Exegesis Acts 13:13-43

13 Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14 They continued their journey from Perga and reached Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, you can speak.”

16 Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said, “Fellow Israelites, and you who fear God, listen! 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, made the people prosper during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness; 19 and after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 This all took about 450 years. After this, he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish,

Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and went back to Jerusalem. They continued their journey from Perga and reached Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, you can speak.”

Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said, “Fellow Israelites, and you who fear God, listen! The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, made the people prosper during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness; and after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. This all took about 450 years. After this, he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. After removing him, he raised up David as their king and testified about him, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart,, who will carry out all my will.’

“From this man’s descendants, as he promised, God brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus. Before his coming to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Now as John was completing his mission, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the one. But one is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’

“Brothers and sisters, children of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, it is to us that the word of this salvation has been sent. Since the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him or the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they have fulfilled their words by condemning him. Though they found no grounds for the death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out all that had been written about him, they took him down from the tree and put him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, 31 and he appeared for many days to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm:

      You are my Son;

      today I have become your Father.,,

As to his raising him from the dead, never to return to decay, he has spoken in this way, I will give you the holy and sure promises of David., Therefore he also says in another passage, You will not let your Holy One see decay. For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed, 37 but the one God raised up did not decay. Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers and sisters, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you. Everyone who believes is justified through him from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you:

      Look, you scoffers,

      marvel and vanish away,

      because I am doing a work in your days,

      a work that you will never believe,

      even if someone were to explain it to you.”,

As they were leaving, the people urged them to speak about these matters the following Sabbath. After the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and urging them to continue in the grace of God.

Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Ac 13:13–43.

Interpretations

  1. Why did Paul review Israel’s history in his speech?

When Paul started his speech in Acts 13:13-43, he had a keen understanding of his audience. This audience could be broken into two segments, the Jewish folks, and the God-fearing Gentiles. The Jewish folks would have had a background (to a greater or lesser extent) of their own history. In the East – in the first century and modern times – history is not just events of the past but also very contemporary. What happened then is very real right now. Paul used a standard Jewish rhetorical method of building up his argument by engaging with blocks of historical (and, for the most part, mutually agreed upon) facts. The Jewish listeners would expect this type of rhetorical tool from any learned rabbi that would come to them. In short, by using history, he got their attention.

For the God-fearing Gentiles, this was also an opportunity to expand their knowledge of history and how God worked with this group of people called Israel. The context of Israel’s chosenness, their rescue from Egypt, their wandering, their settlement into the Promised Land, and their monarchies provides them with the groundwork for understanding the gospel of Jesus. While he had the Jews’ attention, he also engaged the God-fearing Gentiles with a narrative that leads straight to the Messiah.

  • Why did Paul conclude that the Law of Moses was fulfilled in Jesus?

A significant theme throughout Paul’s epistles is his argument that the Law (Torah, Law of Moses) is insufficient in providing salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 2:15-16, for example, speaks to justification through faith as opposed to the Law. By historically building up a case for Jesus as Messiah, Paul draws his audience into the narrative for Jesus’ ministry and death. Paul then transitions to the resurrection of Jesus by first quoting Psalm 2:7. The context of vs. 7 starts in vs. 6 and God’s divine decree that He has established a king that will be a Son to the Father (vs. 7). This king (Messiah as interpreted by Paul), in vs. 8 will gain the inheritance of the nations (גּוֹי goy gentiles, people groups, ethnicities).

            After Psalm 2, Paul gives further scriptural evidence from Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10. These passages further bolster Jesus as the resurrected Messiah, defeating death and the atonement for sins. Paul then concludes his speech with the declaration that “Everyone who believes is justified through [Jesus] from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses.” The Law could not save people from their sins, but Jesus can. The mission of the Messiah was not another political king (vs. 36: “For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed…”) but a living resurrected sin forgiving King.

Application   

            As followers of Jesus, we are called to be evangelists. Not everyone is to be the Billy Graham kind of evangelist, but we are all called to share the gospel in the way the Holy Spirit equips us. One of the most powerful tools we have in evangelism is our testimony. Testimony is recalling something that has happened and bringing that event or those events into the present. In the passage at hand, Paul crafts his evangelistic message within the testimony of God’s relationship with Isreal. In other speeches (Acts 22:6-21), Paul will use his personal testimony. But here, he uses the testimony of God’s people.

            This method’s application is that when engaging with people and sharing the gospel, it must not start with a direct proclamation of truth (that essential part will surely come). In speaking with the audience in Pisidian Antioch, he built up a relationship with them through the story of their heritage. When we take the time to establish a relationship with others who need to hear the gospel, we must consider their histories and perceptions. By testifying, personal or otherwise, the evangelist will invite the non-Christ-follower to a relationship by exposing deeply felt historical events. Some will respond; some will not respond. However, as the passage shows, our mission to evangelize must start with recognizing and respecting the audience.

