14:1-6 The Church in the Cosmopolitan City of Iconium
Iconium (modern Konya) was a four or five days walk to the east of Antioch in Pisidia on the main Roman road towards Tarsus. Claudius, who was Emperor (41-54 AD) at this time, gave the city (renamed Claudiconium) for his Roman army veterans to retire in. In addition to Greek speaking Galatians, there was a Greek speaking Jewish synagogue (14.1 see note on 10:1-2) where Paul and Barnabas were allowed to teach the good news. It was also a commercial center with a big textile trade, where Paul could easily find work. So the two missionaries remained there "for a long time" (see 14:3).
When Paul and Barnabas began their work in Iconium there was a Jewish synagogue, where the men were circumcized and kept the Old Testament kosher food laws. But they used the Old Testament Greek translation (LXX) for instruction, and as a result there were Greeks and Romans who attended without being converted to Judaism. Luke records that "a great number of Jews and Greeks became believers" (14:1) which means that some Jews were baptized to learn about the Messiah but they continued in their synagogue. But to accommodate the large numbers of non-Jewish believers there would have been newly formed congregations where uncircumcized Greek speakers and Roman veterans could be baptized and become full members of the one body of the church in the city of Iconium. And this would give rise to the problem that was faced in the Council of Jerusalem in the next chapter.
14:1 The situation in Iconium was similar to that in Antioch with a strong Jewish synagogue which at first allowed the apostles to preach. As a result "a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers" (see note above). Among those who were baptized were the family of Timothy who joined Paul's team for the next missionary journey (see note on 16:1-2).
14:2 These objectors were the original synagogue Jews who did not want their members to have anything to do with uncircumcized people who did not keep to kosher. They poisoned the minds of local residents who felt threatened that members of their families had become enthusiastic Christians. A similar situation is repeated wherever the church is growing.
14:3-4 The "long time" must have been at least six months (compare the stay in Corinth, 18:11 and Ephesus, 19:10 ). In the countryside around the city the villagers would have been Phrygians who were followers of the ecstatic cult of Cybele. The "signs and wonders" would have impressed them, as opposed to the city dwellers who were more interested in the different interpretations of the Greek Old Testament (LXX) which Paul and Barnabas had brought (see note on 10:1-2).
14:5 Eventually the Jews who opposed the message were able to persuade the authorities to let them kill the two preachers, but Paul and Barnabas were able to slip away before they were lynched and stoned (as happened later, 14:19)..
14:6-20 A Cripple is Healed among Phrygian People
Here we have the first account of the good news going out among barbarians (as opposed to civilized Romans and Greeks, see 28:4). Paul said "I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish" (Romans 1:14). He explained that in the new churches of the Spirit "There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but the Messiah is all and in all" (Colossians 3:11). As we noted under 14:3, miraculous signs were more likely to impress these barbarian followers of the cult of Cybele, the Phrygian nature goddess (which was mixed in a typically polytheistic way with the worship of Zeus, 14:12-13. Similarly, when I lived in Varanasi, the Hindu temples were devoted to Shiva or Krishna, but common people served the ruthless goddess Kali).
14:6-7 "The surrounding country" would include relatives of the Phrygians who had come to faith in the villages around Iconium. Lystra and Derbe were two towns in the area where the Phrygians had originally settled . The local inhabitants spoke the Lycaonian language (14:11), as well as Greek for business in the city.. They were very different from the Greeks and Romans in the cosmopolitan city of Iconium. And there was no Jewish synagogue in either of these country towns, but Timothy, whose mother was a Jew married to a Greek in Iconium, probably found work there (see note on 16:1-2).
14:8-10 Paul noticed this cripple who was listening very intently. We wonder what was meant by "seeing that he had faith to be healed." When Luke questioned Paul he might have said "As I saw his faith, I just knew God was touching him, and I remembered hearing about the cripple who was healed near the temple in the early days of the church. So, like Peter I just told him to stand up and he did" (2:1-6).
