Acts 14

If the Pisidian Antioch has only of late been identified, there is no doubt that Koniyeh, a considerable town of some forty thousand souls, represents in our day Iconium, the changed scene of apostolic labours which now opens to us. It was then an important city, having rapidly grown up from Strabo’s estimate in the reign of Augustus, as we may gather from Pliny’s account, a few years later than the inspired one, though far below what it became as the capital of the Seljukian Sultans.

Here, as in the city just left, the Jews had a synagogue, to which Paul and Barnabas repaired as usual. Persecution had in no wise daunted their courage or cooled their love and zeal in the gospel.

‘And it came to pass in Iconium that they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake that a great multitude of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews that disobeyed140 stirred up the souls of the Gentiles and aggravated [them] against the brethren.141 A considerable time therefore they stayed, speaking boldly in reliance on the Lord that gave witness unto the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided; and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when an effort was made of both the Gentiles and Jews with their rulers to outrage and stone them, becoming aware of it they fled unto the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the [country] round about, and there they were preaching the gospel’ (vers. 1-7).

There was without doubt marked blessing at Iconium, where the Lord honoured and used largely the bold preaching of His grace: ‘a great multitude of both Jews and Greeks believed.’ This roused the enemy, and the Jews that disobeyed the glad tidings (cf. 2 Thess. 1:8) stirred up the souls of the Gentiles and made them evil-affected against the brethren. It was not a visit from without but the alienation of the Jews that refused God’s message on the spot, as is confirmed by the correct form of the word ( ἀπειθήσαντες) in the more ancient witnesses as against the Received Text. But this only drew out a pretty long stay and plain speaking in dependence on the Lord, Who on His part displayed His gracious power not only in the more ordinary testimony to His word but in confirmatory signs and wonders, of which we heard nothing at Antioch in Pisidia. It is a solemn fact, however, that such deeds of divine energy, as the rule, do not turn the stubborn heart. Men judge mainly in accordance with their feelings, whatever be the qualms of conscience; and where the will is set on its own way, none so hardened as those that breathe a constant atmosphere of miracle, as we see in the wilderness history. So here in the face of all, the multitude of the city was rent in twain; and if some held with the apostles, others as decidedly held with the Jews, the hereditary enemies of the gospel, ever ingenious in perverting and undermining what might have told on upright minds.

But the intent of violence, which had oozed out, brought the testimony to a close: for a plan or start of this kind seems to be the force of what is meant here, rather than an ‘assault’, as may be inferred safely from the context. Had there been an actual ‘rush’, there seems little propriety in the words ‘becoming aware of’ what could not be doubted and made escape hard. Nor does the form of the verb admit of the rendering ‘was making’; for the aorist must signify a definite fact instead of anything merely in course, which would be rather the imperfect. If they got cognisance of purpose to outrage and stone them so generally formed as to carry along Gentiles and Jews with their rulers, they judged it wise to leave with all haste. And so they fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the country around; and there they pursued their gospel work.

‘And there sat a certain man at Lystra powerless in his feet,142 lame from his mother’s womb, who never had walked. This [man] heard Paul speaking, who, fastening his eyes upon him and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, said with a loud voice 143 Rise upright on thy feet: and he leaped up and walked. And the crowds seeing what Paul did, lifted up their voices in Lycaonian, saying, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes because he took the lead in speaking. And the priest of the Zeus that was before the city, having brought bulls and garlands unto the gates, would have sacrificed with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard [of it], they rent their garments, and sprang out144 unto the crowd crying out and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like affections with you, preaching [or, evangelizing] to you that ye should turn from these vain things unto145 a living God Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all things in them; Who in the bygone generations suffered all the Gentiles to walk in their own ways. And yet He left not Himself without witness in that He did good and gave you146 from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your147 hearts with food and gladness. And saying these things they with difficulty restrained the crowds from sacrificing to them. But there arrived Jews from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged [him] without the city, supposing that he was dead. But as the disciples encircled him, he rose up and entered into the city’ (vers. 8-20).

