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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Acts 14

 

 

Verse 1

XIV.

(1) Both of the Jews and also of the Greeks.—The latter term is used in its wider sense, as in Mark 7:26 and elsewhere, as equivalent to Gentile, but it implies that those who were so described spoke and understood Greek. In the former instance these would probably be the “proselytes of the gate” who heard the Apostles in the synagogue.


Verse 2

(2) The unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles . . .—It is the distinguishing feature of nearly all the persecutions in the Acts that they originated in the hostility of the Jews. The case of Demetrius furnishes almost the only exception (Acts 19:24), and even there the Jews apparently fomented the enmity of the Greek craftsmen. So at a considerably later date (A.D. 169) we find them prominent in bringing about the persecution which ended in the death of Polycarp at Smyrna (Mart. Polyc. c. 13).


Verse 3

(3) Long time therefore abode they.—This can hardly be understood as involving a stay of less than several months, during which, Paul and Barnabas, as before, were working for their livelihood.

Speaking boldly.—The “boldness” consisted, as the context shows, in a full declaration of the gospel of the grace of God as contrasted with the narrowing Judaism with which the Greek proselytes had previously been familiar.

Granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.—It will be noted that here also, as so often elsewhere, the miracles that were wrought came as the confirmation of faith, not as its foundation.


Verse 4

(4) The multitude of the city was divided.—The context shows that St. Luke writes of the bulk of the heathen population. No numbers are given, but we may fairly assume that the converts were in a minority, and that they belonged, as a rule, to the lower classes (1 Corinthians 1:26-27), and that the chief men and women of the city, as at the Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:50), were against them. The “rulers” who are named would seem, from the form of punishment selected, to have been those of the Jewish synagogue, and the crime of which the preachers were accused, as in the case of Stephen, to have been blasphemy. (See Notes on Acts 7:58; John 10:31.)


Verse 5

(5) To use them despitefully.—The verb expresses wanton insult and outrage. St. Paul uses the noun derived from it to express the character of his own conduct as a persecutor (1 Timothy 1:13), and must have felt, as afterwards in the actual stoning of Acts 14:19, that he was receiving the just reward of his own deeds.


Verse 6

Verse 8

(8) Being a cripple from his mother’s womb.—We note, as in Acts 3:2; Acts 9:33, the characteristic care to record the duration of the infirmity which was supernaturally cured.


Verse 9

(9) Who stedfastly beholding him.—We note once more the recurrence of the characteristic word and look. (See Note on Acts 13:9.)

Perceiving that he had faith to be healed.—Here, as so often, as if it were the general, though not the universal, law of miraculous working (see Notes on Mark 10:23), faith is pre-supposed as the condition. It follows from this, no less than from the tense of the verb, “used to listen to Paul as he spoke,” that he had for some days been among St. Paul’s hearers, had heard the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and had found that such a Saviour met his every need. All this the Apostle read, with that earnest gaze of his, in the man’s upward look.


Verse 10

(10) Stand upright on thy feet.—What may be called the modus operandi of the miracle reminds us of that of the paralytic in Matthew 9:6, and the cripple at Bethesda in John 5:11, and the lame man in Acts 3:6. The command, which would have seemed a mockery to one who did not rise beyond the limits of experience, is obeyed by the will that had been inspired by the new power of faith. The natural inference from the special fact recorded in Acts 14:11, is that the command was given in Greek, and therefore that St. Paul had taught in that language.

And he leaped and walked.—The two verbs differ in their tense: he leaped, as with a single bound, and then continued walking. (Comp. Note on Acts 3:8.)


Verse 11

(11) Saying in the speech of Lycaonia.—The fact is clearly recorded with a definite purpose, and no explanation seems so natural as that which assumes it to be given as accounting for the passive attitude of the Apostles till what was then said had borne its fruit in acts. It will be admitted by all who are not under the influence of a theory that this serves almost as a crucial instance, showing that the “gift of tongues,” which St. Paul possessed so largely (1 Corinthians 14:18), did not consist in a supernatural knowledge of every provincial patois with which he came in contact. (See Note on Acts 2:4.) It is clear that he might easily have learnt afterwards, from those who knew both languages, the meaning of what at the time was unintelligible. To suppose, as some have done, that the Apostles, understanding what was said, acquiesced in the preparations for sacrifice in order that they might afterwards make their protest as with a greater dramatic effect, is at variance with the natural impression made by the narrative, and, it need scarcely be said, with any worthy conception of St. Paul’s character. The diglottic character of the people, here and in other Asiatic provinces of the empire, would make it perfectly natural that they should speak to one another in their own dialect, while Greek served for their intercourse with strangers. The “speech of Lycaonia” is said to have had affinities with Assyrian.

