Bible Study “Eyes Wide Open” May 15-21

Week 6 (5.15.2016)

Ground Work: Acts 13:4-12

The first missionary journey is set to begin (Acts 13-14).  Saul will embark on three missionary journeys throughout the Acts of the Apostles.  The second (Acts 15:36-18:22) and the third missionary journeys (Acts 18:23-21:16) took Saul through Asia Minor and into Europe by way of Macedonia and Greece.  Saul and his companions traveled by sea and by ancient roads likely by walking.  The geography and the seasons had to be taken into account when traveling.  Winter forbade travel especially in Asia Minor with the treachery of the Taurus Mountains in the East.

When Saul and his companions traveled by way of ship on the Mediterranean Sea, the winds determined that most commonly they used ship travel only when traveling East back to Antioch and Jerusalem.  Ships were for commerce and passenger travel was secondary.  These were not cruise ships or luxury liners.  They were built to ship as much goods from one port city to another.

The first journey begins as Saul and Barnabas travel from Antioch to the port city of Antioch called Seleucia founded like Antioch by one of Alexander the Great’s generals: Seleucus Nicator.  From there they sailed to the Eastern port city on the Island of Cyprus, Salamis.  The cultural center of Salamis during the Roman period was situated at the northernmost part of the city, where a gymnasium, theatre, amphitheater, stadium and public baths have been revealed. There are baths, public latrines (for 44 users), various little bits of mosaic, a harbor wall, a Hellenistic and Roman marketplace and a temple of Zeus that had the right to grant asylum.

On his first journey Saul landed there and preached in the synagogues (Acts 13:5) before proceeding further in the island. The Cypriot-born Saint Barnabas, who figures prominently in the Acts of the Apostles, brought Christianity to Cyprus in the first century C.E. Tradition says that Barnabas preached in Alexandria and Rome, and was stoned to death at Salamis in about 61 C.E. He is considered the founder of the Church of Cyprus.

The pattern Saul would commonly follow throughout his missionary journeys is to seek out the Jewish synagogue first and preach there.  Rather than being seen as a devious strategy by Saul to weaken the local synagogue, Saul went first to synagogue out of respect of the fact that God first chose Abraham and Sarah and their descendants.  From one city to the next in Acts, you will see Saul following this pattern. It also is interesting that before the Christian diaspora spread the church into the Roman Empire, the Jews had relocated to many of the cities where Saul would be traveling.  For Saul, it must have been a comfortable strategy because he would have been with his own people.  They had a common faith story and tradition.  From the starting point in the synagogues (plural in 13:5) in Salamis, Saul would look for other opening to preach the gospel.

John (Hebrew name) Mark (Greek name) assisted Saul and Barnabas.  Mark was a Hellenistic Jew like Saul and Barnabas which means he has some history of his family living outside of Judea.  We first encounter Mark in Acts 12:12, 25 where he is living in Jerusalem with his mother Mary, a widow with some finances.  Tradition suggests that it was the Mark’s mom’s home which had the upper room where Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Last Supper.  While is a nice story, there is no biblical evidence to support it.  In fact, Mark 14:14-15 leads us to think the homeowner is a male not a female.

Mark may have been the naked runner in Gethsemane in Mark 14:51-52.  No matter, Mark is the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and he traveled with Saul and Barnabas on their first adventure.  He offered assistance with the work. It is interesting that they travel first to Cyprus, the island home of Barnabas.  Of note, on the edge of Salamis is the church of St. Barnabas and the Tomb of St. Barnabas, both later built but an outgrowth of the tradition of Barnabas being killed and buried near this first stop on the mission trail.  Did they visit the synagogue where Barnabas was a member as a boy before he moved to Jerusalem and became a Jesus follower?

The evidence around Mark is scant.  Something happened and Mark decided at Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13) to travel back to Jerusalem.  This disruption was great enough that Saul refused to take Mark back on another missionary journey despite the urging of Barnabas.  This led to split where Saul takes Silas and they return to Asia Minor and Barnabas and Mark sail back to Cyprus to not be heard from again in Acts (Acts 15:36-40).

At the end of Saul’s ministry, there is evidence that Saul and Mark had reconciled this relationship.  Both in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24 it appears that the relationship has healed. In II Timothy 4:11 Saul tells Timothy to bring Mark along as Saul has found him to be most helpful in his ministry.

In Acts 13:9 we have the first reference to Saul’s Greek name which is Paul.  From this point forward in my writing I will refer to Saul as Paul.  Living outside of Israel like Paul in his hometown of Tarsus in Cilicia meant that Jewish families were Hellenized resulting in a need to understand both Aramaic and Greek and often having both a Jewish religious name as well as a Greek cultural name.

Paul, Barnabas and Mark travel across the island of Cyprus to the Southwestern port city and seat of provincial government of Paphos.  They encounter a magician or false prophet called Bar-Jesus or Son of Jesus.  Paul is not fooled but calls him the son of the devil.  Every magician claimed to be the medium of divine mysterious powers and an oracle of God’s unfathomable will, when in reality he engaged in religious rip-offs for his own benefit.  Paul roundly condemned this magician whose specialty was the interpretation of dreams.[1]  Like Paul, the magician was left temporarily blind.  We are unaware of the outcome in this man’s life.  What we do know is that the governmental official, Sergius Paulus, came to faith in Jesus because of what he witnessed.


Paul and Barnabas started their mission among their own people by preaching Jesus in the synagogue.  For Barnabas this was really going home as a native of Cyprus.  God works through people and it is all about relationships.  What a natural way for God to work by using our witness within our own families, among our friends and co-workers.

Jenna was only six yet she influenced her mom, Cindy, to come and worship. Cindy grew up in a Christian home, especially her mom who made sure that they worshipped weekly, attended Sunday School and even prayed together at home.  After Cindy came back from college, she got married, had Jenna and then had her marriage blow up and end in divorce.  Financially as a single mom, those early years of child-care and trying to establish a career that could afford a life was hard. Cindy had drifted from the church in college and now was consumed by life and trying to make it.

Jenna’s grandma had brought Jenna to Sunday School a few times but Cindy had been rather cool about the whole idea.  She did not need one more thing in her life and frankly, Sunday was her only day to sleep in.  It was winter time, almost Christmas.  Cindy awoke from a nightmare where she had been looking frantically for Jenna.  She quickly went into Jenna’s room and woke her by holding her and sobbing.  Jenna looked at her mom and said, “I think we should go to church today Mom.”  As Isaiah said, a little child shall lead them, (11:6d).

God used grandma to show Jenna the value in worshiping Jesus.  Jenna loved and respected her grandma.  God used Jenna to reach her mom in a way that Cindy’s mom could never accomplish. Jenna broke the ice.  They came to worship together for the first time on Christmas Eve.  What a joyful time for a mother and child to come and worship the Lord.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you notice as you read Acts 13:4-12?
  2. Where was God in this story?
  3. How is God calling you to respond?
  4. What comes to your mind as you listen to the story of Jenna and Cindy?

[1] Ibid. Krodel, p. 229.