Acts 13:4 – Why Cyprus?

Barnabas and Saul set out from Antioch to Seulcia, a port about 16 miles from Antioch. From there they sail to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean about 100 miles from Selucia.

Why Cyprus? As Keener says, is simply makes sense for Barnabas to begin a mission by going to Cyprus since that was where he was from (2:1998). On the other hand, Cyprus had a large Jewish community dating to the second century B.C. (1 Mac 15:23).  Both Josephus (Antiq. 18.31) and Philo (Legat 282) describe a large and wealthy Jewish population.  Herod the Great was given half the income of Cyprus copper mines by Augustus (Antiq. 16.127-129).  The Talmud indicates that Cypriot Jews regularly donated wine used for the incense offering on the Day of Atonement (y.Yoma 4:5; Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2:1078).

Acts 11:19-20 indicates there were early Jewish Christians from Cyprus who began to do ministry in Antioch. Barnabas himself was from Cyprus (4:36-37). All this implies a Jewish-Christian presence on Cyprus before Acts 11:19, and possibly as early as Pentecost. Barnabas and Saul were going to an area already prepared for the Gospel.

Cyprus is also central to travel to the Mediterranean world. The island was a prosperous and many good harbors (Strabo 14.2.10, 14.6.6, Keener 2:1999). Salamis was a major port city on Cyprus.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 15 B.C., and rebuilt by Augustus and renamed Sebaste Augusta. Paphos was about 93 miles (150 km) from Salamis and was the seat of the Roman government on the Island.  The old city was home to the most famous temple of Aphrodite in the ancient world, still attracting pilgrims even in the first century (ECM, 2:1082).

Luke tells us Barnabas and Saul visit synagogues in Salamis and Paphos, but they likely visited other locations as they traveled the length of the island. This is Paul’s regular missionary method, going to the synagogue first. While this may reflect Romans 1:16 (“to the Jew first, and then to the Greek,” it is also a practical strategy. By going to a synagogue first, Rabbi Saul will meet people who are already well-educated in the Scripture and (perhaps) anticipating the coming of the Messiah.

Paul will also find a few Gentile God-fearers in most of the synagogues. It is possible Paul targeted these Gentiles who want to worship the God of Israel without fully keeping the Law. His Gospel would have been very attractive to these Gentiles.

There is no report of success (or lack thereof), but we know that Barnabas and John Mark return to Cyprus later, perhaps indicating some churches had been established. A bishop from Cyprus attended the council of Nicea; by A.D. 400, Jerome reports that there are 15 bishops on Cyprus (ECM, 2:1080).

Are there any other motivations for this trip to Cyprus? What is Luke doing on a literary/theological level by describing a pair of missionaries going out from Antioch?


16 thoughts on “Acts 13:4 – Why Cyprus?

  1. I think there are a couple reasons for Barnabas and Saul going to Cyprus.
    First, I would agree in saying that the central travel location of Cyprus made it a prime spot to start Jesus communities. We see Paul doing the same thing in various cities; he wants to find places where the people in the town will be influenced by the Jesus movement, but also in places where those passing through would undoubtedly hear something about Jesus and then take that story with them wherever they were traveling.
    Second, on a more theological note, the primary story recorded of these two men in Cyprus was about a sorcerer. This story may have been included by Luke for the purpose of showing the supremacy of Jesus Christ over any sort of sorcery the pagan world could offer.

  2. Why Cyprus?

    I would agree that there is good reason to think they went to the island because it is the home of Barnabas. Naturally, if there was good news to share with people, one of the places most people would want to go is their home town. Furthermore, we see that there is a large Jewish population. Those Jew needed to be reach, and if not, they would have most likely received the gospel from a second hand version. Not that hear it from anyone but the apostles is bad, however, there would be a greater chance for people to confuse, change or relay the gospel poorly. Another reason for Cyprus to be important of the gospel message is that it is a major trading port. It makes sense that God would choose this land because of its strategic position and trading routes with the Roman world. Most people who would visit there would most likely hear about the new gospel, and from there, return with this message to their own home town. The city there was rich with history, and since it was a trading port, there is usually a good mix of various gods, and religious ideology. Cyprus is a great selection for God to direct the gospel to.

