Acts 13:1-52 From this chapter forward, Acts deals almost exclusively with the missionary work of Paul. The success and growth of the Christian community in Antioch provided a launching point for evangelization throughout the Gentile regions. Saul, soon to be called exclusively by his Roman name, Paul, began the first of his many missionary journeys, for which history has called him the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” The Church in these regions began to organize itself in a manner similar to the Church in Jerusalem, with ordained elders (presbyteros in Greek, whence the word “priest”) to celebrate the Eucharist along with prophets and teachers to instruct in the Faith. Although frequently mentioned, the offices of bishop and priest were not clearly defined in the New Testament. These hierarchical ministries and their role in the Church are explained in more detail in early second-century writings. (CCC 74, 442)
Ch 13:2 For the work to which I have called them: The Greek leiturgia, meaning “public work,” is the source of the word “liturgy.” In the New Testament, leiturgia refers primarily to the communal worship of God and the celebration of the Eucharist although it can also refer to the proclamation of the Gospel and the practice of charity in service to God and to neighbor. In her liturgies, the Church functions “in the image of her Lord...she shares in Christ’s priesthood (worship), which is both prophetic (proclamation) and kingly (service of charity)” (CCC 1070).
Ch 13:3 Fasting and praying: These were traditional ascetical practices of the Jews. Likewise, Christianity teaches the value of prayer and fasting, and the fourth Precept of the Church relates to the observance of days of fasting and abstinence. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are a means for the conversion of heart and the forgiveness of sins. While fasting is required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Church recommends these practices especially during the period of Advent and Lent. (CCC 1434-1439, 1969, 2632)
Ch 13:5 Whenever Paul entered a new city that had a Jewish community, he would always begin his preaching in the synagogue. This was in keeping with Christ’s mandate to preach to the Jews first and then to the Samaritans and Gentiles.
Ch 13:10-12 Paul’s punishment of the magician may seem harsh, but it was only temporary. St. John Chrysostom noted that Paul “chooses to convert him by means of a miracle similar to that by which he himself was converted” (In Acta Apostolorum, 28, 1). (CCC 1287)
Ch 13:13-43 Paul summarized the story of salvation by relating the history of Israel and demonstrating how Christ fulfilled the prophecies of old. Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with David to send a king who would rule forever. His Resurrection on the third day (i.e., before the body would begin to decay) fulfills the prophecy that the Messiah would not suffer corruption (cf. Ps 16:10). Paul closed with a warning of self-imposed suffering should they reject the opportunity for redemption in Christ.
Antioch of Pisidia: This is not the Antioch in Syria with the large Christian community but a smaller place by the same name in Galatia. Seleucus Nicator, successor to Alexander the Great, had founded a number of cities of the same name to honor his father, Antiochus.
You that fear God: A comment directed to the Gentile believers, the “God-fearers” who worshiped alongside the Jews. Through these members of the congregation the ranks of the Gentiles filled the synagogue service on the following Sabbath (cf. Acts 13:44-45). (CCC 445, 523, 614, 1990, 2606)
Ch 13:15 Synagogue services typically included readings from Scripture, the Torah, along with traditional Jewish prayers and a homily or sermon given by a rabbi or other speaker. (CCC 2599)
CH 13:24-30 The prophets and John the Baptist preached of the coming of the Messiah, yet the hearts of many were still hardened, and those who opposed Christ put him to death. With his Resurrection, the truth of the Apostles’ preaching is verified and their mission to the world is confirmed. (CCC 523, 597, 601)
Ch 13:31-34 The Resurrection of Christ, verified by many witnesses, is at the core of the Christian faith. The Resurrection is explicitly reported in Scripture and Tradition and is the foundation for the entire scope of the Christian Faith. In fact, the truth of the Resurrection was so compelling that the Apostles and members of the early Church were willing to die on behalf of this essential tenet of our Faith. In the victory of the Resurrection, the suffering and Death of Christ finds its full meaning. (CCC 638, 647, 653)
Ch 13:44-52 The growth of Christianity was anything but smooth and easy. The animosity of Jewish Christians against Gentile Christians, who were considered unclean as they did not follow the Law of Moses, reappears repeatedly throughout Acts. These misunderstandings would eventually require a council to resolve the issue of the Gentile Christians. (CCC 854)
Ch 13:46-48 Paul explicitly declared that the Gospel would rightly be preached to the Jews first. Because the leaders of the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia had not accepted the Word of God preached by Paul, the Gospel was next offered to the Gentiles, who received it with joy. It would be inaccurate, however, to suppose that the Gentiles were called to faith in Christ only by default of the Jews. The Gospel was directed toward every human person regardless of ethnic background. However, given the fact that the Jews were the Chosen People and were beneficiaries of God’s covenant with Moses, they would enjoy the privilege of being the first to hear the Gospel message. (CCC 2640)
1 Corinthians 7:1-9 While celibacy is the higher calling, both marriage and celibacy are gifts from God and wonderful means and opportunities for personal holiness. Those who are called to marry commit themselves to serving Jesus Christ through their spousal love for each other. Those called to celibacy commit themselves entirely to God and to the service of others. (CCC 1641, 2013, 2349, 2394)
Ch 7:5 Do not refuse one another: Husbands and wives have certain rights of sexual intimacy, which must be mutually consensual. Prolonged refusal of one spouse to be intimate with the other could lead to temptation and a variety of sins against charity and chastity.
