Silas- A Faithful Brother

DURING MONUMENTAL moments of Bible history, prominent characters frequently took centre- stage. Sometimes we can forget that they weren’t the only ones on the stage—a supporting cast was also present. For example, who was it who said they would not deny Jesus even if they had to die with him? If you answered “Peter” you’d be correct. However, it’s easy to overlook the fact that ‘all the disciples said the same’ (Matthew 26:35). As a further example, who was it who was not allowed into the Promised Land for disobeying God? If you answered “Moses”, again you’d be correct. However, perhaps because it was Moses who struck the rock it can escape our attention that Aaron was equally culpable (Numbers 20:12, 24).

Conversely, Silas was a man who didn’t have a ‘starring role’ in the phenomenal growth of the early church, in comparison with his renowned co-worker the Apostle Paul, but he was held in high regard by him and made a telling contribution to the work.

Tension in the Brotherhood

One of the most contentious issues facing the early disciples of Jesus was whether it was still necessary to observe the Law of Moses. If you are not a Jew you will not know what it’s like to be required to observe the Law, and you may find it difficult to appreciate the gravity of this controversy. However, when we take a different perspective from our own, the matter becomes a lot clearer to us.

The first Christians were Jews who had been taught from an early age the absolute necessity of keeping the Law of Moses; they had striven to keep this Law religiously (literally!) for their entire lives. It therefore involved a radical upheaval of their mindset to embrace the fact that observance of the Law was no longer required when they became followers of Christ. Understandably, certain disciples found this transition difficult and needed strong encouragement to choose Christ over the Law (these are central themes in New Testament letters such as those to the Hebrews, Galatians and Colossians). This is the essential context to the section of Acts in which we are first introduced to Silas.

Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

Circumcision of men was commanded in the Law (Leviticus 12:3). There were Jewish disciples of Jesus who argued that if Gentiles wanted to become disciples, they had to adopt the Jewish Law.

The Jerusalem Council

When such a matter as salvation in Jesus Christ is concerned, passions will run high. But such erroneous teaching could not remain unchallenged. This predicament required men with wisdom, experience and assertiveness. A council was called in Jerusalem, where ‘the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter’ (Acts 15:6). After much debate and scriptural reasoning, a practical course of action was decided upon in the form of written correspondence.

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings…” (vs. 22–23).

Judas and Silas were entrusted with the important work of delivering the letter to the Gentile congregations. Having faithfully delivered the letter to the brothers and sisters, they went beyond what was required of them in order to edify the recipients of the letter: ‘And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words’ (v. 32).

Missionary Work

Silas was chosen by Paul to accompany him in the vitally important work of preaching the Gospel in places such as Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. Who was it who prayed and sang praises to God whilst in prison? If you answered “Paul”, you’d be correct, but it was also Silas (Acts 16:25). Who was it whose preaching in Thessalonica persuaded ‘a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women’ (Acts 17:4)? Or in Berea, who was it who evangelised ‘not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men’ (v. 12)? Again, if you answered “Paul” to these questions you’d be correct—but it was Silas too.


The last mention of Silas in the Bible is when he is left with Timothy in Corinth (Acts 18:1–5). However, a brother named Silvanus is mentioned four times, and he is almost certainly the same person.

‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes’ (2 Corinthians 1:19).

We have seen that Paul, Silas and Timothy were preaching together in Corinth (Acts 18). Either Silvanus was present with them but was not mentioned in Acts, or could it be that Silvanus and Silas were the same person?

If you were asked the question; “Who were the Letters to the Thessalonians from?” you might answer “the Apostle Paul”. This is correct, but they were also from Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1). As we have seen, Silas was with Paul when he preached in Thessalonica, so this would make perfect sense as to why the letters to the Thessalonians were also from him.

When mentioned alongside Judas or Paul, Silas is never referred to first—it is always ‘Judas and Silas’ or ‘Paul and Silas’. However, on the three occasions in Acts when Silas is mentioned alongside Timothy, his name is referred to first (Acts 17:14–15, 18:5). This is interesting because on the three occasions Silvanus is mentioned alongside Paul and Timothy, he is referred to after Paul but before Timothy (2 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1). If this is not deliberate it certainly strikes me as a highly unlikely coincidence.

Finally, and perhaps most persuasively, linguistic experts say that Silvanus and Silas are Latin names that share the same ‘root word’ (the word for ‘wood’). ‘Silas’ is probably the shortened form of ‘Silvanus’, just as ‘Rob’ is the shortened form of ‘Robert’.

The accounts of the First Century church in Acts and the letters of the New Testament combine to present a cohesive and consistent picture. Many characters play their part. Silas was a prominent disciple, a prophet and an evangelist. The Apostle Peter gives us an understated yet beautiful description of this man’s character:

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it (1 Peter 5:12).

What better commendation could any of us hope for in this present life?

Stephen Blake

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