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Bible Commentaries
Acts 14

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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This chapter marks the conclusion of Paul’s first missionary journey. The trip has not been without hardships; but, as will be seen in this chapter, for Paul the worst is yet to come.

The length of time Paul and company had spent in Antioch of Pisidia included at least ’the whole winter of A.D. 46-47...’ Scholars are uncertain as to the exact duration of Paul’s labors at any given place on this first tour, and also as to the time of the whole tour, their educated guesses ranging from one to three years. All that is certainly known is that it took place in the period A.D. 45-50. Certainly Paul stayed long enough in Pisidian Antioch to teach and firmly establish the church there (Coffman 271).

Verse 1

And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.

And it came to pass in Iconium: Undaunted by their hostile reception in Antioch, these good soldiers of the cross press on searching for the "good ground" (Mark 4:8).

Driven out of Antioch by the persecution of the Jews, they went on sixty miles eastward to Iconium, a large city, still in existence as Konieh, and in the Middle Ages the capital of a powerful Mohammedan kingdom. This region, in the apostle’s time, was independent of the Roman Empire (Hurlbut 115).

that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews: Once again, Paul and Barnabas take advantage of the audience of both Jews and Gentiles who have gathered at the synagogue.

and so spake: It can be easily determined from previous examples of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas that the theme of the message is Jesus Christ as Messiah and Saviour, but the intensity and passion with which these men "so spake" can only be imagined. The end result is, "so then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). As a result, "a great multitude ... believed."

It should be remembered by all who would be preachers that the purpose of preaching is not merely to preach but to "so" preach that sinners are convicted of their sins and the saved are encouraged to strive onward and upward for the "prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).

that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks: This stirring message delivered by the disciples has telling results upon the audience. Many, both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles–in this case most likely Greek proselytes), are led to obedience.

believed: The fact that Luke mentions only that these "believed" does not imply the false doctrine of salvation by "faith only," nor does it preclude the necessity of obedience to the steps of repentance, confession, and baptism as the scriptures require for salvation (Luke 13:3; Matthew 10:32; Mark 16:16)."Wherever such an expression is used in the NT, ’believed’ is a figure of speech standing for all that is involved in becoming a Christian" (Coffman 273). (For a more complete commentary on salvation by faith, see notes on 10:43.)

Verse 2

But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.

But the unbelieving Jews: There are those in Paul’s audience who are blinded by Jewish prejudice against Jesus; these steadfastly resist obedience to the gospel. Boles says:

The Jews who disbelieved were the "disobedient" Jews who "stirred up the souls of the Gentiles" against Paul and Barnabus. To disbelieve is to disobey, and to believe usually means to obey."Disobedient" comes from the Greek "apeithesantes," and means "to be unwilling to be persuaded, " or to withhold belief, and then also to withhold obedience; they refused to allow themselves to be persuaded by the truth preached by Paul and Barnabas. They used their influence on the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas; through these disbelieving and disobedient Jews the Gentiles were disposed not to hear the gospel, but to help persecute the preachers of the gospel (220).

This attitude is seen among many so-called religious people of today. They will not yield to the truth; and, worse yet, they do all that is possible to hinder those who might obey the truth. Nothing has changed since the first century when Jesus described the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees thusly:

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).

stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren: These rabble-rousing Jews excite the minds of the Gentiles to do evil to the disciples. It is usually an easy task to get simple-minded humans to attack something or someone they do not understand.

Verse 3

Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

Long time therefore abode they: The term "long time" is a relative statement. It is uncertain if this statement refers to a week, a month, six months; a guess would be that this "long time" is over a period of two or three months.

speaking boldly in the Lord: Without fear and in the very face of their opposition, these two men of God "boldly" preach the gospel.

which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands: Jesus promises to "confirm the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20). This confirmation is being done here at Iconium; Paul and Barnabus are preaching the word and confirming that this word must have come from God by performing wonders of which only God is capable. The very purpose of miracles is to confirm the word. When the word is completely written down and confirmed, the purpose for miracles ceases (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). (For more information on the purpose of miracles, see notes on 2:17 and 4:30.)

Verse 4

But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.

Anywhere the gospel is preached, it produces a division. The division in which one finds himself depends on whether the word is accepted or rejected. The gospel divides saints from sinners, the righteous from the unrighteous, the lost from the saved. Jesus says, "I have not come to send peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:34) and"the father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter…" (Luke 12:53).

