When Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lystra, Paul heals a man who was crippled in the feet. This miracle in intentionally parallel to Peter’s healing in Acts 3, although the results are much different! In both cases, the man is crippled from birth (3:2, 14:8), in both cases the man responds to his healing by “leaping” (3:6, 14:9), and in both cases the verb “look intently” is used (13:4, 14:9). While these seem like common enough vocabulary for such a healing, these words are only used in these two stories in Acts, indicating some intentionality on Luke’s part. In both cases, there has been a paradigmatic speech and then a miracle, with both positive and negative reactions to the miracles and the speech. Eventually that reaction will turn violent, threatening the lives of the Peter (in Acts 4-5) and Paul (who appears to have been killed!)
However, the setting of the two miracles could not be more different. In Acts 3, the miracle takes place in the temple courts, Paul is in a Gentile town which is more likely to believe he is Hermes incarnate than a representative of the Hebrew God! When Paul was among Jews in Iconium he did many miracles and saw great success. The working of a miracle among the Gentiles of Lystra is counter-productive and results in Paul being stone and left for dead.
There is only the briefest hint at the sort of “sermon” Paul might have preached to this crowd. This is unfortunate, since this is the first time in Acts that Paul addresses a pagan audience. Often Paul’s speech in Acts 17 at Mars Hill is set up as an example of Paul’s method of reaching the Gentile world, rarely is this speech in Acts 14.
Paul states that there is a living God, as opposed to the worthless idols that never show their power. Like Acts 17, Paul does not allude to the many acts of God in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, he uses God’s preservation of men through the giving of rain and crops as an example of his power. This might be called “general revelation,” since the crowd would neither know about the God of the Hebrew Bible, nor would they care what he did for the Jews.
But Paul is not giving up on the biblical story at all in this sermon. He begins with God’s creation and provision. He says that he represents the creator, something which this group can understand within their own world view, but Paul uses the language of Genesis (the heaven, the earth, and the sea, along with everything in them).
But notice that Paul more or less attacks the gods of Lystra: they are worthless things. This is even more powerful when you realize that the priests of Zeus have brought out bulls to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas. Paul could very well be pointing at these prepared sacrifices when he says, “worthless idols.” The noun used here (μάταιος) means that these idols and their sacrifices “lack truth” and it is pointless to worship them because they are not true at all!
This does not sound very modern or emergent to me. . .how can this brief sermon of Paul be used as a model for contemporary evangelism? Should we directly attack another world view as “worthless”? Or perhaps Paul learns something from this “failure” and changes the way he approaches the “pagans” later on in his ministry.
32 thoughts on “Acts 14:8-18 – Paul and Pagans”
To me is seems very interesting that Paul called thier idols worthless. But, this doesn’t surprise me much. It reminds me of the Paul we see just a few chapters earlier who devoted his life to the persecution (or correcting) of those “Christians” who were part of The Way. Paul has a reputation for being quite straight forward when confronting those who adhere to a worldview that could threaten what he knows or feels to be true. That started as a zealous and hostile reaction to the disciples of Rabbi Yeshua and is now almost carried over to his reaction to the pagans; however more grace-like his response might be, he does not seem to be putting his personality aside. Even when trying to be a Greek to the Greeks,
I also think that the specific word that Luke uses in quoting Paul and Barnabas is worth some attention. The word used here is the Greek word “Mataios” which when translated can mean; devoid of force, truth, success, useless, or of no purpose. Paul and Baranabas could very well have been intentionional insulting their pagan idols. But, I think there is room to argue differently. Mataios is an adjective that is derived from the adverb “Maten” which means to to do something fruitlessly or in vain. I think that the intent behind Paul and Barnabas’s seemingly quick response to the pagans was not to anger them by insulting them but to bring to their attention the fact that in all their worship of the idols, nothing came of it. Perhaps he was simply pointing out that their beliefs that idol worship was valuable was mere superstition and that no matter what sacrifices they made or did not make, nothing would come out of it. Paul performed a miracle which was mistaken to be an act by the pagan gods. So, for Paul to be mistaken as Hermes and then tell them that the gods that they have been worshiping all this time were not finally blessing them, but were really a fruitless goose chase of spirituality.
