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
I told you in the last Gems that I believe Ward Powers makes a strong case for the possibility that Paul and Barnabas understood what the Lystran people were saying despite the fact that they used the Lycaonian language. The suggestion then is that a miracle took place of the same nature as happened in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when all heard the message in their own language despite never having learned the specific language being spoken. If that were true, of course it would have had to have been the case when Paul and Barnabas heard Lycaonian being spoken but still knew what was being said. And it would have had to have happened again when Paul rushed out and spoke to the crowd as they were about to sacrifice to the two apostles (read missionaries).
As I explained to you in the last Gem the division between the translations as to whether they “heard” or “heard of” carries more weight that you may first imagine. A number of you have written to me in response to the last Gem and suggested, in the words of one of you – But Ian, isn’t it easier to imagine that Paul and Barnabas used an interpreter who first relayed the message to the two of them and then translated what Paul said into Lycaonian for the benefit of the people? Yes that is the difference in implication between “heard” and “heard of”. But my point, following the lead of Ward Powers is that the natural way to interpret the words Luke wrote is to take “heard” at face value and interpret it to mean Paul and Barnabas heard directly what the Lystrans said rather than needing to have it interpreted for them. Luke literally wrote, “when the apostles heard this” not when the apostles heard of this, or heard the interpretation in Greek or Latin. Through the book of Acts Luke gives us the detail when an interpreter is translating the words into another language. He doesn’t hint at that process in this instance. Further more I think if Paul were trying to spontaneously rush out and stop the crowd he is hardly likely to use an interpreter but just start speaking. It was a spur of the moment thing and one which required immediacy in the process of communicating the message. Luke tells us other times which language is being used and whether it had to be interpreted into another language. In this case there is no hint that an intermediary was used in the form of an interpreter.
I agree with Powers on the suggestion that this was another use of the gift of tongues because of the immediate calming effect Paul’s words seem to have had on the crowd. Like Ward Powers I think the impact on the crowd would have been significant to know the people don’t know your language and then to be suddenly understand the words they are saying would have had an impact. Powers suggests commentators most often pass over this possibility without even commenting on it. Isn’t that frequently the case. What we really want to know from the commentators they say nothing about. Rather the bulk of the commentators assume Paul and Barnabas’ reaction to what the crowd were doing was delayed because they didn’t understand the words spoken and had to wait until their intentions became evident through what they saw them doing. As I said to you in Gem 1649, Powers suggests they did understand the words through the operation of the gift of tongues but were not aware of what the temple priest was planning. When they saw their actions and heard their comments they took immediate action. The idea of the need for an interpreter is based on assumption that Paul and Barnabas didn’t know Lycaonian and therefore needed an interpreter.
I told you in the very beginning of the Gems on the Book of Acts that Luke appears to contrast Peter and Paul. He takes these two spokesmen for the Good News and switches between them back and forth before at the point we are now he focus solely on Paul. What is fascinating is that there are parallels between Peter and Paul through the book of Acts as Luke presents their respective ministries to us as his audience. As I have also suggested to you, while Luke uses these two spokesmen in his telling of the story the spread of the Gospel is by no means limited solely to Peter and to Paul. The message is that this witness to the Gospel is for all believers. We are all to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the outer most parts of the earth. I know this because I was born in the outer most part of the earth to Jerusalem. That having been highlighted, isn’t it fascinating that Peter miraculously escapes death, is miraculously released from prison, raises the dead (Dorcas in Acts 9:40). Thus Paul too miraculously escapes death, is released from prison with Barnabas by way of a miracle and raises someone from the dead (Eutychus in Acts 20:9-12). Both Peter and Paul preach the gospel to Gentiles and add to the church. Peter preaches to the people in their own mother tongue (Acts 2:11) so also Paul in this example at Lystra.
At the end of the last Gem I wrote, “I totally agree with Ward Powers that the gift of tongues was in operation here. Luke didn’t need to spell it out but subtilely draws comparisons between Paul and Peter.” This is perhaps the only thing that bothers me about this. The subtlety of Luke’s words as opposed to make it the miracle clear as he did related to the day of Pentecost. It is true that there is great clarity in what Luke tells us related to Pentecost and the operation of the gift of tongues than is the case here. In Lystra it is reduced to the subtle hint of the straight forward use of language and the implication of the difference in meaning between a straight forward interpretation of [akouw] to mean “heard” as it is interpreted to mean everywhere else as opposed to this use in Acts 14:14 where it is interpreted to mean “heard of”. Why then does Luke not make it abundantly clear that the gift of tongues was used in this case enabling Paul and Barnabas to understand what the Lystrans were saying en masse and the Lystrans being able to understand Paul’s shouted impromptu words as they are getting ready to sacrifice to the two apostles. Thus I am left with the question, why the subtlety Luke? Why didn’t you highlight this miracle in a clearer way. Some times subtlety is a form of highlighting something but only those who are tuned in get it. I don’t know but you can store the question up for Luke and ask him when you see him.
Sometimes the best way to really get your message across is to understate the case and keep them pondering.Ian Vail
The quiet, subtle response is often times more effective than shouting in their ear.Ian Vail
Truth is not fully explosive, but subtlely electric. You don’t blow the world up with the truth; you shock it into motion.Chris Jamie
Jesus often used subtle allusion to make His point rather then stating His anger clearly, leaving His critics to work it out.Ian Vail
Transported to a different culture, thought often loses its subtlety and can even rampage like a wild beast.Minae Mizumura
You have a nicety of awareness of the difference between a blade’s edge and its tip.Frank Herbert
A confused and weak man hides his weakness and uncertainty with fiery speeches.Anon