Acts 9:17; 11:24; 13:2-4ff
In these daily notes, focusing on the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts, we turn now to the missionary work of Paul. This narrative strand is introduced in the second division of the book, beginning with the account of Paul’s conversion (9:1-19), and concluding with the completion of his first missionary journey (chaps. 13-14) and the council held at Jerusalem (chap. 15). Paul’s first missionary journey was made with Barnabas as his partner.
The role of the Spirit in this journey is established by the author at several points in the narrative. First, we have the information that both Paul and Barnabas, prior to their missionary journey, were filled by the Spirit. In the case of Paul (Saul), this is indicated within the conversion episode, where Ananias lays hands on him and prays/declares that “…you would be filled by [the] holy Spirit” (plhsqh=|$ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou) (9:17). It is not stated that Paul received the Spirit, but we can certainly assume it from what follows in the narrative. As for Barnabas, the same is stated directly by the summary narration: “…he was a good man, full [plh/rh$] of (the) holy Spirit and trust” (11:24).
To say that Paul and Barnabas were “filled” by the Spirit, simply means that they were genuine believers (all such believers received the Spirit), and that they were empowered for active missionary work (involving the proclamation of the Gospel, supported by the working of miracles). Paul’s initial mission-work, begun shortly after his conversion, is narrated in 9:19b-30. We are not informed of similar work by Barnabas, beyond what is narrated in 11:22-26, which is included primarily to establish the site of Antioch as a (Hellenistic) Christian center, and to introduce the pairing of Barnabas and Paul (vv. 25-26).
The author also cleverly introduces the Spirit-theme in relation, specifically, to the congregation(s) at Antioch, through the brief episode narrated in 11:27-30. This is a transitional narrative, meant to join the Paul/Barnabas/Antioch strand with the Peter/Jerusalem strand in chap. 12. It introduces the idea of the suffering of the Jerusalem believers which would be developed in chap. 12; but it also prepares the ground-work for the introductory narrative (13:1-3) to the missionary journey of Paul/Barnabas.
In 11:28, a minor detail is noted: an otherwise unknown early Christian prophet (v. 27) named Abagus (Hagab) foretells the coming of a great famine. The specific information about this famine is only tangential to the narrative, but the comment that the prediction came true in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (v. 28b) serves to underscore the inspired character of the prophecy. Indeed, it is said that Abagus “marked” (i.e., indicated, made known, vb shmai/nw) the coming famine “through the Spirit” (dia\ tou= pneu/mato$).
This sets the stage for the narrative introduction to the missionary journey of Paul/Barnabas in 13:1-3. The two men were already missionaries “filled/full of the Spirit”, yet they were further chosen to go out on a special missionary tour into the wider Greco-Roman world (Asia Minor). Their selection and confirmation as missionaries for this purpose took place in a gathering of believers at Antioch (v. 1):
“And, in their doing service to the Lord and fasting, the holy Spirit said: ‘Mark off for me Bar-Neba and Ša’ûl unto the work (for) which I have called to them’.”
It is not specified precisely how this information was communicated to the believers at this gathering, but, based on the earlier Agabus episode (cf. above), we can fairly assume that the oracular utterance by a prophet, speaking with the voice of the Spirit, was involved.
In any case, the believers responded faithfully to this directive, and ‘set apart’ Barnabas and Paul (Saul) for the designated missionary service. A three-part ritual ministry was involved (v. 3): (i) a time of fasting, (ii) prayer, and (iii) the laying on of hands. Based on other occurrences of the ritual gesture (5:12; 6:6; 8:17-19; 9:17; 19:6, etc), the laying of hands was meant to confer (or at least to confirm) the presence and power of the Spirit. That the prayer was answered, and the ritual effective, is indicated by what follows in verse 4—properly the beginning of the missionary narrative-complex in chaps. 13-14—for it shows that the Spirit was indeed present with Paul and Barnabas, guiding their journey from the outset:
“Then they, (hav)ing been sent out under the holy Spirit, went down to Seleukia, and (from) there to Kypros…” (v. 4)
This is an important aspect of the Lukan Spirit-theme which the author has only begun developing at this point in the narrative. In the book of Acts, it was introduced in the Philip episode with the Ethiopian official (8:29, 39), and touched upon again in the conversion episodes of Paul and Cornelius (9:10-17; 10:19-20ff). Within the broader context of Luke-Acts, it was introduced in relation to the person of Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry (4:1, 14), where he is led by the Spirit into the desert (to endure temptation) and then back into Galilee.
The presence of the Spirit will be mentioned numerous times in the narratives of Paul’s missionary journeys. The first such instance is at 13:9, where the Spirit’s presence empowers Paul (“[hav]ing been filled by the holy Spirit”) to confront the Jewish magician and ‘false prophet’ (Bar-Yeshua), and to speak against him with divine authority (and miracle-working power), vv. 10-11. As throughout the book of Acts, this working of miracles (‘signs and wonders’) is meant to support the proclamation of the Gospel, as it does here, where the Cypriot proconsul on Paphos (Sergius Paulus) responds to the Gospel and believes.