Acts 11: New American Commentary

(7) Endorsement of the Witness to the Gentiles (11:1–18)

1The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

4Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

8“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

9“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

11:1–2 Peter had himself been convinced of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles. Now his fellow Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem needed convincing. The strongest reservations seem to have been entertained by a group of especially conservative Jewish Christians whom Luke called “those of the circumcision” (v. 2, NKJV; “circumcised believers,” NIV).113 These seem to be distinguished from the apostles and wider group of Judean brethren mentioned in v. 1.114 Evidently they represented a strongly Jewish perspective and felt that any Gentile who became a Christian would have to do so by converting to Judaism and undergoing full Jewish proselyte procedure, which included circumcision. Hence they were known as the circumcision group, since they would require it of all Gentile converts. They may well have been the same group as those believers mentioned in 15:5 who belonged to the Pharisees and required Gentiles to be circumcised and to live by the Mosaic law. Their perspective is understandable, given that at this point Christianity was still seen as a movement within Judaism. It followed that if Gentiles became Christians they also became Jews by so doing and should thus undergo the normal procedure for converts to Judaism. Needless to say, if this line had been adopted, there never would have been an effective Gentile mission. Most Gentiles had real problems with some of the more “external” aspects of the Jewish law, such as circumcision and the food laws. Such factors doubtless had kept many Gentiles like Cornelius, who believed in the God of the Jews, from becoming full proselytes.

11:3–12 It is interesting that the circumcision group raised a question about Peter’s table fellowship with the Gentiles rather than about their being baptized. As has already been shown in the discussion of 10:9–16, the issues of table fellowship and acceptance of the Gentiles were closely related.115 Peter’s eating with the Gentiles showed his acceptance of them as fellow Christians, and they were still uncircumcised (v. 3). In any event, Peter’s response quickly led them to the real issue—God’s acceptance of the Gentiles. Luke basically summarized chap. 10, again using the device of repetition to underscore the significance of the event. The account contains only slight differences from the earlier one. It is considerably condensed, and Peter occasionally added a previously unmentioned detail. Naturally, Peter began with his own vision in 11:5–10, which is a detailed retelling of 10:9–16.116 In fact, that is the most extensive repetition in Peter’s report to Jerusalem. For Peter it was the heart of the matter. There are no unclean people. God accepts the Gentiles. Verses 11–12 summarize the narrative of 10:17–25, relating the arrival of the three messengers from Cornelius and Peter’s accompanying them to Caesarea. The most significant difference from the earlier account is the additional detail that there were six Christians from Joppa who accompanied Peter to Caesarea (v. 12). More than that—it was “these” six whom Peter brought to Jerusalem as witnesses to what transpired in Cornelius’s home (cf. 10:45).117

11:13–16 Verses 13–14 summarize the vision of Cornelius, how the angel instructed him to send to Joppa for Peter. Verse 14 is more specific than any of the accounts of Cornelius’s vision in chap. 10. Peter was to bring a message to Cornelius “through which [he] and all [his] household [would] be saved.” This expansion elucidates the reference to Peter’s words in v. 22 and above all explains Cornelius’s eager anticipation of Peter’s message in 10:33. There was no need for Peter to summarize his sermon before the Jerusalem Christians, so he quickly moved to the coming of the Spirit on the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house (v. 15). Peter noted how the event interrupted his sermon. He added that the Spirit came upon them just “as he had come upon us at the beginning.” The comparison is to Pentecost. Peter made explicit here what was implicit in 10:46. He continued to draw the comparison in v. 16, which harks back to Acts 1:5 and Jesus’ prediction of a baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled for the apostles at Pentecost; for Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles it was fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit at Cornelius’s house. Certainly for Peter it was a Gentile Pentecost. He could hardly make more explicit comparisons!