14:11-13 Everybody knew this cripple, who probably begged by the city gate, and when they saw him standing up and walking the Phrygian people shouted excitedly in the Lycaonian language that Barnabas must be Zeus and Paul must be Hermes (Zeus' messenger). Paul and Barnabas apparently did not know what was happening till the priest of the temple of Zeus' brought oxen (garlanded with marigold flowers) to offer sacrifice in the open space by the city gate.
14:14-15 Barnabas and Paul rushed into the crowd to prevent this. The tearing of one's clothes was a sign used to express great horror (Judges 11:35, 2 Samuel 1:11, 3:31, 1 Kings 21:27). They explained that they were ordinary mortals (not like the gods of polytheism), and they had been preaching good news about the living God, creator of the universe.
14:16 During his visit to Athens Paul later explained "From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each of us" (17:26-27). The Phrygians for example had come into that area about 1500 years before, and in spite of several invasions had continued to survive as a people.
14:17 Jesus explained "Your Father in heaven . . . makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). People may have all sorts of wrong ideas about religion, but anyone anywhere can be thankful. Paul wrote "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things that he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him (Romans 1:19-21). Thankfulness is the beginning of faith, and Paul obviously used that as a foundation for the good news he had to preach.
14:18 It apparently took some time before the crowds were restrained from having the priest of Zeus offer sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas as theophanies (gods appearing on earth).
14:19 Meanwhile the Jewish leaders from Iconium had heard that converts were being made in Lystra, so a delegation of them came the twenty miles to persuade the crowds to turn against the apostles. Paul was the main speaker so they stoned Paul, and thinking he was dead they dragged his body out of the city.
14:20 We can imagine the scene as the disciples all gathered around, and to their astonishment he got up and walked back into the city (presumably to gather up his books, including perhaps the Gospel of Mark, see note on 12:25, 2 Timothy 4:13) and left the next morning for Derbe.
14:21-28 Completion of the First Missionary Journey
Derbe was on the main highway to Tarsus, and we can imagine Paul with his badly bruised body was tempted to take the three or four day walk to where he was raised and probably still had family and friends. But there was unfinished business to do. He and Barnabas had to strengthen the new churches they had planted, and appoint elders for them to continue their life and witness (14:23).
14:21-22 In spite of the severe persecution in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news in Derbe and the surrounding area. And the result was that "many disciples" were baptized and formed into a church there (including Gaius, later one of Paul's team, 20:4). After this they retraced their steps and visited the churches they had planted. That sounds easy enough, but there was constant opposition as Jesus warned (John 15:18-21), and as Paul experienced (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
14:23 For Paul and Barnabas a mission was not complete until elders were appointed for the self-governing church in each city and town center. Paul never encouraged dependence on himself. Watchman Nee used to say that apostolic mission must not stay and control local churches, and local churches should never control apostolic mission. After preaching the good news across the island of Crete, Paul wrote, "I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town." He also gave some qualifications for those to be chosen for this task (Titus 1:5-9, as in 1 Timothy 3:1-7). In the Jerusalem church elders were appointed by the laying on of hands for a new Greek speaking congregation (6:1-6). The church in Ephesus seems to have had congregations in houses (e.g. in the appendix of Romans 16:1-16), and elders from all these gathered for a conference 80 miles away in Miletus to meet Paul (20:17-38).
14:24-25 At the beginning of their mission in present-day Turkey Paul and Barnabas were apparently in a hurry to get to Antioch in Pisidia, and passed through Perga (13:13) without preaching there, but now they did that on the way back. Attalia (now named Antalya) was and still is the busy seaport 8 miles to the south.
14:26-28 Paul and Barnabas then took a ship back, skirting the south coast of Turkey, for the 400 mile sea journey to Antioch, from where they had been commissioned for their mission (13:1-4). It was Peter who opened the door for Romans to be formed into a congregation of the Spirit (10:44-48). But Paul and Barnabas were now able to report how many such congregations had been established among uncircumcised Greek, Roman, and Barbarian people (see Acts 13:43, 48, 14:1, 21). The problem of Jews and Gentiles having table fellowship together had to be tackled head-on in the first Council of Jerusalem in the next chapter.