Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 11:19-26
Posted by Dim Bulb on April 1, 2017
19 Now they who had been dispersed by the persecution that arose on occasion of Stephen went about as far as Phenice and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none, but to the Jews only.
“Now” is resumptive of the narrative interrupted (c. 8:4) by the description of the conversion of Saul (9:32), the visitation of the churches of Palestine by Peter (33–43), the wonderful events connected with Cornelius, &c. Now, St. Luke resumes the history and doings of those disciples who were scattered abroad on the occasion of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and enters on a new phase of the history of the Acts, chiefly in regard to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles in several prominent places, and especially in regard to the history of St. Paul, the principal events of his life, his Apostolic labours and heroic sufferings in the cause of the Gospel.
“They that had been dispersed by,” or owing to, the persecution, on the occasion of the death of Stephen, “went about as far as Phenice.” Some of these dispersed disciples, not Apostles, made their way preaching the Gospel as far as Phenice—that tract of country on the shores of the Mediterranean between Judæa and Syria; others, as far as Cyprus, the island over against Phœnicia, others, as far as Antioch, the capital of Syria. All these exiles preached the Gospel to the Jews only.
20 But some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they were entered into Antioch, spoke also to the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus.
“But some of them” who were dispersed (c. 8:4), “Cyrene,” the capital city of Lybia, these were converted Jews.
“Greeks.” Gentiles. The opposition between these and “the Jews only,” among whom, doubtless, were found Hellenistic Jews, would seem to require that the word “Greeks” would refer to those who were in no sense “Jews” but Pagans. Very likely these men heard at Antioch of Cornelius’ conversion, and doubtless this example would influence them to preach to the Gentiles, and admit them into the Church.
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believing, were converted to the Lord.
“The hand of the Lord” was with those teachers, empowering them to perform miracles in corroboration of their teaching which, therefore, was successful in effecting conversions.
The occurrences referred to (19–21) would seem to have taken place during an interval of some years, between the death of Stephen and the mission of Barnabas to Antioch.
22 And the tidings came to the ears of the church that was at Jerusalem, touching these things: and they sent Barnabas as far as Antioch.
The rumour concerning the successful labours of the disciples among these Cyprians and Cyreneans at Antioch reached the faithful of Jerusalem and the Apostles themselves who may have been there. Peter and James were there. Hence, the deputation by them of Barnabas to Antioch to confirm by Apostolic authority the successful work of the Cyprian and Cyrenean disciples. They send Barnabas alone as being a Cyprian and Hellenist; he was best fitted for the work, and would give less offence in his communication with the successful preaching of the word.
23 Who, when he was come and had seen the grace of God, rejoiced. And he exhorted them all with purpose of heart to continue in the Lord.
Had seen the grace of God manifest in the conversion and edifying lives of the Gentiles. “The grace of God” was the chief agent in the work of conversion. Free will is also upheld when He exhorts them “with purpose of heart,” with firm and determined purposes, “to continue,” &c.
24 For he was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. And a great multitude was added to the Lord
“A good man,” &c. “Good,” benign, kind; loving God and solicitous for the salvation of his brethren; distinguished for the abundant gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially faith and confidence in God. To these qualities was added his success in the work of the Gospel.
25 And Barnabas went to Tarsus to seek Saul: whom, when he had found, he brought to Antioch.
Paul went from Jerusalem to Tharsus, his native city. Likely while there he was engaged in his trade of tent-making. Possibly, the Apostles at Jerusalem may have instructed Barnabas to call on him knowing what an effective labourer he would be in preaching the Gospel.
26 And they conversed there in the church a whole year: and they taught a great multitude, so that at Antioch the disciples were first named Christians.
“Conversed there.” Held sacred meetings for the purposes of worship “for a whole year,” and instructed great multitudes in the faith of Christ.
“First named Christians,” which shows the wonderful progress the Gospel made at Antioch.
“Christians,” the most honourable of all appellations, suggestive of the gratitude we owe our Blessed Saviour, and of our obligation to walk in His footsteps if we wish to share in His glory.
By whom they were so called, whether by Paul or Barnabas, or the Pagans, among whom they lived by way of distinction cannot be ascertained. Likely, it was not meant as a term of reproach. Agrippa uses it in a complimentary sense (Acts 26:20 also 1 Peter 4:16). Galileans or Nazareans was employed scornfully and reproachfully (2:7, 24:5) to designate our Lord’s followers.