11:17–18 Peter concluded his report in Jerusalem by reminding his hearers once again that God gave the gift of the Spirit to the Gentiles and added, “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?” Once again he used the verb kōlyō in expressing the idea of opposition to God, just as he employed the same verb in 10:47 to question whether anyone could oppose the baptism of the Gentiles. Opposition to the Gentiles’ baptism would be opposition to God, for God’s leading of Peter and of Cornelius proved beyond doubt his intention to include them in his people. There really was not much the “circumcision group” could say now. God was clearly in it. Who could object? Silence quickly gave way to praise of God in his triumphant advance of the gospel. God had granted “repentance unto life” to the Gentiles.

Not all the problems were solved, however. Not all the Jewish Christians were satisfied with taking in Gentiles without circumcision. As yet there had been no mass influx of Gentiles, and the problems were not altogether evident. Things would change, particularly with the great success of Paul and Barnabas’s mission among the Gentiles. Once again the issue would be raised by the more staunchly Jewish faction—“Shouldn’t Gentiles be circumcised when they become Christians?” “Can we really have table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles who do not abide by the food laws?” (author’s paraphrase). These issues would surface once more for a final showdown in the Jerusalem Conference of chap. 15.

4. Antioch’s Witness to Gentiles (11:19–30)

Chapter 11 as a whole is devoted to the foundational events in the Gentile mission of the church. Two different churches play the primary roles. The Jerusalem church, led by the apostles and comprised mainly of Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians, recognized the divine leading in Peter’s witness to Cornelius and concluded that God intended to lead the Gentiles to repentance and life (11:1–18). The Antioch church, established by Hellenists, those Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who had to flee Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen, began to put this principle into practice and to reach out to the Gentile population (11:19–30).

Antioch was a natural setting for the Gentile mission to begin in earnest. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, its population of some 500,000 to 800,000 only being exceeded by Rome and Alexandria.118 Founded in 300 b.c. by the first Seleucid ruler, Seleucus Nicator, it was from the first a “hellenistic city,” promoting Greek culture.119 Seleucus named the city Antioch for his father, Antiochus, and made it the capital of his empire. It was a planned city, carefully laid out in a grid pattern with streets positioned to assure maximum exposure to the cool afternoon breezes. Noted for its beauty, it was located in the large fertile plain of the Orontes River. In fact, the Orontes from the point it flowed into the Mediterranean was navigable some fifteen miles upstream where Antioch was located.120 At the mouth of the Orontes stood Antioch’s major port, the town of Seleucus, and at Antioch itself there was a significant harbor. From 64 b.c., Antioch came under Roman jurisdiction, being granted by the Roman general Pompey the status of “free city,” which allowed it a measure of self-jurisdiction and exemption from the provincial taxes. In 23 b.c. the areas of Syria, Cilicia, and Palestine were organized into the Roman “province of Syria” with Antioch as the seat of the imperial legate (governor).

Religiously, Antioch was an amalgam. Five miles from the city was a major cult center for the Greek goddess Daphne and her consort Apollo. The Antioch version of the cult seems to have been but a weak Hellenization of the worship of the ancient Assyrian goddess Astarte, in which sacred prostitution played a major role. This practice evidently continued because Antioch was notorious throughout the Roman Empire for its immorality. A typical statement is that of the satirist Juvenal who, in complaining about Rome’s degenerating morality, remarked that the “filth of the Orontes” had flowed into the Tiber (Satire 3.62). There was an extensive Jewish community in Antioch, its population in the first century a.d. being variously estimated from 25,000 to 50,000. Though some of the more Hellenized Jews may have participated in the larger government of the city, the Jewish community seems to have been accorded a separate identity within the city with a major degree of self-government.121

Obviously, Antioch was a natural location for Christian witness. An extensive Jewish community was there, and the witness evidently began with them. The witness quickly spread to the Gentile majority, perhaps beginning naturally with Gentiles like Cornelius, who had already been attracted to the Jewish worship of God. Cosmopolitan center and port center that it was, it is not surprising that the Christians there caught the vision of an empire-wide mission. Paul would be the one who most carried it out, and Antioch was his sponsoring church.