The healing of the hopelessly lame man was eminently suited to arrest a rude heathen crowd, besides its being a practical as well as extraordinary witness to the gracious character of God so foreign to the thoughts of man left to himself. All was in contrast with the mysterious mumblings with which their wizards practised their charms. The addition to verse 10 (see footnote) was made early to save the appearance of pretension on the part of him who wrought the miracle. The absence of the clause is the instructive lesson that as such words would be unavailing in another mouth (definitely proved long after at Ephesus), so they are by no means called for where all the life and testimony were set on magnifying Christ. There was no legally required formula. Of all men Paul was most conspicuously, as he loved to call himself, the ‘bondman of Jesus Christ’; so that in his case it was the less necessary by a formal declaration to disclaim any virtue to heal by his own power or holiness.

That heathen should conclude as the Lycaonians did in consequence was the more natural, as they had the fabulous tradition made current a little while before by a Latin poet (Ovid) of the Augustan age that these very deities had been entertained in a part of Asia Minor. Physical differences would lead to the respective identification of their superstitious minds, besides the specific reason assigned in the case of Paul: and the proposal to do them sacrifice followed as matter of course. The scene is as usual set graphically before us; the crowd, the priest of Zeus (whose temple, or statue, was before the city), with the oxen and garlands all ready brought to the gates (of the house or court probably, where the apostles lodged). On the other hand we see the indignant and most earnest rejection of the God-dishonouring honour by Barnabas and Paul (for so they are presented in accordance with their assigned place), springing forth with garments rent and loud remonstrance. Their words were no less uncompromising though courteous. And what a difference from Romanist missionaries doing evil that good might come, or rather accepting a gross sin in order to propitiate their way, and to make a new and not less grievous and more guilty idolatry perpetual!

But the witnesses of the Lord Jesus are jealous for a living and true God and refuse to allow a sinful personal influence at His expense. ‘Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like affections with you, preaching to you that ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God. . . Substantially it was an appeal akin to what Paul afterwards uttered to the Athenians on the Areopagus. How debasing is heathenism! The ignorant Lycaonian and the refined Athenian needed the same sort of discourse. They are set to spell the alphabet of creation. Here, however, it is not so much the unity of God and man’s true and near relationship to Him in contrast with his absurd reverence of idols or his god-making, it is God’s active beneficence attested to the Lycaonians in rains and fruitful seasons, with their results in plenteous food and gladness.

That the gods are envious at human gladness was the lie and curse of paganism. Not such is He Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them. Who could deny that in the generations bygone He suffered the nations to proceed in their own ways? If He sent the gospel now concerning His Son, was it not in full accordance with the active goodness He had testified to all lands and times in those bountiful gifts from heaven which overspread the otherwise barren earth with every good thing for man’s life and heart? We need not dwell on each phrase; but it would not be hard to prove how telling was every word, and how all the undeniable truth thus conveyed indirectly dissipated the mischievous and destructive and demoralizing falsehoods of heathenism, to which their minds and habits had been inured, not only in their religion but in the whole of their outward relations saturated with that poison, as their own literary remains show and Rom. 1 briefly declares in the burning yet holy reproofs of its latter verses.

So inveterate is the idolatry of the heart that it was with difficulty the crowds were kept from sacrificing to the Lord’s servants (ver. 18). How awful to think that Christendom over its largest part pays divine honours to men of like affections as themselves! It is admitted that apotheosis goes beyond canonization; but the dishonour to God and the injury to man can scarcely be said to be less. For the distinctive truth now is the unity, not of the Godhead only, but of the true Mediator; and consequently the peculiar assault of the enemy is not by honouring more gods than the living God, but by setting up other mediators or intercessors, as the Virgin, angels, and saints, no less than nullifying the full and intimate knowledge of God as the Father and the Son by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Here Romanism is the chief offender, though others are not free from the taint, as indeed the tendency is common to. the natural man.

