Chapter 32: “I Have Set Thee to Be a Light of the Gentiles”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 262–67

Map Chp. 32

The Acts of the Apostles—Events Occurred ca. A.D. 45–51 (13:6–18:23)

Paul’s First and Second Missionary Journeys



Paphos, Cyprus

Paul Curses a False Prophet


Anitoch, Pisidia

The Savior Was of the Lineage of David


The Gospel Is Offered to Israel


Paul and Barnabas Teach the Gentiles


Iconium, Galatia

Jews Persecute Paul and Barnabas

13:50–52; 14:1–7

Lystra, Galatia

Paul and Barnabas Hailed as Gods


Paul Stoned, Revived, Preaches


Jerusalem, Judea

The Question of Circumcision


Paul and Silas Become Companions


The Holy Ghost Directs Paul’s Labors


Thyatira, Asia

An Evil Spirit Cast Out


Philip, a Jailor, Receives Christ


Thessalonica, Macedonia

Paul and Silas Flee Persecution


Athens, Greece

Paul Preaches the Unknown God


Corinth, Greece

Jew and Greek Hear the Gospel


The Jews Take Paul to Court


Interpretive Commentary

(32-1) Acts 13:1–14, 26. What Is the Primary Significance of Paul’s First Missionary Journey?

The real significance of Paul’s first missionary journey lies in the fact that it led to the establishment of branches of the church in areas far removed from Jerusalem. Many heard and received the gospel message who could otherwise not have done so. In addition, we have an opportunity to see Paul in his new capacity as a leader and an organizer. He enters a town where there are no members, where most have not so much as heard of Jesus Christ. When he leaves, there is a small but thriving branch of the church commissioned to carry on in his absence. We note also Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel to all men, regardless of their station or background. When the Jews reject the word of God, Paul turns to the gentiles. (Where did the first missionary journey take Paul? See map section.)

(32-2) Acts 13:6. “They Found a Certain Sorcerer, a False Prophet”

“My enemies say that I have been a true prophet. Why, I had rather be a fallen true prophet than a false prophet. When a man goes about prophesying, and commands men to obey his teachings, he must either be a true or false prophet. False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones.” (Smith, Teachings, p. 365.)

(32-3) Acts 13:7. Who Was Sergius Paulus?

He was the Roman proconsul for Cyprus when Paul and Barnabas traveled to the island on the first missionary journey. He is described as a prudent man who requested that Paul and Barnabas preach to him. When he saw the miracle performed by Paul in causing blindness to come upon Elymas, the sorcerer, he “believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” (Acts 13:12.)

(32-4) Acts 15:1. “Certain Men Which Came Down from Judea”

“They came from the headquarters of the Church, … and were good and acceptable brethren; but on the issue of circumcision they erred, teaching false doctrine and not being led by the Spirit. Since the Lord often leaves his servants to struggle with and work out solutions for difficult problems, before they finally receive his mind and voice by revelation, similar situations arise in the Church today. For instance, brethren who go forth today to preach and to confirm the churches sometimes take it upon themselves to advocate political, educational, and social philosophies which seem right to them—on occasions even claiming such are essential to salvation—which in fact are not the voice of God to his people.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:139.)

(32-5) Acts 15:1. “Except Ye Be Circumcised after the Manner of Moses, Ye Cannot Be Saved”

The ordinance of circumcision was instituted by Jehovah himself. It was first given to Abraham and his descendants as a token of the covenant which assured sacred and eternal blessings to all who served the Lord in righteousness (Abraham 2:8–11; Genesis 17). According to the law of Moses, every male child was to be circumcised when he was eight days old (Leviticus 12:3). The prime purpose for the token was to serve as a reminder of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:9–14).

Following the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the need for the special token was removed. No longer was the gospel and its blessings exclusively reserved for the Jews; the gospel was for all. In a revelation given to Mormon and recorded in the Book of Mormon, Jesus said: “Little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.” (Moroni 8:8. Italics added.) In the days of Jesus and the apostles it was popular to refer to people as those of the circumcision and those of the uncircumcision, the former as a synonym for the Jews and the latter for the gentiles. (See Galatians 2:7). Although the special Council of Jerusalem settled the question by revelation, Paul still found it necessary to combat the problem wherever he went. Many of his converts were Jewish and insisted that all gentile Christians must also obey the Mosaic rite. Paul made it clear that circumcision for either Jew or gentile was done away in Christ. (See Romans 2, 3, 4; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6; 6:15; Colossians 2:11; 3:11.)

