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PAUL'S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY


Luke intimates a number of itinerant ministries in the Acts, but those of the apostle Paul are reported in most detail, that is, three missionary journeys and an eventful journey to Rome.

Here, as J.R.W.Stott says, Luke "has reached a decisive turning point in his narrative. In keeping with the Lord's prophecy (Acts 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'". [1] This study considers Paul's first journey, which begins and ends at Antioch (Acts 13:1-14:28).

1. THE FIRST GENTILE CHURCH (11:19 30)

The study opens with a look at the missionary church in Syrian Antioch. The Hellenistic Jewish Christians, who had been forced to leave Jerusalem at the time of Stephen's death, were scattered northwards as far as the great metropolis of Antioch. Here the atmosphere was different to that of Jerusalem and some of the Hellenists not only preached to fellow Hellenists but to Gentile Greeks as well. The result was that a great number of these embraced the faith and a church was founded with a strong Gentile element Here believers were identified by the sectarian name of "Christians" by outsiders (11:26).

The witness of the persecuted church (11:19-21)
Verse 19 takes us back to the story of Stephen in 8:2-4. God used persecution to mobilise the church. Phoenicia (v.19) is modern Lebanon. Cyprus was the home of Barnabas (4:36), and Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria (it was also the third largest city in the Empire after Rome and Alexandria). Those scattered by the persecution shared their faith. At first they were "telling the message to Jews only" but then believers from Cyprus and Cyrene began to tell Greek-speaking Gentiles about Jesus. They shared their faith as personal witnesses, gossipping (Gk. laleō) the gospel. Luke acknowledges that "the Lord's hand was with them". [2] The Lord worked through their witnessing in a remarkable way (cf. Mt.16:20!). A company of believers was formed in Antioch.

The Jerusalem church sends help (11:22 24)
The Jerusalem church may be seen as a mother church here (cf. Acts 8:14). The choice of Barnabas as a minister would be a careful one. He came from a Dispersion family, and as a delegate of the church was completely trustworthy. The initial reaction of Barnabas on arrival at Antioch was twofold: he rejoiced to see the evidence of the grace of God, and he ministered to the new believers with words of exhortation and encouragement. The character of Barnabas is worth studying. He is the only one called "good" (Gk. agathos, good, useful) in the Acts. He was full of the Holy Spirit and faith (cf. 6:3). His ministry brought a great number to the Lord.

Barnabas involves Saul in the work (11:25 26)
Barnabas saw the need of extra ministry to help in the church's evangelism and teaching. Paul had returned to his home city of Tarsus. We are not told what he was doing there. If Barnabas thought Paul was equipped to help him in this lively situation, we could argue that he must have been in active service. Paul returns with Barnabas to Antioch and they begin to minister together. They are an example of team ministry. There is an emphasis on teaching. and the designation "disciples" may be significant. The situation at Antioch is a reminder of the Lord's world commission to preach and teach (Mk.16:15-16; Mt.28:19-20). At Antioch the believers are named "Christians". The name is undoubtedly sectarian. It takes "Christ" to be a name and not a title. The name may contain an element of ridicule (see Acts 26:28; 1 Pet.4:16).

The ministry of the Jerusalem prophets (11:27 30)
Further ministry came to the flourishing work from Jerusalem by way of prophets including Agabus (cf. 21:10). [3] He predicted a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. Luke is quick to point out that the word came to pass during the reign of Claudius. The prophecy encouraged the Christians to organise a collection of money to enable the brothers in Judea to buy food against the coming crisis. This was an act of fellowship. The fact is highlighted by the way Barnabas and Saul delivered the gift personally. By way of comparison I.H.Marshall makes the comment: "Probably the Antiochene Christians set aside money systematically until the time of need actually came, and then sent Barnabas and Saul as their delegates to take the accumulated sum to the Christians at Jerusalem". [4]

It is meaningful to notice how local churches maintained links with the Jerusalem church and the apostles by evangelism, ministry, and fellowship. The ministry at Antioch at this time included Barnabas (an exhorter), Paul (a teacher) and Agabus a prophet. Rich ministry indeed!

The New Testament and the ministry of the charismatic prophet
The NT does not supply much evidence on the ministry of prophets. "Prophet" as a ministry gift (see 1 Cor.12:29; Eph.4:11-13) must be distinguished from those who exercise the "gift of prophecy" (cf. Acts 21:8-10 with 11:27-30; 13:1-3; 21:10). The Didache (c.A.D. 120) provides some excellent details on the ministry of itinerant prophets and their expectations at the end of the first century and beyond.

2. THE CALL TO MISSION (13:1-3)

"While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (13:2). Luke takes care to report what must be a highly significant event in the life of the Christian church. It is an event in which the Holy Spirit was very prominent.

