Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



(Acts 13:1–3).

              1. The Ordination by the Church of Antioch.


              2. Object of the Mission Entrusted to Paul and Barnabas.


              3. John (Mark) accompanies them.






(Acts 13:4; 14:25).

              1. Cyprus:

              Physical, political and religious condition of the island of Cyprus.


                            Apostolic work in Salamis and Paphos.




              2. Asia Minor:

              Physical, political and religious condition of this peninsula.




                            Successful preaching in, and return through

              Antioch of Pisidia.










              3. Duration of the Journey.






              1. In Antioch: Important Controversy about the Circumcision of the Gentile Converts.




              2. The Council in Jerusalem:

              The discussions before and during the public meeting.


                            The apostolic decree (how far a compromise?)




              3. In Antioch: Paul’s Contest with Cephas (Galat. 2:11–21).


§ 1. The Departure

1. The Ordination by the Church of Antioch. Upwards of ten years had already elapsed since St. Paul’s conversion, and during all that time he had been faithful not to anticipate the moments of Divine Providence, and had waited patiently for the day when his special calling to preach Christ to the Gentile world should receive the solemn sanction of the Church. At length that day came, and brought to him, together with the long-desired leave to enter upon an extensive missionary journey, the greater fulness of the Holy Spirit needed to discharge successfully the duties of the apostolate.

Of this memorable day in the history of Gentile Christianity only a few details have come down to us in the book of the Acts. We are simply told that, some time after the return of Barnabas and Saul to Antioch, the heads of the Christian Church in that city, officiating on a solemn occasion with which fasting was connected—a fact which has led some authors to think of the prolonged fast observed by the Jews as preparatory for the feast of Tabernacles—heard the voice of the Holy Ghost: “Separate me Saul and Barnabas, for the work whereunto I have taken them.” Accordingly, “they having fasted and prayed, imposed their hands upon Saul and Barnabas and sent them away.”

2. Object of the Mission Entrusted to Paul and Barnabas. The sacred narrative does not state explicitly whether the “prophets and doctors” at the head of the Antiochian church were apprised of the exact kind of work to be accomplished by those upon whom they had to impose hands and confer the apostolic powers. The expression “they sent Barnabas and Paul away” implies, however, that they thought them called to undertake some missionary journey to countries far from the confines of Palestine, as we see undertaken at once by the two new apostles. There is also hardly any doubt—though this is not suggested by any expression of the sacred text—that they conceived of the future communities to be organized by Paul and Barnabas, as so many copies of the Antiochian church, that is, as made up of all those who would embrace the Christian faith, irrespective of their Jewish or Gentile origin. It seems therefore very probable that the object of the mission entrusted to Paul and Barnabas was from the start to bring about the conversion of both Jews and Gentiles, although, as we shall soon have occasion to notice, the two missionaries preached first to the Hellenists, because the Jewish synagogues established through the various districts of the Roman Empire were places into which they were free to penetrate, and in which they knew they would be invited as strangers to address an exhortation to the assembled brethren.

3. John (Mark) accompanies Barnabas and Saul. The only companion spoken of in connection with the departure of the two apostles was a certain John, surnamed Mark, and a cousin of Barnabas. On their return from the Holy City they had taken him to Antioch, and now he probably volunteered to follow them, with the hope, no doubt, to be helpful in their missionary labors, but also, not unlikely, with the desire to visit the island of Cyprus, to which they first directed their course, and which was the home of Barnabas, and consequently also of several relations of Mark. In point of fact, it is worthy of notice that the departure of the apostles from Cyprus to evangelize other countries was speedily followed by Mark’s return to Jerusalem.

As to the kind of services John-Mark rendered to Paul and Barnabas while he was with them, we have no positive information. It has been surmised, however, with a fair amount of probability, that as they would be very busy preaching the Gospel, he would be useful to them in baptizing their numerous converts.

§ 2. The Journey

1. Cyprus. Leaving Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went to Seleucia, some 16 miles distant, and from this fine harbor of the Syrian capital they soon set sail for the island of Cyprus, about 100 miles to the southwest. This island, the third largest in the Mediterranean Sea, was still at the time one of the famous spots in the world for the beauty of its forests, the fertility of its plains, and especially the importance of its copper mines. Although deprived of natural ports, it had long been a flourishing and populous island, and in the apostolical age it numbered several important towns, two of which, Salamina and Paphos, are named in the sacred narrative.

Cyprus, like all the islands of the Mediterranean, enjoyed no longer its autonomy, and for well-nigh a century had been subjected to Roman rule. It was only of late, however, that, ceasing to be an imperial province, that is, one depending directly on the emperor, it had become a senatorial province, whereby was meant one whose rule was directly in the hands of the Roman senate, and whose affairs were administered by a magistrate bearing the title of proconsul, as is accurately stated in the book of the Acts (13:7).

