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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 14

 

 

Verse 1

Acts 14:1. And it came to pass in Iconium — Whither Paul and Barnabas were forced to retire from Antioch; that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews — To whom they were still disposed to make the first offer of the gospel: for though the Jews at Antioch had used them cruelly, yet they would not therefore decline preaching to the Jews at Iconium, who, perhaps, might be better disposed. Let not those of any denomination be condemned in the gross; nor any individuals of mankind, of whatever sect or party, suffer for the faults of others; rather let us do good to those whose friends and associates, or who themselves, have done evil to us; and they so spake — On the great subject of the gospel salvation; spake so plainly, so convincingly, so warmly, so affectionately, and with such manifest concern for the souls of men, and especially with such evident demonstration of the Spirit and power; that a great multitude, both of the Jews and Greeks, believed — By the Greeks here, we are to understand, not the Hellenists, or persons of Jewish extraction, who spoke the Greek language, but the Gentile Greeks, descended from heathen ancestors. Most of these, being now found in the synagogue of the Jews, were, without doubt, religious proselytes, though probably not circumcised; for few of the idolaters frequented the Jewish synagogues. It is not improbable, however, that the fame of such extraordinary teachers as Paul and Barnabas might, on this occasion, draw together many people who did not usually worship in the synagogues. From the Jews and proselytes being so numerous in Iconium, we may infer that it was a very great and populous city.


Verses 2-4

Acts 14:2-4. But the unbelieving Jews — Who were greatly provoked at the growing success of the gospel, and studied all they could to put a stop to its progress; stirred up the Gentiles — The idolatrous Gentiles, the heathen inhabitants of the place; and made their minds evil affected — Greek, εκακωσαν τας ψυχας, irritated; or, exasperated their souls against the brethren — Against the disciples of Christ, and especially against those celebrated teachers of a religion against which they had imbibed strong prejudices. Long time, therefore, abode they — Namely, Paul and Barnabas; speaking boldly in the Lord — Because the minds of the Gentiles were so filled with prejudice and malignity against them, one would have thought, that therefore they should have withdrawn and hastened out of the way; or, if they had preached, should have preached cautiously, for fear of giving further provocation to those who were already sufficiently enraged: no, but the contrary; therefore they abode there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord: the more they perceived the spirit and rancour of the town against the new converts, the more they were animated to go on in their work, and the more needful they saw it to continue among them, to confirm them in the faith, and to comfort them. Who gave testimony unto the word of his grace — Which they delivered, working with them according to his promise, Lo, I am with you always: and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands — Which were of great use to confirm the faith of the new converts, and to prevail with many others to receive the gospel, and which might have convinced all the inhabitants, if they had exercised a becoming candour. But the multitude of the city was divided — Into two parties, and both very active and vigorous: among the rulers and persons of rank, and among the common people, there were some that held with the unbelieving Jews, and others that held with the apostles. It seems this business of the preaching of the gospel was so universally taken notice of with concern, that almost every adult person, even of the multitude of the city, was either for it or against it; none stood neuter: all were either for them or their enemies; for God or Baal; for Christ or Beelzebub.


Verses 5-7

Acts 14:5-7. And when there was an assault made — Or was about to be made; both of the Gentiles, and the Jews — Who, though generally at enmity with one another, yet were united against the Christians, as Herod and Pontius Pilate, the Pharisees and Sadducees, against Christ. If the churches enemies can unite for its destruction, shall not its friends, laying aside all personal feuds, unite for its preservation? To use them despitefully — To expose them to disgrace; and then to stone, and put them to death: and thus they hoped to ruin their cause. They were aware of it — When the project was just ripe for execution, Paul and Barnabas received intelligence of it, and prevented the bloody attempt by withdrawing from thence; they fled unto Lystra first, and then to Derbe; and after that to the region that lay round Lycaonia, namely, the region of Phrygia and Galatia. In thus fleeing from their persecutors they followed their Master’s advice, who directed them, when persecuted in one city, to flee unto another: for though he enabled them to work miracles for the confirmation of the gospel, he gave them no power of working any to save themselves from persecution. And there they preached κακει ησαν ευαγγελιζομενοι, and there they were preaching; the gospel — And that, it appears, in a very successful manner, so that the church was still increased by the very methods taken to destroy it.


