Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Council of Jerusalem

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch in Syria after their first missionary journey, a controversy occurred that resulted in their being sent with some other believers to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles and elders. The council that followed was a key step in transforming the fledgling Christian movement from just another jewish sect into an independent religion.

The Controversy (Acts 15:1-5)

1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

We call the men who told the Gentiles Christians at Antioch that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised Judaizers. They probably argued from Genesis 17:9-14 that circumcision was an indispensable sign of the covenant between God and His people. They may also have pointed out that Jesus was circumcised and that he never indicated that circumcision would no longer be necessary.

Paul probably argued against them much as he did in Galatians, where he says:

2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:2-6)

Rather than making accusations against the Judaizers on their way to Jerusalem and during there welcome there by the church and the apostles and elders, Paul and Barnabas declared “all that God had done with them” and “the conversion of the Gentiles.” However, some believers who belonged to the Pharisees, a Jewish sect noted for its strict observance of the law of Moses and of oral tradition, objected that the Gentiles should be circumcised and commanded to obey the law of Moses.

The Discussion and Decision (Acts 15:6-21)

After considerable discussion of the matter by the apostles and elders, Peter got up and reminded them of how God had showed his acceptance of the Gentiles gathered in the house of Cornelius by giving them the Holy Spirit (Acts 10), concluding:

10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

F. F. Bruce notes that the term “yoke” is particularly appropriate here, explaining that “a proselyte [to Judaism], by undertaking to keep the law of Moses, was said to ‘take up the yoke of the kingdom of heaven” (The Book of Acts, rev. ed. The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988], 290). Bruce goes on to observe that, although not all Jews thought of the law as an intolerable burden:

Peter spoke as a representative of the rank and file of Galilean Jews. He knew enough to refuse nonkosher food and not to fraternize with Gentiles (10:14, 18), but he and people like him could not be expected to know or practice all the details of legal tradition. By contrast with those “heavy burdens, hard to bear” (Matt. 23:4), he and his associates had learned to rejoice in their Master’s easy yoke (Matt. 11:29-30). They recognized that their own salvation was due to the grace of Christ; were they to acknowledge a different and more burdensome principle of salvation for Gentile believers? (291)

There was no further discussion and the whole assembly listened to Barnabas and Paul tell about the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentile believers through them.

When they had finished, the leader of the Jerusalem church–James, the brother of Jesus–spoke up. After referring to what Peter had said, he demonstrated that the calling of the Gentiles had been foretold in the Old Testament, quoting from the LXX version of Amos 9:11-12:

16 After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.

James then gave as his judgment that they should not trouble Gentiles who were turning to the Lord except to tell them to abstain from a few things especially disturbing to Jews (see “the Letter” below) because “Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

R. C. H. Lenski comments:

James was not governed by logical or theoretical considerations but only by the different needs of the Gentile Christians in their peculiar situation at that time. On the one hand they were surrounded by their pagan connections, and on the other they found themselves in the same Christian congregations with Jewish members (The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1934], 617).

The Letter (Acts 15:22-35)

The apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to send two of their men, Judas Barabbas and Silas, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with this letter:

23 The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

The Jerusalem church may have based their claim that the Holy Spirit had shared in their decision on such sayings of Jesus as “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things” and “[W]hen the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 14:26; 16:13).

They regarded the four requirements as a concession to, not as a burden on, the Gentile believers. Ernst Haenchen explains:

The “burden of the law from which the Gentiles are to be relieved comprises, firstly and above all, circumcision, then the countless other legal prescriptions nad prohibitions. All this for them now falls away … The Apostolic Council’s edict is … the final recognition of the mission free from the law, hence of Gentile Christianity free from the law. {The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971], 449 and 459)

The men delivered the letter to the church at Antioch, with the result that joy replaced the discord of a few days earlier. After spending some time there encouraging the Christians, Judas and Silas returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching (along with others) the word of the Lord.

“The effects of the decision [and the letter embodying it] were far-reaching,” claims Richard N. Longenecker, going on to give three:

In the first place, it freed the gospel from any necessary entanglement with Judaism and Israelite institutions. … Second, attitudes to Paul within Jewish Christianity were clarified. … Third, the decision of the council had the effect of permanently antagonizing many Jews. (“The Acts of the Apostles,” in vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981], 450.

