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Who Planted the Church of Antioch - Ordinary Believers or Unique Apostles?

The city of Antioch was placed in the north of Syria. Needless to say, great movements occurred here. The church of Antioch is known to be one of the remarkable churches in the history of Christianity. It was in Antioch that the followers of Christ were first called as Christians (Acts 11:26).

When I ask the question who planted the church of Antioch, the general response from people would be, "Paul" or "Barnabas" or "Peter." But is it what the Scripture says? Many suppose church planting in the early church was done only by the apostles. But is it true?

One major mistake people commit in their study of the Holy Bible is this - instead of reading and interpreting the Scripture in the light of historical context they read and interpret the text in the light of contemporary church practice. Consequently, many miss the insight of how the whole people of God were involved in building God's community.

Acts 8
Let's come back to our question, "Who planted the church of Antioch?" To answer this it is important that we start our study from Acts chapter 8. When Saul gave approval to Stephen's death, "a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria" (8:1). It must be noted here that the apostles remained in Jerusalem while the rest of the believers had scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

So what were these scattered believers doing? It is written, "those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" (8:4). Imagine how our present generation would be reached with the gospel of Christ if the believers preach the word wherever they are and whichever place they go. Preachers, pastors and leaders alone will never impact the nations for Christ. This would only be possible along with the active involvement of the whole people God, i.e. every believer in Christ Jesus.

One primary reason for the early church to advance so exponentially is that every believer was involved in the ministry of preaching the gospel.
Wherever they went they felt responsible to witness for Christ. They were not inactive like many in the modern day churches. They saw themselves as John Stott pointed out, "Every Christian is both a servant and an apostle . . . sent out into the world as Christ's ambassadors and witnesses, to share in the apostolic mission of the whole church."[1]

Furthermore, there was no clergy and laity distinction wherein only the former were active in ministry while the latter remained passive. If we want to use the word layman in its traditional sense then the founder of Christianity Himself was a layman (without no priestly heritage). E. Stanley Jones, that great missionary to India, said it right, "The fact is that Christian faith is a lay moment. Jesus was a layman. The religious system of the day gave Him no license or credentials. His call was from God and not from man."[2]

Acts 11
Now let's come further to Acts 11:19, "those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews." Who were these scattered believers? It is obvious that these were not apostles. They were the ones who had been scattered by persecution in Acts 8. From these people "some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus" (11:21). And "the Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord" (11:21).


So who do you suppose had reached Antioch and planted a church there? Peter? Paul? Barnabas? It was ordinary believers, whose names are not even mentioned, who did this marvelous ministry. F. B. Meyer wrote, "Antioch will ever be famous in Christian annals, because a number of unordained and unnamed disciples, fleeing from Jerusalem in the face of Saul's persecution, dared to preach the gospel to Greeks and to gather the converts into a church in entire disregard of the initial rite of Judaism."[3]

Later the "news of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch" (11:22). Barnabas and Saul together had discipled the church of Antioch for a whole year (11:26). When their work was finished, the Holy Spirit called them for a different task (13:2). The church of Antioch grew powerfully and was blessed with prophets and teachers (13:1) and later had elders (shepherds) (14:21-23). It became a great missionary-sending church. It was this church which also played a major role to trigger the great council at Jerusalem (chapter 15).

Ed Stetzer describes, "A study of Acts reveals that laypersons affected early church planting (8:1, 4). They performed mass evangelism (8:5-6, 12) as well as village evangelism (8:25). Through this lay movement churches multiplied (9:31). Miracles enhanced the growth of the church (9:35-42), and salvation reached increasing numbers of Gentiles (10:44-48). Later, lay Christians from Jerusalem witnessed about Christ and planted a Gentile-Jewish church in Antioch (11:20-21)." [4] Moreover, Bible scholars even believe that the people who were converted at Pentecost, the Jews and proselytes who came to Jerusalem from Rome, were possibly the ones who started their fellowship in Rome.[5]

Acts 29
Like the early church, we need believers in our age to get active in evangelism and in planting churches as well as the gifted teachers and leaders to nurture the gathered church. Planting churches is not just the responsibility of missionaries and pastors but of believers too. In fact, church planting becomes much effective when believers are motivated and involved in this glorious task.

It is important to understand that believers are not called to settle in pews. Their work is not just to listen to sermons, sing songs and give tithes and offerings. They are called to be difference makers (Matt. 5:14). They are priests of God who have the godly potentiality to transform nations. There is a great need to help believers realize who they are - they are gospel preachers, disciple-makers, church planters, social workers and God-glorifying people involved in His Kingdom activity. And it is the responsibility of the leaders to equip the saints for God's ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). How wonderful it would be
if the great movement in our generation is recorded in heaven as Acts chapter29!

Feel free to post your comments below or you may write to :

[1} John R. W. Stott, God's New Society, pg. 160
[2] E. Stanley Jones, The Word Became Flesh (Tiruvalla, India: SuVartha Bhavan, 2001), pg. 316
[3] Cited by Alex Rattray Hay, The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary (Alexander Rattray Hay, 1947), pg. 60
[4] Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), pg. 50
[5] For example, see Robert E. Picirilli, Paul the Apostle (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), pg. 157ff


  1. Thanks for this insight, this passage was incidentally my biblical basis to launch into church planting in 2005 @ Whitefield.
    Danny Sathyadass


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