  3. It seems there are many very strong arguments for why Cyprus was chosen as the first stop of Barnabas and Saul’s first journey. Where the fact that it was Barnabas’ “hometown” appears proof enough to make it a first stop, I find the location and centrality of Cyprus made it a prime candidate as a beginning point to bring the message of the gospel. The fact that so many people from all over the Mediterranean would have stopped there on their way to other locations would naturally open so many doors for the message of salvation to be heard and consequently spread. This international aspect would also mean there would likely be many other religions and cults present. The temple of Aphrodite alone is evidence of the prevalence of the draw pilgrims from around the Mediterranean had to Cyprus. If the goal of Barnabas and Saul was to begin the spread of the gospel to ultimately the ends of the earth, then starting in a melting pot of ethnicities and religions would appear to be a natural starting off point. Polhill states, “places play a key role in Acts” (2077). With that in mind, it would appear that Luke intentionally describes these men going to Cyprus to remind the reader of the important role mission fields have on the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
    Polhill, John B. (Ed). Introduction to Acts. In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

  4. As I was reading this blog, I began to wonder what that call from the Holy Spirit must have been like. It is also interesting that they are called to spread the gospel and, by doing so, they are to leave their church and jobs. This echoes the events that took place when Jesus called the first disciples.
    It is also noteworthy that Luke is still referring to Saul by that name but noted that he was also called Paul. As mentioned in the blog post, it makes sense that this would be their first location simply because of the geographical area. But it also ties with the bigger themes of Luke as he portrays the outward spread of the gospel both geographically and culturally. So it fits that Paul and Barnabas would be going to a near by location to preach the gospel to the Jews. This is also another transition point because the Jews ultimately reject their message and Paul and Barnabas shake the dust off their shoes and “leave to preach to the Gentiles”.
    This missionary journey makes sense in that it fits in well with the overarching theme of Luke and the mission to spread the Gospel. However, I am a bit confused about John Mark’s presence in this story. It does not seem like he traveled to Cyprus with Paul and Barnabas. He just “appears” and is mentioned almost as an afterthought. I wonder if he was already doing ministry there and Paul and Barnabas came to help him… possibly it could have been the other way around. In the end the reason for John Mark also being there doesn’t matter much. The gospel is going out; first to Jerusalem and the Jews in the surrounding areas, and now to the Gentiles.

  5. I think the fact that Cyprus was Barnabas’s home is very significant (Phillip Long). I would mean that he would have knowledge of where the Gospel needed to be spread. Cyprus was also close in location and likely had a great population of people, along with the mentioned great Jewish population which is whom they wanted to minister to first and foremost as the chosen people of God (Phillip Long).
    I think that what Luke is doing here is basically saying, “they’re off folks!” and further telling Paul’s story as well. This is labeled as Paul’s first stop on his first missionary journey. That’s a big deal! On a literary level, he is progressing the story; the body of Christ is not just staying in this small area of Antioch and Jerusalem, it is beginning to spread across the known world through the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas. On a theological level, I think that it further proves the authority of the Holy Spirit over the body of Christ and is making it clear that the Holy Spirit is in fact a member of the Godhead when it says in Acts 13:2 that “the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (ESV). After that, the two missionaries are sent off proving that they took the Holy Spirit as the ultimate authority as they did with Jesus.

  6. A problem with reading about events that are so distant in the past, is that it is far too late to ask questions about specifics, or motivations. As for why Cyprus was the target of Barnabas and Saul’s work, we can never definitively know. However, there is no harm in speculating their motivation for heading this direction. At this point the gospel has not spread too incredibly far, and thus Barnabas and Saul could theoretically head in any direction and have an effective mission. Seeing as this is likely the case another question could be, why not Cyprus? If Cyprus is Barnabas’ hometown why not head this way and avoid some inconveniences such as lodging plans, and planning routes. Another factor is that verse two shows us that this whole mission was the design of the Holy Spirit and as such there is the possibility that the Spirit had specifically sent them to Cyprus, but that this information was never recorded. That and Cyprus had synagogues which according to Polhill would be a strategic advantage to the pair (p. 2109). What ever the motivations, be it familiarity, a specific divine calling, or strategy we can never know, regardless it worked out for God’s purpose.

