The Church at Antioch Commissions Barnabas and Saul, 1-3

13:1 Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. 13:2 While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 13:3 Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.

Marshall writes:

‘The importance of the present narrative is that it describes the first piece of planned ‘overseas mission’ carried out by representatives of a particular church, rather than by solitary individuals, and begun by a deliberate church decision, inspired by the Spirit, rather than somewhat more casually as a result of persecution.’

As Wiersbe notes:

‘Until now, Jerusalem had been the center of ministry, and Peter had been the key apostle. But from this point on, Antioch in Syria would become the new center (Acts 11:19ff), and Paul the new leader.’

Prophets and teachers – The former were given to spontaneous and specific utterances, directly relevant to particular persons and situations; the latter dealt more in sustained and systematic teaching.  Of course, the two gifts could be combined in the same person, and that may have been the case with at least some of those named here.

Marshall’s opinion is that:

‘Luke does not tell us which of these men were prophets and which were teachers. The probability is that the dividing line was not very clear, both groups being involved in exposition of … the prophetic scriptures and in exhortation; the prophets, however, had also the gift of charismatic utterance.’

Fernando cites Harrison as distinguishing between the functions of teacher and prophet as follows:

‘The teacher provided basic information for living the Christian life, while the prophet provided special guidance from the Lord as needed. The former had a more sustained ministry, expounding the Old Testament and the traditions about the life and teachings of Jesus as handed down in the church. The prophet spoke in response to a distinct moving of the Spirit. If the church was to be both responsible and creative, it needed both teaching and prophecy.’
Prophets and teachers

‘We are told that “prophets and teachers” led the church at Antioch. Now these are very uncomfortable bedfellows. Prophets are unpredictable. Teachers are not. Prophets want freedom in worship. Teachers usually want stability. Prophets think teachers are dull and uninspired. Teachers think prophets are a little wild, a little unrooted in Scripture, and they never prepare anything! All the possibilities for discord were there. But apparently it did not happen. They worked together wonderfully well. And their variety enriched their leadership.’

(Green, Evangelism Through the Local Church, 98).

Simeon called Niger – The latter is the Latin word for ‘black’.  He is likely to have had black skin (not simply black hair, as Matthew Henry suggests!).

Lucius – Unlikely to have been Luke, the author of this volume (although some older commentators incline to that opinion).  There is no tradition of the third Evangelist coming from North Africa.  There is no reason why Luke, who does not divulge his name elsewhere, should have chosen to reveal it in this way.

Manaen – Witherington thinks that he may have been the source of Luke’s knowledge about the Herods.

Fernando comments:

‘How strange that Herod should end up beheading John the Baptist and being involved in the trial of Christ, while Manaen became a leader of the church.’

Larkin comments on the diversity of leadership at Antioch.  They were:

‘at once spiritually gifted (prophets and teachers) and multiculturally and socioeconomically diverse. Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36), labors alongside Simeon, a black man (with the nickname Niger), and Lucius, a Roman from Cyrene in North Africa (compare Acts 11:20). Manaen, who in his youth was chosen as a companion to a prince, Herod Antipas, ministers with Saul, a Pharisee from Cilicia in southeast Asia Minor (Acts 22:3; Phil 3:5).’

Not only was there a fascinating mixture of spiritual giftings at Antioch; there was also a wide ethnic and cultural diversity.  This very diversity signalled that

‘the good news is not for one particular tribe or group but for all the nations…It shouldn’t surprise us that such a diverse church became the springboard to worldwide missions.’ (Merida)

As Ian Paul writes:

‘Luke does his theology through narrative, and he has chosen to highlight the leadership of the church in Antioch for a particular reason. By mentioning a Jew, a black African, a Roman, someone from the court of the compromised leader Herod, and a Pharisees, Luke is pointing us to the essential ethnic, social and cultural diversity of this church, most likely reflecting the mixed make-up of the city itself. And it is in this context that the Spirit is at work, that Paul and Barnabas are called, and that there is a breakthrough to the next stage of the mission of God as the Word spreads west through Turkey and soon across into Europe proper. As a white Western Christian, I need to remember that I am only incorporated into the grace of God because of the ethnic diversity of the gospel!’

