Posted by: mattcolvin | October 2, 2012

Notes on Acts 13

Monday and Tuesday of the 17th week after Trinity: Acts 13.

The list of prophets and teachers at Antioch is interesting. There are two men, Barnabas and Saul, who are chosen for the mission by the Holy Spirit, and three who are not. These latter three have more elaborate names, being specified either by a geographic epithet (“Lucius the Cyrenaean”), or by nickname (“Simeon called Black”), or by something more elaborate (“Manaes the foster-sibling of Herod the tetrarch”). But Barnabas and Saul need no further specification.

The last time we saw a Saul being “separated” out for a special job, it didn’t end well. This Saul is better: his career of persecuting the Lord’s anointed lies in his past, not his future.

The church at Antioch receives the Spirit’s instructions while fasting and engaged in the liturgical service to the Lord. They use the laying on of hands to make Saul and Barnabas delegates of them, in much the same way that the congregation in Acts 6 had made the Seven their representatives by the same Jewish ritual. Thus, Saul and Barnabas are not acting on their own authority, but as the emissaries of the church that sent them.

At Salamis, Paul and Barnabas find the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, under the sway of Elymas (Bar-Jesus). This scene is the prototype of many in literature, especially Tolkien’s Grima Wormtongue with his hold over Theoden in the Two Towers. It is appropriate that the REC Lectionary pairs this reading with Elijah’s defeat of the 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), for they are the two most prominent showdowns between true and false prophets in the Bible. (Perhaps also Moses & Aaron vs. Jannes and Jambres?)


Saul, ironically enough, strikes Elymas blind, with the result that the proconsul “when he saw what had happened, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”

Thus is described the outcome that every missionary would love to be able to bring about, and in a similar way, if you please! The proconsul sees that Saul has power and Elymas does not. The Germans see that Boniface has power, and Thor’s oak does not. The Gauls see that Martin of Tours has power, and their sacred tree does not. The Ibo people see that the English missionaries have (Maxim gun) power, and Egwugwu do not. The result is conversion. We’re not told that there was a deep conviction of sin in this case, only a deep impression made by the display of power.

This sort of “apologetic” is what Paul uses to overthrow the “super-apostles” in Corinth as well: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of words, but of power.”


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