Acts 11:20

Vermont moose a’playing in the field.

Sunday, 6 November 2022

But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. Acts 11:20

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The last verse spoke of those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen. They traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. While they went, they preached, but only to the Jews. However, it now says, “But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene.”

In other words, these men had been in Jerusalem, but when Stephen was stoned and the great time of tribulation came against the saints, some of the people who were scattered to the cities previously mentioned were Jews who originally came from Cyprus and Cyrene.

As such, they would speak the native languages and they would be able to effectively relay the word about Jesus to people in those areas. And more, they would be more comfortable having conversations with the native people, including Gentiles. Having noted that, it next says, “who, when they had come to Antioch.”

This is referring to the same location named Antioch in the previous verse. These Jews who spoke either Greek or the native language of the area (or both) had returned home or were in an area where they could easily converse with the local population. With that noted, the next words are highly debated, and the meaning depends on which Greek texts are correct. It says they “spoke to the Hellenists.”

The issue is that some manuscripts say Ἑλληνιστάς (Hellénistés) meaning Greek-speaking Jews while others say Ἕλληνας (Hellénes) meaning Gentile Greeks. As noted, the previous verse said that those scattered spoke to the Jews only. The words of this verse are set in contrast to that thought. And so, it could be assumed that these people were speaking to the Gentiles. This is how Vincent’s Word Studies takes it –

“The express object of the narrative has been to describe the admission of Gentiles into the church. There would have been nothing remarkable in these men preaching to Hellenists who had long before been received into the church, and formed a large part of the church at Jerusalem. It is better to follow the rendering of A. V. and Rev., though the other reading has the stronger MS. evidence. Note, also, the contrast with the statement in Acts 11:19, to the Jews only. There is no contrast between Jews and Hellenists, since Hellenists are included in the general term Jews.”

Albert Barnes agrees and even says, “The connection would lead us to suppose that they had heard of what had been done by Peter, and that, imitating his example, they preached the gospel now to the Gentiles also.”

However, this is an incorrect idea because the account is backing up to the dispersion that took place after Stephen’s stoning. The event with Peter (Acts 10) came later in time even though it is recorded earlier in this passage in Acts 11. The two accounts are now meeting up after both events have occurred –

Stephen was stoned resulting in persecution and a scattering of the people. After this:

  • Some of those scattered went as far as Antioch and spread the good news.
  • The events of Chapters 8, 9, and 10 (and Peter’s explanation in Acts 11) were ongoing at the same time.

As such, this does not mean that these Jews who were scattered didn’t speak to the Gentiles, which is the matter in question, but that the reasoning used by Barnes is incorrect.

John Gill, on the other hand, says, “which when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians; or Hellenist Jews, who were born and brought up in Greece, and spoke the Greek language; though the Alexandrian copy, and the Syriac version, read ‘Greeks’, as if they were native Greeks, and properly Gentiles, to whom these ministers spoke the word of the Lord; but the former seems most likely.”

A logical argument is made for either rendering, but it appears that without the knowledge of Cornelius’ conversion, these Jews would have been unlikely to speak to Gentiles directly. In fact, Paul is sought out by Barnabas in Acts 11:25. From there, he and Barnabas travel quite a bit as is recorded in Acts 13, but nothing is said of preaching to Gentiles until Acts 13:42. Before that, only interaction with Jews is made. It is in Acts 13:44-48 that this is recorded –

“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:
“I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.”’
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

As this is the case, the most likely translation now in Acts 11 is that this is referring to the Greek-speaking Jews, not the Gentiles. In other words, the Jews are given every chance possible to come to Christ as a nation. The majority of those in Israel had rejected the word. From there, the account will show that the majority of Jews outside of Israel will also reject the word. At that time, the account will show that the Gentiles, in contrast to the Jews, will come flooding to the good news of Jesus, setting up the Gentile-led church for the long period that has continued since. As for now, the verse finishes with the note that these people of the scattering caused by Stephen’s stoning were “preaching the Lord Jesus.”

The words more precisely read, “proclaiming good news – the Lord Jesus” (YLT). The word is going out from Israel to the Jews of the diaspora. This appears to be the main point of the narrative at this time.

As noted above, it is believed by many scholars that this is speaking of a conversion of the Gentiles, and that is a possibility. However, the internal markings of what has occurred and what will continue to occur appear to show that it is only the Greek-speaking Jews that are being referred to at this point. Either way, the main point is that word is going forth outside of the borders of Israel.

Life application: One of the key things to take away from these words is that God used the stoning of Stephen to expand the preaching of the gospel. Surely Stephen would approve of this, knowing that the ending of his life would be a way of bringing many others to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

We should be willing to have this same heart for the lost. How far are we willing to go in order that others might be saved? This is something we should ask ourselves. Our temporary afflictions, whatever they may be, can be used for great gain in the spreading of the gospel. So, let’s look for ways to have this come about. It is the most important thing that can occur in another person’s life. Without this good news, there is only bad news ahead for them.

Let us consider this always. Stephen would certainly agree. He would tell you, “Don’t worry about this life. God has a plan that is so marvelous you just won’t believe it. Trust Him and He will do great things with you and for you.”

Lord God, use us now while we are here! May we be vessels ready to be poured out in whatever way You choose for the furtherance of Your good news. Help us to see the lost and to have pity on them. And then prompt us to act so that they might hear and respond while there is time. To Your glory, we pray this. Amen.