Acts 14:1-7 – In Iconium

After leaving Antioch, Paul and Barnabas travel 85-90 miles southeast to Iconium. Like Psidian Antioch, Iconium was a large Roman city with a Jewish population. It is possible that Iconium was a Roman colony; it was given the privilege of calling itself Claudiconium just before Paul’s visit, and may have been awarded colony status at that time (Keener 2:2110 suggests the honor was not granted until the time of Hadrian). In Acts 14:1 Luke reports that among those who believed were “Hellenes,” perhaps an indication that these are not Roman citizens but rather the native Greek population.

Hercules Sarcophagus (ca. 250–260 AD)

Hercules Sarcophagus (ca. 250–260 AD)

Paul and Barnabas go “as usual” to the synagogue to preach. Luke intends this episode to be parallel to Antioch.  Paul did the same sorts of things in whatever town he visits; first seeking out the synagogue he teaches from the Hebrew Bible that Jesus is the Christ.  At some point he separates from the synagogue and begins to develop the converts into leaders who can take over that ministry when he leaves.

Luke reports a “great number” of Jews and Gentiles believe, but they are influenced by the Jews who “refused to believe.” These Jews are described as disobedient; the Greek word ἀπειθέω is always used for disobedience toward God in the New Testament (Rom 11:30; Deut 1:26).  They are not sinful or evil people, but there is more going on here than “they were unpersuaded.” They have rejected Paul’s message and they incite the Gentiles in Iconium against Paul.  This is the same word (ἐπεγείρω) Luke used in 13:50 when the Jews in Antioch stirred up trouble for Paul.

In addition, they “poisoned the minds” of the Gentiles against Paul and his message (ἐκάκωσαν τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐθνῶν). The verb κακόω has the sense of making someone angry or embittered; here it is used idiomatically to indicate that Paul’s rivals are putting ideas into the heads of the Gentiles in order to make them change their positive view of Paul.  It is perhaps significant that this verb is used in LXX Is 53:7 to describe the suffering of the messianic servant.

Both Jews and Gentiles plot to kill Paul because of the controversy, and he is forced to flee the city. We are not given the details, but it appears that opposition to Paul went to the authorities of Iconium. To mistreat is a fairly rare Greek word which Luke used in 18:32 to describe the treatment of Jesus. The verb ὑβρίζω has the idea of scoffing, insulting, etc., but is often associated with other words which indicate an escalation of abuse from “scoffing” to physical torment and death.  In Matt 22:6 the verb describes the treatment of the king’s servants, some of whom were killed. In 1 Thess 2:2 Paul used the verb to describe his own treatment in Philippi, which included flogging and imprisonment in stocks.

Paul and Barnabas find out about the plot and leave Iconium for Lystra. This is not necessarily to be understood as an act of cowardice. Paul is willing to be beaten and die for his message (as he will in Lystra in this same chapter).

In the context of Acts, this is really the first time Paul has preached his message to Gentiles in a public forum. In Antioch the reaction was anger and he was forced to leave. In Iconium Paul’s message is also soundly rejected by some, but others accepted it and a church is founded in the city. What is significant is the violent response to his message. What is it about Paul’s message that evokes this level of violence from the Jews in the Synagogue? While it is possible a resurrected messiah is enough to provoke committed Jews into a strong, even violent response, perhaps there is more to Paul’s preaching in the region.

20 thoughts on “Acts 14:1-7 – In Iconium

  1. As we have been talking about the violent responses of the Jews at this time in Christian history the idea I keep having is the strictness of their law. Certainly the idea of a crucified Messiah seemed heretical. But beyond the unsettling feelings they must have had, as we may in our society today, the Jews defended their beliefs and “faith” violently. Laws in Leviticus command anyone, even any animal, that touched the mountain of God to be killed on site (Exodus 19:12). Adulterers and adulteresses were to be stoned to death. The Jews were in a society that was much more zealous for keeping their laws.