But idolatry was not the only danger at Lystra though others entered the scene characteristically to oppose, calumniate, and persecute. This is mostly the work of men who know some truth, but are jealous of more and better. These are the men who stifle conscience and are athirst for blood — blood of God’s saints and Christ’s servants, whom their ill-will blinds them to regard as the most wicked of men. So it was, and so it is. ‘But Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium; and having persuaded the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged him without the city, supposing that he was dead.’ These adversaries were not wholly ignorant of God’s testimony in the gospel. They knew enough to feel how immeasurably it rose above the law, and that it exceeded in glory was enough for their hard and proud hearts, which disdained to own their ruin, any more than God’s righteousness which can and does justify the ungodly through the faith of Christ. To the law they adhered, because it was theirs rather than because it is God’s, to the law, even though it can, as such, show no mercy to the guilty, and itself bears witness to the Messiah, the only Saviour of the lost. But to this witness they were wholly blind, being only alive to the pride of possessing it from God to the exclusion of all others. Yet when the gospel went out to others, they were eager to persuade these poor despised heathens that the word of God’s grace which Paul preached was nothing but imposture. Alas! they found the crowds there, as ever since, ready victims. And why? That very refusal of homage, which the Lystrans were ready to pay, is most offensive to man, and disposes him to believe the most odious misrepresentations of those he was about to worship. Men exalt themselves by human adoration, and to be balked of it soon turns to the hatred and perhaps death of those who seek the honour of the only God. So it was here. Instead of changing their minds like the Maltese (who from a murderer regarded Paul as a god, Acts 28:6), they listen to Jewish calumny though ordinarily despised, and stone as a false prophet him to whom they had been so lately wishing to sacrifice, leaving him dragged without the city as a dead man.

But his life was in him, as he himself said later of Eutychus; and as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up and entered into the city (ver. 20). Paul’s work was only beginning, not done. To abide in the flesh was needful for many sinners as for all saints. It could not be that he was to expire thus, though Jews had incited Gentiles to do their worst, and imagined all was over. Grace had called him to its own great work of salvation, as well as of edifying the body of Christ. Nor was it enough that he rose up; he entered into the city, from which he had just been dragged outside as a corpse. Such was the faith and love of this more than martyr soul. Of him, if of any, we may surely say that the world was not worthy. Christ alone was and is the worthy One Paul could say, as he did, ‘To me to live is Christ’ — not the work only but Himself, of all things the most elevating, purifying, and strengthening of motives in that work. It is the spring of lowliness as of love, of courage as of faith. So rising up Paul entered into Lystra. Fear would have said, Go anywhere else just now. Self would have whispered, Stay there and see what a future triumph for the gospel! But the thoughts of man in neither suggestion are the mind of Christ, and this the apostle had, and acted upon. May it also be ours in His grace!

The apostle had now nearly reached the extreme point of this the first missionary journey.

‘And on the morrow he went forth with Barnabas to Derbe.’ This, or the country round about, was the farthest limit westward for the present. It might have seemed an inviting opportunity to have visited Cilicia or even Tarsus, but he that blamed John Mark, who left them and the work to return to Jerusalem, was not the man to allow such a claim; as even Barnabas seems to have done when he took Mark with him and subsequently went to Cyprus.

‘And,1 after preaching the gospel to that city and making many disciples, they returned unto Lystra, and unto1 Iconium, and unto148 Antioch, establishing the souls of the disciples, exhorting [them] to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God’ (vers. 21, 22). It was in this neighbourhood and during this visit apparently that Timothy was brought to the Lord through the apostle Paul (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2), for in Acts 16:1 he is spoken of as already a disciple in Derbe and Lystra, well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Here no reference is made, though grace had great things in store for him. It was enough to add about Derbe that the preaching was blessed to many there as elsewhere.