Nor is the sacred narrative less accurate when, speaking of several Jewish synagogues in the single city of Salamina, it gives us to understand that Cyprus counted a large number of Jews among its inhabitants, for it is well known from other sources that the children of Israel had gone thither in great numbers, attracted chiefly by advantageous leases of the copper mines. They lived side by side and apparently in perfect harmony with the Greek population, a fact which did not prevent them from remaining faithful to the strict monotheism and high morality of their ancestors. Indeed, the immoral worship of Aphrodite or Venus in its most degrading form, which prevailed throughout the island, was doubtless calculated to strengthen their attachment to the pure worship of Jehovah.

Paul and Barnabas landed in Salamina, the eastern port and ancient capital of Cyprus, and “preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” Thence, going “through the whole island,” from east to west, preaching most likely in the various towns they met on their way, they reached Paphos, at the southwestern extremity of Cyprus. This was the residence of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of noble lineage and not unlikely to be identified with the personage of the same name spoken of in Pliny, and with the “proconsul Paulus” mentioned in a Cypriote inscription recently discovered. The preaching of Paul and Barnabas soon came to the notice of this “prudent man,” who, being desirous to hear them, sent for the apostles of the new faith. Near him, however, was a false prophet, whose name was Bar-Jesu, and who, feeling he would lose much of his own influence if the proconsul should become a Christian, did everything in his power to “turn him away from the faith.” But this very opposition of the false prophet became the occasion of a striking miracle, which St. Paul performed in presence of the proconsul and which convinced him of the truth of Christianity.

It is from the time of this journey to Cyprus that the book of the Acts designates Saul under the name of Paul, which naturally enough became most current in the Christian churches which were founded among the Gentiles.

2. Asia Minor. We are not told how long Paul and Barnabas remained in Paphos and its vicinity after the conversion of Sergius Paulus, and before setting sail for the western part of the Asiatic continent, to which, since the fifth century of our era, the name of Asia Minor is very commonly applied. This is a peninsula washed by three seas—the Black, the Archipelago or Ægean, and the Mediterranean, and connected on the east with Armenia and the rest of the continent by a tract of land, which presents no natural boundary simply because Asia Minor is nothing but the western continuation of the high table-land of Armenia, with its border mountain-ranges to the north and to the south. Its principal chain of mountains is Mount Taurus, some points of which reach an altitude of 12,000 feet, and its best-known rivers are the Cydnus, the Mæander and the Halys. The total area of the peninsula is not far from 300,000 square miles, or a little more than four times the area of the New England States.

This vast extent of territory, no less varied in its productions than in the races of which its population was made up, was covered with “numerous communities ruled partly by Roman prefects and partly by petty kings and potentates, feudatories of the empire.… The dominion of Rome over these parts had been established for more than a century, and the political divisions introduced by Rome, which were quite independent of nationalities, had tended strongly to break down the barriers of race and fuse the heterogeneous materials into one consistent mass. But though much had been done in this way, the distinctive features of the discordant peoples were still in the main preserved.…

“The entire peninsula was given to idolatry, and the several component states varied only in the particular objects of worship. The prevalent religion appears generally to have come from the East, but Greek and Roman influences had so modified the primitive systems, that in the first century of the Christian era the idolatry in vogue was scarcely distinguishable from that of Greece and Rome.”

The Jews, however, who formed a considerable element of the population, were a noble exception to that general rule, and in the synagogues they had erected in the principal towns, they courageously persevered in the monotheistic worship of their ancestors.

Such, then, was the general condition of Asia Minor when Paul and “they that were with him” landed in Pamphylia, the imperial province, on the west, and next to Cilicia, the native country of St. Paul. Although the Christian missionaries had probably intended to preach at once in the towns on the seashore, and in Perge, the capital of Pamphylia, which was also built in the lowlands between Mount Taurus and the Mediterranean Sea, it seems clear from the sacred narrative, that, for reasons left unrecorded, they did not at this time announce the Gospel there. Perhaps, as some have conjectured, this conduct of Paul and Barnabas may be ascribed to the fact that, having reached the alluvial plains of Pamphylia in the early summer, that is, at the time when the inhabitants of those parts had already withdrawn to the mountains to escape the fevers and other maladies usually entailed in the low region by the advent of the hot season, the two apostles resolved at once to push forward, and preach the word of God in the districts north of the Taurus range.

