Acts 14-18 The Voice (VOICE)
Paul never forsakes the Jews, the ones to whom the covenants were given. He shares with them first the good news about how God has fulfilled His promises through Jesus. Only when he faces opposition does he turn to the outsiders, because this hope is for them too.
14 The results in Iconium were similar. Paul and Barnabas began in the Jewish synagogue, bringing a great number of ethnic Jews and Greek converts to faith in Jesus. 2 But the other Jews who wouldn’t believe agitated the outsiders and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Iconium for a long time, speaking with great confidence for the Lord. He confirmed the message of His grace by granting them the power to do signs and wonders. 4 But over time the people were divided, some siding with the unbelieving Jews and some siding with the apostles. 5 Finally the Jews and outsiders who opposed them joined forces and enlisted the political leaders in their plan to beat and stone Paul and Barnabas. 6 They learned of the plan and escaped to Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia, and the surrounding countryside, 7 where they continued proclaiming the good news.
8 In Lystra they met a man who had been crippled since birth; his feet were completely useless. 9 He listened to Paul speak, and Paul could see in this man’s face that he had faith to be healed.
Paul (shouting): 10 Stand up on your own two feet, man!
The man jumped up and walked! 11 When the crowds saw this, they started shouting in Lycaonian.
Crowd: The gods have come down to us! They’ve come in human form!
12 They decided that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes (since he was the main speaker). 13 Before they knew it, the priest of Zeus, whose temple was prominent in that city, came to the city gates with oxen and garlands of flowers so the Lycaonians could offer sacrifices in worship to Paul and Barnabas! 14 When they heard of this, Paul and Barnabas were beside themselves with frustration—they ripped their tunics as an expression of disapproval and rushed out into the crowd.
Paul and Barnabas (shouting): 15 Friends! No! No! Don’t do this! We’re just humans like all of you! We’re not here to be worshiped! We’re here to bring you good news—good news that you should turn from these worthless forms of worship and instead serve the living God, the God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that they contain. 16 Through all previous generations, God has allowed all the nations to follow their own customs and religions, 17 but even then God revealed Himself by doing good to you—giving you rain for your crops and fruitful harvests season after season, filling your stomachs with food and your hearts with joy.
18 In spite of these words, they were barely able to keep the crowds from making sacrifices to them.
When God uses men to bless the world, many mistakenly exalt those men to the place of God. This inevitably leads to pain and disappointment. Paul and Barnabas did the right thing by shouting as loudly as possible, “We are only men!” It is time for many leaders and celebrities to follow their example, root out the religious hero worship, claim our humanity, and start sharing our own struggles—sin, depression, despair—to remind people we are all alike. Then we can focus on the one true God instead of His messengers.
19 Then unbelieving Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and incited the crowds against the Lord’s emissaries. The crowds turned on Paul, stoned him, dragged him out of the city, and left him there, thinking he was dead. 20 As the disciples gathered around him, he suddenly rose to his feet and returned to the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. 21 After they proclaimed the good news there and taught many disciples, they returned to some of the cities they had recently visited—Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. 22 In each place, they brought strength to the disciples, encouraging them to remain true to the faith.
Paul and Barnabas: We must go through many persecutions as we enter the kingdom of God.
23 In each church, they would appoint leaders, pray and fast together, and entrust them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
24 They then passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 They preached their message in Perga and then went to the port of Attalia. 26 There they set sail for Antioch, where they were first entrusted to the grace of God for the mission they had now completed. 27 They called the church together when they arrived and reported all God had done with and through them, how God had welcomed outsiders through the doorway of faith. 28 They stayed with the disciples in Antioch for quite a while.
15 Their peace was disturbed, however, when certain Judeans came with this teaching: “Unless you are circumcised according to Mosaic custom, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas argued against this teaching and debated with the Judeans vehemently, so the church selected several people—including Paul and Barnabas—to travel to Jerusalem to dialogue about this issue with the apostles and elders there. 3 The church sent them on their way. They passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, stopping to report to the groups of believers there that outsiders were now being converted. This brought great joy to them all. 4 Upon arrival in Jerusalem, the church, the apostles, and the elders welcomed them warmly; and they reported all they had seen God do. 5 But there were some believers present who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. They stood up and asserted,
Pharisees: No, this is not acceptable. These people must be circumcised, and we must require them to keep the whole Mosaic law.
