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Bible Commentaries
Acts 13

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-3


By connecting the first verse of this lesson with Acts 8:4 , it will be seen that all intervening is a parenthesis, an important one indeed, but making it necessary now to return to the martyrdom of Stephen for a new start. Be sure to consult a map for the localities in Acts 11:19-20 . Antioch, now coming into prominence as the headquarters of the Gentile church, was a beautiful and influential city, but luxurious and immoral. It was founded about 300 B.C. Saul’s great life work really begins here (Acts 11:25 ), and here also the name of Christianity takes its rise (Acts 11:26 ). Antioch is said to have been famous for its witty epigrams, and it is thought that such was the origin of the name “Christian.” The church there was richer in this world’s good than at Jerusalem, which enabled the Christians to show the beautiful spirit of Acts 11:29 .

Another parenthesis meets us at chapter 12, the closing verse of which brings us back to Antioch. Chapter 12 is of events in Jerusalem, the martyrdom of James by Herod, the imprisonment and deliverance of Peter, and the fate of the wicked king.

To begin with the last-named. Four Herods are mentioned in the New Testament, Herod the Great who killed the innocents in Bethlehem, Herod who killed John the Baptist, this Herod, and him before whom Paul stood later on.

The story of this, the second persecution of the church is told in Acts 12:1-5 . The James here mentioned was the one honored by our Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in Gethsemane. See also the memorable circumstance in Matthew 20:23 . Peter was now the only apostle remaining in Jerusalem. The four quaternions, sixteen soldiers, “to keep him” suggest that the enemies of the church in Jerusalem had not forgotten his earlier deliverance (chap. 4).

The story of the present deliverance is told in Acts 12:6-17 , and is so plain we need not dwell upon it.

The judgment on Herod (Acts 12:18-23 ), suggests to some “the presumption and fate of the Antichrist,” who also will persecute the Jewish saints, claim divine honors and assume the place of God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 ).

In Acts 12:24-25 Barnabas and Saul have returned from their mission of bearing the alms of Antioch to Jerusalem and have brought John Mark with them.

It is now that Antioch comes to the front as the second great center of Christianity, and with it Paul, no longer called Saul, the great apostle to the Gentiles. The time is supposed to be toward the spring of A.O. 46. Acts 13:1-3 tell the story. Five names are given, one of them very prominent in social circles Manaen, a foster-brother of Herod. Note the phrase “they ministered to the Lord.” How? Just by quiet worship. And, oh! who can measure the results to the church and to the world that came of it! What a contrast with the present day “movements” of one kind and another, the banquets, conventions, newspaper advertisings, photos, and “whoop ‘em up” song services, to say nothing of meetings for the so-called deepening of the spiritual life. The simplicity of ministering to the Lord strikes us here, and the circumstance that He Himself is present to guide into large things through the voice of His Spirit, Who can be recognized by all who are holy enough and quiet enough to hear.

The laying on of hands in this case is hardly identical with modern “ordination,” but simply the testimony of the church to the genuineness of the call that had been received, and their outwardly expressed “fellowship and identification with the two” who had thus been set apart by the Holy Spirit. This is the way all true missionary work should begin, and the only way to insure a blessing.


1. With what earlier event is this lesson connected?

2. Have you located the cities on the map?

3. What do you know about Antioch?

4. To what locality do the events of chapter 12 belong?

5. Name these events.

6. Identify the different Herods.

7. Identify James, the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom.

8. Of Whom may this Herod be taken as a type, and in what particular?

9. At what date did the great work of missions to the Gentiles begin?

10. What is here meant by ministering to the Lord?

Verses 4-14


Note who was the real inspirer and director of this missionary journey “sent forth by the Holy Ghost” (Acts 13:4 ). This does not contradict the last phrase of the preceding verse which, properly rendered, is “they let them go.” Study the localities of Seleucia and Cyprus on the map. What was the first port of Cyprus at which they preached (Acts 13:5 )? Note that they began their work in the synagogues because it was the Divine order to preach to the Jew first (Romans 1:16 ), and because this assured them a waiting audience. The kind of ministry John Mark rendered is not stated, and some think it may have been of a domestic or personal kind. The emphasis in this part of the journey is on the events in Paphos, which place the student should identify. Those versed in dispensational matters speak of Elymas as a type of apostate Judaism which has turned away from the truth and perverts the right ways of the Lord. As he tried to keep the Word of God from the Roman governor, so the Jews tried to keep it from the Gentiles as a class; while on the other hand the judgment falling on him is also significant. Blindness has been put upon the Jews judicially, and they are grouping in the darkness without a leader. Compare the story (Acts 6-1) with such a passage as Isaiah 6:9-10 , for example.

