J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 14
Verses 1, 2
It should not escape the notice of the reader, that the conviction of
these people is attributed distinctly to the force of what the apostles
"so spoke that a great multitude believed." This is one
among many incidental remarks of Luke, which indicate that he had
no conception of the modern doctrine that faith is produced by an abstract
operation of the Holy Spirit, and which confirm by historic
facts the doctrine of Paul, that faith comes by hearing the word of
God. [Romans 10:17.]
In Iconium the two missionaries met with better success
than in Antioch, but they encountered similar opposition, and
from the same source.
(1) "Now it came to pass in Iconium, that they
went together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great
multitude, both of the Jews and the Greeks, believed.
(2) But the unbelieving
Jews stirred up and disaffected the minds of the Gentiles against
The multitude of Jews and Gentiles who believed must
have been "great," not in comparison to the whole population, but to
the number who were usually convinced under such circumstances,
and especially to the number who had just been convinced in Antioch.
For we see that the unbelieving Jews were still an influential body,
and the remark that they "disaffected the minds of the Gentiles" indicates
that the masses of the Gentiles were still unbelievers.
This divided and excited state of the public mind continued
during the whole time that Paul and Barnabas remained in the city.
(3) "They continued there a long time, speaking boldly respecting the
Lord, who bore testimony to the word of his favor, and granted signs and
wonders to be done through their hands.
(4) Yet the multitude of the
city was divided: some were with the Jews, and others with the
(5) But when an onset was made by both Gentiles and Jews,
with their rulers, to abuse and stone time,
(6) they, being aware of it, fled
down to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra, and Derbe, and the surrounding
(7) and there they preached the gospel."
In the rapid sketch
which Luke is giving us of this rather hurried missionary tour, he
makes no definite note of time, to indicate how long the two missionaries
remained at any particular place. The above remark, that they
continued in Iconium "a long time," is the only note of the kind in
the tour, and it is very indefinite. It only indicates that their stay
here was long in comparison with that at most other places during
Though their preaching here was not as successful as might have
been expected from the length of time employed, it received abundant
attestations of the Lord's approval. The proof of this fact adduced
by Luke is quite different from that often adduced for a similar
purpose by modern writers. Now, the proof that a man's ministry
is "owned and accepted" by the Lord, is found in the "abundant outpourings
of the Spirit" which attend it; and this, in other words,
means the number of "powerful conversions" with which it is rewarded.
But the Lord's method of bearing testimony to the word of
his favor, according to Luke, was by "granting signs and wonders to
be done" by the hands of the preachers; while not a word is said,
either by him or any other inspired writer, of such a spiritual attestation
as is now confidently referred to. This shows that our modern
revivalists have confounded the attestations of the word by signs and
miracles, which was common, in apostolic times, with the exciting
scenes which now occur in their revivals. This mistake not only confounds
things essentially different, but assumes that the apostles were
accustomed to scenes of which they never dreamed. Moreover, it
erects a false and very injurious standard by which to judge whether
a man's ministry is acceptable to God. If the preacher who is most
successful in gaining converts is the one whose ministry is most acceptable
to God, then there is not the same value in earnest piety, a
blameless life, and watchful oversight of the flock which the apostolic
epistles would lead us to believe; since it sometimes occurs that men
who obtain the fame of great "revivalists," are quite deficient in these
essential characteristics of an acceptable minister of the Word.
The onset made by the multitude, like the similar proceedings in Antioch,
was instigated by the unbelieving Jews, though effected chiefly
by the Gentiles and the rulers of the city. The escape of the missionaries
must have been narrow, and was probably owing to the kindness
of some stranger, whom Paul and Barnabas may have remembered
with gratitude, but whose name will not be known to the great world
till the day of eternity.
The district of Lycaonia, into which the apostles had fled, was
an interior district of Asia Minor, lying north of the Taurus Mountains,
but of very indefinite boundaries. The exact situation of the
two towns, Lystra and Derbe, is not now known. With the character
of the people, however, which is the important consideration in a narrative
like this, we are made sufficiently acquainted by the narrative
itself. It was one of those retired districts, remote from the great
marts of trade and the routes of travel, where the people retained
their primitive habits, spoke their primitive dialect, and knew little of
either the civilization of the Greeks, or the religion of the Jews. This
rude state of society will account for some of the peculiarities of the
Finding no Jewish synagogues, to afford them an assembly of devout hearers,
the missionaries took advantage of such other opportunities
as offered, to get the ears of the people. Having succeeded in
collecting a crowd in Lystra, they met with the following incident:
(8) "A certain man in Lystra was sitting, impotent in his feet, a cripple
from his birth, who had never walked.
