4 Jun 2019

Discovering What’s In Acts 11.26

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Acts, Church, Church History, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Jewish Backgrounds, Luke

Sometimes we notice what we have not before. But sometimes we are blind. We are not blinded by the light as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (singing Bruce Springsteen lyrics) taught us. Rather we often blind because of our religious traditions which can quite literally function as blinders. Perhaps this is an example from just now.

All my life I have had drilled in my head “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11.26).

I, like most everyone else, could not have told you what else is in that verse. I/we fixated on a tangential detail. That is something that is “beside the point” but interesting to know. It is a demonstrable fact that Luke has little interest in the word “Christian,” though “we” do and largely (ironically) for sectarian reasons.

I have long been aware of the long discussion between Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone on the “name” in Act 11.26. Stone and his group believed this was a divinely given name, while Campbell argued forcefully it was simply a slur thrown at disciples and had no claim to divine authority. The scholarly literature since the debates between these great men seems to agree with Campbell. Luke is merely reporting the origin of a common smear on the disciples but this is not divinely given epitaph. Luke, himself, never once describes an individual or group of disciples by that word even after 11.26. And for that matter no apostle or NT writer ever addresses anyone by that term. For more see my article Who Are We? Perhaps It Is Not ‘Christian.’ Luke’s Terms for the Followers of Jesus.

Once I recognize the tangential nature of Luke’s note on “Christian,” I am free to ask, what is in the rest of 11.26 that is part of Luke’s overall agenda?

Luke has just told us that Barnabas found an amazing congregation in Antioch. Barnabas “saw the grace of God” (11.23). He didn’t hear it but saw it. Barnabas suddenly takes a quick trip to Tarsus and retrieved Saul. Why, Saul and for what purpose?

The rest of v.26 tells us, what I believe was his real point, two things:

First, Saul and Barnabas are now situated with the Antioch church that Luke knows will figure so prominently in the rest of the story and

Second, Saul and Barnabas engage in a year long teaching ministry,

And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many …”

A chapter later we are told this same Antioch congregation has prophets and TEACHERS (13.1). So the question that comes to mind is did Saul do what he would later urge Timothy to do with the congregation in Ephesus?

But here is what we have in Antioch.

We have a Levite (a priestly orientation)

We have a professional Pharisee

The Levite and the Pharisee have taken over the teaching of the church. They taught “for an entire year!” Luke, in my opinion, is showing that Antioch becomes the great church it did because of intense teaching by a Levite and a Pharisee (he also in passing mentions the minor detail saying essentially the rumor began here!)

But here is where my epiphany came, I asked the question, “What did Barnabas the Levite (Luke has already explicitly termed Barnabas a Levite, Acts 4.36) and Saul a Pharisee teach for a whole year??”

Paul had not written even a single letter by this time. So he did not teach Romans, Corinthians, etc. Peter’s letters did not exist for decades. The Gospels had not been written and Acts itself clearly did not exist. There were no New Testaments to place in the pews at Antioch.

What did a Levite and Pharisee teach that shaped such an awesome church? There is only one possible answer to this question my friends … Barnabas and Saul taught Greek speaking Gentiles the Hebrew Bible, in the Septuagint translation for an entire year.

They taught Deuteronomy (which may explain their response to Agabus in vv. 27-30). They taught Kings, Psalms, Isaiah (with its massive emphasis on being a light to the nations may explain the resulting mission!) and all the rest. They taught the Scriptures that so many today call the Old Testament. Now, of course, this instruction would include Jesus as the Messiah of Israel (but look at how Jesus is taught in Acts 2, 3, 4, etc).

But why would it be important to Luke to have a Levite and a Pharisee spend a year teaching the Antioch Church before the first so called Missionary Trip?

Because Luke believes Gentiles are brought into God’s renewed covenant with Israel. Gentiles are not “separate and apart” from the Israel. Instead Gentiles are part of the rebuilt house of David (as he will record James saying at the Great Council in Acts 15).

Gentiles needed not only to be baptized into the Messiah but they needed to be baptized into the Story of Israel in the Scriptures.

