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Bible Commentaries
Acts 13

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-52

Acts 13:1 . The church that was at Antioch, which was counted one of the five apostolic churches. It is the true church by way of eminence, the synagogue having degenerated into a state of warfare with the Lord’s people. In this church there were certain prophets and teachers. The same distinction is observed by St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:0. and Ephesians 4:11. Also respecting Barnabas, as may be seen in Acts 4:36; Acts 9:27. And Simeon, surnamed Niger, probably from some swarthy shade in his countenance, it having been a common custom in the east, to give persons a name corresponding with their complexion. Thus we find Flavius, yellow, or sallow; Rufus, red; Albinus, white; words derived from flavo, rufo, albo. The text next mentions Lucius of Cyrene, whom Bede names as bishop of Cyrene; others place him among the seventy disciples. And Manaen which had been brought up with Herod Antipas, the tetrarch. The name in Hebrew is written Manahem, consolation, a title of Christ. 2 Kings 15:14. Luke 2:35. Dr. Lightfoot out of his rabbinical treasures says, “This Manahem brings to our memory what is related in Jachasin Manahem entered the king’s family and service with eighty men clothed in gold, military guards, no doubt. Manahem was wise and grave like a prophet, and uttered many predictions. He foretold to Herod when very young, that he would reign: and when he had gained the throne, he told him again, that he should reign about forty years; and he did reign thirty seven.” Of the Manaen in the text, being the son of Herod’s nurse, and on that account called his foster brother, it is difficult to affirm any thing beyond the letter of the sacred text. And Saul, who made the fifth, all very illustrious ministers in the work of the Lord.

Acts 13:2 . As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work, to go through all the provinces of Roman Asia, and the isles and cities of Greece. The call here is special, and purely divine; it was made known, as the vision had been to Cornelius, at a certain hour of fasting and prayer. It was revealed to one of the above three prophets, probably to Simeon, and in him to all the church. Therefore with imposition of hands and benedictions, they sent them forth anew, and with full powers to the work of the Lord. Imposition of hands they had received before, but now all that the church could give was imparted afresh that they might take their life in their hands, to go and fight with the rulers of the darkness of this world. Such a revelation to those holy prophets had an object worthy of God.

Acts 13:8 . Elymas, the sorcerer: a name in Arabic equivalent to learned.

Acts 13:9 . Then Saul, a name which from this time ceases with Luke, ( who also is called Paul.) The opinions concerning this change of name in a character the most celebrated in the church are three. That of Basil is, that at his baptism Ananias conferred upon him the name of Paul; to which Augustine adds, it was of Paul’s own choosing, because it signifies little, as when he says, “I am less than the least of all saints.” To this Origen adds another conjecture, that his father, being a Roman, both the names had been given him at his circumcision. Neither of these ideas removes the difficulty, why Luke for so many years should call him Saul, and now only begin to call him Paul. Later critics seem agreed therefore, that as Sergius Paulus the deputy, or proconsul, as in the Vulgate, was converted by him, he allowed his spiritual father to bear the name of his son, a name far more agreeable than Saul to a Roman ear. Dion tells us that Augustus, on seeing the isle of Cyprus, and Narbon Gaul in peace, had conceded both those provinces to the Roman people, and that the senate had sent proconsuls to govern them. Otherwise, it was not common to send men of so high a rank to preside over the smaller provinces.

Acts 13:10-12 . Oh full of all subtilty. Here is the sublime of passion. The Holy Ghost roared in his voice as a whirlwind, the tempest left a dimness on the sorcerer’s eyes. The gospel is the power of God; it is the savour of life unto life, and of death unto death. These effects were realized; the proconsul believed, on witnessing the power of the doctrine of the Lord. May the same gracious Lord still help us in our more feeble labours.

Acts 13:13 . They came to Perga, which was situate on the river Cestron, and adjacent to the cataracts, the country of Apollonius.

Acts 13:14 . They came to Antioch in Pisidia, which Boiste places twenty leagues west of Iconium, and more than seventy leagues from Antioch in Syria.

Acts 13:15 . If ye have a word of exhortation for the people, a word of consolation or of comfort, say on. Here is the ancient liberty of the synagogue, the liberty enjoyed by the Hebrew prophets.

