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Bible Gemz 1576 - The Disturbing Time Gap (Acts 11:19-30)

February 17, 2019


Now Saul heartily approved of putting him to death. That day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all of them, except for the apostles, were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 

Devout men buried Stephen as they mourned loudly for him. 

But Saul kept trying to destroy the church. Going into one house after another, he began dragging off men and women and throwing them in prison. (Acts 8:1-3)

Acts 8:4      Now those who were scattered went from place to place preaching the word. (ISV) 


  Act 8:5  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began to preach the Christ to the people. 

Act 8:9  Now in that city there was a man named Simon. He was practicing occult arts and thrilling the people of Samaria, claiming to be a great man. 

Act 8:12  But when Philip proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ, men and women believed and were baptized. 

   Act 8:14  Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.

 Act 8:26  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go south by the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert road." 

Act 8:40  But Philip found himself at Azotus. As he was passing through the region, he kept proclaiming the good news in all the towns until he came to Caesarea. 

Act 9:1  Now Saul, still breathing threats of murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 

Act 9:20  He (Saul) immediately started to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "This is the Son of God." 

Act 9:26  When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they all were afraid of him because they wouldn't believe he was a disciple. 

Act 9:27  Barnabas, however, took him and presented him to the apostles, telling them how on the road he had seen the Lord, . . .  and how courageously he had spoken in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 

Act 9:28  So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking courageously in the name of the Lord. 

Act 9:31  So the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed peace. As it continued to be built up and to live in the fear of the Lord, it kept increasing in numbers through the encouragement  of the Holy Spirit

Act 9:32  Now when Peter was going around among all of the disciples, he also came down to the saints living in Lydda. 

Act 9:38  As Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples heard that Peter was there and sent two men to him and begged him, "Come to us without delay!" 

Act 9:43  Meanwhile, Peter stayed in Joppa for several days with Simon, a leatherworker. 


Cornelius Story >


   Act 11:18  When they heard this, they quieted down, and praised God, saying, "So God has given even the gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” [146 verses]



Acts 11:19  Now the people who were scattered by the persecution that started because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. (ISV)




Act 11:20  But among them were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene who came to Antioch and began talking to the Hellenistic Jews too, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 

Act 11:21  The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number of people believed and turned to the Lord

Act 11:22  News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and so they sent Barnabas all the way to Antioch

Act 11:23  When he arrived, he rejoiced to see what the grace of God had done, and with a hearty determination he continuously encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord. 

Act 11:24  For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And so a large crowd was brought to the Lord. 

Act 11:25  Then Barnabas left for Tarsus to look for Saul. 

Act 11:26  When he found him, he brought him to Antioch, and for a whole year they were guests of the church and taught a large crowd. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians

Act 11:27  At that time some prophets from Jerusalem came down to Antioch

Act 11:28  One of them named Agabus got up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine all over the world. This happened during the reign of Claudius. 

Act 11:29  So every one of the disciples decided, as he was able, to send a contribution to the brothers living in Judea. 

Act 11:30  They did this by sending Barnabas and Saul to the elders. [12 verses]


< Peter's Story >



As I have read through this section over and over there is something that troubles me if my theory is correct. That is the mismatch in timing. You will notice that in the verse above I have tagged them with the number of verses there are in each section. When I gave it to you in overview I simply selected the verses which indicate points of movement or change. You could have determined that for yourself but I thought now I would make it clear. From Acts 8:4 to Acts 11:18 there are 146 verses and in what I am calling the parallel passage there are 12 verses. Can that be a parallel passage? Is this something new I have come up with which doesn't hold up to scrutiny? It seems strange to call a comparison of 146 verses parallel with 12 verses. Oh it’s possible but it seems strange. 


The thing that is disturbing is that there is a large chunk of time where Paul spent time in Antioch himself (a year) and other places as well. Antioch clearly becomes a focus for the dispersed believers behind the scenes in this unfolding account. Antioch is a mid point geographically in terms of the spread of the gospel to the north and then later to the west and to the east. But it is also a mid point from a cultural point of view between the predominantly Hebrew Church in Jerusalem and truly Gentile churches which Paul begins planting. The church in Antioch was largely made up of Hellenists, those Greek speaking people who have accepted the Hebrew religion. It is this church which becomes the focus following the diaspora after the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution of believers at the hand of Paul. However the point at issue here is the timing of it all. We have to fit in parallel the apparent discrepancy between 146 verses of action and twelve. Further more we have to taken into account not only the fact that Paul has spent a year in Antioch himself as describe above but also the time that he spent in Arabia ( described in Gemz 1524 - Fitting Saul's visit to Arabia) even before going to Jerusalem and being introduced to the Apostles by Barnabas. There is a long time frame to account for in terms of all the action taking place in the shorter parallel section. How can we account for that?


I wonder whether we haven’t got a gap between 11:19 and 11:20. That is why I set the block of our text above apart to distinguish them. 


Clearly verse 19 gives us a picture of the Gospel being taken to a variety of places during this intervening time. Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch specifically but one could imagine there are other places. It seems to parallel the movement out from Jerusalem into the surrounding Judaean region and then to Samaria and from there down into Africa via the Ethiopian court official. (That’s right I am still focusing on his role rather than his sexuality). But note that this phase ends in Antioch. The indication in this passage is that what we might call the southern expansion also ends in Antioch. Antioch has become the meeting point of two thrusts of scattering out from Jerusalem following Stephen’s martyrdom. That is what strikes me about the way Luke has written this account. It is that new perspective which I have picked up on here.


My struggle, if I can call it that, is the mismatch in the amount of time needed between the 146 verse account and the twelve verse account. Doesn’t it seem a little odd? Well oddness aside, it can still be accommodated if we think of the space between Acts 11:19 and Acts 11:20 as being the space where this needed extra time would fit. However the thing that disturbs me at this point is that Luke appears to use the words, "speaking the word to no one except Jews” as a foil for the reluctance of the circumcision group to take the Gospel to Gentiles. If a gap is needed in between verse 19 and verse 20 then that disturbs me. The big question is whether the preaching in Antioch as described above was before Peter’s mission to the Gentiles, the Cornelius Connection, or not? 


I have spent time searching in the resources that I have regarding this question and the simple answer is that we just don’t know. Luke gives us no time indications as to the timing of events in real time. And as he draws them together (in sequence or in parallel) he gives us no indication as to how the timing of the Judean/Samaritan phase meshes with the Phoenician/Cyprus phase. All we know is that in the end these two phases coalesce in Antioch. It seems that Barnabas has been active in this area and has had at least two encounters with Paul here that we know of.  All we do know for certain is that Antioch has now become the main centre for operations outside of Jerusalem. It is perhaps for that reason that Luke gives emphasis to the offering for the church in Jerusalem as does Paul in his letters, especially in 2 Corinthians. In other words the establishment of a base here in Antioch has become so significant that it resulted in the Antiochan church taking a collection for their fellow believers back in Jerusalem. It is not just a small church plant because the daughter church is taking a collection to bless the parent church if we see it in the those terms. 


From this point I will spend some time going through the text before us as I seek to analyse what Luke has written for us here.      



God doesn't waste a hurt if we let Him write the story. Steve Saint


God doesn't waste a word if we look beneath the surface of the Story. Ian


Make sure you hook up with people who see more than just the Jacob in you! T D Jakes


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