But, then again. What do I know?
The story of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14 is by no means a post-modern way of evangelism. I’m not even sure that we can get any parts out of it that could serve as a model in any way. However, I think that Paul did what needed to be done. Jared makes a great comment when he says Paul, “devoted his life to the persecution (or correcting) of those “Christians” who were part of The Way.” It’s obvious that the people of Lystra were not believers but Paul wanted to show them the real truth. I am sure Paul was preaching in a loving way before they called him Hermes, but that probably sent him over the edge. Acts 14:14-15a says, “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: Men why are you doing this!” Paul speaks with incredible passion here and it’s clear that he wants to show them the truth that can set them free of these “worthless things”. In Luke 17:3 it says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Although I know Paul didn’t have knowledge of this verse I certainly believe he lived it out in his own life.
Even though through this strange event where it looks like Paul is just attacking them for worshipping idols he turns it around for a chance to evangelize. Polhill says, “Paul used this opportunity to tell the crowd about the real God” (95). We see Paul using the things, experiences, and people around him to better relate to the people of Lystra. Polhill goes on to say, “He could not share the message of Christ until he had first convinced them of basic monotheism- that there was only on God and no other” (95).
Perhaps this is how Paul’s experience in Acts could be applied to the emerging church culture? We first need to understand the people; what and why they believe in the things they do. We can then go from there to try and show them who Christ is.
There are a few things that I want to discuss in this post. The first being the attitude Paul has against the people of Lystra. I agree with Jared, it does not surprise me much that Paul would call Lystra’s god’s worthless. Paul is a very zealous man. He was passionate about killing the Christians that ‘threatened’ to contaminate his religion when he was Saul, and that passion, or zeal has just been carried over to the passion to spread who Jesus Christ is now that he is converted. Jared does a really good job at summing up the point I am discussing when he says “Paul has a reputation for being quite straight forward when confronting those who adhere to a worldview that could threaten what he knows or feels to be true.” He wants everyone to hear the Gospel and repent and it is clearly shown through scripture that he will do anything it takes at any cost to further the kingdom of Christ (Acts 14 19-20, Acts 16:22 1 Thessalonians 2:2 to name a few).
The second point I would like to discuss is one that Jared brought up. I read Acts 14 where Paul and Barnabas go to Lystra and after reading the blog I want to say that I really don’t feel that Paul is attacking Lystra’s gods as meanly as it is portrayed. I believe that Paul and Barnabas were more trying to (in a rather quickened haste due to the certain circumstances found in Acts 14) clarify why they had come in the first place. Acts 14:14-18 describes Paul and Barnabas tearing “their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting…” (The Bible). It is in that frenzied state where they said “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (The Bible). To me it seems that instead of using that word, as Jared has it in Greek Mataios meaning “devoid of force, truth, success, useless, or of no purpose” (Jared), he was instead using the adverb meaning “Maten” which means “to do something fruitlessly or in vain” (Jared). He wasn’t more so attacking their religion as much as he was trying to explain himself so that he wasn’t himself being considered a god. By the way, thanks Jared for bringing up these two meanings.
Thirdly I would quickly like to discuss a few of the questions asked at the end of the blog. For one, I do not believe that we should attack other people’s world view as worthless. If we do that we could be risking the one chance we have at telling them the truth about Jesus Christ. We can disagree with a person’s worldview and make it clear that it is not a correct view, but we can always do it in a way that makes them feel less threatened. I think that Paul does learn from his ‘failure’ of what went down in Lystra and does what he can to change without lessening his point of who Jesus was and what he did. I do not, for one second, think that Paul softened his message to cater to the needs of the nonbelievers, but I think that he was aware of how he expressed his feelings and tried to use that in other instances where he was sharing the Gospel.