6 The apostles and elders met privately to discuss how this issue should be resolved. 7 There was a lot of debate, and finally Peter stood up.
These debates give a glimpse of the cultural tensions present between Jewish and Gentile believers throughout the New Testament writings. The early Jewish believers still follow the traditional Jewish practices of Sabbath rest and kosher food. This is fine, until Jewish and Gentile Christians must share a table. How can they be truly unified as one church without being able to sit down together for a meal? This council affirms—under the influence of the Spirit’s work—that the outsiders may become Christians without becoming Jews first; but the outsiders should respect their Jewish brothers’ beliefs so they can fellowship together. The decision is a model for church unity: artificial hurdles should not be imposed for inclusion, but groups should willingly sacrifice their freedoms to promote unity in the church.
Peter: My brothers, you all know that in the early days of our movement, God decided that I should be the one through whom the first outsiders would hear the good news and become believers. 8 God knows the human heart, and He showed approval of their hearts by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did for us. 9 In cleansing their hearts by faith, God has made no distinction between them and us. 10 So it makes no sense to me that some of you are testing God by burdening His disciples with a load that neither our forefathers nor we have been able to carry. 11 No, we all believe that we will be liberated through the grace of the Lord Jesus—they also will be rescued in the same way.
12 There was silence among them while Barnabas and Paul reported all the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among outsiders. 13 When they finished, James spoke.
James: My brothers, hear me. 14 Simon Peter reminded us how God first included outsiders in His favor, taking people from among them for His name. 15 This resonates with the words of the prophets:
16 “After this, I will return
19 So here is my counsel: we should not burden these outsiders who are turning to God. 20 We should instead write a letter, instructing them to abstain from four things: first, things associated with idol worship; second, sexual immorality; third, food killed by strangling; and fourth, blood. 21 My reason for these four exceptions is that in every city there are Jewish communities where, for generations, the laws of Moses have been proclaimed; and on every Sabbath, Moses is read in synagogues everywhere.
22 This seemed like a good idea to the apostles, the elders, and the entire church. They commissioned men from among them and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent two prominent men among the believers, Judas (also known as Barsabbas) and Silas, 23 to deliver this letter:
The brotherhood, including the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, send greetings to the outsider believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. 24 We have heard that certain people from among us—without authorization from us—have said things that, in turn, upset you and unsettle your minds. 25 We have decided unanimously to choose and send two representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul 26 who, as you know, have risked their lives for our Lord Jesus the Anointed. 27 These representatives, Judas and Silas, will confirm verbally what you will read in this letter. 28 It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to keep you free from all burdens except these four: 29 abstain from anything sacrificed to idols, from blood, from food killed by strangling, and from sexual immorality. Avoid these things, and you will be just fine. Farewell.
30 So the men were sent to Antioch. When they arrived, they gathered the community together and read the letter. 31 The community rejoiced at the resolution to the controversy. 32 Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves, offered lengthy encouragements to strengthen the believers. 33 After some time there, their mission was complete; so the leaders in Antioch released Judas and Silas to return to Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. [34 But after some thought, Silas decided to remain behind.][c] 35 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, where they teamed with many others to teach and preach the message of the Lord.
36 Some days later, Paul proposed another journey to Barnabas.
Paul: Let’s return and visit the believers in each city where we preached the Lord’s message last time to see how they’re doing.
37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to bring John Mark along, 38 but Paul felt that was a mistake since John Mark had abandoned them in Pamphylia and hadn’t finished the previous mission. 39 Their difference of opinion was so heated that they decided not to work together anymore. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus, 40 while Paul chose Silas as his companion. The believers in Antioch commissioned him for this work, entrusting him to the grace of the Lord. 41 They traveled through Syria and Cilicia to strengthen the churches there.