  7. Going to Cyprus seemed to be the right decision for a variety of reasons. First off, Barnabas was from Cyprus so it may have been easier to find places to stay. Also, with the relationships that he may have had with some of the people in Cyprus from living there, those people could have helped to tell others that Barnabas and Paul should be listened to and know what they are talking about. If I were beginning a missionary journey, I think that it would be beneficial to start off somewhere familiar to get more comfortable before going to some places where there would possibly be more persecution and arguments. Another thing that makes me think that going to Cyprus was a good idea is that there were already a lot of believers that were living there. Similar to what I was saying about going somewhere where you are more comfortable teaching others, I think that it can be easier to practice talking to other believers about God before preaching to people who do not believe. It may not be easier in all cases, but it may be a lot of the time because you would not have to explain things in as much detail. Cyprus did have many people who were non-believers as well, which I think is another important part about going to Cyprus because I think that Paul and Barnabas needed to speak to the unbelievers as well so that they could help to advance the Kingdom.

  8. Other than convenience of going to a familiar place and all its great qualities as a center to preach the Gospel where it could flourish and spread from there, perhaps Luke is also confirming what Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” As the Gospel has been progressively moving out of Jerusalem and spreading to other areas, Paul and Barnabas seem to be key instruments of God in continuing to spread the Gospel “to the ends of the earth”. This is also consistent with that the passage itself claims about the major driving force leading these men to go to Cyprus, the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:4). Perhaps, a second motif is that by moving away from Jerusalem, they were also moving away from its traditions and focusing of preaching to the Gentiles. Even though Paul always sought the synagogues to preach first, he also sought God-fearing gentiles and he eventually turns his ministry completely to the Gentiles. And, at the same time, he could still be fulfilling Acts 1:8 in a sense. After being rejected later in Pisidian Antioch, Paul says that the Lord declared, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth”. And Paul and Barnabas keep moving onto the next city, preaching the Gospel, being a witness, and suffering for Christ’s sake.

  9. It is quite interesting to think about why God led his men to various locations and for what reasons. One reason that Phil long gave was that Cyprus was central to travel to the Meditrannian world and that would make sense because of all the new faces you would get traveling back and forth and people of all different backgrounds/beliefs; what a great ministry opportunity. I think a possible motivation for the trip was Bar Jesus who was a sorcerer and false prophet and Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul on Cyprus. Bar Jesus was known to be a very powerful man in government and we have even seen through our lives right now that government holds a lot of power and can directly affect people’s lives. So in this case Bar Jesus and Sergius Paulus had a lot of saying about what the people could or could not do and maybe what they could or could not believe in. In this case, it would make sense to have Barnabas and Saul go to Cyprus to reach the top two highest people in the area. Another reason that they may have decided to go to Cyprus was that it was where Barnabas grew up. It might be that a lot has changed since he was there last and he wanted to see what has changed because we know places and people can change drastically over time. There honestly could be so many reasons why they decided on this location and truthfully the only person that knows 100% is the Lord Jesus Christ, but these are a couple of predictions in why I think Barnabas and Saul chose Cyprus.

  10. Why Cyprus is the question? As stated by Professor Long “As Keener says, is simply makes sense for Barnabas to begin a mission by going to Cyprus since that was where he was from (2:1998).” This is probably one of the reasons why they chose Cyprus. Also Cyprus had a very large population at the time as mentioned by Professor Long, so maybe that was another reason why they set there for ministry to try and convert as many people as they could. In the blog post we can see that it is mentioned that there is no report of success on their journey to Cyprus. This I find very interesting, but it is cool to see that Barnabas and John Mark do return back to Cyprus later on for some churches that may have been established. So hearing this it must mean that they did have some sort of success if churches were ultimately established there after them being there. So could there have been any other motivations for them to head to Cyprus? Personally I can’t think of anything else besides what has already been stated which was basically them wanting to spread the word of God as far as possible that is why they traveled some time to get there. I can’t seem to think of any other reasoning besides this.

