Paul and Barnabas at Iconium, 1-7

14:1 The same thing happened in Iconium when Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a large group of both Jews and Greeks believed. 14:2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 14:3 So they stayed there for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands. 14:4 But the population of the city was divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 14:5 When both the Gentiles and the Jews (together with their rulers) made an attempt to mistreat them and stone them, 14:6 Paul and Barnabas learned about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding region. 14:7 There they continued to proclaim the good news.

Iconium – ‘Because the native language of Iconium was Phrygian, Paul and Barnabas may address mainly the Greek-speaking upper social strata, or they may speak through interpreters; (cf. Acts 14:11,14) but it is more likely that most of the crowd understands Greek, even if it is not their first language.’ (NT Background Cmty)

They spoke so effectively – ‘There seems to have been something remarkable in the manner of the apostles’ preaching here, which contributed to their success: They so spoke that a great multitude believed-so plainly, so convincingly, with such an evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, and with such power; they so spoke, so warmly, so affectionately, and with such a manifest concern for the souls of men, that one might perceive they were not only convinced, but filled, with the things they spoke of, and that what they spoke came from the heart and therefore was likely to reach to the heart; they so spoke, so earnestly and so seriously, so boldly and courageously, that those who heard them could not but say that God was with them of a truth. Yet the success was not to be attributed to the manner of their preaching, but to the Spirit of God, who made use of that means.’ (MHC)

A great number of Jews and Gentiles believed – ‘Observe here, that the gospel was now preached to Jews and Gentiles together, and those of each denomination that believed came together into the church. In the close of the foregoing chapter it was preached first to the Jews, and some of them believed, and then to the Gentiles, and some of them believed; but here they are put together, being put upon the same level. The Jews have not so lost their preference as to be thrown behind, only the Gentiles are brought to stand upon even terms with them; both are reconciled to God in one body, (Eph 2:16) and both together admitted into the church without distinction.’ (MHC)

Refused to believe is lit. ‘refused to obey’. ‘In biblical thought the supreme disobedience is not to believe God’s word, in this case the gospel. It is a key term in the Pauline description of the Jewish rejection of the gospel (Rom 11:30-32 10:21 Isa 65:2; compare Lk 1:17 Acts 19:9 Rom 2:8).’ (IVP Commentary)

Notice that the gospel, faithfully proclaimed forces a response to itself. Some are established in faith (v1), while others are confirmed in unbelief (v2). There is no middle ground.

It is a great error to suppose that a faithful Christian can be popular with all people. Truly, we should not set out to give offence to anyone, but if we are true to our profession then opposition and rejection will, sadly, be inevitable.

So – or ‘now’. The latter translation avoids a narrative tension between persecution and the continuation of ministry.

Speaking boldly for – or, ‘because of, relying on’ – the Lord probably a reference to Christ himself. They were drawing on the promise of our Lord: ‘All power is given to me…I am with you to the end of the age.’ (Mt 28)

‘We must note this phrase, that the Lord gave witness to the gospel in miracles, for it showeth the true use of miracles. This is, indeed, the first end, that they may show to us the power and grace of God; but because we be wrong and perverse interpreters of them, lest they be drawn unto abuse and corruption, God doth never suffer them to be separated from his word. For if miracles were wrought at any time without his word; first, that was very seldom; secondly, there came but small fruit thereof; and God hath wrought miracles, for the most part, whereby the world might know him not simply, or in his bare majesty, but in his word. So Luke saith, in this place, that the gospel was established by miracles, not that some confused religion might possess the minds of men, but that Paul’s doctrine going before they might be brought unto the pure worship of God.’ (Calvin)

