Having evangelized part of Cyprus, “Paul and his companions” sailed to the south coast of Asia Minor (Turkey), coming to Perga in Pamphylia. Here John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. Luke’s not saying why Mark left, various reasons have been suggested, including homesickness, rigours of travel, and dissatisfaction with the change in leadership from Barnabas to Paul. Paul was displeased with Mark’s leaving (Acts 15:37-39) but later grew to respect him (Colossians 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11).
From Perga, Paul and Barnabas travelled inland and northward to Antioch in Pisidia (a Roman colony and the civil and military centre of the area). Citing Galatians 4:13, in which Paul says that it was “because of a bodily ailment” that he first preached the gospel in the area, some biblical scholars speculate that Paul caught malaria in Pamphylia and went to recover in the higher altitudes to the north. If that were the case, it would explain why Luke doesn’t refer to Paul and Barnabas’ preaching in Perga at this time although observing that they preached there on their return journey (Acts 14:25). This article focuses on their ministry in Antioch and is based on Acts 13:13-52. Biblical quotations amre from the ESV.
On the first Sabbath after arriving in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue. As I observed in my last article, not only did it make good sense for them to seek out people of their own kind first but also the synagogue was the most convenient place for them to come in contact with local God-fearing Gentiles. Its being customary to invite visiting rabbis to address the gathering, the synagogue rulers invited Paul and Barnabas to do so after the reading of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Paul stood up, motioned with his hand to get the attention of the congregation, and began, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen,” acknowledging both the Jews and God-fearers present. He went on to survey God’s acts on behalf of Israel from Abraham to David and to argue that Jesus was the promised Saviour, his death and resurrection fulfilling Old Testament prophecies and concluded:
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: “Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.”
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people asked them to speak further about these things the next Sabbath. As well, when the congregation was dismissed, many of them followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to remain open to the grace of God.
Apparently those who had heard Paul’s address told others about it because on the next Sabbath almost the whole city turned out to hear Paul and Barnabas preach the word of God. However, when the Jewish leaders saw the crowd, they were filled with jealously and talked abusively against what Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas boldly said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Paul and Barnabas backed their turning to the Gentiles by applying Isaiah 49:6, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations [or Gentiles], that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” to their ministry. However, since in the next town that they visited they again started at the Jewish synagogue (Acts 14:1), they must have been referring specifically to Antioch rather than to their mission as a whole when they spoke of turning from the Jews to the Gentiles in Acts 13:46-47.)
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified God for the word that they had heard and “as many as were appointed to eternal life” believed and spread the word of God through the region. However, the Jewish leaders stirred up the leading men of the city, evidently through their God-fearing wives, and they persecuted Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region.
Following the instructions that Jesus gave the twelve when he sent them out in pairs (Mark 6:11), Paul and Barnabas shook off the dust from their feet as a symbol of their being free of responsibility for those who had rejected the gospel and went on to Iconium. However, “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”