November 8, 2014

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV. The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                

Subtopic A: The First Missionary Journey (Acts 13, 14)                             

                                                                            

Lesson: IV.A.5: Lystra: A Lame Man Healed & the

Reaction Part 2 (14:8-20a)

 

Part 1: A Lame Man Healed (8-10)

Part 2: Paul and Barnabas Paid Homage (11-13)

Part 3: Paul and Barnabas Dismayed (14-18)

Part 4: Paul and Barnabas Rejected (19-20a)

                                                   

 

 

Scripture (Acts 14:11-13; KJV) Part 2

 

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.

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

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.

 

 

Introduction

 

There is a certain absurdity about this passage when compared to the coming of Christ. When Christ, the Son of God, appeared in the likeness of men, and did many miracles, men were so far from doing sacrifice to Him, that they made Him a sacrifice to their pride and malice; but Paul and Barnabas, upon working one miracle, were treated as gods.

 

 

Commentary

 

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.

 

The citizens of Lystra had witnessed a miracle—they saw the Apostle Paul heal a lame man who was well-known to them as he sat near the gates[1] of the Temple of Zeus, just outside the city. God, supernaturally revealed to the apostle that the man had real faith to be healed. When Paul told him to stand upright on his feet, he leaped up and walked, much like the lame man healed by Peter at the Beautiful gate (Acts 3:1-10). Since the miracle had been performed openly, and since Paul had undoubtedly attracted considerable attention by speaking with a loud voice, the people were greatly impressed.

 

There was evidentially no Jewish synagogue in Lystra. There was at least one family of Jewish extractionthere, since Lystra was the home of Timothy and his Jewish mother—He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek” (Acts 16.1). By and large, however, Lystra seems to have consisted primarily of Gentile pagans; and their reaction to the lame man’s healing reflects that background. “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men!” Miracles by themselves do not produce either conviction or faith. They must be accompanied by the Word: “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3). At this point Paul and Barnabas had no inkling of what was transpiring because in their excitement the people fell into their own native Lycaonian[2] dialect[3] (Though they couldn’t understand their words, their actions may have been clear enough.). Their eyes were on Paul and Barnabas. They were really excited about them. This was the first time Paul and Barnabas witnessed almost exclusively to Gentiles.

 

 

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

 

This was a superstitious crowd that interpreted events in light of their own mythology. The citizens of Lystra who had witnessed the miracles assumed Paul and Barnabas were gods who had come down to visit them in the likeness of men, and they thought they knew which gods they were. They were ready to worship them and probably started with Paul. Since he was doing most of the speaking, he must be “Mercurius[4]” (also called Hermes and Mercury), the messenger of the gods. Barnabas was dubbed Jupiter (Zeus), the chief of the gods. Just why Barnabas received this honor Luke did not specify. Perhaps it was because of an ancient legend found in their region that Zeus and Hermes had once descended to earth in human form.

 

It was customary in the Hellenistic age for people in various countries to change the names of their gods to conform to the Greek pantheon[5]. Instead of Zeus and Hermes, the KJV gives Jupiter and Mercurius, the Roman equivalent of the Greek gods.

 

 

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.

 

Paul and Barnabas did begin to sense that something was in the works when the priest of Jupiter (the patron deity of the city) arrived on the scene with bulls for sacrifice that had been decorated with garlands[6] and was about to sacrifice them to Paul and Barnabas, for he too became convinced that a divine visitation had taken place. This was a great opportunity for the priest of Jupiter to become very important and lead the people in honoring their God. The temple evidentially stood just outside the gates of the city, and it is unclear whether the intended sacrifice was to take place at the city gates or before the gates of the temple. The latter would be the more normal procedure. The sacrifice was to be anything but routine, since the victims were garlanded with festive woolen wraths. Only the best for visiting gods! The action of the priest and hearing someone talking in Greek made the apostle fully aware of what was taking place.

 

Something that stands out here is how very fickle these people are. Does it remind you of someone else? In America it is a baseball player one year, then a politician, then a football star, then another politician. By the following year they are all forgotten, and it is someone else new. It is the same way with the preachers. One can preach the Word of God and everyone will acclaim him as a wonderful preacher. Then the next day they are ready to crucify him. Paul and Barnabas had the same experience in Lystra. The same crowd that is ready to worship them will soon stone Paul and drag him from the city supposing he is dead.

 

Consider the perils threatening these men. Perhaps the gravest peril took place in Lystra when men suggested that they should worship them. That is the supreme peril to the Christian worker—to center their spiritual attention, not on Christ, but on His servant. It would have been so easy for Paul and Barnabas to gain power and notoriety; to accept their worship and avoid the persecution and the stones. This is the peril of the missionary. When men bring garlands to worship the missionary, when men suggest his deification, he is in extreme danger. If you would help the missionary, you should pray that he would never accept the garland or the worship of men. This was one of the most sinister times the apostle ever faced, but I don’t believe Paul trembled at any time. He was not seduced by the prospect of gaining power and notoriety because he was living in close fellowship with his Lord.

 

 

 


[1] The gates are either those of the temple or, more probably, of the town, where perhaps the healing of the lame man had taken place, the city gate being the favorite place for crippled beggars to set. The priests would hasten to do sacrifice at the site of the miracle.

[2] Lycaonian was an isolated hill-country dialect, and there are few literary remains of it. Centuries of Hellenistic influence in their area would have given them knowledge of Greek, and they would have had no difficulty in understanding Paul’s koine. As residents of a Roman colony they may have had some familiarity with Latin as well.

[3] Much of the Mediterranean world was bilingual, the people speaking the general language, Greek, and also their native dialect.

[4] "The Roman god Mercury," originally a god of tradesmen and thieves. Later he was associated with Greek Hermes, the god of oratory and the inventor of speech.

[5] The gods of a particular mythology considered collectively

[6] Woolen wreaths placed on the sacrificial animals.

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