For the Love of God, Volume 1/July 26
From Gospel Translations
Judges 9; Acts 13; Jeremiah 22; Mark 8
TODAY I WANT TO DRAW attention to a couple of points drawn from opposite ends of Acts 13.
(1) The church leadership in Antioch must have been extraordinarily diverse (13:1). Barnabas’s real name was Joseph. He was a Levite from Cyprus (4:36-37). At a time when the church in Jerusalem was growing so quickly it must have been impossible for the apostles to remember everyone’s name, this Joseph was noticed for his remarkable gift of encouragement; as a result he was rewarded with a nickname that reflected his character: Barnabas—Son of Encouragement. Then there was Simeon “called Niger”—an expression that almost certainly means “Simeon the Black.” In the ancient world, unlike the British and American experience, slavery was tied to the economic system (people who went bankrupt might sell themselves into slavery—see meditation on March 11) and to military might; it was not restricted to a particular race. (Thus there could be African slaves, English slaves, Jewish slaves, and so forth.) So there was nothing anomalous about having “Simeon the Black” as one of the leaders. About Lucius of Cyrene we know almost nothing. Apparently, he, like Barnabas, was from a Mediterranean island, and the form of his name shows he belongs to the Hellenistic world. Manean had enough connections with minor nobility that he had been reared with Herod the tetrarch. Then there was Saul himself, by this time a veteran evangelist, church planter, and Bible teacher of fifteen years’ experience, with many scars to prove it. In the wake of this call, he progressively moved in Gentile circles, and used the name connected with his Roman citizenship, Paul (13:9). (Roman citizens had three names. We do not know the other two in the case of “Mr. Paul”—for Paul was certainly the family name. Saul was an additional name preserved for the sake of his Jewish heritage.) He, too, was from out of town—from Tarsus. What glorious and cosmopolitan diversity there is in this church in Antioch.
(2) After the detailed account of Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch, we are told that many Gentiles “honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (13:48). An excellent exercise is to discover all the ways Acts, or even the entire New Testament, speaks of conversion and of converts—and then to use all of those locutions in our own speech. For our ways of talking about such matters both reflect and shape the way we think of such matters. There is no biblical passage that speaks of “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior” (though the notion itself is not entirely wrong). So why do many adopt this expression, and never speak in the terms of verse 48?