Well, Greg just stole all my Thunder, So lets see if I can come up with something else… The Bible seems to be full of people failing. David and Bathsheba, Adam and Eve, etc. So it should be no surprise when we are shown a time that Paul fails. He directly attacked these people and their beliefs and they took that in a terrible way. Almost killing him for crying out loud! Paul going to these people would be no different than be going into downtown Detroit and yelling on the streets that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and all other things will send them to hell!
Its odd to see that the people still wanted to sacrifice the oxen to them even after Paul told them not to. They continued to tell the crowd not to do this thing, I must say, that seems a tad postmodern in itself. The crowd believed they were right in thinking Paul and Barnabas were Greek God’s, so no matter what they said, the crowed was going to do what it wanted. Postmodernism has a major theme in “What do I think about this”? Then they focus on that and make it their own. So, I’d say the crowd is doing something rather similar!
Paul started out talk in Lystra in a way that would catch the attention of anyone whether modern, post-modern or whatever their worldview was. I wonder though was Paul aware of the possibility that “the Lystran” people would think that he and Barnabas would be mistaken as Greek gods. Paul must have known about the story of the Metamorphoses of Ovid where “Zeus and Hermes… where disguised as two weary travelers (p.94).” If Paul being from Tarsus was not aware of a Lystran myth there was plenty of “Greek folklore where the gods are said to have come to earth in human disguise(p.94).”
No matter how bad this attempt at evangelism seemed to go it is always good to remember that God can work through any channel no matter how fuzzy we think it is from our perspective. No matter how well we do it is not us who can meet the high expectations of the people we share the message of hope with. Only God can do that. “Lystra was no exception (p.96).” With that said Paul was able to share the message much easier with the people at the “meeting of the Areopagus” in Athens (Acts 17:22). The time did not end in a riot instead it ended in “we want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17:32). This seems much more encouraging than almost dying at the hands of the Lystran people. The conversations that he had with the philosophers later seemed to be the closest thing to a modern way in which the gospel could be shared.
I really like Jared’s point about this situation being a reflection of Paul’s reaction to the Christians before his conversion.
I also believe that Paul truly felt an urgency to spread the Gospel that most of us don’t feel today. Paul’s conversion was brought about by a personal encounter with Jesus himself, speaking to him from heaven. Paul was also blinded by his encounter, and later healed of that blindness. With that kind of experience, how can you not believe fully in the story and power of the Gospel?
If we today felt the urgency, and believed the Gospel as deeply as Paul did, I fell like we would be getting angry at idol worship as well. To know that the Pagans were worshiping false gods, when you have encountered the Christ himself, and know he is the only one worth worshiping is something that is understandably upsetting. It must have been really hard to stay gentle when you see this kind of worship. It also probably didn’t help that the one they were worshiping was Paul himself. Paul knew he couldn’t let himself be mistaken for a god and be worshiped. He was probably strict in saying their gods were worthless as being accused as one.
Hi! This is Jared!
Mitch I love your point about my point being good.
Hi this is Mitch!
Thanks Jared. I just felt it was a very scholarly thing to say. Your a smart guy ya know?
Hi! This is Jared!
Thanks Mitch! You know, you are pretty smart for a Youth Ministry Major!
Thanks…by the way I was trying to find a picture on Google of what Paul really looked like…
did he really look like this?
Hi! This is Jared!
No, he was not invisible.
oh Ok thanks…i guess the picture didn’t want to show up. I cant delete comments sooo…. guess its staying up there til P long sees it…
Hi! This is Jared!
Okay. That sounds fine. But, I think we should be respectful of Professor Phil and not ruin his blog.
I LOVE YOU MITCH!