And in doing these, the Jerusalem Council became, as I said in introducing this article, a key step in transforming the fledgling Christian movement from just another Jewish sect into an independent religion.


Galatians — the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty

While Paul was in Antioch of Syria after his first missionary journey (AD 48-49), he learned that the churches which Barnabas and he had founded in Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe were being won over by false teachers whom we call Judaizers. They told the churches that Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved. They also denied that Paul was an apostle. Paul wrote an emotionally charged letter to the churches to refute the teaching of the Judaizers and to reaffirm the gospel that he had preached to them.

Paul addressed the letter, his first canonical letter, to “the churches of Galatia” because all four communities were in the Roman province of Galatia. (Many scholars think that “Galatia” refers to ethnic Galatia in north-central Asia Minor instead of to the Roman province of Galatia. Paul may have visited ethnic Galatia on his second and third missionary journeys [Acts 16:6; 18:23]. These scholars think that Paul wrote Galatians from Ephesus or Macedonia during his third missionary journey [AD 52-57].) We know it as “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians” or simply “Galatians.” Its theme, justification by faith, gives it a major place in any consideration of Pauline theology. It was a cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation, and Martin Luther called it “my own epistle, to which I have plighted my troth, my Katie von Bora [his wife’s name].”

Key verses in the letter are:

[W]e know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (2:16, ESV)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (5:1, ESV)

Key words are “law” (32), “faith” (22), forms of “just” and “righteous” (13), and “gospel” (12), the number in brackets being the number of times that the word appears in the King James Version of Galatians according to Strong’s concordance.

I plan to use the following outline in preparing the series of articles on Galatians which this article introduces:

1. Introduction (1:1-10)
A. Salutation (1:1-5)
B. Occasion for Writing (1:6-10)
2. Autobiographical (1:11-2:14)
A. Former Life and Call (1:11-17)
B. First Post-conversion Visit to Jerusalem (1:18-24)
C. Second Post-conversion Visit to Jerusalem (2:1-10)
D. Incident at Antioch (2:11-14)
3. Doctrinal (2:15-5:12)
A. Theme of Galatians (2:15-21)
B. Observing the Law or Faith? (3:1-14)
C. The Law and the Promise (3:15-25)
D. Sons, Not Slaves (3:26-4:11)
E. Personal Appeal (4:12-20)
F. Hagar and Sarah (4:21-31)
G. Christian Freedom (5:1-12)
4. Practical
A. Living by the Spirit (5:13-26)
B. Doing Good to All (6:1-10)
5. Conclusion (6:11-18)

The Incident at Antioch

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch in Syria after their first missionary journey, a controversy occurred that resulted in their being sent with some other believers to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles and elders. Here is how Paul describes an incident in the controversy in his letter to the Galatians:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Paul opens his account of the incident by telling the Galatians that when Peter (Cephas) came to Antioch, Paul opposed him to his face because he “stood condemned.” Paul doesn’t identify who condemned Peter. A popular explanation is that Paul meant that Peter stood condemned by the inconsistency of his own actions.

Paul goes on to tell what Peter had done. When Peter visited Antioch, he initially followed the custom of Jewish Christians there of enjoying table fellowship with Gentile Christians. Although this exposed him to the possibility of breaking the Jewish food laws, it was consistent with his having eaten with Cornelius and his friends (Acts 11:3). However, when some men came to Antioch from James (the leader of the church in Jerusalem), they criticized the practice (some scholars suggest that they may even have delivered a message to Peter expressing concern over his action and/or over its possible effect on the relationship between the church in Jerusalem and the Jews) and Peter gradually drew back from it. According to Paul, Peter did so because he feared “the circumcision party,” which could refer to the Jewish Christian representatives of James or to the Jews.

The other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s example, causing a social rift between Jews and Gentiles in the church in Antioch and thus putting pressure on the Gentiles to observe the Jewish food laws to restore unity. This was unacceptable to Paul, who believed that “there is neither Jew nor Greek … in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Because the Jewish Christians’ conduct before the men came from James showed that they also recognized this, Paul described their action as hypocrisy. His noting “even Barnabas” joined them suggests that he was especially hurt by Barnabas’ withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile Christians (the incident probably prepared the way for the disagreement between between Paul and Barnabas shortly afterwards that resulted in their parting company [Acts 15:36-41]).

