3.13 Acts -- Paul's First Journeys (Acts 13-14)
We are not going to chart the journeys of Paul and Barnabas, or Paul and Silas. This has been done repeatedly elsewhere. We will take note of any racial teaching and incidents.
One racially charged incident occurs right off, on their first stop: Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12). They began by teaching in the Jewish synagogue, but the Roman official in charge of the province summoned them to him. Like Cornelius, he was curious about the Jewish religion. A Jewish advisor/sorcerer saw Paul's message as a challenge to his influence over the official and opposed Paul. Paul rebuked him and caused him to become blind -- which strongly impressed the governor! The Bible reports that "he believed," but does not say he was baptized. There is no mention of any response to Paul and Barnabas from the local synagogue.
In Pisidian Antioch, Paul entered the synagogue, but his opening remarks indicated he wanted to reach a wider audience:
"Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! (Acts 13:16).
And later, he adds,
"Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent" (Acts 13:26).
So Paul attempts to kill two birds with one stone. His sermon refers to Jewish history and to messianic Scriptures. But he includes the Gentiles in his appeal:
"Through [Jesus] everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39).
This is the same phrase used by John in his Gospel: "everyone who believes."
On the next Sabbath, crowds of Gentiles showed up, outnumbering the Jews and making them feel threatened (or "jealous"). At this point, a separation started to occur in Paul's ministry. Speaking to the Jews, he said:
"We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth'" (Acts 13:46-47).
This is a quotation from Isa 49:6. However, the first part of that verse reads:
"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept."
So originally, God's purpose was to restore Israel AND reach the Gentiles, not one or the other.
In Iconium, the same pattern was repeated. The apostles went first to the synagogue, and
"a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed" (Acts 14:1).
But immediately, opposition arose from the other Jews, and both Jews and Gentiles plotted against the apostles.
In the next town (Lystra), a new experience awaited them: following a miracle, the Greek population tried to treat them as gods in the flesh. Paul responded with a non-Jewish mini-sermon, which contains this nugget concerning God's attitude to Gentiles:
"We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony..." (Acts 14:15-17).
Paul then refers to God's blessings through nature. This theme is developed further in Romans 1. It is interesting to see the consistency in his preaching. It means he had thought this out ahead of time, and used this approach effectively with Gentiles. But when speaking in synagogues, he started from the Old Testament Scriptures. Once again, Jewish opposition enraged the crowd against him. Those who so recently wanted to offer sacrifices to them now threw stones at Paul.