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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Acts 14

Verses 1-99

14:1 7 . Preaching at Iconium. The Apostles forced to flee

1 . they went both together , &c.] These words probably refer not to one special visit, but to repeated occasions on which Paul and Barnabas appeared as fellow-labourers before the Jewish congregation in Iconium.

and so spake ] on various occasions, on some of which not only Jews but Gentiles were hearers of the word.

also of the Greeks ] Here the word in the original is Hellenes , used in other places by St Luke to signify Gentiles, in contradistinction to Hellenistæ , by which he means Greek-Jews. It has been thought that here Greek-Jews can only be intended, and that the word must therefore be used in a sense different from that which it has in other places in the Acts. But clearly the visit of the Apostles to Iconium lasted a considerable time, and it is not to be supposed that, while there, they refrained from speaking the word in any place but in the solitary synagogue. They went, as their wont was, to the synagogue first, that was the scene of their joint labours on many occasions, and there many of the Jews were won to the faith. But they spake elsewhere the same glad tidings which they published to the Circumcision, and thus many Gentiles also were converted. This seems a simpler explanation than to make St Luke say Hellenes here, when he means Hellenistæ . The verse condenses the account of the Apostolic labours, marks that their commencement was at the synagogue, that Jews became believers, and then without further specification of a place of preaching adds “and of the Gentiles,” to describe the whole result.

2 . But the unbelieving Jews ] Better, “But the Jews that were disobedient.” The verb is the same which is found John 3:36 , where the rendering should be “He that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life.” The word is stronger than “unbelieving,” it expresses unbelief breaking forth into rebellion, and so exactly describes the character of these Jews who were persecuting Paul and Barnabas.

made their minds evil affected ] The verb is an unusual one in this sense. It is that by which the “harm” done to the Church by Herod Agrippa is described (12:1). It implies not only an ill disposition aroused towards the brethren, but injury also done to the minds in which the feeling was stirred up.

3 . Long time therefore abode they ] There are two results described in this and the following verse as the consequences of the Jewish opposition. First, a long stay was necessary that by the words of the Apostles and by the mighty deeds following wherewith God confirmed them, the faith of the new converts might be fully established before the Apostles departed. Secondly, there came about a division among the people, the Christians and non-Christians became distinctly marked parties.

speaking boldly ] The original word expresses that “freedom of speech” for which the Apostles prayed (4:29), and it is to be noted that as in their prayer so in God’s working, the freedom of speech is in close connection with the stretching forth of God’s hand to heal, and with the signs and wonders that were done in the name of Jesus.

the word of his grace ] i.e. the word of the truth of the Gospel, which is glad tidings, a word of grace. It is to be remarked that the signs mentioned here, as elsewhere, follow after the faith and do not precede it.

4 . part held with the Jews , &c.] For a similar division see the history of the preaching at Thessalonica, 17:4 5. That His word should cause such division had been foretold by Jesus (Luke 12:51 ).

5 . when there was an assault made ] The noun does not necessarily imply that any direct attack had been made, which, from what follows, we can see was not the case. It rather applies to the excitement, urging, and instigation which the Jews were applying to their heathen companions, and which was likely to end in violence.

with their rulers ] The word is of the most general character, and it is impossible to form any conjecture from it what these authorities were .

and to stone them ] From this we see that the prompting came from the Jews. Stoning was their mode of punishment for blasphemy, and such they would represent the teaching of the Apostles to be. We need not suppose that any regular legal stoning like that of Stephen was intended, or that to accomplish that object the rulers here mentioned were such Jewish authorities as could be gathered together in Iconium, and that they are indicated by a vague term because they had no very settled position. The previous verb “to use them despitefully” rather points to the opposite conclusion, and marks the intended proceeding as a piece of mob-outrage, for which the countenance of any authority was gladly welcomed.

