Paul, Barnabas, and Humility–Acts 14:8-18

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In our last post from the book of Acts we saw how God, through Paul, healed a man who had been lame from birth. And we answered the question: Are miracles real? (If you’re interested you can read more here: Are Miracles Real? Acts 14:8-10) In today’s post we’ll see how the crowd identifies Paul and Barnabas as Greek gods after Paul healed the lame man. And we’ll learn why the locals may have reacted by identifying Paul and Barnabas as mythological characters. We’ll also see what you and I can glean from the way Paul and Barnabas responded to the way the crowd misidentified them.

Acts 14:8-18

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

Acts 14:8-18

So, as I already mentioned, we saw in a previous post from the book of Acts how Paul says, to the man who had been lame from birth, in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began walking. This man who was healed, his condition must have been well known among the people because they’re blown away by what they witness, so much so that they decide Barnabas must be Zeus in disguise and Paul must be Hermes.

A little background: In that area at that time there was a story from Greek mythology about how Zeus and Hermes once disguised themselves and went down among the people. They sought a place to stay for the night but although they knocked on 1,000 doors, every one refused them. Finally they came upon the humble cabin of an old married couple, Baucis and Philemon, who gave them a warm welcome. After enjoying their hospitality, Zeus and Hermes destroyed the locals but spared Baucis and Philemon who were eventually transformed into two trees, planted next to each other on a hill.

So it appears that the people of Lystra were influenced by this legend and they were afraid of offending the two mythological deities a second time. So they reacted by attempting to honor Barnabas and Paul, because they thought they might be Zeus and Hermes appearing in disguise again.

“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” They cried.

The local priest of Zeus brought oxen to sacrifice and garland (garland was traditionally draped around the neck of sacrificial animals).

So what happens next? Paul and Barnabas might have chosen to use their new found perceived celebrity to further the spreading of the Gospel. But they didn’t.

Instead they tore their garments and immediately presented themselves to the people as men of like nature with their listeners. “Why are you doing these things?” They said. We’re not more than you are. We’re just like you.

Then Paul and Barnabas said, “We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”

We’re Just Like You

Barnabas and Paul’s reaction to being identified as Zeus and Hermes brings to mind some times in the past when I over represented myself. I did that in grade school once. I behaved as though I was tougher than I really was. And it led to a fight. And the other guy kicked my butt. One time in high school I behaved as though I was prepared to deliver a presentation to my classmates. My teacher offered to give me more time to complete the assignment but I continued to bluff. So he called on me. And I bombed. Another time as a young adult I behaved as though I had more money than I really had and I embarrassed myself in front of a date.

It’s been my observation that over representing yourself just leads to stress and anxiety. I enjoy greater peace, much greater peace, when I present myself as just who I am — or perhaps even a little less than who I am, as a hedge against my tendency to think too highly of myself. I think God likes it that way.

I love the way Paul and Barnabas immediately say: Stop! Why are you doing these things? We’re just like you. Right away they break down the “us and them” thing and turn it around into a “we” thing. We. We’re just like you.

Something I’ve noticed is that it’s much easier to love people and influence them for Jesus if the “us and them” thing is eliminated and we’re relating to the person as belonging to the we.

Which God? There are or have been nearly 3,000 gods

Another interesting response from Paul and Barnabas is how they distinguish the true and living God from the mythological gods Zeus and Hermes. If God comes up in your conversation sometime, what Paul said is a good way to respond to anyone who might pose the question, “Which god? There are or have been nearly 3,000 gods. Which of the 3,000 are you referring to?” Online I’ve seen atheists pose that question and Paul has a good answer. In truth, most of those 3,000 gods are more like DC super hero characters than they are like the true and living God who created the universe and all that’s in it, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of Jesus. Whenever you or I mention God, of course that’s the God to Whom we’re referring to. The person who brings up the “nearly 3,000 gods” thing already knows we’re talking about the God of the Bible but when they ask the question about the 3,000 Gods, my impression is that they’re simply trying to win the argument or look clever, more than they’re trying to engage in a mutually charitable pursuit of the truth. So they say what sounds good on the surface, but if there’s one true and living God, then it’s not relevant. So if you ever hear that retort, with the affection of Jesus you can respond by sharing what Paul shared, that the God you speak of is Jesus, and His Father who created the universe and all that is in it. (And if we can’t respond with the affection of Jesus, we’re better off walking away.)

Humility First

One last point about the way Paul and Barnabas respond to the crowd. You’ll notice that they emphasize they’re of the same nature as the other human beings in the crowd before they begin to share about the God who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them.

They’re humble.

They’re humility is demonstrated before they share.

I don’t know about you but for me that’s the biggest lesson I can take from today’s passage.

“Father, have mercy on me and on the dear person reading this right now because we’re sinners. Sometimes we become upset when people say things we disagree with and we know we won’t draw people to Jesus without being filled with his loving Spirit, and we can’t be filled with the affection of Jesus for someone if we’re upset with that someone. So have mercy on us and help us to be like Paul and Barnabas. Bless us with humility towards others and toward You. Just as Paul and Barnabas recognized it, help us to recognize we’re no better than anybody else. Help us to recognize we’re of like nature with every other human being on the planet. Fill us with the affection of Christ for You and for every single person You put in front of us.

“In Jesus name we ask these things of You Father.



Ovid, The Story of Baucis and Philemon from his poem Metamorphoses, 1 A.C.E. Translated by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al

Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Second Edition
InterVarsity Press, 2014, pp. 362-363

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One Comment on “Paul, Barnabas, and Humility–Acts 14:8-18

  1. Pingback: Suffering Like Jesus — Acts 14:19-23 | God Running

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