  2. The violent reaction that the Jewish had to Paul’s sermon is significant for I think the violence is better then no response at all; the violence shows that they were listening and that what Paul had to say affected them somehow. Silence and walking away would be ignoring and indifference, and those would not care what Paul had to say. This is not an isolated incident for Paul’s teachings affected not only the people in Iconium but in other cities as well, and there are several violent responses in Acts alone (9:23-24,16:21-24, 21:27-36 to name a few). To answer your comment on if there could be more to Paul’s teachings, I would argue that we have noted in class that it is highly probable that Luke summarized Paul’s sermons. This, there could be more to Paul’s sermons then what is stated in the Bible. There could be more to Paul’s preaching in the region, but as I noted before, the violence itself in Inconium is not an isolated incident, so the possible left out information on his sermons could be said for all his sermons, not just the one in Iconium. I do think it is possible that the crowds are upset and angry because what they have been taught all their lives, and their culture, is being tested and challenged, and they consider what Paul was saying to be blasphemy. That alone could have made them violent.

  3. I would agree with Natalie Parker, with here statement that the Jewish people were moved by what they heard from Paul. The message from Paul angered the Jews and they reacted. Their reaction might not be justifiable, but like Natalie said “Silence and walking away would be ignoring and indifference, and those would not care what Paul had to say” (Parker). In Acts 13, we read that the Jews were filled with Jealous when they saw the crowd that was gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas speak. I believe that jealousy is another reason that could explain the reason for the Jews violence toward Paul. Perhaps those Jews who were still unbelievers didn’t want Paul and Barnabas to preach to others. They grew with jealousy, which could explain their action towards Paul. One thing to note when studying the life of Paul is his courage. 2 Corinthians 11:26
    “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers”. Paul knew that his life was always in danger but never feared to do the work of God. In my life I pray to have the courage that Paul had.

  4. The way the Jews and Gentiles came together for “a cause” in this section of scripture is interesting. Despite their differences, a portion of these two groups united in order to hate Paul and Barnabas and what they were teaching. Although we do not know exactly what the Jews were saying to instigate the Gentiles, “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers” (Acts 14:2), it must have been something that was equally important to the Jews and Gentiles. The two groups uniting for one reason caused Paul and Barnabas much trouble. Without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, this may have been a very detrimental and discouraging experience. After just having a very positive experience with the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch, this somewhat united backlash from the Jews as well as Gentiles may have been unexpected.

  5. One of the main things to consider is that Iconium is a Roman area, as well as the others were. However, if this city was large enough, both the spread of “western thought” (Roman Empire, speaking) and Jewish thought collided on the fact that something isn’t right. It’s good that there was trouble afoot, because at least people were listening to the message Paul and Barnabas were speaking. Fleeing the area shouldn’t even considered as cowardice, as mentioned. Maybe the Jews have seen Paul in this area before, and are wanting to kill him. Looking at a map, Tarsus (birthplace of Paul) is not relatively far from Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. All within about 200 miles (Iconium to Tarsus).

  6. When I read the gospels and Acts, often all I can think about is how the church today would have responded to Jesus/the apostles had they come today. What would this message of “you crucified the Messiah and here are some cool healings and signs while we’re at it” have sounded like to the church? Obviously there’s some big cultural and religious differences going on between these time periods, but I think it’s fair to say that we would not have responded to Jesus or the apostles any differently than the Jews did.(Maybe not to the point of killing but I just don’t think it would be well received. It might get pretty verbally violent.) The Jews already had their religious book, so sacred to them that the religious leaders devoted their entire lives to not only the letter of the law but also the tradition of it. They were God’s chosen people, promised deliverance and hearts of flesh and a new covenant. Messianic prophecy did give them a bit of a hint, but if we’re honest, it looks like God threw them a bit of a curve ball on purpose to “make a point”. In the violent reactions, like in Acts 14, I think that point is made very well. We can learn a lot from New Testament Jews, like how to properly take a curve ball. (Hint: you don’t crucify it).

  7. Paul would seek out the location where he would preach the gospel and speak truth about what he has done and what was going to come. Now even though he preached truth to many individuals, some people would be disobedient. Not meaning they are evil or doing sinful actions. I believe that means they just simply do not accept Christ in there hearts. They are not individuals who are seeking evil desires and what not. But many individuals would aim to try and distort the message Paul was preaching on. They would try and persuade all the people to turn against Paul and listen to what they believe and to turn their ears to them and Paul. Because of all the debate that was going on many people did not know what to people and some people believed Paul was speaking lies, so they tried to kill him. Because of that Paul had to flee. Even though Paul says he will die speaking the gospel, he flees to another country to continue to speak the gospel.

