[This is Adam Renberg’s second contribution to the blog. Adam is an Advanced Studies in Acts student this semester.]
After Paul’s preforms the miracle in Acts 14:8-10, he is met with an unanticipated response from the crowd. While miracles have been used to authenticate prophets in the Jewish context, the case was very direct in a pagan society. Paul and Barnabas are mistaken for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, and the priests and worshipers bring out a procession of animals to sacrifice to them. Apparently Paul and Barnabas did not speak the Lycaonian language, as they did not stop them until they saw the sacrificial animals being brought to them, where they quickly refuted the claim that they were gods.
In 14:14-15, they tear their clothing, shout that they are only men and not gods in disguise, and begin to preach a short but unique sermon. Paul starts this discourse in saying that they have good news (the gospel) and that they should turn from “worthless idols” to the living God. This is obviously a very bold move, as the priest of Zeus and his followers were apparently directly in front of them. To call this group of gods “worthless idols” is a deep stab at their worldview, on a political, economic, and philosophical level. As the polytheistic way of life was so ingrained in Graeco-Roman culture (everyone at that time believed in the gods), a challenge to follow the one true God and turn away from idols would be offensive to say the least (it also makes it seem more apparent as to why Paul was stoned).
Paul continues in declaring who the one true God is, as the maker of “heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them.” Paul does not appeal to any scriptures through this sermon (as the Lycaonians would not have known them), but still uses the language of Genesis. He declares in Vs. 17 that God has left testimony to this creation through the rain and crops, giving food and ultimately joy.
This would have been directly applicable to this city, as the main occupation would have been agricultural, so most of the audience could have been able to relate to this statement. While it is a direct appeal, it could also be considered a challenge against their pagan gods as they worshiped and underwent rituals and sacrifices for rain to their Greek gods. In this sense, Paul is not only calling their gods worthless, but also telling them that the gods that they depended on for the sustaining of crops and foods don’t actually do anything, that the one true God has been sustain their lives and crops from the beginning.
An interesting element of this sermon is that neither Jesus nor the cross is mentioned in any capacity. While it is possible that this is a summary or portion of a larger discourse by Paul, you would have assumed to see some trace of the Savior. This passage (as well as the similar Acts 17 sermon) has been long used in showing that in a missional sense, we need to meet people where they are. The pagans knew nothing of a monotheistic worldview, so Paul had to start from the ground up before he declared the cross of Christ. In comparison to Acts 17, where Paul used stronger vocabulary and philosophical rhetoric when talking to the Athenian council, he chose simpler language to engage with his less educated audience in Acts 14.
While there can be missiological applications from this passage, should it be used as a main passage in talking missionary strategy? What was Paul’s missionary strategy when it came to Lystra in Acts 14:8-20?