Bishop MacEvilly's Commentary on Acts 13:14, 43-52

Posted 4/14/2013

Text in red represents my additional comments to the Bishop’s original text.

Chapter 13 is extremely important for Luke’s overall narrative strategy, which is also his theological strategy.  Here he presents for the first time in any detail St Paul’s missionary activity.

At the beginning of Acts our Lord had laid down the itinerary of the Gospel: From Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria,  to the ends of the earth (1:8).  Chapters 2-8 of the book show that itinerary working itself out to the regions of Samaria, and then we are introduced to Paul (Saul) a persecutor of the Church (ch 8) who is converted by a special vision of the risen Lord.  we are informed that he is a specially chosen instrument through whom the Name of the Lord would be carried to Gentiles, Kings and Israelites (9:15).  However, after this statement, St Paul is shown speaking only to the Jews in the synagogues of Damascus and in Jerusalem  after which he returns to his hometown of Tarsus (9:19-30).  His mission to uncircumcised Gentiles has not yet begun.  Peter, as leader of the apostolic band must first receive his vision.  Only after this event can the mission to the uncircumcised begin, or at least be validated (10:1-11:20).

We then learn that some Jerusalem Christians who had left that city after the martyrdom of Stephen (narrated in ch 8) had gone to Antioch (the one in Syria) and had begun preaching to the Gentiles, apparently meaning those uncircumcised (11:19-20).  Hearing of this the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, a major, respected figure among them (4:36-37; 9:26-27) to the city (11:22).  Seeing what was taking place, he traveled to Tarsus and brought Paul back to Antioch with him (11:25-26).  As they evangelized in Antioch a prophet had a vision concerning a famine that would hit much of the empire, including Jerusalem, and it was determined that a collection should be taken up for the relief of the city, and Paul and Barnabas were to deliver it (11:27-30).

At this point St Luke again breaks of his Paul narrative to focus on Peter.  We read of Herod’s putting St James, the brother of John to death, and of his arresting Peter with the same view in mind.  But Peter is freed by the intervention of an angel and is forced to leave the country to evangelize elsewhere.  With his departure James, “the brother of the Lord,” becomes the leader in Jerusalem.  It appears that James had a somewhat restricted view of the mission to the uncircumcised, and what takes place here (12:1-19) lays the foundation for the events in chapter 15, but those events do not concern us here.

At this point (12:25) St Luke takes up his Paul narrative.  Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch and, as the result of a prophecy, undertake a mission which has become known as the first missionary journey of St Paul (13:1-3).  They make their way to Cyprus and first detail we get of the mission is that St Paul and his companions-as they try to convert a prominent Roman (Pagan) official-are opposed by a Jewish “false prophet” and a “magician,” foreshadowing the fact that they would be opposed by both Jewish and Pagan peoples (13:4-12).

Leaving the island of Cyprus they traveled to Perge in Pamphylia, at which point John Mark, cousin of Barnabas and future author of the Gospel of Mark, leaves them and returns to Jerusalem.  Saints Paul and Barnabas continue on to Antioch of Pisidia where the events of this Sunday’s readings take place.

Act 13:14  But they (Paul and Barnabas), passing through Perge, came to Antioch in Pisidia: and, entering into the Synagogue on the sabbath day, they sat down.

The verse opens with a conjunctive (δέ=de) which links it to the preceding verse  in some way I.e., verse 13, not part of this Sunday’s reading).  It can be taken as either an adversative or a continuative.  Clearly the word is meant to introduce the text which follows as an adversative: Though John Mark abandoned the mission, Paul and Barnabas continued on.  No specific detail is given as to why Mark abandoned them, however, the word ἀποχωρέω (apochōreō, translated as “departing” in the Douay-Rheims) is used in the Greek text of Jeremiah 46:5 to refer to cowardice.  but the word can also have connotations of disagreeing with another persons opinions.  Well man speculate that the former meaning of the word (cowardice) is the reason for the departure, I would suggest something based upon the text itself.  It was through Barnabas that Paul came to have acceptance by the church in Jerusalem (9:27), and it was Barnabas who tagged Paul for the work in Antioch (11:25), and it was Barnabas who was mentioned first in the prophecy at Antioch of Syria (13:1-3).  Perhaps Mark was jealous regarding the position of his cousin Barnabas; clearly, on the Island of Cyprus St Paul was coming into his own, and as the narrative unfolds it becomes clear that Paul became the head of the missionary band.  Another possibility is this: in writings produced by Greek speaking Jews the word  ἀποχωρέω designates an action or mindset close to apostasy, perhaps implying that Mark was having second thoughts about the  mission to the uncircumcised.  but, of course, since St Luke has rather delicately chosen not to tell us the circumstances, perhaps we should not dwell on the possibilities.  We should perhaps just rest content in the fact that St Mark became a trusted companion of both St Peter and St Paul, and produced one of our four Gospels (1 Pet 5:13; Philemon 24; 2 Tim 4:11).

