Acts 14:1-28

In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas entered the Jewish synagogue and spoke both to Jews and Greeks (Hellenists), and many of them became believers. (14:1) The Jews who refused to believe stirred up and exerted a baneful influence on the non-Jews (literally “souls of the nations”), inciting them “against the brothers.” In this case, the “brothers” (if not including all of the disciples in the city) would be Paul and Barnabas, who were “brothers” to all believers in Iconium who had become fellow children in God’s family. Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) is specific in identifying the synagogue leaders and rulers as responsible for the “persecution against the righteous,” and adds, “but the Lord [either the Lord Jesus Christ or his Father] quickly gave them peace.” This suggests that the initial efforts of the hostile leaders of the Jewish community had limited success, providing opportunity for Paul and Barnabas to continue their proclamation of the message about Jesus Christ without interference. (14:2)

Despite those who opposed them, Paul and Barnabas remained in Iconium for quite some time, “boldly speaking about [epí] the Lord.” Because the context is not specific enough to limit the meaning of the Greek preposition epí, translations vary in their renderings (“speaking boldly in reliance upon the Lord” [Wuest]; “speaking boldly for the Lord” [NRSV]; “having faith in the Lord and bravely speaking his message” [CEV]; “preaching fearlessly in the Lord” [NJB]; “speaking boldly about the Lord” [GNT]). To retain the basic meaning of epí (“on” or “upon”), words such as “in reliance” or “in dependence” have to be supplied. (14:3)

The Lord Jesus Christ backed the fearless proclamation of Paul and Barnabas by performing “signs and wonders through their hands.” These “signs and wonders” could have included restoring sight to the blind, making the lame whole, and curing all kinds of diseases. In this way, the Lord Jesus Christ “bore witness to the word of his favor” through them as his agents, confirming the trustworthiness of the “word.” This “word” or message is what Paul and Barnabas proclaimed, making known to others how divine favor had been made possible through the Lord Jesus Christ and how they could become recipients of this favor (forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God) by putting faith in him and accepting his sacrificial death for them. (14:3)

The agitation of the unbelieving Jews caused the multitude in Iconium to become divided, with some siding with the Jews and others siding with the “apostles,” Paul and Barnabas. While Paul had been specifically chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ to be an apostle (“sent forth one”) to the nations, Barnabas was an apostle from the standpoint of his having been sent out first by the community of believers in Jerusalem and then, with Paul, by the congregation in Syrian Antioch. Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) adds that those who stuck with the apostles did so “because of the word of God.” (14:4)

It appears that a second attempt was made to incite opposition against Paul and Barnabas. Certain Jews and non-Jews, “with the leaders” or “rulers” in the city, determined to take hostile action, intending to treat Paul and Barnabas outrageously and to stone them. (14:5)

Upon coming to know about this development, they fled to Lystra and Derbe, “cities of Lycaonia,” and to the surrounding country. (14:6; see for pictures of and information about Lystra and Derbe. Also see the Notes section.) Wherever they went, Paul and Barnabas continued to make known the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ. (14:7; see the Notes section.)

This part of the narrative (verses 6 and 7) is a summary statement about the cities and the area where Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news after they fled from Iconium. In the course of its history, Lycaonia did not always have the same boundaries. It was a region in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia in Asia Minor, with Cappadocia on the east, Pisidia and Phrygia on the west, and Cilicia on the south. Lystra, the first city to which Paul and Barnabas fled, lay about 20 miles (over 30 kilometers) southwest of Iconium (Konya). (14:6, 7)

Among those hearing the words of Paul in the city of Lystra was a man who did not have the use of his feet. He had been lame from birth and so had never walked. Just exactly where this man was sitting is not mentioned in the account. It is likely that he had been carried to a location where there would be considerable traffic, providing him with opportunities to beg for aid. Based on verse 13, the location could have been near the city gates. (14:8)

The lame man listened to the message, and his attentiveness and reaction appear to have revealed to Paul that he had “faith to be saved.” This would have been the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that he could be made whole physically. (14:9) Therefore, with a loud voice, Paul said to him, “Stand up straight on your feet!” The man “jumped up and started to walk about.” (14:10)

