Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 353 - October 1885
Such was the discourse with which the great apostle of the Gentiles opened his missionary labours in the Pisidian Antioch (only about fifty years ago identified as Yalobatch by an intelligent British traveller). The result was cheering. And as they were going out (for the service was over, not interrupted as some have singularly imagined), the hearers besought that they might have these words spoken to them the next sabbath, the great occasion for such a discourse. Later, when the gathering was broken up, many of the Jews and the proselytes, attracted and impressed beyond the rest, followed Paul and Barnabas (for henceforth, at least away from Palestine, Paul has the precedence); as they on their part spoke more freely to them than the synagogue could permit, and urged them to abide in the grace of God. Gentiles there were none as yet to hear, beyond the proselytes; but the ensuing sabbath beheld them drawn by the report in crowds; and the effect was as marked on them for good, as on many Jews for evil, as we shall see.
Ver. 42 has suffered not a little both from copyists and from commentators. The ordinarily received text instead of "they" (αὐτῶν) has with some cursives, the interpolation ἐκ τῆς συναγωγῆς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, which may have been due to the public lessons of early days, though more common in the passages taken from the historical books than in selections from the epistles. But this addition, though unauthorised, does not contradict (though it may alter) the sense, like τὰ ἔθνη, "the Gentiles," which is made the subject of the sentence, to the confusion of the passage as a whole, and without the least to commend it in itself. The verse is quite general. "And as they were going out, they kept beseeching that these words might be spoken to them on the following sabbath. Now when the synagogue broke up, many of the Jews and of the worshipping proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who (οἵτινές) speaking unto them persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And on the next sabbath almost all the city was gathered together to hear the word of God "1 (ver. 42-44).
Dr. J. Bennett conceives that the critical reading points to the sense that they, i.e. Paul and Barnabas, entreated that the same things should be spoken to them (again). But this is quite a mistake. The true reading leaves us open to the people's thus entreating the apostles; which appears to me much more simple and becoming as well as "delightful." Even Calvin, who understands the sense to be that Paul and Barnabas went out while the Jews were yet assembled, holds that they (the apostles) were then requested &c., though he was misled by the misreading to think it was the Gentiles who made request. But what could have brought "the Gentiles" to the synagogue on that first sabbath? It is easy to understand that they flocked there on the second; and this it was doubtless, and yet more their heed, as well as the free grace proclaimed, which roused the envy of the unhappy Jews. But even this premature introduction of the Gentiles though unfounded does not yield so strange and repulsive a meaning as that Paul and Barnabas! entreated that their discourse should be spoken on the next sabbath. That souls struck by the truth might beseech that "these things," blessed yet so startling, so momentous yet solemn, should be spoken to them again, is very intelligible, as it is the unforced sense of the true text.
Tyndale completely missed the point of time intended, for he took εἰς τὸ μεταξὺ σάββατον of the intervening week—"betwene the Saboth dayes." But this was from oversight of the later usage of μ. which signifies "after," not "between" only, as Kypke, Ott, &c. have noticed with illustrations. Calvin was quite wrong therefore in censuring here the Vulgate and Erasmus who were right; and still more is Beza to be blamed, because he was a better scholar than the great theologian he followed, and ought to have known how thoroughly Josephus, Plutarch, and Clem. Rom. 44 (twice), justify the text of the Authorised Version against the marginal alternative, as Dr. 3. Lightfoot plainly confirmed it from his vast Rabbinical learning.
As ver. 42 lets us know the general interest in what had been announced, which prompted the desire to hear all again, ver. 43 adds that, on the break up of the congregation, many of the Jews and of the worshipping or devout proselytes followed the preachers thereon, who not only spoke to them but urged them to abide in the grace of God, which the gospel declares and they professed to receive. What can one think of a man like Calvin doubting whether it was not these young converts who exhorted Paul and Barnabas that they should not faint but stand firmly in the grace of God? He does not however (as Dean Alford thought) incline so strongly to this interpretation as to decide for it against the common and only correct view, that the gracious speech and confirmatory exhortation came from the apostles to those on whose hearts God's grace had just dawned.