The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.—Literally, the gods, made like unto men, are come down to us. The belief which the words expressed was characteristic of the rude simplicity of the Lycaonians. No such cry would have been possible in the great cities where the confluence of a debased polytheism and philosophical speculation had ended in utter scepticism. And the form which the belief took was in accordance with the old legends of the district. There, according to the Myth which Ovid had recently revived and adorned (Metam. viii. 625-724), Zeus and Hermes (Jupiter and Mercury) had come in human guise, and been received by Baucis and Philemon (St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon shows that the name lingered in that region), and left tokens of their favour. We find from the poem just referred to that the place where they had dwelt was looked on as a shrine to which devout worshippers made their pilgrimages, and where they left their votive offerings.


Verse 12

(12) They called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius.—St. Luke gives, as was natural, the Greek forms—Zeus and Hermes. The main reason for the assignment of the two names was that the listeners recognised in St. Paul the gift of eloquence, which was the special attribute of Hermes. Possibly, also, unlike as were the weak bodily presence and the many infirmities of the Apostle to the sculptured grace with which we are familiar as belonging to the sandalled messenger of the gods—young, and beautiful, and agile—there may have been something in the taller stature and more stately presence of Barnabas which impressed them with the sense of a dignity like that of Jupiter. In any case, we must remember that the master-pieces of Greek art were not likely to have found their way to a Lycaonian village, and that the Hermes of Lystra may have borne the same relation to that of Athens and Corinth as the grotesque Madonna of some Italian wayside shrine does to the masterpieces of Raphael. Real idolatry cares little about the æsthetic beauty of the objects of its worship; and the Lycaonians were genuine idolaters.

The chief speaker.—Literally, the ruler of speech—taking the chief part in it.


Verse 13

(13) The priest of Jupiter, which was before their city.—The latter clause probably describes the position of the Temple of Zeus, standing at the entrance of the city, as the shrine of its protecting deity. The identical phrase used by St. Luke is found in Greek inscriptions at Ephesus.

Brought oxen and garlands unto the gates.—The garlands were the well-known vittae, so familiar to us in ancient sculptures, commonly made of white wool, sometimes interwoven with leaves and flowers. The priests, attendants, doors, and altars were often decorated in the same way. The “gates” (the form of the Greek implying that they were the folding-doors of a large entrance) were probably those which led into the atrium, or court-yard, of the house where the Apostles were dwelling. The whole action is well represented in Raphael’s well-known cartoon. Oxen were, in Greek ritual, the right victims for both Zeus and Hermes.

Would have done sacrifice with the people.—This would have involved cutting the throats of the oxen, catching the blood in a patera, or deep dish, and pouring it upon an altar. There may have been such an altar in the atrium, or one may have been improvised for the occasion.


Verse 14

(14) Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of.—They were, we may believe, in the house, within the court-yard, and therefore did not see the sacrificial procession; but they heard the noise of the multitude, perhaps also of some sacrificial hymn, and asked what it meant.

They rent their clothes.—The act is obviously recorded as that of men who are startled and surprised, and is altogether incompatible with the theory that they knew that they had been taken for deities and were expecting such honours. On the act of rending the clothes, see Note on Matthew 26:65. It was the extremest expression of horror, hardly ever used except in deprecation of spoken or acted blasphemy. How far it would be fully understood by the heathen population of Lystra may be a question, but its very strangeness would startle and arrest them.


Verse 15

(15) Sirs, why do ye these things?—It is natural to suppose that the words were spoken in the Greek in which St. Luke records them, and therefore that St. Paul’s previous teaching had been in the same language. The metrical structure of the. close of the speech (see Note on Acts 14:17) leaves hardly a shadow of doubt on this point.