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
I think that this can absolutely be used as an example as contemporary evangelism. With that being said, I do not think that we should attack another worldview. I believe that we need to attempt to listen to the other worldview or belief. Then, it is our duty as Christians to spread the Gospel to them. As Mark 16:15 states, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Jipp mentions Paul’s mission that God has given him. He shows how it moves forward. Jipp shows that Paul’s ministry moves from place to place and it reaches different people (Jipp, 87). I believe that one can learn from any situation. This is something that I try to do. I try to figure out what I can fix from something that maybe didn’t go the way I expected, or I didn’t approach it in the correct way. I think Paul may have done this. Specifically, when he is approaching people later on in his ministry. As we know, ministry is a lot about love. We need to love everyone even though we may not agree with them. But, maybe our love and compassion could put the idea of the gospel in their mind.
I do agree with you Chris that we should not attack another worldview. Later on in the ministry of Paul he writes “not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). Yes, we were given the command to spread the Gospel, but Jesus would have done it in a loving manner, rather than attacking another’s worldview. He may have questioned it and then revealed the truth, but he would not have deliberately attacked them. I think that Paul may have just lost his cool for a second, like we all have at different times. I think that there could have been a better way to handle this situation, but he just lost his cool.
Bree totally agreeance in we should not attack another’s perspective on a worldview. We should engage with people in a way that they may understand, yet is still biblically accurate. When we can understand how people operate and draw a connection of their cultural background we begin to explain and phrase things in ways that communicate the message. In the same ways when we approach the issues of false doctrine or gods we need to do so in a firm yet loving manner. (Galatians 6:1) Bree eluded to this idea in her post. In the same way as Paul and Barabas did they rebuked and taught that they need Christ and not these false teachers or gods in their lives. (2 Timothy 4:2). In general, we all interpret Paul’s actions and attitude in different formats based on our insight on how we perceived the event to have occurred when we were not there for the context of the physical situation. Yes, I believe as well Paul could have handled the situation better than what he did yet that is how we read and interpret it now.
Listening to others worldview or perspective is something that I think is important to reach out to others. By listening to others this shows that you are willing to hear them out gaining that respect where they will hear you out. As Christians I think that is the most important thing, so we don’t jump right into calling them out on their perspective. We want to provide the right answer to them which is Jesus but, we can’t go and force our faith onto them that will only turn them away. There are multiple stories in acts of Paul telling his conversion and leading people to be believers. This shows that if we just listen to others we might be able to reach them on a deeper level that can lead them to a life with Christ. Jipp mentions that Paul is constantly moving from city to city preaching to others and leading them to his ministry for Jesus (Jipp, 87.) Many of the people who he preached too hated Christian but, Paul was still able to reach out to them. I think in the modern world we are to eager to force our faith onto others which pushes them farther away. By showing them that we respect their decisions and are willing to hear them out we can lead them to be believers. Everyone grows through different experiences that’s why getting to know someone before you are to quick to judge is important.
In Acts 14 we are set up for a similarly structured miracle like Acts 3, but there is some difference like the location. Peter was in the temple courts and Paul is in a Gentile community. This detail makes a similar situation, have a different ending and Paul is stoned and left for dead. We look to the order of events of what happened and what Paul said to lead up to the events. Paul speaks on the living God, finding a common basis with these people. This is important when sharing the gospel even today, you have to catch interest and find a connection with the other person about what they believe. Paul explains that God is the creator, this is something most people can understand, the world was formed, and we can see with our eyes this creation. He also uses simple language and quoting how Genesis writes it. This is also important when sharing the gospel because not everyone will know big “churchy” terms. Along with this, you want them to know it is not just your opinion, but the Bible records them as facts and that is something they can go to for proof. The next part is where Paul got in trouble. He started to tell the truth, but in my personal opinion, he did not do it in a very loving way. Paul attacked their belief, calling it worthless and offending their practices, as their sacrifice. This did not make them happy in the slightest way.