‘Luke’s presentation of signs and wonders here gives us criteria for judging claims today. Their true source must be God alone. They must occur at his initiative. Their fruit will not necessarily be an irresistible compulsion, so that all who witness and hear of them will believe. Rather, their true purpose and effect is “establishing the Gospel in its full and genuine authority” (Calvin 1966:3). Far from denigrating the verbal, cognitive appeal of the gospel in favor of the visual, experiential impact of miracle, Luke sees signs and wonders as confirming support to the gospel. These miracles at Iconium place the work of Paul and Barnabas in continuity with the mission of Jesus and “the Twelve” and bear witness to unbelieving Jews that the salvation blessings Israel experienced in the past and hoped for at the end of the age are now not only theirs but also the Gentiles’.’ (Acts 2:22 5:12 15:12 Ex 7:3 Ps 135:9 Acts 2:19 (Joe 2:30) Gal 3:4-5) (IVP Commentary)

‘We may wish that we could perform a miraculous act that would convince everyone once and for all that Jesus is the Lord. But we see here that even if we could perform a miracle, it wouldn’t convince everyone. God gave these men power to do great wonders as confirmation of the message of grace, but people were sill divided.’ (Life Application)

The people of the city were divided – Note, no evangelistic work of ours, even when confirmed by miracles, can guarantee acceptance. If we aim for acceptability, we shall fall short, if we aim for faithfulness, we shall receive the approbation of God, whether our message is accepted or no. Think of the parable of the Sower. See also 2 Cor 2:16.

‘Unanimity is no virtue, nor sincerity, nor earnestness; we must ascertain what the unanimity is about, and what men are sincere and earnest in, because good fire may be used for forging of bad instruments. Surely it was a pity for two wandering tentmakers to go from town to town disturbing the unanimity of families and of townships! Why not let families and corporations alone? Why this propagation of a fighting faith? This is the way of Christianity. It will not let people alone.’ (Joseph Parker)

‘We hear here that one city was divided, 6 whereby some were brought unto Christ. The Spirit of God pronounceth this to the praise, and not the shame, of Paul and Barnabas. The same rule must we observe at this day, lest the gospel be burdened with false envy, if it bring not men together 7 unto God, but the wicked rage against it. It is assuredly a miserable matter to see division among men. But as the unity is accursed which doth separate us all from God, so it were better that a few should depart an hundred times from all the whole world, and, in the mean season, come in favor again with God, than that disagreeing with him continually, they should have peace with the world.’ (Calvin)

‘We may here take the measures of our expectations; let us not think it strange if the preaching of the gospel occasion division, nor be offended at it; it is better to be reproached and persecuted as dividers for swimming against the stream than yield ourselves to be carried down the stream that leads to destruction.’ (MHC)

The apostles – ‘This is one of two times in Acts when apostles does not refer to the Twelve (Acts 14:14; compare Lk 11:49). At other points Luke distinguishes Paul and Barnabas from “apostles,” (Acts 9:27 15:2,4,6 16:4) but here he applies the term to them. What does he mean here? Does Luke differ from Paul in his understanding of Paul’s apostolic status? Luke, like Paul, appears to use apostles both in a restricted sense for “the Twelve,” chosen by Christ during his earthly ministry and witnesses of his resurrection, and in a broad sense for “missionaries,” commissioned messengers of the gospel. (compare 2 Cor 8:23 Gal 1:19 Php 2:25) The latter meaning is intended here.’ (compare Acts 13:1-3) (IVP Commentary)

They…fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe – This was thought by an earlier generation of critics to have been a blunder on Luke’s part: ‘As it was generally believed that Iconium was the chief city of Lycaonia, to speak of people escaping from there to “the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe” was rather like saying that people escaped from London to England; it was nonsense, and betrayed basic ignorance of geography. However, and to his great surprise Sir William Ramsay unearthed a mass of evidence to show that in Luke’s day Iconium was in the province of Phrygia, not Lycaonia. The critics had never gone back further than A.D. 372, when the Roman emperor Valens had made boundary changes which took Iconium into Lycaonia and made it its captial city.’ (Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? 401)

Where they continued to preach the good news – Paul preached the gospel everywhere, and to all types of people. He preached to the Jews in the synagogues, to educated Greeks in Athens. He preached in superstition-ridden Ephesus, in vice-ridden Corinth, and to these semi-literate pagans in Lycaonia. He adapted his style to the needs of his hearers, but the fundamental matter always remained the same. For each, and for all, he preached the good news about Jesus Christ.