Agreement for a season: A couple may agree to abstain from sexual activity for a period of time to give special focus to prayer and penance as long as their purity is not compromised. Natural Family Planning, a moral means of avoiding or delaying pregnancy, involves abstinence from sexual intercourse on days when conception is possible. Such a measure may be undertaken for serious reasons. Artificial methods of birth control that frustrate the reproductive process are always gravely sinful. (CCC 1643, 2368-2370, 2398-2399)
Ch 7:10-11 Sacramental marriage is exclusive, i.e., between one baptized man and one baptized woman; it is also indissoluble, meaning that it is a lifelong union. A valid, sacramental marriage ends only with the death of one of the partners; this teaching comes directly from Christ himself. If one of the elements essential for a valid marriage is lacking, the Church may grant a declaration of nullity, or annulment. Essentially, an annulment is a statement that a marriage never existed, thereby freeing each partner from marital obligations and allowing each to enter into a valid, sacramental marriage with another person. (CCC 2364, 2382)
Ch 7:12-16 The Pauline Privilege provided for an annulment of marriage if the pagan spouse of a Christian convert left the marriage or prevented the Christian from practicing his or her faith. Church law still reflects this practice today. “In virtue of the Pauline privilege, a marriage entered into by two unbaptized persons is dissolved in favour of the faith of the party who received baptism, by the very fact that new marriage is contracted by that same party, provided the unbaptized party departs” (CIC 1143 S1). (CCC 1633-1637)
Ch 7:17-24 Baptism brings about an interior change in the new believer. This sanctifying grace renews the individual by forgiving all sin and giving a participation in the life of Christ. Reception of Baptism is tantamount to a call to holiness.
Ch 7:21 A slave: Slavery was common in the days of the Roman Empire. Some slaves were educated and treated with respect, while others were abused. Paul encouraged slaves to make the most of their situations. Implicitly, he recognized that slavery offends human dignity. (CCC 2414)
Ch 7:25-38 Paul called for a spirit of expectancy and vigilance, as the Church would face trials and hardship. Paul thought that the second coming of Christ was imminent, perhaps in his lifetime, and so he counseled the Corinthians to avoid anything that distracted them from their spiritual preparation and readiness. If unmarried, one should remain unmarried, because the obligations of marriage compete for one’s exclusive attention to God. Celibacy-a state of life embraced by those in consecrated life, both religious and lay; priests, especially in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church; and bishops-allow a person to focus in a more direct, immediate, and exclusive way on God and neighbor. (CCC 506, 672, 914-927, 1579, 1618-1619)
Ch 7:36-38 In the time of Christ, betrothal was a kind of engagement that preceded marriage. While celibacy is a higher state than marriage, most people are called to marriage, which is a true vocation to serve Christ and his Church. (CCC 2349)
Ch 7:39-40 Paul recommended that a widow should consecrate herself to the service of God, If she did choose to remarry, he strongly cautioned her to marry a fellow Christian. (CCC 1601-1602)
Ch 8:1-13 In pagan lands, the markets and vendors often sold the meat of animals that had been sacrificed to pagan gods. Under Jewish Law, this meat was considered unclean, and eating or coming into contact with this meat made one ritually unclean; Christians had concerns about whether they were permitted to eat such meat. Paul explained that, although meat sacrificed to idols was no longer considered unclean under the New Law, the Christians would have to consider the possibility of scandal to others, e.g., if by eating this meat, they caused others to believe that Christians were continuing pagan practices. Paul admonished the Corinthians to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols whenever there was a possibility of having an adverse effect on the faith of others. (CCC 178, 258, 1789, 2285, 2639)
Ch 8:1-2 All of us possess knowledge: Christianity is based on more than simple knowledge of facts. It is based on our relationship with Christ in the communion of the Church, by which we enter into the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. Through the Church, we have true knowledge of Christ and are called to put into practice all the tenets of the Catholic Faith through deeds of prayer and charity. (CCC 157, 168)
Ch 8:4 An idol has no real existence: Idols are false gods with no power, which, in ancient times, were usually represented in artistic form. Since idolatry is not based on divine law or on God, who gives us the grace to live a moral life, the worship of idols normally leads people to sin. (CCC 2112)
Ch 8:12 Scandal involves an action, whether of commission or omission, that leads another into sin. Therefore, it is a grave offense, especially when committed by a person of authority. (CCC 2284)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Act 3: Witnesses to the End of the Earth
The First Missionary Journey
Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:1–14:28) begins in Cyprus, an island with a significant Jewish population and also the birthplace and home of Barnabas (Acts 4:36).
