Acts 14:1

Senate (I think). Vermont State Capitol.

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. Acts 14:1

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).

Paul and Barnabas had been expelled from the region of Antioch of Pisidia. Following that, they went to Iconium. With that remembered, Luke next records, “Now it happened in Iconium.” The distance from Antioch of Pisidia to Iconium is about 100 miles. It is apparent that once there, they immediately sought out the next place to spread the message of the coming of Christ, because it next says, “that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews.”

The first and most obvious thing to discern from this is that the words of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:46 were not stated concerning the future after leaving Antioch –

“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.”

Rather, they meant that they would turn to the Gentiles in that area and have nothing further to do with evangelizing the Jews at the synagogue in Antioch. Paul’s first evangelism, wherever he went, was to the Jews. His ministry to the Gentiles is one of predominant focus, not exclusivity. His first attempt, however, was to convince the Jews of the coming of their Messiah in the coming of Jesus.

Going to the synagogue was a logical place to start their efforts because there were both Jews and Gentiles who gathered there. This was seen at the synagogue of Antioch, and it will be the case again in Iconium in the words which begin with, “and so spoke that a great multitude.”

Iconium, being a sizeable city, obviously had a large synagogue. It was a marvelous place to first herald to the people the good news about Jesus. And even if many Jews rejected the message, it would still be heard by the proselytes who attended. From there, they could pass the word to others in the Gentile community. This is obvious because the great multitude was comprised “both of the Jews and of the Greeks.”

The Greek is simpler, saying, “both of Jews and Greeks.” The term “great multitude” may indicate that before the Sabbath Paul and Barnabas had already started to evangelize whoever they came across, telling them to come to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Or it may be that there were often a large number of Greeks who attended. Either way, the effect of their words was that a great multitude of both Jews and Gentiles “believed.”

This is the standard word used throughout the New Testament to indicate saving faith in the gospel, pisteuó. Among seemingly innumerable other times, it was used by Jesus in John 3:16. It is what is said of the believers in Acts 2:44, Acts 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, and so on. It is the word of saving faith of Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 15:2 & 11, and Ephesians 1:13.

Because of this, there is absolutely no reason to suggest that the word means anything other than “belief unto salvation” for those Jews and Greeks now being referred to. A few points about this are necessary to understand the importance of the event –

  • The message spoken by Paul and Barnabas was the gospel and its effects were exactly the same for Jews and for Gentiles, meaning that belief alone is the requirement for salvation.
  • Like in Antioch of Pisidia, there is no record of tongues or other signs having come upon the believers.
  • Baptism is not mentioned here or in Antioch, showing that it is not a necessary part of salvation. And yet, it would be an argument from silence to say that the new believers were not baptized. It would be a false inference.

These and other points of doctrine are clear indicators that the continued record of Acts is a descriptive account of what occurred. Not everything that happened is recorded, but those things that are recorded are there to reveal truths about the effectiveness of the gospel alone to save.

Further, the events are not normative. If they were, for example, it would be required for every evangelist who entered a new city to go to the local synagogue in order to speak to the Jews. That cannot be inferred from the narrative, nor would it be logical to make this conclusion. Further, the epistles say nothing of such an approach.

Life application: Quite often, what is not said in an account can teach us as much as what is said. Nothing that is essential for doctrine will be left out, but not everything left out is necessarily unimportant.

As noted above, there is nothing about baptism or speaking in tongues recorded here. It simply says that Paul and Barnabas spoke and the people believed. This is perfectly in accord with Paul’s words elsewhere in the epistles, such as “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

It is faith that saves. If speaking in tongues was a necessary proof of salvation, it would be incompetent of Luke to not record tongues being spoken in each instance of salvation recorded in Acts. But he only records such signs at key points in the ongoing narrative. This is true with baptism as well.

Despite this, the requirement to be baptized as spoken forth by Jesus does not need to be recorded unless it is a formal part of the salvific process. As it is not always recorded, it is obviously not. And yet, the absence of recording the event does not mean that it did not happen. Rather, it can be assumed that it did because it was a command of the Lord. This is no different than the absence of recording the taking of the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is commanded by the Lord, and it was practiced by Paul constantly, as can be inferred from his words in 1 Corinthians 11:25, 26. And yet, it is never mentioned in Acts. Hence, it is a command of the Lord that was obviously carried out by Paul among his converts, and yet it is not something that necessarily needs to be highlighted.

Consider these things and ponder what God is doing, why certain things are recorded regularly, why things are only highlighted at certain times, and why some important things are not even mentioned. Remember that Jesus’ commands are applicable to all when they are spoken in the proper context, such as the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Remember that the epistles set forth doctrine for the church. Also remember that Acts is a descriptive account that sets forth a normative practice at times, but not at all times. As such, care must be taken to know when things logically follow and when they do not.

Lord God, help us to think clearly about how You have presented Your word. May we consider what You are saying and why You are saying it. Also, help us to overcome our biases and presuppositions so that we will be properly grounded in what is right. May Your hand guide us in such matters, and may You be glorified through our lives as we adhere to Your word. Amen.