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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 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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