Paul’s saying “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” suggests that all the events related in verses 12-13 took place before Paul confronted Peter. This prompts the question–why did Paul let things go so far before intervening? Perhaps at first he wasn’t clear as to the implications involved or was reluctant to voice his opposotion openly or perhaps he was absent during the early part of Peter’s stay in Antioch.

When Paul confronted Peter, he did it publicly (“before them all”) as well as personally (“to his face”). His doing so agrees with the injunction that he later gave to Timothy regarding elders, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20). It’s hard to know how much of what follows was actually said on the occasion. Here I’ll comment on just the first sentence (verse 14b), leaving consideration of the rest for my forthcoming series of articles on Galatians.

Eugene H. Peterson paraphrases that sentence thus: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jews when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?” (THE MESSAGE) “Require” might seems strong. However, as I observed above, Peter and the other Jewish Christians’ withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile Christians put pressure on the latter to observe the Jewish food laws to restore unity to the church.

Paul’s not telling the Galatians how Peter and the Antioch church reacted to what he saud to Peter suggests that Peter did not give in to Paul’s rebuke and that the church was more or less siding with Peter at the time that Paul wrote Galatians. Peter could have claimed that, as an apostle to the Jews [Galatians 2:7-8], he withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentile Christians, although seeing nothing wrong with it in itself, out of concern for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Paul himself said in a later letter, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law [though not being myself under the law] that I might win those under the law” [1 Corinthians 9:20). However, the church eventually sent Paul, Barnabas, and others to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders there about the controversy (Acts 15:1-2).

James D. G. Dunn claims that “the Antioch incident was probably one of the most significant events in the development of early Christianity. It shaped that future of Paul’s missionary work, it sparked off a crucial insight which became one of the central emphases in Paul’s subsequent teaching, and consequently it determined the whole character and future of that young movement which we now call Christianity” (Jesus, Paul, and the Law [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Know Press, 1960], 162-63). I agree.

Because He Lives

“The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity. Everything else that was said or done by Christ and the apostles is secondary in importance to the resurrection. If the resurrection did not take place then Christianity is a false religion. If it did take place, then Christ is God and the Christian faith is absolute truth.” Thus Henry M. Morris, founder of Institute of Creation Research, opened The Resurrection of Christ – The Best-Proved Fact in History.

The apostle Paul made a similar claim when he told the Corinthian believers that it was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead which enabled them to be saved from their sins and to have the hope of eternal life.

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Much has been written about the Resurrection. Here I’ll limit myself to summarizing the Resurrection story, stating several explanations that have been made of the story, presenting evidence for one of the explanations (that it actually happened as it is described in the Bible), and considering the significance of the Resurrection.

The Resurrection Story

In early dawn of the day after the Sabbath, some women went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried, taking spices so that they could anoint his body but wondering who would roll the great stone away from the entrance of the tomb (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Some time before they arrived at the tomb, there was an earthquake and an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. His sudden and glorious appearance frightened the soldiers guarding the tomb and “they trembled and became like dead men”and fled (Matthew 28:2-4).

The women arrived at the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away. One of the women, Mary Magdalene, surmising that Jesus had been taken out of the tomb, ran back to the city and told Peter and John. The other women entered the tomb, saw that Jesus’ body was not there, and then saw the angel sitting on the right side. He told them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.” They ran from the tomb to tell the disciples. While they were on the way, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They fell at his feet and worshiped him. Jesus said to them,”Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:5-10; Mark 16:4-8; Luke 24:2-12; John 20:2; Matthew and Mark’s describing the women’s meeting one angel and Luke’s describing them as meeting two angels suggests that they arrived at or at least entered the tomb in two groups, but they may have come together again before meeting Jesus.)

On being told by Mary Magdalene that Jesus had been taken out of the tomb, Peter and John ran to the tomb, followed by Mary. Peter and John saw the linen cloths in which Jesus’ body had been wrapped lying there and saw the face cloth that had been on his head lying separate from them and folded up. Seeing them, John believed. Then the two men returned to their homes. Meanwhile Mary arrived at the tomb and stood weeping outside it. Then stooping to look into the tomb, she saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. Turning, she saw Jesus. He told her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” She went and told the disciples that she had seen Jesus and what he had said to her. (John 20:3-18; Peter, John, and Mary’s not meeting the other women indicates that they took a different route to the tomb than the women did on returning from it.)

