The ripple effect: Silas

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

The leaders of the early Christian church must have thought highly of Silas. They kept choosing him for important work.

We first meet Silas just after the council in Jerusalem settled an important issue for the early church: Must a Christian keep the Old Testament cer-emonial law? Some said yes. Jewish Christians had gone from Judea to Antioch with the argument that circumcision was required for Christian males. They said it this starkly, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

It’s hardly a stretch to suppose that other Old Testament regulations were being imposed as well. But Antioch’s pastors, Barnabas and Paul, argued sharply against such teaching. Souls were at stake. To decide the matter, the Antioch community sent a delegation—Paul, Barnabas, and others to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem council

What followed was as important to the church as anything that happened after Pentecost. In the assembly of leaders and other believers, Christians who were Pharisees by background argued, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (15:5). Discussion followed, until Peter spoke against adding the ceremonial law to the gospel. He said, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that [Jews] are saved, just as [Gentiles] are” (15:11). Barnabas and Paul told of the miracles God had done through them among the Gentiles. James, “the brother of the Lord” and a prominent leader, quoted the prophet Amos as further proof that God intended Gentiles—without the trappings of Old Testament law—to be part of the church. So both Jews and Gentiles were part of the church by faith with or without the Old Test-ament ceremonies.

As “leaders among the believers” in Jerusalem, Silas and Judas Barsabbas were picked to go back to Antioch and “confirm by word of mouth” (15:27) the written decision of the Jerusalem council. In Antioch, Judas and Silas as “prophets”—spokesmen for God—encouraged their fellow believers and then returned to Jerusalem.

With Paul and then Peter

Silas’ next assignment, as recorded in Acts chapters 16–18, was as Paul’s coworker. After Paul and Barnabas disagreed over personnel for Paul’s second missionary journey, they decided to work separately in different regions. Paul chose Silas to travel with him on the second journey. They shared the routine and the risks of that trip. Early at Lystra they added Timothy to their team. For a time, Silas and Timothy worked independently and distant from Paul, as need and danger dictated. Silas evidently had the knack of knowing both how to lead and how to follow.

Silas did not travel again with Paul once this journey reached its end. Yet his service to God’s church was not over. We find him next at the side of another giant, Peter, serving somewhat like a proofreader for Peter’s first epistle. It seems that Peter used him—and God had provided him—to polish Peter’s Spirit-inspired Greek prose. Peter makes clear (1 Peter 5:12) that he had written the letter “with the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother.”

As had Paul. As do we.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the ninth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

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