ToBeLikeHim.com                                                                             Return to Acts Series

 

The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 14

 

John Baugh

November, 2009

Acts 14 (New American Standard Bible)

 

Acceptance and Opposition

 

 1In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks.

 2But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.

 3Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.

 

After leaving Psidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas traveled to Iconium. The city was located on the Sebaste Road, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Psidian Antioch.

 

As noted in Chapter 13, it would become Paul’s habit to first go to the synagogue when arriving in a new city and this is what he did in Iconium, first presenting the gospel to the Jews and then to the gentiles. Paul’s (and Barnabas’) presentation was compelling (the Holy Spirit was definitely at work) and “a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks”.

 

As with other places, there were Jews at Iconium who were offended; in such disbelief that they fought the message that the missionary team was delivering. Luke does not indicate what the Jews said about Paul and Barnabas, only that they stirred up the gentiles against the two missionary men (the brethren).

 

Luke reports that that Paul and Barnabas continued on in spite of the Jewish opposition to their message, indicating that they spent a long time in Iconium, “testifying to the word of His (Jesus’) grace granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.”

 

It is interesting that Luke says that the opposition to their teaching meant little to Barnabas and Paul. When he discusses this (in verse 3), Luke tells us:

 

 3Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.

 

According to Dr. Luke, the pair committed themselves to a considerable time commitment of effort, in spite of the sustained campaign by the Jews to discredit them.  Luke gives few details of their preaching here, and compresses the work of several months into a few sentences.

 

This does not mean that there was little effort. Luke does say that they preached “the message of His grace”.

The preaching of Paul and Barnabas is accompanied by "miraculous signs and wonders". Paul later refers to these miracles in a letter to the churches in the province of Galatia. He appeals to the miracles as evidence that the good news he preaches is approved by God (Galatians 3:5).

 

 4But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.

 5And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them,

 

During the time that Paul and Barnabas were preaching in Iconium, God was validating their efforts by performing miraculous signs and wonders through them. In spite of all of this, the population of Iconium was divided over the actions of the two missionaries.

 

"Some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles" .

 

Eventually, the Jews and some of the Gentiles who were in opposition to the pair work up a plan to stone Paul and Barnabas. Apparently, they intend to gather a mob, beat up Paul and Barnabas, and then stone them to death.

Paul and Barnabas learn about the plot, perhaps through some sympathetic Jews who have accepted the gospel message, and “the apostles” leave the city before the plotters can capture them.

 

Verses 4 and 14 contain the only reference in Acts to Paul being an apostle. This may seem odd in view of the fact that Paul often stresses his apostleship. (See the first verse of many of his letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.)

 

Apparently, Luke restricts his use of the term "apostle" as a special "office" to the Twelve. They are the ones who were with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry and who are witnesses of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-25; Acts 10:39-42). Luke probably thinks of Paul and Barnabas as "apostles" only in a general sense, as special emissaries, envoys, or messengers commissioned by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:3-4), and in this sense were apostles, or people "sent out."

 

 

 6they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region;

 7and there they continued to preach the gospel.

 

As the plot against Paul and Barnabas grew close to being placed into action, the pair learned about it and to avoid stoning, they left Iconium, traveling to "the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe" (Acts 14:6). Here, they continue to preach the gospel.

 

The first city in Lycaonia to which Barnabas and Paul come is Lystra, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south-southwest of Iconium.

 

 8At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked.

 9This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well,

 10said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And he leaped up and began to walk.

 

Luke tells one story about what Paul and Barnabas encounter in Lystra. The story he chooses to share involves the healing of a crippled man lame from birth. Paul is speaking to what is probably a crowd of Gentiles. Luke does not tell us that the location of this miracle is a synagogue, indicating that Lystra does not have one.

 

Luke says that Paul is drawn to this man, and perceives that he has faith to be healed. Paul interrupts his address to the crowd and says (shouts) to the cripple: "Stand upright on your feet!" At Paul’s words, the man jumps up and begins to walk. It is interesting that, according to Luke, this is no tentative statement from Paul. Luke says that he tells the man to stand upright in a loud voice, perhaps a shout.

 

Luke’s story portrays Paul as a messenger of God in the tradition of Peter, who also healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-10). Luke uses parallel expressions in the two accounts: "lame from birth," "looked directly at him," "jumped up and began to walk." Both Peter and Paul are shown to be using the same power as did Jesus, when he healed a crippled person (Luke 5:17-26).

 

One commenter says the following:

 

“This incident, selected by Luke for detailed description from among the "signs and wonders" of the Galatian mission (verse 3), parallels the similar cure by Peter in chapter 3, and doubtless was chosen for this reason. In opposition to those who would challenge Paul’s claim to apostolic authority based on his direct commission from the risen Christ, Luke is concerned to show that his hero shares with the chief apostle the healing power vested in his disciples by the Lord himself. (William Neil, The Acts of the Apostles, page 163)”

 

 11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have become like men and have come down to us."

 12And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.

