Pisidian Antioch, Paul's Sermon & the Reaction, Part 1, Section B
by John Lowe
14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
But when they departed from Perga
“But when they departed from Perga,” it was with the intention of continuing their important work. It does not seem that they stayed there very long; nor is there any account of what they did there; though it is certain there was a church of Christ in Perga afterward, which was very likely planted by the apostles. Later on, Paul and Barnabas preached the word in this place—“ and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia” (Acts 14:25)—and no doubt, they were rewarded with success.
In the third century there were martyrs from this church at Perga, who suffered under Emperor Decius; and in the fourth century, we read of a famous church in this city, over which Jovinian was bishop or pastor; and in the "fifth" century there was a church there, whose bishop is mentioned in the catalogue of bishops who assisted in the first council at Ephesus; and, in the same century, the church in Perga was the metropolitan church of Pamphilia; and, in the "sixth" century, one Epiphanius was bishop of Perga; and, in the "seventh" century, it is again spoken of as the metropolitan church of Pamphilia; and, in the "eighth" century, we read that Sisinnius was the bishop of Perga. It is amazing that we can trace the progression of Christianity in this city, far back in its past.
They came to Antioch in Pisidia
“Antioch in Pisidia” was a country situated almost due north of Pamphylia. Pisidia was a mountainous district rising gradually towards the north, and several historians have been quoted as saying that there were many bandits in this area, from which Paul and his company may have been in danger.
It was a long journey from Perga in Pamphylia to “Antioch in Pisidia,” and the route went almost entirely through rugged mountain passes, where "rivers burst out at the base of huge cliffs, or dashed down wildly through narrow ravines;" it must have been a perilous one. The whole region was infested with robbers, as ancient history confirms; and there can be little doubt that many years afterwards Paul alludes to this very journey, when he speaks of his "journeying often," of his "perils of rivers" (as the word is), and his "perils of robbers"—“In journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2Co. 11:26). If this journey was taken in May—and even earlier, the passes would have been blocked with snow—it would account for their not staying at Perga, whose hot streets are deserted at that time of the year; men, women, and children, flocks, herds, camels, and asses, all ascending at the beginning of the hot season from the plains to the cool basin-like hollows on the mountains, moving in the same direction taken by our missionaries."
After traveling due north into the interior for over a hundred miles, they would reach “Antioch in Pisidia,” which was part of the province of Galatia, and now a Roman colony. It would be a difficult and dangerous journey. The direction of their route was probably determined by the location of the Jewish population, which were always their first audience upon entering a new city, and their door of access to the more pious heathen.
They came to “Antioch in Pisidia,” which was given that name to distinguish it from Antioch of Syria, the city that sent them on this missionary journey. There was another Antioch in Mygdania that was previously called Nisibis; but is now named Antioch, in the Apocrypha. These were a couple of the many cities built by Seleucus Nicator, and named after his father, Antiochus. Under Augustus, they had attracted a considerable Jewish population, among whom our missionaries had made many converts; and among the Gentiles many proselytes.
And went into the synagogue on the sabbath day
“And went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Paul made it a point in every place he went, to offer salvation to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles); for though the ceremonial law was abolished by the death of Christ, it still was observed by the Jews, who had their synagogues open for religious services, on that particular day; therefore Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity of going in when they were assembled together, in order to preach Christ to them. Though Paul and Barnabas were on a special mission to the Gentiles, yet they availed themselves of every opportunity to offer the Gospel to the Jews first, for the Law of Moses ought to be a better schoolmaster to bring men to Christ than the law of nature.
And sat down.
“And sat down” on one of the seats in the synagogue; either to hear the law and prophets read, which were read every Sabbath day in the synagogues; or else to teach the word, expound the Scriptures, and preach the Gospel of Christ. Sitting was the usual position when this was done—“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down . . .” (Matthew 5:1); so this action implied that they were not listeners only, but teachers. Jesus used to sit, and the disciples stand; but before the destruction of the second temple, all used to teach their disciples while they were sitting. On this occasion, Paul and Barnabas at least heard a part of the law and prophets read, since it was the custom of the Jews to feature this part of God’s word—“For the Law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (Acts 15:21)—and they also gave a word of exhortation to the people.
Most commentators think that Paul sat down on one of the seats belonging to the rabbis, those "chief seats in the synagogues," which our Lord rebuked the scribes for loving—“As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets” (Mark 12:38, 39). Paul, as a former member of the Sanhedrin, and Barnabas as a Levite," had a fair claim to occupy these seats; but it is more likely that they chose to sit with the ordinary worshippers, where, however, the presence of strangers would be noticed at once. But if the two evangelists did sit on the “chief seats” that would imply that they asked for permission to address the congregation. You may remember that the organization of the synagogue excluded the priestly element altogether, and that lay-preaching, assuming the speaker had sufficient training, was an established practice.
15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.
And after the reading of the law and the prophets
“And after the reading of the law and the prophets,” which was done every Sabbath day (Acts 15:21), “the rulers of the synagogue sent for Paul and Barnabas.” The order of the synagogue service followed a set pattern which was seldom deviated from. The order of service proceeded as follows:
1. The prayers, were read by the Sheliach, or angel of the synagogue, with the people standing.
2. The reading of the Law in Hebrew by the reader, and the interpretation by the interpreter, who, outside of Judaea, generally used the version of the LXXi (also called the ‘Septuagint’). This reading, or lesson, was called the Parashah.
3. The reading and interpreting of the prophets, called the Haphtorah, either by the regular reader or by anyone invited by the ruler of the synagogue—“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit . . . He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me’ . . . Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down” (Luke 4:14-20).
4. Then came the Midrash, the exposition or sermon, which Paul undertook to preach at the invitation of the ruler of the synagogue.
“The Law” is comprised of the five books of Moses, which were divided into sections: Genesis was divided into twelve, Exodus into eleven, Leviticus into ten, Numbers into ten, and Deuteronomy into ten, which makes fifty-three sections in all: so, by reading one on each Sabbath, and two on one of them, they read through the whole Law in a year’s time. They arranged the readings so that they finished at the close of the feast of tabernacles; and that day was called "the rejoicing of the law"; it was a day of rejoicing, to celebrate that they had read through the entire Law. Some say there were fifty-four sections, and in that case, two of them must be read together, on two Sabbath days, in order to finish the whole Law in a year. In some synagogues, each section was divided into three parts, and as a result, they finished the law in three years; but this custom was less common. The custom of reading the law, the Jews say, was initiated one hundred and seventy years before the time of Jesus Christ; though some say the division of the law, into sections, was made by Ezra; and others assign it to Moses himself: it is certain it was the procedure followed in the times of Christ and his apostles.