Acts: Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe — Paul Stoned

Read: Acts 14

Paul and Barnabas continue their travels through the Gentile world of their day. They had some success, but a lot of resistance in Iconium, so they kept going to Lystra and Derbe where great confusion stirred anger and the people stoned Paul, presumably to death. Surrounded by believers, Paul continues his ministry and they eventually return to Antioch to tell the sending church about all they have learned and experienced.


It’s interesting to see that both Jews and Greeks are somehow gathered in the synagogue to hear the message Paul brings (Acts 14:1) and encouraging that many heard and believed. Of course, not everyone appreciates Paul’s sermon. He has not come to preach against anyone, but he is preaching there is only one way to salvation. That doesn’t sit well with everyone. No surprise.

The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. Acts 14:4

I’m reminded of the passage in Hebrews that assures us that God’s word will divide:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Lystra and Derbe: Lame Man Healed

As Paul is preaching he notices one particular man is listening intently. This man was lame from birth, he had never walked. Paul discerned that he not only heard the message clearly, but he was moved to accepting Jesus. Looking directly at the man Paul tells him to “Stand up on your feet!” (Acts 14:10). The man is miraculously healed, he begins to walk!

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. Acts 14:11-12

Their rather confusing response led me on a journey to wonder how they would come to this strange conclusion. Why would they associate Paul and Barnabas with Greek gods? The NIVAC provides this insight:

The frenzied response of the Lystrans may be traced to an ancient legend retold by Ovid (43 B.C.– A.D. 17) in his Metamorphosis. Zeus and Hermes once visited the Phrygian hill country disguised as ordinary men. They were turned away from a thousand homes where they sought lodging, but were finally taken in by an elderly couple into their humble home. The gods turned that house into a temple and destroyed all the houses that had rejected them. See NIVAC Reference

You’re welcome to read Metamorphosis here. It’s pretty long and the parts I read are so steeped in mythology that I must admit, I didn’t read it all. I make no claim to any knowledge of Greek Mythology. Ovid was a popular author during that time and given their incredible reaction, his writing must have had a profound effect on these people.

It’s apparent that Paul doesn’t understand the Lycaonian language, but once he and Barnabas see what the people are doing they tear their robes and beg them to listen.

Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God Acts 14:15

It’s a scene of incredible chaos. Confusion leads to revolt fueled by those who disagree with Paul’s message.

Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. Acts 14:19

Crowds are easily swayed, they feed on the negative press and swell to heights of irrational behavior quickly. We’ve seen this in the streets of our own country in recent history. Has nothing changed? We are so modern, yet not so different than those we read about here.

Paul was not dead yet! The disciples gathered around him and he got up and returned to the city, not to confront the crowds or continue the debate, rather, he returned to encourage those who believed and help them get organized.

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14:23

When is the last time you watched someone get stoned, dragged out of the city, then have him walk back in to encourage you? Luke doesn’t dwell on this aspect. He merely reports that Paul got up and when back to work. Crazy!

Missionary Report #1

Paul and Barnabas gathered the church in Antioch and provide their mission report.

they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27

I can hardly imagine the scene as Paul and Barnabas recount the stories, the ups and downs, success and failure, all as the cause of Christ continues to grow. Have faith my friends. Lives are being changed.

And So…

As my friend Tony Jeck would say, “and so” we should ponder these things, seek to understand what we should do with this story. One thing I don’t want to miss is discerning when to stay and when to leave. The first encounter in Iconium was met with great resistance, so even though they spoke boldly, they chose to leave, to move on.

The next encounter must have caught them a bit off guard because they didn’t leave there in time, Paul was stoned. God was not done with Paul yet, but that is no guarantee for us to lean on. My father, among many great people, wisely counseled me to choose my battles carefully. Know when to stay and fight. Know when to leave.

For those who are actually listening, the gospel message is revolutionary, it is unsettling, it shakes the foundation of humanism, and runs counter to every other religion on the planet. This will create friction. Our responsibility is not to shove it in the face of all we meet, but to deliver the message with firm kindness.

Wisdom and discernment are key. Every church needs an actively engaged leadership team or group of elders supported by an effective prayer team to combat forces that would otherwise have us fail. My prayer is for every church to have these foundational teams supporting the leaders God has appointed so they can succeed in spreading the gospel.

…we can afford to suffer now; we’ll have a long eternity to enjoy ourselves. And our enjoyment will be valid and pure, for it will come in the right way at the right time. A.W. Tozer essay, Joy Will Come In Its Own Time


NIVAC Reference: Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 83034-83038). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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