Acts 13:47‐Isaiah 49:6

Introduction


In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas find themselves in Antioch declaring the truth to first
Jews and then Gentiles. This consequently causes controversy, jealousy and
dissension. In response, Paul and Barnabas point the listeners back to the Old
Testament. They repeat the words of Isaiah 49:6 which reads:
“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the
ends of the earth.”

Context of the passage in Isaiah

Chapter 49 begins Isaiah’s discussion of a “greater deliverance” that is going to be
enacted. There will be redemption from Babylon (48) but there is still “no peace for
the wicked” (48:22).24 The text says, “I will make you.” At a first glace, it could seem
that the “you” is the nation of Israel itself. Israel was meant to be a light to the
nations (Genesis 22:18). However, this “you” is going to “bring back the preserved of
Israel.” Israel is not going to bring back Israel. Thus, this you is an individual and his
task encompasses not only the restoration of Israel but of the nations. The light is
going to shine in darkness and bring about salvation. Therefore, the servant is at the
same time the light and the salvation. The servant is not the agent of communicating
salvation but he is the salvation.25

Context of Paul and Barnabas’s speech in Acts

In Chapter 13 Paul and Barnabas are in leave from Antioch which has replaced
Jerusalem as the center of the church’s mission. 26 They travel to many important
cities and reach Antioch in Pisidia which was a flourishing Roman colony. 27 Paul
takes the opportunity the rulers offer (13:16) and beginning at the Exodus, shares
the good news. Consequently, “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed
Paul and Barnabas.” They were “urged to continue in the grace of God” which
denotes repentance (2:47, 4:33).28

However, a week later they are “filled with jealousy” and begin to “blaspheme” and
“contradict” what Paul is saying. They are recognizing that the truth is not for them
alone. The first week, Paul appealed to the history of the Jews. He used their own
prophets to point out that God had sent a redeemer for them (13:33,35). The word
jealousy denotes a negative type of zeal; it is characterized by wrath and
indignation.29 It is also used in Acts 5:17 to speak of the Sadducees when they
arrested the apostles. They were not angry at Paul’s content but rather jealous of his
listeners. Paul even forewarns them (13:40) against this but fail to heed it.
Paul’s theology, as later unpacked in the book of Romans (1:16, 2:9, 2:10), is now
expressed “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you.” In the
Isaiah passage, the suffering servant is first going to gather Israel back to himself
(49:5) and then bring salvation to the world (49:6). In the same way, Paul and
Barnabas are bringing this gospel message in Pisidia Antioch first to the Jews and
then to the Gentiles.

Paul and Barnabas therefore, are carrying on the mission of this suffering servant.
The passage in Isaiah is directed towards the suffering servant but Paul says “the
Lord commanded us.” The apostles “inherit” this promise in a sense. 30 They are
continuing the work of Jesus Christ. 31 Luke establishes this reality in his previous
book. In Luke 24:49 where Christ sends the disciples to “proclaim his name to all the
nations beginning in Jerusalem.” Paul is defending himself to the Jews using their
own prophet. They are “filled with jealousy” that what is true for them can also be
true for the Gentiles. However, Paul makes his argument based on a command in
scripture. Christ was the ultimate light and salvation to the Gentiles and how much
more so is Paul justified in bringing the truth to them? This theology is expanded
further in the later epistles. In Ephesians Paul states that he is “a prisoner for Christ
Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles” (3:1). In Philippians he declares that for him “to live
is Christ and to die is gain” (2:22). Therefore, there should be no confusion that Paul
and Barnabas are the light and the salvation. Rather they are the agents which bring
the news of the light and salvation that the suffering servant has already
accomplished.

Response of the Jews


Finally, the completely contrasting reactions of the Jews and the Gentiles is shown.
Morgan points out that while the Jews were “filled with jealousy” the Gentiles were
filled with gladness (13:48). The Jews contradicted and blasphemed while the
Gentiles glorified and rejoiced. 32

Conclusion


In the flow of Acts, this passage is developing the reality that the Gentiles have been
grafted in. Peter receives his vision in chapter 11 that “to the Gentiles also God has
granted repentance that leads to life” which is evidenced by the fact that they send
aid to the Jews in Jerusalem (11:29). Furthermore, Sergius Paulus believed in
chapter 13. Luke is proving that this Gentile salvation is not a theory. It was foretold
by the prophets and is now happening in space and time. It also paves the way for
the upcoming Jerusalem council. Paul and Barnabas have experienced what they are
bringing before the council. They have seen the salvation of the Gentiles.


24 Motyer, The prophecy of Isaiah.
25 Ibid.
26 Abingdon Press, The New Interpreter's Bible.
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Explanatory and Practical, Enlarged type ed.
/ by Robert Frew. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1949).
30 Beale, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament.
31 The Expositor's Bible Commentary.
32 G Morgan, The Acts of the apostles, (New York Chicago [etc.]: Fleming H. Revell Co.,
1924).



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