This is a good place to make a comment about the use of the term "apostle." This is the first time the title of "apostle" is used to refer to Paul. Here both Paul and Barnabas are called "apostles, " but it should be understood that only Paul is an apostle in the same sense as were the twelve original apostles. Although he does not meet the requirements as stated by Peter to be one of the original twelve ("having companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" Acts 1:21-22), Paul is commissioned directly by the Lord Jesus Himself to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. Barnabas is an apostle in the secondary sense of the word, that being "one sent forth" (Vine, Vol. I 63). The term "apostle" may be used for anyone who would be considered as a missionary or a messenger.

Paul used the word and applied it to James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19); to Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25) as messenger of the church in Philippi; to Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:6; Acts 18:5); and to Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:6-7). He even calls the Judaizing teachers "false apostles." (2 Corinthians 11:13) (Boles 221).

Verse 5

And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them,

And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers: The bold effort of the apostles to preach the gospel has the city in a turmoil. Iconium is divided in its reception to these two preachers. McGarvey says:

Here, as in Antioch, the Jews dared not use violence toward the preachers, for fear that they would themselves suffer as disturbers of the peace; so they worked through others until they gained the cooperation of the city rulers... As in all such cases, although the multitude of the city was divided, the party for truth and right were less active than the party for injustice; and, because they were for the right, they were not willing to use violence (Vol. II 38).

to use them despitefully: The Jews are not satisfied just to stone the disciples. They want to further abuse them with wanton insults and outrage. Paul will later use the word, "injurious" derived from this same word (despitefully) to describe his own conduct as a persecutor of the Lord’s people (1 Timothy 1:13).

and to stone them: This brutal and inexact science of putting one to death is the chosen method of the Jews.

Verse 6

They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about:

They were ware of it: As this unruly mob begins to boil and clamor for the blood of Paul and Barnabas, they are made aware of the impending plot. Before the plan to have the disciples stoned can be executed, they are able to escape toward the wild and desolate country to the southeast.

and fled unto Lystra: The exact location of the city of Lystra is debatable. Most scholars believe it was about eighteen miles south of Iconium.

and Derbe: As is the case with Lystra, the exact location of Derbe is unknown. It is generally accepted that Derbe was about twenty miles to the east of Lystra. This is the farthest point reached by the apostles on this first journey.

cities of Lycaonia: For the reader to appreciate fully the circumstances in which the apostles find themselves, information on the geography and character of the country will be useful. Lycaonia is one of the provinces of Asia Minor, an area often referred to as a part of the region of Galatia. The very name Lycaonia interpreted traditionally as Wolf-land (the local legend derived it from Lycaon who had been transformed into a wolf) represented but too faithfully the character of the inhabitants" (Plumptre 89).

The district of Lycaonia extends from the ridges of Mount Taurus and the borders of Cilicia, on the south, to the Cappadocian hills, on the north. It is a bare and dreary region, unwatered by streams, though in parts liable to occasional inundations. ...In this respect there must be a close resemblance between this country and large tracts of Australia (Conybeare and Howson 165).

This wild and uncivilized country is inhabited by an equally wild and mostly uncivilized people. The chief benefit of the land is pasture for vast herds of sheep, which produce a large trade in wool.

and unto the region that lieth round about: There is no mention of a synagogue in either of these cities, probably because of the small population of Jews in the area; therefore, the apostles take advantage of any opportunity to gather a crowd. The gospel is preached "round about" the area. It is likely such preaching included the nomadic tribes who are constantly on the move with their herds of sheep.

Verse 7

And there they preached the gospel.

It would be easy to be discouraged by such people as those who lived in this area. For the most part they are a wild, uneducated, barbaric group of heathens, dominated by idolatry and superstitions (note verses 13 and 14); but here are souls lost in sin. They need a Savior, and Paul and Barnabas are ready to tell them the good news regardless of personal risk. The lesson is there for us today.

Verse 8

And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked:

This "certain man" provides an ideal opportunity for Paul to confirm the gospel that he preaches is from the God of heaven by demonstrating God’s power to heal. So there will be no mistake about the miracle, this man is chosen.

  • He is "impotent in his feet." Literally, he is without strength in his feet.

  • He is a "cripple from his mother’s womb."

  • He has "never walked." It is a well-known fact that this man has never walked.

