Acts: Chapter 14
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 14:1-15).
(Verse 1) “And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.”
“Iconium” – As we mentioned at the end of the previous chapter, Iconium was the capital of the province of Lycaonia, it was about 95 miles SE of Antioch of Pisidia, and about 120 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Today, it is called Konya, located in modern day Turkey, with over a million people living there.
Going back to Acts Ch. 13, after preaching to those in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas were “expelled out of their coasts” (Acts 13:50) by the Jewish leaders and unbelieving Jews. As this occurred, “Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).” Leaving Antioch of Pisidia, they came here to Iconium.
Even though Paul and Barnabas said that they were “turning to the Gentiles,” Paul continued a pattern of heading to Jewish synagogues after arriving in a new city (also see: Acts 17:1-3,10,17, Acts 18:4,19, Acts 19:8). This followed a tradition of taking the “word of God” to the Jews first (i.e. see Mt 10:5-6, Mt 15:24, Lk 24:47, Rom 1:16). As a Jew, Paul had a great love for his people, and a strong desire to see them saved (Rom 9:1-5)(Rom 10:1).
(Verses 2-3)(NKJV) “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. (3) Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”
Mirroring what had occurred in Antioch of Pisidia, “unbelieving Jews” came against what Paul and Barnabas were preaching in Iconium. However, it appears that the attacks did not “immediately” have an effect since they “stayed there a long time.”
“granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” – The New Testament tells us in a number of places that “signs and wonders” were used by God to confirm that He was with those who were speaking the Word (2 Cor 12:12)(Mk 16:19-20)(Heb 2:3-4)(Rom 15:18-19)(1 Th 1:5).
(Verse 4)(NASB) “But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, while others, with the apostles.”
From the “Life Application Bible” – “We may wish we could perform a miraculous act that would convince everyone once and for all that Jesus is the Lord, but we see here that even if we could, it wouldn’t convince everyone. God gave these men power to do great miracles as proof, but people were still divided.”
Can you think of other examples of this in the Bible, or times you have seen this in person?
“apostles” – From the MacArthur Study Bible” – Barnabas was not an apostle in the same sense as Paul and the 12 since he was not an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ nor had he been called by Him. It is best to translate “apostles” here as “messengers” (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). The verb means “to send.” The 12 and “Paul were “apostles of Christ,” (2 Cor. 11:13; 1 Thess. 2:6), while Barnabas and others were “apostles of the churches” (2 Cor. 8:23).
(Verses 5-7)(NKJV) “And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to treat them abusively and to stone them, (6) they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; (7) and there they continued to preach the gospel.”
The persecution against Paul and Barnabas increased to a point where the Gentiles, Jews, and Jewish leaders finally decided they wanted to murder them. The fact that they wanted to murder them by “stoning” indicates that the Jews were primarily behind this, as stoning was an Old Testament punishment given by God for the Jews on those on those who committed “blasphemy” (Lev 24:10-16,23), the sin of which they accused Paul and Barnabas.
“Lycaonia” – Lycaonia was a Roman province in south central Asia Minor, located about 18 miles SSW of Iconium. “Nelson’s Illustrated Dictionary” says it was: “bordered on the south by Cilicia, on the west by Phrygia and Pisidia, on the north by Galatia, and on the east by Cappadocia. Because of its remoteness, Lycaonia enjoyed political independence during much of its history. But it fell under Greek control and influence in the period following the conquests of Alexander the Great.”
“Lystra” – Lystra was a city located in the Roman province of Lycaonia. It was built on a small hill (which is still visible) in what is today modern Turkey. No mention is made of a synagogue in Lystra, which may indicate it had a small Jewish population. We are told in (Acts 16:1-2) that it was the home of Timothy.
“Derbe” – Like Lystra, Derbe was also located in the Roman province of Lycaonia, and built on a small hill, which is still visible today. It was located about 18 miles southeast of Lystra, and was the home of Gaius (Acts 20:4).
(Verses 8-10) “And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked: (9) The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, (10) Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.”
As we saw earlier in Acts, the “cripple” was likely brought by friends to the place where he “sat,” so that he could beg for money (Acts 3:2,10).
How did Paul know that the crippled man “had faith to be healed?”
Some other verses tying faith to being healed: (Mt 9:21-22)(Mt 9:27-30)(Lk 17:11-19)(Lk 18:40-42).
“said with a loud voice” – It seems clear that Paul wanted to make sure that everyone in the area heard the words he spoke, and saw the miracle that was about to occur. Because the man had been a “cripple from his mother’s womb,” and likely had been begging in public for many years, nearly everyone would have known how bad his condition was. Therefore, seeing this long time cripple now “leaping and walking,” virtually everyone would have known a miracle had occurred.
(Verses 11-12) “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. (12) And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.”