Acts 13:16 . Then Paul stood up. His discourse is divided into three parts. First, here is a commemoration of the ancient works of God, continued to Acts 13:23. Secondly, a declaration of the Person of Christ as the true Messiah, down to the fortieth verse. Lastly, a warm and fervent exhortation. And what duty could be more imperative, what mission more gracious, than to exhibit the Lord of glory to their view; the Saviour, for whom their fathers had long waited. They could not but speak the things they had seen and heard for the salvation of their country.

Acts 13:21 . Afterwards they desired a king. This remark is pertinent, because their ultimate hope was in the king Messiah, to deliver them from all their enemies. But alas, under the regal sceptre they had less liberty than under their judges, and all their hopes in an arm of flesh ultimately failed. Then with advantage Paul could call them to believe in Christ, whose throne was higher than the heavens. Paul then proceeds to use the arguments which Peter had enforced, and Stephen also: chap. 3, 4, 7.

Acts 13:33 . Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Let us hear on this verse our great Dr. Lightfoot, whose learning commands deference. “Was this resurrection-day the day when he was begotten? Was it the first day that he was the Son of God? It was the first day when he was declared the Son of God with power, Romans 1:3, and of his manifestation as the Son of God. It was the day of his victory, and of his regal assumption; the day of trophy and triumph, of demonstration that he was the Son of God, the true Messiah. It was the sign which the Lord had promised to give the jews; and if they would not believe the sign of his resurrection, other signs were of no avail.” Sermon at Hereford Assizes.

When the Father says, Thou art my Son, was there ever a time when he was not his Son? The Arians are blind, who would limit his filiation to the day of his resurrection. The resurrection only declared his glory. Romans 1:4.

Limborch, a Dutch minister, and decidedly a unitarian, expounds those words literally, first of David, the day when he was anointed king. And secondly, juxta sensum mysticum predictam Jesu Christi resurrectionem ex mortuis. According to the mystical sense, they foretel the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

He adds presently after, that those words, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee, are not designed to prove that he is the Son of God, begotten of God from eternity; for that the resurrection of Jesus does not prove, for with eternal generation they have no connection, but foretold indeed that God as it were would beget him anew, and constitute him his Son. Sed quidem, quod Deus ipsum quasi de novo genuerit, atque filium suum constituerit.

The sense of Limborch may equally be found in the following gloss. “Eternity is that which has no beginning, nor does it stand in reference to time. SON supposes time, generation, and Father; and time also antecedent to such a generation; therefore the conjunction of those two terms, son and eternity, is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas.”

It is replied, All this is reasoning after the flesh, and is true only of mortal sinful men. It is a substitution of philosophy for the bible. The subject is so serious, and the negations so bold as to demand enquiries. What was that hidden wisdom which the Father possessed in his bosom, before he had made the mountains, or had given the sea his decree? Proverbs 8:22. What was that Word of Jehovah, which created the heavens by the breath or spirit of his mouth? Psalms 33:6. Who was that Ruler of the gentiles, born in Bethlehem, and whose goings forth were of old from everlasting? Micah 5:2. Were all the prophets mad who expected the Messiah from heaven? Isaiah 62:1. Have all the fathers, who died in the faith, perished in idolatry? Were the three hundred and eighteen christian fathers, and grandchildren of the apostles, deceived in the Nicene creed, that Christ is God of God, of one substance with the Father. Were the one hundred and fifty who met presently after in Constantinople, and who subscribed to the same faith, equally deceived? Rather let us say with Paul, that the Son, being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God.” Philippians 2:5-12.

To this we may add, that Christ is called the Son of God antecedently to his incarnation or miraculous conception, and consequently he did not become such by the assumption of our nature, as some have imagined. “In the fulness of time,” it is said, “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” Galatians 4:4. The position here affirmed is, that God sent forth his Son to redeem the transgressors of the law. His being “made of a woman, and made under the law,” or covenant of works which man had broken, expresses the necessary means for the accomplishment of this great end, which means, though preseding our redemption, are subsequent to the son-ship of Christ. It is equally evident that he was the Son of God before he was made of a woman, as that he was the Word before he was made flesh. John 1:14. If it be alleged that Christ is here called the Son of God on account of his being “made of a woman,” it might with equal truth be affirmed that he is so called, because of his being “made under the law,” which is too absurd to imagine. In Romans 8:3 it is declared, that “God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” which is equivalent to saying that the Son of God assumed human nature: he must therefore have been the Son of God antecedently to his assumption of it.