In connection with St Paul’s residence at Iconium, there exists a story of the conversion of a maiden named Thecla, of which the apocryphal “Acts of Paul and Thecla” represents the form into which the legend had grown in the fourth century. Thecla, who was espoused to Thamyris, is said to have been deeply affected by the preaching of the Apostle, which she accidentally heard, and when the Apostle was put in prison on the accusation of being a magician, she bribed the gaoler and visited the prisoner, and was fully instructed by him in the Christian faith. The Apostle was punished and sent away from Iconium. Thecla was condemned to die for her refusal to marry Thamyris, but was miraculously saved, and after many troubles joined St Paul in his missionary travels, and ultimately made her home in the neighbourhood of Seleucia, where she led the life of a nun till her death, which took place when she was ninety years old.

This story may at first have had some basis of truth to rest on, but it has been so distorted with inconsistent details, that it is impossible now to judge what the foundation of it may have been.

6 . they were ware of it ] Among the party which sided with the Apostles there would be some who would get information about any attack which was being planned against them. It is to be noticed that throughout the history there is no attempt to exaggerate the sufferings of the Christian teachers. Here was a narrow escape from stoning, and as such it is recorded with no more expansion than is absolutely unavoidable.

and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about ] What the Apostles actually did is more truly represented if we preserve the Greek order, “fled unto the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the region round about.” From the violence of a mob excited by the Jews they fled into a wilder region where were few or no Jews, and the cities are enumerated in the order in which they were visited, while some to which they went are unnamed but included in the general term “the region round about.” The flight of the Apostles is exactly in accord with Christ’s injunction (Matthew 10:23 ).

8 18 . Cure of a Cripple at Lystra. The heathen people regard the Apostles as gods

8 . And there sat a certain man ] Perhaps this cripple, like that other in Jerusalem (3:2), was brought by his friends to some much-frequented place that he might ask alms of them that passed by. There is no mention of a synagogue in Lystra, and it is very improbable that there was one. The Apostles therefore would seek out some place of public resort where they might proclaim their message, and such a position would also be most adapted for the purposes of a begging cripple.

at Lystra ] This place lay almost south from Iconium, if the site generally assigned to it, at the foot of the Kara-dagh , be the correct one. See Dict. of the Bible . It is most probable that this was the home of Timothy. We cannot conclude this absolutely from 16:1, because both Derbe and Lystra are there mentioned, but in 20:4 we have an enumeration in which are the words “Gaius of Derbe and Timotheus,” where the form of the expression makes it almost certain that the latter was not of Derbe. Further, when St Paul recalls to Timothy his sufferings undergone at this period (2 Timothy 3:10-55.3.11 ), he says “Thou hast fully known … the persecutions and afflictions which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra,” words which seem to connect Timothy with the last-named place, and when taken in connection with the other passages to be conclusive that Timothy did not live at Derbe.

That Timothy was made a convert to Christianity at this first visit of St Paul is plain from 16:1, where on the Apostle’s second visit he is called “a disciple.” It is also clear from the same passage (16:3) that there could have been but few Jews at Lystra at this time, or else the son of a religious Jewess would hardly have remained uncircumcised till he had reached man’s estate. Some, however, have thought that this may have come to pass through the influence of the Greek father of Timothy.

impotent in his feet , &c.] It is worth while to notice once again how minutely Luke, the physician, describes the nature of this and other maladies throughout the history.

9 . the same heard Paul speak ] The verb in the Text. recept . is here the imperfect, but some MSS. have the aorist The former seems to be the more suitable. What happened was that the Apostles preached on several occasions, and that the lame man was at his station and heard repeatedly the teaching of the Gospel, and by his earnest attention and manner indicated that what was spoken had been accepted by him with faith. This attracted the attention of St Paul.

who stedfastly beholding him (fastening his eyes upon him)] The verb is common with St Luke, and is used several times of St Paul, as in 13:9, where he fixes his gaze on Elymas, and 23:1, where he attentively beholds the council. From the context of the latter passage, in which we learn that the Apostle did not recognize the high-priest, some have thought that this straining earnest gaze, so frequently ascribed to St Paul, was due to some weakness of sight remaining ever since his blindness at the time of his conversion.

and perceiving ( seeing ) that he had faith to be healed ] The man’s heart shone out in his face, and the Spirit within the Apostle recognized that here was a fit object to be made, by his cure, a sign unto the men of Lystra.

