Acts 13 Study Notes
13:1 Prophets and teachers apparently refer to functions and (possibly) offices within the early church. The teachers continued the apostolic function of transmitting Jesus’s message (see note at 6:2-4), while prophets conveyed divine revelation via interpreting the OT or giving new insights (11:27). This is the only reference in Acts to teachers, although the function of teacher is described elsewhere in the NT (1Co 12:28-29; Eph 4:11; 1Tm 1:7; 2:7; 3:2; 2Tm 1:11; 2:24). The group of prophets and teachers was diverse, including people from Africa and Cyrene, and at least one person (Manaen) who was connected to Herod’s household.
13:2-3 The routine of the prophets and teachers included worshiping the Lord and fasting. This helps to account for their openness to the Holy Spirit, who directed them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for a work to which the Spirit had called them. Barnabas and Saul were confirmed in their calling after a process of fasting, praying, and laying on of hands. This commissioning marks an important turning point in the history of the church, as Saul and Barnabas were selected to extend the gospel message beyond Judea and surrounding regions.
13:4 This verse describes the beginning of the first of Paul’s three missionary journeys. This journey included the island of Cyprus and a part of Asia Minor. The first two journeys began and ended in Antioch, which had become a center for world Christianity, committed to evangelizing Gentiles. Paul’s third journey ended in Jerusalem because he was arrested there before he could make his way to Antioch (see chap. 21).
13:5 Paul began his preaching efforts at local synagogues, continuing his early pattern (see note at 9:19-20). John (“John . . . Mark,” 12:25) was with them for now (but see 13:13 and note).
13:6 Just as Peter had a confrontation with a magician (Simon; see note at 8:9), so Paul confronted a sorcerer on Cyprus. Parallels in Acts between the lives of Peter and Paul have been noted by scholars. These include healing a lame man (3:2-8; 14:8-10; cp. 5:15; 19:12), exorcism (5:16; 16:18), being miraculously freed from prison (12:6-11; 16:25-26), receipt of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (8:17; 19:6), and raising the dead (9:36-41; 20:9-12).
13:7 A proconsul governed a Roman province. Archaeology has turned up evidence for many of the proconsuls of Cyprus. At least one inscription bears the name “Paulus,” but he is too late to be Sergius Paulus.
13:8 The sorcerer Bar-Jesus (v. 6) is here called Elymas. Possibly Elymas is a Semitic word, as is Bar-Jesus, and “sorcerer” is its translation. In any case, true to his demonic influence, Elymas tried to keep Sergius Paulus from embracing the gospel.
13:9 From this point on in the book of Acts, Saul is referred to as Paul (except when he recounted his conversion experience in chaps. 22 and 26). Perhaps the switch in preference is because his missionary ventures moved him outside of a more distinctly Jewish context and into the larger Greco-Roman world. Paul was the Roman version of his name.
13:10-11 Paul called down a punishment of blindness on Elymas for a time. Hence the judgment was not permanent, giving Elymas the chance to repent and believe.
13:12 The signs normally associated with conversion in Acts (baptism, reception of the Spirit) do not appear in this account of Sergius Paulus’s conversion. Possibly Luke just abbreviated his account, but it is also possible that Paulus’s belief amounted to nothing more than his being astonished at the teaching and the blindness that befell Elymas.
13:13 John Mark (son of Mary, 12:12) left them at Perga and went back to Jerusalem. No reason is given for his leaving, but it must have seemed unwarranted to Paul, for on the second missionary journey Barnabas suggested that they take John along, but Paul refused, pointing out that John had previously abandoned them (15:37-38).
13:14 There were some sixteen cities named Antioch in this era, and so Luke says Pisidian Antioch to specify which was in view. This Antioch was technically just across the border in Phrygia rather than Pisidia, but ancient readers would have known this.
13:14-15 Paul continued his pattern of visiting the local Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath. He was invited to bring a word of encouragement largely due to the fact that opposition among unbelieving Jews had not yet been stirred up in that town (v. 45).
13:16-41 This is Paul’s first public speech and his first missionary speech in the book of Acts. It is the longest speech by him in a Jewish synagogue, and it probably represents a style of speech he used on many such occasions. Paul recounted the history of Israel to place the coming of Jesus Christ in historical perspective. He made it clear that the coming of Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise (v. 23), as his resurrection confirmed (v. 33).
13:16-21 These verses recount the well-known early history of Israel.
13:22-23 As he promised refers to 2Sm 7:12-16, where God promised through the prophet Nathan that he would raise up from David a descendant whose throne would be established “forever.”
13:24-26 Verse 25 may point to Mal 3:1 and its promise of a forerunner to the Messiah. Then Ac 13:26 announces the word of this salvation, connecting to the announcement of Jesus as “Savior” in v. 23.
13:27 Though the prophets were read in synagogues every Sabbath, those in Jerusalem did not recognize that these words were fulfilled in Jesus. They instead condemned him, their only hope.
13:28-29 Paul declared that in crucifying Jesus they had carried out all that had been written about him.
13:30-31 The resurrection of Jesus was confirmed by witnesses who had followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke frequently emphasizes the role of eyewitnesses (1:3; Lk 1:1-4).
13:32-33 Jesus’s resurrection confirmed that God had fulfilled his promise (citing Ps 2:7).
13:34-35 Others who had been raised from the dead would return to decay, for they were still subject to death. Not Jesus. He destroyed “the one holding the power of death” (Heb 2:14).
13:36-37 Paul relied on the same verse, Ps 16:10, that Peter did in his Pentecost sermon (Ac 2:31) to prove the resurrection of Christ.
13:38-39 Through Jesus is offered forgiveness of sins, something the law of Moses can never accomplish (Rm 3:20).
13:40-41 Paul cited Hab 1:5 as a fitting conclusion to his speech. This passage from the prophet referred to the work that God was doing and recognized that some people would scoff and refuse to believe what God was doing, even if it was explained to them.
13:42-43 Whether due to the speech’s novelty or their genuine spiritual hunger, the people wanted to hear more. It was probably in the “downtime” outside the synagogues, in small groups or individual meetings, that Paul and Barnabas accomplished their most effective teaching.
13:44-45 Keen interest sprang up over the gospel message everywhere Paul and Barnabas went, whether for or against. Jesus foretold the opposition the evangelists would face (Mk 13:13).
13:46-47 The NT consistently says the gospel message came first to the Jews (e.g., Mk 7:27), though the Gentiles were anticipated as eventual recipients. Acts shows the same pattern. Early in their missions work, Paul and Barnabas recognized that their duty was to bring the good news to the Jews first. But Jewish rejection of this message warranted their taking it to the Gentiles.
13:48 This verse expresses one of the great enigmatic truths of Scripture: all who had been appointed to eternal life believed. This touches both on God’s election (“appointed”) and the human responsibility to choose (“believed”).
13:49 The whole region was predominantly Gentile. Thus those who were historically “outside” God’s people were coming to overshadow and redefine God’s people.
13:50 Seeing that the gospel was gaining wide acceptance, the Jewish leaders incited both men and women of status to reject Barnabas and Paul. This was a familiar tactic (Mt 27:20).
13:51 They shook the dust off their feet, obeying Jesus’s command to his disciples (Lk 10:11).
13:52 Joy is the outward expression of the work of the Holy Spirit within a believer.