Verse 9

The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed,

The same heard Paul speak: This poor cripple has the good fortune to hear Paul preach.

who stedfastly beholding him: The intense look that has become a trademark of the Apostle Paul now falls upon this man. This piercing look is used by Paul to separate individuals from the crowd for special attention. This special attention from Paul is sometimes the prelude to a blessing, as is the case here; but this look from Paul can also signal a scathing rebuke that can strip men of their pretense and leave them quaking in their sins (see notes on 13:9).

and perceiving that he had faith to be healed: Paul understands this man not only hears his preaching but he believes. It should be noted that the phrase, "faith to be healed "simply means this cripple believes Paul can heal him. When one of our modern day "faith healers" fails to heal, the excuse is the one being healed does not have enough faith. It should always be remembered that the one being healed does not have to have the faith; rather the one doing the healing is the one required to have faith (see notes on 3:16; 4:30).

Verse 10

Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.

Said with a loud voice: With a "loud voice, "Paul rivets the attention of the crowd upon the crippled man.

Stand upright on thy feet: Paul gives a command that must have been amazing to all concerned. This man, crippled from birth, is about to experience the answer to his prayers. He is ordered to "stand!"

And he leaped and walked: The joy of his healing is obvious. The man "leaps and walks." This miracle, performed by God, is instantaneous: the man is healed (see notes on 3:8)!

Verse 11

And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.

And when the people saw what Paul had done: It takes a few minutes for the meaning of this situation to sink into the minds of this stunned audience. When they finally regain their composure, they draw an amazing conclusion.

they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia: What this language of the "Lycaonia" is has much perplexed commentators. It seems evident the apostles do not understand the dialect and do not realize what the people have in mind until they see the preparation being made to make a sacrifice. Vincent gives the following explanation:

The apostles had been conversing with them in Greek. The fact that the people now spoke in their native tongue explains why Paul and Barnabus did not interfere until they saw the preparations for sacrifice. They did not understand what was being said by the people about their divine character. It was natural that the surprise of the Lystrans should express itself in their own language rather than in a foreign tongue (520).

Verse 12

And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.

And they called Barnabas, Jupiter: Unger provides the following information on the Greek god Jupiter:"Jupiter, the Latin form of Greek, Zeus. In the Italian mythology Jupiter was the highest god in heaven, and identical with the Greek god Zeus... " (415).

and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker: "Mercurius" or Mercury, as he was known by the Romans, was called Hermes by the Greeks. Mercurius was, among other things, the messenger or spokesman of the gods. Bruce gives the following summation:

Zeus was the chief god in the Greek pantheon; Hermes, son of Zeus by Maia, was the herald of the gods. Barnabas may have been identified with Zeus because of his more dignified bearing; Paul, the more animated of the two, was called Hermes "because he was the chief speaker..." 292).

Verse 13

Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people.

Then the priest of Jupiter: The chief leader in the idolatrous worship of Jupiter wastes no time in stepping up to share in the benefits of the miracle just performed by Paul.

which was before their city: This phrase has reference to the temple or image of Jupiter, located just outside of the gate to the city.

Ancient cities were supposed to be under the protection of particular gods; and their image or temple for their worship was placed commonly at a conspicuous place at the entrance to the city (Reese 394).

brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people: Paul and Barnabas are about to become the objects of the worship of these heathen. The idolators make their way to them, leading "bulls," for each of the "gods."

The "bulls" horns are festooned with "garlands" "commonly made of white wool, sometimes interwoven with leaves and flowers."The sacrifice is accomplished by "cutting the throats of the oxen, catching the blood in a patera, or deep dish, and pouring the blood on the alter" (Plumptre 90).

Verse 14

Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,

Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of: As noted above (verse 11), because of the strange dialect used by these people, it is a few minutes before the disciples understand the intentions of the crowd.

they rent their clothes: To "rent" or rend (tear) one’s clothing is a sign often used by the Jews to indicate grief. Paul here grieves that these people would worship him as a god (see Genesis 37:29-34; 2 Samuel 3:31; 2 Kings 5:7; Matthew 26:65).

and ran in among the people, crying out: The apostles are trying get this pagan ceremony, that is about to take place, stopped. They are running about shouting for the attention of the multitude.

Verse 15

And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you: Paul explains to the crowd that there is no purpose for this effort to worship them because they are not gods, only men.

and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities: Paul identifies the pomp and pageantry of the intended sacrifice as "vanities." "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)" (Plumptre 91). Paul explains the reason for his being there is to preach unto them that they might know the "living God."

unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Paul attempts to focus the mind of his audience away from their dumb and dead idols to the "living God." Until man learns of the "living God, " he is reduced to worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.

