Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 11-13.
It was Barnabas, “the son of exhortation”, who introduced Saul to the leaders of the Church when he returned to Jerusalem after his conversion. Now, in today’s passage we read that after Barnabas arrived in Antioch, at the behest of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, and saw what was happening he went to get Saul. Luke does not really tell us what about the situation in Antioch made Barnabas think Saul was the answer, but Barnabas’ action here combined with his earlier intervention for Saul in Jerusalem suggests that they had known each other before Saul’s conversion. I noticed something today that I do not recall anyone ever commenting on. It was believers from Cyprus who began preaching to Gentiles in Antioch and Barnabas was originally from Cyprus. I have heard and read many messages that speak of Barnabas being selected by the Jerusalem Church for this mission because of his personality. However, it seems likely that Barnabas was chosen because of his connections with those who had first begun converting the Gentiles in Antioch. Further, I believe that Barnabas brought in Saul because of Saul’s background as a student of the Law of Moses and rabbinical traditions. Barnabas’ idea appears to have been that Saul could teach the Gentile believers what they needed to know from the Law of Moses. In a similar manner, we need to teach those who were not raised in Christian traditions the understandings which underpin Jesus’ teachings (such as God as the standard for what is good and the idea that everyone is guilty before the Law).
I noted in a previous post about how Luke changes the names by which he refers to people as they were thought of differently by those who would have been present. In today’s passage we have something similar. When Barnabas and Saul set out on their missionary journey, Barnabas’ name comes first. Then, after Luke switches to using the name “Paul” instead of “Saul” he also starts listing the duo as “Paul and Barnabas”, Paul now gets top billing instead of Barnabas. Before I mention more about this, I want to make note of the fact that Barnabas and Saul begin their journey in Cyprus, Barnabas’ home country. I think it is worth noting the context in which Luke changes each of these things. He first refers to Saul as Paul when Paul confronts a Jewish sorcerer in order to evangelize a Gentile.
On a side note, that Gentile was named Sergius Paulus. One of the possible explanations for Saul being called Paul is that he had a connection with a family with that same surname…including the possibility of Saul or his father having been adopted by someone with that surname. Personally, I prefer an alternate explanation. Saul may have been known as Paul because he was a small man (Paulus in Latin means small). Which leads me to imagine a scrawny, short Paul confronting a tall, imposing Elymas.
Then Luke switches the name order of the two evangelists when they travel to Antioch in Pisidia, which is where they first switch their focus from preaching to Jews to preaching to Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas changed their focus because some of the Jews became jealous of the attention which the pair received from the Gentiles of the town. The Jews had had a synagogue in this town for generations without much interest from the general populace. Suddenly Paul and Barnabas show up and everyone wants to see what is going on. How often do we fall into the same trap, becoming jealous of someone who manages to draw crowds to listen to God’s word? We should be happy that people are listening to God’s word, even if those preaching it have shortcomings in what they are teaching. As Paul says in one of his letters, whether for good reasons or bad, Christ is preached!