For any Serious student of Acts this is ESSENTIAL reading.

Why have I never stopped to ask what Barnabas and Saul taught for a year before? Well because I had never paid attention to the fact that Luke actually tells us that! I was more interested in the rumor than the point Luke is making!

I thank the Lord that I read Jacob Jervell’s Luke and the People of God. I have never read Acts the same and it continues to bear fruit.

10 Responses to “Discovering What’s In Acts 11.26”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Bobby, for as long as I remember it was taught thast the Gentiles were taught to be Gentiles and not to be Jews, but the reality is that they were taught from the same source material for Jesus. Even when Paul writes to the Roman, Gentiles churches the apostles make Jewish allusions that would be lost on the Gentiles unless they had a frame of reference from the Torah. Cornelius was a follower of God, the God of the Hebrews, from the O.T. This was source and teaching material.

  2. john acuff Says:

    Or they might have taught what the Holy Spirit led them to teach even with or not the Hebrew Scriptures

  3. Ed Dodds Says:

    They apparently taught fasting for commissioning discernment and that evangelism/missions begins at home (Cyprus was Barnabas’ home town [4:36]; Paul went back to Tarsus [9:30]). Also, the economic burden of the poor was the responsibility of all the churches. Also, Paul was working on sermon prep.

    22Saul grew more powerful, and he confused the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.

    28Then Saul went throughout Jerusalem with the disciples. He spoke boldly with the power and authority of the Lord. 29He talked and argued with Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him.

    27At that time some prophets came from Jerusalem to the city of Antioch. 28One of them was named Agabus. Through the Spirit Agabus predicted that a severe famine would affect the entire world. This happened while Claudius was emperor. 29All the disciples in Antioch decided to contribute whatever they could afford to help the believers living in Judea. 30The disciples did this and sent their contribution with Barnabas and Saul to the leaders [in Jerusalem].

    25After Barnabas and Saul delivered the contribution [to the leaders in Jerusalem], they returned [to Antioch] from Jerusalem. They brought John Mark with them.

    1Barnabas, Simeon (called the Black), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (a close friend of Herod since childhood), and Saul were prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me. I want them to do the work for which I called them.” 3After fasting and praying, Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul, and released them [from their work in Antioch]. 4After Barnabas and Saul were sent by the Holy Spirit, they went to the city of Seleucia and from there sailed to the island of Cyprus.

    The message said, “Brothers, if you have any words of encouragement for the people, feel free to speak.” 16Then Paul stood up, motioned with his hand, and said, “Men of Israel and converts to Judaism, listen to me. 17The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors and made them a strong nation while they lived as foreigners in Egypt. He used his powerful arm to bring them out of Egypt, 18and he put up with them for about forty years in the desert. 19Then he destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as an inheritance. 20He did all this in about four hundred and fifty years. “After that he gave his people judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21″Then the people demanded a king, so God gave them Saul, son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin. After forty years 22God removed Saul and made David their king. God spoke favorably about David. He said, ‘I have found that David, son of Jesse, is a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’ 23″God had the Savior, Jesus, come to Israel from David’s descendants, as he had promised. 24Before Jesus began his ministry, John [the Baptizer] told everyone in Israel about the baptism of repentance. 25When John was finishing his work, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I’m not the person you’re looking for. He will come later. I’m not even good enough to untie his sandals.’

    26″Brothers-descendants of Abraham and converts to Judaism-the message that God saves people was sent to us. 27The people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers didn’t know who Jesus was. They didn’t understand the prophets’ messages, which are read every day of worship. So they condemned Jesus and fulfilled what the prophets had said. 28Although they couldn’t find any good reason to kill him, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29When they had finished doing everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30But God brought him back to life, 31and for many days he appeared to those who had come with him to Jerusalem from Galilee. These people are now witnesses and are testifying to the Jewish people about him. 32We are telling you the Good News: What God promised our ancestors has happened. 33God has fulfilled the promise for us, their descendants, by bringing Jesus back to life. This is what Scripture says in the second psalm: ‘You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.’ 34″God stated that he brought Jesus back to life and that Jesus’ body never decayed. He said, ‘I will give you the enduring love promised to David.’ 35Another psalm says, ‘You will not allow your holy one to decay.’ 36After doing God’s will by serving the people of his time, David died. He was laid to rest with his ancestors, but his body decayed. 37However, the man God brought back to life had a body that didn’t decay. 38″So, brothers, I’m telling you that through Jesus your sins can be forgiven. Sins kept you from receiving God’s approval through Moses’ Teachings. 39However, everyone who believes in Jesus receives God’s approval. 40″Be careful, or what the prophets said may happen to you.