16 1-3 When Paul reached Derbe and Lystra, he invited a disciple named Timothy to join him and Silas. Timothy had a good reputation among the believers in Lystra and Iconium, but there was a problem: although Timothy’s mother was a believing Jew, his father was Greek, which meant Timothy was uncircumcised. Because the Jewish people of those cities knew he was the son of a Greek man, Paul felt it would be best for Timothy to be circumcised before proceeding.
4 Leaving there, now accompanied by Timothy, they delivered to the churches in each town the decisions and instructions given by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 The churches were strengthened in the faith by their visit and kept growing in numbers on a daily basis.
6 They sensed the Holy Spirit telling them not to preach their message in Asia at this time, so they traveled through Phrygia and Galatia. 7 They came near Mysia and planned to go into Bithynia, but again they felt restrained from doing so by the Spirit of Jesus. 8 So they bypassed Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 That night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was pleading with him.
Macedonian Man: Come over to Macedonia! Come help us!
Luke now shifts his narration from impersonal observation to a first-person account of events because he has joined Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
10 This vision convinced us all that God was calling us to bring the good news to that region.
11 We set sail from the port city of Troas, first stopping in Samothrace, then the next day in Neapolis, 12 finally arriving in Philippi, a Roman colony and one of Macedonia’s leading cities. We stayed in Philippi for several days. 13 On the Sabbath day, we went outside the city walls to the nearby river, assuming that some Jewish people might be gathering for prayer. We found a group of women there, so we sat down and spoke to them. 14 One of them, Lydia, was a business woman originally from Thyatira. She made a living buying and selling fine purple fabric. She was a true worshiper of God and listened to Paul with special interest. The Lord opened her heart to take in the message with enthusiasm. 15 She and her whole household were ceremonially washed through baptism.[d]
Lydia: If you believe I’m truly faithful to the Lord, please, you must come and stay at my home.
We couldn’t turn down her invitation.
16 One day, as we were going to the place set aside for prayer, we encountered a slave girl. She made a lot of money for her owners as a fortune-teller, assisted by some sort of occult spirit. 17 She began following us.
Slave Girl (shouting): These men are slaves like me, but slaves of the Most High God! They will proclaim to you the way of liberation!
18 The next day as we passed by, she did the same thing—and again on the following days. One day Paul was really annoyed, so he turned and spoke to the spirit that was enslaving her.
Paul: I order you in the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed: Come out of her!
It came right out. 19 But when her owners realized she would be worthless now as a fortune-teller, they grabbed Paul and Silas, dragged them into the open market area, and presented them to the authorities.
Slave Owners: 20 These men are troublemakers, disturbing the peace of our great city. They are from some Jewish sect, 21 and they promote foreign customs that violate our Roman standards of conduct.
22 The crowd joined in with insults and insinuations, prompting the city officials to strip them naked in the public square so they could be beaten with rods. 23 They were flogged mercilessly and then were thrown into a prison cell. The jailer was ordered to keep them under the strictest supervision. 24 The jailer complied, first restraining them in ankle chains, then locking them in the most secure cell in the center of the jail.
25 Picture this: It’s midnight. In the darkness of their cell, Paul and Silas—after surviving the severe beating—aren’t moaning and groaning; they’re praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners in adjoining cells are wide awake, listening to them pray and sing. 26 Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and the prison foundations begin to crack. You can hear the sound of jangling chains and the squeak of cell doors opening. Every prisoner realizes that his chains have come unfastened. 27 The jailer wakes up and runs into the jail. His heart sinks as he sees the doors have all swung open. He is sure his prisoners have escaped, and he knows this will mean death for him, so he pulls out his sword to commit suicide. 28 At that moment, Paul sees what is happening and shouts out at the top of his lungs,
Paul: Wait, man! Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here! None of us has escaped.
29 The jailer sends his assistants to get some torches and rushes into the cell of Paul and Silas. He falls on his knees before them, trembling. 30 Then he brings them outside.