(9) The same was listening to
Paul speaking, who, looking intently upon him, and seeing that he had
faith to be healed,
(10) and said with a loud voice, Stand upright on your
feet; [On the faith to be healed. See Com.Acts iii: 16.]
and he leaped and walked about.
(11) The multitude, seeing what
Paul did, lifted up their voice in the speech of Lycaonia, and said, The
gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.
(12) And they called
Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, Mercury."
Although Paul had been speaking to them of the true God, and of
his Son Jesus Christ, until the cripple, at least, believed; yet, when the
miracle was wrought before them, all their heathenish ideas rushed
back upon their minds, and they at once supposed that they stood in the
presence of gods. Such was the natural conclusion of men who
had been educated from childhood to believe the strange inventions of
heathen mythology. It was an honest mistake, committed through
Their conclusion as to which of the gods had appeared, was as natural
and as instantaneous as their conviction that they were gods.
They had a temple, or a statue, or perhaps both, in front of their city,
as we learn below, to the honor of Jupiter; hence any god who might
appear to them would be naturally taken for him. But when two gods
appeared together, the one who acts as chief speaker could be no other
than Mercury, the god of Eloquence, and the constant attendant of
Jupiter in his terrestrial visits. The remark of Luke that Paul was
called Mercury "because he was the chief speaker," shows that he
was familiar with Greek mythology.
The people felt the warmest gratitude for the visit of their supposed
gods, and gave expression to their feeling in the most approved
(13) "Then the priest of the Jupiter that was before the city
brought bulls and garlands to the gates, and, with the people, wished to
offer sacrifices to them."
The garlands of flowers were designed, according
to a well-known custom of the ancients, to deck the forms of
the bulls about to be offered. It is not altogether certain whether the
"gates" referred to are those of a private court within which Paul and
Barnabas may have retired when first greeted as gods, or the gates of
the city, of which there may have been two or more in the same part
of the wall, and near which the apostles may have remained with a
part of the crowd. The latter I regard as the most probable
supposition. [The criticism of Mr. Howson, vol. 1, p. 193,Revelation 21:12,13,21-25.]
The sacrifices were to be offered to the supposed gods in person,
and not to the image which stood before the city.
Nothing could have been more unexpected or more painful
to the humble missionaries, than a demonstration of this kind. The
purpose of the priest and the crowd with him was, doubtless, communicated
to them before the rites were commenced.
(14) "Which when
the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard, they rent their clothes, and ran
into the crowd, crying aloud,
(15) and saying, Men, why do you do these
things? We are men of like passions with yourselves, preaching the gospel
to you, that you should turn from these vanities to the living God,
who made the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and all things that are
(16) who in generations past suffered all the Gentiles to go on
in their own ways;
(17) although he did not leave himself without testimony,
doing good, and giving you rains from heaven, and fruitful seasons,
filling your hearts with food and gladness.
(18) And by saying these
things they with difficulty restrained the people from offering sacrifice to
The habit of rending one's clothes under the influence of sudden
passion, which Paul and Barnabas had inherited from their ancestors,
and fell into on this occasion, appears very singular to the taste of
western nations. The earliest historical traces of it are found in the
family of Jacob, [Genesis 37:29-34.]
and the example of
Job; [Job 1:20.]
and the latest in the instance
before us, which is the only one recorded of the apostles. How
so childish and destructive a custom could have originated, it is difficult
to imagine; but when once introduced, it is easy to see how it
might be transmitted by imitation, until the use of more costly garments
would put a stop to it with the economical, or the the restraints of
a more enlightened piety would mollify the passions of the religious.
It was, certainly, very inconsistent with the calm self-possession inculcated
by Christ and the apostles; but we can excuse Barnabas and
Saul on this occasion, in consideration of their early habits, which
often spring unexpectedly upon men in a moment of sudden excitement.
In describing their effort to restrain the idolatry of the multitude,
Luke once more reverses their names, saying Barnabas and Saul, as
he did before the conversion of Sergius Paulus.