The beginnings of all this are traced in 11:19–26. Verses 19–21 depict the establishment of the church at Antioch and the beginnings of its Gentile outreach. Verses 22–24 deal with the endorsement of the Antioch witness by the Jerusalem church through the bridge-figure of Barnabas. Verses 25–26 show the increase of the mission among the Gentiles through the efforts of Paul. Finally, vv. 27–30 illustrate the unity of the entire Christian community through all this as exemplified in Antioch’s offering for Jerusalem in a time of famine.

(1) Establishing a Church in Antioch (11:19–26)

19Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

22News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

The Hellenists in Antioch (11:19–21)

11:19–21 Verse 19 refers to the “Hellenists” and looks back to 8:1, repeating the verb “scattered” and reminding the reader of these Greek-speaking Jewish Christian associates of Stephen who had to flee Jerusalem as a result of his martyrdom. One of those who was “scattered” was Philip (8:4), and he witnessed to the Samaritans, an Ethiopian, and to the seacoast communities as far north as Caesarea (8:5–40). Another group of Hellenist refugees is described as evangelizing the seacoast towns further to the north, in the Phoenician plain, which extended some seventy-five miles along the coast of middle Syria from Mt. Carmel north to the river Eleutheros. Its principal cities were Ptolemais, Tyre, Sidon, and Zarephath.122 Others began work on the island of Cyprus, the easternmost island of the Mediterranean and some 100 miles off the Syrian coast. Paul and Barnabas would later continue the witness on Cyprus (13:4–12).

Those who traveled farthest north arrived in Antioch. These coastal towns were all heavily Hellenized, and the Greek language would have been dominant. It was thus an appropriate area for witness by these Greek-speaking Hellenist Christians. Quite naturally, they witnessed at first to Jews only, probably to fellow Greek-speaking Jews, as Stephen had done in the Diaspora synagogues of Jerusalem (6:9). But at Antioch they took a bolder step and began preaching to Gentiles as well.123 This step was taken by those who were themselves Diaspora Jews from Cyrene and Cyprus. Perhaps the Lucius of Cyrene, who is described as one of the “prophets and teachers” at Antioch in 13:1, was one of these. Barnabas, who himself was a native of Cyprus, would later become active in this witness (cf. 4:36). Paul was a Diaspora Jew from Cilicia (cf. 22:3). It was only natural that a concern for evangelization of the Gentiles should be especially felt by the Jewish Christians of the dispersion who had grown up in a Gentile environment and had a more worldwide perspective than the more provincial Palestinian Christians. Their message also betrayed their sensitivity to Gentile concerns. They did not preach Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) but rather as Lord, a title far more familiar to Gentiles than Jewish messianic ideas.124 Their witness bore great results; a large number of the Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord (v. 21) because “the hand” of the Lord, that is, his power and Spirit, was with them, just as it had been so dramatically in the conversion of Cornelius.125

Barnabas Sent by Jerusalem (11:22–24)

11:22 Jerusalem was the “mother church” for all Christians in those days. It was the church of the apostles, the link to Jesus. It was only natural for the Jerusalem church to show an interest in the total Christian witness wherever it was carried. This concern had already expressed itself in their sending Peter and John to Philip’s mission in Samaria (8:14–17) and their inquiring of Peter about his witness to Cornelius (11:1–18). It would reappear when Paul and Barnabas reported to Jerusalem on their successful Gentile mission (15:1–35). Although this could certainly be seen as a sort of “supervision” by Jerusalem, in each instance the Christians of Jerusalem enthusiastically endorsed the new work and gave it their stamp of approval. In this instance, when Jerusalem heard of the Gentile mission in Antioch, the church did not send apostles, as it did when Philip preached to Samaritans. Instead, they sent a nonapostolic delegate but a wise choice indeed—Barnabas, “the son of encouragement” (4:36).

