Acts 15:40 – Who was Silas?

Silas is 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.

Silas is likely an Aramaic form of 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 travels with Paul for most of the second missionary journey.  In Acts 17 he and Timothy travel back to Berea and Thessalonica while Paul travels to Athens and then to 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.

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.

18 thoughts on “Acts 15:40 – Who was Silas?

  1. I have always wondered why Paul chose Silas over Judas. I never really looked deeper to figure out why this could have been, but it makes sense for the reasons you mentioned P. Long. It only makes sense to replace the one you “lost” with someone who has similar qualities and would be able to preform in the same ways. He also needed someone who was strong in the faith and would be able to go into the Jerusalem churches. It says in Arnold that “because of Silas’s prominent role as a leader in the Jerusalem church, he is an important voice for the churches in Galatia…” (148). Paul was aware of the talents that Silas had, and he knew that they would compliment each other in ministry. They worked well together “…strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:40)

  2. I believe that Paul and Silas make a great team and it wouldn’t have worked so well had it not been that way. Silas was able to go into places Paul would have not been welcome. Silas gets in there and starts to talk to them and before they know it he is teaching about Jesus. Now if Paul tried to go in there alone he never could have, but Silas could. There’s times when Paul is able to do this as well. If it was Silas and Barnabas they wouldn’t I’ve been able to achieve as much because they are so much a like. So if one could turned down the other would as well.

  3. I guess I had never really given this much thought. I would say I’m with Jessica in her thought and realization. It is also interesting to me that you make Silas out to be a “political choice” rather than a personal one. It is almost as if the fallout between Barnabas and Paul lefts some pretty deep scars that Paul was simply looking for a logical choice and gradually gained a confidant in Silas.

  4. I think this blog post adds great insight into the life and person of Silas. I have never thought about the political importance of Silas. I think Paul definitely made a smart decision in that, but I think we can also see an example of how we should make up our ministry. I think any churches and ministries today overlook examples like this in the New Testament. Paul formed a ministry team which had members that would compliment one another. It may be political, but Paul knew that Silas would be the right fit into a ministry that would in the future need to appeal to Jews and gentiles.

  5. I Would have to say that I am with most of the people who have never thought about why Silas was chosen. As far as the notion that it was to appeal to the Jewish sect within Jerusalem it seems likely. Paul has always been trying to work with the Jerusalem church (see Acts 9:26). Even when they disagreed, Paul still continued to keep a relationship building so it would make since that Paul would partner with someone from the Jerusalem church. Jared, I also agree that many churches and leaders should look at this example and work with bridges rather than separation, which seems entirely too common now days.

  6. Learning more about Silas is very interesting to me because like others, I did not know very much about him. It intrigues me that he was a Roman citizen, a Hellenistic Jewish Christian, and a leader in the church. Like Paul, all the different parts of him are very helpful to their ministry. I suppose that Paul chose him because of these facts and because he was a strong Christian, and maybe his and Paul’s personalities went better together than Paul’s and Judas’s. That sounds really lame I suppose, but maybe it’s just a very simple reason like that…

  7. Yeah, I, like Jason, never really gave this particular concept much thought. That said, this line of logic makes good sense. Silas, like Paul and Barnabas seems to have been ideally placed to assist Paul in his mission to walk in both the Jewish world and the Greek world in order to spread the gospel. An interesting side thought however, this line of logic in support of Silas because of his similar gifts and qualifications seems rather contrary – though not exclusive – to the concept of God using all sorts of people to accomplish his task. I can’t think of a good example right now, but I feel certain that God used someone that wasn’t necessarily qualified the same way as Silas and Barnabas to perform a similar function of spreading the Gospel to the Greeks. This isn’t so much to counter the argument for these reasons for the choice of Silas as a fellow sojourner with Paul as much as a comment that this argument runs the risk of overemphasizing qualification rather than the capacity of God to use people regardless of their previous qualifications.

  8. I thought the imformaion was interesting about the Roman name of Silas being Silvanus. This is very interesting to me and it really shows God’s provision for Paul as he searched for a new partner. When he picked Silas he had to choose someone who filled some criteria making him Roman that would help him work well with the people they are ministering to, and to help them protect the work of the church through their Roman citizenship.

  9. It’s interesting to me that so many of Silas’ attributes coincide with Paul’s. Obviously, his name is similar if not identical to Paul’s former, but he was also a Roman citizen. and he was rooted in Judaism. All this may seem coincidental, but perhaps it is a just a Lukan writing style. The similarities could hint to Silas being a type of David, a “man after Paul’s own heart” in that Paul specifically chose him. However, Silas was less controversial than Paul. This could, of course, make an excellent evangelizing machine; Paul gets the crowd all excited and then sends Silas to cleanse their metaphorical palates. This could be reversed also as Silas, the appetizer and Paul the spicy main course.

    (I apologize for the food analogies… It’s lunch time and I haven’t eaten all day.)

    I guess this would make the Holy Spirit the dessert, because, as everyone knows, He’s the best part.

  10. I would say Silas was a good partner for Paul because if Silas was Paul’s secretary for when Paul was writing the letters then Paul would already have a good relationship with Silas. Therefore if they already had good relationship, then it would make sense for them to continue on Paul’s mission journeys. Also they were both Roman citizens.

