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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Acts 14

 

 

Verse 1-2

Iconium was a Greek city-state in the geographic region of Phrygia, the easternmost city in that region.

". . . while Rome chose Antioch of Pisidia and Lystra as bastions of its authority in the area, Iconium remained largely Greek in temper and somewhat resistant to Roman influence, though Hadrian later made it a Roman colony." [Note: Longenecker, p431.]

"Iconium" comes from eikon, the Greek word for "image." According to Greek mythology, Prometheus and Athena recreated humanity there after a devastating flood by making images of people from mud and breathing life into them. [Note: Ibid, pp431-32.]

Iconium was, ". . . a garden spot, situated in the midst of orchards and farms, but surrounded by deserts.... Iconium, too, owed its bustling business activity to its location on the main trade route connecting Ephesus with Syria and the Mesopotamian world, as well as its orchard industries and farm produce." [Note: Merrill F. Unger, "Archaeology and Paul"s Visit to Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe," Bibliotheca Sacra118:470 (April-June1961):107-108.]

In Iconium Paul and Barnabas followed the same method of evangelizing that they had used in Antioch ( Acts 13:14). They visited the synagogue first. They also experienced the same results: many conversions among both Jews and Gentiles but also rejection by some of the Jews (cf. Acts 13:43). These unbelieving Jews stirred up unbelieving Gentiles who joined them in opposing the missionaries ( Acts 13:50).


Verses 1-7

Ministry in Iconium14:1-7


Verse 3

Because God was saving many people, the missionaries stayed on in Iconium "a long time" regardless of opposition that evidently increased gradually. They testified boldly (cf. Acts 13:46) and relied on the Lord Jesus for their success. The phrase "the word of His grace" ( Acts 14:3) describes the gospel message stressing the prominence of God"s grace in it (cf. Acts 20:24-32). They did many miracles there too thus confirming their message (cf. Acts 2:43; Acts 4:30; Acts 5:12; Acts 6:8; Acts 8:6; Acts 8:13; Acts 15:12; Galatians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4).

". . . the couplet "miraculous signs and wonders" places the ministry of Paul and Barnabas directly in line with that of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:22) and the early church (cf. Acts 2:43; Acts 4:30; Acts 5:12; Acts 6:8; Acts 7:36) in fulfillment of prophecy (cf. Acts 2:19)-as it does also in Acts 15:12. Later when writing his Galatian converts (assuming a "South Galatian" origin for the letter), Paul appeals to these mighty works performed by the Spirit as evidence that the gospel as he preached it and they received it was fully approved by God (cf. Galatians 3:4-5)." [Note: Longenecker, p432.]


Verse 4

The "apostles" were Paul and Barnabas. Luke used the word "apostle" in a technical sense to describe the Twelve apostles plus Paul in Acts. He also used it less frequently in a non-technical sense to describe any believer sent out into the world with the salvation message (e.g, Acts 14:14; cf. Romans 16:7; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25). There were only13men with the office of apostleship, but there were many others who, with more or less gift, did the work of an apostle. Similarly there were some with the prophetic office, but many more with prophetic ministries. [Note: See John E. Johnson, "The Old Testament Offices as Paradigm for Pastoral Identity," Bibliotheca Sacra152:606 (April-June1995):182-200.]


Verses 5-7

"The schematic description of the mission in Iconium follows the pattern of the mission in Jerusalem more closely than the pattern of the mission in Antioch of Pisidia." [Note: Tannehill, 2:176.]

The Gentiles and the Jewish rulers took the initiative in persecuting the evangelists. The attempt to stone them appears to have been an act of mob violence rather than a formal Jewish attempt at execution (cf. Acts 7:58-59).

"It would have required a regular Hebrew court to sanction it [a legal stoning], and it would never have been tolerated in a Roman colony." [Note: Foakes-Jackson, p128.]

"Paul and Barnabas had no idea of remaining to be stoned (lynched) by this mob. It is a wise preacher who always knows when to stand his ground and when to leave for the glory of God. Paul and Barnabas were following the directions of the Lord Jesus given to the twelve on their special tour of Galilee ( Matthew 10:23)." [Note: Robertson, 3:207.]