Passing through Perge. They made no stay this time at Perge.  Not so, however, on their return (see 14:25).  They preached the Gospel upon their return there, something they didn’t do, according to (or rather implied by) Luke narrative here.

“Antioch of Pisidia.” different from the well-known Antioch of Syria (11:19).  Here are a few photos of the ruins of the city along with some history (scroll down).

“Entering into the Synagogue.”
There must have been a good many Jews there.  Luke will tell us in 17:1 that St Paul’s preaching in the synagogue of whatever town he came to was his usual custom.

“They sat down.” Assuming the position of Doctors (ie., teachers of doctrine), and conveying that they would be glad to address the congregation.  Although specially marked out by the Holy Ghost himself for the conversion of the Gentile world, they deemed it right to attend to the Divine mandate of preaching to the Jews, first, “Judeo primum.”

Sitting was the common position of those authorized to teach.  Jesus sat down to deliver the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus spoke of those who held “the chair of Moses” (see Mt 5:1; 23:2).

Act 13:43  And when the synagogue was broken up, many of the Jews and of the strangers who served God followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

In verses 16-41 St Paul preached a sermon in the synagogue which focused primarily on the Resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made to King David.  The Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture summarizes: “St Paul’s Speech in the Synagogue —This is given as the type of St Paul’s exposition to Jews. To Gentiles he gives elementary theodicy, 14:14. Here he outlines the history of Salvation, and shows the conformity of the new teaching with the Scriptures. The three parts of the great discourse are clearly marked by the apostrophe ‘Men brethren’, 16, 26, 38. The first part runs parallel to the speech of St Stephen, the second and third to the early speeches of St Peter, but the whole is thoroughly Pauline in doctrine and style, cf.§ 816b. The conclusion is that justification comes through Jesus.”
“Broken up.” Dismissed or concluded in the usual way.  “Many of the Jews,” native (i.e., born) Jews, “and strangers,” &c.  Preselytes (see verse 16) accompanied them to their lodgings.

“The grace of God.” The doctrine of the Gospel and faith.

Act 13:44   But the next sabbath day, the whole city almost came together, to hear the word of God.

Most of the population, including Gentiles, “came together.”  Where? Not said, possibly several audiences were given, as no one synagogue could contain all together; or, in some open space around the Synagogue.

Act 13:45  And the Jews, seeing the multitudes, were filled with envy and contradicted those things which were said by Paul, blaspheming.

“Were filled with envy.
“  Felt great indignation on seeing the Gentiles admitted on such easy terms.  In their reaction they showed that they failed to heed Paul’s warning on the previous Sabbath (vss 40-41). Also, it should be noted that the same reaction confronted Peter and John in 5:17.  This vice is often associated by Luke with the desire to murder or harm (5:17-18; 7:9; see also James 3:13-4:10; Wisdom 2:24).

Denounced as false, the teaching “of Paul,” the chief speaker,  “Blaspheming.” Adding some reproaches, which were so many blasphemies against our Lord.  The word antilego is used twice in this verse, translated as “contradicted” and “blaspheming.” It is the same word used by Simeon to describe the response Jesus would get in Luke 2:32.  It is used only two other times in Acts; the first in 28:19, where it is associated with Paul’s impending trial before Caesar; and the second in 28:22, where it is used to denote widespread rumor concerning Christians.

13:46  Then Paul and Barnabas said boldly: To you it behooved us first to speak the word of God: but because you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles.

“Boldly.” Spiritedly, with courageous intrepidity, disregarding their anger and jealousy.  Note the contrast in speech here.  To the deceptive speech of their accusers the missionaries speak with boldness (meaning also openness, frankness, etc).  The Greek parresiazomai is used several times in Acts to denote St Paul’s preaching(e.g., 9:27-28), a related word, parresia, is used in 4:13 to denote the actions of Peter and John.  In 4:29 the Church prays for the gift to continue speaking boldly.  the Protestant reference work The International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia notes: “bōld´nes (παρρησία, parrēsı́a, “confidence,” “fearlessness,” “freedom of speech”): This was one of the results of discipleship (Act_4:13, Act_4:29, Act_4:31; Eph_3:12; Phi_1:20; 1Ti_3:13; 1Jo_4:17). It was a necessary qualification for the work assigned them. They were not only subject to violent persecutions, but also were the constant subject of ridicule and contempt. Paul uses the word in the sense of plainness in 2Co_3:12. In Heb_10:19; 1Jo_2:28; 1Jo_4:17, it has the sense of freeness resulting from confidence. In Phm_1:8, the reference is to the authority which Paul claims in this case.”

But because you reject it.  The Greek conjunctive translated as “But because” provides a cause for the turn to the Gentiles, which mission will be attributed to the Divine will.

“To you it behooved us,” &c.  This according to the precept of our Lord (Lk 24:47).  See also Acts 3:26; Rom 1:16; 2:9-10.