10 . said with a loud voice ] i.e. raising his tone above that in which he was speaking to the rest of the people.

Stand upright on thy feet ] It has been noticed in chap. 3 how different is the narration of this miracle from that wrought by St Peter at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. The two were of exactly the same character, and had the historian been giving his own words only and aiming at producing a harmony in his picture between the words and works of St Paul and St Peter, no finer opportunity could have been found than by making the narratives in these two places as much as possible alike. A careful perusal leaves the impression that the latter may have been written from personal observation (see below on v. 22) or from the information of St Paul, but that the former was drawn from an entirely different source, and that the historian has faithfully preserved the distinct character of the two sources from which he derived his information.

And he leaped and walked ] The oldest MSS. give these verbs in different tenses. The first is aorist, as expressing one act, the upward spring, which shewed once for all that the cure was wrought; the second is imperfect, and indicates that the act of walking was continued, that he henceforth was able to exercise his new power.

11 . in the speech of Lycaonia ] Which would come more naturally to their lips than any other. The people were bilingual, and St Paul had been speaking to them in Greek. This fact may give us some additional light on the question of what the gift of tongues was, which was bestowed upon the Apostles. Clearly, from what we see here, it was not such a power as enabled them at once to understand and converse in the various dialects of all the people into whose countries they might be brought in their missionary labours. For it is manifest that neither Paul nor Barnabas understood the cry of these Lycaonians. If they had, we cannot suppose that they would have allowed a moment to elapse before they corrected the false impression which the words conveyed, and at which, when they came to know its purport, they expressed such horror. They, however, left the place where the multitude of listeners had been assembled, and departed to their own lodgings without any knowledge of what the mistaken people were about to do.

The gods are come down to us ] Nothing was more familiar to the heathen mind than the thought of the gods assuming human shape and going about among mankind, and it has often been noticed that the scene of the legend of Baucis and Philemon related by Ovid ( Metam . viii. 611 seqq.), and in which Jupiter and Mercury are said to have wandered on earth and to have been received as guests by Baucis and Philemon, is laid in Phrygia, which province was close to Lycaonia.

12 . And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius ] Of course this was not known until afterwards, and St Luke in his narrative, as a Greek, gives the Greek names of the gods, Zeus and Hermes . We can understand how the heathen people concluded that if any deity came to visit them with a beneficent purpose it would be that god Jupiter whose temple was before their city and to whom therefore their chief worship was paid; and Mercury was counted as the principal attendant on Jupiter, and moreover as the god of eloquence. It was obvious, therefore, to assign that name to the chief speaker, and the name of Jupiter to that one of the two Apostles who had the more commanding presence. That St Paul was not such a figure we know from his own words, and tradition describes him as “little in height, with a bald head and crooked legs” ( Acta Apocryph . p. 41, Tischendorf).

because he was the chief speaker ] Literally, “the leader of the speech.” This character is always assigned to Mercury by the heathen writers, and almost the very words of the text are used of him by Iamblichus, de Myst. ad init .

13 . the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city ] i.e. “whose temple was before their city.” He was their tutelar divinity, and it was to his priest that the people ran with their cry, and brought him, with all the preparations for a sacrifice, to the gate of the house where the Apostles were lodged.

brought oxen and garlands ] The latter were sometimes put on the heads of the victims, and sometimes used by the worshippers for their own decorations at religious rites. Probably in this case they were meant to make gay some temporary altar.

unto the gates ] The word here used in the original is the same which is used for the porch or vestibule of the house of Mary the mother of John Mark (12:14), and that is its sense here. The Apostles were within the house, and as it was meet to offer the victims to the supposed gods in their presence rather than on the altar at Jupiter’s temple, it was to the house of their host that the procession came.

14 . Which when the apostles … heard of ] As they did first from the clamour and excitement of the would-be worshippers.

ran in among the people (multitude)] The best MSS. read “sprang forth among the multitude,” and this is no doubt the correct reading. They were horror-stricken at what was contemplated, and with garments rent to shew, by signs as well as by words, their repudiation of such worship, they sprang forth from the house, through the vestibule, and into the midst of the crowd, that they might put an end to the delusion of the people. Cp. 2 Kings 18:37 , 2 Kings 19:1 .