Summary and Review

  1. Summary –

Acts 13 falls at the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey. With Barnabas, the church at Antioch has commissioned the two to go to the Gentiles specifically. Traveling to Selucida, they took water transport to Cyprus. Landing in the port town of Salamis, they picked up John as their assistant. They had some success in Salamis and went on to Paphos. John’s association didn’t last long as after another journey across the Mediterranean and landing in Perga, he left them to go back to Jerusalem. Traveling north, they reached Pisidian Antioch in what is now western Turkey. It is at Pisidian Antioch that we find the passage at hand.

Paul has developed a pattern of finding fellow Jews and going to their synagogues for the Sabbath. This city is no exception. Being recognized as important visitors, they are invited to speak to the congregation. The audience was not just Jews but God-fearing Gentiles. These were people who loved God, observed the Torah as best they could but had not yet made the transition to the full Jewish faith. Paul understands this mixed crowd and proceeded to address them.

Paul methodically moved through Israel’s history. Touching on the major themes of Jewish history – chosen, rescued, formed in the wilderness, conquered the land, and then entered into Saul and David’s monarchies. When Paul moved his narrative to David, he started speaking of the long-awaited Messiah, whom Paul immediately identifies as Jesus. Paul then proceeded with a proclamation of the gospel, quoting several messianic scripture passages. The climax of the sermon came with the declaration of Jesus being raised from the dead and the gift of salvation to all who believe. The audience response was enthusiastic, and Paul was asked to speak the following Sabbath. However, he is not without his detractors. Some Jews were “jealous” and spoke against him (vs. 45). However, his second audience was much more extensive, and many people – Jew and Gentile – came to faith and were filled with the Holy Spirit (vs. 52).

  • Critical Assessment –

Looking at this evangelistic message from Paul, there are several important themes to address. The first is the historical review. The reason for this review was to set up Paul’s message of Jesus. Marshall states that the speech “can be summed up as a historical survey designed to root the coming of Jesus in the kingly succession of Judah and to show that the career of Jesus was in fulfillment of prophecy: it culminates in an appeal to the hearers not to repeat the error of the people of Jerusalem who had rejected Jesus. The general pattern is similar to that of the other speeches in the first part of Acts, the same basic elements being present.”[1] Tannehill further notes: “The speech in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch provides a model of what he said on… many occasions…The speech is carefully crafted to be persuasive for the audience the narrator envisions.”[2]

Paul’s message resulted in the sense of joy in his two audiences (especially the second one). Although there were Jewish detractors, Story notes: “As a counter-point to joy-less rejection, Luke emphasizes the joyful reception of others. When the pair leaves the synagogue, the response is positive, for the people invite the apostles to speak again about these matters on the next Sabbath. However, ‘many Jews and devout proselytes’ just cannot wait for the next Sabbath (Acts 13:43). The language reflects joyous excitement.”[3]

Also of note are the scriptural passages quoted by Paul. Longenecker observes: “To… demonstrate the fulfillment of what God has promised, Paul cites three OT passages fraught with messianic meaning for Christians and also for some Jews. The first is Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son; today I have become your Father”), which Paul uses to bind together Judaism’s confession and Christianity’s confession by juxtaposing it with 2 Samuel 7:6–16 underlying vv. 17–22. Both 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:7 portray God as speaking of his “son,” and it was undoubtedly this that brought the two passages together.”[4] Overall, this evangelistic message presented by the narrator of Acts provides insight into the model and approach to preaching that would mark Paul’s various addresses throughout the book.

  • Reactions and questions, and application –

When I read this address by Paul, I tried to put myself in the room. If I were a Jew, I would have been separated from my wife in the synagogue and isolated from the God-fearing Gentiles. I would look at these Gentiles with fondness, but also with caution. Although they love God, they are still, after all, Gentiles. If I were a Gentile in the room, I would have to be segregated away from the main congregation. I imagine that I would feel disconnected from the Jewish group, even though I loved the same God. From both of these perspectives, Paul’s message cuts deep. If I were a Jew, my heritage’s history would have drawn me into Paul’s narrative. If I were a Gentile, the offer of salvation regardless of ethnic background would have excited me.

I find it fascinating that there were some Jews who did not accept his message over jealousy. Would I have been one of those Jews? I would hope not. Those who received Paul’s gospel of Jesus were given a joyous experience of the Holy Spirit. Those who rejected the message were only left with bitterness.


[1] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 234–235.

[2] Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts A Literary Interpretation Volume Two: The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press 1990), 164-165.

[3] J. Lyle Story, Joyous Encounters (Chestnut Ridge, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2018) Kindle Edition, 222.

[4] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 426.

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