“Judge yourselves,” &c. By rejecting the means of salvation offered to you.  Not that they deemed themselves unworthy of salvation; but rather the opposite.  Their conduct, however, in rejecting the means of salvation was a practical judgment on the subject, though they thought the reverse.  The Greek word used here is κρινετε (judging), which is related to the word κριναντες in verse 27 where it refers to the condemnation of Jesus by the Jewish leaders; both words are derived from κρίνω, (krino=”judge”).  Luke is probably engaging in irony here.

Turn to the Gentiles. See 18:6 and 28:28.

Act 13:47  For so the Lord hath commanded us: I have set thee to be the light of the Gentiles: that thou mayest be for salvation unto the utmost part of the earth.

“So the Lord commanded,” &c.  He does not here refer to the express command of our Lord himself, which the Jews would undervalue; but, to the commands contained in their own highly-prized Scriptures of the Old Testament.  The Greek word ἐντέλλομαι (entellomai=commanded) recalls the words of the Risen Jesus to the twelve in Acts 1:2~”Until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up” One of those commandments concerned witnessing to the ends of the earth; a mission which Paul now shares in.

“I have set thee,” &c.  These words, as is universally admitted, directly refer to the Messiah.  They are found in Isaiah 49:6.  They implicitly refer to the Apostles, who were to act in His name, and by preaching Him to the Gentiles, were to be instrumental in carrying out in his regard, what he was appointed to be, “The light to of the Gentiles,” whom he was to draw forth from the darkness of error and ignorance, and become the source of “salvation” to all mankind, even unto the utmost parts of the earth.  The full text of Isaiah 49:6 reads in full: “And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.”  The passage was applied by way of allusion to the infant Jesus by Simeon in Luke 2:32.  Also, the passage connects with Jesus word’s in Acts 1:8.  Here Paul and Barnabas apply it to themselves.  This is not accidental.  As he opened this book, his second volume, Luke had described the first, his Gospel in these words: “The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach…”  Began to do and teach implies that he is still doing and teaching, but now through his Church.

13:48  And the Gentiles hearing it were glad and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to life everlasting believed.

Hearing from the mouths of the Jews themselves (i.e, Paul and companions) that they were to be sharers equally with the Jews in salvation, who would fain confine salvation to themselves.  “Glorified the word of God.”  Speaking of it with revrence and thankfulness, as a message from God.  They are contrasted with those Jews who rejected God’s word (vs 46).

“as were ordained.”
Does not refer to a decree, as some understand it, on the part of God predestinating men to Eternal Life, in consequence of which decree they believed and embraced the faith.  There is no question at least immediately and directly of any predestinating decree at all.  The Greek word for “ordained” (τάσσω=tasso) is probably allusive to military discipline, wherein men are arranged by their officers under their proper peculiar standard.  The words mean, that such as were disposed and divinely directed under the influence of God’s preventing graces, inspiring and strengthening them, to aspire after life everlasting, freely embraced the faith, “believed”-as one of the most essential means of attaining the object they had in view.

Everlasting life. Applied to the Gentiles here it contrasts with what was said in verse 46 to the unbelieving Jews: “To you it behoved us first to speak the word of God: but because you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life…”

Act 13:49  And the word of the Lord was published throughout the whole country.

The entire district of Antioch of Pisidia embraced the faith, owing to the influence and preaching of Paul and Barnabas.  There is question of the Gentile population, to whom Paul and Barnabas addressed themselves, after having been rejected  and resisted by the the Jews.  I.e., The Bishop means by this last sentence that the word continued to be made known throughout the Gentile population of the region.

Act 13:50  But the Jews stirred up religious and honourable women and the chief men of the city: and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas: and cast them out of their coasts.

“Honourable women.”  Women of high rank, connected with high families of influence.

“Chief men,” &c.  The civil magistrates, who exercised civil authority.
“Cast them,” &c.  Had a decree enacted, banishing them.  This does not imply violence.  Likely, they had men employed to see them depart from their country.

As noted earlier (vs 45), several times in Acts the vice of envy leads to violence (see 5:17, 33).

Act 13:51  But they, shaking off the dust of their feet against them, came to Iconium.

For the meaning of this symbolical mode of acting, prescribed by our Lord, in certain circumstances, to his apostles, see Matthew 10:14 and our commentary on it.  The primary point the Bishop makes in Mt 10:14 concerning the act is taken from st Hilary, who wrote: “Upon such as rejected the precepts of the heavenly kingdom an eternal curse is left by the departure of the Apostles, and the dust shaken from their feet; “And whosoever shall not receive you, not hear your words, “when ye go out of that house, or that town, cast the dust off your feet.” For he that lives in any place seems to have a kind of fellowship with that place. By the casting the dust off the feet, therefore all that belonged to that house is left behind, and nothing of healing or soundness is borrowed from the footsteps of the Apostles having trod their soil”.


Act 13:52  And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost.

Joy infused by the Holy Ghost in communicating His gifts.