Chapter thirteen records the first missionary tour from Antioch to other Gentile regions. It is important to note that the Holy Spirit specifically chose Barnabas and Saul for this mission (Acts 13:1-3), a nod back to Jesus’ discussion with Ananias in Acts 9:15. There are five significant points about their work shown in this chapter that would characterize the rest of Paul’s ministry. First, they started “IN THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUES” wherever they went (Acts 13:5, 46). This was a theological issue for them (see Romans 1:16; John 4:22). Second, the Holy Spirit empowered them to perform miracles as a part of their ministry (Acts 13:6-12). This is the first time Luke associated miracles with either Barnabas or Saul. Third, Saul’s message in the synagogues was similar to what he had heard Stephen say in chapter seven, a recounting of Israel’s history of prophets sent by God, culminating with Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 13:16-41). Whereas Stephen emphasized their rejection of the prophets, Saul focused on Jesus as the one they had always anticipated. Fourth, their message was often received warmly by many God-fearing Gentiles but only a few Jews (Acts 13:42-45, 50). Twice Luke wrote that the Jews became jealous because of the Gentile response to Paul (Acts 13:45; 17:5). Later Paul told the Romans that was exactly part of God’s plan (Romans 11:11). Fifth, the Jewish rejection of the gospel helped spur Paul on to his ultimate commission, preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-52).
It is also important to recognize that Saul used his Gentile name, Paul, as he ministered in Gentile lands. 1 Luke’s note in Acts 13:9 that he was “ALSO KNOWN AS PAUL” seems to indicate that he probably went by both names in Antioch, depending on who he was with. However, since the majority of his work from this point on was in Gentile territory, Luke felt comfortable changing his usage to “Paul,” as he would call himself in his messages and letters. During his regular trips to Jerusalem and the Temple, he most certainly would have gone by “Saul.”
Their first stop was in Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12), where the Holy Spirit used Paul to identify and punish a sorcerer who was actively working against the gospel. Much like Peter with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), Paul spoke under the power of the Spirit and blinded Elymas, the sorcerer. This display of power convinced the audience, including the proconsul, leading to their belief in Christ.
As they worked through southern Galatia, many people believed. However, a coalition of legalistic Jews had followed them and “INCITED THE GOD-FEARING WOMEN OF HIGH SOCIAL STANDING AND THE PROMINENT MEN OF THE CITY” to stand against and begin persecuting Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:50). So they continued to Iconium.
- A Jew born outside of Israel would have both a Hebrew (synagogue) name and a Greek or Latin name. Saul/Paul embraced both names and backgrounds, depending on his immediate audience. ↩