    • Hi Miranda,
      That is interesting that you would say that the individuals weren’t seeking evil desires, yet those same people were trying to fight again what Paul was trying to speak. Why do you think that Paul says he will die speaking but flees to other countries to continue speaking the gospel? Why not fight for Iconium and continue ministering there?

  8. I think the reason that the Jews reacted they way they did is because they grew up thinking that the Gentiles were “unworthy” of worshipping with them. So, to have Paul bring the Gospel and preach to the Gentiles made the Jews’ heads pop up and take a second look. It reminds me of when Peter did not want to go to Cornelius’ house because he was considered “unclean.” Paul is trying to make the point that the gospel is for everyone.

  9. I think it is highly likely that the unbelieving Jews refused Paul’s Gospel because he converted Gentiles and well as Jews. This would have definitely rubbed some of them the wrong way. But what Is also interesting is that the unbelieving Jews went to the Gentiles and stirred them up against the apostles. They are obviously okay with using the Gentiles against the apostles but did not let them be associated with anything else they do. On a different note, I agree that when they left Iconium in verse 6 it was not out of fear. While καταφεύγω means “to flee”, I think a better use would be “to take refuge” like in Hebrews 6:18. Because their leaving is not one of fear resulting in the Gospel being silenced, it would make sense to say that they only left the region in hopes of reaching a safe distance in order to keep preaching the Gospel. Which is exactly what we are told happens.

  10. My first thought is that during this particular time period, the Jews were determined, more than ever to keep the entire law especially because of all the false prophets, teachers, and horrible rulers that they had had within the recent centuries such as “Judas the Galilean and Theudas” (Polhill, 2091). So, I believe that the Jews were responding in this violent way mainly because of three different reasons: because they were zealous to keep the law, because they were jealous/felt their power was threatened as stated in Acts 13, and because many of them hardened their hearts as proved by the religious leaders during Stephens speech in Acts 7 (ESV). I think that it should also be said that when Saul was persecuting the believers of Christ that it was viewed as a righteous thing so there was already this negative view of Christians, that they were blasphemers and followers of an incorrect religion. The fact that Christianity was growing at an alarming rate must’ve also been a factor since it was not only Gentiles, but also Jews that were “converting”. Paul was also using Scripture to prove that Jesus was the Messiah since according to Polhill, “The regular synagogue service centered around the reading of the Scriptures from the Law and the Prophets” (2110). So, they may have also viewed Paul and Barnabas as twisters of Scripture.

  11. As it has been noted throughout much of Acts, many of the Jews were very set on following their Jewish laws, rejecting the gospel of Jesus, and rejecting the grafting in of Gentiles. The reaction from the Jewish people makes sense because based on this, Paul is doing all three of those things, which would offend the Jews. Unfortunately, these unbelieving Jews heavily influenced the Gentiles that were preached to by Paul and Barnabus. To me, the actions of these “unbelieving Jews” are strange because they did not like the Gentiles, to begin with. Acts 14:2 says, “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers…” (2112). If the Jews did not believe what Paul was preaching, why were they so dead-set on convincing the Gentiles to reject the Gospel, and in their own twisted way, “helping” the Gentiles to turn against Paul. The only way I see the actions of the Jewish people towards the Gentiles benefitting the unbelieving Jews is that the controversy would eventually drive out Paul and Barnabus from Iconium (Polhill, p.2113). Overall, I think the goal of the unbelieving Jews was to protect their way of life, that is, following laws rather than Christ (as Paul and Barnabus were preaching) and also keeping the Gentiles away from being welcomed in as people loved by God. Again, this time in Biblical history was a huge transition within the Jewish faith, and there would be many who still would reject the idea of this new way of life that Paul was preaching.

  12. Why is it that so often violence seems to be the response of those who here the gospel? It shouldn’t be surprising considering how people responded to Jesus. After people plotted to kill Jesus in John 11:47-53, John 18:14, and other verses as well. So, again, it shouldn’t be surprising that violence is the response of people hearing the words of his followers. Jesus himself warned of this in John 15:18 when he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (ESV)”. It may be a defeatist way to think of things, but it seems that hatred is part of the natural response of those who hear the gospel and are not moved to receive it.