15 . and preach unto you ] Literally, “bring you the good tidings,” as the message must be which sets forth to men the living God in the place of dumb idols.

that ye should turn from these vanities (vain things)] “Vanity” is a name of constant use in the Old Test. for the false gods of the heathen. See 1 Samuel 12:21 .

16 . who in times past ( by-gone generations ) suffered all nations ( all the heathen ) to walk in their own ways ] God had chosen Israel only for His own people before the coming of Christ, and had given to the rest of the world no revelation of Himself except what they could read in the pages of the book of nature. But that, St Paul says, spake clearly of a careful creator and preserver of the world.

17 . he left not himself without witness ] This is the same argument which the Apostle employs (17:27) to the more philosophic multitude whom he addressed on Mars’ hill. God’s natural teaching is meant to speak alike to all men. Cp. also the similar reasoning in Romans 1:19 , Romans 1:20 .

and gave us rain ] The oldest MSS. read “gave you ,” and this is the more natural language, for the Apostle could not include himself among those to whom God’s appeal was made through the gifts of nature only.

A few rather unusual words and forms which occur in this verse have suggested to some that we have here a fragment of a Greek poem on the bounties of nature, which the Apostle quotes, as he sometimes does quote the Greek poets, to illustrate his speech from the language familiar to his hearers. Attempts have therefore been made to arrange the words into some dithyrambic metre. But it is hardly probable that St Paul would quote Greek poetry to the people in Lycaonia, to whom Greek was not sufficiently familiar for them to appreciate its literature to the extent which this supposition presumes, and certainly the other quotations which he makes from Greek authors (Acts 17:28 ; 1 Corinthians 15:33 ; Titus 1:12 ) are used to much more cultured audiences.

18 . that they had not done sacrifice unto them ] i.e. “from doing sacrifice,” &c.

19 28 . Change of feeling in the multitude. Paul is stoned. The Apostles visit Derbe, and then return, by the route by which they came, to Antioch in Syria

19 . certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium ] Their anger, like that of “the circumcision” in Jerusalem, was roused against the Apostles, whom they knew to be born Jews, but who were casting away the legal restraints to which they themselves clung, and so they followed them to other places and represented them no doubt as renegade Jews, and probably taught the heathen people, that what they had seen done was done by evil powers and not by beneficent ones. Some such argument they must have used. The mighty work of the cured cripple bore witness for the reality of the Apostles’ power. It was only left, therefore, to ascribe it to evil agency, as the Jews aforetime said of Christ “He casteth out devils through Beelzebub.”

who persuaded the people ] Dean Howson ( Life and Epp. of St Paul , i. 208) quotes from the Scholiast on Homer ( Il . iv. 89 92) a passage in which the Lycaonians are described as untrustworthy, and Aristotle is given as authority for the statement. For a similar sudden change of temper in the populace, cp. the conduct of the multitude at Jerusalem just before the Crucifixion, and the sudden change of opinion in the people of Melita (Acts 28:6 ).

and, having stoned Paul ] Their jealous rage carried them to such a length that they became themselves the active agents in taking vengeance on the “chief speaker” of the two missionaries. This must be the stoning to which St Paul alludes (2 Corinthians 11:25 ), “Once was I stoned.” And Paley ( Horæ Paulinæ , p. 69) calls attention to the close agreement between the history of St Luke and the letter of St Paul. At Iconium St Paul had just escaped stoning; at Lystra he was stoned. The two circumstances are mentioned by the historian, only the actual suffering by the Apostle himself. Nothing but truth to guide them, says Paley, could have brought the two writers so close “to the very brink of contradiction without their falling into it.”

drew him out of the city ] The stoning had not been in a place set apart for such executions, for there were few Jews in Lystra, but it had been done publicly in the midst of the city, perhaps in the place of public resort where St Paul had been wont to preach.