leaving the island for the continent of Asia Minor at Acts 13:13 , we find that verse to contain two interesting things. Paul is now first called by that name and begins to take the first place in the narrative as compared with Barnabas or any other fellow-worker. Also John Mark is pointed out as a deserter for some cause, just what is not known. Here see Acts 15:38 and 2 Timothy 4:11 , the first of which shows that Mark was to be blamed, and the second that he was subsequently restored to Paul’s fellowship. The word Paul means “little,” but why it was now assumed by him is not known, except it be as expressing his estimate of himself spiritually.

Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14 ) was a region sometimes known as Galatia and as one of Paul’s most important epistles was sent there it gives special interest to this part of the story. Furthermore we have here a sample of Paul’s preaching as in the case of Peter at Pentecost, and also an intimation of how he found access to the people in the synagogues. The order of exercises there is given in Acts 13:15 . From Acts 13:16-41 is the sermon, which differs from Peter’s in an important way. Peter addressed the Jews distinctively, and before the final offer of the kingdom was withdrawn from them for the time being, and hence he offered forgiveness on the ground of repentance and baptism. But Paul speaking to Gentiles as well as Jews, and proclaiming the gospel of grace as distinguished from that of the kingdom, “utters a truth for the first time which Peter did not declare” (Acts 13:39 ). See comments on chapter 3.

The sermon breaks itself up into three parts: a historical retrospect (Acts 13:16-25 ), an unveiling of the gospel (Acts 13:26-39 ), and a warning (Acts 13:40-41 ). “Ye that fear God” in contrast with “Men of Israel” (Acts 13:16 ), means the devout Gentiles who sometimes worshipped in the synagogues. Observe that while Paul addresses himself chiefly to the Jews (Acts 13:23 ), yet true to his commission these others are not forgotten “Whosoever among you feareth God” (Acts 13:26 ). The gospel part of the sermon is a model for all time, a statement of facts (Acts 13:27-31 ), a glorious declaration based upon them and buttressed by holy writ (Acts 13:32-37 ), and the whole pressed home in a personal application (Acts 13:38-39 ). The warning seems to have been drawn forth as was that of Stephen, by a spirit of opposition rising among his hearers.

The effects of the sermon are pointed out in Acts 13:42-44 , both Jews and Gentiles having been impressed, some of whom were saved. The next week shows a change in the situation explained in Acts 13:44-48 . “Ordained” in the last-named verse is not to be interpreted as an arbitrary act on God’s part, although it remains true that their acceptance of eternal life by faith shows that He had chosen them to that end. There was a wide work of evangelization in this place (Acts 13:49 ), but at length the gospel messengers were forced out in to other regions (Acts 13:50 ). “Devout and honorable women,” means doubtless Jewish worshippers who were wives of the rulers of the city.

We need not dwell on the story of Iconium (Acts 14:1-5 ) except that the missionaries abode there a long time before persecution drove them forth, and that a great multitude of both Jews and Gentiles believed.

The events at Lystra are full of dramatic movement (Acts 14:6-20 ). The supernatural deliverance of Paul suggests Job 2:6 . But is it not amazing that they should have returned, without fear, through the cities in which they had so recently suffered persecution (Acts 14:21 ). Some have calculated that the whole of this journey covered about a year and a half.


1. Who originated this missionary journey?

2. What geographical relation does Cyprus bear to Syria and Asia Minor?

3. In what sense may Elymas be spoken of as a type?

4. What is the meaning of the name Paul?

5. Describe the simple service of the synagogue.

6. Analyze Paul’s sermon at Antioch.

7. Give the story of Lystra in your own words.

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Acts 13". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/acts-13.html. 1897-1910.
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