11:23–24 Barnabas had a natural relationship with the Hellenists. As a native of Cyprus, he most likely was fluent in Greek. On the other hand, he did not seem to have originally belonged to their group but rather to have had ties from the beginning with the non-Hellenist church in Jerusalem and particularly with the apostles. He participated in exemplary fashion in the church’s practice of sharing (4:36f.). He introduced Paul into the circle of apostles (9:27). He was chosen as their delegate to Antioch. Barnabas was a “bridge-builder,” one who was able to see the positive aspects in both sides of an issue and to mediate between perspectives. That was the sort of person needed now to investigate the new mission of the more adventurous Hellenists of Antioch and allay the concerns of the more conservative “circumcision” group in Jerusalem (cf. 11:2). Luke emphasized these positive qualities in Barnabas. “He was a good man” (v. 24), a phrase Luke used elsewhere only of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50). He was “full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” just like Stephen (Acts 6:5). When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, far from criticizing the new undertaking, he was able to see the grace of God at work in all the Gentile conversions, and he rejoiced (v. 23).126 More than that, he encouraged them in the ministry, thus living up to his nickname of being the “Son of Encouragement” (4:36). This quality of encouragement, of looking for the best in others, would reappear when Barnabas interceded on Mark’s behalf (15:36–40).

People like Barnabas are always needed by the church. They are the peacemakers, the go-betweens who seek no glory for themselves but only seek to bring out the best in others. But “would-be” Barnabases of today need to heed a further lesson from this outstanding biblical figure. Barnabases want everyone to be happy, but sometimes it simply is not possible to please everyone without serious compromise of one’s basic convictions. Barnabas found that out later at Antioch when, in order to placate the conservative Jewish Christians “from James” (Jerusalem), he withdrew from table fellowship with those very Gentile-Christian converts we see him here witnessing to so enthusiastically (Gal 2:11–13).

Paul and Barnabas in Antioch (11:25–26)

11:25–26 With the growing missionary success in Antioch, Barnabas needed help; and Paul immediately came to mind. Paul was in the area of his native Cilicia (cf. Acts 9:30; Gal 1:21), to which he had departed after his first visit to Jerusalem following his conversion. The text of Acts is compressed and selective, but the most likely reconstruction of Pauline chronology from Gal 1–2 would indicate that some ten years or so had elapsed from the time he first departed from Cilicia to when Barnabas set out to find him. The verb Luke employed (anazēteō) means to seek out and implies he had some difficulty in finding him. Quite likely Paul was off somewhere busily engaged in missionary activity. When Barnabas finally located Paul, he brought him back to Antioch where the two were heavily occupied in preaching and teaching to “great numbers” (v. 26). Likely they particularly continued the witness to Gentiles. This would prepare them for their first mission together in Cyprus and southern Turkey (13:4–14:26).

Luke appended the interesting note to v. 26 that the term “Christian” was first applied to disciples in Antioch. This may be of more significance than might appear on first sight. The term only occurs in two other places in the New Testament (Acts 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16). In all three instances it is a term used by outsiders to designate Christians. Evidently the term was not originally used by Christians of themselves. They preferred terms like “believers, disciples, brothers.” The first extensive usage by a Christian writer to designate fellow believers was by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, around the turn of the second century. The term (Christianoi) consists of the Greek word for Christ/Messiah (Christos) with the Latin ending ianus, meaning belonging to, identified by. Examples of similar formations are Herodianoi, partisans of Herod, and Augustianoi, the zealotic followers of Nero.127 The term was often used by Roman writers to designate followers of Christ.128 The early usage in Antioch is perhaps indicative of two things. For one, it is the sort of term Gentiles would have used and perhaps reflects the success of Antioch’s Gentile mission. Gentiles were dubbing their fellow Gentiles who became followers of Christ “Christians.” Second, it reflects that Christianity was beginning to have an identity of its own and no longer was viewed as a totally Jewish entity. Again, the success among Gentiles would have hastened this process in Antioch.