 

Luke tells us when the miracle occurs and the beggar jumps up and walks, something Barnabas and Paul did not expect, happens. When the people in Lystra see the beggar stand, they begin shouting, "The gods have come down to us in human form!". They believe that Barnabas is Zeus, and Paul is thought to be Hermes, because he is the main speaker. (Hermes is called the messenger of Zeus and the patron of orators.)

 

Hearing what has happened, the Priest of the temple outside the city also sees the men as Gods and attempts to offer sacrifices to them.

 

The Lystrans think that they are experiencing a divine visitation. The idea of gods coming to earth in human form is familiar in this region because of a legend where Zeus and Hermes come and take offense when the people do not realize who they are. The existence of this ancient legend may explain the wildly emotional response of the Lystrans to the healing of the cripple by Paul and Barnabas.

 

 14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out

 15and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.

 16"In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;

 17and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness."

 18Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

 

 

When he realizes what the crowd believes, Paul makes an earnest plea to them in hopes of stopping the Lystrans from worshiping him and Barnabas. Paul’s speech, in verses 14-17, is an example of how the gospel might be introduced to purely pagan audiences.

 

Paul makes a similar speech in Acts 17: 22-31.

 

With a purely pagan audience, the speaker has to assume the need to address the understanding that there is one true God. In his speech to the Lystrans, Paul begins by explaining that the one God is the Creator of all living things (14:15). Even before this, however, Paul and Barnabas are forced to deny that they are gods. When they understand what the Lystrans think — and that they are going to sacrifice to them — they race into the crowd yelling for them to stop.

 

"We too are only men, human like you," Paul shouts (14:15). (This assumes that Paul gives the speech, as he is chief speaker.) More literally, the original Greek he used means we are "of the same nature as you." As he speaks, Paul is saying that he and Barnabas share the human condition with the Lystrans and they have no special qualities about them.

 

The Bible rejects the idea that humans have any spiritual uniqueness worthy of special consideration. We should understand that this is true for even the greatest of God’s servants. James says to Jewish Christians that Elijah was "a man just like us" (Acts 5:17). Peter refuses any special reverence from Cornelius when he says, "I am only a man myself" (Acts 10:26). Even angels are not to be given special adoration (Revelation 19:10).

 

Paul and Barnabas urge the Lystrans to give up their idolatry and "turn from these worthless things to the living God" (Acts 14:15). The rejection of idolatrous worship practices is a basic test of conversion for Gentiles. Of course, these Gentiles should also accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. But knowing God is the starting point for pagan Gentile conversion. As Paul would later write, the Gentile Thessalonians understand this and turn "to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

 

At Lystra, Paul identifies the true God as the One "who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them" (Acts 14:15). Paul and Barnabas are beginning their sermon on an elementary level, starting with nature rather than Scripture. They are saying that nature itself testifies to the existence of a Creator. If people understand and accept that God is the Creator of everything, they are also led to worship him.

 

It is said that there are two books of God. One is his word, the Bible. The second is nature, and the lessons about God that people should draw from it. In short, the existence of the creation demonstrates that God exists and is the creator. But nature does not tell us about a Savior —that is normally communicated through evangelism.

 

Even further, Paul and Barnabas insist that the works of creation should lead one to understand that God is kind and merciful (Acts 14:17). God does not fall into a rage in response to minor matters as Zeus and Hermes supposedly did when they destroyed people who failed to show them hospitality.

 

Paul says that God’s kindness is shown in his providing rain in due season for crops. The one true God, the missionaries insist, "provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy" (Acts 14:17). God demonstrates his presence through the good things we enjoy. The goodness of God in providing rainfall and bountiful harvests is an Old Testament theme (Genesis 8:21-22). It is also a common theme in pagan religions. The idea is that the gods supply bounteous harvests. Since Paul’s audience is probably composed largely of farmers, they understand the importance of food — and that they were dependent on God for its supply.

 

As a beginning for the preaching the gospel of salvation, Paul’s speech is a good start. At best, however, this sermon based on natural theology is only a preamble to the gospel. The speech is incomplete, for it doesn’t go on to discuss the death and resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for the listeners. Luke doesn’t say if Paul and Barnabas go on to relate this vital aspect of the gospel. Perhaps their immediate intent is simply to stop the crowd from sacrificing to them. Luke implies that the Lystrans don’t really understand Paul’s message; his words barely achieve the immediate goal of stopping the townspeople from sacrificing (Acts 14:18).

 

 19But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

 20But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.

 21After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,

 22strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."

 

Luke tells us that the problems Paul and Barnabas encountered in Antioch followed them to Lystra. The Jews who were in opposition to Paul and Barnabas in Iconium follow them (Luke doesn’t say how long this took) and begin fighting their message, Eventually, they prevail in their arguments and the crowd sides with them (Acts 14:19). It is interesting that the same people who wanted to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, now consider them to be false teachers. This escalates to the point where the crowd decides to stone Paul. After this act, they dump Paul’s body outside town (Acts 14:10). Then Luke reports an astonishing thing. The converted Lystrans who have accepted the teachings of Paul and Barnabas come to care for Paul’s body and discover that he is not dead (was never dead), when he gets up from where he had been dumped.