It was through most insecure roads that Paul and Barnabas—now deprived of the help of John-Mark, who had left them at Perge to return to Jerusalem—made their way northward to Antioch, “a prominent city of Phrygia, and the political centre of the southern half of the Roman province of Galatia.” Here, as in every important city of the peninsula, the Jews had built a synagogue, to which the two apostles soon repaired on a Sabbath day, and in which they gladly availed themselves of the invitation extended to them to address the assembled brethren. The recorded discourse of St. Paul on this occasion began, like that of St. Stephen, with an historical retrospect which led up to Jesus as the descendant of David, as the Saviour promised to the Jewish race, and whose rejection by the authorities at Jerusalem, and resurrection by God from the grave, fulfilled old prophecies and proved Him to be the true and only Messias in whom all should believe. The effect produced by these words was very great: the apostles were invited to come and preach on the next Sabbath, and many of their hearers—Jews and proselytes—were actually won over to the faith.

The next Sabbath day crowds flocked to the synagogue to listen to the Christian preachers, but this concourse excited the jealousy of the Jewish leaders, who began to argue against St. Paul, and who next uttered blasphemies against Jesus. Whereupon the two apostles, seeing that further discussion would be of no avail, took a bold stand, and announced publicly that henceforth they would leave the Jews in their unbelief and preach to the Gentiles. This they did, and with such success that the Gospel was soon spread throughout the whole region. It is easy to imagine the rage of the Jews at a success which all their efforts had not been able to prevent, and to understand how, under the pressure of their influence, the public authorities drove Paul and Barnabas “out of their coasts.”

Expelled from Antioch, the apostles went to Iconium, a city some 50 miles distant, and regarded by many as the capital of a small tetrarchy under the suzerainty of Rome. Here also great success attended their preaching, but although their words were often confirmed by “signs and wonders,” the opposition of the Jews finally succeeded in rendering their life so insecure that they fled into that part of Lycaonia which was under Roman rule and comprised the two cities of Lystra and Derbe, together with their surrounding territory. The ministry of the apostles in this district is not recorded in detail (except, however, what is connected with the healing of a man crippled from his birth, in Lystra), but there is no doubt that it was crowned with success, and, in point of fact, we are told that Paul and Barnabas “taught many” in Derbe.

Having thus reached the very borders of the kingdom of Antiochus, which limited on this side the Roman territory, the apostles retraced their steps to Antioch of Pisidia, through the cities of Lystra and Iconium. They profited by their return through these communities, to strengthen them in the faith and to establish them on a permanent basis, by setting over them men having grace and power to promote their spiritual welfare. Leaving Antioch, Paul and Barnabas passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia, in the capital of which they now preached the Gospel. Finally they went to Attalia, the most frequented seaport of the coast of Pamphylia, and thence sailed to Antioch of Syria, “whence they had been delivered to the grace of God, unto the work which they accomplished.”

3. Duration of the Journey. It is impossible, in the present day, to give with anything like certainty the duration of this, St. Paul’s first missionary journey, for Holy Writ nowhere states explicitly how long it lasted, and at no stage of it supplies sufficient data to determine accurately its duration. Combining, however, all the more or less indefinite marks of time which we notice in the book of the Acts as having a bearing on the point in question, together with the approximate extent of territory travelled over by the two apostles, it does not seem improbable that this journey covered a period of about two or three years, and is to be placed between 44 and 46 A. D.

§ 3. Events between First and Second Missionary Journeys

1. In Antioch. Soon after their return to the capital of Syria, Paul and Barnabas assembled the Church, and related joyfully “how great things God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” This was, of course, most gratifying news for the faithful of Antioch; and they all rejoiced heartily that the mission entrusted to the two apostles had brought about the establishment of several churches after the model of the Antiochian church, that is, of Christian communities in which, on the one hand, the Gentile converts were not bound to receive circumcision, and on the other hand, the Jewish converts were allowed free intercourse with their uncircumcised brethren.

Unfortunately, this most legitimate joy of the church of Antioch was not of long duration. The news of the return of the two missionaries and of their great success among the Gentiles had speedily reached Jerusalem, and had aroused there the greatest opposition to the teaching of Paul and Barnabas, who, it was understood, did not require of their Gentile converts that they should submit to the Mosaic rite of circumcision and to all that it implied. The more extensive the success of Paul and Barnabas was reported to have been, the more strongly also was it felt by many Jewish Christians persuaded of the ever-binding character of the ritual Law of Moses, that it was necessary to combat without delay a doctrine which, in not imposing the rite of circumcision, set aside a mark which Holy Writ plainly described as absolutely required to become a member of God’s chosen people, which Christ Himself had borne in His flesh, and which the apostles who had lived with Jesus had hitherto imposed. In consequence, some of these Jewish Christians started for Antioch, and apparently also for the churches of Galatia, and proclaimed loudly to the Gentile converts: “Except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Great indeed was the excitement caused in the Antiochian church by this drastic teaching, and Paul and Barnabas found it difficult in the eyes of many to vindicate the orthodoxy of their doctrine, since it was in direct opposition to the positive teaching proclaimed by those who came from Jerusalem, the cradle and headquarters of Christianity. Their present authority, their future usefulness, the reality of the divine gifts bestowed upon their uncircumcised converts, the utter impossibility of winning the nations to the Christian religion if the despised and hateful yoke of the circumcision and other Mosaic observances was to be put upon them, etc., made it incumbent upon Paul and Barnabas to meet with powerful arguments the bold assertions of their adversaries. But it soon became evident that the matter could not be settled in Antioch, and accordingly it was decided that Paul and Barnabas “and certain others on the other side should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and priests about this question.”

