The Gentile Crisis 47—49 CE
The Gentile crisis was precipitated by Barnabas and Saul beginning the westward mission to the Gentiles in Cyprus and southern Galatia. Trouble soon erupted in the Galatian churches over circumcision of Gentile believers. Trouble also arose in Antioch when visiting members of the Jerusalem church began insisting that Jews and Gentiles cannot eat at the same table.
After the Jerusalem agreement was made between the ‘pillars’ and Barnabas and Saul over ministry among Jews and Gentiles (Gal 2.7-9), the Antioch church released Barnabas and Saul for a mission to Cyprus (Ac 13.1-3) , Pamphilia and Galatia (Ac 13-14).
Negative developments in Antioch
- Reports arrive of trouble in the Galatian churches (Gal 1.6-9).
- members of the Jerusalem church arrive insisting that Jews and Gentiles must eat separately (Gal. 2.11-14). Paul writes Galatians.
49 Jerusalem council (Ac. 15)
Paul travels to Jerusalem to attend the meeting that affirms the terms on which Gentiles should be included in the church (Ac. 15.1-3).
Acts 13.4-11 Barnabas and Saul in Cyprus
Barnabas and Saul set out from the sea port of Seleucia and sailed to Cyprus. They took with them John Mark, cousin of Barnabas and Peter and son of Mary, the owner of the house that Peter went to when the angel sprung him from prison.
Why Cyprus? We do not have a clear answer. Perhaps it was because Barnabas came from there. Or it was easy to reach from Antioch. It also seems likely that Saul chose Roman cities from now on, because his citizenship provided some protection from beatings. Maybe he was sick of ‘40 lashes less one’.
Arriving in Salamis on the east coast of Cyprus, they began to tell the good news in the synagogues. Salamis was the bigger city, but Paphos was the capital. They crossed the island to Paphos, where they were summoned by the Roman Pro-consul, an discerning man named Sergius Paulus. This was probably an official inquiry which could not be refused.
Lucius Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, was from a distinguished Roman family and was formerly a senator. Under the emperor Vespasian, he rose to become a consul of Rome. Saul’s first gentile convert (on this trip at least) is a very important person.
A Jewish magician, Bar-Jesus, also named Elymas (which meant ‘sorcerer’) was attached to the court of the proconsul, perhaps something of a local celebrity. He opposed them while they were preaching to the proconsul about Jesus.
v.9 Saul, also called Paul…
At this point in the text, Luke stops using Saul and starts calling him Paul. This is a turning point in Luke’s narrative and a turning point in the working relationship between the missionaries. Prior to 13.9, it was ‘Barnabas and Saul’. Barnabas was the senior member, Saul the protégé. From now on, it is ‘Paul and his companions’. Paul graduated to a place of senior leadership, and he becomes the one who recruits and trains promising co-workers.
It also seems likely that he adopted the name of his first gentile convert (on this trip at least). Perhaps the name change suggests patronage and the protection that comes from friendship with the influential Paulii family.
In some ways, Barnabas’ role in Saul’s life has been completed. He steps back and makes room. Barnabas was a remarkable man.
Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him…
Paul called out the magician for ‘deceit and villainy’ and placed a curse upon him.
‘behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time’.
A mist descended and Elymas went blind. I don’t recommend using curses. I’d prefer to break them. Nonetheless, that is what Saul does here.
We call this a power encounter. The proconsul, who witnessed the miracle, believed. Power evangelism involves two things:
- A genuine display of the power of the Holy Spirit—often a healing or miracle;
- A clear presentation of the good news about Jesus.
It is not usually one or the other. They need to hear the good news and a display of the power of the Holy Spirit will often catch the attention of the people who witness it and remove barriers to reception that my otherwise be present.
Such displays of Holy Spirit power are often called ‘signs and wonders’. Signs because they point people towards Jesus. Wonders because the raw power of God is amazing and often causes astonishment.
The proconsul believed. He was probably the highest ranking Roman convert to Christianity in the NT record.