  13. I think sometimes people see through different eyes based on their life experiences. People might have thought Paul was trying to act all high and mighty or they knew Paul was sent to kill these new Christians and now he has joined them and are enraged. These people might have heard rumors but also they have had pharisees tell them certain things so depending how that went as well their hearts could be hard to the good news. Lots of people thought he would over throw the Romans so since he did not Paul is speaking heresy. Therefore he must be stoned! They are following the Jewish laws.

  14. I mentioned in a past blog post that I think major opposition and violence tend to only bring more people to the side of becoming believers. Opposition tends to increase the spread of the gospel. In a response above, someone said “violence is better than no response at all” (Natalie Parker), which I fully agree with. As bad as violence is, it draws attention. Attention to what is being argued over. In this case, attention to the gospel. Also, violence requires paying attention. You don’t get violent about something you were half listening to and doesn’t affect you. You get violent when you care about something and sometimes we even get angry once we learn that we were in the wrong and believing a lie. However, we are normally too selfish to admit that. So I believe that Paul’s message evokes violence from the Jews because if what he is telling them is true, they’ve been living a life of lies and since their entire existence. Everything they know is wrong and that brings on at least some type of emotion. I’d be pretty upset if someone just told me my whole life was based on false teachings when the gospel was right in front of me. I think this truth could be the motivation for the Jews and Gentiles coming together to fight for one cause. They were united in their hatred of the gospel and especially Saul, and maybe this is because deep down they knew he may be speaking the truth.

  15. We see in this chapter that Paul faced a lot of opposition to his message from both Jews and Gentiles in Iconium. I understand that this could have happened since neither the Jews or the Gentiles agreed with Paul that Jesus is the Messiah. However, the thing about this particular instance that grabs my attention is that the Jews were telling the Gentiles negative things about Paul and his message in order for them to turn away from him. This is something that I did not expect to happen because many times, people who did not want to listen to Christian teaching would get mad or even try to kill the teachers, like Paul. In this case though, the Jews wanted to persuade the Gentiles to not listen to Paul which I find very interesting that they would do that. Unlike what some people may think about this situation, I do not think that it was cowardly for Paul and Barnabas to leave Iconium after this happened. Though I still believe that there were people who needed to hear the message, there were a lot of people there who did become saved and there was even a church. Paul still had a lot that he had to do in his ministry and since he risked possibly being killed in Iconium, I think that it was the right decision to leave. Some of the other believers that were there may have been able to reach out to the unbelievers in Iconium better than Paul because they did not like Paul’s teaching. The believers who lived there may have had better relationships and connections with the people that would allow them to teach the people in a way that Paul did not.

  16. When it comes to the reason behind the Jew’s reaction to Paul’s message a couple of things come to mind. One being that simply “It is possible a resurrected messiah is enough to provoke committed Jews into a strong, even violent response” (Long). In past blog posts and other readings, it has been made evident that the Jews were very set in their ways. They liked their rules and did accept anyone who did not follow them. One article that I read on Thessalonica explained that the people there were very devoted to their ruler(s) because of the support and benefits that they received from them. So when Paul came to Thessalonica and started to talk about another king named Jesus the Thessalonians were not very open to the idea. There had also previously been riots and disagreements within the Jewish community and as a result, the Jews were expelled from the area by the Roman emperor. When Paul went to Thessalonica his message caused a lot of disagreements between the Jews and because of what had previously happened the city leaders kicked Paul out because they did not want any trouble. Something similar to these things could have also been the reason that Paul’s message provoked violence amongst the Jews.

  17. I feel as though I can relate strongly to the unpersuaded individuals who spoke out against Paul’s teachings. Though I pride myself on my willingness to forsake what I believe to follow what is true, it is still incredibly hard to go against my own biases and previously-held opinions, especially if it took me a long time to reach those previously-held opinions, or if they were instilled within me long ago. For those Jews who rejected Paul’s teachings, it was more than making a simple addition to their current set of beliefs. It was rejecting centuries of teachings about an earthly, warrior Messiah who would elevate Israel to its former glory… and then some. It was shifting away from the teachings of their parents, their Rabbis, their heroes. It was changing their entire view of God and His plan for humanity. Of course, it was difficult for many to accept these teachings!

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