Paul and Barnabas at Lystra, 8-20

14:8 In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. 14:9 This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, 14:10 he said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. 14:11 So when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 14:12 They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 14:13 The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14:14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 14:15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them. 14:16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways, 14:17 yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.” 14:18 Even by saying these things, they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them.

IN LYSTRA

The gospel was taken first to the Jews. But, upon their general rejection of it, it was offered to the Gentiles, Acts 13:46. Cf. Rom 11:11.

‘This remarkable story is one of two that show how the apostles dealt with pagan Gentile audiences (here simple”] village folk, and in Acts 17:16-34 sophisticated Athenians), and it is perhaps significant that in both cases the gospel was initially misunderstood.’ (NBC)

‘On all previous occasions (and most subsequent ones) the activity of the mssionaries began in the synagogue among Jews or Gentiles who already had some knowledge of God. The significance of the story of what happened at Lystra is that here for the first time in Acts the Christian missionaries came to a town where there was apparently no synagogue, or at least no mention is made of it…The incident thus prepares for the events in chapter 15 (cf. 15:3), and the emphasis lies on the response of pure heathens to the gospel.’ (Marshall)

Lystra was a fortified Roman frontier outpost eighteen miles south-southwest of Iconium. Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra because they had been forced to flee from Iconium. The persecution of the saints has been means of the spread of the gospel.

There sat a man crippled in his feet – he was possibly a beggar.

‘It is increasingly obvious that we live in a religiously pluralistic society. Star athletes in Western nations have Islamic names; a Hindu worship center may be across the road from our church. The challenge is not that our neighbors are not Christians but that they are often adherents of a non-Christian cult or religion. How can we begin to witness to them? Luke gives us one strategy in his narrative of Paul’s first proclamation to a completely pagan Gentile audience.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

Paul…saw that he had faith to be healed – This is one of a few instances where faith is looked for, or found, in those who are to be healed:-

Mt 9:28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Mk 9:22-24 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

The man jumped up and began to walk – This raises once again the question of the relationship between miracles and the gospel. According to the adherents of the ‘signs and wonders’ movement, miracles are to be expected as the usual catalysts to evangelism. Others, of course, teach that the day of miracles was limited to the apostolic period. ‘Luke takes a middle position that gives exclusive support to neither of these options. While Luke gives no evidence that miraculous gifts will necessarily cease with the close of the apostolic age, he does not present them as essential to the church’s advance. When miraculous deeds and gospel proclamation occur together, proclamation is primary. During the first missionary journey, proclamation accomplishes God’s saving purposes apart from miraculous deeds at Pisidian Antioch and Derbe. Jesus teaches that miraculous deeds, even his resurrection, in and of themselves cannot produce faith. (Lk 16:27-31; 24:25-27) Indeed, they may be misinterpreted. Proclamation-the proper interpretation-is needed to declare the source and purpose of miraculous deeds. What miraculous deeds do accomplish is to manifest the divine power of God’s Word and to authorize the preacher. Just as Paul, through spiritual discernment and Spirit-impelled command, was the means for the crippled man’s restoration, so today God can choose to accompany the faithful preaching of his Word with miraculous deeds, especially in cultural contexts in which Satan’s control is most evident.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

When the crowd saw what Paul had done – Miracles are not self-interpreting. They need to be accompanied by the proclamation of the word, 14:3. Otherwise, people will simply interpret them in the light of their existing mental frameworks, as here.

