“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers, Barnabas, and Symeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen the fosterbrother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1 RVIC).
by Leonard Griehs
Saul had been at Antioch for almost a year (Acts 11:26). He was ready. His new faith, received through divine revelation, combined with the holy Spirit, gave him an urgency to proclaim Jesus to the Gentile world. His fellowship with the elders of Antioch (13:1) had given Paul a solid ecclesia experience for his evangelical efforts. The prayers of the elders of Antioch resulted in the Spirit’s direction to set aside Saul and Barnabas for a mission to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2,3).
Symeon, or Simeon also called Niger. Some Jewish translations render “Shimon the Black,” but the addition of Niger to the Jewish name might simply indicate that he had a dark complexion.
Lucius of Cyrene. His Latin name suggests his Roman citizenship, and he was likely among the second group of teachers coming to Antioch (11:20), with Cyrenians from Libya (6:9).
Manaen (Hebrew Menahem). As the foster brother of Herod Antipas, he must have provided valuable insight into Herod’s thinking and actions. His knowledge of political affairs may have been Luke’s source for the description of Herod’s reaction to the work of the twelve apostles recorded in his gospel (Luke 9:7-9).
“And as they (the elders of Antioch) ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (13:2).
Unlike today, the holy Spirit sometimes worked with angelic visits, dreams, and visions. For example, the elders continued to pray and fast regarding this message, and then “laid hands” (verse 3) on Saul and Barnabas, saying in effect, “you are representing us in this effort.” Saul and Barnabas were on their way!
“So they, being sent forth by the holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John1 as their attendant. And when they had gone through the whole island unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew … Bar-Jesus; who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of understanding. The same called unto him Barnabas and Saul, and sought to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:4-7).
Seleucia, the main seaport of Antioch, lay sixteen miles to the west and five miles north of the mouth of the Orontes River, which runs through Antioch. Christian Jews there had already spread the gospel throughout the area (Acts 11:19). However, Cyprus remained a Roman senatorial province assigned to the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, described as a “man of understanding.” He must have had an interest in religious things as his staff included a prophet, Bar-Jesus. When he heard that two preachers of Jesus had entered his region, he excitedly commanded that they meet with him.
(1) John Mark is claimed by some to be the Mark who was the cousin of Barnabas — Colossians 4:10. However, one early Christian writer (see Hippolytus, On the Seventy Apostles) held the opinion that this was a different Mark.
Paul had earlier sought out the synagogues, or assemblies of the Jews, a practice he adopted throughout his journeys. Later he would write: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Contrary to some of their beliefs, Paul never turned against his Jewish brethren, but simply preached that Jesus was the Messiah and finisher of their faith.
“But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn aside the proconsul from the faith. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him, and said, O full of all guile and all villainy, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:8-12).
What a powerful speaker Paul must have been! Even Luke was astounded by this new apostle as he shifted in his recording of Saul’s Roman name, Paul (verse 9). Origen, a third-century Christian writer, suggests that “When the character of Saul, who persecuted Jesus, was changed, he was named Paul.” Whatever the reason, Saul’s powerful reasoning with Paulus2 must have impressed Luke enough to never again refer to him as Saul. Additionally, Luke lists Paul first in reference to the partnership with Barnabas with the exception of their reappearance before the Jerusalem council (15:2). This was likely because Paul deferred to Barnabas when dealing with the prejudice of Jewish believers who thought Paul was out to destroy Judaism.
The Departure of John Mark
Their success in Cyprus was soon marred by the desertion of the hand-picked John Mark (13:13). Perhaps the youth became homesick or fearful after witnessing Paul’s confrontation with evil men in Cyprus (13:11). This separation would eventually cause a severe rift in the partnership of Paul and Barnabas.
The two spent “a long time” (14:3) in Iconium (modern day Konya, Turkey) where they found hearing ears among the Gentiles, but bitter opposition from the Jews. Yet ecclesias were established at Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, and Attalia, all cities within the modern day Antalya Province on the southwestern Mediterranean coast of Turkey.
As they established these congregations, the two apostles “appointed” elders (Acts 14:23). A question still arises as to how they “appointed” them. The same Greek word appears in 2 Corinthians 8:19, where Paul speaks of a brother accompanying Titus, “and not only so, but who was also appointed by the churches to travel with us in the matter of this grace, which is ministered by us to the glory of the Lord himself, and to show our readiness.” Acts 6:6 details the appointment of seven deacons to manage the sundry affairs of the church by both the selection of the church and laying on of hands by the apostles. Perhaps, on this trip, Paul and Barnabas chose the elders who had fully shed their background in paganism.
(2) In 1912, Archaeologist Sir William Ramsay unearthed an inscription indicating that Paulus had persuaded his daughter to become a Christian, a clear indication of Paul’s success in persuasion.