Jailer: Gentlemen, please tell me, what must I do to be liberated?
Paul and Silas: 31 Just believe—believe in the ultimate King, Jesus, and not only will you be rescued, but your whole household will as well.
32-34 The jailer brings them to his home, and they have a long conversation with the man and his family. Paul and Silas explain the message of Jesus to them all. The man washes their wounds and feeds them, then they baptize[e] the man and his family. The night ends with Paul and Silas in the jailer’s home, sharing a meal together, the whole family rejoicing that they have come to faith in God.
35 At dawn the city officials send the police to the jailer’s home with a command: “Let those men go free.”
Jailer: 36 The city officials have ordered me to release you, so you may go now in peace.
Paul (loud enough that the police can hear): 37 Just a minute. This is unjust. We’ve been stripped naked, beaten in public, and thrown into jail, all without a trial of any kind. Now they want to release us secretly as if nothing happened? No way: we’re Roman citizens—we shouldn’t be treated like this! If the city officials want to release us, then they can come and tell us to our faces.
38 The police report back to the city officials; and when they come to the part about Paul and Silas being Roman citizens, the officials turn pale with fear. 39 They rush to the jail in person and apologize. They personally escort Paul and Silas from their cell and politely ask them to leave the city. 40 Paul and Silas oblige—after stopping at Lydia’s home to gather with the brothers and sisters there and give them parting words of encouragement.
Paul and Silas are keeping a low profile in order to advance the cause of Jesus. Paul’s first miracle in the area is to cast out an evil spirit from a girl. This sets off an unexpected chain of events bringing the men into the city court to be beaten before the crowds. This sounds like the start of a very bad day. Silas must wonder, “Paul, what were you doing? Is your aggravation with this wandering girl worth all this trouble?” But they neither fight nor despair; instead, they sing, pray to God, and love their captors. Paul and Silas demonstrate that believers are not easily distracted or depressed as long as serving God is their priority.
17 After leaving Philippi and passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica. There was a Jewish synagogue there. 2-3 As he had done in other cities, Paul attended the synagogue and presented arguments, based on the Hebrew Scriptures, that the Anointed had to suffer and rise from the dead.
Paul: Who is this suffering and rising Anointed One I am proclaiming to you? He is Jesus.
He came back the next two Sabbaths—repeating the same pattern. 4 Some of the ethnically Jewish people from the synagogue were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas. Even more devout Greeks who had affiliated with Judaism came to believe—along with quite a few of the city’s leading women. 5-6 Seeing this movement growing, the unconvinced Jewish people became protective and angry. They found some ruffians hanging out in the marketplaces and convinced them to help start a riot. Soon a mob formed, and the whole city was seething with tension. The mob was going street by street, looking for Paul and Silas—who were nowhere to be found. Frustrated, when the mob came to the house of a man named Jason, now known as a believer, they grabbed him and some other believers they found there and dragged them to the city officials.
Mob: These people—they’re political agitators turning the world upside down! They’ve come here to our fine city, 7 and this man, Jason, has given them sanctuary and made his house a base for their operations. We want to expose their real intent: they are trying to overturn Caesar’s sensible decrees. They’re saying that Jesus is king, not Caesar!
8 Of course, this disturbed the crowd at large and the city officials especially, 9 so they demanded bail from Jason and the others before releasing them.
10 The believers waited until dark and then sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. When they arrived, they went to the synagogue.
Though Paul is known as the Emissary to the Gentiles, wherever he goes he proclaims Jesus to the Jews in the synagogue from the Hebrew Scriptures first.
11 The Jewish people here were more receptive than they had been in Thessalonica. They warmly and enthusiastically welcomed the message and then, day by day, would check for themselves to see if what they heard from Paul and Silas was truly in harmony with the Hebrew Scriptures. 12 Many of them were convinced, and the new believers included—as in Thessalonica—quite a few of the city’s leading Greek women and important men also. 13 Reports got back to Thessalonica that Paul and Silas were now spreading God’s message in Berea; the Jewish people who had incited the riot in Thessalonica quickly came to Berea to do the same once again. 14-15 The believers sent Paul away. A small group escorted him, first to the coast, and then all the way to Athens. Silas and Timothy, however, remained in Berea. Later they received instructions from Paul to join him in Athens as soon as possible.