I try to put myself in Paul’s shoes in thinking of the right judgment call in this situation. One side you want to be cautious and understanding of their belief, as a loving believer. On another side you want to be frank, tell the direct honest truth of pointing out their sin. I think you have to meet in the middle of these two sides and understand that people will not listen if you rip out their entire identity, but also nothing will change if you coddle them. I think this is a humbling and teaching situation for Paul. He is doing great things, but he is still learning. He goes further teaching with an approach of teaching the truth, with their best interest in mind. We see a difference in Paul in Acts 17 when he teaches the sermon at Mars Hill, although this is part of a different situation and audience. I think he learned from his experience’s.
I think Paul’s reaction to the pagans believing that he and Barnabas are Gods was appropriate. Tearing their clothes to show that it makes them distraught and immediately running into the crowd in order to set the record straight, that they “also are men, of like nature with you”. However, his reaction to the false gods reminds me very much of Moses’ reaction to Israel’s false prophets upon his return in Exodus 32. Both are rightfully angry toward the worship of a false god. But Moses is among his people and they should know better! They just had a powerful and life-changing experience with YHWH and they turned so quickly to false gods. Paul, on the other hand, is showing rightful correction to the wrong crowd. They obviously do not yet understand why they shouldn’t worship them as gods. He is “casting pearls before swine” (Matt 7). Now the interesting thing to me is that it does not seem like the pagans reacted violently at all on their own. The Jews were the ones who stirred up a commotion so that they would stone Paul. This is equally as disappointing as it is not surprising. The Jewish elites constantly pushing to see the downfall of the Gospel is a theme that is ever present throughout Acts.
I think Paul’s model of evangelism is quite incredible since he does not allude to any known Hebrew text. Rather, he takes what is universally known, that being there is a maker of heaven, earth, the sea and everything in them. These Gentiles would have related to such a statement. What was different for them is that Paul states there is only one God in contrast to their polytheistic beliefs (v. 15). Similar to that of Acts 17 when Paul observes they worship many Gods but there is one reserved for the “unknown god” (Acts 17:23).
Paul’s first concern upon their witness of the healing of the crippled man is that they not be treated as gods and be treated as men just as they are (v. 15). Polhill states, “Any religion is pretty empty that would venerate men as gods ” (Polhill, p.315). These men had believed in their gods in the abstract or via a shrine of worship and or little statues. But to Paul and Barnabas the worship of man, to even be treated as gods was complete folly and so blasphemous that they tore their clothes (v.14).
Concerning Paul’s brief sermon, he hits three main points (Polhill, p. 315)
1.) God is the Creator of all life (Monotheism)
2.) God’s forbearance and mercy
3.) God’s divine providence
I do not find Paul’s confrontation of “turn away from these worthless things” as offensive. You would not necessarily say in a modern context “Hey Buddha is worthless stop worshiping him” rather you would make it plain through experience and proof that he indeed is worthless, and God is the merciful originator and divine provider of all their crops.
Based on Paul’s speech to those in Athens in Acts 17 I would think he gave a very similar speech of repentance and being held accountable to what has been clearly revealed. What is really interesting is that what Paul says here concerning these Gentiles ignorance and not being held accountable seems to contrast with his remarks in Romans 1:18-32. Nevertheless, I think Paul’s ministry to the Pagans was successful and there is not much to be adjusted other than the different cultural ethics in the way you would communicate the timeless truth Paul displays.
In both contexts of Peter and Paul, and Paul in Athens, there is a preaching that stirs up a crowd and as a result some have faith to be healed and faith to turn from their sins. This is a beautiful model of evangelism for today
Peter and Paul both perform miracles in Acts that are extremely similar. According to Long, The main similarities between the two healings in Acts 3:2 and 14:8 are that both men had been crippled since birth, both men respond to the miracle by leaping, and the same verb for “look intently” is used. The main difference between the two stories is the location and the people who witness the miracles. The miracle Peter performs takes place in the temple courts meaning the people who witnessed the miracle consisted of Jews. The miracle Paul performs takes place in Lystra among pagan Gentiles. Since Jews and Gentiles were so different, the approach of telling them about the work of God was also different. When Paul addresses the crowd trying to offer sacrifices, he told them to turn from their gods and worship the one true God (Acts 14:15). He does not define God as the God of the Old Testament, but rather as the Creator. Polhill also points out that Paul’s speech addresses things like rain and harvest not “just happening” but that God is ultimately in control of everything (p. 2113). The regrettable factor of Paul’s speech is that he did not address the Gospel. He did not identify Jesus as the Savior, nor did he explain their sins and the matter of forgiveness. The idea of Paul’s speech relating to “general revelation” troubles me since the Gospel was never given to them. Paul had the opportunity to share it with them but did not take advantage of it. Is it possible Paul did not feel called to share the Gospel with these people at this moment? Perhaps God knew their hearts were not prepared to hear or accept Jesus yet.