They shouted in the Lycaonian language – their local dialect. ‘Paul was speaking in Greek, of course, but the excitement of the crowd over the miracle made them cry out in their native tongue which Paul and Barnabas did not understand. Hence it was not till preparations for offering sacrifice to them had begun that Paul understood the new role in which he and Barnabas were held.’ (RWP)

“The gods have come down to us in human form!” – Cf. Acts 8:10; 12:22; 28:6. The people of Lystra had a legend that once Zeus and Hermes had come down to earth disguised as mortal men. They visited a thousand homes, but no-one in all the land would give them hospitality. At last two elderly peasants, Philemon and his wife Baucis, took them in to their tiny cottage and shared with them out of their poverty. As a result the gods destroyed the whole population in a flood except Philemon and Baucis, who were made the guardians of a splendid temple and were turned into two great trees when they died. You can imagine that the people of Lystra would be determined not to make the same mistake again.

‘The crowd’s response clearly illustrates the problem of communication to people with a non-Christian background. Unless the Holy Spirit opens their hearts and minds to receive and understand the gospel message as true, they will continue to interpret it and any miraculous manifestations in the only way they know how, in terms of their non-Christian religious beliefs and values. From one angle, this reinterpretation process simply is a communication problem. But from another angle, if the reinterpretation persists, it becomes syncretistic, permitting other worldviews to maintain themselves over against Christian truth claims.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

In what ways might superstitious veneration manifest itself in the church today?

It is notable that when Christianity first made inroads into the Gentile world, it did not find a spiritual vacuum, but was confronted rather with a vast array of religious beliefs and practices. This is an interesting comment on the universality of religion.

Barnabas they called Zeus – Possibly because he was of a more imposing appearance. Zeus = the Roman God Jupiter.

Zeus was ‘the Greek god of the sky and chief of the pantheon; ruler over all the gods. His devotees believed all the elements of weather were under his control. The worship of Zeus was very prevalent throughout the Roman Empire during the first century.’ (Holman)

Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker – Was Paul alluding to this experience in Gal 4:14? Hermes = Mercury.

‘We get an interesting glimpse of the ritual of Anatolian religion, with oxen being led out of the city to the temple, decorated with garlands of wool and ready to be slain and offered in sacrifice.’ (Marshall)

They tore their clothes – ‘We do not find that they rent their clothes when the people vilified them, and spoke of stoning them; they could bear this without disturbance: but when they deified them, and spoke of worshipping them, they could not bear it, but rent their clothes, as being more concerned for God’s honour than their own. ‘ (MHC) See Ps 69:10.

‘Although using biblical language, Barnabas and Paul preach to these Anatolian farmers in terms they would not need to know the Bible to understand, emphasizing the God who rules nature, who was already recognized by paganism. Jewish people often pointed to pagan philosophical teachings on the supreme god, which Jews felt contradicted the pagan worship of idols. Jews called idols “vain” (futile), in contrast to the “living” God. Jewish people believed that God allowed a lower moral standard for Gentiles, who had only seven laws to keep; but idolatry, like sexual immorality, was not an issue on which God would permit compromise.’ (NT Background Cmty)

This speech-summary ‘differs considerably from the earlier sermons in Acts delivered to the Jews (or God-fearers) who already in Yahweh and needed to be told about the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. With a pagan audience it was necessary to begin a stage further back with the proclamation of the one true God. The speech is thus most closely related to Paul’s address to the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:22-31) which treats the same theme on a more sophisticated level, as befitted an educated and cultured audience. Luke’s account of the preaching at Lystra is confined to this aspect of the message; his readers could draw on their knowledge of the earlier sermons to provide what Paul was likely to have said in addition.’ (Marshall)

‘The summary which Luke gives of their expostulation provides us with one of the two examples found in Acts of the preaching of the gospel to purely pagan audiences. The other, and fuller, example is the speech delivered by Paul before the Athenian Areopagus. (Acts 17:22ff) We should not expect such preaching to insist on the fulfilment of OT prophecy, as preaching to Jews and God-fearers did; instead, an appeal to the natural revelation of God the Creator is put in the forefront. Yet this appeal is couched in language largely drawn from the OT.’ (Bruce)

“Why are you doing this?” – The speech begins right where they are by asking them what they are doing. ‘This was something more than that abhorrence of idolatry which took possession of the Jews as a nation from the time of the Babylonish captivity: it was that delicate sensibility to everything which affects the honor of God which Christianity, giving us in God a reconciled Father, alone can produce; making the Christian instinctively feel himself to be wounded in all dishonor done to God, and filling him with mingled horror and grief when such gross insults as this are offered to him.’ (JFB)

“We too are only men” – Cf. Acts 3:12f; Jas 5:17; Rev 19:10.