Again, in the beginning of ver. 44 stands the expression on the "coming" sabbath, vouched by both the most ancient uncials of highest character and the mass of cursives, and so not only adopted by Erasmus, the Complutensian, Colinĉus, R. Stephens,the Elzevirs, but also by Tischendorf (eighth edition), Tregelles, and by Westcott and Hort. On the other band at least two of the great uncials with several good cursives testify to the exactly technical word which differs by a letter less, for "next following," "ensuing." Acts xviii. 21 used to be cited for the former, till the critics omitted the clause; but there is no doubt that the rival reading is a standing usage of the inspired writer (Luke xiii. 33, Acts xx. 15, xxi. 26), as it is in the language generally. No wonder therefore that Alford, Bengel, Green, Griesbach, Lachmann, Scholz, and Wordsworth accept it as right: an instructive instance, by no means uncommon, where a few copies are more accurate than the weight of both antiquity and number combined.
"But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, For you it was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken; but since ye thrust it from you and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn unto the Gentiles. For thus bath the Lord enjoined us, I have set thee for a light of Gentiles, that thou shouldst be for salvation unto the uttermost of the earth" (ver. 45-47).
How base as well as evil and malignant is jealousy, above all religious jealousy as here! In general they had hailed the joyful sound when it first reached their ears, even though closed with a most serious warning; and "many" had gone farther than the entreaty to have the truth spoken again. For many of the Jews, as well as of the devout proselytes, followed the apostles who exhorted them to abide as they had begun. But "the crowds" were too much for religious prejudice which hitherto dormant, and awakened the most malignant feelings in antipathy and abuse. Such is flesh in presence of grace and truth, and at the sight of hearts attracted and consciences touched. Had the gospel been powerless, the Jews had retained their equanimity; where the long preaching of Moses had never so wrought, its immediate effect in winning such large attention was intolerable. But the hatred of grace, ruinous to those guilty of it, only enlarges the field of work, as it also liberates the messengers from an over-careful waiting on the men of tradition and its narrow channels. Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, instead of being shocked into silence by Jewish blasphemies, pointed out how faith denies not but defers to law in its own place, and, now that the ancient people of God were ignorantly spurning the best blessings of grace, announced this matchless road open to the needy and long despised Gentiles (ver. 46).
The application of Asa. xlix. 6 in the following verse is as striking as richly instructive. It is the Messiah rejected by Israel, Who has this consolation vouchsafed by God: His humiliation opens the door to wider glory. This the slighted servants of Christ appropriate to themselves. Infinite grace, under like circumstances, warrants the men of faith: what was said of Christ is no less true of the Christian. " Thus hath the Lord enjoined us." It is a principle of far-reaching explanation, which faith knows how to guard from irreverence, however much of direction, comfort, and strength may be reaped from it The reader may see another instance no less bold in the use made of Isa. l. 7-9 in Romans viii. 33-34. The spirit of obedience, we may add, finds an injunction where no other eye could discern one.
Here first Gentiles as such come into prominence: others in this country who had heeded the apostles were proselytes from among them. Scripture was express as to the principle.
"And the Gentiles, on hearing, rejoiced and glorifed the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained unto life eternal believed. And the word of the Lord was carried abroad through the whole country. But the Jews excited the women of rank that worshipped, and the chiefs of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and sent them out of their borders. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came tπ Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy of [the] Holy Spirit" (ver. 48-52).
The tide of blessing in God's grace was now turned to the Gentiles. Christ is a light for revealing them now, as He is the glory of God's people Israel. The nations had been long hidden as well as outside; they are now disclosed to vie", the direct object not of law as Israel once, but of divine mercy in the gospel. The righteousness of God is unto all, though it takes effect only upon all that believe. So here they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained unto life eternal believed.
The evil and the ruin are man's : all the good is of God's grace exclusively, and the believer enjoys it of His sovereign mercy. Thus the word of the Lord was carried abroad through all the country. And this roused a more systematic effort of opposition, as usual on the part of the Jews, who urged on the devout women of position and the chief men of the city against the apostles with such a flood of persecution as to cast them out of their borders. As these ladies had been drawn into Judaism to their immense relief from the uncleanness as well as debasing follies of heathenism, one can understand how the sex would be peculiarly open to exciting influence against the testimony which left the law in the shade; and they would know how to reach the first men of the city, as being of their own rank and in all probability nearly connected with themselves, so as to get the preachers expelled. But the apostles, bowing to the persecution, acted on the Lord's word not only in fleeing to another city, but in shaking off the dust of their feet against their persecutors; while joy in the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, left behind as sheep in the midst of wolves.
1) Many ancient authorities, as is well known, concur in reading "the Lord" for "God."