Fernando concludes from this ethnic and cultural diversity that:

‘fostering leaders from different cultural backgrounds is a goal to work at in all churches that have a diversity in their membership.’

While they were serving the Lord and fasting – Marshall prefers to think of this as referring to the whole church, whereas the preceding list refers more narrowly to those members who were available for missionary service.

It is reasonable suppose that this ‘serving’ and ‘fasting’ included earnest prayer.

Fernando cites Ralph Earl as stating that fasting:

’emphasizes a state of uninterrupted concentration which made it possible to ascertain the will of the Lord.’

On decisions being made by the church as a whole, see also Acts 1:15; 6:2, 5; 14:27; 15:22.

According to the Orthodox Study Bible, “As they ministered to the Lord [lit., “as they were in the liturgy of the Lord”] and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul.’ ” This indicates that Barnabas and Saul were called by God during worship, and that the Holy Spirit speaks during liturgical worship.

The Holy Spirit said… – Presumably, through the prophets mentioned in v1.

David Cook remarks, concerning the direct speech of God in Acts:

‘‘The Holy Spirit said’ (Acts 13:2) is one example of the twenty-two direct voices of God in the text of Acts. The majority of these, like this one, remind the church to press out beyond the fringe. The following examples are notable:
• ‘Go, stand in the temple courts … and tell the people the full message of this new life’ (Acts 5:20).
• ‘Go south to the road—the desert road …’ (Acts 8:26).
• ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles …’ (Acts 9:15).
• ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them’ (Acts 10:20).
• “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
• ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’ (Acts 16:9).
• ‘For I am with you, and no-one is going to attack you and harm you, because I have many people in this city’ (Acts 18:10).

Merida comments that, with regard to the sending of missionaries and church planters, two problems are to be avoided: individualism and institutionalism.  Christian missionaries are not self-chosen, nor self-regulating, or entirely self-supporting.  Nor is their work to be dominated (and possibly stifled) by bureaucracy, with its attendant dangers of prayerlessness and lack of reliance on the Spirit’s guidance.  No: we are taught here that ‘missionaries are directed by the Spirit and sent and supported by the church.’

The Holy Spirit directed that Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart.  How the church in Antioch must have longed to hold onto their best leaders and teachers!  Such goodbyes can be difficult, though necessary.  But we remember that God the Father sent his best in order to suffer and die for us.

Saul/Paul had already been singled out by the Holy Spirit to be a special messenger of the gospel (Acts 9).  The present, direction, is more of the nature of a specific summons to a particular sphere of ministry, the nature of which will (presumably, subsequently, for it is not specified here) later be made clear.

Larkin comments on twofold sending of the missionary:

‘In this simple command we meet God’s basic answer to the question, Who sends the missionary? God sends the missionary through two essential and complementary means: the personal, inward call to the individual and the outward confirmation through the church.’

This twofold sending is clear in the present chapter.  The Antiochan church ‘sent them off’, but the very next verse says that they were ‘sent out by the Holy Spirit’.

God sends the best

‘One does not have to be brilliant (humanly speaking) to be a missionary. One has to be called, and God often calls “ordinary,” unspectacular people to do special things for him (1 Cor. 1:26). But sometimes he sends the most talented. When brilliant people respond to the missionary call, we may say, “What a waste! Their audience will be uneducated, backward people. Why should the most brilliant go to them?” But throughout history God has called some of the brightest people in their generation to the mission field—for example, Henry Martyn, Stephen Neill, Lesslie Newbigin, and Stanley Jones.’  (Fernando)

They sent them off – As Larkin says, there was little need for Luke to mention any period of testing of the call of these two missionaries, since they had been ministring in Antioch for the past year.

Bruce comments:

‘Not that they could by this act qualify Barnabas and Saul for the work to which God had called them; but by this means they acknowledged their recognition of the divine call and declared their fellowship with the two men, who were thus not only called by God but commissioned by the church (αποστολοι in the sense of 14:4, 14).’