Here is the initial pattern for preaching the gospel to pagans. Paul starts at the beginning (Genesis 1:1). This pagan audience with little or no knowledge of the word of God is soon to be introduced to the living God, creator of "heaven and earth and all things therein." What a stark contrast between the God who created the heavens and the earth, and the gods these pagans worship! On the one hand is the God who created all things, and on the other hand the gods who have been made by men!

Verse 16

Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.

Before the coming of Christ and the introduction of salvation through obedience to the New Testament, God allows the Gentiles to go their "own way" while He gives the Jews a stringent set of written laws to keep. One might speculate as to the Divine reasoning behind this arrangement, but it seems to have been to demonstrate to both Jews and Gentiles that they could not rise to the state of righteousness that God desired by their own merit. The ignorance of the heathen Gentile world is allowed to run its course; the law of Moses is allowed to do its incomplete work among the Jews; and now God provides the means of complete salvation through the death of his only begotten Son. Ignorance is no longer "winked" at by God; now one must hear the gospel and be saved by it (see notes on 17:30).

Verse 17

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness: Although God does not give the Gentiles a written confirmation of "Himself, " yet He is not without witnesses. The creation stands in stark testimony to the existence of a Creator. As the Psalmist declared:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork (Psalms 19:1).

Paul goes into greater detail to explain this concept in Romans 1:19-25.

in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness: The goodness of God is revealed in his benevolence toward man. God has not forgotten his promise; He causes rain to fall from heaven that man might have "seedtime and harvest."

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22).

Man, on the other hand, is sometimes like the hog out in the woods; he enjoys the benefits of the acorns, yet he never looks up to see their source. When one "fills his heart with food and gladness, " he should never forget to thank his heavenly Benefactor for the blessings of life.

Verse 18

And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.

Even in view of the arguments presented by the apostles, some of the people of Lystra seem to be determined to honor Paul and Barnabas as gods. It is with great difficult that the disciples "restrained" these zealous idolaters.

Verse 19

And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.

And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium: This is to become a sad pattern that will haunt Paul until his dying day. From this time forward, these children of the devil are never more than a few days behind the apostle. The enemies of Christianity from Antioch and Iconium have joined forces and pursued Paul to Lystra.

who persuaded the people: The fickleness of popular opinion is made evident here. What a reversal of fortune for the Apostle Paul! This same crowd, who has to be restrained to keep them from worshiping Paul as a god, is now convinced to stone him to death. So it is during the life of Jesus. At one time the multitude receives Jesus with the cry of "Hosanna to the highest, " and a few days later the same crowd is clamoring for His blood, saying "let Him be crucified" (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 27:22)!

and, having stoned Paul: What a short commentary on such a dramatic and gruesome event! One can only guess how some of the red journalists of today would record such a story in their tabloids! In utter simplicity, Luke records this vicious, premeditated attack upon Paul. In hopes of silencing this great preacher forever, the crowd falls upon him without mercy and beat him with rocks to the point that they "suppose" he is dead.

drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead: In keeping with the murderous spirit of this mob, one can imagine that after the bloody deed is done, one or more of the perpetrators grab the assumed lifeless body of Paul by an arm or a leg and drag him through the dirt of the streets out the gate of the city to leave his body to whatever fate might befall it.

This is a time in Paul’s life he will never forget. In Paul’s own account of his life, he mentions he was stoned only once; and through it all he "endured" and the "Lord delivered" him (2 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Timothy 3:11).

Verse 20

Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him: This statement indicates the work of Paul and Barnabas is fruitful in Lystra. There are now disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in this pagan town. These disciples are powerless to prevent the attack on Paul, but now they gather around his body, perhaps for the purpose of at least giving him a decent burial.

It is fair to assume that Lois and Eunice and the young man Timothy are in this band of grieving "disciples" who stand "round about" the bruised body of Paul. Timothy obeys the gospel in Lystra, whether he is baptized before or after Paul is stoned is up to the speculation of the reader (16:1).

he rose up, and came into the city; and the next day he departed with Barnabas: The tears of grief shed by this little band of Christians, over the apparent death of this man whom they have come to love, are turned to tears of joy when Paul rises up. The spark of Paul’s life is not extinguished. God will not allow it to be extinguished! He lives to preach again! There is much speculation as to how quickly Paul could have recovered from apparent death to the point that he can stand on his own power and the next day make a trip of about twenty miles. There really needs to be no speculation. As Paul says, "the Lord delivered me" (2 Timothy 3:11). Paul has miraculous help from God.

to Derbe: Derbe is a small town about twenty miles southeast of Lystra. This town is about as far east as one can travel and still be in the "regions of Galatia." From what this writer is able to learn about Derbe, this town was a frontier town with a wild and woolly flavor not unlike the old west of the United States. It well could have been this area Paul refers to when he says, "perils of robbers" (2 Corinthians 11:26). Derbe is the last stop on Paul’s first missionary journey.

