Acts: Chapter 14

Theme:

  • The Power of Weakness: Here we see a common Pauline theme: there is power in our weakness and God-given endurance in our tribulations. Acts Chapter 14 begins with Paul and Barnabas moving from Pamphylia onto Iconium and eventually Lystra. In Lystra they heal a man who was lame from birth and “could not use his feet.” Luke is thematically setting up that weakness sets up an opportunity for God to display his power. In this man being cripple and weak, God has the ability to show his power in healing him. Without him being weak and disable, there would be no salvation or healing necessary. When Paul heals this man through the power of Jesus, he and Barnabas are mistaken for the greek gods, Zeus and Hermes. This sets up Paul to make the case that all men are weak in nature. For, Paul’s response to being worshipped as a God is to declare his human weakness and frailty saying, “We are men of like nature as you.” Paul is saying, I am not a god, I am a weak man that God is using to declare to you the Gospel! In man’s weakness the glory of the Gospel can be revealed. After Paul preaches the gospel to the Greeks, the Jews hear about this and come to persecute him. The Jews convinced the whole city to then stone Paul, and they stoned him so badly that they thought they had killed him. Paul’s body was dragged outside the city and left for dead. Similar to Jesus, he was persecuted by the Jews and his limp body lay outside the city gates. But, Paul was not dead and, in his weakness, God gave him strength to arise and continue after being stoned and knocked unconscious. After this occurs, Paul encourages the Christians in Lystra; teaching them that, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Paul is now explicitly teaching what has been woven into the story of this chapter: that weakness and trials show the power and glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Jesus said himself, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” And as Paul later writes to Timothy, “my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” Paul is directly referencing what happened to him in Acts 14, and tells Timothy this truth: if you live a godly life you will be persecuted. The greek word for persecuted is very broad and does not only include “violent acts.” The greek word “diōkō” generally means “to make one flee, to push (drive) away.” Simply speaking some people will oppose the Gospel and do everything they can to push you away. This can be disheartening sometimes, especially when it’s people we love and care for.

Culture:

Places:

  • V. 6 - Lystra - a town of Lycaonia, in Asia Minor, in a wild district and among a rude population.  Timothy, who was probably born here (2 Tim. 3:10, 11), was no doubt one of those who were on this occasion witnesses of Paul’s persecution and his courage in Lystra.

  • V. 6 - Derby - a small town on the eastern part of the upland plain of Lycaonia, about 20 miles from Lystra. It was the native place of Gaius, one of Paul’s companions.

  • V. 25 - Attalia - This was a sea-port town in Pamphylia. Thus we find the apostles traveled from Derbe to Lystra; from Lystra to Iconium; from Iconium to Antioch of Pisidia; from Antioch to Perga in Pamphylia; and from Perga to Attalia; and it appears that they traveled over three provinces of Asia Minor, Pamphylia, Lycaonia, and Pisidia.

Cultural Background:

  • Gods among Men: “The fact that Barnabas and Paul were declared to be Zeus and Hermes, is explained partly and primarily from the well-known provincial myth, according to which these gods were once hospitably entertained in the same regions by Philemon and Baucis as recorded in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; but partly also from Zeus having a temple in front of the city (Acts 14:13), and from its being the responsibility of Hermes, as the eloquent (vocis et sermonis potens, Macrob. Sat. I. 8) interpreter and messenger of the gods, to accompany his father, Zeus, when he came down to the earth (Hygin. Poet. Astron. 34; Ovid. Fast. v. 495). Paul was called Hermes, because, in contrast to his companion, it was he who was “leader of the word”, as Hermes was considered the chief speaker of the greek gods. Probably also his more juvenile appearance and greater activity, compared with the calmer and older Barnabas, contributed to this. Hermes is always represented as a handsome, graceful, very well-formed young man who is eloquent in his speech. Comp. But, according to historical records Barnabas had a more “imposing appearance.” And, due to his quiet and passive demeanor, Barnabas would have been identified with Zeus.

Contemplating God:

Voice of the Past:

  • John Chrysostom - The Apostles Free of the Lust of Glory: “ Look! On all occasions they are free from the lust of glory, not only not coveting but even repudiating and denying glory when it is offered, as Peter too said earlier in Acts, “Why do you gaze upon us as though by our own power or holiness we made him to walk?” Paul frequently says later in his epistles, “Not to think that we are sufficient in ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.”  

  • John Chrysostom - Strength Made Perfect in Weakness: “ But when the disciples gathered up around him, he rose up and entered the city.”...Here in this story this saying is fulfilled, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” This is even greater than the raising of the lame man earlier!...Paul entered the city again. Do you see his zeal? Do you see how fervent he is, how set on fire by the Spirit he is? He entered the city itself again to show that he did not succumb to the wishes of the world, he did not want to leave just to appease the Jew’s anger.”

Footnotes:

Matthew 10:22. ESV.

2 Timothy 3:11-12. ESV.

Blueletterbible.com. 2 Timothy 3:12. “Dioko.”

http://eastonsbibledictionary.org/2342-Lystra.php

http://eastonsbibledictionary.org/1017-Derbe.php

https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/act/14/1/s_1032001

Meyers, Heinrich. New Testament Commentary. Acts 14:12.

Chrysostom, John. Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 14:14.  

Idid. Acts 14:20.

Peter Elliott