20 . as the disciples stood round about him ] Among these we may well believe that the young Timothy was included. Braving all danger that might attend on their act, the believers at Lystra gathered about what they deemed the corpse of their teacher, and their sorrowing thoughts were perhaps concerned how they might procure it reverent burial.

he rose up ] The Greek conveys the impression that this was as a resurrection from the dead, and that the restoration of the Apostle, and his immediate exhibition of vigour, and boldness to enter again into the city, was the effect of a miracle. That one stoned and left for dead by a savage mob should revive and go about as if nothing had befallen him must have been a still more striking evidence of the mighty power of God present with these teachers than what the people had seen before in the restoration of the cripple.

and the next day he departed ] Having been sheltered for the night in the house of some disciple, perhaps in that of Eunice and Lois, the mother and grandmother of Timothy, of whose faith the Apostle speaks (2 Timothy 1:5 ) as one who has been witness of its fruits in their lives.

with Barnabas to Derbe ] Barnabas had not been an object of jealousy of the Jews. His power, though great as the “son of exhortation or consolation,” was not so demonstrative as that of his fellow-Apostle. Derbe, the town to which the Apostles next went, was to the east of Lystra. We have no mention of any other places in Lycaonia than these two as visited by Paul and Barnabas, but from v. 6 we gather that their preaching was extended to other parts of the surrounding country.

21 . and had taught many ] Better, “and had made many disciples.” Perhaps “Gaius of Derbe,” whom St Luke mentions as one of Paul’s companions in a subsequent journey (20:4), may have been one of these. This is the more probable because he is there mentioned in the same clause with Timothy, who undoubtedly was converted by St Paul during this visit to Lycaonia.

they returned again ] Going back over the ground which they had travelled before, that they might provide for the spread of that seed of the word which they had imperilled themselves so greatly to sow.

22 . confirming the souls of the disciples ] The strengthening indicated by this word is that which Peter was charged to afford to his fellow-disciples. “When thou art converted strengthen thy brethren,” i.e. by warnings and exhortations drawn from thy own trials and thy deliverance from them. We see that this was the purport of St Paul’s charge to the Churches.

and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God ] From the use of the pronoun “we” in this sentence some have thought that, although unmentioned, the writer of the Acts was present with Paul and Barnabas in this first missionary journey as well as in the others. St Luke only indicates his presence at Troas and elsewhere in the same manner (16:10 12, &c.), though in those passages the mention is more conclusive than in the verse before us.

23 . elders in every church ] i.e. men who should have the oversight, and care for the growth, of these infant Churches.

and had prayed with fasting ] using the same solemn service at the dedication of these men to their duties which had been used when they were themselves sent forth from Antioch for their present labour (13:3).

they commended them to the Lord ] Cp. St Paul’s parting commendation of the elders of Ephesus who had come to meet him at Miletus (20:32). The Lord was able here also to build these men up, and to give them an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

25 . when they had preached ( spoken ) the word in Perga ] which they do not appear to have done when they passed through it before. See 13:13, 14, note.

Attalia ] A seaport of Pamphylia, at the mouth of the river Catarrhactes. For its history see Dictionary of the Bible . The Apostles had sailed, as they came from Paphos, directly to Perga, which they reached by coming some way up the river Cestrus. Now they go by land from Perga to the seacoast at Attalia, where there was more likelihood of finding a vessel in which they could sail into Syria.

26 . from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God ] Better, “had been commended.” The verb is not the same as in v. 23, but the sense is. The old English verb “recommended” had the meaning which now belongs only to “commend.”

27 . and had gathered the church together ] i.e. the Christian congregation at Antioch who had been moved by the Spirit (13:2) to send them forth. It was fitting therefore that to them should be made a declaration of the results of the Apostolic mission.

opened the door of faith ] i.e. had made faith the ground of admission to His kingdom. It was now no longer through circumcision that men should enter in and be known as God’s people, but the Gospel privileges were offered to every one that believed.

