LUKE - ACTS
PAUL'S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Luke intimates a number of itinerant ministries in the Acts, but those
of the apostle Paul are reported in most detail, that is, three
missionary journeys and an eventful journey to Rome.
Here, as J.R.W.Stott says, Luke "has reached a decisive turning point
in his narrative. In keeping with the Lord's prophecy (Acts 1:8),
witness has been borne to him in 'Jerusalem' and 'in all Judea and
Samaria': now the horizon broadens to 'the ends of the earth'". 
This study considers Paul's first journey, which begins and ends at
Antioch (Acts 13:1-14:28).
1. THE FIRST GENTILE CHURCH (11:19 30)
The study opens with a look at the missionary church in Syrian
Antioch. The Hellenistic Jewish Christians, who had been forced to
leave Jerusalem at the time of Stephen's death, were scattered
northwards as far as the great metropolis of Antioch. Here the
atmosphere was different to that of Jerusalem and some of the
Hellenists not only preached to fellow Hellenists but to Gentile Greeks
as well. The result was that a great number of these embraced the faith
and a church was founded with a strong Gentile element Here believers
were identified by the sectarian name of "Christians" by outsiders
The witness of the persecuted
Verse 19 takes us back to the story of Stephen in 8:2-4. God used
persecution to mobilise the church. Phoenicia (v.19) is modern Lebanon.
Cyprus was the home of Barnabas (4:36), and Antioch was the capital of
the Roman province of Syria (it was also the third largest city in the
Empire after Rome and Alexandria). Those scattered by the persecution
shared their faith. At first they were "telling the message to Jews
only" but then believers from Cyprus and Cyrene began to tell
Greek-speaking Gentiles about Jesus. They shared their faith as
personal witnesses, gossipping (Gk. laleō)
the gospel. Luke
acknowledges that "the Lord's hand was with them".  The Lord worked
through their witnessing in a remarkable way (cf. Mt.16:20!). A company
of believers was formed in Antioch.
The Jerusalem church sends help
The Jerusalem church may be seen as a mother church here (cf. Acts
8:14). The choice of Barnabas as a minister would be a careful one. He
came from a Dispersion family, and as a delegate of the church was
completely trustworthy. The initial reaction of Barnabas on arrival at
Antioch was twofold: he rejoiced to see the evidence of the grace of
God, and he ministered to the new believers with words of exhortation
and encouragement. The character of Barnabas is worth studying. He is
the only one called "good" (Gk. agathos,
good, useful) in the Acts. He
was full of the Holy Spirit and faith (cf. 6:3). His ministry brought a
great number to the Lord.
Barnabas involves Saul in the
work (11:25 26)
Barnabas saw the need of extra ministry to help in the church's
evangelism and teaching. Paul had returned to his home city of Tarsus.
We are not told what he was doing there. If Barnabas thought Paul was
equipped to help him in this lively situation, we could argue that he
must have been in active service. Paul returns with Barnabas to Antioch
and they begin to minister together. They are an example of team
ministry. There is an emphasis on teaching. and the designation
"disciples" may be significant. The situation at Antioch is a reminder
of the Lord's world commission to preach and teach (Mk.16:15-16;
Mt.28:19-20). At Antioch the believers are named "Christians". The name
is undoubtedly sectarian. It takes "Christ" to be a name and not a
title. The name may contain an element of ridicule (see Acts 26:28; 1
The ministry of the Jerusalem
prophets (11:27 30)
Further ministry came to the flourishing work from Jerusalem by way of
prophets including Agabus (cf. 21:10).  He predicted a severe famine
would spread over the entire Roman world. Luke is quick to point out
that the word came to pass during the reign of Claudius. The prophecy
encouraged the Christians to organise a collection of money to enable
the brothers in Judea to buy food against the coming crisis. This was
an act of fellowship. The fact is highlighted by the way Barnabas and
Saul delivered the gift personally. By way of comparison I.H.Marshall
makes the comment: "Probably the Antiochene Christians set aside money
systematically until the time of need actually came, and then sent
Barnabas and Saul as their delegates to take the accumulated sum to the
Christians at Jerusalem". 
It is meaningful to notice how local churches maintained links with the
Jerusalem church and the apostles by evangelism, ministry, and
fellowship. The ministry at Antioch at this time included Barnabas (an
exhorter), Paul (a teacher) and Agabus a prophet. Rich ministry indeed!
The New Testament and the
ministry of the charismatic prophet
The NT does not supply much evidence on the ministry of prophets.
"Prophet" as a ministry gift (see 1 Cor.12:29; Eph.4:11-13) must be
distinguished from those who exercise the "gift of prophecy" (cf. Acts
21:8-10 with 11:27-30; 13:1-3; 21:10). The Didache (c.A.D. 120)
provides some excellent details on the ministry of itinerant prophets
and their expectations at the end of the first century and beyond.