The growing church (13:1-2)
The list of five men indicates a maturing church, and one of ethnic and cultural diversity. [5] Luke does not tell us who were recognised as prophets and who were teachers. These were gathered with the rest of the church [6] worshipping or serving ("as a priest", cf. Lk.1:23) the Lord. The thought of prayer and fasting lends itself to the suggestion that the church saw the need to wait on the Lord, to "serve him" (an end in itself), or to seek for guidance (which the context may well suggest). [7]

The ministry, prayer and the voice of the Spirit (13:2)
A number of Lucan interests are brought together here. The presence of the Spirit is very powerful - and the divine voice is very clear - the words, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul..." are very specific. The Spirit chose leaders (see 20:28). The word probably came by a gift of the Spirit (no details are supplied by Luke - the Spirit uses people to reveal his will). John Mark is not mentioned as part of the call, but he features as the assistant for the missionary party (v.5; see 12:25; 15:37-38). The unanimity of the divine Spirit and the church is to be noted – "they sent them off" (v.3); "sent on their way by the Holy Spirit" (v.4). The church knew the mind of God.

The laying on of hands (13:3)
"The departure of the missionaries was preceded by a further session of prayer and fasting, this time no doubt a period of intercession for their future work" (I.H.Marshall). [8] The missionary party was commissioned by the church by "the laying on of hands" (cf. 6:6). By this means the church identified itself with the missionaries and "committed them to the grace of God" (14:26). [9]

3. MINISTRY ON CYPRUS (13:4 12)

From Seleucia Barnabas and Saul sailed for Cyprus, the home of Barnabas, taking John Mark with them as their "helper" (Gk. hupēretēs, assistant, helper, servant) . They ministered in the synagogue in Salamis and then travelled to Paphos preaching en route (vv.4-5).

The witness before Sergius Paulus (13:6 12)
At Paphos, the seat of government, Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. A Jewish "magician" named Bar Jesus (son of Joshua), who was part of the court retinue, withstood the apostles. Then Paul, full of the Holy Spirit, resisted him as a "child of the devil". The judgment of blindness was temporary (v.11). The record seems to indicate that the proconsul was converted (v.12). The miracle impressed him, but it is notable that "teaching" is the thing that really impressed the proconsul (cf. Lk.4:32). Paul impressed Paul! At this point the apostle Paul begins to head the party (v.13), and his Jewish name Saul is exchanged for his Hellenistic name, Paul (v.9). This was bound to happen as he related to Gentiles.

4. MINISTRY IN PISIDIAN ANTIOCH (13:13-52)

From Paphos Paul and his companions sailed to Asia Minor. At Perga John Mark left them and returned home (cf. 15:38). At the leading town of the area, Pisidian Antioch, they attended the local synagogue on the first sabbath. This account illustrates Paul's strategy of "to the Jew first" (Rom.1:16).

Paul's synagogue address (13:16-41)
In the synagogue, after the reading of the Scriptures, Paul responded to the invitation to give a word of exhortation. As was the custom in Hellenistic synagogues he stood to speak, and emphasised his word with gestures. Luke records the speech at length as an example of a synagogical address.

The first part of Paul's speech rehearsed God's gracious dealings with his people, from the time of the patriarchs to the time of the kings. (It compares with Dt.26:5-9 and Psa.73.) Israel's ideal king was David, and it was from his descendants that God could be expected to fulfil his promises to his people. God's covenant with David pointed to Christ (cf. 1 Sam.7:12-16), identified by Paul as Jesus. John the Baptist had also pointed to Jesus. The sermon now focuses on Jesus, the Messiah rejected by the Jews. He was not recognised (v.27; cf. 1 Cor.2:3). The blame for the Lord's condemnation is laid at the feet of the Jews (v.28). In delivering him to be crucified they fulfilled the Scriptures (Acts 2:23). The "tree" and the "tomb" represent the two main elements of the gospel (see 1 Cor.15:3,4). Paul exhorts his hearers to respond to the good news (v.32), enforcing it by using the Scriptures (Psa.2:7; 16:10; Isa.55:3). The resurrection of Jesus, promised by the Scriptures and confirmed by eyewitnesses is God's action (vv.31,37). Through Christ there is forgiveness and justification (vv.33-39).

The reaction to the gospel (13:42-52)
Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak again the following sabbath. Keen Jews and proselytes (or perhaps God fearers) talked with the apostles after the meeting and were exhorted to "continue in the grace of God". The scene the following sabbath was one of joy and jealousy. The Jews were jealous as they viewed the full synagogue. The apostle's reply to the abusement of the gospel by the Jews was his use of Isa.49:6 (v.41). Israel, as the Lord's servant (Isa.44:1), should have been a light to the Gentiles! Persecution accompanied the propagation of the gospel through the region. The Jews incited high ranking men and women against the apostles. Driven out they were not downhearted, indeed they were filled with divine joy (v.52).