Upon witnessing the astonishing miraculous cure, the people imagined that Paul and Barnabas were gods. In the Lycaonian language, they cried out loudly, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” In the first century, mythological accounts existed about gods appearing in human form. For example, the Roman poet Ovid (born in 43 BCE), in Book VIII of The Metamorphoses, relates a myth regarding Jupiter (Zeus) and Mercury (Hermes) disguising themselves as mortals and not being received hospitably by anyone other than a poor couple (Philemon and Baucis) living in a humble cottage. In view of the existence of such myths, it is not surprising that the people of Lystra considered Paul and Barnabas to be gods. (14:11)

They called Barnabas Zeus, the principal god in the Greek pantheon, and they identified Paul as Hermes, the messenger of the gods. This is because Paul was the one who did most of the speaking. Inscriptions that were discovered in the neighborhood of Lystra make mention of both Zeus and Hermes. (14:12)

News about the miraculous cure must have spread quickly. The priest of Zeus appears to have served at a temple outside the city, and he brought “bulls and garlands to the gates,” either those of Lystra or those of the temple precincts. With the crowds that accompanied him, he intended to offer the bulls as sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. The garlands or wreaths would have been used for decoration around the necks of the animals. (14:13)

Upon hearing about this development, “the apostles Barnabas and Paul” were horrified. In tangible expression of their intense feelings about what to them amounted to blasphemy, “they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd,” shouting (14:14; see the Notes section), “Men, why are you doing this? We [‘also,’ not in all manuscripts] are men like you, and we are declaring the good news to you that you should turn away from these futile things to the living God.” (14:15)

The reference to the only true God as “the living God” served to emphasize the utter futility or emptiness of venerating lifeless images of deities. Paul and Barnabas were not gods but mere humans, mortals, just like the people of Lystra were. The “living God” was the Creator, “the one who made the heaven [the celestial vault] and the earth and the sea, and all the things in them.” With this expression, which incorporates the words found in Exodus 20:11 and Psalm 146(145):6 (LXX), Paul focused the attention on the “living God” to whom the people of Lystra should have turned, for he was the source of everything. (14:15)

A new phase in God’s dealings with humans had begun. In the case of former generations, God “had allowed all the nations to go in their [own] ways.” These ways included the veneration of numerous deities through a variety of rituals. (14:16) Although God permitted the people of the nations to create their own gods and develop rites and ceremonies to honor these deities, he did not leave himself without any testimony that pointed to him. He did not withhold from them what they needed for the continuance and enjoyment of life. Instead, he did good, or continued to allow them to experience good things, granting them “rains from heaven and fruitful seasons.” They benefited from the rains that were essential for the growth of crops, and thus they were able to enjoy bountiful harvests. Their “hearts” came to be filled with “food and gladness.” The word “hearts” may here be used as meaning the individuals. They had been able to eat to satisfaction and this had contributed to their gladness or had cheered them. The good things that had been granted to them should have caused them to consider that the source could not possibly be some deity represented by a lifeless image. (14:17)

Despite having made it unmistakably clear that they were not gods who had appeared in human form, Paul and Barnabas barely succeeded in preventing “the crowds from sacrificing to them.” (14:18) The attitude of the people toward Paul and Barnabas, however, changed quickly when unbelieving Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium. They had apparently heard about where Paul and Barnabas had gone and decided to put a stop to their activity. Once in Lystra, these hostile Jews succeeded in winning over the crowds. The mob then “stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city.” They appear to have knocked him unconscious but thought that they had killed him. (14:19)

The Greek text can be understood to mean that the hostile Jews who had come from Antioch and Iconium were the ones who stoned Paul. A number of translations can be understood to convey this significance. (14:19) “Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and after turning the minds of the people against Paul they stoned him.” (J. B. Phillips) “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they had won over the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged him out of the city.” (HCSB) “But now a party of Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and, having won over the crowd, they stoned Paul.” (Weymouth) Others have rendered the Greek text to indicate that the hostile Jews incited the people of Lystra to stone Paul. “They turned the minds of the people against Paul and Barnabas and told them to throw stones at Paul.” (NLB)