Paul was able to preach and teach to a variety of individuals throughout his missionary journeys. Some of the individuals that he shared the gospel with were non-believers and did not hold a religion or faith of any kind, while others, like those in Lystra and Derbe were pagans who believed in what sounds like Greek mythology. That would raise the question of which type of people were the most difficult to convert to Christianity? Those who had no faith and did not know what it meant to believe in a God and a Savior or changing the beliefs of those who already believe in a type of creator(s) and changing their viewpoints and concept of religion and faith? To say the least, both or any type of non-Christian believers would have its challenges when it comes to sharing the gospel, but the fact that they could accept the Truth and receive salvation through Jesus Christ is worth any struggle, even in the case of Paul being stoned and being left for dead (Acts 14:19). The evangelism techniques of Paul can and should be used today in the fact that Paul starts from the beginning at creation. This was an understandable place to begin sharing the gospel to these specific pagans due to their beliefs in Greek mythology and the many gods and their specific powers over different areas of the earth. Paul had a grasp on their beliefs and therefore could relate to them and set them on a straight path to the Father and salvation. Christians today need to meet non-believers where they are at in their journey of life and preach the gospel off their specific experiences and beliefs to make the gospel special for them and how Christ died to save all and help them to understand that aspect of the love of Jesus.
Should we directly attack another world view as “worthless”? Or perhaps Paul learns something from this “failure” and changes the way he approaches the “pagans” later on in his ministry.
I think we see Pauls failing here, and him learning from his mistakes. I think sometimes we idolize those in the Bible as perfect, especially when it comes to people like Paul after his conversion. But like us he is human, he fails, and he learns. We see in Acts 17, Pauls compliments the Greeks in Athens on their religious ways, ““People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship” (Acts 17:22b-23a). He doesn’t call their gods worthless, even though he may be thinking so, he tries a different attempt. Here he mentions an altar of the unknown God, and interprets that as the Hebrew God. This is a change from what he did in Acts 13. We see it did not work out for him in Acts 13, as he almost died, while in Acts 17 there were several converts. With the thought of general revelation I think is a good way to proceed with these Greeks. Like Long said, the Greeks would not know or care what the Hebrew God did for the Jews, so Paul needs to attack the situation from a different angle. We see in Romans Pauls says that everyone has an inheritance knowledge of God, yet some choose to act in wickedness. Using general Revelation, Paul may be trying to bring out that knowledge.
This definitely can be used as an example for contemporary evangelism. I think we shouldn’t “attack” another worldview. Paul, just like us, makes mistakes and this is a learning experience for him. But was it a moment where he decides to change his approach? As we see he tells the pagans that their gods are worthless. Although this is true, this led to him being almost stoned to death. This is a different experience from which occurs later on in Acts 17:22-23 where he attempts something different. He doesn’t just outright say their idols are worthless, which is probably what he’s thinking, but instead approaches it subversivly. In a way that probably breaks their guard and leads to them having open hearts and ears to hearing the Gospel. I don’t think he’s changing his approach, but he words his approach. Pauls says, “It is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 22). Sharing with the disciples that their will be difficult trials and persecution that will occur, which he just experienced. This show’s me that he wasn’t fully upset with how he handled the situation. He quite possibly was still feeling accomplished in some sort of way through God’s will. I think what we should take from this story is not holding back truth, but being more aware of how we share truth to those who we might not agree with. With subversiveness and sensitivity. But not to much to wear things can be misinterpreted of skewed about truth. I think what we find Paul doing in Acts 17 is learning to meet the middle ground with sharing with pagans.