This is because Barnabas
was called Jupiter, and was the chief figure in this scene. The
care with which Luke changes the order of their names, according
as one or the other is most prominent, confirms what we have
said of the pre-eminence of Barnabas previous to the commencement
of this missionary
tour. [See Com.xiii: 1.]
Though Barnabas, on this occasion, received the chief honor at the
hands of the people, yet Paul continued to play the part of Mercury
which the people had assigned him; for the speech to the idolaters
bears unmistakable marks of his paternity. Mr. Howson notices
the coincidence between the exhortation to the Lystrians, that they
"should turn from these vanities to the living God," and his remark
to the Thessalonians, that they had "turned from idols to serve the
living and true God;"
between the remark that "in generations past
God suffered the Gentiles to go on in their own ways,"
statement to the Athenians, that "the times of this ignorance God had
and finally, between the argument by which he proves
that God had not left himself without testimony among the heathen,
and that in Romans, where he says (to quote the common version,)
"The invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are
clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his
eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."
which I would add, that the coincidence in thought between this speech,
so far as reported, and that made in Athens to another company of
is so striking, that the latter might be regarded as the same
speech, only modified to suit the circumstances of the audience and
the peculiarities of the occasion.
The speech and manner of the apostles finally brought the people
back to their senses. It was a sad disappointment to know that their
wonderful visitors were only men like themselves, and this conviction
left them in great bewilderment as to the nature of the superhuman
power which Paul had exerted.
This state of suspense was most favorable to the acceptance of
Paul's own explanation of his miraculous power, and consequently to
their belief of the gospel; and we can not doubt that some of the disciples,
whom we afterward find there, owed their conviction, in part, to
the circumstance. But with those who did not promptly embrace the
faith, the same suspense made room for explanations unfavorable to
conviction, and such explanations were soon given.
(19) "But Jews
from Antioch and Iconium came thither, and having persuaded the multitude,
and stoned Paul, they dragged him out of the city, supposing that he
The readiness with which a people who had so recently
offered divine honors to Paul were persuaded to stone him to death,
though at first glance surprising, is but a natural result of all the
circumstances. That portion of them who had been prominent in the
idolatrous proceedings felt mortified at the discovery of their mistake,
and were naturally inclined to excuse their own folly by throwing censure
upon the innocent objects of it. The Jews stimulated this feeling
by urging that Paul was an impostor, and that all the honorable
women and chief men of Antioch and Iconium had united in driving
him away from those cities. This enabled them to charge him with
willful deception, and as their feelings were already keyed up to their
utmost tension they were easily swayed to the opposite extreme, and
at a nod from the Jews they were ready to dash him to pieces. That
Paul, rather than Barnabas, was the victim of their wrath, resulted
from the fact that both here and in the cities from which the Jews
had come, he was the chief speaker. The same circumstance which
had given him the inferior place in their idolatry, gave him, finally,
the superior place in their hatred.
Although Paul's physical constitution was feeble, he had, as is
often the case with such constitutions, great tenacity of life. The mob
left him, thinking he was dead.
(20) "But while the disciples were
standing around him, he rose up, and entered into the city, and the next
day he went out with Barnabas into Derbe."
Verses 21, 22
Having been compelled to fly from Antioch to Iconium, and
from Iconium to Lystra, wading into deeper dangers at every step,
who can tell the feelings with which the wounded missionary enters
the gate of another heathen city, bearing visible marks of the indignity
he had suffered, to excite the contempt of the people? We know,
from the expression given to his feelings on some other occasions,
that now they must have been gloomy indeed. But he who brings
light out of darkness caused a refreshing light to shine upon the darkening
pathway of his faithful servant, by granting him here a peaceful
and abundant harvests of souls.
(21) "And when they had preached the
gospel in the city, and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra,
Iconium, and Antioch,
(22) confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting
them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we
must enter into the kingdom of God."
Luke passes hurriedly over these
scenes; but the uninspired imagination loves to linger among them,
to sympathize with the suffering apostles in their afflictions and comforts,
and also with the congregations in the four cities, as the two
brethren, who had come among them like visitors from a better world,
were bidding them farewell, and leaving them to make their own way
through many temptations into the everlasting kingdom of God.
They were left as "sheep in the midst of wolves;"
were committed to the care of the great Shepherd of the sheep, and
were supplied with under-shepherds to keep them in the fold.
