On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 14:20-28.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 355 - December 1885


Chapter 14:20-28

The apostle had now nearly reached the extreme point of this the first missionary journey.

"And on the morrow he went forth with Barnabas to Derbe." This, or the country round about, was the farthest limit westward for the present. It might have seemed an inviting opportunity to have visited Cilicia or even Tarsus; but he who blamed John Mark, who left them and the work to return to Jerusalem, was not the man to allow such a claim; as even Barnabas seems to have done when he took Mark with him and subsequently went to Cyprus.

"And,1 after preaching the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned unto Lystra and unto Iconium, and unto Antioch, establishing the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (ver. 21, 22).. It was in this neighbourhood and during this 'visit apparently that Timothy w brought to the Lord through the apostle Paul (1 Tim. i. 2; 2 Tim. i. 2); for in Acts xvi. 1 he is spoken of as already a disciple in Derbe and Lystra, well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Here no reference is made, though grace had great things in store for him. It was enough to add about Derbe that the; preaching was blessed to many there as elsewhere.

We next hear of their return, visiting in reversed order Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. The circumstances gave a new character to the work. First they were "establishing the souls of the disciples." For this is a necessary part of the labour of love, and a real need for new-born souls; and many who are blessed in awakening have little power to confirm the young disciples. Here were servants of the Lord. fitted beyond all to help on the unestablished; and we are told of their exhorting them to abide in the faith. How much there is to alarm in it if not to seduce from it. But they are also warned of the difficulties in the way, especially of the numerous severe trials which intervene, or, as it is expressed, "111:4 through many tribulations we2 must enter into the kingdom of God." So the Lord had told the early disciples who as Jews might and did expect things smooth and bright, now that the Messiah was came. But He was come to suffer and to go on high, rejected of men and of His earthly people; which gives room to a yet deeper aggravation of the suffering path before glory dawn. And if Paul was a great preacher, not less was he a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Christ was ever his theme; "Whom we announce," as he says himself, "admonishing every man, and teaching every man inn all wisdom, to the end we may present every man perfect in Christ: whereunto also I labour, combating according to His working that worketh in me in power." He never took any christian duty lightly, least of all that which lies so near to God's purpose and Christ's affection, even for those who had not seen his face in the flesh; that their hearts might be encouraged, being united together in love and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the recognition of the mystery of God, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For those are not wanting anywhere, who, deceived themselves, seek to deceive the saints by persuasive speech. The word dwelling in us, and praise and prayer flowing out to God, with diligent testimony in love within as well as without, are grand safeguards; but withal the mind made up with joy for all endurance arid long-suffering, as we wait for Christ and the kingdom.

Secondly, another task which the first visit could not effect, yet remained,—"And when they chose (or appointed) for them elders in each assembly and prayed with fastings, they commended thorn to the Lord on Whom they had believed " (ver. 23). Naturally the differences in Christendom warp the minds of too many in their impressions of this instructive verse. Jerome, though by no means so extreme as some of the early fathers, interprets the word χ. (which all the early English as well as the Authorised Version had rendered "ordained," Tyndale, Cranmer, and Geneva adding "by election,") of ordination by laying on of hands, as if χeιροτονία=χειροθεσία. This Mr. Humphry rightly treats as untenable, or at least unsupported by any clear example of such a sense. But we may go farther than Dean Alford and must affirm that scripture nowhere points to the churches selecting elders by show of hands or in any other way. Indeed the phraseology before us excludes any such thought; for, first, if χ. necessarily implied any such etymological import here, the meaning must be that Paul and Barnabas chose elders by that method of suffrage, which nobody holds or wishes, but the contrary. And, secondly, this is confirmed yet more abundantly by the pronoun "for them," which excludes the disciples from their desired part in the election, and distinctly makes the apostles choose the elders for the saints concerned. Of all interpretations therefore none is so bad as the amiable compromise that the apostles ordained those whom each church elected. The words simply teach that Paul and Barnabas chose elders for the disciples is each assembly. No doubt the word may mean to stretch out the hand, and this especially in voting; but it bad long been used, where no such form could be, to express choice or appointment. And this is certain in the New Testament without going outside it, and in Luke's usus loqueudi, as the most prejudiced must allow in Acts x. 41, and lane too, unless he contends for Paul and Barnabas holding up their hands in each of these cases. This however is net what Congregationalism wants, but that the, disciples should thus decide their choice of eacd elder and of one only in each chuch; whereas the text declares that the apostle chose elders for them in each assembly3: the mist distinct ant conclusive disproof of popular election which language can convey. And if laying on of hands followed, it is in no way taught here for the word refers only to the choice of the presbyters.

