Hermes and Zeus
“When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’” (v. 11).- Acts 14:8–28
After Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went to Lystra. We are not told if there was a synagogue there. It seems that they went directly to the unconverted Gentiles there. While Paul was speaking, a man lame from birth was paying attention and Paul healed him.
Previously in Acts the healing of cripples has been interpreted as a sign of the Gospel. Such healings took place in the context of Judaism and thus were interpreted by those familiar with the Old Testament principles and promises. In Lystra, by way of contrast, the healing was interpreted differently.
Paul had been preaching that God had sent His Son into the world. (We can be sure of that since it is what he preached everywhere.) The crowd heard just enough to misinterpret Paul. They put his message into their Greek context and thought he was saying that the gods had come down among them as men. They identified Paul as Hermes (Mercury), the messenger of the gods, since Paul was doing all the talking. Paul’s quiet colleague they assumed to be Zeus (Jupiter). The crowd prepared to worship them.
In Acts 12, Herod welcomed worship from a crowd and God slew him. Luke shows us the opposite response here in Acts 14, for Paul and Barnabas were horrified when they realized what was happening, and forbad the crowd to worship them. Paul explained to them that God had been taking care of them, even as pagans, and that now He was calling them to turn to Him (Acts 14:15–17).
Paul’s experience shows that it takes more work to get through to people with no Judeo-Christian background. These pagans in Lystra were interested, and some were converting, but they were constantly misinterpreting the Gospel because they had no foundation in the Old Testament. Soon, Jews came from Antioch and won the crowd over, and they stoned Paul. They left him for dead, but Paul got up and went back to the city to minister to the converts there (Acts 14:20–23).
The great enemies of the faith at this point were not the heathen. The heathen crowd were duped by the Jews. It was the Jews who acted to prevent the heathen from being converted.
Just as outwardly religious Jews were the Gospel’s enemies in the first century, so today the great enemies of the Gospel are the carnal members of the church. Jealous, lukewarm, and liberal “Christians” are the greatest enemies of the faith. Be on guard for any who seek to devalue the authority of Scripture or the message of Christ crucified.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 3:1–9
2 John 4–11