Consequently Paul and Barnabas moved south into the geographical region of Lycaonia, which was also in the Roman province of Galatia. Lycaonia means "land of the wolf." This became the next area for their ministry. They left one political area to start afresh in another.

"Luke"s accuracy was once severely challenged on this point because abundant records exist showing that Iconium was also a Lycaonian city, and thus no border would have been crossed between Iconium and Lystra. It was careful study of this matter which changed the British scholar William Ramsay into a strong defender of Luke"s accuracy when he discovered that Iconium was Lycaonian earlier and again later, but that Luke"s statement "was accurate at the period when Paul visited Lycaonia; that it was accurate at no other time except between37,72 A.D."" [Note: Kent, p116. His quotation is from Ramsay, St. Paul . . ., pp110-11. Cf. idem, The Bearing . . ., pp35-52]


Verse 8

Like Antioch of Pisidia, Lystra (modern Zoldera) was a Roman colony. [Note: See my comments on13:14-15.] It was the most eastern of the fortified cities of Galatia. Lystra was about20 miles south of Iconium. Twenty miles was a normal day"s travel in the Roman Empire at this time. Luke did not mention synagogue evangelism here. Evidently there were so few Jews that there was no synagogue in Lystra (or in Philippi).

"The further on Paul and Barnabas went the further they got from civilisation [sic]." [Note: Barclay, p115.]

Luke stressed the hopeless case of the lame man (cf. Acts 3:1-10; Acts 9:33-35).

"Luke undoubtedly wanted his readers to recognize the parallel between the healing of this crippled man and the healing of another one by Peter (cf. Acts 3:1-8) ..." [Note: Longenecker, p435.]

"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 [Peter] the healing power vested in his disciples by the Lord himself ( John 14:12) and exemplified in Jesus" own ministry ( Luke 7:22)." [Note: Neil, p163.]

". . . it must be remembered that ancient historians looked for and believed in the existence of repeated cycles or patterns in history, such that one could learn from what has gone before and to a certain degree know what to expect from the future. [Note: Footnote273: "See the discussion by [G. W.] Trompf, [The] Idea of Historical Recurrence [in Western Thought], of Polybius, pp78 ff, and of Luke , pp170ff."] This sort of thinking was characteristic of various of the Hellenistic historians, especially Polybius ..." [Note: Witherington, p423. ]


Verses 8-20

Ministry in Lystra14:8-20


Verse 9-10

As is true of other similar references to a healed person"s faith, this man"s confidence was in God. He believed God could heal him, not that God would do so. Confidence that God would heal him, in other words, is not what made him whole. It was confidence that God through His servant could heal him that constituted his faith (e.g, Matthew 9:28-29; Mark 9:22-24). His faith was a factor in his receiving healing (cf. Mark 6:5-6).

". . . Paul and Barnabas had the gifts of an apostle, the sign gifts. They came into these places without any New Testament with the message of the gospel. What were their credentials? How could they prove their message was from God? The sign gifts were their credentials-they needed them. Today we have the entire Bible, and what people need today is to study this Bible and to learn what it has to say." [Note: McGee, 4:571. Cf17:11.]


Verse 11-12

Why did Luke refer to the fact that the natives spoke in the local Lycaonian language? He probably did so to explain why their plans to honor Paul and Barnabas got as far as they did before the missionaries objected ( Acts 14:14). People who lived in Asia Minor spoke three languages: Latin (the official administrative language), Greek (the lingua franca of the empire), and the native vernacular, which in this case was Lycaonian. [Note: Neil, p163.]

Archaeology has turned up evidence of a legend in Lystra that Zeus and Hermes once visited an elderly couple who lived there, a man named Philemon and his wife Baucis. [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p291; Marshall, The Acts . . ., p237; Longenecker, p435. See Witherington, pp421-22 , for a translation of the story, which appears in Ovid"s Metamorphoses.] This supposedly took place before Paul and Barnabas" visit. Apparently the locals concluded that these gods had returned. Zeus was the chief god in the Greek pantheon, and Hermes was his herald. The residents of Lystra identified Barnabas with Zeus (whom the Romans called Jupiter). Perhaps he looked dignified and authoritative. They called Paul Hermes (the Roman Mercury) because he was the chief speaker. According to Greek legend, Hermes invented speech and was an eloquent speaker. Our word "hermeneutics," the science of interpretation, comes from this word. [Note: Robertson, 3:210.]