“We are bringing you good news” – we do not doubt that this good news focused on person and work of Jesus Christ. But ‘Luke’s purpose here is to supplement his earlier accounts of the apostolic preaching by showing what more was said when pagan Gentiles were being addressed.’ (Marshall) Whereas, when speaking to Jews, Paul would begin with an appeal to the (OT) Scriptures, with these heathen people he begins with the revelation of God in the world around them.

This episode provides an interesting commentary on the recent ‘signs and wonders’ debate. It is to be noted that a healing miracle was the precipitating factor, but that Paul took the first opportunity to explain and proclaim the ‘good news’. Miracles point to the Christian message, but they are not the message itself.

‘This passage is specially interesting because it gives us Paul’s approach to those who were completely heathen and without any Jewish background to which he could appeal. With such people he started from nature to get to the God who was behind it all. He started from the here and now to get to the there and then.’ (DSB)

‘We need to learn from Paul’s flexibility. We have no liberty to edit the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. Nor is there ever any need to do so. But we have to begin where people are, to find a point of contact with them. With secularized people today this might be what constitutes authentic humanness, the universal quest for transcendence, the hunger for love and community, the search from freedom, or the longing for personal significance. Wherever we begin, however, we shall end with Jesus Christ, who is himself the good news, and who alone can fulfil all human aspirations.’ (Stott)

“Telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God” – This early missionary preaching is echoed in 1 Thess 1:9. But ‘what is missing from the speech here is anything corresponding to the continuation of Paul’s description in 1 Thess 1:10 “and to wait for his Son from heaven, who he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.,” or to Paul’s claim that his message was simply “Christ crucified.” (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2) This omission does not mean that Paul said nothing on this matter, but rather that Luke’s purpose here is to supplement his earlier accounts of the apostolic preaching by showing what more was said when pagan Gentiles were being addressed. In fact, the rest of the speech indicates that a continuation in terms of the distinctively Christian gospel must have followed. The description of what God had done in past generations cries out for a contrasting description of what he is doing now to reveal himself in a new way.’ (Marshall) Cf. also Jer 2:5.

Paul is anxious for them to know ‘that the gods which they and their fathers worshipped, and all the ceremonies of their worship of them were vanities, idle things, unreasonable, unprofitable, which no rational account could be given of, nor any real advantage gained from. Idols are often called vanities in the Old Testament, Deut 32:21; 1 Kings 10:13; Jer 14:22. An idol is nothing in the world: (1 Cor 8:4) it is not at all what it is pretended to be, it is a cheat, it is a counterfeit; it deceives those that trust to it and expect relief from it. Therefore turn from these vanities, turn from them with abhorrence and detestation, as Ephraim did: (Ho 14:8) “What have I to do any more with idols? I will never again be thus imposed upon.”‘ (MHC)

Not for Paul the ‘supermarket’ approach to religion that is so prevalent today. Nevertheless, ‘coping with pluralism will mean understanding other people’s points of view and exploring what common ground may be found for joint action. If we refuse to understand what others believe and to respond to the results of such beliefs as they are expressed in different attitudes and ways of life, we shall retreat to fear, misunderstanding, distrust and even fear and hatred.’ (David Cook, The World’s Religions)

“The living God, who made heaven and earth” – ‘That the living God was the one who made heaven and earth and sea and everything is also the way that Paul described and argued for God in more detail at Athens (17:16-34), where the fact that he let all nations go their own way is described as ‘the times of ignorance’.’ (NBC)