(32-6) Acts 15:7. Why Did the Lord Speak by Peter’s Mouth?

“Peter [was] the president of the Church; he receive[d] and announce[d] the mind and will of Deity on all matters.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:143.)

(32-7) Acts 15:28. “For It Seemed Good to the Holy Ghost, and to Us”

“In this instance the decision apparently was both reached and ratified by following the revealed procedure used by the Prophet in translating the Book of Mormon. That is, the Lord’s agent struggled and labored with the problem, searched the scriptures, sought for possible conclusions, and did the best they could to solve the problem on the basis of the sound principles which they knew. Having arrived at what they considered to be an appropriate solution—that is, adopting James’ statements which were based on Peter’s announcement of principle—they asked the Lord if their conclusions were true and in accord with his mind. (D. & C. 8 and 9.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:144–45.)

(32-8) Acts 15:40. Who Was Silas?

The Silas spoken of in Acts is thought to be the same person as Silvanus of the Pauline letters (2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). He was prominent among the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. In his own right he was a prophet who preached the gospel (Acts 15:32). With Paul, he delivered to Antioch the decision of the Jerusalem Council concerning the requirements for church membership (Acts 15:1–35). When Paul disagreed with Barnabas, Silas was chosen as Paul’s companion to accompany him on the second missionary journey. His missionary experiences and travels include imprisonment at Philippi, where the jailor and his family were converted (Acts 16:16–40); travels to Thessalonica and then Berea, with a short stay at Berea while Paul went to Athens (Acts 17:1–15); and labors with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19). If, in fact, Silas was the same person as Silvanus, he was the scribe for the book of 1 Peter, and he carried that same letter of Peter’s to Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:12). He may have been a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37).

(32-9) Acts 15:40; 18:18. What Are the Significant Elements of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey?

The church appears to have grown as rapidly in the other portions of the empire as it did in and around Jerusalem. The second missionary journey gave Paul an opportunity not only to revisit the churches founded on his first journey but also to establish others in areas hitherto untouched. Thus was established a practice which was to continue throughout Paul’s work as an apostle: to “visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36.) But Paul did not always go in person to these places; sometimes he sent Timothy or Titus or Silas. Thus we get a clearer perception not only of his ability as an organizer but of his capabilities as an administrator. It became his practice to follow up visits with letters of commendation or admonition, a method Paul was to use throughout the rest of his life in the service of Christ. Finally, there is much to indicate that Paul enjoyed in great measure the blessings of the Holy Ghost in his ministry, for he received visions and instructions constantly concerning the work and demonstrated the power of God on numerous occasions (Acts 16:7–9, 26; 18:9). See the map section for the travels of Paul on his second journey.

(32-10) Acts 16:16. What Is the Spirit of Divination?

Divination is defined as the act of determining the future by such means as cards, horoscopes, dreams, charms, Ouija boards, seances, crystal balls, and so forth. Soothsaying, or the practice of divination, is an ancient art among the ancients (Isaiah 2:6; Daniel 2:27; 5:11); it was and is forbidden to the Lord’s people (Deuteronomy 18:9–14; Joshua 13:22).

(32-11) Acts 16:30–34. Is Belief on the Lord Jesus Christ All That Is Necessary for Salvation?

“… belief alone is scarcely the beginning of that course leading to a celestial inheritance if it is isolated as a thing apart, if it is supposed that it does not embrace within its folds both baptism and a subsequent course of enduring to the end. (2 Ne. 31:15–21.) And in the very case at hand, Paul and Silas teach the gospel to the whole group, baptize them, and without question give them the gift of the Holy Ghost, thus starting them out in the direction of salvation.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:152.)

(32-12) Acts 17:3. What Is Meant by the Statement That Paul Was “Opening and Alleging” with the Jews?

The word allege as we use it today has a somewhat different meaning from that in use in the days of the King James translators. To us, allege means to assert, to state, to set forth a proposition or thesis, all without proof. But to those of the early seventeenth century, it meant to bring forth proof, to present evidence, to back assertions with facts. Surely Paul would not spend three Sabbaths of precious time merely stating his case for Christ without presenting much supporting evidence.

