Antioch Christians - Part 2

INTRODUCTION: This is part 2 of the Bible study about the church at Antioch of ancient Syria. There are still other very interesting historical facts to examine about this unique early church. Paul was a member, not the founder of this church; and he wrote no letter to them, but the apostles at Jerusalem did write a brief letter and Paul was among those who delivered it to Antioch.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the Revised Webster Bible.


A - WERE GENTILE CHRISTIANS REQUIRED TO BE CIRCUMCISED?

Acts 15 "1 And certain men who came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them, should go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question."

Acts 15 "7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose, and said to them, Men, brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, who knoweth the hearts, bore them witness, giving to them the Holy Spirit, even as [he did] to us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. 12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and hearkened to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought by them among the Gentiles. 13 And after they held their peace, James answered, saying, Men, brethren, hearken to me: 14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again its ruins, and I will set it up: 17 That the rest of men may seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18 Known to God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19 Therefore my judgment is, that we trouble not them, who from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write to them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and [from] immorality, and [from] things strangled, and [from] blood. 21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath."

COMMENTS: Paul and Barnabas who were both Jewish teachers and leaders in the church at Antioch disputed strongly with some who came from Judaea claiming that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised under the law of Moses. It was determined that Paul and barnabas and certain others would go to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem about this question. the narrative in Acts does not specify the names of others who went to Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas, but a passage from Galatians seems to refer to this crucial decision at Jerusalem regarding circumcision for Gentile believers. Galatians 2 "1 Then fourteen years after I went again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with [me] also. 2 And I went by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them who were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. 3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in secretly to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you."

Paul refers to those who wanted to require circumcision of Gentile believers at Antioch as false brethren who would actually be promoting bondage under the law rather than accepting the freedom in Christ. Titus who was a Greek was not compelled to be circumcised when he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem. Paul wanted to be sure that the earlier agreement among apostles of no requirement for Gentile circumcision remained clear for all Gentiles who would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

After so many centuries of Jewish separation unto the Lord, and the importance of the law and the prophets, it was not an easy transition for Jews to see the Gentiles share in God's blessings. Many of the Jews rejected prophecy that remained unclear to them even after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Most of the Jews at Antioch of Pisidia were not receptive to the gospel when Paul and Barnabas preached there on the first missionary journey.

Acts 13 "45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spoke against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas became bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you: but seeing ye reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so hath the Lord commanded us, [saying], I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation to the ends of the earth. 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was proclaimed throughout all the region."

When Peter reminded the gathering at Jerusalem of his own experience of seeing Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit he declared that the Lord had put no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, purifying their hearts by faith. His conclusion was that if they put upon the necks of the Gentiles a yoke of keeping the law that even the Jews could not fulfill, they would be tempting God. Peter asserted that the apostles and elders believed that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved. The gathering then heard of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas among Gentiles in Antioch. After that James verified that the experience that Peter had with Gentile believers was in fulfillment of prophecy in scripture, and he recommended that the position of the Jerusalem church in relation to the standing of Gentile believers be sent out by letter.


B - JERUSALEM APOSTLES SEND LETTERS TO ANTIOCH, SYRIA, AND CILICIA

Acts 15 "22 Then it pleased 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: 23 And they wrote [letters] by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren [send] greeting to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain who 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: 25 It seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 Men that have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell [you] the same things by mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from immorality: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."

COMMENTS: The apostles, elders, and the whole church was in agreement to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to deliver letters addressed to the brethren who were of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. The letters began by declaring that those who said Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law, did not receive that command from the apostles at Jerusalem. In fact those words were very troubling for the Gentiles, and would subvert their souls if accepted. Therefore as an assembly in Jerusalem with one accord, they expressed in the letter their high regard for Paul and Barnabas, and indicated that they were sending Judas and Silas to verify in person the content of the letters. They stated that the list of necessary conduct from them was approved by the Holy Spirit and they saw no need to add other requirements for Gentile Christians. The items included were these: abstain from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from immorality: from which if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. The letters then closed with a simple "Fare ye well."