“Saying in the speech of Lycaonia” – It appears that Paul and Barnabas did not understand the “speech of Lycaonia,” so they were not aware that the people were calling them “gods.” However, as we will see in verse 13, when they saw that the priest of the temple of Zeus and the “multitudes” were preparing offer sacrifices to them, they figured out what was going on.
Two of my study Bibles share a story of ancient folklore that was in Lystra at that time. I will quote from the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible,” with a few added details from the “MacArthur Study Bible” added in parenthesis:
“The Roman poet Ovid told of an ancient legend in which Zeus and Hermes came to the Phrygian hill country disguised as mortals seeking lodging. After being turned away from a thousand homes, they found refuge in the humble cottage of an elderly couple (named Philemon and Baucis). In appreciation for the couple’s hospitality, the gods transformed the cottage into a temple with a golden roof and marble columns (and appointed the couple to serve as priest and priestess). All the houses of the inhospitable people were then destroyed (by a flood). This ancient legend may be the reason that the people treated Paul and Barnabas as gods. After witnessing the healing of the cripple, they did not want to make the same mistake as their ancestors.”
Zeus was the patron god of the people of Lystra, and a temple had been built for him in the city. Zeus (Jupiter in Latin) was the king of the gods in Greek mythology, and Mercurius (Mercury) (Hermes in Greek) was the messenger god for Zeus. It is interesting to note that the people made Barnabas the king, and Paul the (lesser) “messenger.”
(Verses 13-15)(NKJV) “Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes. (14) But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out (15) and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you…”
“the priest of Zeus” – Just as God’s Temple had a “High Priest,” pagan temples also had a head priest. This priest thought that the god of the temple he was in charge of was making an appearance, so he brought items to sacrifice to him and his messenger.
The “Believer’s Bible Commentary” adds this note about the attempted sacrifice: “This entire movement was a more subtle form of danger to the Christian faith than all the other forms of opposition recorded. For a successful Christian worker a greater peril than persecution is the tendency for people to center their spiritual attention, not on Christ, but on His servant.”
“Barnabas and Paul” – Why is Barnabas listed before Paul here? Was it because the people put him first?
“tore their clothes” – People would “tear their clothes” for a number of reasons in the Bible:
When mourning over someone who had died: (Gen 37:34)(Josh 7:6)(2 Sam 1:11)(2 Sam 3:31)
When in despair: (Gen 37:29)(Gen 44:11-13)(Num 14:6)(Judg 11:35)
When in sorrow: (2 Sam 13:19)(2 Kin 6:30)(Est 4:1)(Job 2:12)
When in deep repentance: (1 Kin 21:27)(2 Kin 22:11,19)(2 Chr 34:19)
When angry: (2 Kin 11:14)(2 Chr 23:13)(Mt 26:65)(Mk 14:63)
When appalled: (Ezra 9:3-5)(Acts 14:14)
Thus, tearing one’s clothes was an outward sign to others that a person or persons were deeply upset about something. We sometimes do this same thing today in a different way. Can you think of some examples?
***Note: Because clothes in Bible times were usually very expensive (everything was hand made, no mass production like today), this was often a sacrificial act.
“We are men with the same nature as you” – Paul and Barnabas were simply men, just like all men, but were men who God used mightily to accomplish His purposes. May we all pray for God to use us mightily as well.
(Verses 15-17)(NKJV) “…. and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, (16) who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. (17) Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
As we mentioned above, it appears likely that Lystra did not have many Jews, therefore, Paul and Barnabas were probably speaking to Gentiles here. This being the case, it is worth noting that they didn’t quote from the Old Testament like they usually did when witnessing to the Jews. These Gentiles didn’t know, or care about the Scriptures.
“useless things” (“vanities” – KJV) – First, they told them that the “idols” they worshipped were “useless things.” This was an Old Testament phrase used a number of times to refer to idols (Isa 44:9)(1 Sam 12:21)(1 Kin 16:13,26)(Jer 18:15).
“the living God” – Then, they told them about “the living God.” This great name for God is used many times in the Bible (Deut 5:26)(Josh 3:10)(1 Sam 17:26,36)(Jn 6:69)(2 Cor 3:3). In contrast to dead and “useless idols,” Paul and Barnabas explained to them that there was a “living God,” and described Him as: the God who created all things. A Creator God was likely a new concept to these Gentiles.
Verses 16 and 17 are laid out in Romans 1:18-32: “allowed nations to walk in their own ways” = (Rom 1:21-32), “He did not leave Himself without witness” = (Rom 1:18-20). Let’s turn to these verses and read them.
The JFB Commentary says, “In Lycaonia, where, as ancient writers attest, rain is peculiarly scarce, this allusion would have all the greater effect.” “Fruitful seasons” is speaking about God providing food for us. This “fills our hearts with gladness.”
