When it comes to the contents of the ninth chapter of the book of Acts, my guess is that most Bible students associate two events with this section of Scripture: the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and the fact that Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Those were monumental occasions, indeed.
We want to consider Acts 9:31, a verse which may get “lost in the shuffle” at times. There we read about what was going on among the congregations in three geographic regions:
Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.
If we date the conversion of Saul/Paul as about A.D. 35, then what is stated about the churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria transpired sometime in the mid-30’s of the first century. That was a few years after the beginning of the church in Jerusalem.
Let us focus specifically on the churches that were in Galilee at that time. In the first century, the land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River was divided into three areas: Judea (south), Samaria (central), and Galilee (north). In the last twenty-three books of the New Testament, which would be from Acts to Revelation, how many times do we read about the churches/Christians in the territory of Galilee? Only once – in Acts 9:31. I find that fascinating! Jesus grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, performed His first earthly miracle in Cana of Galilee, did many things during His public ministry in Capernaum of Galilee, and preached extensively in the villages throughout Galilee. Yet, in the Holy Spirit’s record of the activities of the church in the first century, there are a total of two sentences about the churches of Galilee.
That, of course, leaves us with several unknowns. How many local churches were there in Galilee, and where were they? Josephus, a Jewish historian in the first century, noted that there were over two hundred villages in Galilee in Jesus’ day, yet we have no biblical record of where the churches assembled in Galilee. How interesting that we can identify several of “the churches of Asia” in the first century, but cannot do the same with the churches of Galilee.
And what about the number of members in those local churches in Galilee? The Bible is silent on that topic. What were the names of the members in Galilee? We know some of the names of saints in Corinth, Rome, Thessalonica, Philippi, and Rome, but can only speculate about who were the members in Galilee. At what point did they appoint elders in those Galilean congregations? Again, we just do not know.
As we consider all of those unknown elements of those early congregations in Galilee, let us remember these two truths. First, the Lord knows His own and He has their name in His book of life (Philippians 4:3). Second, while we do read a couple of times about the number of members in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41; 4:4), faithful service to the Master is a whole lot more important than counting how many folks are present in an assembly or have their names on a local church’s membership list.
We are grateful for the five “knowns” about the churches of Galilee which we can observe in Acts 9:31. First, they had peace/rest. A congregation is truly blessed when it is at peace with the Lord, the civil authorities provide an environment in which members are able to “lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Timothy 2:2), and the members are at peace among themselves (1 Thessalonians 5:13).
Second, the congregations in Galilee were edified. That simply means that they were strengthened/built up spiritually. Christians are told to edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and we are built up by the word of the living God (Acts 20:32). When a church is not being edified, it is not growing and not reaching its potential in serving and glorifying the Lord God.
We also are informed that churches in Galilee walked “in the fear of the Lord.” That is a healthy thing to do, as it is written, “. . . let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).
Fourth, the churches of Galilee walked in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. The God of comfort wants His faithful servants to be comforted. The Holy Spirit comforted saints by the truth which He revealed (1 Thessalonians 4:18), and it would have been comforting to the first-century disciples to see the gifts that the Holy Spirit provided for the confirmation of the gospel (Hebrews 2:3,4) and for the church’s edification (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
Finally, the Galilean congregations “were multiplied.” How exciting! It is a thrill to observe when Christians sow the seed and the Lord gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6), and it is uplifting to see brethren establish new congregations in areas where none existed previously. May we have a heart that wants to learn from our brethren who lived in Galilee.
— Roger D. Campbell