Although it may not be the best model for modern evangelism, but let us be honest, is there really a perfect model other than Jesus’ life and ministry, there are definitely a few important things woven through Acts 14 on the subject of evangelism. First of all this is one of the first times that Paul speaks to a Gentile crowd, not a Jewish one. The Jewish people would have been equipped with full histories of the Bible and the Old Testament, the Gentiles not as much. Paul, understanding this, starts from a place that can be understood regardless of Biblical knowledge. Starting with creation Paul lays out some principles that contrast greatly with the gods of those people. Although it can be argued that calling someone’s worldview “worthless” may not be the best way to build a relationship, Paul is being honest here. This is important as moments before Paul and Barnabas are being worshiped as the same gods Paul pegs as useless. Paul is ministering to a crowd however, and not an individual person, after being flooded with all the grand aspects of the “worthless” religion.
It may not be the best idea to call your coworkers beliefs and values worthless, but there are many things that you can take away from this passage regarding ministry. Starting at a small leave, or a basic level, if one can call it that, can be important in helping to build a strong foundation in a person’s faith. Telling and speaking the truth is equally as important as speaking kind and nicely.
Paul’s approach with responding to his accusation of being Hermes arguably may not have been the best. We see that Paul is trying to evangelize to a gentile group and they come to the conclusion that Paul is himself a god that “came down in the likeness of men” (Acts 14:11). I can see Paul’s frustration in this when he tried to get his point across about the miracle and divine power of God, and the witnesses took something different from it. This caused Paul to consider their worldview of these gods “worthless” and tell them to turn from it. Paul criticized or “attacked” something that these people believed, but they may not have known any better. This was what they were taught/believed since they did not know of Jesus. It seems calling part of their worldview worthless could be a bit provoking since they did not really know better. It reminds me of children will, for example, run to the road the first time since they do not know better to stay away from it. Yes, they should be told why they should not do it and be warned not to do it again, but they did not know better this first time. Paul, however, did try to come around and connect their worldview with referring to creation and things that the believe their gods do and point them to God. “Since the Lystrians were polytheists, it was necessary to begin with the basic message that God is the creator of all that exists” (Polhill 2113). He also referred to food and emotions that God provides for them and, “are all witness from God of his existence, wisdom, and goodness” (Polhill 2113). Ultimately, this was not received well by the people as they decided to stone him to the point where he seemed to be dead. Although Paul was trying to get his point across, this did not seem as the most effective way and maybe that was why it was included in this book. Perhaps as a way for us to learn from his “mistake.”
When I read this article and what stood out to me the most was Paul’s reacting and seeing his fall was very steep but he learned from his mistakes. Paul is portrayed as a great person and he always have great intention but he not perfect just like the rest of us. He going to make mistakes just like us and have to come to God and ask for forgiveness. It says in the article in acts 3 where the miracle takes place in the temple courts, Paul always tried his hardest to do right and make sure the Jews and great success. All and all Paul is human just like us and try to do things right but fall through the cracks just like everyone else in this world.
If one were to look at this in a modern day context related to missions the first thing they may question, if they are doing missions correctly, is that Paul makes himself appear as the savior himself. When Paul tells the lame man to stand up he declares it as if he is the one with the power rather than expressing the power of God. The crowd is confused by the power that healed the lame man because of the way Paul worded things. Modern day missionaries can be doing a lot of harm if they are ministering incorrectly and have a white savior ideology. It is really common for missions in modern days to be done wrong and in this way where the missionary is seen as the savior and taking the idea away from God. One could argue that this was a failure point in his mission because Paul is perceived as a savior and with great power when any true believer knows that the power that Paul used is from God alone. We as human our powerless without God. Paul definitely did learn something from his mistake by not clarifying who is the one doing the healing from the very begining. When offerings were offered right after and Paul knew he messed up he was able to correct himself and share who God was and that it was God who healed the lame man not himself. Mission work, like this, can be done wrong so easily like mistakes like this and misinterpretation.