Witnessing to Adherents of Other Religions. ‘Paul’s speech models elements that must be included in any strategy of effective witness to adherents of a non-Christian religion. We must assume common ground with the person, our humanity. We are both made in the image of God with an ability to reason and evaluate experience. We must have a flexibility of approach in presenting the gospel. We must be familiar enough with the person’s religious beliefs to know what they are substituting for the one true God and his ways. We must correct them, but just as important, we must figure out how the gospel is “good news” so we may tell them how to truly fulfill their religious aspirations. Finally, we must witness with urgency, making the person aware of the consequences. Since we are all accountable before God, our dialogue with non-Christians is not a simple”] exchange of religious opinions but a discussion of life-and-death issues.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

Is Relativism an Option?  ‘One major philosophical response to pluralism is to suggest that there are no absolute or universal truths, values, morals or beliefs. This is called relativism. It is the idea that what is true or false, right or wrong, good or bad varies from time to time, place to place and person to person. What people do in one setting is true, good, and right for them. It is not true, good and right for everyone.

This denial of any idea that there are absolute truths and universally valid beliefs makes truth only relatively true and moral values only valid in a particular culture and setting. But for people to be able to live and work together there has to be some consensus: they cannot simply let one another do anything and everything.

The way relativism has of coping with the differences of pluralism is tolerance. We are to live and let live. Such an open-minded approach allows others the freedom to hold their own views as long as we are free to hold and practise what we believe.

The danger in such an approach is a failure to recognize how hard it is to stand completely outside all belief systems and imagine they are all equally valid. In practice, we adopt one view or another. We do make judgements between beliefs and moral systems and that is necessary for us to survive in a world of competing viewpoints. It is also important to recognize that tolerance is limited, for how can we be tolerant of intolerance? The completely open mind can be a completely empty mind.’ (David Cook, The World’s Religions)

“In the past, he let all nations go their own way” – Cf. Acts 17:30. Not that this leaves them guiltless, Rom 1:18-23 3:21-26 (cf. Eph 2:12) but it does explain why, when faced with the revelation of God in nature, they responded with idolatrous worship. They have been given light, but have shut their eyes to it.

Neither the antiquity (‘in the past’) nor the universality (‘all nations’) of unbelief stand as arguments in its favour.

‘All the nations that had not the benefit of divine revelation, that is, all but the Jews, he suffered to walk in their own ways, for they had nothing to check them, or control them, but their own consciences, their own thoughts, (Rom 2:15) no scriptures, no prophets; and then they were the more excusable if they mistook their way: but now that God has sent a revelation into the world which is to be published to all nations the case is altered. We may understand it as a judgment upon all nations that God suffered them to walk in their own ways, gave them up to their own hearts’ lusts; but now the time is come when the veil of the covering spread over all nations should be taken off, (Isa 25:7) and now you will no longer be excused in these vanities, but must turn from them.’ (MHC)

‘Almost all recent commentators state or imply that Paul’s statement implies the nations are not culpable for past idolatry (Lake and Cadbury 1979:166; Haenchen 1971:428; Marshall 1980:239; Williams 1985:239). Such an understanding sets Acts 14 over against the teaching of Romans. (Rom 1:18-23 3:21-26) God’s letting the nations go their own way simply explains why humankind sins by responding to general revelation with false worship.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

Clark Pinnock has asserted, on the basis of v16f, that ‘elements of truth and goodness exist in pagan cultures like theirs because God has been with them and has not failed to reveal himself to them,’ and that ‘these people possessed truth from God in the context of their pagan religion and culture.’ By way of response, Don Carson says, ‘a priori, I am quite happy to accept that ‘elements of truth and goodness’ exist in every culture; that is the fruit of common grace, of the imago Dei, of general revelation. But that does not mean their sins are forgiven and they are saved. Certainly these people possess some truth from God, in that God does not leave himself without witness but declares something of himself even through nature (which is the point in the text) – but that is not a ringing endorsement of their pagan religion and culture, still less a sign that these people enjoy a saving knowledge of God.’

