Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 354 - November 1885
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 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 disobeyed1 stirred up the souls of the Gentiles and aggravated [them] against the brethrel.2 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 Jeώs 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" (ver. 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. i. 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 (ἀπ) 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 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 pursue their gospel work.
"And there sat a certain man at Lyatra powerless in his feet,3 lame from his mother's womb, who never had walked. This [man] heard Paul speaking, who, fastening his eyes on him and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, said with a loud voice,4 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 unto 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 balls 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 οut5 unto the crowd, crying out and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like affections with you, preaching and evangelising to you that ye should turn from these vain things unto a6 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 yon7 from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your8 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" (ver. 8-20).
The heeling 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 ver. 10 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 mote natural, as they had the fabulous tradition made current a little while before by a Latin poet 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 as to Paul; and the proposal to do them sacrifice followed as matter f 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 Catholic 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 of like affections with you, preaching to you that ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God" &c. Substantiality it was an appeal akin to what Paul afterwards uttered to the Athenians on the Areiopagns. 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 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 He in the generations bygone 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 he hard to prove how telling was every word, and how all the undeniable truth thus conveyed indirectly dissipated the mischievous and destructive and demoralising 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 shew and Rοm. i. briefly declares in the burning 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). Hew awful to think that Christendom over its largest half pays divine honours to men of like affections as themselves! It is admitted that apotheosis goes beyond canonisation; 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 brie Mediator; and consequently the peculiar assault of the enemy is not by honouring more gods than the living (led, but by setting up other mediators or intercessors, as the Virgin, angels and saints, as well as 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 acid lconium; 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 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 shew 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 them there, as ever since, ready victims. And why? That very refusal of homage, which the Lystrians were ready to pay, is most offensive to man, and disposes him to believe the most odious misrepresentations of these he was about to worship. Men exalt themselves by human adoration; and to be baulked 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), they listen to Jewish calumny though ordinarily despised, and stone him as a false prophet, 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 bad 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, the world was not worthy. Christ alone was and is the worthy One. He could say, as he did, "to me to live is Christ "—not the work, but Himself, which is 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 he 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 are in neither suggestion the mind of Christ; and this the apostle had and acted on. May it be curs in His grace.
1) E L P and most cursives support the received ἀειθοῦντες, but the older give ἀπειθῆσαντες, a completed act.
2) D E &c. 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.
3) "being" Η L P &c. (T. Rec.) but not in the most ancient. The aorist seems best for the last verb.
4) Lachman follows C D E &c. in adding " I say to thee, In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."
5) The best MSS. "out," not "in" as in the Text. Rec. and most copies.
6) The definite article is probably to be omitted as in the best.