We next hear of their return, visiting in reversed order Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. The circumstances gave a new character to the work. First, they were ‘establishing the souls of the disciples’. For this is a necessary part of the labour of love, and a real need for new-born souls, and many who are blessed in awakening have little power to confirm the young disciples. Here were servants of the Lord fitted beyond all to help on the unestablished; and we are told of their exhorting them to abide in the faith. How much there is to alarm in it if not to seduce from it! But they are also warned of the difficulties in the way, especially of the numerous severe trials which intervene, or, as it is expressed, ‘that through many tribulations we149 must enter into the kingdom of God.’ So the Lord had told the early disciples who as Jews might and did expect things smooth and bright, now that the Messiah was come. But He was come to suffer and to go on high, rejected of men and of His earthly people; which gives room to a yet deeper aggravation of the suffering path before glory dawn. And if Paul was a great preacher, not less was he a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Christ was ever his theme; ‘Whom we announce,’ as he says himself, ‘admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, to the end we may present every man perfect in Christ: whereunto also I labour, combating according to His working that worketh in me in power’ (Col. 1:28, 29). He never took any Christian duty lightly, least of all that which lies so near to God’s purpose and Christ’s affection, even for those who had not seen his face in the flesh: that their hearts might be encouraged, being united together in love and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the recognition of the mystery of God, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:1-3). For those are not wanting anywhere, who, deceived themselves, seek to deceive the saints by persuasive speech. The word dwelling in us, and praise and prayer flowing out to God, with diligent testimony in love within as well as without, are grand safeguards; but withal the mind made up with joy for all endurance and long-suffering, as we wait for Christ and the kingdom.

Secondly, another task, which the first visit could not effect, still remained. ‘And when they chose (or, appointed) for them elders in each assembly and prayed with fastings, they commended them to the Lord on Whom they had believed’ (ver. 23). Naturally the differences in Christendom warp the minds of too many in their impressions of this instructive verse. Jerome, though by no means so extreme as some of the early fathers, interprets the word ceirotonhvsante” (which all the early English Versions as well as the Authorized had rendered ‘ordained’, Tyndale, Cranmer, and Geneva adding ‘by election’) of ordination by laying on of hands, as if χειροτονία = χειροθεσία. This, Mr. Humphry rightly treats as untenable, or at least unsupported by any clear example of such a sense.

But we may go farther than Dean Alford, and must affirm that scripture nowhere points to the churches selecting elders by show of hands or in any other way. Indeed the phraseology before us excludes any such thought; for, first, if χειροτονήσαντες necessarily implied any such etymological import here, the meaning must be that Paul and Barnabas chose elders by the method of suffrage. This nobody holds or wishes, but the contrary. And, secondly, this is confirmed yet more abundantly by the pronoun ‘for them’, which excludes the disciples from their desired part in the election, and distinctly makes the apostles choose the elders for the saints concerned. Of all interpretations, therefore, none is so bad as the amiable compromise that the apostles ordained those whom each church elected. The words simply teach that Paul and Barnabas chose elders for the disciples in each assembly. No doubt the word may mean to stretch out the hand, and this especially in voting, but it had long been used, where no such form could be, to express choice or appointment. And this is certain in the New Testament without going outside it, and in Luke’s usus loquendi, as the most prejudiced must allow in Acts 10:41, and here too, unless he contends for Paul and Barnabas holding up their hands in each of these cases. This, however, is not what Congregationalism wants, but that the disciples should thus decide their choice of each elder and of one only in each church, whereas the text declares that the apostles chose elders for them in each assembly150: the most distinct and conclusive disproof of popular election which language can convey. And if laying on of hands followed, it is in no way taught here, for the word refers only to the choice of the presbyters.

Nor does 2 Cor. 8:19 support the idea of an election of the elders popularly, for the question there was solely of brethren acceptable to the assemblies for conveying funds to the saints in distress elsewhere. And it is certain that scripture does warrant the saints at large in choosing those they confide in for such a work, as we see in Acts 6. Still less is there the slightest analogy with the two put forward (not elected) in Acts 1:23, as to whom they prayed the Lord to choose for the vacant apostolate. The lot is a wholly different principle, on which turned the numbering or enrolment of Matthias with the eleven. In short, the procedure here was, just what Calvin denies, the apostles choosing solely in virtue of their peculiar office, as afterwards Titus was commissioned by Paul to appoint the elders in every city of Crete, without a hint of sitting as moderator of a free election by the consent of all. Not only is this Book thus in harmony, but the New Testament as a whole. Where man gave, man was allowed to choose where the Lord gave, He chooses and sends apart from man; where it is a question of order, the authorized envoys of the Lord appointed in His name, not only directly as here, but indirectly through a distinctly recognized channel as elsewhere.

