Acts 15:40 – Why Silas?

Silas was a Jewish Christian who appears to have been active in the Jerusalem church, assuming that the Silas mentioned in 15:22 is the same man (see Witherington, Acts, 473.).  That Luke should mention a character in one context then pick him up again later is a common feature of the book.

SilasSilas is likely an Aramaic form of the name Saul.  The Silvanus of 1 Peter 5:12 is likely the same man since Peter would have know Silas from Jerusalem.  Silas is mentioned frequently in Paul’s letters, 2 Cor 1:19, and he is a “co-sender of the Thessalonian letters (1 Thess 1:1 and 2 Thess 1:1).  It is therefore suggested that he functioned as a secretary for Paul in the writing of these letters (and perhaps others).  1 Thess 2:6 refers to the “apostles of Christ,” which may imply that he was considered an apostle like Barnabas, although not from the Twelve.

Silas was a Roman citizen since Acts 16:37 implies that he was imprisoned illegally. This would seem to imply he was a Hellenistic Jew.  His name confirms his: he is also known as Silvanus, a Roman cognomen meaning “wood,” and the same name as the Roman god Silvanus, a life-giving deity (Gillman, “Silas,” in ABD 6:22).

He traveled with Paul for most of the second missionary journey.  In Acts 17 he and Timothy returned  to Berea and Thessalonica while Paul continued on to Athens and  Corinth.  R. C. Campbell suggests that since Silas was able to return to these locations indicates that Silas was “less controversial” than Paul (ISBE Rev, 4:509).  This might be true, but it may be that Silas was more acceptable to the Jews socially and theologically than Paul.  What is remarkable is that after he joins Paul in Corinth, he drops out of the story.

B. N. Kaye suggested that Luke used Athens and Corinth to signal a shift in Paul’s strategy: “Luke is pre-occupied with the re-direction of Paul’s mission from the synagogue where it  is directed towards the Jews, to a house where it is directed explicitly, though not exclusively, to the Gentiles” (25).  This shift to the Gentile mission in Corinth receives a confirmation when Paul is vindicated in court before Gallio. I would add that Corinth is Paul’s most successful church up to this point in Acts, although there are a host of problems associated with non-God-Fearing Gentiles coming to Christ.

So why Silas?  Like Barnabas, he was a Hellenistic Jew yet he was firmly rooted in the Jerusalem church.  Paul seems to have wanted a companion who was “acceptable” to Jerusalem, perhaps to preempt any criticism of his Gentile mission by the more conservative elements of the Jerusalem church.  Paul would therefore represent the Antioch churches, Silas the Jerusalem churches, implying that any mission to the Gentiles was co-sponsored by both centers of Christianity.  Does Silas depart after Paul makes his declaration in the synagogue in Corinth?  We cannot know for sure, but it is possible this he he reacted against Paul’s turn to the Gentiles, similar to John Mark after the incident on Cyprus.

Bibliography: Bruce N.Kaye, “Acts’ Portrayal of Silas,”  Novum testamentum, 21 (1979): 13-26.

7 thoughts on “Acts 15:40 – Why Silas?

  1. Co-senders were not secretaries. Paul chooses as co-senders those who were instrumental in establishing the church in question. Presumably by including a co-sender Paul indicated that the co-sender endorsed the letter. This endorsement carried weight if the co-sender was well respected in the church.

    Is there evidence that Jews were more likely to be Roman citizens in the diaspora than in Judea, or that Hellenistic Jews were more likely to be citizens than non-Hellenistic Jews? The name “Silas” seems to have been more common outside of Judea, suggesting that he might not have been originally from Judea.

    There is a tendency in scholarship to exaggerate the conflict between Paul and some Judean Christians and to see that conflict behind all sorts of data. I was not convinced by your suggestion that Mark split for theological reasons. He split just before the persecution began. It is unnecessary to suppose that Paul’s approach or theology shifted just after the Cyprus mission and that Mark left in response.

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  2. After Paul decided to not bring John Mark like Barnabas suggested on his second missionary journey, he chose Silas. Silas knew God’s Word. According to the post, he was a Hellenistic Jew and involved at the Jerusalem church (“Silas” Post). Silas was a “leader among the believers” (Acts 15:22). “Paul seems to have wanted a companion who was “acceptable” to Jerusalem” (“Silas” Post). Paul wanted to have someone who was well-known in Jerusalem and speak to the Jews there. Silas proved to be a faithful companion to Paul (1 Peter 5:12). He stayed with him after the imprisonment and earthquake at Philippi in Acts 16. When Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians, he included Silas as one of the senders. Silas had an important role in helping the message of salvation be spread.