2. The Council of Jerusalem. It must have been gratifying for the defenders of Gentile freedom to notice on their way through Phenicia and Samaria the great joy with which the news of the conversion of the nations was received from their mouth “by all the brethren.” More gratifying still was it for them, when, reaching Jerusalem, they were welcomed “by the Church and by the apostles and ancients,” and witnessed the favorable impression which their declarations of “how great things God had done with them” produced at once upon the bulk of the assembled Christians. Their joy, however, was much tempered by the emphatic protests of representatives of the Jewish Christian party, who soon openly declared that the Gentiles “must be circumcised, and be commanded to observe the Law of Moses.”

Then it was most likely that the private interview of St. Paul with the ecclesiastical authorities of Jerusalem, viz., Peter, James and John, took place, during which he exposed in detail his views, and obtained their explicit approval of his doctrine. It seems, however, that, as he was accompanied by Titus, an uncircumcised convert whom he had taken with him to Jerusalem, he was asked with a view to allay more easily the opposition, to have Titus circumcised; but to this Paul and Barnabas rightly and successfully objected, for their yielding on this point would have of course been construed into a condemnation of their own position.

In the public meeting held soon afterwards there was at first much disputation; but the discourse of St. Peter, who powerfully argued against putting an unnecessary and unbearable yoke upon the necks of the Gentile converts, silenced the opposition and settled the main question. Then followed a recital by Paul and Barnabas of the “great signs and wonders which God had wrought among the Gentiles by them,” and which were so many striking proofs of God’s approval of their own doctrine and conduct. But what completed the defeat of St. Paul’s adversaries was the address of St. James, who, as the brother of the Lord and a strict Jew, wielded much power over the Jewish Christians of the Holy City. It had ever been the divine purpose, he said, that the Gentiles should be introduced into the Church in the manner in which this had been of late revealed to Simon Peter; he was therefore of the mind “that they who from among the Gentiles were converted to God, should not be disquieted.” As, however, Mosaic regulations regarding some special points had been from time immemorial read publicly in the synagogues, he proposed that a letter should be sent to the Gentiles prescribing a line of action concerning those points.

This proposal was unanimously accepted, and the letter prepared at once for “the brethren of the Gentiles that were at Antioch, and in Syria and Cilicia.” After a clear disavowal of the teachers who had caused all the trouble, and an explicit approval of the doctrine and conduct of Paul and Barnabas, it was laid down by the church of Jerusalem that those to whom the letter was addressed “should abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.” “No farther burden was to be laid upon them,” and the letter was entrusted to Paul and Barnabas, to whom Judas and Silas, two men of the greatest authority in Jerusalem, were joined to attest by word of mouth the genuineness of the letter.

Such was that important decree of the assembly of Jerusalem. Perhaps it appeared to many, at the time when it was framed, a compromise between St. Paul and his opponents, a middle course between setting aside altogether the Mosaic Law, and imposing it in all its details. In reality it was a full vindication of the authority and doctrine of St. Paul, and the actual giving up of the whole ritual law of Moses, since the regulations purely Mosaic contained in the decree were enjoined only upon the Christian communities nearest to Judæa.

3. In Antioch. Paul’s Contest. Great indeed was the joy of the faithful of Antioch when on the return of Paul and Barnabas, accompanied by Judas and Silas, the official deputies of the church of Jerusalem, they heard the contents of the apostolic decree, and learned that James, Cephas (Peter) and John had approved the teaching of Paul and Barnabas without restriction, and “given them the right hands of fellowship.”

Peace and union had scarcely been restored in the Syrian capital when an event occurred which threatened again division for the Antiochian church. On a visit to Antioch St. Peter had first freely associated with uncircumcised converts, but he withdrew from their company at the news that some Judaistic teachers had come down from Jerusalem. This he did, as we learn from the Epistle to the Galatians, through “fear of them who were of the circumcision,” and his example betrayed into a similar “dissimulation” not only the Jewish converts of Antioch, but even Barnabas himself. Whereupon St. Paul, feeling it was necessary to stop without delay what might easily become the cause of great disturbance in the church of Antioch, came boldly forward and rebuked Peter for his inconsistency. Owing to this valiant opposition of the Apostle of the Gentiles, Peter was adduced to side openly with him against the Judaistic teachers, and to proclaim in action that which he fully admitted in theory, viz., that “what God hath cleansed, no one should call common.”

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