The question that you pose at the end of the blog brings up a good point. For Paul this was a failure for him and his goals. Right from the beginning we see Paul and Barnabas struggling with these Gentiles. They think that the two are gods and begin to try and sacrifice to them (Acts 14:13). Obviously, this is not the desired outcome of the two missionaries. The people they were talking to have not Jewish knowledge and so the normal way of how Paul talked about Christ would not work (Polhill, pg. 2113, 2016). Paul had to talk more in a way that made sense to them. Now to get back to the question, I think that this did shape him. Paul as a Pharisee was a blunt guy and his life reflected that. I think in this passage he relied on that part of him heavily. I think that the bluntness of Paul was needed for the early work of the church, a guy who could say it how it was. He spoke the truth and did not falter. In this case it did end up in his beating and being left for dead, but dare I say that comes with the job. I don’t think that Paul really changed after this. Looking into his letters later to the churches he is very blunt with his condemnations of those in the wrong. I think Paul’s attitude is needed in the early church, someone to say it how it is and establish truth. Maybe we should have more of Paul today…
I think this blog post brings up two interesting points. Paul’s speech in Acts 14 is a very good example of how Paul adapted his messages to fit his audience. He uses words “which this group can understand within their own worldview” (Long notes). However, Paul does not let the desire to reach his audience supersede his responsibility to call out their false religion.
In terms of this sermon being a model for “contemporary evangelicalism,” I think it could go two different directions. On the one hand, Pastor’s should be willing to meet their audience where they are at. In the same way that Paul uses words and descriptors of God that will resonate with the Pagan audience he is preaching to (rather than ones that will only resonate with the Jews), so should we as Christians be able to tailor our message to our audiences. If we are speaking to our friend who grew up in church, we’re going to speak differently or use different examples than we would if we’re speaking to someone who has never been to church in their life, or someone who has had a bad experience with Christians.
On the other side of the coin, Paul does not shy away from the reality that they are worshipping false gods. He calls the gods they are worshipping “vain things” and pleads them to turn to the true God. Paul does not immediately jump on them and call them out harshly – rather, it is once “they realized the gravity of the situation,” once one of their priests began to offer a sacrifice in their name that Paul escalates things (Polhill, 2113).
In the 21st century, it can often be difficult to walk the line between speaking the truth in love and purposefully offending someone. You would not approach a random person on the street and start attacking them, nor would you enter into a conversation with someone only to find things to argue with them about. This will reach no one. If, however, you are in an earnest conversation with someone of a different faith and they inquire as to your beliefs, I think it is your duty to speak the truth: that you believe in the one true God, and that ultimately their beliefs and their god will not save them. This can be done in love – however, we also must be ready to contend with the fact that we may offend someone, no matter how lovingly we state it.
The reaction from the Gentiles who were offering sacrifices in Lystra shows that what they were saying was proving fruitless. Despite their words, and telling them the evidence of God through “general revelation” (Long, 2019, para. 4), they continued to believe they were of their own religion. This is quite contrary to Acts 17 in which, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (17:21). Although some mocked after hearing his teachings, others agreed to listen and came to believe. The first time, the people were rooted in their beliefs, while the other time they were open-minded. Additionally, in the first instance Paul directly conflicted with their beliefs calling it “worthless,” while the instance in Acts 17 shows him presenting the Gospel rather than attacking their beliefs. I believe the audience was different and may be a major reason for the difference in reaction and also Paul’s approach, for in Lystra it was crowds of people while the other time it was Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who approached him (17:18). I do not think that it was a failure because of Paul’s actions but rather due to the fact that the groups of people in Lystra were so rooted in their beliefs.