"And having appointed for them elders in every Church, and prayed with
fasting, they commended them to the Lord, in whom they believed."
we have the same prayer and fasting, connected with the appointment
of elders, which we have already noticed upon the appointment of
the seven deacons in Jerusalem,
and upon the sending forth of Paul
and Barnabas from Antioch.
The laying on of hands, which was a
part of the ceremony on those occasions, is not here mentioned; but
as we have already seen that it was a part of the ceremony of appointment
to office, [Com.vi: 6;xiii: 3.]
and as the apostles are said to have appointed
these elders, we may safely infer that it was not omitted.
As the office exercised by these elders, and the number of them in
each congregation, have been made subjects of controversy, we will devote
some space to grouping a few facts which bear upon these points.
The passage before us contains the earliest mention of the appointment
of elders, yet these were by no means the first elders appointed. For
Paul and Barnabas, when sent to Jerusalem with a contribution for the
poor saints, delivered it to "the
elders." [Acts 11:30.]
This shows that there were
already elders in the Churches in Judea. Paul and Barnabas, on their
present tour, appointed elders in every Church; Titus was left in Crete
that he might set in order the things that were omitted, and appoint
elders in every
city; [Titus 1:5.]
and James takes it for granted that every
Church has elders, by directing, in his general epistle, that the sick
should call for the elders of the Church, to pray for them and anoint
them with oil, with a view to their
recovery. [James 5:14.]
In view of these facts,
it can not be doubted that the office of elder was universal in the
That the term elder is used as an official title, and not merely to
indicate the older members of the Church, is sufficiently evident from
the fact that men became elders by appointment, whereas an
appointment can not make one an old man. The fact that these officers
were called elders indicates that they were generally selected from
the elderly class; still, it does not necessarily imply that, to be an
elder officially, a man must be an elder in years. Terms which are
appropriated as official titles do not always retain their original meanings.
Whether advanced age is necessary to the elder's office is to be
determined, not by the official title, but by the qualifications prescribed.
But, inasmuch as no such qualification is anywhere prescribed,
we conclude that any brother who possesses the qualifications
which are prescribed, may be made an elder, though he be not an old
The term bishop in our common version, rendered in some English
versions overseer, is but another title for this same officer.
This is evident,
first, from the fact that the same brethren of the congregation in
Ephesus, who came down to Miletus to meet Paul, are styled by Luke
"elders of the Church," and by Paul,
bishops. [Acts 20:17,28.]
Second, In the epistle to
Titus, Paul uses the two terms interchangeably. He tells Titus that he
left him in Crete to ordain elders in every city, prescribes some of the
qualifications for the office, and assigns as a reason for them, "for a
bishop must be blameless," etc.
If Washington, in his Farewell Address,
had advised the American people to always elect as President
a man of known integrity, and had given as a reason for it that the
chief magistrate of a great people should be of blameless reputation,
it would be as reasonable to deny that the terms president and
magistrate are used interchangeably, as that the terms
are in the passage.
That there was a plurality of elders in each congregation could
hardly be disputed by an unbiased reader of the New Testament.
Two facts, alone, would seem sufficient to settle this question: first,
the fact that Titus was to ordain elders, not
an elder, in every
city; [Titus 1:5.]
second, that they were
elders, and not
an elder from the Church in
Ephesus, who came to meet Paul at
Miletus. [Acts 20:17.]
The objection sometimes
urged, that there may have been several Churches in each of
these cities, and that the plurality of elders was made up of the single
elders from the individual Churches, is based upon a conjecture utterly
without historic foundation. But if the argument from these passages
were waived, the issue is conclusively settled by the statement of our
text, that Paul and Barnabas, "appointed elders in every Church." A
plurality of elders, therefore, and not a
single one, were appointed for
A full exhibition of the duties of the elder's office, and of the moral
and intellectual qualifications requisite to an appointment thereto, belongs
to a commentary on the First Epistle to Timothy, rather than
on Acts of Apostles. We will not, therefore, consider them here, further
than to observe that the duties were such as can not be safely
dispensed with in any congregation; while the qualifications were such
as were then, and are now, but seldom combined in a single individual.
Indeed, it can not be supposed that Paul found in the young congregations
of Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, and every other planted during
this tour, men who could fill up the measure of the qualifications
which he prescribes for this
office. [1 Timothy 3:1-7.]
