Barnabas and Saul at Antioch
19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
[Here we see many of those scattered from the persecution in Jerusalem went up the cost. Phoenicia was north of Caesarea (where we found Cornelius) and followed the coastline up towards Antioch. Others had taken boats to the island of Cyprus. This is just far enough outside of Judea to where the primary language was no longer Aramaic but Greek, yet this verse 19 group witnessed only in the synagogues. Others were scattered to the west as far as Cyrene but also to Cyprus like the first group. But is seems the witness of the verse 20 group extended outside the synagogues and reached a group identified only as the Hellenist or Grecian depending on your translation. Now as far back as the reformation Bible teachers have been debating who these Hellenist were, the primary question was whether or not they were Jews. Technically the word only means one who speaks Greek, so you really have to look at how this term is used in the book of Acts to get a clear understanding of its meaning:
TRANSLITERATION GREEK TRANSLATION USED
HELLENISTES EllhniothV HELLENIST OR GRECIAN ACTS 6,9, 11
HELLEN Ellhn GENTILE OR GREEK ACTS 16
HELLENISTI Ellhnioti IN GREEK ACTS 21
Based upon this usage we conclude that the Hellenist were Jews but would have differing customs with some being very conservative, keeping to the synagogues, and strictly following the law, other being more integrated with the Greeks or gentiles, maybe only observing the most holy days of the Jewish faith. Some even think these are part of the Diaspora, Jews from the Babylonian captivity who never relocated back to Israel. At this time there would still be a cultural separation between the Aramaic speaking Jews who studied the Hebrew Bible, and the Jews to spoke Greek and used the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.]
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
[The bottom line is the Lord was using different people to reach different audiences, diversity increased in the church and more people turned to Jesus as a result.]
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
[Again we see Jerusalem being reactive instead of proactive. Only after they hear of the Holy Spirit moving through a group of people do they send help from Jerusalem. In this case we have a bunch of witnessing disciples following Jesus and the Holy Spirit but they are lacking leadership, so they Send Barnabas to Antioch to encourage this new church. You will remember we have seen Barnabas twice before, giving a great offering in Acts 4, and uniting Saul with the church at Jerusalem in Acts 9. We also find that Barnabas was from Cyprus like many of the Jews in Antioch, so he is the perfect minister for this church.]
25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
[As the church in Antioch grew Barnabas saw that he could use the help of Saul. Saul had to leave Jerusalem because he was going to be killed by the Jewish leaders there, but here in Antioch he could be a real help to the church. Barnabas remembered what a good Spirit filled teacher Saul was, so he brought him from Tarsus to Antioch. There in Antioch, Saul and Barnabas ministered together for a whole year.
Up until this time Jesus' followers called themselves disciples, brethren, or people of The Way (from John 14:6). Here in Antioch the church gained the title "Christians". Some think this was originally intended as an insult by those outside the church, but believers have adopted the title and kept it. To tell the truth I prefer "the way" because that suggested following a certain path, a way of living, not just believing.]
Relief to Judea
27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. [When we think of prophets, we think of the Old Testament prophets like Daniel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. But Jesus also referred to himself and John the Baptist as prophets. We also know prophecy to be one of the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit:
10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
These prophets by the Spirit foretold future events, important to the Church.
One of these New Testament prophets from Jerusalem was a man named Agabus. Agabus appears twice in scripture, here and in Acts 21, here he told of a famine in the Roman world, and in Acts 21 he foretold Paul of being imprisoned in Rome. What is interesting here is Luke is recalling the prophecy, but writing after it was already fulfilled, so he adds the detail that it was fulfilled when Claudius was the Caesar of Rome. Because of this little footnote, we have a historical context to the story:
Augustus 27 BC-14 AD
Tiberius 14 – 37 AD
Caligula 37 – 41 AD
Claudius 41 – 54 AD
Nero 54 – 68 AD
So the famine would be in the 41 – 54 AD timeframe. This famine is recorded in multiple secular histories. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles places the famine at 46-47 AD. The Josephus also writes of the famine in the time of Claudius, and the Roman historian Tacitus tells of a man being jailed during this time because he had a vision predicting years of bad harvests for Claudius. Some professors at Harvard studied the geological data from this era to see if this famine was caused by drought, what they found was the opposite. It seems for a few years the rains that flood the Nile river delta came later usual far a few years, flooding the fields that had already been planted, destroying much of the harvest. So the famine stretched from Egypt up through Syria including Judea.]
29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
[We often speak of a growth in terms of an increase of new believers. Here we see growth in spiritual maturity. The church at Antioch, thankful for the teachers from Jerusalem, takes up an offering, each giving as much as they could afford, to send relief, providing for the saints in Jerusalem. This church had grown in grace and compassion. Most of them would not personally know who they were helping, but they had love for the brethren even a long way off.
There is evidence that the Aramaic speaking Jews, and the Greek speaking Jews usually maintained a cultural separation. But in the Christian church, we are one body, and one spirit. The Spirit of God, gives us a love for others who belong to Christ Jesus, even with barriers of language and culture. This is evidence of our redemption. John 13
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."]