Acts 13:1-13

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

June 25, 2009 


Paul’s First Missionary Journey – Part 1


Acts 13 marks a major turning point in the book of Acts.  Four major changes occur in Acts 13 that are carried throughout the remainder of the book:

  1. The primary focus of the witness of the church shifts from Jews to Gentiles.  While we have seen the church reach out to Gentiles prior to Acts 13 (the Ethiopian in Acts 8, the household of Cornelius in Acts 10, the people in Antioch in Acts 11) and while the gospel is preached in some Jewish synagogues after Acts 13, the emphasis of the Christian witness shifts from Jews to Gentiles.  This is the fulfillment of the last part of the Lord’s command in Acts 1:8.
  2. The base of operation shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Beginning in Acts 13, Antioch takes over as the center of Christian activity.
  3. The focus shifts from Peter’s leadership to Paul’s leadership.  While Peter dominated the events described in the first part of Acts, his name is not even mentioned after Acts 15.  The remainder of the book focuses primarily on the missionary journeys and captivity of Paul.
    1. Acts 13:1-14:28 describes the Paul’s first missionary journey (To Cyprus and Central Asia Minor with Barnabas and John Mark)
    2. Acts 15:1-35 describes the Jerusalem Conference
    3. Acts 15:36-18:22 describes Paul’s second missionary journey (To Macedonia and Achaia with Silas)
    4. Acts 18:23-21:16 describes Paul’s third missionary journey  (To Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia)
    5. Acts 21:17 – 28:31 describes Paul’s imprisonment
  4. The strategy of deliberately doing missions was established.  Until this point in time, the gospel had been shared primarily by Christian refugees.  Now we see the church intentionally setting aside some people to send out to share the gospel.


Acts 13:1-3 describes the call of Barnabas and Saul to missionary service.

Verse 1 – God moved within the hearts of the leaders of the church at Antioch to begin the first organized missions effort. 

“prophets and teachers” – Some say this is a reference to two distinct groups of people.  Others contend it is a reference the one group with two distinct functions.  “Prophets” were those inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak a direct message from God.  “Teachers” (this is the first mention of “teachers” in Acts) were those gifted to give believers instruction in the practical duties of the Christian life.

Notice the list of those named in this verse.

“Barnabas” – Nothing else is said about him because he has been introduced to us previously in Acts.

“Simeon who was called NigerNiger is the Latin word for black or dark-skinned.  Some have tried to identify him with Simon of Cyrene (north Africa) who was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus.

“Lucius of Cyrene – Cyrene was a province in north Africa about where modern day Libya is located.

“Manaen” – He was reared in the court of Herod the tetrarch, also known as Herod Antipas.  He was the Herod who beheaded John the Baptist and the one before whom Jesus appeared on the day of His crucifixion.

“Saul” – He was a highly trained theologian.

It is impossible not to see the rich racial and social diversity of this group.


Verse 2 tells us what this leadership group was doing.

“ministering to the Lord” – The word translated “ministering” is used only three times in the New Testament.  It is found also in Romans 15:27 and Hebrews 10:11.  It refers to a ministry of public worship.

“fasting” – This indicates the earnestness with which they were seeking direction from the Lord.

“the Holy Spirit said” – Not told precisely how the Spirit communicated with them, but it is reasonable to assume He spoke through one or more of the prophets among them.


Verse 3 tells their response to the Lord’s command.  The did three things:

1.      They “fasted and prayed” some more to make sure they had not misunderstood what the Spirit was saying to them.

2.      They “laid their hands” on Barnabas and Saul.  We have seen this act several times in Acts (see Acts 6:6; 8:17; 9:17).  This was certainly not an ordination to ministry for both Barnabas and Saul had been extensively involved in ministry before this point in time.  Instead, it was an act of confirming their call and of being sent forth with their blessing.

3.      They “sent them away.”  This must have been terribly difficult for Barnabas and Saul were among the key leaders in that church.


The first missionary journey of Paul is summarized in Acts 13 – 14.  It lasted for approximately two years probably around AD 46-48.  They set out from Antioch with a definite missions strategy in mind.  Their plan was to:

·        Go to places the gospel had not yet been shared

·        Focus on larger population centers

·        Begin by approaching the Jews and other God-fearing people

·        Stay a short time in each location, teach new believers, establish a church, and move on trusting the Holy Spirit to lead the new believers

·        Revisit the young churches to encourage them

·        Return to the home base (sending church) and report


Verse 4a

“being sent out by the Holy Spirit” – Paul and Barnabas were not sent out by the church, they were sent by the Holy Spirit.  God’s Spirit was directing this entire process and the church was only acting at His direction.

