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Silas, A Chief Man Among Brethren

INTRODUCTION: Silvanus, or better known as Silas which is the contracted form of the name, is one of those seemingly minor characters in the New Testament, who was used of God to spread the gospel beyond Jerusalem and Judaea. He was privileged to live among the apostles, and the scripture provides more information about him, than about some of the apostles chosen by Jesus. Although there is no mention of him in the gospel accounts, there are some significant points about his Christian service through the ministry of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of Christ. Seven passages in Acts involving Silas begin with an introduction to him as an important member of the church led by the apostles at Jerusalem. Paul mentions Silas in the opening of three letters to two of the churches where Silas, or Silvanus, had played an active role with Paul. The last reference to Silvanus is in Peter's first general letter to many churches in Asia Minor, and it is very likely that this is the same Silvanus, and that he had rejoined Peter for ministry emanating from the church at Jerusalem.

All scripture is from the 1769 KJV Bible.

A - Acts 15:22-27

Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: it seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

COMMENTS: The text tells us that Judas and Silas are chief men, or leader/overseers, in the assembly of believers at Jerusalem. The name Silvanus is of Latin origin, and though we don't know his early personal history, we learn from Acts 16:37 that he like Paul was a Roman citizen. Perhaps some of the gentile residents in Antioch, Syria, or Cilicia knew Silas; and thus his verbal testimony would be even more credible to them. Whether this is the case is only speculation. But the practice of firmly establishing factual information by two witnesses is not a matter of speculation, for it was well established among the Jews, and should have been important to gentiles who were now joined with Jewish believers.
Deuteronomy 19:15 "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."
Matthew 18:16 "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established."
2Corinthians 13:1 "This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established."

B - Acts 15:30-41

So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

COMMENTS: In this passage Silas is referred to as a prophet, and he urged and encouraged the believers with many of his own words after the very brief letter from the apostles at Jerusalem had been read, thus fulfilling his purpose in being sent. The general term translated here as prophet, at a minimum denoted one who was highly regarded for his words, but not necessarily one who spoke directly as a messenger from God. After some time had passed, during which Silas had remained in Antioch while Judas returned to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas discuss another journey to re-visit churches. It is interesting to note that the text states that Paul and Barnabas were teaching and preaching, "with many others also."

The involvement of many in the ministry of teaching and preaching seems to indicate that the church at Antioch was in a period of healthy growth. Because of the sharp dispute between Paul and Barnabas regarding John Mark, Silas became Paul's companion to travel to the churches in Syria and Cilicia; the other places the apostle's letter was to be shared. And this they did, as recorded in Acts 16:4-5 "And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily."

C - Acts 16:16-24

And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew [them] into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat [them]. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

COMMENTS: Timothy had joined Paul and Silas before they entered Macedonia, but Timothy is not specifically mentioned again until they go to Berea. The writer of Acts says "Paul and us" as he refers to the young woman following them, and this indicates there were three or more in Paul's group at this time. The daily pronouncements by the possessed damsel in Philippi apparently had become a nuisance to Paul, but this led to events that advanced the purposes of God. After several days as described in the scripture, Paul gave a command in the name of Jesus to the spirit within the young woman, and the loss of that spirit of divination triggered a series of uncomfortable events. When accusations were brought by the men who had lost their profitable enterprise, Paul and Silas were treated very roughly by the magistrates of this Roman colonial city, with no opportunity to offer a word in their own defense. , They were then placed into a secure prison with an undetermined future course of action against them. This presented a severe test for Paul and his traveling companion Silas, but the others in Paul's company seemingly escaped the punishments.

D - Acts 16:25-40

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed [their] stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace. But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast [us] into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. And they came and besought them, and brought [them] out, and desired [them] to depart out of the city. And they went out of the prison, and entered into [the house of] Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

COMMENTS: Paul and Silas were surely still in pain from the flogging, and in significant general discomfort fastened in stocks in the prison. Even in this abused and tired condition, at the late hour of midnight Silas sings praises to the Lord along with Paul. The text tells us that the singing was heard by those around them, and this could be considered as additional gospel seed being spread. Then an earthquake occurred, which was not highly unusual in itself; but for all the prisoners to be set free by the quake with no stated injury to them, is very unusual.

The jailer was stopped from taking his own life, and found the conditions inside the prison to be as Paul had said. He was shaken much more by these strange circumstances than by the earthquake, and the spirit moved him to ask about the way of salvation. He also treated the flogging wounds of Paul and Silas, and fed them. In the morning, Paul used to his advantage the fact that he and Silas were Roman citizens with rights not to be carelessly abused. He demanded that the magistrates appear at the prison to personally release them, and then met with believers for their encouragement, before he left the city with dignity. The Lord had disrupted the use of a possessed young woman for financial gain, and he added some unlikely believers to the church at Philippi.