But he appointed elders in every
Church, hence he must have selected those who came nearest the
standard. It is not an admissible objection to this argument, that inspiration
may have supplied the defects of certain brethren in each
congregation, so as to fully qualify them; for moral excellencies, which
are the principal of these qualifications, are not supplied by inspiration.
The truth is, the qualifications for this office, like the characteristics
prescribed for old men, aged women, young men and women,
and widows, respectively, are to be regarded as a model for imitation,
rather than a standard to which all elders must fully attain. It were
as reasonable to keep persons of these respective ages out of the
Church, until they fill up the characters prescribed for them, as to
keep a Church without elders until it can furnish men perfect in the
qualifications of the office. Common sense and Scripture authority
both unite in demanding that we should rather follow Paul's example,
and appoint elders in every Church from the best material which
the Church affords.
The qualifications to be prescribed for one who would fill an office
depend upon the duties of the office. Imperfection in the qualifications
leads to proportionate inefficiency in the performance of the
duties. Seeing, then, that but few men are found possessing, in a high
degree, all the qualifications for the office of bishop, we should not be
surprised that its duties have generally been more or less inefficiently
performed. Much less should we, as so many have done, seek a remedy
for this inefficiency, in an entire subversion of the Church organization
instituted by the apostles. After all that can be said to the
contrary, the apostolic plan has proved itself more efficient than any
of those invented by men. Those congregations of the present day
which are under the oversight of an efficient eldership, other things
being equal, come nearer, in every good word and work, to the apostolic
model of a Church of Christ, than any others in Christendom.
And those which have a comparatively inefficient eldership will compare
most favorably with those under an inefficient pastorship of any
other kind. Finally, such inefficiency is not, after all, more frequently
found in the eldership than in what is popularly styled the ministry.
This must be so, from the fact that the qualifications for the office,
public speaking alone excepted, are more frequently found combined
in three or four men, than in one, whether
whatever may be his title. The folly, therefore, of abandoning the
apostolic eldership in favor of any other organization, is demonstrated
by history; while its wickedness must be apparent to every one who
esteems apostolic precedents above human expedients. To seek an
escape from the condemnation due for this wickedness, by asserting
that the apostles left no model of Church organization, is only to add
to the original crime by perverting the Scriptures to excuse it. So long
as it stands recorded that Paul and Barnabas "appointed for them
elders in every Church," and so long as the duties of these officers
remain carefully prescribed in the apostolic epistles, so long will it be
false to deny that the apostles left us a definite model of Church organization,
and wicked in the sight of God to abandon it for any other.
Leaving Antioch of Pisidia, the apostles returned as far as
the sea-coast by the same route through which they had gone up into
(24) "And passing through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia;
(25) and having spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
(26) Thence they sailed to Antioch, whence they had been commended to
the favor of God for the work which they had performed."
the river Cestrus, a few miles above its mouth, was the point at which
they had disembarked on their first arrival from Cyprus. They had
made no delay there at first, but now we are told that they "spoke the
word in Perga." Luke's silence in reference to the result of this effort
is an indication that it was not very decided. It is probable that their
design was simply to usefully employ an interval during which they
were waiting for a vessel bound to Antioch. This conjecture is confirmed
by the fact that they finally left Perga by land, and walked
down to Attalia on the sea-coast, where they would be likely to meet
with a vessel without so long delay. They were not disappointed; for
"thence they sailed to Antioch."
Verses 27, 28
The apostles had now completed their missionary tour, and
there could but be great anxiety in the congregation who had sent them
forth, to know the result of their labors. It was the first mission ever
sent to the heathen world. The missionaries were as eager to report
the success with which their sufferings and toil had been crowned, as
the congregation were to hear it. He who returns from a hard-fought
field bearing good tidings, pants beneath the burden of his untold
(27) "And having arrived and assembled the Church together,
they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and that he had opened
a door of faith to the Gentiles.
(28) And they continued there no little
time with the disciples."
In the statement that God had "opened a
door of faith to the Gentiles," this is an allusion both to the opening
of that national inclosure which had hitherto confined the gospel almost
exclusively to the Jews, and the introduction of the distant Gentiles
through that door into the Church. Before this, faith had been
to them inaccessible; for "how shall they believe on him of whom
they had not heard?"
But now that the preachers had been sent
out to them, the door was open, and faith was accessible to all.