2. THE CALL TO MISSION (13:1-3)
"While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy
Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which
I have called them" (13:2). Luke takes care to report what must be a
highly significant event in the life of the Christian church. It is an
event in which the Holy Spirit was very prominent.
The growing church (13:1-2)
The list of five men indicates a maturing church, and one of ethnic and
cultural diversity.  Luke does not tell us who were recognised as
prophets and who were teachers. These were gathered with the rest of
the church  worshipping or serving ("as a priest", cf. Lk.1:23) the
Lord. The thought of prayer and fasting lends itself to the suggestion
that the church saw the need to wait on the Lord, to "serve him" (an
end in itself), or to seek for guidance (which the context may well
The ministry, prayer and the
voice of the Spirit (13:2)
A number of Lucan interests are brought together here. The presence of
the Spirit is very powerful - and the divine voice is very clear - the
words, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul..." are very specific. The
Spirit chose leaders (see 20:28). The word probably came by a gift of
the Spirit (no details are supplied by Luke - the Spirit uses people to
reveal his will). John Mark is not mentioned as part of the call, but
he features as the assistant for the missionary party (v.5; see 12:25;
15:37-38). The unanimity of the divine Spirit and the church is to be
noted – "they sent them off" (v.3); "sent on their way by the Holy
Spirit" (v.4). The church knew the mind of God.
The laying on of hands (13:3)
"The departure of the missionaries was preceded by a further session of
prayer and fasting, this time no doubt a period of intercession for
their future work" (I.H.Marshall).  The missionary party was
commissioned by the church by "the laying on of hands" (cf. 6:6). By
this means the church identified itself with the missionaries and
"committed them to the grace of God" (14:26). 
3. MINISTRY ON CYPRUS (13:4 12)
From Seleucia Barnabas and Saul sailed for Cyprus, the home of
Barnabas, taking John Mark with them as their "helper" (Gk. hupēretēs,
assistant, helper, servant) . They ministered in the synagogue in
Salamis and then travelled to Paphos preaching en route (vv.4-5).
The witness before Sergius
Paulus (13:6 12)
At Paphos, the seat of government, Paul and Barnabas were invited to
speak with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. A Jewish "magician" named Bar
Jesus (son of Joshua), who was part of the court retinue, withstood the
apostles. Then Paul, full of the Holy Spirit, resisted him as a "child
of the devil". The judgment of blindness was temporary (v.11). The
record seems to indicate that the proconsul was converted (v.12). The
miracle impressed him, but it is notable that "teaching" is the thing
that really impressed the proconsul (cf. Lk.4:32). Paul impressed Paul!
At this point the apostle Paul begins to head the party (v.13), and his
Jewish name Saul is exchanged for his Hellenistic name, Paul (v.9).
This was bound to happen as he related to Gentiles.
4. MINISTRY IN PISIDIAN ANTIOCH (13:13-52)
From Paphos Paul and his companions sailed to Asia Minor. At
Perga John Mark left them and returned home (cf. 15:38). At the leading
town of the area, Pisidian Antioch, they attended the local synagogue
on the first sabbath. This account illustrates Paul's strategy of "to
the Jew first" (Rom.1:16).
Paul's synagogue address
In the synagogue, after the reading of the Scriptures, Paul responded
to the invitation to give a word of exhortation. As was the custom in
Hellenistic synagogues he stood to speak, and emphasised his word with
gestures. Luke records the speech at length as an example of a
The first part of Paul's speech rehearsed God's gracious dealings with
his people, from the time of the patriarchs to the time of the kings.
(It compares with Dt.26:5-9 and Psa.73.) Israel's ideal king was David,
and it was from his descendants that God could be expected to fulfil
his promises to his people. God's covenant with David pointed to Christ
(cf. 1 Sam.7:12-16), identified by Paul as Jesus. John the Baptist had
also pointed to Jesus. The sermon now focuses on Jesus, the Messiah
rejected by the Jews. He was not recognised (v.27; cf. 1 Cor.2:3). The
blame for the Lord's condemnation is laid at the feet of the Jews
(v.28). In delivering him to be crucified they fulfilled the Scriptures
(Acts 2:23). The "tree" and the "tomb" represent the two main elements
of the gospel (see 1 Cor.15:3,4). Paul exhorts his hearers to respond
to the good news (v.32), enforcing it by using the Scriptures (Psa.2:7;
16:10; Isa.55:3). The resurrection of Jesus, promised by the Scriptures
and confirmed by eyewitnesses is God's action (vv.31,37). Through
Christ there is forgiveness and justification (vv.33-39).
The reaction to the gospel
Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak again the following sabbath.
Keen Jews and proselytes (or perhaps God fearers) talked with the
apostles after the meeting and were exhorted to "continue in the grace
of God". The scene the following sabbath was one of joy and jealousy.