Later on the same day Jesus appeared to two believers on their way from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31), to Peter (Luke 24:35), and to the eleven except for Thomas (Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23).

(The partial accounts contained in the four Gospels are hard to harmonize and the above account is just one way of doing so.)

Explanations of the Resurrection Story

My older daughter, her husband, my son, and I are currently reading Chapter 2 of J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity (David C. Cook, 2013). In it the writer, a homicide detective, illustrates the method of inferring to the most reasonable explanation by evaluating each of these possible explanations of the Resurrection story:
1. The disciples were wrong about Jesus’ death.
2. The disciples lied about the resurrection.
3. The disciples were delusional.
4. THe disciples were fooled by an imposter.
5. THe disciples were influenced by limited spiritual sightings.
6. THe disciples’ observations were distorted later.
7. The disciples were accurately reporting the resurrection of Jesus.
Wallace concludes that the last explanation, although it requires a belief in the supernatural, is the most reasonable explanation of the Resurrection story.
(If any reader other than a member of my family wants a fuller statement of any of the other six explanations and a presentation of the problems in it, just ask.)

Evidence for the Resurrection

My family at home read and the Life group which my wife and I host is now reading Gregory and Edward Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic (Scripture Press Publications, 1995). In its Correspondence 16, in response to Ed’s asking, “How can you believe that a man rose from the dead?” Greg presents this evidence for the Resurrection:
1. The Resurrection is testified to by five independent sources — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul.
2. The location of Jesus’ tomb was well known by all and so both his followers and his opponents could easily check to see if his body was still there.
3. The Christian church began in Jerusalem just a few weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion and, although he was a contemporary, exploded in growth.
4. The Resurrection narratives have the characteristics of eye-witness reports and lack the characteristics of legendary narratives.
5. The conversion of Paul is explainable only by his being confronted by the risen Lord.
6. Paul gives us a list of the Resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15, written just 15 to 20 years after the Resurrection, including “to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (verse 6).
7. There is no way of accounting for the transformation of the disciples from fearful and hiding to boldly witnessing except on the basis of the Resurrection.
8. There was no motive for the disciples to fabricate the story of the Resurrection.
(If any reader other than a member of my family or of my Life group wants an elaboration of any of the above pieces of evidence, just ask.)
Additionally, the testimony of hundreds of millions of transformed lives through the centuries and Jesus’ living within believers today show the truth of the Resurrection. In fact Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, described these as “the most conclusive proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Why the Resurrection Matters to You).

The Significance of the Resurrection

I observed above that “the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity,” showing that he is the Son of God and enabling us to be saved from our sins and to have the hope of eternal life. It inaugurated a new age in which we can be united with God, by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit sent to us by Jesus after his resurrection and ascension, and points forward to a future age in which we will live with Him.

In reading about Jesus’ resurrection over the past few days, I encountered several lists of ways in which his resurrection was significant. I considered preparing my own list to include in this article. However I decided instead to share again what Wayne Grudem says about the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). I shared it here last year when my family at home was reading Systematic Theology and I was reporting in Open Theism on what we read.

Here is what I shared then from what Grudem says about the significance of the Resurrection:

Gruden identifies these ways in which the resurrection is doctrinally significant:
1. It ensures our regeneration. Paul says that God “made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:5-6), and Peter says that He “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
2. It ensures our justification. Paul says that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespass and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
3. It ensures that we will receive perfect resurrection bodies. Paul describes Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20), implying our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrection body.

Grudem identifies these ways in which the resurrection is ethically significant:
1. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and we too shall be raised from the dead, we should continue steadfastly in the Lord’s work. After making a lengthy exposition on the resurrection, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
2. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and we have been raised to new life with him, we should set our minds on heavenly things. Paul says, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above” (Colossians 1:4).
3. For the same reason and because “the death [Jesus] died he died to sin, once for all,” we should “consider ourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). Paul continues, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).

Because He Lives

God sent His Son, they called him Jesus,
He came to live, die, and forgive;
He lived and died to sign my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know he holds the future,
And life is worth the living, just because he lives.

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives!

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know he holds the future,
And life is worth the living, just because he lives.