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  3. For some reason I have a problem with Paul choosing Silas as a companion merely because he had a good reputation in Jerusalem. I don’t think Paul was extremely worried about people’s impression of him. He may have chosen Silas because of his reputation, but I doubt that theory. He may have wanted someone like Silas because he would bring a different perspective and flavor to Paul’s ministry. The reason why he disappears is unknown, but I believe that if he had an argument with Paul and had left in anger, it would have been recorded. The record of Saul and Barnabas disagreement and separation is an important issue in the book of Acts and I believe if a similar argument (over different subjects) occurred it would be recorded. We cannot know for sure the reason why he vanishes from the text, and it could be for countless reasons. It may have been because Silas disagreed with Paul, but I think that another reason is more probable.

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  4. Paul’s decision to bring Silas along with him turned out to be, as Anna points out, very good for his ministry. Silas is portrayed as a leader in Jerusalem and as someone who stuck with Paul in prison and in their travels. I think it is possible that Paul would have chosen him based on his status in the Jerusalem church. I think it’s more important that Silas was a solid leader first, but I think it also was beneficial to Paul to have Silas with him to avoid criticism. It would have supplemented Paul’s mission because Silas represented the Jerusalem church and let the people know that they were in support of Paul’s gospel. Silas was also someone who could strengthen and encourage people through his preaching. Acts 15:32 says, “Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.” It is of my opinion that Paul chose Silas based more off of his faith and integrity than anything else, but the fact that he was from the Jerusalem churches helped also.

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  5. It is very interesting to see how a decision over bringing John Mark along caused such a huge problem and division between Paul and Barnabas. He had deserted them, and so Paul did not want anything to do with him, “…They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company” (Acts 15:39). I always found it odd that Paul didn’t give John Mark a second chance, give him some “Grace” and would be so strong as to part with Barnabas. I don’t completely understand the reasons for why John Mark left but Paul took it very seriously. I have seen a lot of problems in Costa Rica where problems happen because of confusions or different opinions. It can really be a set back in ministry but at some times it is necessary to have them for the good of the ministry. But one thing that always happens is a lot of hurt feelings, and also divisions within groups. It is sad they couldn’t work it out but I am just glade Paul was able to move on and continue his work by grabbing Silus. He still brought us the good news of Jesus death and resurrection and continued to fight the good fight!

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  6. It seems to me that Paul choose Silas because of their similarities and differences in ministry. Paul was called to be a light to a gentiles and he needed a partner. Having Silas not only “looked good” to Jerusalem but Silas was a ‘leader among the believers.” (Acts 15:22) Silas was most likely very educated and already showed leadership among believers. He could relate to the people as well as assist Paul in speaking with Gentiles.
    As far as the split of Paul and Silas, I don’t believe there was a big explosion of an argument as there was with Barnabas and Paul. A lot of my feelings on that come from the fact that it was not documented. If the argument was big enough between Barnabas and Paul to be written about, I would think that Paul and Silas’ split would be recorded in the same way.

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  7. From what I see in the text, Silas was chosen because he was “a leader among the believers”, and particularly, as the post says, in Jerusalem. Though the Jerusalem church, and Paul had their theological arguments, and other disagreements, it seems that Paul still respected, and probably need their leadership, and assistance. So, by taking on another companion who, like Barnabas, was well respected, helped him to keep his reputation with the “mother church”. I don’t think that Paul’s intention was the upholding of his reputation, however, I think that there are probably unexplained reasons Paul had for bringing Silas along, but it was wise to stay, at least a little, on the good side of the Jerusalem church. I like the idea of Silas being a “secretary” for Paul, though I think there was probably more to his role than just writing Paul’s letters for him. I’m sure that Silas played many roles in ministry alongside Paul, but because it was Paul that Silas was alongside, these roles are forgotten. However, that does not make Silas an unimportant character. I think that when Paul and Silas finally split up, it was probably a mutual agreement that Silas was now ready to continue what Paul was doing elsewhere. I would think this for the simple reason that there is no mention of an argument, or any kind of disagreement, just a separation. It could also be that the Jerusalem church, which I assume Silas and Paul were still in some form of contact with; told Silas he was needed elsewhere, and that Paul could take care of himself. Or, an even more fantastical idea, perhaps the Jerusalem church wanted Silas to do his own ministry, and to cooperate with their teachings more closely, which he could not, in their minds, do with Paul. Among all these ideas, the most likely seems to be that Paul was, in a way, training Silas in missionary work, and once ready, sent him out to do what he had been taught, and called to do.

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