Fernando comments:

‘There must have been much more work to be done in Antioch. But God asked the church to release their key leaders for missions. To their credit the church did so, with no apparent hesitation. That is how important missions and obedience to the Spirit were.’

Paul and Barnabas did not sever their ties with the sending church: we read in Acts 14:26f that they returned and gave a report of what had happened.

Fernando cites Tannehill as pointing out that three feature of missionary sending in this passage are also found in two other Lukan ‘sending’ passages:

‘The beginnings of the missions of Jesus and the apostles are preceded by references to prayer (Luke 3:21; Acts 1:14), which provides opportunity for action of the Spirit (Luke 3:22; Acts 2:1–4), and the Spirit leads directly to mission (Luke 4:14; Acts 2:5–41).’
A model for missionary vision and deployment

‘Antioch, then, becomes a model for the missionary vision and missionary deployment of every church. A church that embodies cultural diversity and has spiritually gifted, sensitive and obedient leaders will release into Christ’s service those so called, earnestly interceding for them and standing in solidarity with them. With more than half the world’s population yet to hear the gospel for the first time, our Lord needs many more Antiochs.’


We have here, then, a significant moment in the spread of the gospel and the expansion of the church.  As Derek Thomas notes:

‘The gospel is not meant to be preserved like the Crown Jewels of the British monarchy in the Tower of London, locked away in some ecclesiastical archive for safekeeping. It is to be spread to the end of the earth.’

Paul and Barnabas Preach in Cyprus, 4-12

13:4 So Barnabas and Saul, sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 13:5 When they arrived in Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. (Now they also had John as their assistant.)
Barnabas, Paul and Mark

Salamis – The most important city of Cyprus, located on its east coast and evidently containing more than one Jewish synagogue.

John – = John Mark.

Concerning their taking Mark with them, Wright comments:

‘One might speculate and suggest that, since the holy spirit hadn’t mentioned John Mark, whom Barnabas and Saul took with them [as in verse 5], we shouldn’t be surprised that he got cold feet early on in the trip and went back home; but this may be stretching the point.’
13:6 When they had crossed over the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 13:7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. The proconsul summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. 13:8 But the magician Elymas (for that is the way his name is translated) opposed them, trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 13:9 But Saul (also known as Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at him 13:10 and said, “You who are full of all deceit and all wrongdoing, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness—will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 13:11 Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind, unable to see the sun for a time!” Immediately mistiness and darkness came over him, and he went around seeking people to lead him by the hand. 13:12 Then when the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, because he was greatly astounded at the teaching about the Lord.

Sergius Paulus – An inscription discovered in 1877 at Paphos, Cyprus, confirms his existence.

Proconsul – ‘An office in the Roman system of government. Proconsuls oversaw the administration of civil and military matters in a province. They are responsible to the senate in Rome. The New Testament refers to two proconsuls: Sergius Paulus in Cyprus (Acts 13:7 NRSV) and Gallio in Achaia. (Acts 18:12 NRSV) Compare Acts 19:38.’ (Holman)

Paul and Barnabas at Pisidian Antioch, 13-52

13:13 Then Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. 13:14 Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 13:15 After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of exhortation for the people, speak it.” 13:16 So Paul stood up, gestured with his hand and said,

Pamphylia – ‘One of the provinces of Asia Minor. Located in what is now southern Turkey, Pamphylia was a small district on the coast. It measured about eighty miles long and twenty miles wide. One of the chief cities was Perga, where John Mark left Paul and Barnabas during the first missionary journey.’ (Acts 13:13) (Holman)

John left them to return to Jerusalem – ‘Why did John Mark leave? At the least we may conclude from Acts 15:38 that decision was viewed as a serious desertion that rendered him, in Paul’s eyes, unfit to go along on the second journey. Richard Longenecker strongly argues that John Mark disagreed with Paul over the validity of a direct Gentile mission.’ (IVP Cmt’y)