Seleucia – This was a seaport about 16 miles from Antioch.  There is no record of Paul and Barnabas preaching in this town.

Verses 4b-12 – These verses tell of the ministry in Cyprus.  Barnabas was from Cyprus and perhaps that is why they went there first.  Cypress is the largest island in the eastern Mediterranean.  Though it was dominated by the Romans, it was largely a Greek population and there was a large Jewish community on the island.  This was not the first Christian witness to Cyprus (see Acts 11:19-20).  While they went “through the whole island” (v.6), Luke describes their work on Cyprus in two principal cities.

Salamis(v.5) – This city was located on the northeast side of the island of Cyprus.  It was the governmental center for eastern Cyprus and a flourishing commercial center.  Two things are mentioned in connection with their work in Salamis. 

·        They preached “in the synagogues of Jews”

·        They had John Mark, who was the cousin of Barnabas (see Colossians 4:10), with them as their helper

“Paphos” (vv. 6-12) – Paphos was located on the southwest side of the island of Cyprus.  This was the seat of government for western Cyprus.  The city was notorious for its immorality in connection with the worship of a love goddess known as “the Paphian” which was a Syrian version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite.  Three significant things are said of the work in Paphos.

·        A detailed account is given of the encounter with a man named Bar-Jesus who was also known as Elymas which the Greek form of an Aramaic word which means sorcerer.  This man was apparently an adviser to the provincial governor who was named Sergius Paulus.  It was not unusual for government officials to have around them sorcerers and fortune-tellers to advise them.  The governor heard of Paul and Barnabas and invited them to share with him “the word of God” (v.7).  Elymas knew that if the governor became a believer in Christ, his source of employment would dry up.  So, he did all that he could to keep the governor from listening to Paul and Barnabas.  Paul strongly rebuked Elymas.  What he said to the sorcerer in Acts 13:10-11 is a good summary of what the Bible has to say about those who practice sorcery or witchcraft or black magic or who dabble in the occult:

o       You are “full of deceit and fraud”

o       You are “son of the devil”

o       You are and “enemy of all righteousness”

o       You constantly attempt to make right seem wrong and wrong seem right

o       The true God is against all that you stand for

·        Saul is referred to as Paul for the first time in Acts.  Most Jews had both a Jewish and a Roman name.  For Paul, using the Roman name helped him in his work with the Gentiles.

·        Sergius Paulus, when he witnessed what happened to his sorcerer and based on the teaching of Paul and Barnabas, became a believer in Jesus.


Verse 13 tellls of the ministry in Perga.  Two significant things are mentioned in this verse.

  • After the confrontation with Elymas, Paul becomes the unmistakable leader of the mission.  Notice the phrase “Paul and his companions.”  To this point it had been Barnabas and Paul but no longer.  Now, Paul was in charge.  William Barclay says that this verse pays great tribute to Barnabas because there is no hint of complaint or resentment or bitterness from him.  He was more than glad to take second place if that advanced the work of the gospel.
  • John Mark left the team and returned to Jerusalem.  We are not told why Mark left, but the assumption is that he did not like his cousin, Barnabas, being relegated to a secondary role to Paul.  John Mark’s leaving became a source of  contention between Paul and Barnabas later on (see Acts 15:36-41).


Practical Lessons from Acts 13:1-13

    1. We must not place limits on the people God can use in ministry.  The leaders of the church at Antioch demonstrate that God can use people from all backgrounds.
    2. We need to seek the counsel and wisdom of others as we make major decisions.  No doubt Barnabas and Saul felt called to go on the missionary journey but God confirmed that through the leaders of the church at Antioch.
    3. Unselfishness is one of the characteristics of a genuinely spiritual person.  The leaders of the church at Antioch demonstrated unselfishness by sending out two of their best to other parts of the world even though the need around them was great.  Barnabas demonstrated unselfishness by graciously deferring to the leadership of Paul.
    4. Even good people sometimes make mistakes but they need not be fatal.  John Mark made a large mistake by bailing out on Paul and Barnabas.  But he came back to write the first Gospel and to become a faithful companion to Paul (see 2 Timothy 4:11).