A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 12:25-14:28. The first missionary journey.
Luke has reached a decisive turning point in his narrative. In keeping with the risen Lord’s prophecy (1:8), witness has been borne to him ‘in Jerusalem’ and ‘in all Judea and Samaria’: now the horizon broadens to ‘the ends of the earth’. The two deacon-evangelists have prepared the way – Stephen by his teaching and his martyrdom. Philip by his bold evangelization of the Samaritans and the Ethiopian. So have the two major conversions which Luke has documented, that of Saul, who was also commissioned as the apostle to the Gentiles, and that of Cornelius through the instrumentality of the apostle Peter. Unnamed evangelists have also preached the gospel to ‘Hellenists’ in Antioch. But all the time the action has been limited to the Palestinian and Syrian mainland. Nobody has yet caught the vision of taking the good news to the nations overseas, although indeed Cyprus has been mentioned in 11:19. Now at last, however, that momentous step is to be taken.
1). Barnabas and Saul are sent out from Antioch (12:25-13:4a)
These two men have been south in Jerusalem, in order to hand over the famine relief money contributed by the church of Antioch (11:30). Now that they *had finished this mission, they returned from Jerusalem* (12:25). It is true that the better reading is ‘to Jerusalem’, in which case the verse would have to read that ‘they returned after they had fulfilled at Jerusalem their mission’. But this is clumsy, and the textual evidence needs to be overridden by the demands of the context, namely that Barnabas and Saul, who had travelled *to* Jerusalem from Antioch with their gift (11:30), now returned *from* Jerusalem to Antioch after they had delivered it (12:25). Moreover, they took *with them John, also called Mark*, who will accompany them when they set out on the first missionary expedition.
The cosmopolitan population of Antioch was reflected in the membership of its church, and indeed in its leadership, which consisted of five resident *prophets and teachers*. Luke explains neither how he understood the distinction between these ministries, nor whether all five men exercised both or (as some have suggested) the first three were prophets and the last two teachers. What he does tell us is their names. The first was Barnabas, whom he has earlier describes as ‘a Levite from Cyprus’ (4:36). Secondly, there was Simeon (a Hebrew name) called Niger (‘black’) who was presumably a black African, and just conceivably none other than Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus (Lk.23:26), and who must have become a believer, since his sons Alexander and Rufus were known to the Christian community (Mk.15:21 and perhaps Rom.16:13). The third leader, Lucius of Cyrene, definitely came from North Africa, but the conjecture of some early church fathers that Luke was referring to himself is extremely improbable, since he carefully preserves his anonymity throughout the book. Fourthly, there was Manaen, who is called in the Greek the *syntrophos of Herod the tetrarch*, that is, of Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. The word may mean that Manaen was ‘brought up with’ him in a general way, or more particularly that he was his ‘foster-brother’ or ‘intimate friend’. In either case, since Luke knew a lot about Herod’s court and family, Manaen may well have been his informant. The fifth church leader was Saul, who of course came from Tarsus in Cilicia. These five men, therefore, symbolized the ethnic and cultural diversity of Antioch.
Tomorrow: Acts 12;25-13:4a. Barnabas and Saul are sent out (continued).
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.