Meet Silas: Bold Missionary for Christ

Silas, also called Silvanus, was a leader in the early church

Silas and Paul singing praise in prison
Silas and Paul singing praise in prison.

BibleArtLibrary / Getty Images

Silas was a bold missionary in the early church, a companion of the Apostle Paul, and a loyal servant of Jesus Christ. Silas accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys to the Gentiles and converted many to Christianity. He also may have served as a scribe, delivering Peter's first letter to churches in Asia Minor.

Questions for Reflection

Sometimes in life, when everything seems to be going right, suddenly the bottom falls out. Silas and Paul had this experience on one of their successful missionary journeys. People were coming to faith in Christ and getting set free from demons. Then, abruptly, the crowd turned. The men were beaten, thrown into prison, and bound with stocks on their feet. What did they do amid their troubles? They trusted God and began to sing praises. When all hell breaks loose in your life, how do you react? Can you sing in times of struggle, trusting God will lead and bless you even on your darkest days?

The Story of Silas in the Bible

The first mention of Silas in the Bible describes him as a "leader among the brothers" (Acts 15:22). A bit later he is called a prophet. Along with Judas Barsabbas, he was sent from Jerusalem to accompany Paul and Barnabas to the church at Antioch, where they were to confirm the decision of the Jerusalem Council. That decision, monumental at the time, said new converts to Christianity did not have to be circumcised.

After that task was accomplished, a sharp dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take Mark (John Mark) on a missionary journey, but Paul refused because Mark had deserted him in Pamphylia. Barnabas sailed to Cyprus with Mark, but Paul chose Silas and went on to Syria and Cilicia. The unexpected consequence was two missionary teams, spreading the gospel twice as far.

In Philippi, Paul cast a demon out of a female fortune-teller, ruining the power of that local favorite. Paul and Silas were severely beaten and cast into prison, their feet put in stocks. During the night, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God when an earthquake broke the doors open and everyone's chains fell off. Paul and Silas shared the gospel, converting the terrified jailer.

There, in a dark and damaged prison cell, the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, once proclaimed by Peter to a Centurion in Caesarea, came to another Gentile member of the Roman army. Paul and Silas not only explained the gospel to the jailer, but to the others in his house. That night the entire household believed and was baptized.

Paul And Silas at Philippi
Paul And Silas at Philippi, Acts 16:22-34. Donaldson Collection / Contributor / Getty Images

When the magistrates learned both Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, the rulers were afraid because of the way they had treated them. They apologized and let the two men go.

Silas and Paul traveled on to Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. Silas proved to be a key member of the missionary team, along with Paul, Timothy, and Luke.

The name Silas may be derived from the Latin "sylvan," meaning "woody." However, it is also a shortened form of Silvanus, which appears in some Bible translations. Some Bible scholars call him a Hellenistic (Greek) Jew, but others speculate Silas must have been a Hebrew to have risen so quickly in the Jerusalem church. As a Roman citizen, he enjoyed the same legal protections as Paul.

No information is available on Silas' birthplace, family, or the time and cause of his death. 

Strengths

Silas was open-minded, believing as Paul did that Gentiles should be brought into the church. He was a gifted preacher, loyal traveling companion, and strong in his faith.

Life Lessons from Silas

A glimpse into Silas' character can be seen after he and Paul had been viciously beaten with rods at Philippi, then thrown into prison and locked in stocks. They prayed and sang hymns. A miraculous earthquake, along with their fearless behavior, helped convert the jailer and his entire household. Unbelievers are always watching Christians. How we act influences them more than we realize. Silas showed us how to be an attractive representative of Jesus Christ.

References to Silas in the Bible

Acts 15:22, 27, 32, 34, 40; 16:19, 25, 29; 17:4, 10, 14-15; 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:12.

Key Verses

Acts 15:32
Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. (NIV)

Acts 16:25
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (NIV) 

1 Peter 5:12
With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. (NIV)

Sources

  • "Who was Silas in the Bible?" https://www.gotquestions.org/life-Silas.html.
  • "Silas." The New Unger's Bible Dictionary.
  • "Silas." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
  • "Silas." Easton's Bible Dictionary.