We also are men of like passions with you.—The word, which expresses participation in all the passive conditions of human life, as well as in what are commonly known as “passions,” occurs again in James 5:17. There is, it will be noted, a striking parallelism between St. Paul’s language here, and that of Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:26).

Ye should turn from these vanities.—The demonstrative pronoun implies a corresponding gesture. The Apostle points to all the pomp and pageantry of the intended sacrifice. The words “vanity and “vain” were almost the invariable terms used by Jews to describe the emptiness and worthlessness of heathen worship (Ephesians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:18; and, in the Old Testament, 1 Samuel 12:21). In contrast with these dead and dumb things, the Apostle calls on them to turn to God, who truly lives and acts, and is the source of all life and power, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Giver of all good gifts, the Judge of all evil deeds. In contrast, alike, with the popular polytheism which assigned heaven, and earth, and sea to different deities, and to the speculative Pantheism which excluded will and purpose from its conception of the Godhead, he proclaims the One God as having every attribute of personal Life and Being.


Verse 16

(16) Who in times past suffered all nations.—Better, all the heathen; the term used being that which is always employed of the nations outside the covenant of Israel. We have here the first germ of what may be fairly described as St. Paul’s philosophy of history. The times of ignorance had been permitted by God, and those who had lived in them would be equitably dealt with, and judged according to their knowledge. The same thought meets us again in the speech at Athens (Acts 17:30). In Romans 1, 2, 11, we meet with it, in an expanded form, as a more complete vindication of the righteousness of God. The ignorance and the sins of the Gentile world had been allowed to run their course, as the Law had been allowed to do its partial and imperfect work among the Jews, as parts, if one may so speak, of a great divine drama, leading both to feel the need of redemption, and preparing both for its reception. All were included in unbelief that God might have mercy upon all (Romans 11:32).


Verse 17

(17) He left not himself without witness.—Here again we have the outline of what is afterwards expanded (Romans 1:19-20). In speaking to peasants like those at Lystra, St. Paul naturally dwells most on the witness given through the divine goodness as manifested in nature. In addressing philosophers at Athens and at Rome, he points to the yet fuller witness of consciousness and conscience (Acts 17:28; Romans 2:14-15).

In that he did good.—Better, as expressing the continuous manifestation of the divine will, “working good, giving rain, filling our hearts.” The MSS. vary, some giving “us” and “our,” and some “you” and “your.” The former is more characteristic of the sympathy which led St. Paul to identify himself with Gentile as well as Jew. The “joy of harvest” (Isaiah 9:3) was the common inheritance of each. The latter words in the Greek, from “giving us rain from heaven,” are so distinctly rhythmical that they suggest the thought that St. Paul quotes from some hymn of praise which he had heard in a harvest or vintage festival, and which, as with the altar to the Unknown God at Athens, he claims as due to Him whom men ignorantly worshipped. (See Note on Acts 17:23.)


Verse 18

(18) with these sayings scarce restrained they the people.—On some of those who were thus restrained the effect may well have been that they were roused to a higher life and did turn from “vanities” to the living God. We must, at any rate, think of St. Paul’s work at Lystra as lasting long enough to allow time for the foundation of a church there. Among the more conspicuous converts were the devout Jewesses, Lois and her daughter Eunice (more accurately, Eunike), and the young Timotheus (2 Timothy 1:5). No mention is made of his father, and Eunice may have been a widow; but the fact that the boy had grown up uncircumcised rather suggests the influence of a living father. (See Note on Acts 16:3.)


Verse 19

(19) There came thither certain Jews from Antioch.—The context shows that the Pisidian Antioch is meant. The strength of the hostility is shown by the facts, (1) that the Jews of the two cities were acting in concert, and (2) that those of the former had travelled not less than one hundred and thirty miles to hinder the Apostle’s work.

