A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 14:1-7 Paul and Barnabas in Iconium
Nearly one hundred miles south-east of Pisidian Antioch, commanding the broad plateau which lies between the Taurus and the Sultan mountain ranges and which is well watered by their rivers, is situated the very old city of Iconium, which today is Turkey’s forth largest town of Konya. It was still a Greek city whey Paul and Barnabas visited, and was a centre of agriculture and commerce.
Although ‘as usual’ the missionaries Paul and Barnabas… went first into the Jewish synagogue, their mission in Iconium was plainly not directed to the Jews alone. On the contrary, they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed (1). But if some Jews and Gentiles were united in faith, others were united in opposition. For the Jews who refused to believe (literally ‘disobeyed’, since faith and obedience go together, as do unbelief and disobedience), stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers (2) by an unscrupulous slander campaign.
So, undeterred by this propaganda, and even (it is implied) because of it, Paul and Barnabas stayed on the and spent considerable time there, correcting the false witness and bearing a true one, speaking boldly for the Lord, or, more accurately, ‘in reliance on the Lord’, who confirmed the message of his grace, ‘a noble definition of the gospel’, by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders (3). Once again we notice the close association between words and signs, the latter confirming the former. As Calvin commented, “God hardly ever allows them (sc. Miracles) to be detached from his Word.’ Their ‘true use’ is ‘the establishing of the Gospel in its full and genuine authority’.
The people of the city were deeply divided, for the gospel both unites and divides; some sided with the Jews, believing their evil stander, while others sided with the apostles (4), persuaded by the truth of their words and wonders. The attribution of the title ‘apostles’ to Barnabas as well as Paul, both here and in verse 14, is perplexing, until we remember that the word is used in the New Testament in two senses. On the one hand, there were the ‘apostles of Christ’, personally appointed by him to be witnesses of the resurrection, who included the Twelve, Paul and probably James (1:21; 10:41). There is no evidence that Barnabas belonged to this group. On the other hand, there were the ‘apostles of the churches’, sent out by the church or churches on particular missions, as Epaphroditus was an apostle or messenger of the Philippian church. So too Paul and Barnabas were both apostles of the church of Syrian Antioch, sent out by them, whereas Paul was also an apostle of Christ.
Slander against the missionaries deteriorated into planned violence. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, that is, ‘with the connivance of the city authorities’, not only to ill-treat them (hybrizo implies insult and humiliation) but actually to stone them (5). But they found out about it, with the result that they fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country (6). Luke is correct in locating these two small towns in Lycaonia, which was one of the regions (Phrygia and Pisidia were others) into which the Roman province of Galatia was divided. But why did the missionaries select them for evangelization? Neither town had a large population or lay on an important trade route, and the local Lycaonians were largely uneducated, even illiterate. Ramsay could even describe Lystra as a “quite backward’. Perhaps they were temporary refuges to which they ‘fled’ (6 and 19-20). At all events, here they continued to preach the good news (7), for nothing could silence them.
Tomorrow: 5. Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and Derbe (14:8-20)
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.