After an eighteen-month journey — 1000 miles of it on foot — Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps on the return to Antioch.
There had not been enough time for them to counsel the churches, and Paul wanted to make sure that the new ecclesias were well grounded. A desire to repeat the trip into Asia would have to wait, as when they reached Antioch they found a new problem had arisen which could severely impact their ministry: a conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers.
From Galatians we learn that Peter had come to Antioch ahead of emissaries from Jerusalem and James, seeking to resolve this conflict. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:11-21).
Paul confronted Peter publicly. Of all the other apostles, Paul was likely closest to Peter, as he had spent time with Peter when first visiting Jerusalem after his vision on the Damascus road, and then the revelations he received in Arabia (Galatians 1:16-18). Those with Peter, the “party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:12), were one of three types of Judaizers. They were teaching that Gentiles coming into Christ must adopt circumcision before becoming part of God’s family (see Acts 10:45, 11:2, Romans 4:12). Peter himself had opened the way to the Gentiles with the baptism of Cornelius (Acts 10). But this time he chose to segregate himself with the Jewish brethren when they arrived at Antioch.
Why would Peter give in to the urges of those Judaizing members who taught that the Gentiles needed to observe Jewish practices in order to be acceptable to the church? Perhaps, like us at times, he felt it was prudent to avoid controversies rather than to discuss them openly. Was he sacrificing principle for unity? Paul’s breaking point came when Barnabas wavered, “And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise
with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation” (Galatians 2:13). Peter took Paul’s words to heart and would reiterate that position in Jerusalem.
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, saying, except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:1,2).
In Jerusalem, leaders in the newly formed Christian community were divided: should Gentiles be circumcised before their consecration was recognized and they were admitted to the ecclesia? Peter spoke up, “Why are you putting God to the test now by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have had the strength to bear?” (Acts 15:10 Complete Jewish Bible). Peter was not recommending that the Gentiles be free from obedience to the principles of God’s laws, only that they not be made slaves to the Torah, which even the most devout child of Israel could not fully keep. Peter’s words cut to the quick. The edict pronounced by James might seem peculiar unless one considers similar requirements given to Noah after the flood: abstain from eating blood (Acts 15:20, Genesis 9:1-7). Gentile believers were not asked to become Jewish, but were to follow God’s direction to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before Him (Micah 6:8).
Paul and Barnabas Separate
“But Paul thought it not good to take with them him who withdrew from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they parted asunder one from the other, and Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed away unto Cyprus: but Paul chose Silas, and went forth, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:38-40).
Paul grew restless after his return from Jerusalem. His letter to the church at Galatia had gone unanswered and he approached Barnabas about a second journey. All was agreed until Barnabas suggested John Mark be given another chance. But Paul hesitated (Acts 15:38).
Paul had been terribly disappointed with John Mark’s departure during their initial effort. Luke suggests elsewhere that John Mark may have been a document handler, perhaps reading the scrolls in the synagogues as Paul and Barnabas discussed the words of the prophets concerning Messiah (Acts 13:5). His abandonment had left a deep wound. Paul stood firm, causing a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:36-39). With neither side willing to change, after fourteen years together their partnership ended. Barnabas headed to Cyprus while Paul, with the capable Silas, sailed toward Syria. This ends the first segment of Paul’s missionary life.
Some Lessons to Consider
“We know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). When Paul wrote this, perhaps he was remembering his early days in partnership with Barnabas and the abrupt ending. Let us consider the “good” that came out of this ending.
(1) When Paul appealed to be relieved of beating due to his Roman citizenship, Silas, another Roman citizen, stood by. Perhaps having two Roman citizens before him had an even more significant impact on the responsible magistrate leading him to free Paul and allow him to appear before the Sanhedrin (Acts
(2) Silas undoubtedly helped Paul write two letters to Thessalonica, where he had first visited on his second journey (Acts 17:1-9).
(3) Two separate and distinct missionary trips in different directions increased the effectiveness of the gospel outreach.
(4) If you are a young Bible Student, John Mark’s defection and recovery contain important advice. When you take on the Christian life, you must have true passion. Self-sacrifice can be a discouragement if you have not counted the cost of consecration (Romans 12:1-2, Luke 14:28-30). The Lord will push you beyond your comfort zone in some opportunities for service and character building. You must be enthusiastic, as that is how you will grow as a Christian and demonstrate your love for God and His truth.
(5) Elders should take note of the attitude of Paul and Barnabas in their disagreement. They did not set up competing ministries in the same locations. Today we have opportunities to engage in work sponsored by various Bible Student ministries. Personal issues can impede our cooperation, contrary to Paul’s advice. “Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [schisms] among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).