If Satan cannot derail Christian witness with persecution, he will try praise. Too much persecution has destroyed many preachers, and too much praise has ruined many others. One of the problems with miracles is that they often draw more attention to the miracle worker than to God.


Verse 13

Customarily the pagan Gentiles decorated animals destined for sacrifice to the Greek gods, like these oxen, with woolen garlands and then led them to the place of sacrifice.


Verse 14

Tearing one"s robe was a common way Jews expressed grief and, in this case, horror over blasphemy (cf. Mark 14:63). Usually they tore the robe for about four or five inches from the neckline.


Verses 15-18

By recording the substance of what Paul and Barnabas said here, Luke preserved a sample of their preaching to pagan audiences (cf. Acts 13:16-41; Acts 17:22-31).

"With a pagan audience it was necessary to begin a stage further back with the proclamation of the one true God." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p238.]

In earlier times God had manifested the knowledge of Himself to Gentiles mainly through creation and Israel (cf. Romans 1). Now He was giving them more special revelation through the church. This was the first time Luke recorded the preaching of the gospel to a group that was predominantly, if not exclusively, Gentile. Thus this incident became another benchmark of worldwide gospel extension.

Timothy was apparently a native of Lystra (cf. Acts 16:1-2; Acts 20:4; 2 Timothy 1:5). He apparently had a Jewish mother and grandmother (cf. Acts 16:3; 2 Timothy 1:5). This may indicate that there were some Jews who lived there.

"Paul"s speech here, apart from his address to the Athenian philosophers ( Acts 17:22 ff.), is the only example in Acts of his technique in dealing with a purely pagan audience; it is a striking example of his ability to reinterpret the Gospel in terms intelligible to his hearers. It differs widely from his approach to Jews and adherents of Judaism, as illustrated by his sermon in the synagogue at Antioch ( Acts 13:16 ff.), where some knowledge of the scriptures could be assumed on the part of his listeners. Here, as at Athens, he proceeds on the basis of natural Revelation -the providential order of the universe-which ought to lead men"s thoughts from the cult of idols to the worship of a living God, Creator of all that exists; he expounds this line of argument more fully in Romans 1:19 ff; Romans 2:14 f, and he writes of its successful outcome at Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:9)." [Note: Neil, p164.]


Verse 19-20

We do not know how long it took the hostile Jews from Antioch and Iconium to turn the tide of popular sentiment against Paul and Barnabas. They convinced the fickle residents of Lystra that the missionaries were deceivers rather than gods and deserved to die.

"Disillusioned fanatics are easily led off into contradictory actions." [Note: Kent, p117.]

Some scholars believe that Paul died from this stoning and experienced resurrection. [Note: E.g, Lumby, p264; and McGee, 4:573.] However, the text only says that onlookers supposed that Paul was dead. Ironside believed that this is when Paul was caught up into the third heaven ( 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., pp341-42.] There is no way to prove or to disprove this theory. Luke"s description of Paul"s speedy recovery ( Acts 14:20) stresses God"s powerful hand in restoring His servant (cf. Acts 1:1-2). Paul courageously returned to Lystra, but he left town the next day ( Acts 14:20 b).

"It was John Wesley"s advice, "Always look a mob in the face." Paul never did a braver thing than to go straight back into the city which had tried to murder him." [Note: Barclay, p118.]


Verse 20-21

Ministry at Derbe14:20-21a

Paul and Barnabas next moved about60 miles farther to the southeast to Derbe (meaning juniper, modern Kerti Hyk) on the eastern border of the Galatian province. [Note: See M. Ballance, The Site of Derbe: A New Inscription.] Many more people became believers and disciples there (cf. Acts 20:4). Luke did not record what the apostles experienced there, but this was the home of Gaius, one of Paul"s later companions ( Acts 20:4). Perhaps Gaius became a convert at this time.

The larger towns of Antioch and Iconium seem to have produced more influential churches, but the smaller ones of Lystra and Derbe contributed more young men who became leaders (i.e, Timothy and Gaius).