Other scriptures show that he is called the Son of God antecedently to his being “manifested to destroy the works of the devil:” but he was manifested by taking upon him our nature, and was therefore the Son of God before his incarnation. According to the phraseology employed in 1 John 3:8, it is as clear that Christ was the Son of God antecedently to his being manifested to destroy the works of the devil, as that he was truly God, antecedently to his being manifest in the flesh. 1 Timothy 3:16. Christ was the true God and the eternal Life in his preëxistent state, but he could be such only as he was the Son of God, the appellatives being totally inapplicable to any other nature. Besides, it would surely be highly absurd to affirm, as the apostle does, that the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, had he not previously existed under that character; for then it would be the manifestation of a nonentity, or of that which had no existence.

The objection so often made to the Divine Sonship of Christ, that it implies inferiority, is without any solid foundation. Whatever be the inferiority attached to the idea of sonship, it is not an inferiority of nature, in reference to Christ; for his claiming to be the Son of God was, according to the scriptures, making himself, not inferior, but equal with God. John 5:18.

It has also been alleged with much plausibility, that Sonship implies a posteriority of existence, or that Christ as a Son could not have existed till after the Father. To attribute therefore to him no other divinity than what is denoted by Sonship, is attributing to him none at all, as nothing can be divine which is not eternal. But if this reasoning be just, it will prove that the divine purposes are not eternal, Ephesians 3:11, or that there was once a point in duration in which the supreme Being was without thought, purpose or design. For it may with equal truth be said, that God must exist before he could will any thing, as that the Father must exist before he had a Son. But if God must exist before he could purpose any thing, there must have been a period in which he existed without thought, purpose or design; that is, in which he was not God. The truth is, the whole of this apparent difficulty arises from the want of distinguishing between the order of nature, and the order of time. In the order of nature, the sun in the heavens must have existed before it could shine; but in the order of time, the sun and its rays are coëval: it never existed a single instant without them. In the order of nature, God must have existed before he could purpose; but in the order of time or duration, he never existed without his purpose: for a God without thought or purpose would be no God at all. And thus in the order of nature, the Father must have existed before the Son; but in that of duration, he never existed without the Son. The Father and the Son therefore are properly eternal.

Acts 13:38-39 . Through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. The grand doctrine of a sinner’s justification is here opened with assurance and plenitude. It is opened to men groaning under the yoke of sin, of legal obedience, and travailing in pain, and growing worse and worse in the struggle. Justification is preached here under the idea of liberation from the legal yoke, and the plenary pardon of sin. This justification is effected, not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by faith in Christ, by whom also we have the gift of righteousness by faith; two points, the grace of pardon, and the gift of righteousness, which are inseparable. Thus again: It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea that is risen again. Thus all the legal terrors which pursue the contrite are swallowed up in the superabounding grace of the Son of God.

Acts 13:40 . Beware therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets, and particularly so by Habakkuk. If you reject this gospel, as your fathers rejected the prophets, you will wonder and perish. This is the word, the gospel of your salvation; there is no other name than that of Jesus by which you can be saved. Let the errors of your fathers raise a warning voice to their children, that you perish not. Oh that we could weep for the jews as Paul once wept for his country, and had continual sorrow of heart for his brethren according to the flesh.

Acts 13:48 . As many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Τεταγμενοι is never used for eternal preördination; and though it be once rendered ordained, Romans 13:1, the margin reads, power ordered of God. Dr. Doddridge reads, “As many as were determined for eternal life, believed.” Limborch on this place selects a dozen testimonies from Greek authors to prove that the word denotes the dispositon of the mind. “Paul went afoot to Assos, ουτω γαρ ην διατεταγμενος , for so he was disposed to do;” or minding himself to go afoot. Acts 20:13. The son of Sirach says, “The conduct of a wise man will be τεταγμενη , well- disposed: chap. Acts 10:1. In a collective view, the authorities enumerated by Limborch, Hammond, and Whitby fairly give the version, “And as many as were disposed to eternal life believed.”