Verses 8-10

Acts 14:8-10. And there sat, &c. — To the general account of the apostle’s labours given above, the historian here subjoins a particular relation of some memorable events which happened at Lystra. There sat a man impotent in his feet — Disabled, as the word is, to that degree, that it was impossible he should set his feet to the ground, or lay any stress upon them; being — As was well known, a cripple from his mother’s womb. This same man heard Paul speak — Having, it seems, been laid in some place of public resort, to beg alms of such as passed by, near where Paul was discoursing; who steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving — By the ardour and humility expressed in his countenance, or by the gift of discerning spirits which he possessed; that he had faith to be healed — Had a degree of confidence in his soul, that the Jesus whom Paul preached could and would heal him: Paul probably finding at the same time in himself that the power of Christ was to be displayed on this occasion; said with a loud voice — In the hearing of all that were assembled there, as one that was conscious of the divine authority by which he then acted; Stand, &c. — Or, as is certainly implied, and as some copies read, I say unto thee, in the name of the Lord Jesus, stand upright on thy feet — And power went along with this word; for the lame man immediately leaped and walked — Thus showing that he was perfectly cured.


Verse 11-12

Acts 14:11-12. And when the people — Who were present when this wonderful cure was wrought; saw what Paul had done — By merely speaking a word, being all in raptures of astonishment; they lifted up their voices — In loud acclamations; saying, The gods are come down — Which the heathen supposed they frequently did, Jupiter especially. But how amazingly does the prince of darkness blind the minds of them that believe not! The Jews would not own Christ’s Godhead, though they saw him work numberless miracles: but these heathen, seeing mere men work one miracle, were for deifying them immediately! And they called Barnabas, Jupiter, &c. — Chrysostom observes, that the heathen represented Jupiter as an old, but vigorous man, of a noble and majestic aspect, and large robust make; which, therefore, he supposes might be the form of Barnabas: whereas Mercury appeared young, little, and nimble, as Paul might probably do, for he was yet but a young man. The reason, however, given by Luke is different, namely; because he was, ο ηγουμενος του λογου, the chief speaker, or, the leader of the discourse; on which account, they thought it more probable that he was Mercury, their god of eloquence.


Verses 13-17

Acts 14:13-17. Then the priest of Jupiter — Who was esteemed the tutelar deity of that place, and whose statue stood just without the gate; brought oxen, or bulls rather, and garlands — To put on the victims; the usual offerings to Jupiter; to the gates — Of the place where Paul and Barnabas were; and would have done sacrifice to them — To acknowledge the obligation they were under to them for this condescending and beneficent visit, and to take this opportunity of imploring their continued protection in their public and private affairs. Which when the apostles heard — As they were leading on the sacrificial procession toward them; they rent their clothes — In token of that mixture of indignation and sorrow with which they beheld this strange abuse of a miracle, wrought to destroy that idolatry, which from thence they took occasion to practise; and ran in among the people, crying — With the greatest vehemence, as in a fire, or other sudden and great danger; Sirs, why do ye these things — With regard to us? We are not what you imagine us to be; but men of like passions with you — Obnoxious to the same common infirmities of human life with yourselves; and preach that ye should turn from these vanities — From worshipping any but the true God. He does not deign to call them gods; unto the living God — Not like these dead idols; who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea — Each of which they supposed to have its own gods. Who in time past — He prevents their objecting, “But if these things were so, we should have heard them from our fathers;” steered all nations to walk in their own ways — In the idolatries which they had chosen, without instructing them by divinely-inspired teachers; which was an awful, but just judgment upon them. Observe, the multitude of them that err, does not turn error into truth. Though all nations practised idolatry, yet every kind and species of it is founded on a lie. Nevertheless — Though even then; he left not himself without witness — Of his being, perfections, and providence, in any country. Besides the witness for God within them, the dictates of conscience, they had witnesses for God around them, in the bounties of his providence. Their not having inspired teachers among them, nor the Holy Scriptures, did in part excuse them; and therefore God did not destroy them for their idolatry, as he did the Jewish nation. But that did not wholly excuse them; notwithstanding it they were deeply criminal before God: for there were other witnesses for God, sufficient to inform them that he, and he only, was to be worshipped; and that to him they owed all their services, from whom they received all their comforts, and therefore were guilty of the highest injustice and ingratitude imaginable, in alienating their services from him. In that he did good — To all his creatures, with a bountiful hand, and especially to mankind. Even by punishments God testifies of himself: but more peculiarly by benefits. And gave us — All, whether Jews or Gentiles; rain from heaven and fruitful seasons — Which could not come by chance, nor were caused by the vain idols of the heathen. Observe, reader, 1st, All the powers of nature witness to us a sovereign power in the God of nature, from whom they are derived, and on whom they depend. It is not the heaven that gives us rain, but God that gives us rain from heaven. 2d, The benefits which we have, by these powers of nature, witness to us that we ought to make our acknowledgments, not to the creatures that are made serviceable to us, but to the Creator, who makes them so. God seems to reckon the instances of his goodness to be more cogent proofs of his title to our homage and adoration, than the evidences of his greatness; for his goodness is his glory. “As a friend, in sending us frequent presents, expresses his remembrance of us and affection to us, though he neither speak nor write to us; so all the gifts of the divine bounty, which are scattered abroad on every side, are so many witnesses sent to attest the divine care and goodness, and they speak it in very sensible language to the heart, though not to the ear.” And with these sayings — Plain and reasonable as they were; scarce restrained they the people — From their purpose of sacrificing to them. So strongly were idolaters in love with their idolatrous practices!