(Bill and Gloria Gaither, 1971)

Paul’s First Missionary Journey – 4. Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe

In my last article in this series of articles on the life of the apostle Paul, I considered the sermon that Paul preached in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. From Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went on to Iconium. This article summarizes Paul and Barnabas’ visits to Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe and their journey back to Antioch in Syria.


Paul and Barnabas’ visit to Iconium followed much the same pattern as their visit to Pisidian Antioch had. They visited the synagogue and witnessed so effectively that many Jews and God-fearing Gentiles believed. However, the Jews who didn’t believe stirred up such opposition to them among the city’s Gentiles that despite God’s confirming their message with signs and wonders, they eventually had to flee to Lystra and Derbe in tne neighbouring region of Lycaonia to escape a plot to mistreat and stone them.

The section of the mid-second-century apocryphal The Acts of Paul about Paul’s visit to Iconium contains a description of Paul that may rest on fact: “a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat crooked, full of grace, for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.” Of course, it might also be, as F. F. Bruce puts it, “the product of the writer’s lively imagination” (The Book of Acts, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 272.).

Lystra (Acts 14:8-20)

As Paul was speaking to a crowd in Lystra, he saw that one of those listening, a man who was lame from birth and had never walked, had “faith to be healed.” The man’s countenance may have shown Paul that he had this faith, or Paul may have been made aware of it by the Holy Spirit. He called to the man in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV),” and the man jumped up and walked. (The miracle resembles Peter’s healing of a lame man in Acts 3:1-8. In each instance there were two apostles, a man lame from birth, an unsolicited healing, and great effects. However, there was a major difference: here faith preceded the healing, but in the earlier incident faith followed the healing.)

Amazed by the healing, the crowd concluded that Paul and Barnabas were gods, identifying Barnabas with Zeus (the king of the gods in the Greek pantheon; some commentators suggest that the crowd identified Barnabas as Zeus because of his more dignified bearing) and Paul with Hermes (the messenger of the gods) “because he was the chief speaker,” and shouted in Lycanonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.” Then, led by the priest of Zeus, they brought oxen draped with garlands to the temple of Zeus just outside the city gates to offer sacrifices to Barnabas and Paul.

The crowd’s reaction is understandable in light of an ancient legend that Zeus and Hermes had visited a town in the area and, not being recognized, had been refused lodging except by an elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis. The two gods had rewarded the couple by transforming their cottage into a splendid temple but had destroyed the town for its inhospitality.

When Paul and Barnabas heard what was taking place, they tore their garments (among the Jews the tearing of garments was a recognized way of reacting to blasphemy [Mark 14:63], but here it was probably a sign of distress and agitation) and rushed from where they were into the crowd, shouting:

15 Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.

However, even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the people from sacrifing to them.

The summary that Luke gives of what Paul and Barnabas said is one of two examples in Acts of Paul’s addressing a purely pagan audience (the other, fuller, example is Paul’s speech to the Aeropagus in Athens [17:22-31]). He appealed to God’s revelation in nature rather than to His revelation in Israel’s history as he had done in his sermon in the synagogue at Pisidia Antioch (13:16-41), illustrating how he always kept his audience in mind.

Somehow the Jews from Antioch and Iconium got together and followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra, where they “persuaded the crowds,” who were probably already disappointed by the missionaries’ refusal to accept divine honours. The crowd stoned Paul and, thinking that he was dead, dragged him outside the city. However, as those who had accepted the gospel in Lystra stood around him, he got up and courageously returned to the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

Derbe (14:21a)

All that Luke says about Paul and Barnabas’ ministry in Derbe is that they “preached the gospel” and “made many disciples.” He doesn’t mention any opposition.

Return to Antioch in Syria (14:21b-28)

From Derbe Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. This time they confined their ministry to “strengthening the souls of the disciples.” They encouraged them to remain in the faith, even in the face of the hardships that they would probably experience, and appointed elders in each church, committing them to the Lord with prayer and fasting.

At Antioch, Paul and Barnabas gathered together the congregation that had sent them out and “declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” I find it significant that Luke doesn’t report that they told what they had done but rather that they told what God had done and like Matthew Henry’s observation: “The praise of all the little good we do at any time must be ascribed to God; for it is he that worketh with us to make what we do successful.”