11:2 they that were of the circumcision. This is a reference to the early Jewish converts and church leaders in Jerusalem, where Jewish practices were strong and had been carried over in good measure into the church. Peter’s explanation of his involvement with Gentiles was accepted (Acts 11:18), but this issue continued to fester, until eventually the “Judaizers” in the church became a real problem, especially in Paul’s ministry.
11:19 Antioch. Antioch was the capital of Syria, and in the Roman Empire only Rome and Alexandria were larger. It was a very busy and beautiful city, located on the river Orontes. It was also cosmopolitan and very immoral. With a large colony of Jews, it was natural that many of the scattering Hellenistic Jews would come there, arriving by water first from the Phoenician coastlands as they traveled north, with some turning aside to sail to the isle of Cyprus. The preaching of these Hellenistic Jews from Jerusalem soon resulted in the conversion of many Jews in the synagogues at Antioch, and the establishment of a church at Antioch.
11:21 great number believed. Many of these new converts were undoubtedly Hellenistic Jews, but probably some were real Greeks as well, for soon the Antioch church did include many Gentile members (note Acts 15:23). In any case, the establishment of this thriving new church in Antioch was not marked by a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as had happened at Jerusalem and Caesarea. The latter were unique, not-to-be-repeated divine testimonials to the coming of the Holy Spirit, on Jewish and Gentile believers, respectively. Since that time, the regular ministry of the Spirit has been in operation, convicting the unsaved, baptizing each new believer into the body of Christ, and bestowing individual gifts of the Spirit according to His will (see notes on I Corinthians 12:4-13).
11:22 Barnabas. Barnabas, whose name meant “son of encouragement,” was truly “a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith” (Acts 11:24), an ideal person to send to encourage and strengthen the new church in Antioch. He was a wealthy but unselfish Levite (Acts 4:36-37) and had helped Paul become accepted by the skeptical Jewish believers at Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). At Antioch, he was instrumental in winning so many to the Lord that the teaching work became greater than he could handle alone. He decided that the best teacher he could get was Paul.
11:25 to seek Saul. Saul (soon to be known as Paul—Acts 13:9) had been sent away from Jerusalem several years earlier (Acts 9:30), and Barnabas had lost touch with him, so that he had to “seek” him when he went to Tarsus to get him. Tarsus was Paul’s home town, but he may have been disinherited by his family when he returned there as a Christian (he testified that he had “suffered the loss of all things” because of his conversion—Philippians 3:8).
11:26 Christians. To the Jews in Jerusalem, the name “Christ” was a title, meaning “the anointed one,” the Jewish Messiah. However, the Greek-speaking believers in Antioch soon became known as followers of Christ, or Christians, and this has been customary ever since.
11:27 prophets. Before the New Testament was written, the Spirit endowed certain men with the gift of prophecy, providing Spirit-inspired teachings to help in the guidance of the early church. This special ability was gradually withdrawn as the need lessened (I Corinthians 13:8).