‘Why did he desert? A variety of conjectures has been made. Was he homesick, missing his mother, her spacious Jerusalem home, and the servants? Did he resent the fact that the partnership of ‘Barnabas and Saul’ (2, 7) had become ‘Paul and Barnabas’ (13, 46. etc.), since Paul was now taking the lead and eclipsing his cousin? Did he, as a loyal member of Jerusalem’s conservative Jewish church, disagree with Paul’s bold policy of Gentile evangelism? Was it even he who, on his return to Jerusalem, provoked the Judaizers into opposing Paul (15:1ff)? Or did Mark simply not relish the stiff climb over the Tarsus mountains which were known to be infested with brigands (cf. Paul’s ‘in danger from bandits’ 2 Cor 11:26)? We do not know.’ (Stott)

Pisidian Antioch – ‘A city in Pisidia, Asia Minor, west of Iconium. Like the Syrian Antioch, this Antioch was founded by Seleucus Nicator. Under Roman rule, this city was called Caesarea. Paul preached in a synagogue there on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14) and was warmly received (13:42-44). Jewish jealousy led to a separate ministry to Gentiles (13:46). Finally, Jews drove Paul and Barnabas from the city. These Jews from Antioch followed Paul to Lystra and stirred up trouble there (14:19). Despite this, Paul returned to Antioch to strengthen the church (14:21). Paul used the experience to teach Timothy.’ (2 Tim 3:11) (Holman)

Undesigned coincidence.  Why did Paul travel from Cyprus to Antioch, bypassing several conveniently-situated cities on the way?  It is known that the Paulii family were the largest landowners in the area, and therefore of considerable influence.  Archaeological investigation has revealed an inscription by L. Sergius Paulus – probably the son of the governor of Cyprus.  So it is quite likely that Paul made his way the Antioch carrying a letter of introduction from the governor of Cyprus, who was a convert to Christ.  He would have been confident of a hearing, and perhaps of protection too. (Source)

“Men of Israel, and you Gentiles who fear God, listen: 13:17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay as foreigners in the country of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 13:18 For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 13:19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave his people their land as an inheritance. 13:20 All this took about four hundred fifty years. After this he gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 13:21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 13:22 After removing him, God raised up David their king. He testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do.’
13:23 From the descendants of this man God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised. 13:24 Before Jesus arrived, John had proclaimed a baptism for repentance to all the people of Israel. 13:25 But while John was completing his mission, he said repeatedly, ‘What do you think I am? I am not he. But look, one is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet!’ 13:26 Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 13:27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, and they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath by condemning him. 13:28 Though they found no basis for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 13:29 When they had accomplished everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb.

They took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb – This is sometimes thought to reflect an alternative burial tradition to that recorded in the Gospels.  But there is no real problem in seeing the present passage as a compression for the sake of brevity.  The leaders of the Sanhedrin to steps to ensure that the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross before sunset (Jn 19:31); Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were both members of the Sanhedrin but also disciples of Jesus, are explicitly mentioned in connection with the removal of the body and its subsequent burial (Lk 25:50ff; Jn 19:38ff).

13:30 But God raised him from the dead, 13:31 and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to the people. 13:32 And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 13:33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’ 13:34 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ 13:35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ 13:36 For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 13:37 but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay.

‘God has work to do in this world, and to desert it because of its difficulties and entanglements is to cast off his authority. Universal holiness is required of us, that we may do the will of God in our generation. It is not enough that we be just, that we be righteous, and walk with God in holiness, but we must also serve our generation as David did before he fell asleep. God has a work to do, and not to help him is to oppose him.’ (Owen)

13:38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 13:39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you. 13:40 Watch out, then, that what is spoken about by the prophets does not happen to you:
13:41 ‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish!
For I am doing a work in your days,
a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you.’ ”

‘We need to remember that Paul is addressing Galatians. Only a few months or so later he will be writing his Letter to the Galatians. It is very striking, therefore, that he brings together here at the conclusion of his sermon five of the great words which will be foundation stones of his gospel as he expounds it in his Letter. Having referred to Jesus’ death on the tree (29), he goes on to speak of sin (38), faith, justification, law (39) and grace (43).’ (Stott)