Verse 19

Acts 14:19. There came, &c. — The sacred historian now proceeds to give us a remarkable instance of the fickleness of the multitude. Soon after Paul and Barnabas had put a stop to that undue respect which the people at Lystra would have shown them, on account of the above-mentioned miraculous cure which they had wrought, and had instructed them to worship none but the true God; certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium — Came thither, having heard, it is likely, of the respect that was shown there to Paul and Barnabas, and incensed the people against them, persuading them to disbelieve their doctrine, and representing them as impostors; perhaps as two wicked magicians, who were endeavouring to overturn every thing sacred, both among the Jews and the Gentiles; or, at least, as seditious and dangerous persons, who ought not to be harboured. In this way they soon prejudiced the minds of the populace to such a degree against them, that the very people who but just before would have adored them as deities, now rose in a tumultuous manner to put them to death as malefactors; being moved with equal ease either to adore or murder them. So short-lived are human passions not governed by reason and principle! Thus, Israel fell into idolatry within forty days from God’s giving them the law from mount Sinai. Nor could Paul expect any better treatment, when he considered that the same multitude who applauded Christ as king of the Jews, and followed him with their acclamations, about six days after, petitioned Pilate that he might be crucified! And having stoned Paul

Not in consequence of a judicial sentence, passed by any magistrates, but in a popular tumult in the streets, they drew — Or dragged, him out of the city, supposing he had been dead — It seems, they left his body exposed to the open air, intending that he, to whom a few days before they would have sacrificed oxen, should be himself a prey to wild beasts or birds! Probably, says Dr. Doddridge, there might be something extraordinary in the appearance of his body in this circumstance, which led them to conclude he was dead while he was yet alive; for one can hardly imagine that they would have been contented with any very slight and transient inquiry whether he were dead or not. It is observable we read of no such injury offered to Barnabas, who seems to have had no share in the effects of this popular fury; probably Paul’s distinguished zeal marked him out as the object of their distinguished cruelty. Thus, in his turn, did Paul suffer the very punishment which he had been so active in bringing upon the blessed martyr, Stephen! And, doubtless, the recollection of that affair helped very much to reconcile him to what had now befallen him.