This is "a pattern not altogether different from today, where the larger churches often capture the headlines and the smaller congregations provide much of the personnel." [Note: Longenecker, p438.]


Verse 21

4. Paul and Barnabas" return to Antioch of Syria14:21-28


Verse 21-22

The missionaries confined their labors to the Galatian province on this trip. They did not move farther east into the kingdom of Antiochus or the province of Cilicia that Paul may have evangelized previously during his time in Tarsus. Tarsus stood some160 miles east of Derbe. Instead they retraced their steps to encourage, instruct, and organize the new converts (cf. Acts 18:23). [Note: See David F. Detwiler, "Paul"s Approach to the Great Commission in Acts 14:21-23 ," Bibliotheca Sacra152:605 (January-March1995):33-41.] Apparently they did more discipleship than evangelism on this return trip to the cities where the apostles" lives had been in danger. They warned the new converts that they too should expect persecution (cf. Galatians 4:13; Galatians 6:17; 2 Timothy 3:11). The "kingdom of God" evidently refers to the messianic kingdom. Entrance into it was still future for these disciples when the missionaries gave them this exhortation. Though Christians will not go through the Tribulation, we will experience tribulation before we enter the Millennium ( 2 Timothy 3:12).


Verse 23

The elders (plural) in every church (singular) that the apostles appointed must have been the more mature Christians in each congregation. Note that each of these churches had more than one leader (cf. Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1). There may have been more than one local church in each of these towns eventually, but at this early stage of pioneer evangelism there was probably only one church in each town.

". . . it would be unwise to read into this basic administrative necessity later and more developed ideas of church order." [Note: Neil, p166. Cf1Timothy3; and Titus 1.]

Perhaps elders from the synagogues in these communities who had become Christians became elders in the churches. Elder qualifications may have developed and become somewhat stricter between the times these elders assumed office and when Paul specified their qualifications in the Pastoral Epistles ( 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).

The text does not explain exactly how the appointment of these elders took place. "They" probably refers to Paul and Barnabas since they are the subjects in view in the context. However the Greek word used here (cheirotonesantes, "appointed") originally meant to elect by a vote of raised hands. [Note: Kent, p118.] Consequently some interpreters believe that the Christians in these churches selected the elders. [Note: E.g, Ramsay, St. Paul . . ., pp121-22; Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, pp585-86; and Kent, pp118-19.] I favor the view that Paul and Barnabas made the selections. The apostles had earlier appointed elders in the Jerusalem church ( Acts 11:30).

"Paul showed that it was his conviction that from the very beginning Christianity must be lived in a fellowship." [Note: Barclay, p119.]

Note again the importance that Paul and Barnabas placed on prayer. They forewent eating to pray (cf. Acts 13:3). They also committed their new converts to the Lord Jesus, the Head of the church, in whom they had believed. These missionaries did not overestimate their own importance and become paternalistic, as church planters sometimes face temptation to do.


Verses 24-26

Pisidia was the southernmost geographic region in the Roman province of Galatia. Pamphylia was the province south of Galatia and east of the kingdom of Antiochus. Perga, like Derbe, was one of the sites the missionaries visited that Luke chose not to comment on extensively (cf. Acts 13:13-14). Perhaps Paul and Barnabas planted a church there, too. The apostles then sailed directly for Syrian Antioch by way of Attalia, the seaport10 miles south of Perga.

"Ports in antiquity were often satellite towns of larger and more important cities situated some distance inland for protection from pirates. So Luke"s mention of Attalia here probably has no more significance than his mention of Seleucia ( Acts 13:4), the port of Syrian Antioch, and merely identifies the place of embarkation for the voyage back to Syria." [Note: Longenecker, p439.]


Verse 27-28

The chronological references in Acts and the Pauline epistles make it difficult to tell just how long it took Paul and Barnabas to complete the first missionary journey. Commentators estimate it took them between the better part of one year and almost two years. They travelled a minimum of500 miles by sea and700 by land. Beitzel estimated that Paul covered a total of about1 ,400 miles on this journey. [Note: Beitzel, p177.]