How is one to relate the two “Gentile missions” of Acts 10–11, that is, Peter’s and that of the Antioch church? In all likelihood the two overlapped in time, with the Antioch witness covering several years. On all appearances the Antioch mission involved much greater numbers (cf. v. 21). And certainly it was the Antioch church that was the great “Gentile mission” church in sponsoring Paul’s missionary activity. Peter did not follow up his conversion of Cornelius by a personal mission to the Gentiles. All indications are that he continued primarily to witness to the Jews (cf. Gal 2:7). Still, the experience with Cornelius was essential. It convinced the leading apostle of the legitimacy of the Gentile mission, and he in turn became its prime advocate with the other apostles and the Jerusalem church (cf. 11:1–18; 15:7–11). In a real sense it paved the way with the church as a whole for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.

(2) Sending Famine Relief to Jerusalem (11:27–30)

27During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

11:27–30 Verses 27–30 conclude the Antioch narrative with the tradition of a relief offering sent by the Antioch church to Jerusalem during a time of severe famine. Here we are first introduced to the prophet Agabus. He had the gift of foretelling,129 and the gift was again manifested in 21:10–11, when he prophesied in a graphic way Paul’s impending arrest in Jerusalem. He is said to have been among a group of prophets who came from Jerusalem to Antioch. There is ample evidence for such early Christian prophets, and they seem to have largely been itinerant, as the present passage would indicate.130 In Antioch Agabus predicted that there would be a worldwide famine.131 Luke added the “aside” that this famine did indeed occur during the time of Claudius, who was Roman emperor from a.d. 41–54.132

The reign of Claudius was in fact marked by a long series of crop failures in various parts of the empire—in Judea, in Rome, in Egypt, and in Greece. The Judean famine seems to have taken place during the procuratorship of Tiberius Alexander (a.d. 46–48), and Egyptian documents reveal a major famine there in a.d. 45–46 due to flooding.133 The most likely time for the Judean famine would thus seem to have been around a.d. 46.134 In any event, the Antioch church decided to gather a collection to relieve their fellow Christians in Judea, each setting something aside according to his or her ability.135 Eventually, when the famine struck, the collection was delivered to the elders in Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas.136 Actually, v. 30 does not mention Jerusalem, but 12:25 does in speaking of Paul and Barnabas’s return from this visit.

The subtle transition in the leadership of the Jerusalem church throughout these chapters is noteworthy. In the early days of the Jerusalem church, the apostles had taken responsibility for matters of charity (cf. 4:34–5:11). A transition seems to have begun with the selection of the seven Hellenists (6:1–6). Paul and Barnabas laid the gift from Antioch at the feet of “the elders.” Evidently the apostles were giving themselves more and more to the word, like Peter on his mission tours in Samaria and along the coast. More and more responsibility would be assumed by these lay elders, based almost surely on the pattern of the elders in the Jewish synagogue. Paul would organize his own churches along the same pattern (cf. 14:23; 20:17).137

113 This is exactly the phrase (οἰ ἐκ περιτομῆς) used of the Jewish Christians from Joppa in 10:45, but there it simply means circumcised (i.e., Jewish) Christians. In 11:2 the group was distinguished from the Jewish Christians as a whole, and it seems to refer to a limited group within them.

114 The Western text provides a much lengthier version of v. 2, which has Peter carrying on an extensive preaching tour on the way back to Jerusalem after the conversion of Cornelius. See Bruce, Acts: NIC, 232, n. 2.

115 See also K. Haacker, “Dibelius und Cornelius: Ein Beispiel formgeschichtlicher Überlieferungskritik,” BZ 24 (1980): 240.

116 The most significant difference in 11:5–10 is the mention of a fourfold division of the animal world (θηρία), which follows Ps 148:10, rather than the threefold vision that appears in 10:12. Also in v. 10 the more colorful verb ἀνεσπάσθη is used for the “drawing up” of the sheet back into heaven rather than ἀνελήμφθη (“taken up”) of 10:16.

117 Cadbury and Lake see a possible significance in there being six witnesses. Peter made the seventh. Seven seals were often attached to official Roman documents such as wills. Cf. Rev 5:1. See Beginnings 4:126.