Carson continues: ‘If Paul says that God in the past let some nations go their own way, we may concur that this restrained way of putting things reflects tact and sensitivity on Paul’s part. But surely it is going too far to conclude, “This represents a gracious and understanding appreciation of their past and their culture” quoting Pinnock again. That sounds like a modern, politically correct Paul; it is not what the text suggests. In fact, God letting the nations go their own way sounds very much like God giving people up to their own sinful ways, Rom 1-2. In the past, God primarily directed his saving power to the covenant community of Israel, but this side of the cross he has now ordained that the good news of the gospel should be preached not only in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, but to the ends of the earth, Acts 1:8. That is the framework of the story into which this pericope fits.’ (The Gagging of God, 307f)

“He has not left himself without testimony” – Cf. Acts 17:27-28; Psa 19:1-4; Rom 1:19-20. This does not assert a natural theology, in which the one God is rightly known through the various religions of humankind. Rather, it affirms the nature of general revelation, which, as Rom 1:20 teaches, leaves all ‘without excuse’. ‘Paul does not talk about laws of nature as if they governed themselves, but he sees the living God “behind the drama of the physical world” (Furneaux).’ (RWP)

“He provides you with plenty of good and fills yours hearts with joy” – Cf. Lk 6:35. There is a right enjoyment of the good things of this world. Cf. Jas 5:5.

‘Paul does not here mention Christ because he had the single definite purpose to dissuade them from worshipping Barnabas and himself.’ (RWP) Alternatively, we may suppose that Paul did indeed preach Christ, but that Luke just wanted to draw attention to the new and different aspects of Paul’s message.

They had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them – ‘The apostles had been locked out of Pisidian Antioch and Iconium as heretics, and now they were being deified in Lystra! It is difficult to say which was worse-having stones thrown at them or this blasphemous attempt to worship them as gods.’ (Hughes)

‘In spite of this,and Peter’s repudiation of all such honor, (Acts 10:26) how soon idolatrous tendencies began to show themselves in the Christian Church, at length to be systematized and enjoined in the Church of Rome!’ (JFB)

Note how even Jesus had to resist premature or inappropriate adulation, Jn 6:15.

14:19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. 14:20 But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.

Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium – These Jews were those who had previously forced Paul to leave those places, 13:50f; cf. 17:13.

Won the crowd over – ‘One minute, Paul was a god to be worshiped; the next minute, he was a criminal to be slain!’ (Wiersbe)

They stoned Paul – Cf. 2 Cor 11:25. See also 2 Tim 3:11, and Gal 6:17, in which Paul, writing to these very places in South Galatia, says, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” They had just been idolising Paul as a god. Now they lynch him. This was how the crowd in Jerusalem had treated Jesus: first they acclaimed him as king, and then demanded his execution, Lk 19:37-40; 23:23. Note, the faithful proclamation of the gospel, even when accompanied by miracles, is not guarantee of its acceptance.

This change of attitude is ‘remarkable, but by no means incredible. If the crowds did not accept the gospel, as verse 18 implies, they could easily have been persuaded that the missionaries were in fact imposters and been content to let their fellow countrymen treat them as they thought fit.’ (Marshall)

‘It is not hard to imagine the disillusioned crowd being embarrassed at their foolishness and turning against the innocent apostles.’ (NBC)

‘The approval of other people is not the same as God’s approval. Only days after the people in Lystra attempted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they were gods, they stoned Paul and left him for dead. That’s human nature. Jesus understood how changeable crowds can be. (Jn 2:24-25) When many people approve of us, we feel good, but that should never cloud our thinking or affect our decisions. We should not live to please the crowd-especially in our spiritual lives. Be like Jesus. Know the nature of the crowd and don’t put your trust in it. Put your trust in God alone.’ (HBA)

