When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human form!” They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul was Hermes, since he was the chief speaker. Now the temple of Zeus was located just outside the town. So the priest of the temple and the crowd brought bulls and wreaths of flowers to the town gates, and they prepared to offer sacrifices to the apostles. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. In the past He permitted all the nations to go their own ways, but He never left them without evidence of Himself and His goodness. For instance, He sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.” But even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.Acts 14:11-18
Now for the crowd’s reaction concerning their assumption that Paul and Barnabas are gods in human form:
- Why did the crowd automatically assume Paul and Barnabas were gods in human form?
- Why did they assume they were the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes?
- Why did they think Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes? I would have thought it would have been the other way around.
- “They tore their clothing in dismay and ran out amongst the people…” that must have been quite a scene. Was this form of behaviour normal and is it still in present day times?
- Why didn’t Paul and Barnabas use the people’s thought that they were Gods for their benefit?
- The response of the crowd is confusing: if they really think that Paul and Barnabas were gods and they tell them not to sacrifice, why did they still do it?
- Why would the people want to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas? What had they done to deserve that?
- Was what Paul and Barnabas did successful in stopping the crowd’s reaction or not?
The crowd were just following their natural inclination to marvel at the miraculous. The healing of the crippled man in the crowd would have amazed them and left them lost for explanations. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the ways of God would have been challenged and mystified by this event. How is it possible that healing could take place from a distance? The normal thing we would expect would be for “the healer” to do something magical. Or to at least be in contact with the person and give them something or do something that could in some way explain the fact that they were healed. Those who healed with “magic powers” would be expected to do something like that and then take the praise for doing so. That is what the crowd would have been used to if they had ever seen anything like it before. If not, then they would have been left confused and puzzled. Not only that but Paul had singled the man out and spoken healing from a distance in the name of a God unknown to them. Now that has to leave you wanting to know more. Especially when the outcome was a positive one and not for evil intent or religious hocus-pocus.
When their minds turned to gods and things spiritual, they immediately thought either of the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes or as I hinted at in the last Gem, their own equivalent gods which have been associated with Zeus and Hermes. Besides that as I stated in the previous Gem, there were stories they had heard of the gods visiting and they were predisposed towards assuming that was the case from what these religions taught. Hence these people want to deify Paul and Barnabas and consider them to be examples of gods walking among them. It is interesting to me that they considered Barnabas to be Zeus, the chief among the Greek gods. What was there about him which made him to be more distinguished than Paul, causing the people to assume he was the pre-eminent god? We know nothing of Barnabas’ appearance. Maybe he was taller than Paul, who many commentators say was a small, runty, little man. (I am not convinced on that one). Maybe Barnabas just looked more god-like. Maybe he had a beard and Paul didn’t. We just don’t know. I will take my lead from Luke and assume it was because Paul was the chief speaker. Luke leaves us with that conclusion as a result of his little extra comment. If Paul was doing all (or most of) the talking as seems to be the case then it is logical for them to assume that in keeping with both Roman and Greek religious thought, the gods had one god singled out as being the communicator with human kind. – Therefore in their minds Paul must equate with Mercury or Hermes – the messenger of the Gods. A logical conclusion to come to.
No Ross, the tearing of the clothes didn’t descend to the point of them ripping their clothes off and running naked among the crowd. The tearing of the clothes is an action used in a number of cultures either to express grief, outrage or horror. It is not just a Jewish practice. Yes some cultural groups still practice the tearing of clothes now but normally just to express grief. But for Jews in this case the expression was meant to show their horror and shock at what was being done. This act would have been familiar to the Lystrans as well. They would have grasped the outer tunic at the neck with both hands and made a sharp downward pull in order to tear the garment about 6 inches or 15 cms. The intent of this action was to express their horror at what the people were doing. It was meant to be a protest against their intended action or to convey the message to those in the crowd, or more to the point the priest from the temple, that what they were intending to do was blasphemous or sacrilegious. Of course this intent was confirmed by Paul’s words, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you!” The point being we are humans; we are not gods, so don’t sacrifice to us or put us up on a pedestal. Don’t make us out to be gods; we are not. But let us tell you about the One who is God above all others. Notice how Paul uses the situation to tell them about the God they do not know. This is almost like an entrée to what Paul did in Athens at the Areopagus (see Acts 17). Contrary to what some think, it would not have been good if Paul and Barnabas had accepted the adulation and worship and made out like they were gods. That would have complicated or even voided their message about the one true God at a later point.
We don’t actually know that the crowd or more importantly the priest of the temple as their leader kept going with the intent to sacrifice to them. The order of the text suggests they were intending to sacrifice the bulls and lay the wreaths in their honour when Paul made his statement to stop them doing it. The assumption is that they stopped and listened to what he had to say. But it may have taken a while for that message to filter through the crowd. I assume that cause them to stop in their tracks but the way Luke has written this could leave us wondering. He has not specifically stated that on hearing Paul’s words they stopped what they were doing and listened to him. Perhaps the priest from the temple saw his chance to take this event in a direction which might have suited him more in promoting the local religion. If you want to know the specifics of that you will have to ask Paul when you see him. The intention of sacrificing bulls and laying wreaths of flowers to Paul and Barnabas was in recognition of the “divine healing” they had just witnessed. They were seemingly caught up in the religious response to seeing a miracle. Paul makes the point with his comment not to pay homage or make sacrifices to them for the healing. They were mere mortals. The true honour goes to the One who is the Only God, the God above all gods. Don’t honour us; honour Him.
Let’s keep things in perspective people. Always work to ensure God alone gets the glory and not you in all you do for Him. You are just a bond servant of the most high God and nothing more. Never forget it. No matter how miraculously God might answer and no matter how much you might enjoy the praise by association. Always let the glory go to Him.
Worship is giving back what God has given to you.Jeffrey Rachmat
Don’t ever steal the LORD’s glory; it’s not good for your well being or health.Ian Vail
The ultimate insult is to attribute the glory due to an act of God to the devil. That is why it is the unforgivable sin.Ian Vail
Don’t ever allow people to think that what was accomplished by God was because of you, your smarts or your gifting.Ian Vail
Always give God the praise for the things He has done in your life or in others’ lives.Ian Vail