By Tyson Thorne

August 7, 2014

Commission large

The first few verses of Acts 13 provide us a rare glimpse into the early church of Antioch. The first is that it had two official offices, namely teachers (pastors) and prophets. There is no indication that deacons or elders were yet appointed.

The second is that it was multi-cultural. Barnabas and Saul were of course Jewish teachers (and Paul was also a Roman citizen), Lucius was a Cyrenian and probably one of the two founders of the church among the Greeks mentioned in Acts 11.20, Simeon (also called Niger) was likely of North African (possibly Ethiopian) decent, and Manean who was a Samaritan and a Roman.

The third is most interesting as four practices of devotion are called out: service, prayer, fasting and the laying on of hands. Each of these deserve some explanation. Service as mentioned here is likely the apostolic duties mentioned in Acts 6.4 – “prayer and the ministry of the word.” This is in keeping with the title “teachers” mentioned in verse one of this chapter. The prayer life of Saul and Barnabas likely consisted of all five forms of prayer discussed on this site and to teaching the people from the Scriptures.

Prayer is mentioned again in verse three, this time in connection with fasting rather than teaching. Since Saul and Barnabas were about to be commissioned to their first missionary journey it is likely that their prayers were of the penitence and preparation variety. Read the articles on those two types of prayer for more information.

Fasting is not practice much in the church today to our own detriment. There are three forms of fasting mentioned in the Bible, one on the most holy Jewish day that lasted from sunset to sunrise – a full 24 hours. Other fasts called for on the Jewish calendar were from sunrise to sunset, roughly 12 hours. The third form is a personal fast used primarily with prayers of penitence to show God how seriously one takes their sin, but may also have been used to demonstrate one’s sorrow over the death of a loved one or one’s need before undertaking a dangerous task. It is this third type that is in view here, and there is no prescribed length of time for such a fast. The timeframe is set by the individual and may be anything from a few hours to a full day. Nowhere in the Bible is anyone commanded to fast for more than 24 hours as there are health risks in doing so. All fasts include depriving oneself of food and water during the time of the fast.

Finally, we witness the act of laying on of hands. This is largely overused by the charismatic and Pentecostal churches. Perhaps the evangelical church has erred on the side of practicing it too little, but do so because of the warning Paul gives in 1 Timothy 5.22. The act as practiced in the New Testament has no power in itself but is rather a symbolic gesture used to connect a person to a message, or to a responsibility or to a blessing.

After all this, the church of Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul off on the first of Paul’s three missionary journeys. Certainly the mission was one of great importance and not undertaken lightly, and for good reason as we’ll see throughout the rest of the book of Acts.


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