Who persuaded the people.—The sudden change of feeling is almost as startling as that which transformed the hosannas of the multitudes at Jerusalem into the cry of “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 27:22.) It is not difficult, however, to understand these vicissitudes of feeling in a barbarous and superstitious people. We find a like sudden change in an opposite direction in the people of Melita (Acts 28:6). If the strangers who were endowed with such mysterious powers were not “gods in the likeness of men,” they might be sorcerers, or even demons, in the evil sense of that word. The Jews, ever ready to impute signs and wonders to Beelzebub, the chief of the demons (see Notes on Matthew 10:34; Matthew 12:24), would readily work on this feeling, and terrify the people into the cruel ferocity of panic.

Having stoned Paul.—The mode of punishment, as elsewhere, shows that it was planned and executed by Jews. They, apparently, were eager to satisfy themselves that they were inflicting punishment on a blasphemer: stoning him to death, and casting him out to be buried with the burial of an ass. And so, in one sense, as from man’s way of looking on such things, the martyr expiated the guilt of the persecutor. The blinding, stunning blows fell on him as they had fallen on Stephen. It was the one instance in St. Paul’s life of this form of suffering (2 Corinthians 11:25). The sufferings endured at Lystra stand out, at the close of his life, in the vista of past years with a marvellous distinctness (2 Timothy 3:11).


Verse 20

(20) Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him.—They, it is obvious, had been powerless to prevent the attack; but they stole out, when all was over, it may be, with the purpose of giving at least a decent interment. We may fairly think of Lois, and Eunice, and Timotheus, as present in that crowd, weeping first for sorrow, and then for exceeding joy, to find that the teacher whom they loved was stunned only, and not dead.

He departed with Barnabas to Derbe.—The journey was one that must have occupied several hours, and we do well to remember that after the suffering of the previous day, it must have been one of peculiar hardship and fatigue. The city of Derbe was, as has been said, twenty miles to the east of Lystra. It was just within the Cappadocian boundary of Isauria. The exact site has not been identified, but the ruins of an Acropolis have been found not far from the lake Ak-Ghieul, which have been supposed to be the remains of Derbe. The whole region was infamous for its brigandage, and there may be a reference to this in the “perils of robbers” of 2 Corinthians 11:26.


Verse 21

(21) And had taught many.—Better, made many disciples. The word is the same as in Matthew 28:19. Among these we may note Gaius, or Caius, afterwards conspicuous as one of St. Paul’s companions (Acts 20:4). The work done implies a stay of, it may be, some months’ duration. During this time the violence of the hostility of the Jews at Antioch and Iconium had probably subsided, and the Apostles could revisit those cities, as they retraced their steps, without any great danger.


Verse 22

(22) Confirming the souls of the disciples.—Better, perhaps, strengthening, so as to avoid the more definite associations connected with the other term. In Acts 18:23, the word is so rendered. It is not the same as that used by later writers for the ecclesiastical rite of Confirmation.

Exhorting them to continue in the faith.—The question meets us whether “faith” is used in its subjective sense, the “feeling of trust,” or objectively, as including the main substance of what was believed and taught—“a belief or creed.” That the latter meaning had become established a few years after St. Luke wrote, we see in 1 Timothy 5:8; Jude Acts 14:3; Acts 14:20; and on the whole it seems probable that it is so used here.

And that we must through much tribulation.—More accurately, through many tribulations. The use of the first personal pronoun is suggestive. Is St. Luke generalising what he heard from those who had listened to St. Paul, and giving it in their very words? Was he himself one of those listeners? The two had clearly met before we find them both at Troas; and on the supposition suggested in the last question, the apparently casual use of the pronoun would be analogous to what we find afterwards. (See Note on Acts 16:10.) In St. Paul’s latest Epistle to the chosen disciple of Lystra we have a touching reproduction of this teaching. He speaks of the afflictions which came on him at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra, and adds the general truth that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecutions” (2 Timothy 3:12).

The kingdom of God.—We may pause to note the occurrence of the familiar phrase and thought of the Gospels in the earliest recorded teaching of St. Paul. In his Epistles it recurs frequently (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Colossians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5). For him, too, that which was proclaimed was not a theory or an opinion, but an actual kingdom, of which Jesus the Christ was king.