The Jews were jealous as they viewed the full synagogue. The apostle's
reply to the abusement of the gospel by the Jews was his use of
Isa.49:6 (v.41). Israel, as the Lord's servant (Isa.44:1), should have
been a light to the Gentiles! Persecution accompanied the propagation
of the gospel through the region. The Jews incited high ranking men and
women against the apostles. Driven out they were not downhearted,
indeed they were filled with divine joy (v.52).
5. MINISTRY IN ICONIUM (14:1 7)
From Antioch Paul and Barnabas travelled to Iconium. In the
city they began their ministry in the synagogue with great success
among both Jew and Gentile, God confirming the "message of his grace"
(cf. 20:32) with miraculous signs and wonders (v.3; cf. 5:12; Heb.2:3).
But unbelieving Jews campaigned against them, stirring up persecution.
The city was divided by the gospel (cf. Mt.10:34-38) and opposition
grew as the leaders hardened themselves, slandered the missionaries and
became involved in a plan to stone them. Hearing of this Paul and
Barnabas fled to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding country. They
continued to preach the good news.
6. MINISTRY IN LYSTRA AND DERBE (14:8-21)
In Lystra (14:8-21)
As there was apparently no synagogue in Lystra, the apostles preached
in the open air. The story of the healing of the cripple is simply yet
vividly told. He listened, looked and leapt! The miracle involved a
word of knowledge and a word of faith.
The reaction to the miracle was unexpected. Barnabas was taken to be
Zeus, Paul his messenger, Hermes! The missionaries rejected being
honoured as gods. By tearing their garments they demonstrated their
revulsion, and by rushing into the crowd they showed themselves to be
human. Paul's explanation-cum-sermon to the crowd compares with that
delivered at Athens (17:22-31; cf. 1 Thess.1:9,10). ). The sermon
begins with the living God, the Creator, who shows his kindness by
giving the seasons and harvests. The exhortation to "turn from these
worthless things", that is idols, is one of repentance.
I.H.Marshall comments: "The world of nature should thus have led men to
recognise the existence, power and goodness of the Creator. But now
this 'natural' revelation belongs to the past... it is now supplemented
by the new witness by God - the good news of which Paul speaks". 
The apostles had trouble restraining the crowd. Jews from Antioch and
Iconium stirred up a riot in which Paul was stoned and cast out of the
city as dead. The sudden change of attitude is remarkable, in that the
apostle had just been proclaimed as a messenger of the Immortals (cf.
Lk.4:22,28). Was Paul raised from the dead? The words "thinking he was
dead" suggest not (v.19). His catalogue of troubles in 2 Corinthians.11
does not include restoration from death, but does include exposure to
death (v.23) and stoning (v.25).
In Derbe (14:20-21)
"They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of
disciples." This is a simple record but, as I.H.Marshall says, "the
missionary tour reached its climax with successful evangelism in Derbe;
there is no mention of any further opposition from the Jews (cf. the
silence of 2 Tim.3:11)". 
7. THE RETURN TO ANTIOCH IN SYRIA (14:21-28)
In Acts 14:21-28 we are given another insight into Paul's
mission policy and pastoral care. The apostle sought to follow up his
work and encourage his converts in the faith. Further, he appointed
elders in his churches. Here we have the first reference to elders
outside Jerusalem (cf. 20:17; 1 Tim.5:17; Tit.1:5; Jam.5:14; 1
Pet.5:1-5). These were ordained from among the people after prayer and
fasting (cf. 13:1-3). Paul was concerned about church leadership.
Notice the exhortation: "We must go through many hardships to enter the
kingdom of God" (v.22).
In Perga (14:24)
The return journey took the missionaries back through Pisidia to Perga.
Here they preached the word. From the adjacent port of Attalia they
sailed to Syria and so returned to Antioch. Luke does not supply
Full circle - the report to the
home church (14:26-28)
The first missionary journey ends with Paul and Barnabas retracing
their steps to their home church in Syrian Antioch. They gave an
account of their ministry, reporting how through the ministry of their
young church, God "had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles". Luke
shares a strong sense of a completed mission.
More comments on Paul's mission
Note these simple observations:
Paul's strategy involved major centres, such as Antioch,
Ephesus. He reached them via major roads, such as the Via Egnatia (Acts
Then, his policy was "the Jew first, then for the Greek"
Paul looked for a Jewish synagogue in which to commence his ministry.
Here, even Gentile adherents to the Jewish faith would respond to
preaching based on the Scriptures (Acts 16:13; see 13:5, 14; 14:1, et
Paul maintained an interest in the churches he pioneered.
He had a
pastoral heart for them. He followed his work up by personal
visitation, by sending co-workers to help churches, he prayed for them,
and he wrote letters to them (his NT letters are occasional letters,
i.e., they were often prompted by news).
1. What Lucan interests can we ascertain in his record of
Paul's first missionary journey?
2. How did Paul support his pioneer works as indicated by Acts
and the Pauline epistles?
3. Can churches still benefit today from itinerant ministries
that centre on fellowship, preaching, and exhortation?
Click here for