This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 14:1-18. These verses describe how Paul and Barnabas were persecuted in Iconium, and mistaken for gods in Lystra.
Paul and Barnabas persecuted in Iconium.
¶ "In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went together into the synagogue of the Jews. They they spoke so effectively that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. However, the disbelieving Jews stirred up and embittered the souls of the Gentiles against the brethren. For that reason, Paul and Barnabas stayed there a long time. They spoke boldly in the Lord who testified to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the population of the city was divided —part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles."(Acts 14:1-4).
In Iconium. When thrown out of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium, the next town to the southeast (see map this page). Much the same things took place there as in Antioch: Paul and Barnabas first went to the synagogue; many believed their message, but others opposed them —in spite of the miracles which Paul and Barnabas did. Then came the persecution, as we see in the next passage.
¶ "A mob of both the Gentiles and the Jews, with their rulers, were going to mistreat and stone Paul and Barnabas. However, Paul and Barnabas became aware of it, and escaped to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region. There they preached the gospel."(Acts 14:5-7).
A mob were going to stone Paul and Barnabas. In Antioch they'd been driven out of town. Now in Iconium, they were going to be killed. But someone told them about it, so Paul and Barnabas fled to the next towns southward, Lystra and Derbe. But they didn't stop preaching the word. In Lystra they had a quite different experience, as the next passage shows.
Paul and Barnabas mistaken for gods in Lystra
¶ "At Lystra a certain man sat with impotent feet, a cripple from his mother’s womb. He'd never walked. He was listening to Paul, who was speaking. Noticing this, Paul fixed his eyes on him, and saw that he had faith to be made whole. Paul said, with a loud voice, “Stand up on your feet!” The man leaped up and walked."(Acts 14:8-10).
A man lame from his mother’s womb. This miracle performed by Paul is almost identical to the miracle that Peter and John did in Jerusalem (Acts 3). The one real difference is that the man whom Peter healed had no expectation of it, thinking Peter was going to give him some money. But this man in Lystra had faith to be made whole. He believed in the power of Jesus to heal, and he hoped that one of Paul’s wonders and signs would be worked on him. Paul was glad to oblige. Like the man Peter healed, this man immediately leaped and walked.
¶ "When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the language of Lycaonia, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” They called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and would have made a sacrifice, joined by the multitudes."(Acts 14:11-13).
The gods have come down! The reaction of the populace to this miracle was not anticipated by Paul. The purpose of working miracles was to confirm the word preached (Mark 16:20). Paul’s miracle had another quite undesirable effect. Unlike Peter in Jerusalem, Paul was in a pagan city. Pagan reasoning took over: only gods can do wonders, so Paul and Barnabas must be gods. This story illustrates how miraculous powers needed to be used with great care; and helps to explain why they were granted only for a short time.
Zeus and Hermes. These are the Greek names. The Latin or Roman names are Jupiter (for Zeus) and Mercurius (for Hermes). It was believed that Mercurius (Mercury) was the messenger of the gods.
¶ "But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their clothes, and rushed into the crowd. They cried, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you. We preach the gospel to turn you from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them. In past generations he let all the nations go their own ways. Yet he didn't leave himself without witness. He did you good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons. He satisfied your hearts with food and gladness.” Even saying these things, they only just curbed the crowds from making a sacrifice to them."(Acts 14:14-18).
Why are you doing this? Had Paul anticipated the reaction to his healing of the lame man, perhaps he would have spoken more emphatically on these things earlier, before the priest of Zeus brought out garlands and oxen for a sacrifice.
The living God who made the sky... Paul and Barnabas’s frantic message to the crowds comes down to this: your gods are lifeless; they are myths; they cannot do anything; and we are just mortals; don't worship us, but worship the true and living God.
Let all the nations go their own ways. Paul would later write of the idol-worshipping nations, "God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity..."(Romans 1:21-25),"Having overlooked the times of this ignorance, God is now declaring to humanity that all people everywhere should repent"(Acts 17:29-31).
Only just. This was a narrow escape. Paul would rather be stoned than be worshipped! Had Paul and Barnabas not managed to persuade the crowd to cancel the sacrifice, the two preachers would have been devastated and would not have forgotten the disaster in Lystra. Fortunately they were able to avert it.