Verse 23

(23) And when they had ordained them elders.—The word for “ordained” occurs in the New Testament here and in 2 Corinthians 8:19, where it is translated “chosen,” and certainly seems to imply popular election (election by show of hands), which is, indeed, the natural meaning of the word. In Acts 10:41 a compound form of the verb is translated “chosen of God,” and clearly excludes any action but that of the divine will. Used, as it is here, of the act of the two Apostles, not of the Church, the latter meaning seems most in harmony with the context. There may have been, as in Acts 6:3, a previous election; or the names of those who were to be appointed may have been submitted to the approval of the Church; but the word cannot in itself be held to imply either. On the institution of elders, see Note on Acts 11:30. It is interesting here to note (1) that Paul and Barnabas, by virtue of the authority which as Apostles they had received, primarily from Christ (Galatians 1:1) and mediately from the Church of Antioch (Acts 13:3), exercised the right of appointing, or, in later phrase, ordaining elders. (2) They plant among the Churches of the Gentiles the organisation which we have found in that of Jerusalem, and which was itself based on that of the Synagogue, not on that of the Temple. (3) As this appears as the first appointment, it would seem to follow that the disciples had in the meantime met, and taught, and baptised, and broken bread without them. Organisation of this kind was, i.e., important for the permanence of the life of the Church as such, but not essential to its being, or to the spiritual growth of individual members. (4) It will be remembered that the “elders” so appointed were the same as those who, in the Apostolic Church, were known as “bishops” or “overseers (episcopi), what we call distinctive episcopal functions being reserved for the Apostles, or for their personal representatives (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 1:5; see Note on Acts 20:28).

Had prayed with fasting.—See Notes on Acts 13:2-3. It is a legitimate inference, from this recurrence of the act, that Paul and Barnabas recognized it as an established rule or canon of the Church that these two acts should jointly serve as a preparation for the solemn work of appointing men to spiritual functions. Without prayer such an appointment was a mockery, and fasting served to intensify prayer.

They commended them.—The word is the same as in Acts 20:32; Luke 23:46. It implies the confiding trust of one who commits what is very precious to him to the keeping of another. So in 2 Timothy 2:2 it is used of the depositum fidei, the treasure of truth which Timothy was to commit to faithful men. Here it implies an absolute trust in God as ordering all things for His Church and those who love Him.


Verse 25

(25) And when they had preached the word in Perga.—The travellers retrace their steps. There is a coincidence more or less striking in the report of what they did at Perga. In Acts 13:13 there is no mention of their having preached in that city. We are simply told that Mark left them there, and that they then went on to Antioch. On their return, accordingly, they did what they had then left undone.

They went down into Attalia.—On their first journey they had gone straight from Paphos to Perga up the Cestrus. Now they made a détour which led them to the port at the mouth of the Catarrhactes, named after Attalus Philadelphus, King of Pergamus. There is no record of any work done there, and they probably only went to it as the port where they were most likely to find a sailing-vessel that would take them to Antioch. Their ship would naturally pass between Cilicia and Cyprus, enter the Orontes at Seleucia, and sail up to Antioch.

Whence they had been recommended.—Better, perhaps, commended, the compound form having slightly changed its meaning. The words seem to imply a mental survey on the part of the travellers of all that had passed since they had started on their journey. The “grace of God,” to which they had then been commended, had not failed them.


Verse 27

(27) And when they were come.—Two years or thereabouts (A.D. 45-48) had passed since their mission. During that interval little probably had been heard of them, and we can picture to ourselves the eagerness with which the Christiani of Antioch would gather to listen to their report.

How he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.—This is noticeable as the first occurrence, as far as the chronological order of the books of the New Testament is concerned, of a very characteristic phrase. It would seem to have been a favourite metaphor of St. Paul’s (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3), and comes in here, probably, as a fragment from his speech. From this point of view it is interesting to note the recurrence of the phrase in Revelation 3:8, both St. Paul and St. John, representing as they did different sections of the Church (Galatians 2:9), agreeing in the thought that the door of the Father’s house was now opened wider than it had ever been before, and that no man might shut it.


Verse 28

(28) There they abode long time.—The words probably cover an interval of more than a year, during which it is reasonable to suppose that the preaching of the two Apostles drew together a large number of Gentile converts.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 14:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/acts-14.html. 1905.

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