Verse 20

Acts 14:20. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round — For there were some here at Lystra that became disciples, having found the mean between deifying the apostles and rejecting them. And though Paul’s enemies left him for dead, yet these would not leave him, but stood round about his body, having courage to own him when he was thus cruelly treated, though they had reason enough to fear, that the same persons that stoned him might stone them for manifesting such regard for him. Probably they stood considering how they should perform the last office of affection to him, in bearing him to his funeral with proper respect. Unexpectedly, however, while they were considering of this, to their unspeakable surprise, he rose up — As in perfect health; and went into the city — That just after he had been stoned, dragged about the streets and left for dead, he should be able to rise and walk back into the city, must certainly be the effect of a miraculous cure, approaching as near as one can conceive to a resurrection from the dead. This was the more illustrated by his going the next day to Derbe; whereas, in the course of nature, he would then have felt his bruises much more than at first; and probably, after the best care that could have been taken of him, would hardly have been able to move. Probably by going into the city, and showing himself to the new converts, at least, if not to others, he hoped, as he reasonably might, to confirm their faith in, and their courageous attachment to, the gospel.


Verse 21-22

Acts 14:21-22. And when they had preached, and taught many — Namely, at Derbe; and, it seems also, in Galatia and Phrygia: see Colossians 4:13. Greek, μαθητευσαντες ικανους, having made many disciples; they returned again to Lystra, &c. — Being doubtless directed so to do by the Spirit; confirming the souls of the disciples — Whom they had converted in their former journey; exhorting them to continue in the faith — With a steadfastness becoming the evidence and importance of it; and testifying that we must through much tribulation — Which will unavoidably lie in our way; enter into the kingdom of God — A kingdom which, however, will amply recompense us for all the sufferings that we shall meet with in our way to it. “The cross was eminently the way to the crown in those days: the Head, says Zanchy, having been crowned with thorns, it is not fit the feet should tread on roses: — an easy way to heaven is a false one.”


Verse 23

Acts 14:23. And when they had ordained elders — Or, presbyters, termed επισκοπους, bishops, or overseers, Acts 20:28; in every church — Out of those who were themselves but lately converted. So soon can God enable even a babe in Christ to build up others in the common faith; and prayed with fasting — That a blessing might attend their inspection and labours; they commended them to the Lord — To the direction, guardianship, and care of the Lord Jesus; on whom they believed — As able to guide and assist them in, and bless their endeavours for, the edification of his people. This custom of ordaining elders in the churches which he planted, Paul invariably observed, in order that the brethren, being united together, under the direction of stated teachers and leaders, might increase the more in grace, especially in mutual love, and be the better enabled to sustain persecution for the gospel.


Verses 24-26

Acts 14:24-26. After they had passed through Pisidia, &c. — Paul and Barnabas having, on their return from Phrygia and Galatia, visited all the cities of Lycaonia and Pisidia, where they had formerly planted churches, they came at length to Perga, in Pamphylia — Where they spent some time in preaching the word; probably because they had remained there but a short space formerly. And having thus revisited all those cities, and given the churches in them their due form; they came down to Attalia — A sea- port town below Perga; and thence sailed to Antioch — In Syria; from whence they had — By the divine appointment; been recommended — In a very solemn manner; (Acts 13:2-3;) to the grace of God — To his favour, aid, and blessing; for the work which they had fulfilled — And where, therefore, they were very desirous both of rendering a particular account of their ministry to their brethren in that church, and also of returning their grateful acknowledgments with them to the divine providence and grace, to which they owed their safety amidst so many extreme dangers, and their success in such difficult labours.


Verse 27-28

Acts 14:27-28. And when they had gathered the church together — It is probable the Christians at Antioch were more than ordinarily met, or could meet, in one place; but on this occasion they called together the leading persons of them, particularly the ministers and deacons, here termed the church, as the heads of the tribes are often called the congregation of Israel, in the books of Moses. Or, perhaps, as many of the people as the place of meeting could contain, came together on this occasion. They rehearsed all that God had done with, or by, them — In the whole of their voyages and journeys, in all the countries through which they had passed. The same expression is used Acts 15:4; but it is explained, (Acts 14:12) of the miracles and wonders which God had wrought among the Gentiles by them; of which wonders the chief, no doubt, was, that God had communicated the Holy Ghost to the Gentile converts, and thereby declared his acceptance of them without circumcision; and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles — Who had continued so long in ignorance, idolatry, and misery; making the gospel to shine into their hearts, and graciously receiving them into the number of his people.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 14:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-14.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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