118 For a thorough treatment of Antioch, see G. Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria (Princeton, N.J.: University Press, 1961) and his abridged version, Ancient Antioch (Princeton, N.J.: University Press, 1963). For treatments more focused on the early Christian community in Antioch, see W. Meeks and R. Wilcken, Jews and Christians in Antioch (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1978); R. E. Brown and J. P. Meier, Antioch and Rome (New York: Paulist, 1982), esp. 28–44.

119 The Seleucid (or Syrian) Empire, along with the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt, was established by the Greek generals of Alexander the Great and dominated the Near East for two hundred years until both came under Roman dominion in the first century b.c.

120 One of Herod the Great’s major building projects was the lavish decorating of the main street that led through town to the harbor. He paved it with marble and erected colonnades on both sides.

121 See C. H. Kraeling, “The Jewish Community at Antioch,” JBL 51 (1932): 130–60; S. E. Johnson, “Antioch, the Base of Operations,” LTQ 18 (1983): 64–73.

122 For the later Christian communities in Tyre, Ptolemais, and Sidon, see Acts 21:3–7; 27:3.

123 “Greeks” is virtually equivalent to Gentiles. Cf. Paul’s frequent contrast of “Jew and Greek” (Gal 3:28). Several important manuscripts (B, D [the uncorrected D lacks the variant, though D corrected maintains this reading], E) have “Hellenists” instead of “Greeks,” but the context calls for Greeks/Gentiles whichever reading is followed. The Jews the Hellenists witnessed to (v. 19) were most likely fellow Greek-speakers. The contrast set up by the word δε in v. 20 calls for an advance beyond this, and that could only be Gentiles. Also the concern expressed in Jerusalem (v. 22) would imply a more radical witness than one to Greek-speaking Jews. For a contrary opinion, see P. Parker, “Three Variant Readings in Luke-Acts,” JBL 83 (1964): 165–70; D. R. Fotheringham, “Acts xi.20,” ExpTim 45 (1933–34): 430.

124 In its origin the title Lord was most likely applied to Jesus first in Jewish Christian circles, using the OT title for God (Adonai/Maran). But Messiah was a particularly meaningful title to Jews, and the frequency of its use (χρίστος) in the sermons to Jews in Acts testifies to this. “Lord” was a title used by Gentiles for rulers and cult gods and was more understandable to them. Note its frequent use in Gentile contexts in Acts. It was also Paul’s favorite title for Jesus in his Epistles, where “Christ” is more a proper name than a title. See Beginnings 5:357–62.

125 For God’s “hand” expressing his power, cf. Exod 9:3; 1 Sam 5:6; 6:9; Isa 59:1; 66:14; Ezek 1:3; Luke 1:66; Acts 4:30; 13:11.

126 There is a Greek wordplay in the words “grace” (χάρις) and “joy” (χαρά). Coming from the same root, the relationship is obvious: one who experiences grace is filled with joy.

127 Most commentators are in agreement that the term was first applied to Christians by outsiders. For an opposing view, which sees it as first used by Christians as a self-designation, see H. B. Mattingly, “The Origin of the Name Christiani,” JTS 9 (1958): 26–37; E. J. Bickerman, “The Name of Christians,” HTR 42 (1949): 109–24; C. Spicq, “Ce que signifie le titre de Chretien,” ST 15 (1961): 68–78.

128 Cf. Josephus, Antiquities 18.64; Tacitus, Annals 15.44; Pliny, Epistles 10.96–97; Lucian, Alexander 25.38.

129 Christian prophets are mentioned also in Acts 13:1; 15:32. Cf. Philip’s prophesying daughters (21:9). Paul ranked prophets second only to apostles in his list of those gifted by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:28). The gift of prophecy is treated throughout 1 Cor 14 and is primarily valued for its role in edification and encouragement. The Jews believed that prophecy had ceased during the time of the exile but would return with the coming of the Messiah. Peter’s quote of Joel at Pentecost reflected his conviction that the gift had been poured out on the Christian community (cf. 2:17–18) and was indeed a sign of the Messiah’s coming. In the NT prophecy is primarily viewed as a word spoken under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit intended for the direction or edification of the Christian community. Inspiration was normative to the experience but not necessarily the ability to predict future events. In this sense Agabus’s gift was unusual.