“When, however, the disciples” (fellow believers) surrounded him, Paul must have become aware of their presence, probably upon hearing their voices. “He stood up and entered the city.” A number of ancient translations indicate that Paul entered the city in the evening under the cover of darkness. The next day he and Barnabas left Lystra and headed for Derbe, well over 50 miles (less than 90 kilometers) to the southeast. (14:20)

In Derbe, their proclaiming the message about Jesus Christ met with good response, and quite a number of persons became disciples. It may have been at this time that Gaius became a believer. (20:4) After a successful stay at Derbe, Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. (14:21; see the Notes section.) They “strengthened the souls of the disciples,” likely doing so with consoling and comforting assurances respecting divine love and care that infused the “souls of the disciples” or the disciples themselves with confidence and hope. Paul and Barnabas encouraged the disciples in these cities to “remain in the faith,” that is, to continue steadfast in their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his devoted followers. When encouraging them, they stressed that it would not be an easy course. Entering “the kingdom of God” would involve experiencing much suffering. The kingdom of God is the realm where he is recognized as Sovereign and rules by means of his Son whom he has constituted King of kings and Lord of lords. Final entrance into this realm takes place when believers are glorified, coming into possession of the sinless state as God’ approved children. While living in a world that is alienated from him, however, they were to expect “many tribulations” or much distress. (14:22)

Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in the congregations or communities of believers in the three cities. These elders would have been exemplary men who were entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the welfare of fellow believers and providing wholesome teaching to assist all to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. At the time, Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted (probably with the objective of being fully receptive to the leading of God’s spirit), and then entrusted the newly appointed elders to the Lord Jesus Christ, the one in whom they had come to believe. They thus committed them to his care and aid. (14:23)

At this point, Paul and Barnabas started their return trip to Syrian Antioch. They traveled southward from Pisidian Antioch through the regions of Pisidia and Pamphylia, doubtless taking the same land route by which they had come when first arriving in Asia Minor from the island of Cyprus. (14:24) In the city of Perga, they made known “the word” (either “the word of the Lord” or “the word of God,” according to other manuscripts). The account does not comment about what resulted from their speaking the “word,” or the message about Jesus Christ. From Perga, Paul and Barnabas went down to the seaport of Attalia. Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) adds that they also proclaimed the good news in that city. (14:25)

From Attalia, Paul and Barnabas set sail for Syrian Antioch, from where they had originally been sent forth after their being set apart for service by God’s spirit. At the time of their commissioning, they had been “commended to the favor of God for the work.” This work they had then completed. The “favor of God” they experienced during the course of their ministry included his aid and guidance. As Seleucia had been the city of departure when they originally sailed to Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas must first have come to this seaport and then headed to Syrian Antioch. (14:26)

Having fulfilled their commission, they assembled the community of believers in Antioch and related to them all that God had done with them, which included his opening to the “nations” [non-Jews] the door of faith.” This “door” may be understood to mean the opportunity for non-Jews to gain entrance into God’s kingdom (the realm where he rules by means of his Son) through faith. The object of this faith is the risen Lord Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with his Father that the surrender of his life made possible. (14:27) For a considerable time thereafter, Paul and Barnabas remained with the disciples in Antioch, continuing to associate with them as fellow believers and members of God’s family of approved children. (14:28)


Verse 6 identifies Lystra and Derbe as a cities of Lycaonia, which would indicate that Iconium was not part of Lycaonia. Strabo and Cicero, however, referred to Iconium as a city in that region, and Xenophon mentioned Iconium as a city of Phrygia. These differences appear to reflect the shifting borders of Lycaonia.

In verse 7, Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) adds, “and the whole multitude was moved by the teaching; and Paul and Barnabas stayed in Lystra.”

In verse 14, Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) omits “the apostles.”

Among the early disciples in Lystra doubtless were Timothy, his mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois. (14:21; 16:1, 2; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:10, 11)