To the above I may add the comment of a learned presbyterian minister. “These words cannot signify a fixed number of persons, absolutely ordained of God to eternal life; so that they, and they only shall obtain it, and all others be excluded from it, as upon this supposition it must be, if God by his decree hath fixed the number of those whom he will bring to salvation. This is evident from these considerations.

(1) If the reason why these men believed be only this, that they were “ordained to eternal life,” the reason why the rest believed not can be this only, that they were not ordained of God to eternal life; and if so, what necessity could there be that “the word of God should be first preached to them,” as we read in Acts 13:46. Was it only that their damnation might be greater? This seems to charge that Lover of souls, whose tender mercies are over all his works, with the greatest cruelty, seeing it makes him determine from all eternity, not only that so many souls, as capable of salvation as any other, shall perish everlastingly, but also to determine that the dispensations of his providence shall be such towards them as necessarily tend to aggravate their condemnation. What could even their most malicious and enraged enemy do more? What is it that the devil himself aims at by all his temptations, but this very end, viz. the aggravation of our future punishment? To assert therefore that God had determined that his word should be spoken to these jews for this very end, is to make him as instrumental to their ruin as the very devil. All this seems wholly irreconcileable with his declarations, that he “would have all men to be saved,” and “would not that any man should perish.”

(2) The apostle gives this reason why he turned from the jews to the gentiles, that the “jews had thrust away the word of God from them, and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life:” Acts 13:46. Whereas, according to this supposition, this could be no sufficient reason of his turning from them to the gentiles. For it was only they, among the jews, whom God had not ordained to eternal life, who thus refused to believe, and to obey the word of God. And as many among the gentiles as were not thus ordained to eternal life, must necessarily do the same; and so there could be no sufficient cause why he should turn from the jews to the gentiles on that account. (3) Were this the reason why the jews believed not, that they were not ordained to eternal life, why does St. Paul by divine commission thus speak to them. “Be it known to you, brethren, that by this Jesus is declared to you the remission of sins?” Why does he add, “And by him every one that believeth is justified?” Why does he vehemently exhort them to beware, lest that saying of the prophet Habakkuk should be verified in them: “I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though one declare it unto you?” Could God have determined that these very persons should not believe to life eternal, and yet commission his apostles to tell them that remission of sins, and justification to life eternal, were proposed to them? Could it be revealed to St. Paul, that they could not believe to life eternal, as not being ordained to it, and yet would he so passionately exhort them to that faith in Jesus, which he well knew, by virtue of this revelation, belonged not to them? These things seem clearly to evince, that this cannot be the proper import of the words.”

Acts 13:51 . But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, as Christ had commanded in such cases of obstinate blindness, and irreclaimable contumacy. They then came to Iconium, called Cogni by the Romans, now Cæni, the capital of Lycaonia. Boiste in his map, Le monde sacre, places it at the head of a small lake three degrees north-west of Antioch.


How glorious was the first planting of christianity in all the Roman world, and even among nations where the Roman arms could not penetrate. What a work of prayer and fasting, what a conflict with jews and gentiles, and what unwearied labours! What fidelity towards God, what love to souls, what victories in every place. Even where the apostles were chased away, they left the field well sown with precious seed. Such was the first excellence of the christian temper in the first ambassadors of Christ; a temper which should ever subsist among the servants of the Lord.

When our Saviour had called Paul and Barnabas in a special manner by the Holy Ghost, to go into all the provinces of the Roman empire, how careful were the prophets then at Antioch to send them away with their prayers, their benedictions, and all the blessings which the imposition of their hands once more repeated could confer. A fine model of what we should do in sending out missionaries to heathen lands; yea, and follow them with daily prayers. God owned their efforts with his benediction; a door was opened effectually to the gentiles, and harvests of converts followed. Let all ministers learn of those great ambassadors still to struggle with the obstinate cases which surround them. If the poor apostles fought single- handed with the Greek and Roman world, and conquered, let us hope in God who raiseth up the dead. He has said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Every Elymas struck with blindness shall tremble at our word; the great and the noble like Sergius shall then believe to the saving of their souls when they see what grace has done for their tenantry, and for their domestics.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 13". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/acts-13.html. 1835.
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