C - PAUL AND BARNABAS RETURN TO ANTIOCH WITH A LETTER

Acts 15 "30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31 [Which] when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed [them]. 33 And after they had tarried [there] a time, they were sent away in peace from the brethren to the apostles. 34 However it pleased Silas to abide there still. 35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also."

COMMENTS: When the returning company reached Antioch the church was gathered together to hear the letter from Jerusalem. When the reading was complete, the assembly rejoiced for the consolation this letter represented. Judas and Silas, who are identified in the text as prophets, added their encouragement as they confirmed the content of the letter. They remained there for a time, and then the assembly was to send them back to the apostles in peace, but Silas decided to remain in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. There is no mention of the letters from the Jerusalem apostles being carried anywhere else in Syria, or into Cilicia at this time. It is interesting to note that this is one time when Paul carried a letter from other apostles, as later his letters would be carried by others as his representatives.


D - SILAS JOINS IN PAUL'S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY

Acts 15 "36 And some days after Paul said to 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. 37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. 38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed to Cyprus; 40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. 16:1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain woman, who was a Jewess, and believed; but his father [was] a Greek: 2 Who was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those quarters: for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, that were ordained by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. 5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily."

COMMENTS: After a length of time that is not specified, Paul approached Barnabas with a plan to go back to the cities they had visited together, to see how the churches were doing there. This lead to the disagreement with Barnabas about John Mark joining them, with the result that Paul and Silas became traveling companions, while Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus. there is no detail of a general reaction in the church to the sharp dispute, but the text says "Paul chose Silas, and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God." Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia confirming the churches. Paul found a young believer named Timothy when they moved on to Derbe and Lystra, and he wanted to take him along as they traveled. Paul circumcised him "because of the Jews who were in those quarters: for they all knew that his father was a Greek." Since Timothy's mother was a Jew, Paul seemed to have no hesitancy to circumcise him for the sake of the Jewish community, and not of necessity for Timothy's salvation. As Paul's company continued their travel, they delivered the "decrees to keep, that were ordained by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem" for Gentile believers. Scripture records the success of their journey with the churches being established in the faith and increasing in number daily.


E - PAUL'S LAST RECORDED VISIT TO ANTIOCH OF SYRIA

Acts 18 "18 And Paul [after this] tarried [there] yet a good while, and took his leave of the brethren, and sailed from there into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn [his] head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow. 19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they desired [him] to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; 21 But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return to you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus. 22 And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch. 23 And after he had spent some time [there], he departed, and went over [all] the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples."

COMMENTS: Since it was not the intent of this bible study to concentrate on all details of Paul's journey's, this last reference picks up after Paul had spent a good deal of time in Macedonia and Achaia establishing churches and otherwise defending the gospel of Jesus Christ. . When Paul sailed from Corinth he first landed at Ephesus, but did not remain there for any extended period. He then sailed to Caesarea and greeted the church, and from there he went to Antioch. After Paul had spent some time at Antioch, he went through Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. There is no further mention of Antioch in the book of Acts, and there is no scriptural letter from Paul to the church at Antioch. All record of the church there gives indication that it was perhaps the strongest and most stable church of the time. Founding principals for future churches had also been an inherent part of this early church that was so abundantly blessed by the Lord.


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord, I thank you for the record of the church at Antioch from the book of Acts, and for reinforcement of the principals they followed that can be found in some of Paul's letters to other churches. As a Gentile, I praise you that your plan of salvation to eternal life was intended for all tribes, tongues, and nations; and that it is based on the finished work of Christ Jesus that is received by grace through faith. The record shows that you guided your apostles to the agreement that the law was fulfilled in Christ, and that no flesh could be justified by the works of the law. Your commandments, and the traditions of man, can work together with your grace if we are carefully guided by your Holy Spirit as we study your word and apply it to our hearts. Give me discernment when I encounter any doctrine of man that detracts from the pure gospel of Christ; and I pray that you will work continually in my own heart that I will not be one of those who thus wanders from the truth. Enable me Lord to be a truly supportive member of my local assembly of believers, and of other Christians of my acquaintance who are engaged in the spread of the gospel. Amen.

Published 27 October 2012

Antioch Christians - Part 1