    41’Look, you mockers! Be amazed and die! I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if it were reported to you!'”

    42As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak on the same subject the next day of worship.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      I appreciate the quotes. But they do not really address the question at hand. Where did the notion of “fasting” come from in the first place? Based on the context of Luke-Acts, that is Luke’s own story, where is this coming from? After all that is the first question of Context. Luke has HIS story to tell and the readers of the book of Acts have sufficient info to answer it. It is the Scriptures … the Hebrew Bible in Luke’s Greek translation called the LXX

  4. Mitch Taylor Says:

    In the course of a year they would have spent some time teaching the OT but I think they would also have taught about Jesus and his DB&R. They would have taught the principles of Christian living even if they hadn’t been written down, yet. Perhaps it was even more important to teach about Christianity because the NT hadn’t been written. I have heard repentance taught 25 times a year and that is a NT concept. They could spent a year trying to convince Jewish Christians that they had to give up instruments and sing a cappella (well, maybe not that one).

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      I would suggest, that according to Paul, he never taught the “DB&R” apart from the Hebrew Scriptures. And in the context of Luke-Acts, our primary context, that is exactly what we see.

      But in, say 1 Cor, we find that Paul explicitly states that it is “in accordance with the Scriptures.” That is nothing about Jesus is apart from the story of the Hebrew Bible. So Paul did what he told Timothy to do … devote himself to the reading and the teaching of the Scriptures. Those were, in that historical context (both Acts and Timothy) the Hebrew Bible.

  5. steve singleton Says:

    The context of chapter 11 would indicate that they taught Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. Definitely they would use Genesis (blessing the nations), and 1 Kings (see Solomon’s prayer), and Isaiah/Micah (all nations blessed through Israel), and many others. They would also have focused on the cross, where all, both Jew and Gentile, equally needed forgiveness and reconciliation (to God and to each other). They would have pointed out how all of members of Christ’s body and share His Spirit. And this new unity, which God had always wanted and anticipated with joy, found the old distinctions inadequate–a new description must be found appropriate to the new reality: Christians.

  6. Ray Hawk Says:

    Bobby, thanks for an added insight into a familiar passage that wasn’t as familiar as I had previously thought!

  7. steve singleton Says:

    The context of chapter 11 would indicate that they taught Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. Definitely they would use Genesis (blessing the nations), and 1 Kings (see Solomon’s prayer), and Isaiah/Micah (all nations blessed through Israel), and many others. They would also have focused on the cross, where all, both Jew and Gentile, equally needed forgiveness and reconciliation (to God and to each other). They would have pointed out how all are members of Christ’s body and share His Spirit. And this new unity, which God had always wanted and anticipated with joy, made the old distinctions inadequate–a new description must be found appropriate to the new reality: Christians. The term likely started as pejorative, but the Antiochian Christians must have quickly realized how appropriate it really was. Hence, the narrator puts in his little note as the climax of the episode.

  8. Tuck Says:

    I suspect they spent just as much (maybe more) time un-teaching the Jews about the “according to the scriptures” as they spent teaching the Gentiles about the scriptures. Paul was never asked to do something Greek to show that he wasn’t teaching Gentiles to follow the Law. He was asked to do something Jewish to show that he wasn’t teaching Jews not to follow it.

    Paul became as one not under the Law to those not under it. He did get to the DB&R without mentioning OT scriptures in Acts 17 in Athens.

    My two cents… and worth every penny

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