Acts 13: the Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Barnabus and Saul

Acts 13

This scripture presents another perfect example of how so many religionists ignore context, sometimes vital context, focusing on a single aspect of a passage to make it say something it clearly does not. This one is supposedly proof of the personhood of the Holy Spirit, with it having “said” something.


Acts 13:2-4: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Barnabus and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, departed unto Seleucia…”

Notice the seven elements of this scripture:


(1) “As they ministered to the Lord”: These men were seeking God’s will in a matter—specifically, the ordination of two men. James 4:8 states, “Draw near to God [not His Holy Spirit], and He will draw near to you.”


(2) “when they had fasted”: Fasting is one of the tools of Christian growth. It helps Christians acknowledge to God that they are nothing, of and by themselves, while allowing them to draw closer to Him. Fasting also binds Satan, blocking his influence. If you are drawing near to God, then you are also resisting Satan. And, as James 4:7 states, if you “Resist the devil…he will flee from you.” By fasting, these men demonstrated to God that they wanted His complete and total involvement in what they were doing.


Also, a fast involves going without food and drink for a period of at least 24 hours. Read Jeremiah 36:6; Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:35. So the period of time covered between Acts 13:2 and verse 3 is at least 24 hours. (You may read our helpful article “What You Need to Know About Fasting” to learn more about how to fast.)


(3) “…the Holy Spirit said”: To properly understand this part of the scripture, review the Acts 5:3-4 explanation. If they had heard a literal voice from God, why would they have felt the need to continue in fasting and prayer? They would have had their answer! None would suggest that God was speaking the same message to them non-stop for 24 hours. (Notice II Samuel 12:16-23;Daniel 10:3-13; Matthew 9:14-15.) They were being guided by the Holy Spirit within them, and they needed to be crystal clear about the intent of the message it was bringing. The sound of an audible voice eliminates any such need. Again, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).


(4) “Separate Me Barnabus and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them”: It is God the Father who does the calling (John 6:44, 65). The Holy Spirit is the means by which He does this. It is Christ who determines who will be used in the ministry—and in what capacity (I Cor. 12:28). Also, if this were a literal audible voice from a God Being, spoken for all to hear, it would have been accompanied by obvious displays of natural forces. (Notice John 5:37 and also Acts 9:3-7.)


(5) “…and prayed”: Prayer is another tool of Christian growth, used to make our needs known to God. It is also the way we ask God to make His will known to us.

(See Matthew 6:10; 26:39, 42.) Again, if they had already received an audible answer, why would they have continued in prayer?


(6) “…and laid their hands on them”: The laying on of hands is a symbolic act when God is called upon, in faith, to bless and sanctify or to impart authority and power. The power of the Holy Spirit is involved in four different and individual purposes—blessings, baptism, healing and ordination—when this ceremony occurs. We can look at some examples of each.


Genesis 48:13-20 records that Ephraim and Manasseh received a unique and very special blessing when Israel (Jacob) laid hands upon them. The blessing of little children is also performed by the laying on of hands, as instructed by Christ (Mark 10:15-16; Matt. 19:13-15;Luke 18:15-17).


In the baptism ceremony, the repentant person receives the gift of the Holy Spirit by having hands laid on him. This is first recorded in Acts 8:17-18: “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit…through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given.” Also see Acts 19:5-6 and II Timothy 1:6.


God’s healing is also the result of an elder’s prayer with faith, accompanied by the laying on of hands on the head of the afflicted person. We find this example in Acts 9:17: “…and Ananias [not the Ananias of Acts 5]…entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus…has sent me, that you might receive your sight.”


Ordination into an office in God’s Church is also done through the laying on of hands. The first example is found in Acts 6:6-8, involving the ordination of deacons: “…and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them…And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” God’s Church today faithfully observes this practice in all ordinations. Hebrews 6:2 specifically lists it as one of God’s doctrines.


(7) “…they sent them away”: These men were acting on God’s behalf, ordaining men into higher offices in the ministry. This part of the verse reveals two things: (a) In addition to prayer and fasting, they had also counseled together in order to reach a wise decision (notice Proverbs 11:14; 15:22); (b) the Holy Spirit did not, of itself, send these men out. Again, notice that the verse states, “…they [Niger, Lucius, Manaen] sent them away.”


To summarize: God, through the power of His Spirit, acting in response to those who were asking for His guidance, inspired the men involved to understand that He wanted Barnabus and Saul to depart.

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