This Week's Focus Passage

‘Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians.’

Focus Passage: 2 Thessalonians 1:1

‘Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians.’

Paul I know, and Timothy I know, but who is Silvanus? If one takes a look at the book of Acts, the answer to that inquiry is that Silvanus is, in fact, Silas. This seems to be universally accepted by writers and commentators; that Silvanus and Silas are one and the same person. They may well disagree as to the why and the wherefore of two different names, but it assuredly is not uncommon in the Bible, both in the Older and the Newer Testaments. Well might we ask, ‘who is Jethro?’ And please don’t tell me that everyone knows that he is the nephew of Jed Clampett. He was the father-in-law of Moses. He was also known by the name of Reuel. We read of Reuel as the father of Zipporah in Exodus 2:18, shortly before we read of Jethro as the father-in-law of Moses in Exodus 3:1. Why two names? Scripture does not offer any explanation. Of course, there is always the possibility that we simply are not able to understand or discover such an explanation. In Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible we learn that we are not alone; they say;

‘There is some confusion concerning the names used for Moses’ father-in-law. Jethro is also called Reuel in two places (Exod. 2:18; Num. 10:29). He is called Hobab in Judges 4:11, but in Numbers 10:29 Hobab seems to be Reuel’s (Jethro’s) son. In all other passages the name Jethro is used. The Scriptures do not explain the difficulty. Jethro apparently was known by all of these names. As a priest of Midian, it may be that he was given a different name by the various Midianite tribes that he served in the Sinai peninsula and the area E. of the Gulf of Aqaba.’—vol. 3, p.583.

We may derive some comfort from the exhibition of the admitted ignorance of these academics utilized here by Zondervan and the general editor, Merrill C. Tenney, but we are still left in the relative dark. And we must say, that if it was important for our sanctification, and our progress in grace, surely the Holy Spirit would have given us an understanding of these matters. But all we know is that Jethro is Reuel, and Reuel is Jethro. In like manner, the conclusion is that Silvanus is Silas, and Silas is Silvanus. We do believe it to be of manifestly greater importance just what Silvanus was, more than who he was. In order to learn what this man was, of course, we must turn to the Word of God. This servant of God is found in the book of Acts at least thirteen times under the name of Silas, while being addressed as Silvanus by Paul in his epistles to Thessalonica and Corinth. Peter also addresses him as Silvanus in the single occurrence found in his 1st epistle, 5:12.

From these seventeen occasions, we are informed of the many things that this man was as a believer and servant of the Lord. The first mention of Silas by Luke in the book of Acts is in that chapter 15, the context of which is the so-called Jerusalem Council. In verses 22, 27, 32, 34, and 40, of that portion of Acts, we learn that he was, in the church of Jerusalem, one of the chief men among the brethren. After the council had reached its determination regarding the question brought due to the insistence of certain men that Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved, they communicated this decision to the churches of the Gentiles by sending men with the epistle, chosen out from among them. So that, in the first instance, Silas was a messenger of the church. Secondly, we are informed by verse 32 of that same chapter 15, that Silas was a prophet, or as Vine’s dictionary suggests, ‘a prophet of the church.’ The remainder of the verse gives us a much better definition, telling us that they exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. Silas was subsequently chosen to accompany Paul on his second visit to the churches to replace Barnabas as Paul’s companion after the falling out between the two of them. It was with Silas then that Paul traveled through Derbe and Lystra along with several other cities including Philippi where they encountered the seller of purple, Lydia of Thyatira. This woman heard us, says Luke, so that it was not only the words of Paul to which she gave heed, but the words of Luke and Silas as well. There Lydia and her household were baptized, likely by Silas, for it is Paul who tells us elsewhere that Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel. It was also in Philippi that Paul and Silas were thrown into prison because of Paul’s having charged the spirit of divination to come out of a certain maid who brought her master great gain by soothsaying. Yes, it was Silas who was imprisoned, who was praying and singing with Paul; that praying that brought about the earthquake which released them from their bonds; the prayer that was likely uttered for the conversion of their jailer, a prayer that was answered in the affirmative almost immediately. So we learn that Silas was not only a messenger, a prophet of the church, but also a man of prayer along with Paul. Moreover, he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ; it was not Paul alone, but both who answered the cry of the jailer, what must I do to be saved, for we read, And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.

Paul and Silas constituted the ‘they’ that we find in Acts 17, as well. After ‘they’ had traveled through Thessalonica, and after the preaching of Paul in that place, some, being persuaded consorted with both Paul and Silas. From Thessalonica they were driven to Berea where we learn of what is today called ‘a Berean spirit,’ in those that imitate the Bereans in searching the Scriptures daily to prove whether the things spoken by Paul were so. But it was probably not only the word spoken by Paul, but also by Silas, that was being examined by these noble Bereans. Nonetheless, it was Paul who was the ‘ringleader’ and caused the brethren to insist upon his departing as far as Athens. Yet we are told that Silas and Timothy abode there still, and surely they continued to preach the word until they too departed for Athens, being commanded by Paul to come to him with all speed. This Silas is the Silvanus referred to, along with Timothy, by Paul in his letters to that church in Thessalonica. This is that Silvanus of whom Peter speaks, 1 Peter 5:12, calling him our faithful brother, as I account him, and so may we account this servant of God.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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