(32-13) Acts 17:18. What Are Epicureans and Stoics?

Epicureanism was named for Epicurus, who lived just before and after 300 B.C. According to his philosophy, the world came into existence by chance and was without either purpose or design. The highest good to which man could attain was that which brought him the greatest pleasure or the greatest absence of sorrow and pain. Contrary to popular notions then and now, Epicureanism did not advocate wholesale licentiousness as an objective in life, but rather those enjoyments which gave to man the longest and fullest personal satisfactions.

Stoicism, on the other hand, recognized a supreme governing power in the universe. According to this philosophy, all things have been ordered and set in motion by a Divine Mind, and the wise man, the true Stoic, is he who accepts conditions as he finds them rather than changes them to be as he wishes them to be. Such acceptance requires great courage and self-control, for man is locked into a never-ending battle with nature. The body is not a vessel to be punished or catered to; it is to be ignored. In his famous address on Mars Hill, Paul quoted from the “Phaenomena,” a work by Aratus, a Cilician poet: “As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his [i.e., God’s] offspring.” (Acts 17:28.) Almost these identical words occur in the “Hymn to Zeus” written by Cleanthes. Both men were Stoics. In citing such poets, Paul was probably not attempting to impress his audience with his intellect and training; no doubt he was trying to place himself on a common footing with his listeners in order to gain their confidence and thus win a listening ear for his message.

(32-14) Acts 17:15–34. What Was the Significance of Paul’s Visit to Athens?

The city of Athens, capital of Greece, was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Although in a state of general decline by the time of Paul’s visit, Athens had formerly been the proud possessor of more intellectual genius, more philosophical inquiry, and more architectural splendor than any other city of ancient times. Its inhabitants, even during the period of decline, prided themselves on their brilliant heritage. Vigorous attempts were made to preserve and restore Athens to its former grandeur.

By the time of the first century A.D., Athens was literally a free city-state, privileged to enjoy the protection of Rome. Many of its most noted buildings were still standing. Famed among them was the Agora, or Marketplace. The chief men of the city gathered there each day to hear debates, to conduct the city’s business, to learn, if possible, something new (Acts 17:21). Since Paul’s message was new, he was assured of a crowd from the very first. At length, Paul was conducted to the famed Areopagus [i.e., Mars Hill], with his escorts saying, “May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?” (Acts 17:19.) Although Paul’s message was largely rejected, at least one member of the High Court, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Damaris, a local woman, with others unidentified, believed (Acts 17:34).

(32-15) Acts 17:22. “I Perceive That in All Things Ye Are Too Superstitious”

In describing Paul’s speech on Mars Hill to the Athenians, our King James translation uses two words which might confuse Luke’s intended meanings: superstitious and devotions. Paul is not insulting his Greek audience by accusing them of being too superstitious; rather, he is praising them for being very religious. The reference to their devotions seems to imply that Paul had seen a group of men in Athens in the act of worship. But what he really saw was the objects or the gods that they worshiped. Far from insulting his listeners, the prudent apostle was preparing his audience for a message concerning a God that they knew nothing about.

(32-16) Acts 17:26. Was Paul Teaching about the Premortal Existence When He Spoke of the “Times Before Appointed”?

Here is an important doctrinal point that squares precisely with that taught by Moses, who speaks of how God divided “to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam,” and “set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:8.) The doctrinal implication of these scriptures is plain: “If the Lord appointed unto the nations the bounds of their habitation, then there must have been a selection of spirits to form these nations.” (Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 47.) President Harold B. Lee explained further:

“… may I ask each of you again the question, ‘Who are you?’ You are all the sons and daughters of God. Your spirits were created and lived as organized intelligences before the world was. You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state. You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here and at a time in the world’s history, as the Apostle Paul taught the men of Athens and as the Lord revealed to Moses, determined by the faithfulness of each of those who lived before this world was created.” (CR, Oct. 1973, p. 7.)

Points to Ponder

The Lord Has Given Us the Responsibility to Help All Mankind Become a “Chosen People”

“Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” (Acts 13:2.)