E - Acts 17:1-9

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, [one] Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

COMMENTS: Silas is faithful to stay with Paul even though difficulty and danger seem to await Paul at each stop, and Silas knew first-hand the extremes it had reached at Philippi. Word of Paul's widespread teachings are known ahead of him, at least by the unbelieving Jews who are strong opponents to the message of Christ: for when they brought their vehement accusations they said, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also." But the number of believers continued to grow among Jew and gentile alike. Now the unbelieving Jews are becoming the most vicious of Paul's opponents as Paul is persistent with his message of Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

F - Acts 17:10-15

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people. And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still. And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.

COMMENTS: The brethren are quick to send both Paul and Silas away from the dangerous situation at Thessalonica. When Paul arrives in Berea, he does not hesitate to follow the same pattern of taking his message of Christ to the Jews first, and he finds a much more receptive audience among the Jews there as they test his words with scripture. When the trouble pursues Paul from Thessalonica, This time Silas stays in Berea. This separation may have been the most expedient means for the situation at hand to assure Paul's safety, but Paul sends for Silas and Timothy as soon as he arrives in Athens. Even though the atmosphere was more receptive in Berea, the Jews from Thessalonica were fervent in pursuit to eliminate Paul's message, because they held so strongly to their religion traditions even more than the simple truths of scripture.

Jesus had two strong comments about their misplaced fervor. Matthew 23:15 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." And Jesus had further said, Matthew 23:34 "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:"

G - Acts 18:1-6

After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews [that] Jesus [was] Christ. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.

COMMENTS: Paul sent word for Silas and Timothy to join him while he was still in Athens, but it appears from the text that they had to move beyond Athens, southwest to Corinth, before they could reunite with him. When Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, Paul was "pressed" in the spirit by the unreceptive hearts of the Jews, and he left them to take his message directly to the gentiles. After more than a year and a half, Paul left Corinth and traveled to Ephesus. There is no more mention of Silas by name in the book of Acts, so we do not know whether he traveled with Paul from Corinth, or followed his own separate course, remaining in Corinth for a time, or traveling elsewhere. We do know that Timothy eventually became the leader in the church at Ephesus, which was the next stop after Paul left Corinth, and possibly Silas also traveled in that direction because he is mentioned in scripture as being with Paul, when Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians. The number and names of Paul's companions are not always provided when his travels are recorded in scripture.

H - Silas Mentioned in the Letters

1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

2 Corinthians 1:19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.

1 Peter 5:12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.

COMMENTS: When Paul wrote his first and second letter to the believers at Thessalonica, he included Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy in his greeting, which indicates that these men had been of significance to the people there. It also tells us that Silas is with Paul during the time of the writing of two separate letters to the church at Thessalonica. In second Corinthians there is the same type of greeting with similar significance, even specifically stating that Silas had preached Christ. These tidbits of information about Silas have indicated that he was a man willing to travel to many cities in Asia, Macedonia, and Greece to labor for the benefit of local churches. he did this over a period of some years, and often in difficult circumstances. The mention of Silvanus in Peter's letter is not conclusive as to his identity, but it is not unreasonable to believe that this is the same man who was with Peter and the other apostles in the first reference of this study. Silas was deemed by Peter, James, and other leaders to be worthy to bear testimony of the written letter from Jerusalem to Antioch early in the development of the dispersed church, and Peter may have considered him still to be a trustworthy agent of the gospel of Christ, quite suitable to carry Peter's letter to the churches of Asia Minor.

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, I thank you for the record of a man such as Silas, who was a dedicated follower of Christ. He was a leader at Jerusalem among the congregation of the apostles, and he was willing to travel with Paul and Barnabas to confirm the written message sent to gentile believers at Antioch. Silas is an example of a Jewish man who was also a Roman citizen, allowing himself to be subject to a gentile government. But also as a Jew, he accepted the message of Jesus, the true Messiah and Savior. He was willing to travel with, and suffer with, Paul over several years to spread the gospel and to nurture your church among Jew and gentile alike. Strengthen me by your Spirit Lord, to be subject to a government that has jurisdiction only on earth, but not over my true citizenship which in heaven. And keep me faithful to represent the message of your kingdom, even to the point of death of the body, if I am forced to choose whom I shall serve. I believe your word Lord in John 15:5 "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." So, I ask Lord, that by your grace I will bear fruit from the true vine, willing to spread the truth to whosoever will receive the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Published 12 April 2006