Acts 14 : 21 - 27 ( NRSV )

Paul and Barnabas went back through Lystra and Iconium to Antioch.(21) They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. "We all have to experience many hardships," they said, "before we enter the realm of God"(22) In each of these Churches they appointed elders,1 and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Risen Christ in whom they had come to believe.(23)
They passed through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia.(24) Then after proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia(25) and from there sailed for Antioch, where they had originally been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.(26)
On their arrival they assembled the church and gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how the door of faith had been opened to the gentiles.(27)

COMMENT

     The Book of Acts tells that Paul and Barnabus are forced to leave Antioch in Pisidia. In Derbe their opponents seem to have run out of steam and they make many new disciples before returning to some persecuted communities that needed encouragement.
     Paul often started delivering his message in a city or town and wasn't allowed to finish. Starting in the synagogue, division would grow between the Hebrews and "God-fearing non-Hebrews," on hearing his message. Then the apostle would be opposed and the opposition's persecution would often carry over - from one city to the next (v.19). But at Derbe there's no mention of Hebrews. The opposition seems to have spent it's force by this time. The missionaries are successful in making many disciples and they retrace their steps to places where they had recently been opposed and they encourage their recent converts in those places.
     Dogged by persecution earlier in this missionary journey, Paul's work in any one place was too brief to expect the communities of disciples to last. But groups did survive in spite of the unfavourable circumstances at the time of their founding by Paul. The evidence is found in the letters Paul addresses to the Thessalonians and the Philippians. The two apostles tried to strengthen the groups of their converts in the light of what they had experienced - that the way to the reigning of God leads through persecution and trouble! The non-Hebrew Christians would come to suffer much as the Hebrew Christians had before them. According to Paul, suffering is the way to glory and is the pattern established by Jesus' death and resurrection.
     Before leaving Antioch the itinerant apostles installed a group of elders to guide the local community in their absence. These would-be leaders prepared for their role by joining the apostles in prayer and fasting. The elders played a significant role in Hebrew communities. They continued that role when a community became Christian. The non-Hebrew Christian communities were organised along lines that sprang from the social organisation of Hebrew life. Later these elders would take on many of the roles and functions of the order of presbyter. It is an important link in the history of the evolution of the modern role of priest.
 
footnote:
1. [ v.23 ] They appointed elders: The communities are given their own religious leaders by the traveling missionaries. The structure in these churches is patterned on the model of the Jerusalem community (Ac.11:30; 15:2, 5, 22; 21:18).
 

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