‘This last scene teaches us that being an instrument of God’s saving blessing to others, even of miraculous workings, is no guarantee that we will be immune from persecution, including physical suffering.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘How fickle is the favour of men! The distance is short between the garlands and the stones, between “Hosanna!” and “Crucify him!” but the favour of God endureth, and it satisfies the soul.’ (Biblical Illustrator)

The disciples…gathered around him – Whether to mourn for him, or to pray for him, we do not know. We see that Paul’s visit had not been entirely fruitless. One convert at this time seems to have been Timothy, Acts 16:1-3.

He got up and went back into the city – we marvel at the courage of this act. Some have thought that Paul’s recovery was miraculous, but there is little in the actual text to suggest this. If Paul was miraculously restored, this is one of very few such examples we have in the NT affecting a believer. (see Acts 9:18 – but this was no ordinary case of blindness)

‘Note, God’s faithful servants, though they may be brought within a step of death, and may be looked upon as dead both by friends and enemies, shall not die as long as he has work for them to do. They are cast down, but not destroyed, 2 Co 4:9.’ (MHC)

The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe – A trudge of some 60 miles, although we are not told how long the journey took. But again, what fortitude!

Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria, 21-28

14:21 After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch. 14:22 They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed. 14:24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia, 14:25 and when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 14:26 From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 14:27 When they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported all the things God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 14:28 So they spent considerable time with the disciples.

‘As will become Paul’s practice, (see Acts 15:36) the apostle will maintain contact with the churches he has planted, providing ongoing counsel and encouragement. Though Paul focused on church planting, (1 Cor 3:6) the goal of his labors was to “present everyone perfect in Christ” to the Lord at his coming. (Col 1:28 Rom 15:16 1 Thess 2:17-20) So today, an evangelist or church planter who does not make provision for discipleship is like a farmer who harvests well only to see the crop spoil because it is not properly stored.’ (Wiersbe)

Strengthening the disciples – among whom was Timothy, Acts 16:1.

“We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions”

Christians must expect to suffer

Note the following aspects of this teaching:

‘Persecutions’ – the word is thlipsis, and is used variously for ‘affliction’ (James 1:27), material shortage (2 Cor 8:13),and a woman’s labour pains (Jn 16:21).  It refers to the suffering of Christians in 2 Cor 2:4 and 1 Pet 1:6.  This has been the experience of believers all down the ages.

‘Must’ – this is a word of necessity.  The suffering referred to here is a vital part of following Jesus, Mt 24:9; Lk 22:28f.  Moreover, it is a means of our spiritual growth, Rom 5:3; 1 Pet 4:1,12,13.  The world sees suffering as pointless, but the Christian is taught to see it as a gateway to God’s kingdom.  Suffering and glory belong together, 1 Pet 5:1,10.

‘Enter’ – The Christian life exhibits power through weakness, as Paul taught extensively in his letters to the Corinthians.  All this is simply to model our lives on the cross which, in spite of its apparent weakness, is the greatest power in history.

‘The kingdom of God’ – not land, but the rule of God.  For God to rule in our lives does not mean that we seek suffering, but that suffering and the kingdom go together.  And Jesus says to us: “Take up your cross and follow me; I’ve been this way myself.”

(Based on Richard Bewes, The Top 100 Questions, p211)

Appointed – Translated ‘ordained’ in the AV. ‘But before we think of this as denoting ‘ordination’ in our sense of the term we must note its use in passages such as 2 Cor 8:19, where it refers to the brother who was “appointed by the churches to travel with us…”‘ (NBD)

All that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith – ‘When soon Paul and Barnabas set out into the unknown on the first missionary journey, they will find (as Abraham, Joseph and Moses had found before them) that God is with them. That is exactly what they reported on their return (Acts 14:27; 15:12). Indeed, this assurance is indispensable to mission.’ (Stott, on Acts 6:8-7:60)

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