16 So Paul found himself alone for some time in Athens. He would walk through the city, feeling deeply frustrated about the abundance of idols there. 17 As in the previous cities, he went to the synagogue. Once again, he engaged in debate about Jesus with both ethnic Jews and devout Greek-born converts to Judaism. He would even wander around in the marketplace, speaking with anyone he happened to meet. 18 Eventually he got into a debate with some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Some were dismissive from the start.
Philosophers: What’s this fast-talker trying to pitch?
Others: He seems to be advocating the gods of distant lands.
They said this because of what Paul had been preaching about Jesus and the resurrection.
The philosophers misunderstand Paul’s message. They think he is talking about two deities: Jesus and Anastasis (the Greek word for “resurrection”).
19-21 This stirred their curiosity, because the favorite pastime of Athenians (including foreigners who had settled there) was conversation about new and unusual ideas. So they brought him to the rock outcropping known as the Areopagus, where Athens’ intellectuals regularly gathered for debate, and they invited him to speak.
Athenians: May we understand this new teaching of yours? It is intriguingly unusual. We would love to know its meaning.
Paul: 22 Athenians, as I have walked your streets, I have observed your strong and diverse religious ethos. You truly are a religious people. 23 I have stopped again and again to examine carefully the religious statues and inscriptions that fill your city. On one such altar, I read this inscription: “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” I am not here to tell you about a strange foreign deity, but about this One whom you already worship, though without full knowledge. 24 This is the God who made the universe and all it contains, the God who is the King of all heaven and all earth. It would be illogical to assume that a God of this magnitude could possibly be contained in any man-made structure, no matter how majestic. 25 Nor would it be logical to think that this God would need human beings to provide Him with food and shelter—after all, He Himself would have given to humans everything they need—life, breath, food, shelter, and so on.
This is the only universal God, the One who makes all people whatever their nationality or culture or religion.
26 This God made us in all our diversity from one original person, allowing each culture to have its own time to develop, giving each its own place to live and thrive in its distinct ways. 27 His purpose in all this was that people of every culture and religion would search for this ultimate God, grope for Him in the darkness, as it were, hoping to find Him. Yet, in truth, God is not far from any of us. 28 For you know the saying, “We live in God; we move in God; we exist in God.” And still another said, “We are indeed God’s children.” 29 Since this is true, since we are indeed offspring of God’s creative act, we shouldn’t think of the Deity as our own artifact, something made by our own hands—as if this great, universal, ultimate Creator were simply a combination of elements like gold, silver, and stone. 30 No, God has patiently tolerated this kind of ignorance in the past, but now God says it is time to rethink our lives and reject these unenlightened assumptions. 31 He has fixed a day of accountability, when the whole world will be justly evaluated by a new, higher standard: not by a statue, but by a living man. God selected this man and made Him credible to all by raising Him from the dead.
32 When they heard that last phrase about resurrection from the dead, some shook their heads and scoffed, but others were even more curious.
Others: We would like you to come and speak to us again.
33 Paul left at that point, 34 but some people followed him and came to faith, including one from Areopagus named Dionysius, a prominent woman named Damaris, and others.
This exchange is the most potent example of cross-cultural evangelism in the Bible. Paul provokes his audience to think and invites them to pursue God, but he does not attempt to summarize the gospel in simple propositions or acronyms. He connects their culture with the truth of the gospel and the beauty of the person who is Jesus. After that, it’s the job of the Holy Spirit.
