From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eight)

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The Conflicts in Iconium and Lystra

In Iconium, Paul preached in the synagogue, and a “great multitude” of Jews and Greeks obeyed the gospel.1  The Jews who refused to believe riled up the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas, but these two men continued for a long time to speak boldly, and silenced some of the opposition by their bold preaching and accompanying miracles.  However, the Jews wouldn’t stop, and eventually convinced some of the Gentiles to join with them in a mob for the purpose of assaulting and stoning God’s missionaries.  Paul and Barnabas discovered their intent and fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, where they commenced preaching again.2

While preaching in Lystra, Paul stared intently at a man who was listening to the sermon.  This man was sitting (most likely on the ground), because he was physically incapable of standing.  In fact, he was crippled from birth, and had never walked.  This man, listening, believed what Paul was preaching, and Paul could see that the man had faith to be saved.3  So Paul spoke very loudly, assuring that all the people could hear what he said, “Stand up on your feet!”  And not only did the man stand, but he also amazed the crowd by jumping and walking.4

This brought out a reaction that even Paul and Barnabas couldn’t have foreseen—the people started shouting that “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!”5  Barnabas, apparently the stronger figure, they called Zeus;6 while Paul, the main speaker, they called Hermes.7  The priest of the temple of Zeus was so excited (and perhaps quite concerned about offending the gods) that he brought oxen to sacrifice, and garlands to decorate them with.8  The people all joined in with the desire and cry to sacrifice to these mighty gods who had come to bless them with their presence.

Upset and anxious to stop them—for only the God of heaven is worthy of worship—Paul and Barnabas tore their clothing, running through the chanting crowd, shouting:

“Why are you doing these things?  We are humans, the same as you, and we are telling you to turn from these empty things, and to the living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and everything that is in them; who in times past permitted all nations to walk in their own ways.  However, He did not leave Himself without testimony, in that He did Good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”9

Even with these earnest pleadings, these denials of godhood, they just barely were able to keep the people from sacrificing to them.  The crowd must have been confused by their actions, but some were willing to listen, and several obeyed the gospel.10

While Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra,11 the Jews who had tried to kill Paul in Iconium and Antioch arrived and stirred up the people—quite possibly on the heels of the two missionaries finally calming them down from their fervor to sacrifice.  These Jews persuaded the people—almost certainly accusing God’s messengers of rejecting Zeus and Hermes—and stirred them into such a frenzy that they began to pelt Paul with rocks and stones, knocking him to the ground and continuing the assault until he lay motionless.  Believing he was dead, they dragged his bruised and bloodied body outside the city and left him there.  But while the believers stood sadly around his beaten form, their hearts leapt with joy when they saw movement—Paul moved!  He was alive!  He got up from the ground, and walked back into the city.  But the next day, he and Barnabas left and traveled to Derbe.12

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 14:1.  As noted earlier in this chapter, the biblical writers often use the word “believe” to describe the entire process of salvation.  The reason for this is that true faith (the noun form of the word “believe”) is always accompanied with obedience, as proven abundantly by Hebrews 11.

2 Acts 14:1-7.  Paul was only stoned once, according to his own account, and that didn’t happen until he was in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; 2 Corinthians 11:25).

3 Acts 14:8-9.  The word translated “healed” (or some synonym) in almost every translation is the Greek word sozo, which is usually translated “saved”—93 of the 120 times it appears, in fact.  It seems incredible that when Paul is preaching the gospel, the man’s reaction and faith has nothing to do with being cleansed from sins, but only on being healed of his physical infirmity.  If the faith that came from hearing Paul’s sermon was faith in miraculous healing ability, then Paul preached quite a different gospel here than in other places.  If this word were translated “saved,” like it is so many other times in the New Testament, then there would be no confusion.  H.T. Anderson, in his 1865 translation of the New Testament, and his 1918 translation of the Sinaitic Manuscript, did just that.

4 Acts 14:10.

5 Acts 14:11.  This was a common theme in ancient literature.  See the works of Homer, for example.  Much of the legends surrounding the pantheon of gods include one of the gods coming to earth as a human and consorting with a human, bringing about demigods.  Given that these legends and myths were heavily promoted, especially by the priests of the pagan temples where worship to these “gods” was conducted, it shouldn’t really that surprising that the people would have this reaction.  Since they believed in a plethora of gods, and their literature had said that gods frequently came to earth and walked around as humans, it was logical for them to conclude that the miracle-working men must be gods.

6 Acts 14:12.  The KJV says “Jupiter,” but the Greek is Zeus.  The Romans basically assimilated the legends of the gods into their culture and gave them new names.  What in Greek was Zeus, the Romans called “Jupiter.”

7 Acts 14:12.  KJV says “Mercury,” but the Greek is Hermes.  Hermes was the messenger god, the god of speech and eloquence.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures and Vincent’s Word Studies on this passage for more details.

8 Acts 14:13.  It was common for oxen to be sacrificed to Zeus during this time, and the garlands were used to decorate them during the sacrifices.  See Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse.

9 Acts 14:14-17.

10 Acts 14:18.  The text doesn’t describe anyone being converted, though the healed man (14:8-10) certainly would have obeyed the gospel, and there were others, because when Paul is stoned and left for dead, “the disciples” stood around him (14:20).  Whether these people obeyed the gospel prior to the healing and the sacrificial attempts, or between that event and the arrival of the Jews, is not made clear.

11 The inspired text does not tell us how long there is between the sacrificial fiasco and the arrival of Jewish perpetrators.  It could have taken place the same day, or it could have been several weeks later.  The way the text reads, it is quite possible that these Jews arrived while the sacrificial attempts were taking place, and stirred up the people, accusing Paul and Barnabas of denying the power of the great Zeus and Hermes.

12 Acts 14:19-20.

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