Verse 21

And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

And when they had preached the gospel to that city: Apparently the preaching of the gospel receives no opposition in Derbe. How long the disciples labor in this effort is not known.

and had taught many: "Many" in this far flung outpost are "taught" God’s word. It is probable during this time that Gaius, who later will become a traveling companion of Paul, is converted.

they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch: While at Derbe, Paul and company are "quite near the pass in Mount Taurus, known as the Cilician Gates, and could easily have reached Tarsus and thence taken a short voyage home" (Hurlbut 115). But Paul, being more concerned with the welfare of God’s people than with his own safety or comfort, chooses to return by the route he came in order that the infant churches might be strengthened.

Verse 22

Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.

Confirming the souls of the disciples: This "confirming" has nothing to do with the erroneous doctrine of the Roman Catholic church, which believes that one receives the seven sacraments at the time of confirmation.

Of the so-called "seven sacred sacraments, " only two, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, have Greek names, a fact that automatically removes the other five to post-apostolic times and denies them any identification whatever with NT Christianity" (Coffman 283).

Plumptre suggests the word "confirming" should have been rendered "strengthening" as it is in Acts 18:23 (92).

It is Paul’s purpose to encourage and build up these small congregations of Christians who are located in such a wild and pagan environment. One can only imagine the temptations and hardships that will befall these young converts who have broken family and social ties to become Christians. They desperately need strengthening!

and exhorting them to continue in the faith: The churches in the regions of Galatia are "exhorted to continue in the faith," that faith being the "one faith" that produces Christians as opposed to the idolatrous beliefs held by the majority of the population in the area (Ephesians 4:5).

and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God: Paul warns these brethren of the impending trials and persecutions that they will be called upon to endure because of their faith in Jesus Christ. No one should fail to see the sacrifices that our forefathers in Christ made in order to keep the faith. But it should also be understood there are still trials and tribulations to be endured by modern Christians. Satan has not given up; he has only changed his tactics. It is still a desperate struggle to keep the faith, but remember the struggle lasts only "ten days" (Revelation 2:10) – that is, only one short lifetime – and then there is glory forever.

Here the term "kingdom of God" has a broader meaning than simply God’s kingdom or the church on earth of which we all become a member of when we obey the gospel (Matthew 16:18-19). The designation "kingdom of God" may also include heaven, the eternal abode of the saints; this is the case here.

Verse 23

And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

And when they had ordained them elders in every church: This is the first time the ordination of elders is mentioned in the New Testament. Several significant points may be drawn from this statement.

To "ordain" simply means to appoint. It is possible the congregation has some input on the selection of these men as is the case with the "deacons" in Acts 6:3.

The term "elder" does not necessarily indicate old in chronological age. When used in reference to this religious office, the word "elder" refers to religious experience. According to Vine, "elder" comes from the Greek word "Presbuteros, an adjective, the comparative degree of presbus, ...."Vine continues by saying, "presbuteroi indicates their maturity of spiritual experience" (Vol. I 21). The "elders" are also called "bishops" and "pastors" (1 Timothy 3:1; Ephesians 4:11). Each of these names describes a duty of the office or a requirement for the position. "Elder" denotes their experience; a "bishop" by definition is an "overseer" while "pastor" indicates a "shepherd."

It should be noted that a plurality of "elders" is appointed by Paul. This appointment of more than one elder is the scriptural example throughout the New Testament. There may be various reasons for this plurality, but the most obvious one is to avoid a one-man rule in the Lord’s church.