18 From Athens, Paul traveled to Corinth alone. 2 He found a Jewish man there named Aquila, originally from Pontus. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had recently come to Corinth from Italy because Claudius had banished all Jews from Rome. Paul visited them in their home 3 and discovered they shared the same trade of tent making. He then became their long-term guest and joined them in their tentmaking business. 4 Each Sabbath he would engage both Jews and Greeks in debate in the synagogue in an attempt to persuade them of his message. 5 Eventually Silas and Timothy left Macedonia and joined him in Corinth. They found him fully occupied by proclaiming the message, testifying to the Jewish people that Jesus was God’s Anointed, the Liberating King. 6 Eventually, though, some of them stopped listening and began insulting him. He shook the dust off his garments in protest.
Paul: OK. I’ve done all I can for you. You are responsible for your own destiny before God. From now on, I will bring the good news to the outsiders!
7 He walked out of the synagogue and went next door to the home of an outsider, Titius Justus, who worshiped God. 8 Paul formed a gathering of believers there that included Crispus (the synagogue leader) and his whole household and many other Corinthians who heard Paul, believed, and were ceremonially washed through baptism. 9 One night Paul had a vision in which he heard the Lord’s voice.
The Lord: Do not be afraid, Paul. Speak! Don’t be silent! 10 I am with you, and no one will lay a finger on you to harm you. I have many in this city who are already My people.
11 After such turmoil in previous cities, these words encouraged Paul to extend his stay in Corinth, teaching the message of God among them for a year and six months.
Paul is no machine. He needs encouragement to faithfully pursue his calling in the face of persecution. While God allows Paul to experience serious persecution in many other cities, He spares him that trouble in Corinth even though the Jewish leaders still try to stir up the government officials against him. Paul knows that the greatest joys in life are found in passionately pursuing the dangerous mission of Jesus, and that God sustains His followers in good times and bad.
12 During this time, some Jews organized an attack on Paul and made formal charges against him to Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia.
Jews: 13 This man is convincing people to worship God in ways that contradict our Hebrew Scriptures.
Paul was about to speak, but Gallio spoke first.
Gallio: 14 Look, if this were some serious crime, I would accept your complaint as a legitimate legal case, 15 but this is just more of your typical Jewish squabbling about trivialities in your sacred literature. I have no interest in getting dragged into this kind of thing.
16 So he threw out their case and drove them away from his bench. 17 They were furious and seized Sosthenes, the synagogue official; then they beat him in front of the tribunal. Gallio just ignored them.
18 At the end of 18 months, Paul said good-bye to the believers in Corinth. He wanted to travel to the east and south to Syria by ship; so, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, he went to the nearby port city of Cenchrea, where he fulfilled a vow he had made by cutting his hair. 19 The three of them sailed east to Ephesus where Paul would leave Priscilla and Aquila. Paul again went to the synagogue where he dialogued with the Jews. 20 They were receptive and invited him to stay longer. But he politely declined.
Paul: 21-22 If God wills, I’ll return at some point.
He caught a ship bound south and east for Caesarea by the sea. There he went up for a brief visit with the believers in the church at Jerusalem; then he headed north to Antioch. 23 He spent considerable time there and then left again, visiting city after city throughout Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples in each place.
24 Meanwhile, back in Ephesus, a Jew named Apollos made contact with the community of believers. He had been raised in Alexandria.
In Alexandria, Egyptian Jews such as Philo are known for seeking to integrate Greek philosophy with their faith.
Apollos was eloquent and well educated in the Hebrew Scriptures. 25 He was partially instructed in the way of the Lord, and he added to his native eloquence a burning enthusiasm to teach about Jesus. He taught accurately what he knew; but he had only understood part of the good news, specifically the ritual cleansing through baptism[f] preached by John, the forerunner of Jesus. 26 So, when Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak boldly in the synagogue, they discerned both his gift and his lack of full understanding. They took him aside and in private explained the way of God to him more accurately and fully. 27 He wanted to head west into Achaia, where Paul had recently been, to preach there. The believers encouraged him to do so and sent a letter instructing the Greek disciples to welcome him. Upon his arrival, he was of great help to all in Achaia who had, by the grace of God, become believers. 28 This gifted speaker publicly demonstrated, based on the Hebrew Scriptures, that the promised Anointed One is Jesus. Then, when the Jews there raised counterarguments, he refuted them with great power.
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