Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mission to Cyprus (Acts 13)

1. Look at how diverse the group of believers at Antioch was!  (This is before James sent Peter up there to crack down on their open fellowship)  Simeon is called Niger, which may have meant he was dark skinned. Lucius is all the way from Cyrene, in North Africa. Manaen was a person with high connections, since he grew up with Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist. [1]

[1] Some have suggested in the past that some individuals attracted to Christianity might have been individuals who were not born into status but were on the margins of status.  Think Erastus at Corinth.

These individuals, with no mandate from HQ, lay hands on Paul and Barnabas to go on a mission to the island of Cyprus.

2. This choice of destination was not random.  Cyprus was where Barnabas was from originally (cf. Acts 4:36). John Mark goes with them and he Barnabas' cousin--quite possibly he has family connections there as well.  It was low-hanging fruit.  Who knows, Barnabas might have already known just about every Jew on the island.

3. They span the length of the island and find themselves in front of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus. As we saw with Paul's tussle with authorities in Damascus, Acts arguably may downplay conflict with Roman authorities.  Acts puts it politely--Sergius wanted to hear the word of God. That doesn't mean he didn't have a reason to want to know.

Basically, I'm saying Paul might have been in trouble again. I can't say for sure.  Maybe Sergius was just curious. Or maybe he was doing his job.

Whatever the reason, he believes. Acts 13 doesn't say he was baptized but I wouldn't be surprised, personally. Paul has some sort of run in with a sorcerer named Elymas (did he bring charges of some sort against Paul?).  By the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul strikes him blind for a while.  Sorcerer out-miracled!

4. It is only at this point, perhaps 15 years after Paul believed on Jesus, that Paul starts going by Paul instead of Saul. "Paul" was thus not a Christian name given to him at conversion, baptism, etc. It was more likely a Roman name or nickname he had always had. Is it significant that he starts going by Paul at Cyprus.  I suspect it is, perhaps in some ways we can only guess.

Is part of it that Paul has now embraced his destiny as apostle to the Gentiles?  He is no longer Clark Kent.  Now he's supermissionary.  Gone for good are the days of suppressing his Diaspora, Greek-speaking origins.  Now, he embraces it as his God-ordained destiny for mission.

5. I doubt they had planned to head north to Asia Minor originally. I'm guessing it was Paul's idea. Why stop here--let's head north!

When they come ashore on the underbelly of Turkey (Perga), John Mark has had enough. He quits.  Why?  We mostly have to speculate.
  • "I didn't sign up for Asia, especially not those mountains." 
  • "I mean, Cyprus was familiar, a chance to visit family.  Don't know nuthin' about Galatia!"
  • "I thought my cuz, Barnabas, was in charge of this mission. Who does this Paul guy think he is?"
  • "I'm not really comfortable with how chummy Paul is getting with these Gentiles."
It will come up again.

6. They make their way up into the middle of Asia Minor, uphill into Pisidia to another town called Antioch, formerly a favorite city of the emperor Augustus. This is likely the area in general to which he would later write the book of Galatians.

We get a brief window into the way synagogue was conducted. We know there was a reading of the Law and a reading from the Prophets (Acts 13:15), the two established collections of the Jewish canon at this time.

A "word of exhortation" is presumably a homily, and perhaps it was normal for appropriate leaders to give such.  The book of Hebrews styles itself a word of exhortation (Heb. 13:22), perhaps indicating that it was meant to be read during this part of worship at whatever destination to which it was sent (Rome?).

7. Paul gives a sermon.  Part of Acts subliminal goal, surely, is to show the similarity between the sermon of Paul and the sermons of Peter.  He wants his audience to see the continuity between the mission of Paul and the mission of Peter.

The shape of the sermon is thus quite similar to that of Peter's Pentecost sermon:

  • He starts with the story of Israel.
  • Jesus came according to God's plan. He was wrongly crucified, but it was all part of God's plan.
  • God raised him from the dead.
  • Through Jesus is now possible the forgiveness of sins.
Paul even uses the same passage from the OT as Peter: Psalm 16 in its Greek form.

8. Some interesting hermeneutics and theology in the use of Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 16. Psalm 2 was apparently used by the early Christians to speak of Jesus' enthronement as cosmic king at the point of his resurrection. Acts 13:33, Romans 1:3 and Hebrews 1:5 all point to this use of the psalm.

9. After Paul and Barnabas get opposition from the synagogue, they turn to the Gentiles. This will be a major theme of the rest of Acts, the turning to the Gentiles. Luke seems to want to make a point of this, so it is part of his theological perspective that affects how he tells the story.  The book of Acts climaxes with a decisive turn to the Gentiles, which probably is meant to foreshadow the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

Isaiah 49:6 is invoked as a prophecy of the Gentiles' faith. Luke also alluded to this verse in Simeon's song, in Luke 2:32.

10. Despite opposition, some believe, including proselytes to Judaism. Arguably, a lot of the first converts to the Jesus movement were Gentiles who were either God-fearers or proselytes of this sort. Interesting that some of the key opponents in this region were "God-fearing women of high standing." The phenomenon of women of high standing who were interested in Judaism is fascinating, and we find evidence of it even in Caesar's household at the end of the first century.

"Those who were appointed for eternal life believed."  A deterministic way to word it.  I've argued elsewhere that this is "after the fact" language.  Some believe and some don't.  Why is a mystery.  It was in keeping with the Zeitgeist that they would use fatalistic language to say so. It doesn't in itself imply a full blown theology of predestination.


Richard Fellows said...

As you know, I see no evidence that "James sent Peter up there to crack down on their open fellowship"

Strelan argued, persuasively I think, that Elymas was already a Christian, of sorts. He may have been Sergius's court magician/astrologer. Sergius may have had a prior interest in Christianity.

I see from your chronology that you are equating Gal 2:1-10 with the famine visit.

Yes, Saul started going by the name "Paul" many years after his conversion. However, we cannot deduce from this that he had always had the name Paul. Up until this point in time he had to keep using the name "Saul" because everyone knew him by that name. Name recognition is very important, especially for Paul who would have drawn the crowds, who recognized that Saul, the persecutor of the Christians, had become a Christian himself! Chrysostom made this point and I argued it in more detail here.

If the mountains frightened Mark on the 1MJ why did they not frighten him on the 2MJ? And why would Paul reject Mark if Mark had overcome his fear of mountains?
Paul would not have been able to take the leadership role if Mark and Barnabas did not let him. Leadership requires consent.
More likely Mark knew that the missionaries would be persecuted in Galatia, as indeed they were (unlike in Cyprus). It was safer after the establishment of churches there, so Mark was willing to visit on the 2MJ. Paul, however, wanted someone who would be willing to continue on the onward journey after Galatia, to new territory.

You say that Acts had a subliminal goal of showing continuity between Paul and Peter. Isn't it simpler to suppose that there WAS continuity between Paul and Peter? When Acts provides evidence against one's theory, one can always hypothesize a 'tendency', but that is an act of desperation, isn't it?

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Richard. I don't actually equate Galatians 2 with the famine visit. I'll need to reread to make sure I worded it right.

Richard Fellows said...

I see. My mistake. You are making the 3 years and the 14 years consecutive.

One other point: I don't know why you say that they had no mandate from HQ. Barnabas WAS HQ. It was the men from James/Judea who had no mandate from HQ. As you know, I think you put the Jerusalem leadership on the wrong side of the ideological divide.