In light of the fact that an elder cannot be a "novice" (1 Timothy 3:6), some question how Paul can appoint "elders in every church" when these churches have been in existence for less than two years. Some could count the time since their origin as a matter of months. McGarvey answers this objection in a most logical way:

If any one is surprised that men were found in these newly founded congregations possessed of the high qualifications for the office laid down by Paul in his epistles to Titus and Timothy, he should remember that although these disciples had been but a comparatively short time in the church, many of them were, in character and knowledge of the Scriptures, the ripest fruits of the Jewish synagogue; and they needed only the additional knowledge which the gospel brought, in order to be models of wisdom and piety for the churches. They were no "novices" in the sense of being newly turned away from wickedness. Cornelius the centurion might represent the class, as respects Gentile converts, and Nathaniel those brought in from the Jews (Vol. II 50-51).

This writer has one final comment on "the appointment of elders in every church." Without contradiction, the appointment of elders is the scriptural way the government of the church is to be established. The apostles quickly accomplish this task in the first century; yet today there are congregations that have been in existence for thirty, forty or more years that still operate without appointing elders to lead the flock. The usual excuse given is "no one qualifies!" If one will study the requirements for elders as given in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, it becomes obvious that the office does not require a "super-human" or a "sinless, perfect Christian." It requires dedicated Christian men who "desire the office of a bishop." To be blunt, every requirement made for an elder should be met by all Christians with these possible exceptions: "husband of one wife, having faithful children, not a novice, apt to teach."

and had prayed with fasting: Prayer and fasting are connected with the service to appoint men to religious offices. This is the case in chapter six in the selection of the seven "deacons" as well as in chapter thirteen when Paul and Barnabas are appointed to their work. Prayer is for the purpose of seeking the approval of God, and fasting is used to concentrate one’s focus on the spiritual matters at hand.

There is no reason to believe this same procedure should not be followed in the appointment of men to the Lord’s work today.

they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed: The apostles, having done all they can do for the welfare of these infant churches, now leave them with their newly appointed leaders in the hands of God.

Verse 24

And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.

The apostles begin to retrace their steps to Perga where they first landed in their trip from Cyprus. (For notes on Pisidia and Pamphylia, see 13:13-14.)

Verse 25

And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:

And when they had preached the word: It is interesting to note that Luke gives no record of Paul’s preaching the word in Perga on his initial visit to the city (13:13-14). But on the return trip, Paul does preach at Perga. One is still left to surmise the results of the gospel in Perga. Often the omissions of the divinely inspired writers tell as much as what is actually written.

in Perga: See notes on Acts 13:13.

they went down into Attalia: Again, it is necessary to surmise the reason for Paul’s move from Perga to Attalia. It is probable that he is unable to get a vessel bound for Antioch from the port at Perga; therefore, he moves overland to the seaport at Attalia.

Attalia is a seaport on the coast of Pamphylia located on the river Katarrhaktes, sixteen miles from Perga. "The city was named after its founder, Attalus Philadelphus, king of Pergamos" (Unger 108). Today the city is known as Adalia.

Verse 26

And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.

The apostles have now come full circle: they are back to where they started, the city of Antioch.

Verse 27

And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.

It is very probable that no word has been heard from the apostles since their departure from Antioch some three or four years before. One can only imagine the excitement of the sponsoring church to discover the first missionaries to the heathen world have returned! It must have been a thrill for Paul to "rehearse" the triumphs of the gospel in this initial thrust to "open the doors of faith to the Gentiles." As McGarvey says, "He who returns from a hard fought field bearing good tidings, pants beneath the burden of his untold story" (Vol. II 52).

The apostles and the church at Antioch have every reason to rejoice as Plumptre says, "... the door of the Father’s house was now opened wider than it had ever been before, and that no man might shut it" (93).

Verse 28

And there they abode long time with the disciples.

There is no way of knowing how much time this "long time" actually is. The first missionary journey is generally thought to have involved most of the time between A.D. 45 to A.D. 50. This time span also includes the time spent at Antioch, which may have been a year or slightly more.


Beginning in Antioch in Syria, Paul and Barnabas go down the Orontes River to Seleucia. From there they sail to Cyprus, landing at Salamis. They cross the island of Cyprus to Paphos from which they sail to Perga. They travel overland to Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derby, and then return by essentially the same route leaving from the port of Attalia. Boles calculates the trip to have been at least 1208 miles (231). It is truly amazing to consider that this trip is through some of the wildest, most inhospitable terrain on earth. The journey is accomplished without the aid of modern transportation, most of the journey being made on foot. One cannot help being impressed by the burning zeal that drove these first century preachers into the remote corners of the ancient world to declare "the power of God unto salvation." May this spirit of evangelism be rekindled in the hearts of modern men that the world might hear the "good news of Jesus Christ."

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 14". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-14.html. 1993-2022.
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