After the choice of elders for the saints, the apostles prayed with fasting and commended them to the Lord on Whom they had believed. The saints in general were the object in view, not the elders only. And whatever the supplication which assuredly preceded and accompanied the delicate work of appointing the elders, it would appear from the language and connection that the prayers and fasting here specified followed that appointment and concerned the saints cast on the sustaining grace of the Lord.

‘And having passed through Pisidia they came unto Pamphylia; and having spoken the word [of the Lord]151 in152 Perga they went down unto Attalia; and thence they sailed unto Antioch, whence they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they arrived and brought the assembly together, they repeated all things God had wrought with them, and how He had opened to the Gentiles a door of faith. And they tarried153 no little time with the disciples’ (vers. 24-28).

Thus the first great evangelistic journey to the heathen by the apostles was brought to a close, Perga having heard the word on their return, if not on the earlier occasion saddened by the departure thence of John. And now Attalia (the modern Satalia, or Adalias) was touched, instead of Paphos, or any other part of Cyprus; and from that port to the Syrian Antioch, their point of departure, the voyage was readily made.

To the remarks already made it is of moment to add a few words more which may help souls. The latter part of verse 26 defines yet more, if it were needed, the import of that which had preceded this missionary visit. It was in no true sense an ‘ordination’ of Barnabas and Paul, but, as here described, it was their recommendation to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. Indeed from Acts 15:40 it would seem to have been repeated on the apostle’s second journey with Silas. The notion of holy orders founded on the beginning of Acts 13 is therefore not only false and alien, but it strips what was done of all its gracious meaning. It is part of that judaizing which for most has darkened New Testament scripture, and debased the true grace of ministry.

Next, we may observe that, though sent out authoritatively by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:4) and thus placed directly under responsibility to the Lord Whose bondmen they were, they were quick to share all His doings with the saints: they call together the assembly whence they had gone out that all might rejoice in His grace, and especially in His grace to the Gentiles. The church is not the source of mission, but the scene of communion with divine grace using the truth for the blessing of the Gentiles by Paul (not Peter), and from Antioch as a starting-point on earth (not Jerusalem nor yet Rome). Patriarchal jurisdiction there was none, till men forgot that the true spring of the authority, power, and blessing was Christ in heaven, and ere long they began to dream of rival sees and their hierarchs. How soon did the little seed become a tree, so that the birds of heaven, which snatch away what was sown in the heart, came and lodged in its branches (Matt. 13:31, 32)!

We should bear in mind that the stay of Paul and Barnabas on their return to Antioch was not short.

140 ELP and most cursives support the received ἀπειθοῦντες, but the older give ἀπειθήσαντες, a completed act.

141 DE, et al, add at the end of ver. 2, ‘but the Lord gave (quickly) peace’. It has no stamp of truth. He was really pleased to give signs and wonders. It was needless here to speak of peace to the believer.

142 ‘Being’ HLP, et al. (Text. Rec.) but not in the most ancient. The aorist seems best for the last verb of the verse.

143 Lachmann follows CDE et al., in adding, ‘I say to thee, In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’

144 The best MSS. ‘out’, not ‘in’ as in the Text. Rec. and most copies.

145 The definite article is probably to be omitted as in the best.

146 ‘You . . .’, not ‘us . . .’ as in Text. Rec.

147 Ibid.

148 The best MSS. support εὐαγγελιζόμενοι, είς being repeated also.

149 There is no real ground for Dean Alford’s notion that the ‘we’ here implies the presence of the narrator, but ὅτι marks the transition from the oratio obliqua to oratio recta.

150 Dr. Bennett says that the more remote antecedent, ‘the disciples’, may be referred to, which is so certainly wrong that he himself immediately changes this by the suggestion that Luke may have designed to show what no doubt (?) was the fact (!), that the apostles concurred in their election, and held out their hands, along with the disciples (!) in favour of the elected elder.

151 Tischendorf on small but ancient authority gives ‘unto Perga’. Rather more of similar character add ‘of the Lord’, or ‘of God’.

152 Ibid.

153 The more ancient authorities do not give ‘there’.