A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 16:1-5. Galatia receives the Council’s letter.
Lystra and Derbe were the last Galatian towns to be visited on the first missionary journey. So now, as Paul approached them from the east, Derbe and Lystra were of course the first to be revisited. The most notable event took place in Lystra. Here lived Timothy (*a disciple*) and his mother Eunice (2 Tim.1:5; cf. 2 Tim. 3:15), who was a Jewess, but had become a believer. Presumably both mother and son had been converted during Paul’s previous visit about five years previously (1 Cor.4:17). Timothy’s father, however, was a Greek (1), and because in verse 3 the verb ‘was’ (*hyperchen*) is in the imperfect tense, some commentators surmise that he was now dead. Since Timothy had an excellent reputation with the Christians in both Iconium and Lystra (2), Paul wanted to recruit him into his mission team, not just as a companion, but as a worker, perhaps to take Mark’s place, as Silas had taken Barnabas’. His Jewish-Greek parentage would give him an entree into both communities. But, although he will have been brought up by his mother in the Jewish faith, he had never been circumcised. So Paul circumcised him *because of* (NEB, ‘out of consideration for’) *the Jews who lived in that area*, and to make his ministry acceptable to them, since they knew about his Greek father (3) and would have guessed that he was uncircumcised. It is really marvellous that, so soon after Paul’s hot indignation over the Judaizers in Antioch (15:1), and his vehement statements against circumcision in his letter to the Galatians (e.g. Gal.1:6-9; 3:1-5; 5:2-6), he should now be prepared to circumcise Timothy. Little minds would have condemned him for inconsistency. But there was a deep consistency in his thought and action. Once the principle had been established that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, he was ready to make concessions in policy. What was unnecessary for acceptance with God was advisable for acceptance by some human beings.
Probably Timothy was also ‘ordained’ before leaving Lystra. At least Paul and the church elders laid their hands on him (1 Tim.4:14; 2 Tim.1:6), presumably to commission him for his ministry. Now, as Paul, Silas and Timothy *travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions* contained in the letter, and in consequence the churches *were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers* (as in 2:47).
It is noteworthy that in each of these three paragraphs which describe the reception of the Jerusalem letter, Luke makes a similar statement about the church. In Antioch Judas and Silas spoke the word in order to *strengthen the brothers* (15:32). Then Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia, *strengthening the churches* (15:41), and as they journeyed on through and beyond Galatia, *the churches were strengthened* (16:5). The first two verbs were both *episterizo*, as in 14:22, where we noted that it is almost a technical term for the establishing or consolidating of Christian individuals and churches; the third is a similar verb *stereoo*, to make strong or firm, So wise and healthy was the Jerusalem Council’s decision, incorporated in their letter, that wherever its good news went, the churches grew in stability and steadfastness.
Tomorrow: Permanent lessons.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.