 

Paul later remembers what happened in Lystra

 

In his letter o the Galatians, Paul later writes, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:17). It may be that Paul is thinking about the stoning in Lystra when he writes this. Again in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote,

 

23Are they servants of Christ?--I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.

24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.

25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.

(2 Corinthians 11: 23-25)

 

It is probably the stoning at Lystra that Paul understands as one of the times during which he is almost killed. Even at the end, when he is imprisoned in a Roman prison cell and close to the day of his execution at the hands of Roman guards, Paul recalls what happened in Lystra in his letter to Timothy as he writes about the "persecutions, sufferings — what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them" (2 Timothy 3:11).

 

Paul and Barnabas go to Derbe

 

After Paul revives, he goes back into Lystra, and then he and Barnabas leave the next day for Derbe. Though there is some doubt about its exact location, Derbe is probably about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southeast of Lystra, on the eastern end of the Lycaonian region of Galatia. Luke gives no details about the activities of Barnabas and Paul in Derbe. However, their missionary work must be successful, because their preaching wins "a large number of disciples" (14:21). Among those converts may be Gaius, who becomes a member of Paul’s missionary company (Acts 20:4).

 

Apparently the missionaries do not suffer any persecution in Derbe. Luke records none, and 2 Timothy 3:11 implies that there isn't any. The time in Derbe marks the end of the first missionary journey as far as preaching the gospel to outsiders is concerned, except for a brief mention of Perga in Acts 14:25.

 

The return to Antioch

 

Paul and Barnabas prepared to return to Syrian Antioch (the sponsor church) after finishing their missionary activity. They could have returned by continuing eastward along the Via Sebaste, and then south through the Cilician Gates, a mountain pass near Tarsus. That would have been a difficult journey, especially in winter.

 

Instead, the missionaries backtracked and returned by way of Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. They revisited each city, not to make more converts, but to support their previous efforts in those cities. Their objective was to provide support by "strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith" (Acts 14:22). The missionaries must have believed this type of encouragement was necessary for the Galatians. Paul would later write his strongest letter to the churches in this area because they were accepting false teaching. "I am astonished," he writes, "that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel" (Galatians 1:6).

 

Presumably Paul and Barnabas exhorted the disciples not to fall back into either Judaism or paganism during their return through the cities. They probably understood the new converts would be persecuted by their relatives and friends for abandoning their ancestral faiths and would need to be given realistic warnings that the path into the kingdom of God is strewn with such obstacles (2 Timothy 3:12).

 

Luke mentions the "kingdom of God" several times in Acts (1:3, 6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). The contexts in which he does so are varied: The risen Jesus speaks of it to the disciples; the disciples wonder if Christ is going to restore it to Israel; Philip preaches it; Paul teaches it in the synagogue, to the disciples, and in Rome during his two-year imprisonment.

 

Appointing Elders as they return to Antioch

 

 23When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

 24They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia.

 25When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

 26From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.

 27When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

 28And they spent a long time with the disciples.

 

Paul and Barnabas also appoint "elders for them in each church" (Acts 14:23). They commit the Galatian elders to the Lord with prayer and fasting. Paul and Barnabas must feel that these individuals have enough spiritual maturity to serve their fellow disciples. These individuals are not brought in from outside, such as from Antioch, to be pastors. These are members of the congregation in which they are given the responsibility of aiding the community of believers.

 

This is the first reference to "elders" outside of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:30). Antioch has only prophets and teachers, though the latter probably serve in the same capacity as elders. Later in Acts, Luke mentions elders in the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17). They are also mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; and 1 Peter 5:1, 5.

Barnabas and Paul’s responsibility was to plant churches, not to water or pastor them. Paul would later instruct the people responsible for appointing elders to be careful about their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).

After revisiting the churches they had planted, Paul and Barnabas traveled south through Pisidia and Pamphylia. Luke does not mention if the gospel was preached in these regions. The two missionaries finally reach the coastal city of Perga, where they had begun their journey. This time Luke says they "preached the word in Perga" (Acts 14:25), but gives no details about the length of their stay, or the nature of their preaching, or of its success or failure.

 

When they leave Perga, Paul and Barnabas travel a few miles south to the Mediterranean port of Attalia (modern Antalya). There they board a ship that takes them to Syrian Antioch (Acts 14:26). The first missionary tour is over. It’s difficult to say exactly how long Paul and Barnabas have been gone, maybe as little as one year, but more likely closer to four years.

 

After arriving back in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas gather their sponsoring church together to give it a full report of their activities, telling the church how God "had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).

 

Luke ends the account of this first missionary journey by saying that Paul and Barnabas "stayed there a long time with the disciples" (Acts 14:28). They may have stayed there for a year or more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2009, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries

 

Return to Main Page                                                                                          Return to Acts Series