Acts 11 – 2019-09-11
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- CHAPTER 11 COMMENTARY
v.1: “A Gentile was anyone who was not a Jew; the Jewish believers are sometimes referred to as the ‘the circumcised believers’ (11:2). Most Jewish believers thought that God offered salvation only to the Jews because God had given his law to them (Exodus 19, 20). A group in Jerusalem believed that Gentiles could be saved, but only if they followed all the Jewish laws and traditions—in essence, if they became Jews. Both were mistaken. God chose the Jews and taught them his laws so they could bring the message of salvation to all people (see Genesis 12:3; Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 42:4, 49:6; 56:3-7;60:1-3; Jeremiah 16:19-21; Zechariah 2:11, Malachi 1:11; Romans 15:9-12).”
vv.1-3: “‘The circumcised believers’ (hoi ek peritomes; lit., ‘those of the circumcision,’ usually meaning only ‘the Jews,’ but in context certainly connoting ‘Jewish Christians’ here) immediately confronted Peter and charged, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ This charge, while traditionally worded, was tantamount to saying that Peter had set aside Christianity’s Jewish features and thereby seriously endangered its relation with the nation.”
v.8: “Impure or unclean. Unacceptable according to dietary restrictions of the law, thought by some to be for health reasons and by others for religious reason. The Jews gained insight into God’s holiness by visual lessons reinforced in their daily diet.”
“God had promised throughout Scripture that he would reach the nations. […] But this was an extremely difficult truth for Jews, even Jewish believers, to accept. The Jewish believers understood how certain prophecies were fulfilled in Christ, but they overlooked other Old Testament teachings.”
vv.19-30: “In restrained sentences these few words tell of one of the greatest events in history. Now, for the first time, the gospel is deliberately preached to the Gentiles. Everything has been working up to this. There have been three steps on the ladder. First, Philip preached to the Samaritans; but the Samaritans after all were half Jewish and formed, as it were, a bridge, between the Jewish and the Gentile world. Second, Peter accepted Cornelius; but it was Cornelius who took the initiative. It was not the Christian Church who sought Cornelius; it was Cornelius who sought the Christian Church. Further, it is stressed that Cornelius was a God-fearer and, therefore, on the fringes of the Jewish faith. Third, in Antioch, the Church did not go to people who were Jews or half Jews, nor wait to be approached by Gentiles seeking admission; of set purpose and without waiting for the invitation, it preached the gospel to the Gentiles. Christianity is finally launched on its worldwide mission.
Here we have a truly amazing thing. The Church has taken the most epoch-making of all steps; and we do not even know the names of the people who took that step. All we know is that they came from Cyprus and Cyrene. They go down in history as nameless pioneers of Christ. It has always been one of the tragedies of the Church that men have wished to be noticed and named when they did something worthwhile. What the Church has always needed, perhaps more than anything else, is people who never care who gains the credit for it so long as the work is done. These men may not have written their names in men’s books of history: but they have written them forever in God’s Book of Life.”
“Antioch in North Syria by the Orontes River was the largest of sixteen cities in the eastern Mediterranean bearing that name. They were so named because many kings of the Seleucid dynasty (who ruled the eastern part of Alexander the Great’s empire after his death) bore the name Antiochus. With an estimated population of about 300,000 Antioch in Syria was the third largest city in the Roman empire, surpassed in population only by Rome and Alexandria. It was also the seat of administration of the Roman province of Syria. A large Jewish population lived there, estimates of which range from 22,000 to 65,000.
