Scripture: Acts 14:1-28
- Paul and Barney head off to Iconium after a spat with the Jewish leaders in Pisidian Antioch
- In Iconium their preaching is well recieved until the Jewish and Gentile leaders rile up some people and threaten to stone them
- P & B head off to Lystra and heal a lame man (much like Peter did in Acts 3)
- The crowd is wowed by the miracle and declares the apostles to be Zeus and Hermes (more on that below)
- Just as the people are about to sacrifice a bull to them, Paul and Barn tell them that they’re only human and that they should worship the living God (you know, that nice supreme deity who provides food and rain and whatnot?)
- Then the Jews show up… again, and rile up the crowd… again (noticing a pattern here?)
- This time they stone Paul and leave him for dead
- Paul is tougher than he looks and goes back into town with the disciples, then leaves for Derbe
- Paul and Barnabas then head back home pretty much the way they came
- As they revisit each of the towns they started churches in, the apostles appoint elders as leaders
- Once they get home, Paul and Barney share all that happened on the road, then chill for a bit
Zeus and Hermes
Ovid the Roman poet relates a legend of a previous visitation by Zeus and Hermes to the Phrygian region. They came in human form and inquired at one thousand homes, but none showed them hospitality. Only a poor elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon, took them in. The pair were rewarded by being spared when the gods flooded the valley and destroyed its inhabitants. The couple’s shack was transformed into a marble-pillared, gold-roofed temple, and they became its priests. (IVP)
The temple or image of Jupiter (Zeus) would’ve been in front of the city, near the gates. Ancient cities were supposed to be under the protection of particular gods; and their image, or a temple for their worship, was placed commonly in a conspicuous place at the entrance of the city. (Barnes)
It was common among Gentiles to suppose that the gods appeared to men in human form. The poems of Homer, of Virgil etc., are filled with accounts of such appearances; and the only way in which they supposed the gods to take knowledge of human affairs, and to aid men, was by their personally appearing in this form. (Barnes)
Zeus’ name is derived from a combination of ancient words for “sky god” and was thought to be the king of all gods. Hermes’ name was derived from the Greek hermeneus (“the interpreter”), reflecting Hermes’s function as divine messenger. The word “hermeneutics”, the study and theory of interpretation, is derived from the same word.
On an archeological note: Two ancient inscriptions discovered in 1909 from close of Lystra testify to the worship of these two gods in that city. One of the inscriptions refers to the “priests of Zeus,” and the other mentions “Hermes Most Great”” and “Zeus the sun-god.”
Parallels between Peter and Paul in Acts
In this chapter Paul heals a lame man much in the same way Peter did in Acts 3. Luke uses several parallel expressions to relay the similarities: The man was “lame from birth”; Peter/Paul “looked directly at him”; The man “jumped up and began to walk.” However, note that Peter’s healing brought joy to the people but scrutiny from the Sanhedrin and near punishment (i.e. stoning), whereas Paul’s healing ability is received too well by the public, then the tide is turned against him by Jewish leaders and he actually is stoned.
Throughout the rest of the narrative of Acts, several more parallels will be drawn. Below is a simple list:
- Both delivered inaugural sermons focusing on the Davidic Covenant (2:22-36; 13:26-41) in which both used Psalm 16 to explain the resurrection (2:25-28; 13:35)
- Both healed cripples (3:1-10; 14:8-10)
- Both were renowned for extraordinary miracles, Peter healing with his shadow, Paul with kerchiefs that touched him (5:15-16; 19:11-12)
- Both transferred the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (8:14-17; 19:6)
- Both confronted and rebuked a magician. (8:18-24; 13:6-11)
- Both raised the dead (9:36-41; 20:9-12)
- Both refused divine worship (10:25-26; 14:11-15)
- Both were delivered from prison miraculously (12:6-11; 16:25-34)
- Iconium’s name is derived from the legend about the “eikon” (image), or the “gorgon’s (Medusa’s) head”, with which Perseus vanquished the native population before founding the city. (Wikipedia)
- Note Paul’s basic argument to Gentiles: “Rather than showing how Christianity is the logical outgrowth of Judaism, as he does in speeches before Jews, Luke says that God excuses past Gentile ignorance and then presents a natural theology arguing for the recognition of God’s existence and presence through his activity in natural phenomena.” (NCC) This is a very similar arguement to the one Paul makes in Romans 1.
- “Paul’s call to conversion and his explanation of God’s permissive will in allowing all nations to go their own way assume human accountability. He is explaining why in every past generation God did not act in judgment as he did in Noah’s generation.” (IVP)
- Paul and Barnabas insist that the works of creation should lead us to understand that God is kind and merciful. God does not fall into a rage in response to minor matters (as Zeus and Hermes supposedly did when they destroyed people who failed to show them hospitality). (GCI)
- Paul calls God the “living God” to distinguish him from idols.
- All these places Paul visited in Acts 14 were in the Roman province of Galatia. It is most likely to these towns that the letter to the Galatians was written.
- The name “apostle” is here applied to Paul for the first time in the New Testament. Paul would go on to introduce himself as an apostle in the introduction of several of his letters.
- When they dragged Paul out of the city to stone him is was probably in haste, and in popular rage, as if he was unfit to be in the city, and was unworthy of a decent burial (Barnes).
- Throughout his life Paul would recall the abuse from these Galatian towns. Near the end of his life he asks Timothy to remember the “persecutions, sufferings — what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Timothy 3:11)
- Lystra is where Timothy is from. In Acts 16, when Paul travels back through Lystra on his second missionary journey he meets Timothy and takes him along with him.
- Instead of moving straight east to Tarsus, a straight shot of 150 miles, Paul and Barnabas decide to retrace their steps. As will become Paul’s practice, the apostle will maintain contact with the churches he has planted, providing ongoing counsel and encouragement. (IVP)
- The structure of the early churches is patterned on the model of the Jerusalem community with a group of elders as leaders.
- Why do you think the popular opinion turned so quickly on Paul and Barnabas (from being considered a god to being stoned)?
- Do you think Paul’s basic argument regarding God to the Gentiles (God made everything, he can be seen in nature, he is merciful, and now he wants people to know him) would still be effective today?
- If someone did a miracle in front of a crowd of people today, who might our culture claim they are? Would they be “worshiped” or “stoned”?
- Conference of Catholic Bishops
- IVP Commentary
- Barnes’ Commentary
- Grace Communion International
- Peter and Paul parallels – Study Bible
- Peter and Paul parallels – Witness to the Gospel