Νor does 2 Cor.viii.19 support the idea of an election of the elders popularly for the question there; uses solely of brethren acceptable to the assemblies for conveying funds to the saints in distress elsewhere. And it is certain that scripture dues warrant the saints at large in choosing those they confide in for such a work, as we seek in Acts vi. Still less is there the slightest analogy with the two put forward (not elected) in Acts i. 23, as to whom they prayed the Lord to choose for the vacant apostolate. The lot is a wholly different principle, on which turned the numbering or enrolment of Matthias with the eleven. In short, the procedure here was, just what Calvin denies, the apostles choosing solely iii virtue of their peculiar office; as afterwards Titus was commissioned by Paul to appoint the elders in every city of Crete, without a hint ο f sitting as moderator of a free election by the consent of ail. Not oily is the book thus in harmony, but. the New Testament as a whole. Where man gave, man was allowed to choose; where the Lord gave, Be chooses and. sends apart from man; where it is a question of order, the authorised envoys of the Lord appointed in His name, net only directly as here, but indirectly through a distinctly recognised channel.

After the choice of elders for the saints, the apostles prayed with fasting and commended them to the Lord on whom they had believed. The saints in general were the object in view, not the elders only And whatever the supplication which assuredly preceded and accompanied the delicate work of appointing the elders, it would appear from the language and connexion that the prayers and fasting here specified followed that appointment and concerned the saints cast on the sustaining grace of the Lord.

"And haying passed through Pisidia they came unto Pamphylia; and having spoken the word [of the Lord)4 in5 Perga they went ttown mite Attalia; and thence they sailed unto Antioch, whence they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they arrived and brought the assembly together, they repeated all things God had wrought with them anal how He had opened to the Gentiles a door of faith. And they tarried6 no little tine with the disciples" (var. 24 -28).

Thus the first great evangelistic journey to the heathen by the apostles was brought to a close, Perga having heard the word on their return, if not on the earlier occasion saddened by the departure thence of John. And now Attalia (the modern Satalia or Adalias) was touched, instead of Paphos, or any other part of Cyprus: and from that port to the Syrian Antioch, their point of departure, the voyage was readily made.

Two remarks it is of moment to add. The latter part of ver. 26 defines yet more, if it were needed, the import of that which had preceded this missionary visit. It was in no true sense an "ordination" of Barnabas and Paul; but, as here described, their recommendation to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. Indeed. from chap. xv. 40 it would seem to have been repeated on the apostle's second journey with Silas. The notion of holy orders founded on the beginning of Acts xiii. is therefore not only without value but strips what was done of all its gracious meaning. It is part of that judaising which for most has darkened New Testament scripture.

Next, we may observe that, though sent out authoritatively by the Holy Spirit (chap. xiii. 4.), and so placed directly under responsibility tπ the Lord, whose bondmen they were, they are quick to share all His doings with them: they call together the assembly whence they had gone out that all might rejoice in His grace, and especially His grace to the Gentiles. The church is not the source of mission, but the scene of communion with divine grace using the truth for the blessing of the Gentiles by Paul, not Peter, and from Antioch as a starting-point on earth, not Jerusalem nor yet Rome. Patriarchal jurisdiction there was none, till men forgot that the true spring of the authority, power, anal blessing, was Christ in heaven, and ere long began to dream of rival sees and their hierarchs. How had the little seed become a tree, so that the birds of heaven, which snatch away what was sown in the heart, came and lodged in its branches! (Matt. xiii.)

We should bear in mind that the stay of Paul and Barnabas on their return to Antioch was not short.



1) The best MSS. support εὐαγγελιζόμενοι εἰς being repeated also.

2) There is no real ground for Denn Alford's notion that the "we" here implies the presence of the narrator; but ὅτι marks the transition from the oratio οbliqua to oratio recta.

3) Dr. Bennett says that the more remote antecedent, "the disciples," may be referred to; which is so certainly wrong, that he himself immediately changes this by the suggestion that Luke may have deigned to shew what no doubt (?) was the fact (!), tint the apostles concurred in their election, told held out their hands, slung with the disciples (!!) in favour of the elected elder.

4) 5)  Tischendorf on small but ancient authority gives "unto P." Rather more of similar character add "of the Lord" or "of God"

6) The more ancient authorities do not give "there".