Antioch had lax morals, especially owing to cult prostitution at a shrine in Daphne, five miles south of the city. Because it was an international commercial center, it was a cosmopolitan city. People were accustomed to innovations there. ‘They had their rough corners rubbed smooth, and traditional attitudes which were taken so seriously in a place like Jerusalem did not matter much.’ According to Josephus, a large number of proselytes lived there. In fact, one of the seven men chosen to serve tables in Jerusalem was Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch (6:5). It was, then, an ideal place to be ‘the real birthplace of Gentile Christianity.’ It remained an important center of Christianity for many centuries. It is now a part of Turkey and is called Antakya, with a relatively small population of about 40,000.’
vv.22-26: “[Barnabas] introduced Paul into the circle of apostles (9:27). He was chosen as their delegate to Antioch. Barnabas was a ‘bridge-builder,’ one who was able to see the positive aspects in both sides of an issue and to mediate between perspectives. That was the sort of person needed now to investigate the new mission […] Luke emphasizes these positive qualities in Barnabas. ‘He was a good man’ (v. 24), a phrase Luke used elsewhere only of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50). He was ‘full of the Holy Spirit and faith,’ just like Stephen (Acts 6:5). When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, far from criticizing the new undertaking, he was able to see the grace of God at work in all the Gentile conversions, and he rejoiced (v. 23). More than that, he encouraged them in the ministry, thus living up to his nickname of being the ‘Son of Encouragement’ (4:36). This quality of encouragement, of looking for the best in others, would reappear when Barnabas interceded on Mark’s behalf (15:36-40).
“With the growing missionary success in Antioch, Barnabas needed help; and Paul immediately came to mind. Paul was in the area of his native Cilicia (cf. Acts 9:30; Gal 1:21), to which he had departed after his first visit to Jerusalem following his conversion. The text of Acts is compressed and selective, but the most likely reconstruction of Pauline chronology from Gal 1-2 would indicate that some ten years or so had elapsed from the time he first departed from Cilicia to when Barnabas set out to find him. The verb Luke employed (anazeteo) means to seek out and implies he had some difficulty in finding him. Quite likely Paul was off somewhere busily engaged in missionary activity. When Barnabas finally located Paul, he brought him back to Antioch where the two were heavily occupied in preaching and teaching to ‘great numbers’ (v. 26). Likely they particularly continued the witness to Gentiles. This would prepare them for their first mission together in Cyprus and southern Turkey (13:4-14:26).” 
“Luke appended the interesting note to v. 26 that the term ‘Christian’ was first applied to disciples in Antioch. This may be of more significance than might appear on first sight. The term only occurs in two other places in the New Testament (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). In all three instances it is a term used by outsides to designate Christians. Evidently the term was not originally used by Christians themselves. They preferred terms like ‘believers, disciples and brothers.’ The first extensive usage by a Christian writer to designate fellow believers was by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, around the turn of the second century. The term (Christianoi) consists of the Greek word for Christ/Messiah (Christos) with the Latin ending ianus, meaning belonging to, identified by […] The term was often used by Roman writers to designate followers of Christ. The early usage in Antioch is perhaps indicative of two things. For one, it is the sort of term Gentiles would have used and perhaps reflects the success of Antioch’s Gentile mission. Gentiles were dubbing their fellow Gentiles who because followers of Christ ‘Christians.’ Second, it reflects that Christianity was beginning to have an identity of its own and no longer was viewed as a totally Jewish entity. Again, the success among Gentiles would have hastened this process in Antioch. 
 Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 1972.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for vv.1-3.
 Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) 1522.
 Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 1972.
 William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles: The Daily Study Bible, (Philadelphia, PN: The Westminster Press, 1976) 88.
 Ajith Fernando, Acts: The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) 348.
 John B. Polhill, Acts: The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 272.
 John B. Polhill, Acts: The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 272-273.
 John B. Polhill, Acts: The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 273.
Acts 11:1-30 (ESV)
1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea.12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
- Study Questions: Acts 11:1-18
- God used Peter to preach to the Gentiles, corresponding with the final part of Jesus’ commission to his disciples to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (1:8). How do the Jewish believers respond to this?
- What was the new thing that took place in Antioch, and who were the ones responsible for taking this new step?
- What kind of man was Barnabas, as evidenced by this passage?
- What might have been behind the fact that the disciples got the name “Christian” at Antioch?