Pisidian Antioch, Paul's Sermon & the Reaction, Part 1, Section C

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

“The prophets” refers to seventeen Old Testament books. These are generally divided into two categories, "Major" and "Minor"; based upon the length of the books, not the significance of the men or their prophecies. These books are all eponymous (named for the writer), except for Lamentations. The reading of the prophets was introduced according to the following account.

“When Antiochus Epiphanes burnt the book of the law, and forbad the reading of it, the Jews selected some passages out of the prophets, which they thought came nearest in terminology and substance to the sections of the law, and read them instead of the Law; and when the Law was restored, they still continued the reading of the prophetic passages; and the section read on a given day was called "the dismission", because usually the people were dismissed after it was read, unless someone stood up, and preached or explained the word of God to the people.”

The rulers of the synagogue sent unto them
“The rulers of the synagogue” were those persons who were in charge of the synagogue and its services; the principal men of the synagogue, the ruler of it, together with the elders; for there was only one ruler in a synagogue. His duties included keeping everything in order, and directing the affairs of public worship. They designated the individuals who were to read the Law; and called on those whom they would like to address the people, and had the power to inflict punishment, and of excommunicating, etc. (See Mark 5:22, Mark 5:35-36, Mark 5:38; Luke 8:49; Luke 13:14; Acts 18:8, Acts 18:17)

“The rulers of the synagogue,” having the responsibility of calling up readers and preachers for each Sabbath service, “sent unto them;” that is, sent for Paul and Barnabas.But that raises several questions, such as:
(a) Why did they send for the apostles, since it cannot be reasonably thought that they allowed just anyone, whether they knew them or not, to teach in their synagogues?
(b)How did they know that they were teachers, since they were strangers? There are several theories which have been advanced in answer to this question. For example:
i. They might have concluded this from their outward appearance, their dignity and strength of character.
ii. They may have noticed that the two men sat down when they came into the synagogue, which was the custom followed by teachers.
iii. They might have had some knowledge of them, and engaged them in a conversation, before they came into the synagogue.
iv. They could have dressed in the garb of Rabbis. “The rulers of the synagogue,” would naturally offer such persons an opportunity to address the people.

Saying, ye men and brethren
“Men and brethren”—an affectionate manner of beginning a conversation, which recognized them as their fellow countrymen, and as having the same religion, so they thought. The Jews used this phrase when speaking with other Jews, and they may have perceived that Paul and Barnabas were Jews.

If ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on
“If ye have any word,” literally, “If there is any word in you:” this is the kind of speech the Hebrews used, by which is meant that the gifts of God's grace are in us, as you might say in treasure houses, and that they are not ours, but God's. In the same way, David says, “Thou hast put a new song in my mouth” (Psalm 40:3).

The gist of the clause is, if they were prepared to preach, or had anything on their minds to say to the people; or if they had, as it is in the original text, "any word of exhortation or comfort" in them, as they definitely had a rich treasure in their earthen vessels, they had leave and liberty to speak it to the people. "A word of exhortation" means any doctrine that might be for instruction and comfort and at the same time agreeable to the tradition and practices of the Jews. Barnabas was called “Son of exhortation,”—“And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, the son of encouragement,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus” (Acts 4:36).This was quite a compliment for this man, who had the excellent gift and talent of exhorting—“Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23)—which he used for the comforting of distressed minds. He was a very excellent companion for the Apostle Paul, because he also possessed the gift of prophecy or preaching the Gospel.

The sermon was preached chiefly for the sake of the common people, men and women: and it is said that "the women, and the people of the earth (or the common people), come to hear the sermon, and the preachers ought to draw out their hearts;” that is, speak out their whole mind, and deliver all they know that may be instructive and profitable.

“If ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on;” after the reading spoken of before, there followed a sermon, or exhortation; which the apostles desired to make.

“Say on” is the translation of a Greek word meaning, "speak!"

16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.

Then Paul stood up
It was not so that he might be heard better; or merely out of reverence and respect for the rulers, and the people; but to show that he accepted the invitation to speak to the assembly, which meant that he must move to the proper place in the synagogue, as custom required, and sit down and teach from God’s word.

And beckoning with his hand
The gesture made by the apostle “with his hand” was one that commanded silence and attention from his listeners, rather than what we commonly describe as beckoning. A similar action by the Apostle Paul is described in Acts 21:40—“And when he had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying.” Peter is said to have used a similar gesture in Acts 12:17—“Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. . .” It was, probably like the “fixing of the eye,” in Acts 13:9; just one of the personal characteristics on which Doctor Luke loved to dwell. We may assume with certainty that throughout this journey Paul used Greek as the common medium of communication.

Said, men of Israel
Paul “said, men of Israel” by which he meant the Jews, the natural descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel; he was considered a very honorable person; and “men of Israel” was a common way of addressing a group of Jews: “And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? . . .” (Acts 3:12).The audience probably consisted of born Jews and proselytes and perhaps some Gentiles.

The aim of Paul’s sermon was to introduce to them the doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah. To do this, he employed his usual wisdom and speech. If he had begun immediately to focus on this subject, he would have probably aroused their prejudice and rage. Therefore, he pursued a method of argument which showed that he was a firm believer in the Scriptures; that he was acquainted with the history and promises of the Old Testament; and that he was not of a mind to call into question the doctrines of their ancestors. The passage which had been read had probably provided a favorable opportunity for him to pursue this train of thought. By going over their history in a summary fashion, and describing the former dealings of God with them, he showed them that he believed the Scriptures; that a promise had been given of a Messiah; and that he had actually come according to the promise.

And ye that fear God
This was not said to distinguish some among the Israelites from the rest, as if there were some of them that did not fear God; for the words “And ye that fear God” does not refer to Jews by birth, but rather to proselytes, devout and religious men from among the Gentiles; who were proselyted to the Jewish religion, and attended religious worship with them in their synagogues; and we know that there were such in this synagogue, from Acts 13:43—“Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas . . .”; and we find that sometimes the Jews distinguish the proselytes from the Israelites by this very attribute. Proselytes were usually those who, though in the synagogue, were of heathen origin, and had not become proselytes in the full sense of the term, but were known as the so-called “proselytes of the gate;”who had not yet been circumcised, but who had renounced idolatry, and were accustomed to worship with them in their synagogues. It is said in Psalm 128:1: “Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways.” (Also see Acts 10:2; Acts 15:21; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7.)

Give audience
“Give audience”—literally, “hear ye.” Now to both sorts of persons, both to the proper Jews, and to the proselytes of righteousness, the apostle addresses himself, and desires they would listen to what he had to say; which for our benefit is related in the following verses.

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