Barnabas, who befriended Paul and brought him to Antioch in Syria, led this first mission to Cyprus, which would have been familiar territory.
After traveling across the island of Cyprus and reaching its administrative capital, Paphos, Saul and Barnabas meet a Roman governor named Sergius Paulus.
Serving the governor is a false Jewish magician named Bar-Jesus (also named Elymas).
Jealous of the interest the Roman governor shows Saul, Bar-Jesus tries to turn him away from Saul and Barnabas.
It is at this point in the narrative that Luke begins to refer to Saul as Paul.
Many Jews of the first century had both a Hebrew name and a more Hellenistic name for public interaction with Gentiles.
Given that Saul’s name in Greek could carry negative connotations (the Greek word saulos refers to the wanton way a prostitute walked), Saul took a new name, and since Sergius Paulus converted due to Saul’s preaching, some have suggested that Saul took Sergius Paulus’ name, Paul.
Paul’s First Missionary Journey
Paul condemns Bar-Jesus for his villainy and declares that he will be blind for some time, which immediately happens, after which Sergius Paulus converts.
Along with Peter’s conversion of Cornelius, Paul’s conversion of Sergius Paulus means that a second important Roman official has converted to the new faith.
Just as Cornelius sheltered Peter and likely sent him off to Rome, now Sergius Paulus supports and sends Paul off to his next destination, Pisidian Antioch in Asia Minor, now central Turkey (not to be confused with Syrian Antioch, where Paul and Barnabas began their journey).
Later, the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate will refer to Cornelius and Sergius as the rare examples of Roman aristocratic converts to Christianity.
As Paul and Barnabas leave the port of Paphos and sail north to Asia Minor (Turkey), Luke for the first time describes the group as “Paul’s company,” thus indicating that Paul has taken charge (Acts 13:13).
They land at Perga and head directly for the city of Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14).
It is odd that they do not stop in any of the villages or cities along the way, especially since they bypass many Jewish communities and synagogues, places Paul and Barnabas typically evangelize.
While Pisidian Antioch was a Roman colony and served as the administrative and economic center for its region, this alone would not explain why Paul made straight for this city.
The reason for Paul’s uninterrupted journey may have been unearthed by Sir William M. Ramsay (1851-1939), a British biblical scholar who spent much of his life doing archaeological work in the areas where Paul traveled.
Ramsay found an inscription in the vicinity of Pisidian Antioch that named Sergius Paulus, and discovered that his family owned large estates just outside of the city and was influential in the political life of Pisidian Antioch.
Thus, it would seem that the governor Sergius Paulus directed Paul and Barnabas to his home city, perhaps to share the gospel with his family and friends.
This may explain why Paul left Paphos with a “company” of people, given the likely social and commercial interaction between Paphos, where Sergius was governor, and Pisidian Antioch, where he owned land and had business and family contacts.
By the second Sabbath, nearly the whole city of Pisidian Antioch gathers to hear Paul.
This may not be an exaggeration, as Gentiles and Jews alike would have been interested in hearing the preaching that had won such a noble convert as Sergius Paulus.
There is additional archaeological evidence that some scholars suggest links Sergius Paulus to Rome, where he had a home and had earlier worked as an official in the Roman government.
There are twenty-three inscriptions in Rome referring to an association that met in the house of Sergius Paulus, and some scholars suggest that the family house of Sergius Paulus was one of the early Christian house churches.
Sergius Paulus’ daughter, Sergia Paulla, had a daughter who married Aucilius Glabrio, who served as a consul in A.D. 124, and whose son was executed by Domitian, most likely during Domitian’s persecution of Christians.
If it is correct to take this all as evidence of the Christian faith of Sergius Paulus’ family, we can see the lasting impact that Sergius Paulus’ conversion had for generations, leading down to a fourth-generation martyr under Domitian’s persecution, and illustrating how one man’s conversion can forever change the destiny of his descendants.
In Pisidian Antioch, Paul begins evangelizing, as was his custom, by teaching in the Jewish synagogue.
The Jewish dispersion, which had exiled and scattered Jewish communities all over the Roman world, providentially fostered the early Christian mission.
Many Jews, as well as Gentiles who were devout converts to Judaism, follow Paul.
The first inroads into the Gentile population, according to Luke’s account in Acts, come largely from Gentiles who are attached to local synagogues and hear Paul preach about Jesus as the messiah and the good news that Gentiles are now welcome to become full members of God’s covenant people by baptism.
Many Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch convert, provoking the jealousy of the Jews, who drive Paul out of the city.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)