Acts 13.12-52 Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch
Paul and his team sailed north from Cyprus to Perga on the coast of Pamphylia (southern Turkey).
John Mark ‘returned to Jerusalem’. We are not told why. Paul’s answer: Mark deserted his post. Possibly Mark was offended that Paul had taken the leadership from his cousin. Or he was homesick. Most likely, he was uncomfortable with the apparent new strategy of direct ministry to Gentiles in Roman cities. But we don’t know for sure.
At any rate, it is likely that Mark’s return to Jerusalem with stories of the direct approach to Gentiles, prompted some conservative Jewish Christians to start interfering in Paul’s work. These came to be known as ‘Judaizers’. If this is true, it explains the strength of Paul’s later opposition to Mark rejoining the mission (15.37-39).
Later in his career, John Mark travelled with Peter acting as his interpreter. He matured into one of the early church’s most significant theologians, even inventing a new literary genre: ‘gospel’.
Antioch in Pisidia
Rather than visiting important coastal cities around Perga, Paul hiked north through the rugged Taurus mountains to the Anatolian high country. They probably followed the via Sebaste (‘Sebaste’ is the Gk form of Augustus) a recently constructed Roman highway that ran from Ephesus to Mesopotamia.
They climbed 1500 metres through the foothills to the main city in Pamphylia, another Antioch, a journey of about 180 km. There were 16 cities named Antioch in the ancient world, many of them founded by Seleucus I Nicator and named after his father Antiochus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals (ca. 300 BCE). Acts mentions only two.
Antioch was a Roman colony remodelled on Rome itself, where Augustus settled 3000 army veterans from Italy and their families in 29 BCE. There was also a large Jewish population.
Although Antioch was a significant Roman city, it was a rather strange destination for Paul to choose, given other significant cities he bypassed. The best explanation is that Sergius Paulus, who was from Antioch, gave Paul a letter of introduction.
Paul began his ministry in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch and Luke records a precis of his preaching. He told the story of Israel and connected this with the story of Jesus, zeroing in on the fulfillment of prophecies about the son of David who rose from the dead and is therefore shown to be Israel’ messiah and the world’s true king.
He began with a four-point Jewish confessional statement (vv. 17-22):
(1) God is the God of Israel;
(2) he chose the patriarchs;
(3) he rescued his people from Egypt and led them through the wilderness;
(4) he gave them the promised land as their inheritance.
A typical recital often included references to David and the promises given about his descendants (Pss 78.67-72; 89.3-4; 19-37). F.F. Bruce calls this ‘an OT kerygma’.
‘I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth …’ Ps 89.59
Behind Paul’s address was Nathan’s prophecy given to David (2 Sam 7.14) which he connected with Ps 2.7 by verbal analogy (a word play on ‘God’s son’). This was a key messianic scripture for the earliest christian preachers. All very Jewish.
He moved into the christian kerygma with an allusion to ‘the branch’, another clear messianic passage (Isa 11.1-16) and then briefly told the Jesus story, beginning with John the Baptist, the fore-runner who delivered a ‘baptism of repentance’ and announced ‘the greater one’ whom he is ‘not worthy to untie his shoe-laces’. (Lk. 3.15-18).
A four-point confession followed:
(1) Jesus was crucified;
(2) laid in a tomb;
(3) God raised him from the dead;
(4) he was seen by many witnesses.
Notice the similarity with gospel outline in 1 Cor. 15-1-3. Three OT passages are then brought together to show that the one God raised up is the promised messiah (Ps 2.7 ‘God’s son’; Isa. 55.3 ‘holy blessings’ Ps 16 ‘holy one’).
His final appeal connects forgiveness of sins, faith and justification, concluding with a warning to the Jewish people, cited from Habakkuk 1.5 to beware of rejecting the message.
Paul and his message was initially well received at the synagogue, particularly among the God-fearers. God-fearers were Gentile people who were attracted to Judaism, but had not gone through full conversion which required men to be circumcised (after which they were called ‘proselytes’). Luke has mentioned God-fearers before (the Ethiopian treasurer, 8.27; and Cornelius, 10.2). They will play an increasingly important role in Paul’s missionary strategy from now on.
