As a continuation from Chapter 10, news that the gentile nation had received the Holy Spirit and was baptized reached the apostles and believers in Judea. When Peter arrived in Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them? According to Craddock and Boring, “In ancient times, ‘eating with’ implied intimate fellowship and complete acceptance and was regulated by strict taboos and religious laws.”[i] Peter re-told the story of his vision and how God led him to Cornelius’ home, and how the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles. After Peter recounted the story, he shared with them that he remembered the word that Jesus gave him, saying that John baptized with water, but that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. How could Peter question God pouring out the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles?
How could those who hear the news object? They were silenced. Their objection was not that Peter ate with them, but that the Gentiles would be accepted into the community of faith. Then they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” Here we see Luke giving us a speech that had already been recounted in 10:1-48.
“Luke is concerned throughout Acts to show the gradual and orderly procession of the church’s development from a group of disciples of a Galilean prophet to a world religion”[ii] that includes the gentiles. Luke also wants us to consider when Peter came to believe as he portrayed him as a disciple beginning at Luke 5:1-11. However, Peter did not receive the spirit until Pentecost. This could indicate that Peter may be speaking for “Judean Christians, who became believers in response to the post Easter preaching of the Apostles.”[iii]
It is also important to note the word repentance as the “human act of reorienting one’s life in response to the word of God. Yet is also the gift of God.[iv]
Those who were scattered abroad after the persecution traveled as far as Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), Cyprus (large island south of modern Turkey), and Antioch, which became pivotal in the spread of the gospel because:
- It was the seat of roman government
- It was a gentile city with a large Jewish population
- It was the first mission to Gentiles
- It was the place where disciples first received the name Christians
- It was the first church to provide benevolent support to the needy
- It was the first place of dispute of how Jewish and Gentile Christians could live together as one church[v]
While some men only spoke with other Jews, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene (northern Africa), spoke to the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews), proclaiming the Lord Jesus. Many of them believed and turned to the Lord. “The whole point of this story is those addressed were not Jews at all, not that they were another type of Jew. The scattered church crosses traditional religious and cultural boundaries and begins to include people in the church who have never been Jews at all.”[vi]
This news came back to the church in Jerusalem (remember this is where the apostles were staying). They sent Barnabas to Antioch. “Barnabas had already demonstrated his openness and willingness to take risks in 4:36; 9:27.”[vii] When Barnabas saw the grace of God there, he encouraged them to remain faithful with steadfast devotion. Barnabas was a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He brought many people to the Lord. “The grace of God is tangible and visible, but only to eyes illumined by the Holy Spirit. Others looked at the new development and saw only abandonment of the Bible and tradition (15:1).”[viii]
After this, he (Barnabas) went to Tarsus to look for Saul. He found him and brought him back to Antioch. For an entire year, they met with the church and taught many people. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. “Luke makes the point of waiting until there is an integrated church of Jews and Gentiles carrying on a world mission of evangelism and compassion before he applies to it the name ‘Christian.’”[ix]
A prophet by the name of Agabus came from Jerusalem and prophesized that there would be a famine in the world. The disciples were determined to provide relief, therefore, according to their ability, they sent relief to the believers living in Judea. They sent it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. “This is the first reference in Acts to Christian leaders called ‘elders’ though Jewish elders have been often mentioned (e.g., 4: 5, 8, 23.). It was at first a mark of the wisdom and leadership that come with age, but then became the designation of an office not directly related to age.”[x]
[i] Craddock and Boring, The People’s New Testament Commentary, pg. 404.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 405.
[ix] Ibid., pg. 407.