28 . And there they abode long time with the disciples ] The oldest MSS. omit “there.” Render literally, “And they abode no little time with the disciples.” St Paul was naturally more attached to Antioch than to Jerusalem, for here was the centre where Gentiles had first formed a Church, and where consequently he found most sympathy with his special labours.

The termination of St Paul’s first missionary journey seems no unfitting place for a notice of the character of the Apostle’s labours. We must assign a space of three or four years to this first mission, and as the district traversed was but small, a considerable time must have been spent at each place chosen for a centre of labour. The narrative of St Luke indicates this very clearly. He tells us (13:49) how from Antioch “the word of the Lord was published throughout all the religion.” Again he speaks (13:52, 14:22) of “the disciples” as though converts had been made in no small numbers. Then at Iconium he mentions (14:1) that “a great multitude both of Jews and Greeks believed,” and (14:3) that “long time” was spent there in striving to overcome the opposition of the “unbelieving Jews,” and at last the whole city appears to have been divided into two great factions. Such a result was not produced by two unknown Jewish missionaries, except after the lapse of a long time. So too at Lystra they abode long enough to gain many adherents, and form a congregation of earnest disciples. And the abundant fruit of the labours of the missionaries is clearly seen in the need for the ordination of elders, and in the provisions made for orderly church government. The language of St Paul too (15:36) when he speaks of revisiting “the brethren in every city where they had before preached the word of the Lord” indicates that he felt that a good foundation had been laid in the different places where they had ministered. It seems from this that the course adopted by the Apostle was to tarry in some centre of population, and continue his preaching till a sufficient number of converts had been gained to carry on the work after he left them, and till some of these were so far instructed as to be able to take oversight of the infant churches.

But it is when we read of the Christian congregations that the narrative of St Luke becomes most full of interest. St Paul had been by a revelation (Acts 22:21 ) sent to be the Apostle of the Gentiles, and he testifies himself to this statement of St Luke in his Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 2:7 ). Yet the history shews him to us quite in harmony with the feelings expressed in his letter to the Romans (10:1) as one whose heart’s desire for Israel is that they may be saved; and in full accord with that language in which in the same epistle (11:1) he identifies himself with the children of Israel. Throughout all this missionary journey St Paul never neglects to publish the message of salvation first to his own people. No, not even after repeated rejections of his teaching. In Cyprus he and Barnabas are mentioned as going first to the synagogue at Salamis. To the Gentiles they preached with much effect, but the Jews had heard their doctrine first. At Antioch they began their mission work in the synagogue, where they took their places as members of the Jewish congregation, and were invited by the rulers to address the assembly as being brethren and of the same faith. This address, which St Luke has preserved for us in substance, echoes more than once the language of the Epistle to the Romans. If in the epistle (3:18) St Paul says “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law,” St Luke relates (Acts 13:39 ) how he said to the Jews of Antioch in precisely similar terms, “By Him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses.” So too just as the Apostle explains to the Romans (10:19) that the purpose of God had been to rouse His ancient people to jealousy by them that are no people, so to the Antiochene Jews (Acts 13:46 ) is he represented as saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should have been first spoken to you, but seeing ye judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” And the action is just in the same spirit as the language which is used in Romans 1:16 . There the Gospel is proclaimed to be the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, but the order in which it is offered is “to the Jew first and afterwards to the Gentiles.”

To compare in this way the language of St Paul’s chief epistle with the abstracts of his speeches in the Acts is of much importance. For some have been found to maintain that the St Paul of the Epistles is a very different teacher from the Apostle whose history is recorded in the Acts. Those passages in the letters where St Paul speaks so severely of the opposition which he experienced from the Jews have been unduly dwelt on, and the theory of two sections in the early Church (a Pauline and a Petrine party) has been widely accepted, and the Acts described as a work of late date written with a view to bring about harmony between them. We cannot therefore dwell too often on all those points in the narrative of St Luke which find a counterpart in the letters of St Paul. And the farther such a comparison be carried on the more will it be apparent that the agreement between the Apostle and the historian exists because the latter is faithful to what he saw and heard, and so his record cannot but harmonize with the spirit and words of the chief actor in the history.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 14". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.