130 Itinerant prophets existed as late as the second-century church (cf. Didache 11:7–12).

131 NIV has “entire Roman world” for the Greek οἰκουμένη, meaning inhabited, civilized world, which in that day was virtually the “Roman world.”

132 Luke’s concern for world history is illustrated by the fact that he was the only NT writer to mention a Roman emperor by name. Claudius was the only one Luke mentioned more than once (here and in 18:2). See F. F. Bruce, “Christianity under Claudius,” BJRL 44 (1962): 309–26.

133 K. S. Gapp argued that failures in Egypt and Judea would put severe supply-and-demand pressures through large parts of the empire, creating higher prices and a “famine” in a real sense for the poorer classes (“The Universal Famine under Claudius,” HTR 28 [1935]: 258–65).

134 F. F. Bruce, “Chronological Questions in the Acts of the Apostles,” BJRL 68 (1986): 278–79.

135 Note how much Paul’s own collection for the Jerusalem church fit the Antioch pattern. The same Greek term for “ministry,” “help,” or “service” is used in Acts 11:29 and in 2 Cor 8–9. Each is to set something aside regularly (cf. 1 Cor 16:1–4) and to give according to his or her means (cf. 2 Cor 8:11–12).

136 How is one to reconcile the visits of Paul after his conversion as recorded in Acts and in Galatians? If one equates Gal 2:1–10 with the “circumcision” conference of Acts 15, which content suggests as the most natural course, then the “collection visit” of Acts 11:27–30 becomes a “third” visit, whereas Galatians only mentions two. Innumerable “solutions” to the problem have been offered. Bruce (Acts: NIC, 244) suggests that Acts 11:27–30 and Gal 2:1–10 refer to the same (“second”) visit and that Galatians was written prior to the Acts 15 conference; so also Marshall, Acts, 200 and D. R. de Lacey, “Paul in Jerusalem,” NTS 20 (1973): 82–86, and (in somewhat modified form that allows for Galatians coming after the Acts 15 conference) C. Talbert, “Again: Paul’s Visits to Jerusalem,” NovT 9 (1967): 26–40. A number of scholars see Acts 11:27–30 as a doublet of Acts 15 (P. Benoit, “La deuxième visite de Saint Paul à Jerusalem,” Bib 40 [1959]: 778–92; Pesch, Apostelgeschichte 1:356). Jeremias also took the doublet approach but with the added nuance that he saw the famine as aggravated by a.d. 47–48’s being a sabbatical year and thus extending into the spring of a.d. 49, when he believed the Acts 15 conference took place (“Sabbathjahr und neutestamentliche Chronologie,” ZNW 27 [1928]: 98–103). A number of recent scholars argue that Acts 11:27ff. is wholly due to Lukan redaction: e.g., G. Strecker, “Die sogenannte zweite Jerusalemreise des Paulus (Act. 11:27–30),” ZNW 53 (1962): 67–77. An often overlooked solution recognizes the polemical nature of Galatians, where Paul was listing only those times when he had contact with the apostles in Jerusalem. Since this was not evidently the case with the collection from Antioch, he simply overlooked that “visit.” See J. Polhill, “Galatia Revisited, the Life-Setting of the Epistle,” RevExp 69 (1972): 443–47.

137 In v. 28 the Western text adds at the beginning “when we were gathered together.” It is most unlikely that this variant is authentic. Some scholars, however, find it “irresistible” since it would allow for Luke’s own presence in Antioch and lend still further support to the ancient tradition that Luke came from that city and is perhaps even the same as the Lucius of Cyrene of Acts 13:1. See E. Delebecque, “Saul et Luc avant le premier voyage missionaire,” RSPT 66 (1982): 551–59.

 John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 265–276.


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