(Verses 18-19)(NASB) “And even by saying these things, only with difficulty did they restrain the crowds from offering sacrifices to them. (19) But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking (“supposing”) that he was dead.”
Talk about being fickle!! In verses 11-18, the people of Lystra were calling Paul and Barnabas “gods,” and then a few days later, they stoned Paul (“Mercury / Hermes”) for blasphemy!
As we mentioned above, Antioch was about 95 miles from Iconium, and Iconium was about 18 miles from Lystra. So, the Jews in Antioch walked about 103 miles, and the Jews in Iconium about 18 miles, with the sole intent to destroy Paul and Barnabas. How much “hate” do you have to have to do this?
It is interesting to note that the pattern for stoning was usually to drag the one to be stoned out of the city first, and then stone them (i.e. Lev 24:14, 1 Kin 21:13, Acts 7:58) Here, however, they do the reverse.
“thinking he was dead” – Was Paul dead? There is some debate on this. Many believe he had indeed been murdered, but then was miraculously brought back to life by God. Evidence for this belief is tied to (2 Cor 12:1-10). Let’s turn to these verses and read them.
However, others (i.e. MacArthur) argue that Paul was not dead. He says, “Paul did not die from the stoning as some claim, who link it to his third-heaven experience in 2 Cor. 12. “Supposing” usually means “to suppose something that is not true.” The main NT use of this word argues that the crowd’s supposition was incorrect and that Paul was not dead. Another argument in favor of this position is that if Paul was resurrected, why didn’t Luke mention it? Also, the dates of Paul’s third-heaven experience and the time of the stoning do not reconcile.”
***Note: I followed up MacArthur’s claim about the word “supposing,” by looking up all verses using the Greek word “nomizo” for “supposing” that is used here in (Acts 14:19). A form of “suppose” is used 9 times (and “think” is used 5 times), and in all cases but one, it does indeed mean “to suppose something that is not true. However, if MacArthur is correct, this means that whatever happened to Paul which caused him to end up in the “third heaven” is not recorded by Luke in Acts, and this seems unlikely too.
(Verse 20)(NASB) “But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city.”
Whether dead or alive, Paul miraculously regained consciousness, got up off of the ground, and went back into the city. We don’t know who these “disciples” were who “stood around” Paul, but one was certainly Barnabas, and based upon (2 Tim 3:10-11), many believe that Timothy was another.
(Verses 20-21) “the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. (21) And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch”
The fact that Paul was able to leave Lystra “the next day” after being stoned to death (or near death) clearly reinforces his miraculous healing. After heading to Derbe, and preaching and teaching there, Paul and Barnabas returned in reverse order to the cities where they had been previously. This began by returning to Lystra, where Paul had been stoned, followed by Iconium, followed by Antioch of Pisidia.
(Verses 22-23) “Confirming (“Strengthening”) the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (23) And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
It appears that in these first 3 cities, the focus of Paul and Barnabas was on “believers” (“disciples”) rather than unbelievers. This may explain why we don’t see persecution this time. Going through these cities, they went to the new believers in the new churches, and did the following things:
1. Strengthened their souls
2. Exhorted them to continue in the faith
3. Told them to expect tribulation
4. Ordained elders in every church
5. Prayed and fasted
6. Commended them to the Lord
(Verses 24-28) “And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. (25) And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: (26) And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. (27) And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed (“reported”) all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. (28) And there they abode a long time with the disciples.
As we mentioned in (Acts 13:13), Pamphylia, was a coastal region in southern Asia Minor, and Perga was its capital. It was where John Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem. In addition, we speculated as to why it appears that Paul and Barnabas spent no time there when they arrived the first time.
From Perga, they went to Attalia. This is the only time the city of Attalia is mentioned in the Bible. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible says it had, “the best harbor on the coast of Pamphylia.” It was located at the mouth of the River Cattarrhactes. From here, they “sailed (back) to Antioch (of Syria),” the place they were sent out from to begin Paul’s first missionary journey. The first journey covered the years of (46 – 48 A.D.).
After arriving in Antioch, they “gathered the church together… and reported all that God had done” during the years they had been away. Thinking back to the start of the journey (the beginning of Acts 13), what did Paul and Barnabas report?
Can you imagine the joy?
“there they abode a long time” – It is estimated that they remained in Antioch for about 1 year, after which they left to go to the Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Council, which we will see in the next chapter. Paul’s second missionary trip began shortly after that in 49 A.D. (Acts 15:40).
The “Life Application Bible” adds this: “Paul probably wrote his letter to the Galatians while he was staying in Antioch (A.D. 48 or 49) after completing his first missionary journey. Galatians was probably written before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), because in the letter the question of whether Gentile believers should be required to follow Jewish law was not yet resolved. The Council met to solve that problem.”