Although many listeners welcomed Paul’s message and a great crowd gathered on the following Sabbath (‘almost the whole city’ is no doubt hyperbole), the Jewish leaders, prompted by jealousy, began to heckle Paul and stirred up opposition. Paul replied:
It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of the life of the age to come, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. v.46.
The Jewish leaders appear to have held considerable influence in the city. Some of ‘the devout women of high standing’ were probably married to the ‘leading men of the city’. Continued ministry in the city became untenable.
Paul and Barnabas ‘shook the dust from their feet’ and went on their way. A new community was formed, with the new believers filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Telling the Good News
When we examine Luke’s account of Paul’s gospel preaching, two things are noticeable:
(1) How similar Paul’s gospel preaching was to Peter’s and Stephen’s.
(2) How different it is to standard evangelical presentations of the gospel.
The gospel that I heard growing up in an evangelical church went like this:
(1) You are a sinner;
(2) Your sin separates you from God (so you’re going to hell);
(3) Jesus died in you place so that your sins can be forgiven;
(4) Confess your sins and invite Jesus to be your personal saviour (pray ‘the sinner’s prayer’ and you will go to heaven when you die.
There are a multitude of problems with this telling of the gospel. Let me draw attention to just two. For the earliest preachers, gospel preaching involved telling a story. It was not a list of propositions to be believed and accepted as true. Secondly and more importantly, gospel preaching connected the story of Jesus with Israel’s story.
We evangelicals, who claim to be guardians of the gospel (‘evangelical’ comes from Gk euangelion, meaning ‘good news’), have got the gospel wrong because we’ve taken it out of the story in which it belongs and turned it from a compelling story into a bunch of propositions. And the first proposition, is nonsensical to most people younger than forty.
Our culture has largely lost its historic ‘catholic guilt’. Most people do not think of themselves as sinners. If you tell them they are (yes I know they are, too) they most likely won’t come under conviction of the Holy Spirit. They will simply think that you are odd and judgmental and you and your ‘good news’, which sounds a lot like a personal attack, will be dismissed.
Talk to them about brokenness or pain, hopelessness or despair, on the other hand…
The earliest preachers of the good news believed that Jesus came at the climax of Israel’s story. That he is God-in-person returning at last to his people. And that he is Israel’s messiah, come to complete the rescue mission that God gave to Abraham, and to Israel. A rescue mission they failed to complete, so that Israel now also needed rescuing.
Jesus understood his mission in these terms. If we take his actions—his ministry, his teachings, his death, resurrection and ascension—out of the story that Jesus believed he was living in, then we will distort his message and misunderstand the meaning of his death and resurrection.
Which brings us to where we are.
The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus
These ideas need to be unpacked further, but not today.
Over the last fifty years there have been some important developments in New Testament Studies that are crucial to the church and her mission to the world.
The first is called the Third Quest for the historical Jesus. Yes, Third quest. You may have missed the first two as well. My plan is to walk you through the quests and explain why they matter for us in Australia at the start of the third decade of the 21st century.
Since the Vineyard is born out of the third quest (or maybe the ‘new quest’), this matters.
The New Perspective on Paul
The second movement, causing much more excitement and anger, especially among evangelicals of a certain type, is called the New Perspective on Paul or simply, the new perspective. We need to have a look at this too, because it challenges the way in which some important Pauline words, passages and concepts (say Romans, Galatians, etc) have been translated and understood.
So climb on board, let’s take a trip together. I’ll try to give you the important ideas without getting too technical. It’s all pretty interesting.
 Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity, 1999. (IVP: Downers Grove IL). pp. 277-280.
 Richard Longenecker, “Acts” in Gaebelein, Frank (ed). Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 9, John; Acts. (1981) Zondervan
 F. F. Bruce, Acts, NICNT vol 4. 254