  11. 3/13
    God has a plan and a purpose for each and every individual in this world. Silas is a great example of a man who chose to be a leader among the Gentiles. Silas as stated in the blog post was a Roman citizen who was sent to be apart of Paul’s mission to preach to the Gentiles. We see the Word of God and His saving Grace being spread all over. The Gentiles are so changed by what they are told by Paul that they too want to be a part of this incredible work of the Holy Spirit. Acts 15:30-32 speak of how Judas And Silas travel to Antioch sharing the letter written to them and strengthening the churches and encouraging the people to continue on in life. It is very interesting to me how Barnabas and Paul have a argument about who to continue to take on the missionary journey. Barnabas wants to take John Mark and Paul disagrees because he had already abandoned them in the past. Paul chose to take Silas with him instead. Through Paul who is being led by the Holy Spirit taking Silas is a clear indicator of the character that Silas had. He must have been zealous for the Lord and ready to do His work any way he could. God has a plan and purpose for each of us and the example of Silas is incredible seeing how a Gentile (someone who was a foreigner to the Jewish beliefs) is someone who is on fire for the Lord. We too should be doing all possible to spread the light to this dark and lost world.

    • Elenrae, great job on your discussion post this week. I really liked how you made the point to mention that this story is an example of how God has a plan and purpose for everyone no matter who they are, where they came from, or what their past entails. I think it is a great example we as Christians can look at today because it proves that we can reach and become a leader to any group of people as well. I do agree with P Long on why Paul most likely choice Silas. First and foremost because it was who God wanted Paul to choose. However, I also think it was because Paul saw them as being a good match that could do well preaching to the Gentiles since Silas represented the Jerusalem churches and Paul the Antioch churches. I also think another reason Paul picked Silas was that he saw his tremendous faith and love for God. Being that right before he discovered Silas, Paul had left Barnabas and John Mark because John Mark had left them in Pamphylia and not continued to help them (Acts 15:38), I think that says a lot about Silas character. At this point Paul was pretty upset and would not want to choose another man who he would get in arguments with; therefore, Paul must have seen something in Silas that showed he was a true man of God and would continue on whatever mission, unlike John Mark. Do you think John Mark had any impact on why Paul ended up choosing Silas? And if so, how much?

  12. Silas was an active Christian in the Jerusalem church. He has been related to Saul and has even been imprisoned during his life time. Silas lead individuals to God and lead them to a path of righteousness. Now the decision that Paul had to make was who to bring with them on their journey. Paul did not want to take John Mark with them because he had that spot designed for someone else. Silas was the man that Paul picked to take with them. Paul made this decision because he was pulled by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit spoke to him which one to bring forth and which one to leave behind. They both had their purpose and John Marks purpose was simply left behind and was no to be with Paul. Silas none stop would seek God and was a very obedient man. I believe that Paul made that correct choice by choosing Silas instead of John Mark. Simply because of each of the characters and the background that each one brings with them and where their hearts are placed and directed towards.

  13. As Paul went he learned what types of connections he needed to have. The Holy Spirit lead these connections. Silas was a great connection to have, on top of that he was a God fearing man who chose to seek the Lord. This would be a good companionship for Paul as well as a model or example for how the Christian mission from both sides could work together.

  14. First off I would say the Paul is quite radical compared to Silas. Which is why I think that Silas would be more acceptable to Jerusalem. Paul was willing to push the limits for the gospel, and not that Silas wasn’t willing to do anything but his ideas probably lined up more with the Jerusalem church then Paul’s ideas. Yet, Silas would be the perfect fit for Paul on missionary journeys and expeditions. With Paul being so “radical” it would help to have someone on his side that speaks for the more conservative Jews. Also with Silas having been illegally imprisoned and showing the citizenship of Silas being a Roman citizen would come in handy when they would preach the gospel and get arrested. As you stated as well, Silas can be seen as less controversial then Paul. Paul was not always able to return to places that he had once preached at because of the people wanting to murder him. Yet, Silas could return to the places that Paul couldn’t therefore spreading the gospel and strengthening it in places where Paul had planted the first seeds.

    • Silas was a great fit for Paul on his journey as he balanced out the two different approaches with a similar mission of sharing the good news. I see that both Paul and Silas take and learn from each other. Silas wants to reach those who are around Jerusalem. While Paul strives to reach the unreached of various areas. Both are Roman citizens and use it to their advantage in multiple ways and times. Paul and Silas are you different styles of personality and people the blend together in the focus of Christ that they depend on the others strengths, skills, and status to reach different people groups. Silas desired to make an impact in a subtle way that took time to build community. While Paul was more direct and upfront in his belief and desire to present the gospel in complete passion without barriers or limitations of how to approach it. Both Silas and Paul are needed, Paul makes people talk and pushes the line and boundaries, while Silas in detail and strategically works on the gospel to connect what Paul was saying to who God is.

  15. Why did Paul chose Silas? Well there are a few different possible reasons as to why Paul chose Silas. The first reason being that Silas was a Jewish Christian who was already active in ministry in a church in Jerusalem. Because Silas was a Jew he knew the law and the teachings of the law. But he was also a Christian and believed in Christ. And because of his beliefs Paul may have chosen him so he could also preach the gift of salvation from a Jewish perspective. The second possible reason could be that Silas was a like Paul a Roman citizen. Who better to preach to the Gentiles than a couple of Roman Hellenistic Jews. And a third possible reason Silas was chosen by Paul for this job is because Silas has ties to the Jerusalem church and backed by the Jewish church. While Paul was associated and represented the churches in Antioch.

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