Acts 13:12-43 – At the Synagogue in Pisidian Antioch

Acts 13 contains the first of several “sermons” given by Paul. Luke is clearly summarizing since the sermon is a mere 25 verses long, taking no more than a couple of minutes to read. Since the sermon follows the blinding of Bar-Jesus, it is likely that the sermon serves as an explanation of the events on Cyprus, but it is also a representative “synagogue” sermon for Paul.

PaulusSchnabel points out that there are three movements in the sermon (Paul the Missionary, 158-9). Paul first reviews Israel’s history from the Patriarchs through John the Baptist (v. 16-25). In the second movement, Paul declares the importance of Jesus in the light of this history (v. 26-37). It is in this section that Paul carefully weaves several texts form the Hebrew Bible together to make the point that Jesus fulfils the promise made to Abraham. The final part of the sermon is the call to repentance (verse 29-41). Like Peter and Stephen, Paul calls his listeners to respond to the message that Jesus is the Christ, although the repentance here in Paul’s sermon is not related to the killing of Jesus, nor does he declare that the “times of refreshing will come.” Now repentance is connected with justification and forgiveness of sins (verses 38-39).

This is a significant development. In Acts 2 and 3, Peter’s sermon was directed at people who had themselves witnessed the events of the crucifixion and resurrection, and even participated in those events (cf. 2:23). No one in the synagogue at Antioch would have been at Jerusalem so they could not be accused of participating in the crucifixion. Paul’s sermon adds a new element – forgiveness of sins. But there is a radical element here:  Paul says that through Jesus one can have forgiveness of sins in a way that the Mosaic Law could not provide (37-38).

While the first parts of this sermon were quite similar to that of Peter and Stephen, Paul now calls for a much different response than Peter did. Peter declared that those who repent will be a part of the coming kingdom. In Acts 2 and 3 the repentance is of a sin of ignorance, the sin of killing the Messiah. Since the people acted in ignorance, they may repent and find forgiveness.

Now Paul says that the “one who believes is justified,” but in a way that the Law could never justify. There is a great deal of “Pauline theology” in this verse, since the Mosaic Law allowed for “sins of ignorance” to be forgiven through a sacrifice. If one sinned intentionally (“with a high hand”) then a sacrifice could not be made. Deliberate, premeditated breach of the Law could not find “justification” through a sacrifice. Paul is not talking about the sin of killing the Messiah, but rather of deliberate sins done with forethought and intention, and he is saying that one who believes is the one that receives justification.

Is this a development away from the Law? I think so, Paul is declaring that God granting forgiveness in a new way, one that might very well have been unanticipated in the Hebrew Bible.

12 thoughts on “Acts 13:12-43 – At the Synagogue in Pisidian Antioch

  1. The development of the ability to receive forgiveness of all types of sin must have been very difficult for people of that time to understand. This was a huge shift in thinking from the way they were used to living. At that time, Jews were accustomed to correcting sins they had committed with sacrifices and acts of repentance. As explained by Quarles, many people thought of God as an accountant with a ledger, keeping track of each person’s sins and good deeds (Illustrated Life of Paul, 52). After working hard their whole lives to be right with God, it is understandable to see that some Jews were incredibly skeptical about Paul’s sermon and claims about God now forgiving sin in an entirely new way. In this way, the message of Jesus must have seemed incredibly radical. If accepted, it would completely change a Jewish person’s life and understanding of who God is.

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  2. Paul says “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (13:39). The word justification to me means that you have been made right of all the wrong doing. What every sins one has committed, will be erased and they will be forgiven. Forgiveness of sin is mentioned throughout the book of Acts, as that it can only be done through Christ. “Therefore, my friends,” he says, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (13:38). The Mosaic Law were not bad, but they could not justify people, especially since justification comes only from Christ who is perfection. If justification under the Mosaic Law were still necessary, then the need for Jesus to come die for our sins would not have taken place. I don’t believe that the Mosaic Laws can provide any justification for sins. Instead Justification can only be obtained through Christ.

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  3. I think that this is a development away from the Law. Before Jesus ignorance could be forgiven through a sacrifice and was acceptable in the Old Testament. I think because that was no other way to be “forgiven” until Jesus became the only one. When this happened then the need to meaningless sacrifices for anyone any more, making impossible to cheat in a since at the Temple. Therefore, no one had the excuse that they didn’t know that it been unlawful and giving no one the ability to go back to the Temple and give a sacrifice. This way a person could be more accountable for their actions and being able to practice righteousness through Christ. Also, being able to build spiritual character in Christ and exercising the spiritual muscles of integrity and so on for time of witnessing to non-believers.
    I think that this can be applied in today’s time as well. With so much dishonesty in the world today, it makes it hard to be a Christian at time and exercising that character building. Though I think that is it our responsibility to stand up and be honest because then we become a good witness for Christ.

