For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
-Acts 9:19-25 (ESV)
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.
-Acts 13:48-50 (ESV)
This becomes a familiar refrain in Paul’s life. Always someone is condemning him for his message or what it implies in their lives. As you may recall from yesterday’s “morning meditation,” when, in Acts 9:23, it says that “the Jews plotted to kill him,” the word we read in English as “Jews” in Greek is “Ioudaioi,” which specifically refers to the Jewish religious leaders and those who support them, not the Jewish people in general (according to the commentary in my ESV Bible, anyway). We see the same word used in Acts 13:50 when it also says, “But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas…”
I’ve been reading D. Thomas Lancaster’s Torah Club 6: Chronicles of the Apostles, specifically his commentary on Acts 13 (pp 379-405) which is intended to be read during the week that Torah Portion Bo (“Come”) is studied. I really wish that all of you reading this blog (and everyone else) could read this particular lesson on chapter 13 of Acts, because it is illuminating in many ways, presenting the message of salvation to Jews, Jewish converts, and everyone else in such a clear manner. Space on this blog prevents me from replicating Lancaster’s arguments in full and besides, if I simply “copied and pasted” the lesson here, I would be depriving you of the pleasure of studying from the Torah Club.
Nevertheless, there is some important territory to cover. For instance, why does Chapter 13 end with the Jewish religious leaders of Antioch (and according to Lancaster,“thanks to the Seleucid dynasty, more than fifteen cities in the Roman world bore the name Antioch”), conspiring with “a few prominent, God-fearing, Gentile women who were friendly with the Jewish community” to drive Paul and Barnabas out of their area? I mean, the whole thing started out so well. After Paul’s brilliant teaching as we read in Acts 13:16-41.
When they went out [from the synagogue] they requested of them to speak these things to them the following Shabbat. When the assembly was dismissed, many individuals from the Yehudim and righteous converts followed Polos and Bar Nabba, who spoke to their heartfelt need and warned them to stand in the kindness of God
-Ma’asei HaShlichim 13:42-43 (As quoted from Torah Club, vol 6, pg 393)
The above version of Acts 13:42-43 is taken from an unpublished translation based upon the work of the nineteenth-century Christian scholar Franz Delitzsch (a translation of the Gospels based on Delitzsch’s work is currently available). Let me present the same verses in a form that might be more familiar to you.
As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
-Acts 13:42-43 (ESV)
Now, according to Lancaster, here’s the Jewish reaction to what Paul had taught the Jews, converts, and Gentile God-fearers about the risen Messiah:
The synagogue of Pisidian Antioch received Paul’s message enthusiastically. The synagogue heads asked Paul and Barnabas to return the following Sabbath and present more teaching about the man from Nazareth, His messianic claims, His resurrection from the dead, and the evidence from the prophets. After the Sabbath services concluded, an excited group of Jewish people (both Jews and proselytes) gathered around Paul and Barnabas. They followed them back to where they were staying and asked for more teaching and stories about the Master. The apostles spent the remainder of the Sabbath instructing them further in the message of the gospel and the teaching of Yeshua. They “were urging them to continue the grace of God.”
-Lancaster, pp 393-4
I’m not sure where Lancaster found that level of detail about what happened between the Jewish and proselytes from the synagogue and Paul for the rest of the Shabbat, but I can see how it could be true. Certainly it is evident that Paul’s message sparked a tremendous amount of excitement from his audience, it was received enthusiastically, and they couldn’t wait to hear more. This hardly seems like the sort of atmosphere that would abruptly turn to the local Jews experiencing “the offense of the cross” as some modern Christians might put it.
Well, let’s back up a little bit.
Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.
-Acts 13:26 (ESV)
Before proceeding, let me present the same verse from the Delitzsch translation to give it a more Judaic context:
Men, brothers, sons of Avraham’s family and God-fearers who are among you: to [us] this word of salvation was sent.
-Ma’asei HaShlichim 13:26
Paul finished his historical review with the prophecies of John the Immerser. Before going on to present the story of Yeshua, his suffering, and resurrection, he stopped to appeal directly to the people present in the synagogue. He declared, “To us the message of this salvation has been sent.”
Paul’s first person, plural pronoun “us” included all three types of people he addressed that day in the synagogue: “Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God” (Acts 13:26). “Brethren” referred to his fellow Jews. “Sons of Abraham” referred to proselytes. (Proselytes take the patronymic “son of Abraham” at the time of their conversion.) “You who fear God” referred to the God-fearing Gentiles present that day in the synagogue. The God-fearing Gentiles were not accustomed to being acknowledged in such addresses, and they had never been included in the promises of Messianic redemption or covenant privilege.
-Lancaster, pg 390
That’s absolutely true. God-fearers, such as the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his household who we met in Acts 10, acknowledged the sole sovereignty of the God of Israel and denied all other Gods, but they had no covenant status to connect them to God as did the Jews. There was only the covenant God made with Abraham, but it was unrealized as far as the Jews and God-fearers who were listening to Paul knew.
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
-Genesis 12:3-7 (ESV)
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
-Galatians 3:16 (ESV)
For the first time, as Paul addressed all those present at that synagogue in Antioch, he “hot wired” the connection between the Abrahamic covenant and the Jewish Messiah who he revealed was Yeshua of Nazareth, Son of David, who was born, died, and resurrected, and who carried the promise of salvation to the Jew, the Jewish convert, and yes, even to the Gentiles of the nations who feared God.
We’ve already seen how the Jews and proselytes reacted with great joy, but what was the response of the Gentiles who heard this message?
We’ll pick up with the answer to that question and more in Part 2 presented in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”