The Lord’s direction, “separate me … Saul for the work,” gives a clear impression of the distinctness, the chosen status of Paul by virtue of his divine appointment. This is reminiscent of the Lord’s statement to Ananias, which was referred to in the introduction to this lesson, “He is a chosen vessel unto me.”

In the previous lesson, this matter of Paul’s foreordination was considered. Paul had been “chosen” long since; he had been selected in premortality.

As it is with a chosen person—a “chosen vessel”—so it is with a group of chosen persons—a “chosen people.” A people chosen by the Lord to fulfill a mission upon the earth have not been chosen to relax or to boast, but to perform a special service which requires that they be designated and made separate. Of course, a chosen people would be no less foreordained and carefully prepared for their cumulative mission than a chosen person would be for his individual mission.

However, with reference to the opportunity to ultimately have every gospel blessing, there is no “chosen” people, for that opportunity comes to all. When Adam was promised that all his posterity—all mankind—would have access to the gospel’s blessings, he greatly rejoiced (Moses 5:9–12). This same promise was, in effect, repeated when the Lord promised that the descendants of Noah (all mankind after the flood) would eventually be called upon by the Lord and his servants (Moses 7:51, 52).

But there is a sequence, an order, a divine calendar, as it were, which prevails in the work of the Lord. Every one of our Father’s children is on his calendar somewhere, but he times the opportunity for each generation, each nation, and each individual according to his unbounded wisdom and kindness. Notice how Paul expresses this great encompassing truth.

Read Acts 17:26, 27.

Abraham was promised that all those of any nation or lineage who would obey the gospel would be adopted into his literal family and become the children of Abraham (having the right to the blessing of salvation). (See Abraham 2:9–11.)

Paul was an Israelite and served with other Israelites in the church. Through their instrumentality, gentiles—non-Israelites—heard the gospel and were brought by adoption into the family of Abraham to enjoy the promised blessings. But for the most part, the Israelites of Paul’s time had altogether overlooked their mission. They neither embraced the gospel themselves nor brought it to others. So what Isaiah had proclaimed to their forefathers, Paul reproclaimed to them in almost the same words.

Read Acts 13:47; see also Isaiah 49:6.

Theirs was not simply a birthright but a birthright of work and service.

Now, in our day, by the visit of Moses to the Kirtland temple on April 3, 1836, the keys are here to conduct the gathering of Israel. (See D&C 110:11.) The Lord has declared to us, “Ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham.” (D&C 103:17.) And once again, He has identified himself as “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.” (D&C 136:21.)

The Latter-day Saints, like their Israelite forefathers of old, are chosen people. But chosen for what?

Read D&C 29:4.

After all, we surely are not “chosen” to rest and think well of ourselves, for anyone can do that!

You have read how Paul’s “spirit was stirred in him” in looking upon those who languished in darkness for want of the truth. (Acts 17:16.) You have seen his cheerful willingness to submit to any difficulty, to pay any price, in order to exercise his privilege of bringing salvation to other men (e.g., Acts 16:24–33).

(32-17) To Be “Chosen” Is to Be “Called”

We as Latter-day Saints are “chosen vessels”—a people entrusted with truths and privileges which are sorely needed in the life of each of our fellow beings. There is a tremendous need for persons willing to do whatever is necessary to share these truths and blessings with our Father’s children, member and nonmember alike.

We need not wait for the Church to extend a formal mission call for us to begin. As we have seen, the call to share our light with others has already been extended, and the assurance that we shall succeed in this most important of labors has been given:

  1. 1.

    We have the fulness of the gospel—knowledge of all the truths, doctrines, and principles needed to teach and prepare a person for salvation and exaltation.

  2. 2.

    If we feel inadequate in our abilities to teach, we should bear in mind that when we are rightfully motivated, we may properly call upon the Holy Ghost to manifest the truthfulness of our testimonies upon the souls of those whom we teach.

  3. 3.

    We labor under the direction of the priesthood, which means that those acts which we perform in righteousness will be accepted and acknowledged by our Father in heaven.

Much like the reassurance given to Paul (Acts 18:10), we are promised that our work and sacrifice will not be in vain, for there are many who await only our testimony to embrace the truth and join in fellowship with the Saints. We should note the call issued to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer and liken it unto ourselves: Read D&C 18:9–16.