Luke was careful to record again the priority of God"s initiative in this evangelistic mission (cf. Acts 1:1-2). Paul and Barnabas had accomplished a wonderful work ( Acts 14:26), but they were careful to give God the credit for it.

"Paul and Barnabas never thought that it was their strength or their power which had achieved anything. They spoke of what God had done with them.... We will begin to have the right idea of Christian service when we work, not for our own honour or prestige, but only from the conviction that we are tools in the hand of God." [Note: Barclay, p120. Cf2Corinthians5:20.]

The fact that God had granted salvation to Gentiles equally with Jews simply by faith in Christ would have been of special interest to Luke"s early readers. This new phenomenon had taken place before on the Gaza Road, in Caesarea, and in Syrian Antioch. However now large numbers of Gentile converts were entering the church through the "door of faith" without first becoming Jewish proselytes. Paul used the figure of a door also in 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12, and Colossians 4:3. This situation constituted the background of the Jerusalem Council that Luke recorded in the next chapter.

It was probably during the time Paul was in Syrian Antioch, after returning from the first missionary journey and before attending the conference in Jerusalem (ch15), that he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. He did so to instruct the believers in the churches he and Barnabas had planted. This would have been in the late A.D40s, probably A.D49. Galatians appears to have been the first of Paul"s inspired epistles. [Note: See Appendix3: Paul"s Epistles, at the end of these notes.]

"What about Luke"s omission of Paul as letter writer? ... Acts is about beginnings and missionary endeavors. Paul"s letters, so far as we know, were written to congregations [and individuals] that were already established. This falls outside the purview of what Luke seeks to describe. Such an omission was only natural since Luke chose not to record the further developments of church life within the congregations Paul founded." [Note: Witherington, p438.]

There are many ways in which Paul"s ministry and Peter"s corresponded. Here are a few of the correlations that Luke recorded apparently to accredit Paul"s ministry that was mainly to the Gentiles and highly controversial among the Jews. Peter"s ministry was primarily to the Jews.

"1. Both Peter and Paul engaged in three significant tours journeys [sic] recorded in the Book of Acts. Peter: Acts 8:14 ff; Acts 9:32 to Acts 11:2; Acts 15:1-14 (see Galatians 2:11); Paul: Acts 13:2 to Acts 14:28; Acts 15:36 to Acts 18:22; Acts 18:23 to Acts 21:17.

2. Early in their ministry both healed a lame person. Peter: Acts 3:2 ff; Paul: Acts 14:8 ff.

3. Both saw extraordinary healings take place apart from physical contact with the afflicted individual. Peter"s shadow in Acts 5:15; those who brought handkerchiefs and aprons to Paul in Acts 19:11. [The text does not say Peter"s shadow was God"s instrument in healing people.]

4. Both were God"s instruments to bring judgment on those who hindered the growth and purity of the infant church. Peter condemned Ananias and Sapphira ( Acts 5:1-11); Paul smote Elymas with blindness ( Acts 13:6-11).

5. Each had at least one long discourse [re]produced in full which gives a summary of his preaching. Peter at Pentecost ( Acts 2:14-40); Paul at Antioch ( Acts 13:16-42).

6. Both made the resurrection a primary emphasis in their proclamation. Peter: Acts 2:24-36; Acts 3:15; Acts 3:26; Acts 5:30; Acts 10:40-41; Paul: Acts 13:30-37; Acts 17:3; Acts 17:18; Acts 17:31; Acts 24:15; Acts 24:21; Acts 25:19; Acts 26:8; Acts 26:23.

7. Both exorcised demons. Peter: Acts 5:16; Paul: Acts 16:18.

8. Both communicated the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Peter: Acts 8:17; Paul: Acts 19:6.

9. Both had triumphant encounters with sorcerers. Peter: Acts 8:18 ff; Paul: Acts 13:6 ff.

10. Both raised the dead. Peter: Acts 9:36 ff; Paul: Acts 20:9 ff.

11. Both received visions to direct them into critical witnessing efforts. Peter: Acts 19:9 ff; Paul: Acts 16:6 ff.

12. Both experienced miraculous deliverances from prison. Peter: Acts 12:7 ff; Paul: Acts 16:25 ff." [Note: Harm, p40.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 14:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-14.html. 2012.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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