  11. Cyprus made a lot of sense as the starting point for Barnabas and Saul to start their missionary journey for a multitude of reasons. Two major reasons why the Mediterranean island was chosen was because Barnabas grew up on the island and there was already a large Jewish community that dated back to the second century BC. At this point in time, Cyprus had a booming economy. They had many major ports, which made it easy to import and export goods. The island was known for its surplus of copper and relied heavily on trading with nearby nations. Long describes how Barnabas and Saul visited synagogues in Salamis and Paphos, along with “ other locations as they traveled the length of the island” (Long). Another reason why Barnabas and Saul might have chosen Cyprus was because Paul wanted to target the Gentiles on the island. Paul was able to use the knowledge of there being Gentiles on the island to his advantage because he knew that they would have been interested in what Paul was saying. It is interesting to hear that Barnabas and John Mark make a return to the island because that means that the first trip there was a success and that churches had been established.

  12. After reading through Acts 13 and this blog post, we are posed with the question of ‘Why Cyprus?” Through all my time of reading through the Bible and doing research, it has always been interesting to me to try and figure out why God lead his people to these different places. This is interesting to me because they sometimes are very different places, however I know it is for a specific and bigger reason, but why? Here in the blog post, we see that Professor Long says that Cyprus was prime position for opportunities in encountering very diverse people and travel for the Mediterranean world. The economy here was absolutely thriving because of the easy access to export and import goods such as copper. Seeing this, I begin to think that most of the places that they travel to in the Bible, they go to the places where there needs to be ministry done. With that being said, Cyprus was a very big city, so it was a great opportunity to do ministry there and with all kinds of people too, so in this case. I think Cyprus makes a lot of sense. One thing to note too is how John Mark and Barnabus made a return here to the island because of the success that they had and the establishing of the churches here. They wanted to use their platform to spread the word of God as much as they can and to as many people as they can, no matter who they were.

  13. I have heard before of Barnabas’ relations in Cyprus. Therefore, I think that it is possible this was a main motivation of them going to Cyprus. Barnabas likely had connections of where they could stay during their time there. He also likely knew how to navigate the island making their missionary work easier. Perhaps the people there knew him and trusted him which also would have helped the spread of missionary work. I also think another possible motivation for going to Cyprus was the fact they also were traveling to the surroundings areas around the island. Therefore, if they did not go to this place, they would have missed out on an area to spread the gospel to. It appears that Saul and Barnabas had a sendoff. They were prayed over and told to continue their journey. They likely had several supports as well since they had been at the church in Antioch. It reminds me of missionaries today. Churches often sponsor missionaries and give occasional updates about their endeavors. Before they are sent off, the congregation often prays over them. I would imagine this is what this interaction was like.

  14. As I read about Paul and Barnabas’ journey in Acts 13, I am struck by their commitment to sharing the gospel with all people. They faced opposition and persecution, yet remained steadfast in their faith and continued to preach the message of Jesus. The story of Paul and Barnabas’ journey from Antioch to Cyprus in Acts 13 is a powerful reminder of the importance of spreading the gospel and fulfilling Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. As stated in the original post, Cyprus makes sense because that is Barnabas’s home, however it also seems like a tough place to start because of how big it was and how many Jews there were. As they traveled through Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas encountered both Jews and Gentiles who were eager to hear their message. They shared the good news of Jesus, established new Christian communities, and strengthened existing ones. Despite facing opposition and persecution from a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus, they remained steadfast in their faith and continued to preach the gospel. Luke’s depiction of Paul and Barnabas serves as a model of missionary work and the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity. They were willing to endure hardship in order to fulfill their calling as apostles and spread the message of Jesus to all people. Through their journey, Paul and Barnabas were able to establish new churches and spread the gospel even further. Their work serves as a reminder that sharing the gospel is an essential part of Christian faith and practice, and that we too are called to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations.

  15. As you mentioned in your post, the fact that Cyprus was Barnabas’s hometown seems like enough of reason for them to want to preach there. Barnabas knew that what he was sharing was special, and it seems natural that he would want to share this good news with the people that he was raised with and by. He would have also known things about the city that another might not have and that could have helped them with their mission, like how to navigate the city best, where the best places were for them to stay and preach, and the best placed people they should find and talk to. The fact that it was also such a central and important place may have also been a reason they were led there (besides the obvious fact that the Holy Spirit was the one that sent them there). Being this central, there would have been people from all over and from different backgrounds and different beliefs. Thus making it a perfect spot for Saul and Barnabas to preach and tell everyone their good news, and furthering their goal of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, as there was a better chance of people becoming Christians and in turn spreading what they learned back where they came from.

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