” Well, the persecution only resulted in more evangelism.

The next ten verses are in the Lectionary, however, Lystra, which is just under 20 miles from Iconium is where the two men went next. It, too, was a town in the back of beyond. This region was like the Wild West — full of violence, corruption and lawlessness.

Lystra, MacArthur tells us:

was a Roman colony, also, founded by Augustus. It was a part of the region there called Lycaonia and again all of this is in the area known as Galatia. Now there’s no mention of a synagogue there, none at all. Now there may have been a synagogue, we don’t know, but it’s not mentioned.

We’ll continue in Lystra when I resume this column in the New Year.

However, it is worth pointing out that Paul performed a miracle there, healing in the manner of Jesus — immediately and completely. A man with a congenital disability preventing him from walking or standing sat and listened to Paul preach:

He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well,[b] 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking.

The Gentile crowd was amazed, to put it mildly:

11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

The pagan priest from the temple of Zeus wanted to offer sacrifices to them, as did the crowd. Paul and Barnabas rushed out into the crowd to prevent this from happening, saying that they were but men and explaining that the miracle was from God:

18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

Ending with the healing miracle, note that verse 9 says that Paul saw the man had:

faith to be made well

‘Made well’ means not only physically but also spiritually.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns in January 2018.

Next time — Acts 14:19-23

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