Cf. Hab 1:5. ‘In Habakkuk’s day, the “unbelievable work” God was doing was the raising up of the Chaldeans to chasten his people, a work so remarkable that nobody would believe it. After all, why would God use an evil pagan nation to punish his own chosen people, sinful though they might be? God was using Gentiles to punish Jews! But the “wonderful work” in Paul’s day was that God was using the Jews to save the Gentiles!’ (Wiersbe)

‘The immediate relevance of these words to Paul’s audience in Pisidian Antioch is clear. What God has done in their days is to fulfill the messianic promises by raising Jesus from death. Paul has proclaimed this to them and offered them the forgiveness and justification achieved by Christ in his death and resurrection. They must choose ‘which side of the prophetic cause they will embrace, that of the scornful opponents of Jesus, like those of Jerusalem, or that of the believing disciples, like Paul and associates’. If they do not believe, they will perish in the coming judgment of God (cf. Acts 3:22–23; 4:11–12; 10:42; 17:30–31).’ (Pillar)

Paul ‘declares, in effect: “No, you will not believe, any more than your fathers did.  But because has not recognised her Messiah, has even crucified him, and now refuses to believe his gospel, God is at last going to act in judgment.  He is going to raise up the Roman power to sack and to destroy your temple, and you yourselves will be cast out among the nations.  I know you will not believe this, for the prophet Habakkuk has already prophesied it, and you are continuing to ignore his message.”  The year AD 70 inexorably came.  The Roman legions surrounded Jerusalem and destroyed it and the Jews were cast out among the naitons where the remain to this day.’ (Lloyd-Jones, From Fear to Faith, p18)

‘As we look back over the three parts of Paul’s sermon, we cannot fail to note its similarity to the outline of the apostolic kerygma which appears in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4. Here, as there, we find the same four events: he died, was buried, was raised and was seen—together with the same insistence that both the major ones, his death and resurrection, were ‘according to the Scriptures’. The structure is also practically identical with that of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, in which we detected the gospel events (the cross and the resurrection), the gospel witnesses (Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles), the gospel promises (the new life of salvation in Christ, through the Spirit) and the gospel conditions (repentance and faith).’ (Stott)

13:42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people were urging them to speak about these things on the next Sabbath. 13:43 When the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and were persuading them to continue in the grace of God.

Converts to Judaism proselutos.

Paul and Barnabas – Up to this point, Luke has given precedence to Barnabas, from now on, however, the priority will change, with the exception of Acts 14:14 and Acts 15:12,25. See Acts 14:12 for the impression that the people of Lystra gained of each of them.

13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 13:45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him. 13:46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 13:47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed. 13:49 So the word of the Lord was spreading through the entire region. 13:50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high social standing and the prominent men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their region. 13:51 So after they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, they went to Iconium.

Iconium – ‘City of Asia Minor visited by Barnabas and Paul during the first missionary journey. (Acts 13:51) Paul endured sufferings and persecution at Iconium. (2 Tim 3:11) Its location is that of the modern Turkish provincial capital Konya. Iconium was mentioned for the first time in the fourth century B.C. by the historian Xenophon. In New Testament times it was considered to be a part of the Roman province of Galatia. Evidently it has had a continuous existence since its founding.’ (Holman)

Iconium was a very ancient city. In ancient times it had a king called ‘Nannacus’, and the phrase ‘since the days of Nannacus’ was proverbial for ‘since the beginning of time’. ‘The apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thelia, a book dating from the late 2nd cent but well known in the early Church, tells the story of Thelia, a young woman of Iconium who overheard Paul’s preaching from her window. Thecla became a convert, renounced marriage, and engaged in preaching following Paul’s example. She suffered many trials and eventually became the most famous virgin martyr and the source of a growing legend – especially among the Christians at Iconium, where much evidence of her influence has been discovered. Ramsay reconstructed a putative first-century version of the story, but the extent to which the romance rests upon a historical kernel (if at all) cannot be established. A conical hill near Konya bears the name of St. Thelia to this day.’ (ISBE)

It seems from 2 Tim 3:10,11 that it was here that Paul became acquainted with Timothy.

13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.