A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 11:19-12:24. Expansion and opposition.
Luke ended his previous section with the words ‘then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life’ (18), RSV). It was an epoch-making declaration by the conservative Jewish leaders of the Jerusalem church. As Peter had become convinced by circumstantial evidence that God intended Gentiles to be welcomed into the redeemed community, so Peter’s critics had been convinced by his rehearsal of the evidence. God himself had put the matter beyond dispute by bestowing his Spirit on a Gentile household.
The inclusion of the Gentiles is to be Luke’s main theme in the remainder of Acts, and with chapter 13 he begins to chronicle Paul’s missionary exploits. Before this, however, he gives his readers two vignettes, which form a transition between the conversion of the first Gentile (through Peter) and the systematic evangelization of the Gentiles (by Paul). The first (11:19-30) depicts the expansion of the church northwards, as a result of evangelistic activity by anonymous missionaries. The scene is Antioch, and Paul figures in the story, although Barnabas is more prominent. The second (12:1-25) depicts opposition to the church by King Herod Agrippa 1, who concentrates his attack on members of the apostolic circle. The scene is Jerusalem, and Peter occupies the centre of the stage. In fact, this is Luke’s final Peter-story before his leadership role is taken over by Paul, and Jerusalem is eclipsed by the goal of Rome.
1) Expansion: the church in Antioch (11:19-30).
The key expression at the end of the last paragraph was ‘to the Gentiles also’ (18, RSV); the key expression of this paragraph is ‘to the Greeks also’ (20, RSV) The addition in both verses of ‘also’ (*kai*) is important. It is not that the evangelization of the Jews must stop, but that the evangelization of the Gentiles must begin. As Paul was later to write (it was almost a refrain in the early chapters of Romans, the gospel was intended ‘first for the Jew, then for the Gentile’ (Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10; cf. 3:29; 9:24; 10:12; 1Cor.1:24; 12:13; Col.3:11.).
Tomorrow: Acts 11:19-21. a). The Greek mission is initiated by unnamed evangelists.
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.