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  4. I would also agree that this is a development away from the Law because the idea is so radically different from what was preached and taught before. Peter and Stephen taught that the intentional sins that the people committed could not be forgiven because those were against the Law but now Paul is telling them otherwise. This is another example of the shift in chapter 13 to the acceptance of all men into salvation. I think another thing this is saying is that before Jesus, the sacrifices that the people made to “cover” their sins was not a permanent means of erasing their sins from them, it was to cover up the sin and then there would have to be another sacrifice for the later sins. After Jesus, the one sacrifice that atones for the sins of all mankind, the believer’s sins were truly taken away from them and never brought back. His sacrifice was “one, for all” and now the all has been expanded to include Gentiles.

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  5. When we look at the following verses in response to his sermon, the significance and impact of Paul proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ and not through Law, becomes evident. “Then the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles’” (13:45-46).
    2 Corinthians 3:13-16 says, “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Here in Antioch, Paul is proclaiming the amazing work of Christ in the forgiveness we now have through Jesus Christ alone. They are preaching the fact that the law was powerless to bring about justification (13:39; Rom. 8:3). Even as Paul uses these Old Testament passages to explain Christ being the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, they are blind to it and reject the truth. Their hearts were veiled. But the Gentiles, “…were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (48).

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  6. Yes, I agree that Paul was teaching a new way of forgiveness, a development from the law. As we discussed previously in class, the Jewish had been taught and raised their whole lives that to atone for their sins their was a list of rules and sacrifices that were needed. Paul is telling them that their sins can only be forgiven through Christ, not from their sacrifices and rules. Quarles states that this debate had been a consistent one: “The issue of salvation by grace versus the law of Moses had always been at the forefront of Paul’s Galatian ministy” and divided the two groups (71). Paul was teaching a new development of forgiveness to the Jews, a way that contradicted how they had been brought up.

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  7. I think that this points out so much of Paul’s conversion because he was so used to be under the law and trying to obey everything because he was a pharisee, and now it was a burden lifted off his shoulders because Christ had fulfilled something that he could not fulfill. He understands more than anyone how his own actions could not save him. He had to interpret the Hebrew bible into a different meaning because he now possessed the Holy Spirit. Paul experienced things differently than Peter which would explain why their sermons would be different. Peter experienced Jesus who proclaimed the kingdom everywhere and Paul who was a Pharisee who followed the law. Each person still has a lot to contribute to the preaching of the gospel.

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  8. It is very interesting to see the development of theology in the book of Acts. And what is equally interesting is how much becomes clear or realized as the theology is developed. Jesus healed people and said “Go and sin no more.” He was calling the people He healed to a life of repentance as a result of the forgiveness they had received because their faith had made them well. The disciples then called people to repentance from the sin of killing the Messiah because upon having this repentance they would automatically be recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, or else they would not think His trial and execution a sin. And now further development shows that, like Jesus’ forgiveness in the gospels, a repentant heart is forgiven of more than just the sin in question. A truly repentant heart that recognizes Jesus as Lord will go and sin no more. It will have been forgiven because faith has made it well.

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  9. This definitely seems to be the beginning of the Biblical diversion away from the law. Paul still started with the Jews in a synagogue, but that was typical of his missionary travels. Starting with the Jews makes sense because he is working in a context in which the people understand the prophecy (or at least have heard it before) about the coming Messiah, and Paul can state clearly that the promised Messiah has come (Acts 13:23).
    Paul uses many Davidic references, which is an effective line of communication since the Jewish people were expecting a Savior from the line of David (Matthew 2:6 and Isaiah 11:1). However, Paul also challenges the Jewish people present at the time by making it clear that the Jews in Jerusalem had made the mistake of not believing Jesus. If they (the people present in Antioch) repent, they can have righteousness, which was denied to the people of Jerusalem who did not repent.
    There is still the variation in the promise to the Jews, as the “times of refreshing” are not mentioned, but the concept of repentance and trust in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah is still clear and similar.
    The most notable piece from this article that I like to keep in mind is the fact that this is a summary and excerpt from Paul’s sermons. I’m sure he used these points, but the fact that Luke is writing this years later (and wasn’t present at the time) and that it was a oral sermon all point to the idea that Luke is trying to summarize the key parts of the message. In the end, the essence of the call to respond is the same: repent (Acts 13:38-39).

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