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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Acts 14

 

 

Verses 1-28

Chapter 14

ON TO ICONIUM (Acts 14:1-7)

14:1-7 It happened in Iconium that they went in the same way into the synagogue of the Jews and spoke to such effect that a great crowd of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. But the Jews who did not believe inflamed the minds of the Gentiles against the brethren. So then, they spent some considerable time boldly speaking in the name of the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace by causing signs and wonders to happen through their hands. The population of the city was torn in two. Some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When the Gentiles and the Jews with their leaders combined in a movement to assault and stone them, they discovered what was afoot and fled for safety to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding district. And there they continued to preach the good news.

Paul and Barnabas went on to Iconium, about 90 miles from Antioch. It was a city so ancient that it claimed to be older than Damascus. In the dim past it had had a king called Nannacus and the phrase "since the days of Nannacus" was proverbial for "from the beginning of time." As usual they began in the synagogue and as usual they had good success; but the jealous Jews stirred up the mob and once again Paul and Barnabas had to move on.

It has to be noted that Paul and Barnabas were more and more taking their lives in their hands. What was proposed in Iconium was nothing other than a lynching. The further Paul and Barnabas went the further they moved from civilization. In the more civilized cities their lives at least were safe because Rome kept order; but out in the wilds Paul and Barnabas were ever under the threat of mob violence from the excitable Phrygian crowds stirred up by the Jews. These two were brave men; and it always takes courage to be a Christian.

MISTAKEN FOR GODS AT LYSTRA (Acts 14:8-18)

14:8-18 There was a man who sat in Lystra who had no power in his feet. He had been a cripple from his birth and he had never walked. He was in the habit of listening to Paul speaking. Paul fixed his gaze on him. He saw that he had faith that he could be cured and he said to him in a loud voice, "Stand up straight on your feet." He leaped up and kept walking about. When the crowds saw what Paul had done they exclaimed in the Lycaonian dialect, "The gods have taken the form of men and have come down to us." They called Barnabas, Zeus; and Paul, Hermes, because he was the leader in speaking. The priest of Zeus whose shrine is in front of the city brought oxen and wreaths to the gates and he and the crowd wished to offer sacrifice to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they rent their clothes and rushed in among the people shouting, "Men, what is this you are doing? We too are men of like passions with you. We are bringing you the good news which tells you to turn from these empty things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all nations to go their own way. And yet he never left himself without a witness, for he was kind to men, and he gave you rain from heaven and the fruitful seasons and he filled your hearts with food and gladness." As they said these things they could hardly stop the crowds sacrificing to them.

At Lystra Paul and Barnabas were involved in a strange incident. The explanation of their being taken for gods lies in the legendary history of Lycaonia. The people round Lystra told a story that once Zeus and Hermes had come to this earth in disguise. None in all the land would give them hospitality until at last two old peasants, Philemon and his wife Baucis, took them in. As a result the whole population was wiped out by the gods except Philemon and Baucis, who were made the guardians of a splendid temple and were turned into two great trees when they died. So when Paul healed the crippled man the people of Lystra were determined not to make the same mistake again. Barnabas must have been a man of noble presence so they took him for Zeus the king of the gods. Hermes was the messenger of the gods and, since Paul was the speaker, they called him Hermes.

This passage is specially interesting because it gives us Paul's approach to those who were completely heathen and without any Jewish background to which he could appeal. With such people he started from nature to get to the God who was behind it all. He started from the here and now to get to the there and then. We do well to remember that the world is the garment of the living God. It is told that once, as they sailed in the Mediterranean, Napoleon's suite were discussing God. In the talk they eliminated him altogether. Napoleon had been silent but now he lifted his hand and pointed to the sea and the sky, "Gentlemen," he said, "who made all this?"

THE COURAGE OF PAUL (Acts 14:19-20)

14:19-20 There came certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium. They won over the crowds and they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, for they thought he was dead. While the disciples stood in a circle round him he got up and he went into the city; and on the next day with Barnabas he went away to Derbe.

In the midst of all the excitement at Lystra certain Jews arrived. They may have been there for one of two reasons. They may have been deliberately following Paul and Barnabas in a set attempt to undo the work that they were doing. Or they may have been corn merchants. The region round Lystra was a great corn growing area and they may have come to buy corn for the cities of Iconium and Antioch. If so, they would be shocked and angry to find Paul still preaching and would very naturally stir up the people against him.

Lystra was a Roman colony; but it was an outpost. Nevertheless, when the people saw what they had done they were afraid. That is why they dragged what they thought was Paul's dead body out of the city. They were afraid of the strong hand of Roman justice and they were trying to get rid of Paul's body in order to escape the consequences of their riot.

The outstanding feature of this story is the sheer courage of Paul. When he came to his senses, his first act was to go right back into the city where he had been stoned. It was John Wesley's advice, "Always look a mob in the face." There could be no braver thing than Paul's going straight back amongst those who had tried to murder him. A deed like that would have more effect than a hundred sermons. Men were bound to ask themselves where a man got the courage to act in such a way.

CONFIRMING THE CHURCH (Acts 14:21-28)

14:21-28 When they had preached the good news to that city and had made a considerable number of disciples they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. As they went they strengthened the souls of the disciples and urged them to abide in the faith, saying, "It is through many an affliction that we must enter into the kingdom of God." In each church they chose elders, and, when they had prayed with fasting, they offered them to the Lord in whom they had believed. When they had gone through Pisidia they came to Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga they went down to Attaleia. From there they sailed away to Antioch, from which they had been handed over to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. On their arrival there, when they had called a meeting of the church, they told them the story of all that God had done with them and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They spent a long time with the disciples.

In this passage there are three notable lights on the mind of Paul.

(i) There is his utter honesty to the people who had chosen to become Christians. He frankly told them that it was through many an affliction they would have to enter into the kingdom of God. He offered them no easy way. He acted on the principle that Jesus had come "not to make life easy but to make men great."

(ii) On the return journey Paul set apart elders in all the little groups of newly-made Christians. He showed that it was his conviction that Christianity must be lived in a fellowship. As one of the great fathers put it, "No man can have God for his father unless he has the Church for his mother." As John Wesley put it, "No man ever went to heaven alone; he must either find friends or make them." From the very beginning it was Paul's aim not only to make individual Christians but to build these individuals into a Christian fellowship.

(iii) Paul and Barnabas never thought that it was their strength which had achieved anything. They spoke of what God had done with them. They regarded themselves only as fellow-labourers with God. After the great victory of Agincourt, Henry the king forbade any songs to be made and ordered that all the glory should be given to God. We begin to have the right idea of Christian service when we work, not for our own honour, but from the conviction that we are tools in the hand of God.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 14:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-14.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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