The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 14:5-18

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 21, 2011

Text in red are my additions.

Background: In the first readings of last week, (Wednesday-Saturday), we saw Paul and Barnabas travel  to Antioch of Pisidia where they preached with a good deal of early success, however, they then ran into opposition from Jewish leaders and had been forced to leave the territory. Events at Iconium in some ways mirrored the missionaries experience at Pisidian Antioch (e.g., success in the synagogue, opposition of the leaders, success among the Gentiles).

5. And (at Iconium) when there was an assault made by the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to use Paul and Barnabas contumeliously, and to stone them:

An assault made; i.e., when they were contemplating or about to make an assault. Stoning was the punishment prescribed in the law for blasphemy.

Note that here it is the rulers of both Jew and Gentile who become actively involved against Saints Paul and Barnabas.  Luke on several occasions emphasizes such “official” opposition to the preaching of the Gospel.  In the Roman world city officials had a great deal of authority when it came to dealing with civic disturbances, however, what the Gentile civil and Jewish synagogue leaders attempt to do here goes far beyond the due process of Roman law, such a it was.

A Summary of Acts 14:6-11~Father Callan’s commentary on Acts is introductory in nature and so, on occasion, he merely provides summaries of certain sections of the work. Such is the case in his treatment of Acts 14:6-11. Here I provide his summary of the verses, followed by some notes of my own.

Being privately informed of the designs of the Jews the Apostles fled to Lystra, about 30 miles south of Iconium. Here the man, lame from his birth, was cured, and the people, being pagans, thought Paul and Barnabas to be Mercury and Jupiter, and proposed to worship them and offer sacrifice to them. They called Barnabas Jupiter or Jove, because of his great stature and beautiful countenance, and Paul they styled Mercury, the interpreter of the gods, on account of his eloquence.

6. They understanding it, fled to Lystra, and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the whole country round about, and were there preaching the gospel.

They understanding it, fled.  Some might consider flight undignified, but what Paul and Barnabas are exhibiting here is the virtue of prudence. “Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”65 “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. the prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid” (CCC, 1806).

Cities of Lycaonia. This is a geographical or territorial area to which belonged Iconium, the city the missionaries have fled from. There may be a certain amount of irony here. The civil leaders at Iconium-had they followed the law- could have banished Paul and Barnabas from the entire territory, but they instead chose an illegal way to deal with them.  As a result, though the evangelists were forced to flee the city of Iconium, they were still free to continue their preaching in the cities of Lycaonia.

And were there preaching the Gospel. The Greek reads: κακει ευαγγελιζομενοι ησαν. The use of the imperfect tense and present passive participle indicate continuous activity: And they continued preaching the Gospel there.  This takes place in spite of the opposition and threats of death which their preaching often generates.

7. And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked.

This man’s situation recalls that of the man healed by St Peter  in Acts 3:1-10.  Here Luke shows St Paul exercising the same ministry as St Peter and Jesus (Luke 5:17-26).  In Acts Luke often parallels the activity of Peter and Paul (and others) with the ministry of Jesus as narrated in his Gospel. In this fashion he shows that the Lord continues his work in and through the Church. See Acts 1:1 which reads: In the first book (i.e., the Gospel of Luke), O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach (RSV).  The implication of the word began is important, for it indicates that the Lord is still active in the ministry as narrated by Acts.
8. This same heard Paul speaking. Who looking upon him, and seeing
that he had faith to be healed,
9. Said with a loud voice : Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped up,
and walked.

Faith to be healed. The Greek word translated here as healed is σωθηναι. This word is derived from σώζω (sōzō  = save, deliver, protect). The concept of salvation in Luke/Acts is quite comprehensive and includes preservation of life, deliverance from the demonic, eternal salvation, etc. Note the connection between faith and salvation, healing, etc (see Luke 7:50; 8:12; 17:19; Acts 3:16). Note too the connection between faith and hearing the preaching (see  Rom 10).

And he leaped up and walked. See Acts 3:8.

10. And when the multitudes had seen what Paul had done, they lifted up their voice in the Lycaonian tongue, saying: The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men;
11. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter: but Paul, Mercury; because he was chief speaker.

Jupiter…Mercury.  This translation, like the KJV, ASV, Vulgate, etc., employs the Roman names for the gods.  Jupiter = Zeus; Mercury = Hermes.

There was a Lycaonian legend that told of a visitation by Zeus and Hermes to the people of this area. The gods were not well received and so, as a result, they caused a flood to destroy those who treated them so poorly. It may be that this legend has influenced the people’s action here; they do not want to suffer the fate of their ancestors. It should be noted, however, that in the ancient world men and women of extraordinary qualities were often regarded as divine.  No doubt Luke wants us to recall the events of Acts 12:20-24. In that passage Herod had received honor as a god from the pagans of Tyre and Sidon, and this without any objection on his part.  The response of Saints Paul and Barnabas is very different (see below).

But Paul (they called) Mercury; because he was the chief speaker. Mercury (i.e., Hermes) was the god who governed word and speech.

12. The priest also of Jupiter that was before the city, bringing oxen and garlands before the gate, would have offered sacrifice with the people.

The response of the pagans thus receives support from an official representative of their religious beliefs.

The priest . . . that was before the city; i.e., the priest that had his temple at the entrance to the city. Jupiter was the protecting deity of the city of Lystra, and his image or temple was located near the gate of the city, as was customary with the pagans. Oxen were the prescribed victims for Jupiter; and garlands, made of white wool entwined with flowers, adorned the victim and the priest. Before the gate; i.e., before the hall of the house where Paul and Barnabas were.

13. Which, when the apostles Barnabas and Paul had heard, rending their clothes, they leaped out among the people, crying,

Rending their clothes, as the Jews were accustomed to do in order to express intense grief or indignation. Cf. Matt 26:65.

The response of the priest implies that some time has passed since the people’s initial acclamation of Barnabas and Paul as gods. Enough time for the gathering of the articles for sacrifice. Because the people have been speaking in the Lycaonian dialect (verse 11), the missionaries were apparently not immediately aware of what was taking place. They heard what was going on (apparently) from someone in the crowd who informed them in Greek or Hebrew.  Once informed, their response was immediate. They ripped their clothing, a common sign of blasphemy or of mourning in the Bible (Matt 26:65; Mark 14:63; Gen 37:29, etc.).

14. And saying: Ye men, why do ye these things? We also are mortals,
men like unto you, preaching to you to be converted from these vain things, to the living God, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them.

Mortals; i.e., of like passions and infirmities as yourselves.  These vain things; i.e., these empty and useless idols that you worship.

The Living God is a phrase sometimes used in the Old and New Testaments in contrast to idols (1 Thess 1:9).  Who made heaven and earth. See Jeremiah’s diatribe against idolatry in Jer 10:10-16.

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5 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 14:5-18”

  1. […] Gospel and believe.  Once again we see a connection between hearing and believing as was noted in the commentary on Monday’s first reading (Acts […]

  2. […] Gospel and believe.  Once again we see a connection between hearing and believing as was noted in the commentary on Monday’s first reading (Acts […]

  3. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 14:5-18). […]

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  5. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 14:5-18). […]

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