19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.
20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
22 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.
23 Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;
24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.
25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul;
26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. NASU
In this passage Luke picks up the story of the persecuted saints being scattered from Jerusalem. He started telling this story in Acts 8:4. The scattering resulted in the spread of the gospel in accordance with Acts 1:8. Once again, God used opposition to benefit His kingdom!
Some of the scattered believers made their way to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. Phoenicia included such coastal cities as Tyre, Sidon, and Ptolomais. Some of the saints crossed over the Sea to the great island of Cyprus where there were many Jews. Others went north to Antioch. The scattered believers ministered only to the Jews.
At this point, Luke says (verse 20), "But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus." The phrase "some of them" refers to some of the men who were scattered from Jerusalem. These men were Hellenistic Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene. The city of Cyrene was on the north coast (modern Libya) of Africa.
The men from Cyprus and Cyrene began speaking to the "Greeks." Some manuscripts have Hellenas (Greeks) and others have Hellenistas (Hellenists). Robertson (p. 156) says that Hellenas is the preferred reading. According to Bruce (p. 237) "The context plainly requires the sense ‘Greeks' (as opposed to Jews) and not Grecians or Hellenists." We conclude that "Greeks" refers here to the Gentiles.
Luke does not set down the chronology of events. It would seem, however, that the group speaking only to the Jews did not know anything about the events at Caesarea. Also, it seems likely that the men from Cyprus and Cyrene came later and had heard the news of Caesarea and knew the way was open to reach the Gentiles.
The hand of the Lord was with the men from Cyprus and Cyrene, and many people believed in Christ. When the church in Jerusalem heard the news, they send Barnabas to Antioch. This city was destined to become the major missionary center of the times.
Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36) who had been born in Cyprus. The church in Jerusalem selected him to go to Antioch. He was a Hellenist and would relate well the Greeks. When Barnabas arrived, he saw the grace of God at work and encouraged them to remain true to the Lord.
Now, Luke says (verse 24), "for (hoti) he [Barnabas] was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord." This verse begins with the word hoti, which is a conjunction meaning "because." Barnabas exhorted the people "because" "he was a good man, and full (pleres) of the Holy Spirit and of faith."
Barnabas was "full of the Holy Spirit." This expression is usually not absolute. Men filled with the Holy Spirit can be "filled" again at particular times and places and for special purposes. Some people frequently give evidence of being "full" of the Spirit and thus become so characterized. Moreover, the expression "full of the Spirit" refers to the ongoing manifested presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer.
A cluster of characteristics is associated with the term "full" of the Spirit. Luke has used this term in connection with Jesus (Luke 4:1), the seven selected servants (Acts 6:3), and Stephen (Acts 6:5 and 7:55). From these scriptures we observe the following:
Luke connects fullness of the Spirit with His guidance. He says concerning Jesus (Luke 4:1) "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness." NASU The conjunction "and" connects the Spirit with His guidance.
When a problem arose concerning the distribution of food among the Jewish Hellenistic widows, the apostles said (Acts 6:3): "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task." NASU Luke does not directly attribute the good reputation of the men to the work of the Spirit, but their fullness of the Spirit and wisdom no doubt had its impact. It is possible to view "Spirit" and "wisdom" as two things, but the better view is that the wisdom was derived from the Spirit. As men full of the Spirit and wisdom, they were chosen to be in charge of the food distribution.
According to Luke (Acts 6:5), the advice of the apostles "found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch." (NASU) Once again, we could conceivably view "full of faith" and "the Holy Spirit" as two separate things. However, the normal assumption is that Luke meant that the Holy Spirit inspired Stephen with great "faith" for his ministry.
The report concerning Stephen continues. Luke says (Acts 6:8): "And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." The Holy Spirit is not mentioned in this verse, but the context shows that the Spirit is the source of both grace and power.
In Acts 7:55 Luke writes concerning Stephen, "But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." Once again the fullness of the Spirit is connected with an activity. Stephen gazed intently into heaven to see Jesus. Immediately after this, he uttered his final words.
Being full of the Holy Spirit, then, is connected with a strong cluster of spiritual characteristics. That cluster includes guidance, wisdom, good reputation, faith, and supernatural sight. This cluster does not take away from Luke's main emphasis on prophetic speech. Nor does it include an emphasis on the initial works of the Spirit in salvation such as being sanctified, adopted, justified, and cleansed by the Spirit.
Barnabas was "a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." The Holy Spirit influences us in many ways. He manifests great power through some, great faith through others, and wisdom through still others. It is possible for one to be a "good man" or be of "good reputation" without being characterized as being "full" of the Spirit. However, being full of the Spirit both enables us to do great things and it enhances all aspects of our lives.
Barnabas did much to encourage the church at Antioch. Then, he left Antioch for Tarsus to look for Saul. Upon finding Saul, Barnabas brought him to Antioch. Together, they ministered in Antioch for a year. Luke says that the believers were first called Christians in Antioch. They were called Christians, of course, because they were followers of Christ.
George M. Flattery
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Ervin, Howard M. Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.
Ervin, Howard M. These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose. Plainfield: Logos International, 1968.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
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