5. MINISTRY IN ICONIUM (14:1 7)

From Antioch Paul and Barnabas travelled to Iconium. In the city they began their ministry in the synagogue with great success among both Jew and Gentile, God confirming the "message of his grace" (cf. 20:32) with miraculous signs and wonders (v.3; cf. 5:12; Heb.2:3). But unbelieving Jews campaigned against them, stirring up persecution. The city was divided by the gospel (cf. Mt.10:34-38) and opposition grew as the leaders hardened themselves, slandered the missionaries and became involved in a plan to stone them. Hearing of this Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding country. They continued to preach the good news.

6. MINISTRY IN LYSTRA AND DERBE (14:8-21)

In Lystra (14:8-21)
As there was apparently no synagogue in Lystra, the apostles preached in the open air. The story of the healing of the cripple is simply yet vividly told. He listened, looked and leapt! The miracle involved a word of knowledge and a word of faith.

The reaction to the miracle was unexpected. Barnabas was taken to be Zeus, Paul his messenger, Hermes! The missionaries rejected being honoured as gods. By tearing their garments they demonstrated their revulsion, and by rushing into the crowd they showed themselves to be human. Paul's explanation-cum-sermon to the crowd compares with that delivered at Athens (17:22-31; cf. 1 Thess.1:9,10). ). The sermon begins with the living God, the Creator, who shows his kindness by giving the seasons and harvests. The exhortation to "turn from these worthless things", that is idols, is one of repentance.  I.H.Marshall comments: "The world of nature should thus have led men to recognise the existence, power and goodness of the Creator. But now this 'natural' revelation belongs to the past... it is now supplemented by the new witness by God - the good news of which Paul speaks". [10]

The apostles had trouble restraining the crowd. Jews from Antioch and Iconium stirred up a riot in which Paul was stoned and cast out of the city as dead. The sudden change of attitude is remarkable, in that the apostle had just been proclaimed as a messenger of the Immortals (cf. Lk.4:22,28). Was Paul raised from the dead? The words "thinking he was dead" suggest not (v.19). His catalogue of troubles in 2 Corinthians.11 does not include restoration from death, but does include exposure to death (v.23) and stoning (v.25).

In Derbe (14:20-21)
"They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples." This is a simple record but, as I.H.Marshall says, "the missionary tour reached its climax with successful evangelism in Derbe; there is no mention of any further opposition from the Jews (cf. the silence of 2 Tim.3:11)". [11]

7. THE RETURN TO ANTIOCH IN SYRIA (14:21-28)

In Acts 14:21-28 we are given another insight into Paul's mission policy and pastoral care. The apostle sought to follow up his work and encourage his converts in the faith. Further, he appointed elders in his churches. Here we have the first reference to elders outside Jerusalem (cf. 20:17; 1 Tim.5:17; Tit.1:5; Jam.5:14; 1 Pet.5:1-5). These were ordained from among the people after prayer and fasting (cf. 13:1-3). Paul was concerned about church leadership. Notice the exhortation: "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (v.22).

In Perga (14:24)
The return journey took the missionaries back through Pisidia to Perga. Here they preached the word. From the adjacent port of Attalia they sailed to Syria and so returned to Antioch. Luke does not supply details here.

Full circle - the report to the home church (14:26-28)
The first missionary journey ends with Paul and Barnabas retracing their steps to their home church in Syrian Antioch. They gave an account of their ministry, reporting how through the ministry of their young church, God "had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles". Luke shares a strong sense of a completed mission.

More comments on Paul's mission policy
Note these simple observations:

  1. Paul's strategy involved major centres, such as Antioch, Corinth, and Ephesus. He reached them via major roads, such as the Via Egnatia (Acts 17:1).

  2. Then, his policy was "the Jew first, then for the Greek" (Rom.1:16). Paul looked for a Jewish synagogue in which to commence his ministry. Here, even Gentile adherents to the Jewish faith would respond to preaching based on the Scriptures (Acts 16:13; see 13:5, 14; 14:1, et al.).

  3. Paul maintained an interest in the churches he pioneered. He had a pastoral heart for them. He followed his work up by personal visitation, by sending co-workers to help churches, he prayed for them, and he wrote letters to them (his NT letters are occasional letters, i.e., they were often prompted by news).


8. QUESTIONS

1. What Lucan interests can we ascertain in his record of Paul's first missionary journey?

2. How did Paul support his pioneer works as indicated by Acts and the Pauline epistles?

3. Can churches still benefit today from itinerant ministries that centre on fellowship, preaching, and exhortation?



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