A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 14:8-20 Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and Derbe
Luke concentrates on what happened in Lystra, and gives us no details of the mission in Derbe.
a. The healing of the cripple (14:8-10)
In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
Luke evidently sees the dramatic healing of this man as a counterpart to the healing of the congenital cripple in Jerusalem, since several expressions in the two stories are identical (e.g. lame from birth and looked directly at him). But in Jerusalem Peter was the agent of the divine healing; here it is Paul. The reaction of the crowd is different too.
b. The attempt to worship Paul and Barnabas (14:11-15a)
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
The crowd’s superstitious and even fanatical behavior is hard to comprehend, but some local background throws light on it. About fifty years previously, the Latin poet Ovid had narrated in his ‘Metamorphoses’ an ancient local legend. The supreme god Jupiter (Zeus to the Greeks) and his son Mercury (Hermes) once visited the hill country of Phrygia, disguised as mortal men. In their incognito they sought hospitality but were rebuffed a thousand times. At last, however, they were offered lodging in a tiny cottage, thatched with straw and reeds from the marsh. Here lived and elderly peasant couple called Philemon and Baucis, who entertained them out of their poverty. Later the gods rewarded them, but destroyed by flood the homes which would not take them in. It is reasonable to supposes both that the Lystran people knew this story about their neighborhood and that, if the gods were to revisit their district, they were anxious not to suffer the same fate as the inhospitable Phrygians. Apart from the literary evidence in Ovid, two inscriptions and a stone altar have been discovered near Lystra, which indicate that Zeus and Hermes were worshipped together as local patron deities.
Since it was in the Lycaonian language that the people shouted out their belief that the gods had visited them again, and named Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, it is understandable that the missionaries did not at first understand what was happening (11-12). It dawned on them only when the priest of Zeus…brought bulls and wreaths, intending to offer sacrifices to them (13). At this the missionaries tore their clothes, to express their horror at the people’s blasphemy, and rushed out into the crowd, protesting against their intention, and insisting that they were human like them (14-15).
Tomorrow: c. The sermon Paul preached (14:15b-18)
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.