Thursday, May 27, 2021

Paul at Lystra, where there's a first time for everything

Paul’s (and Barnabas’) first missionary journey is one eventful stop after another. But the most interesting (or at least the most unique) stop may have been in Lystra in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Lystra is also (many speculate) the hometown of Timothy. There, in Lystra, Paul (well not really Paul, but you know what I mean) heals a lame man. This was a seriously lame man, as we see from the somewhat redundant description of his condition:
And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. (Acts 14:8, NKJV)
So far, so good. But things are about to go squirrely. After the miracle is observed by the natives, they expressed their marvel in their native language, which neither Paul nor Barnabas understood:
11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. (Acts 14:11-12, NKJV)
We surmise the missionaries lack of understanding of the Lycaonian dialect by the fact that they did not object to being identified as Greek gods. 

So we have good news and we have bad news. The good news is that Paul and Barnabas started a revival! The bad news is that it was in the wrong religion. 

 Only later, when they surmised that plans were being made for an unholy and idolatrous sacrifice (to them!) did Paul and Barnabas realize what was happening, and of course they then objected strenuously:
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” 18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14:14-18, NKJV)
Luke refers to Paul and Barnabas as apostles in v14. A factoid: this is the only place in Acts where Luke uses that title for either of the men. 

Apart from being mistaken for human manifestations of Greek gods, what is interesting is the “sermon” Paul preaches in verses 15-17. This is Paul, the master of being all things to all people, morphing to fit his audience. On previous stops in their trek, the audience (found at synagogues) was knowledgeable about the God of Israel and Old Testament prophecy. (Even the Gentile listeners, who were typically “God Fearers”.) Not so here; this rambunctious crowd was purely pagan. In fact, this is the first time Paul preaches to a purely pagan gathering, with the only other recorded occurrence being his preaching at the Areopagus (Acts 17). 

Paul has a simple message, appropriate for a crowd of pagans, namely that they should turn from useless and dead idols to the living God, who cared for them even when they knew him not. 

And if Paul then launched into a deep academic discussion of metaphysics and epistemology, and using such philosophical tools went on to derive (through infallibe extrapolation) strict divine aseity, immutability, impeccability, and impassibility, well for some reason it was not recorded by Luke.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that, if they didn't understand the language, they weren't able to interpret this "tongue."