Acts 14:11
And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.
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(11) Saying in the speech of Lycaonia.—The fact is clearly recorded with a definite purpose, and no explanation seems so natural as that which assumes it to be given as accounting for the passive attitude of the Apostles till what was then said had borne its fruit in acts. It will be admitted by all who are not under the influence of a theory that this serves almost as a crucial instance, showing that the “gift of tongues,” which St. Paul possessed so largely (1Corinthians 14:18), did not consist in a supernatural knowledge of every provincial patois with which he came in contact. (See Note on Acts 2:4.) It is clear that he might easily have learnt afterwards, from those who knew both languages, the meaning of what at the time was unintelligible. To suppose, as some have done, that the Apostles, understanding what was said, acquiesced in the preparations for sacrifice in order that they might afterwards make their protest as with a greater dramatic effect, is at variance with the natural impression made by the narrative, and, it need scarcely be said, with any worthy conception of St. Paul’s character. The diglottic character of the people, here and in other Asiatic provinces of the empire, would make it perfectly natural that they should speak to one another in their own dialect, while Greek served for their intercourse with strangers. The “speech of Lycaonia” is said to have had affinities with Assyrian.

The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.—Literally, the gods, made like unto men, are come down to us. The belief which the words expressed was characteristic of the rude simplicity of the Lycaonians. No such cry would have been possible in the great cities where the confluence of a debased polytheism and philosophical speculation had ended in utter scepticism. And the form which the belief took was in accordance with the old legends of the district. There, according to the Myth which Ovid had recently revived and adorned (Metam. viii. 625-724), Zeus and Hermes (Jupiter and Mercury) had come in human guise, and been received by Baucis and Philemon (St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon shows that the name lingered in that region), and left tokens of their favour. We find from the poem just referred to that the place where they had dwelt was looked on as a shrine to which devout worshippers made their pilgrimages, and where they left their votive offerings.




Acts 14:11

This was the spontaneous instinctive utterance of simple villagers when they saw a deed of power and kindness. Many an English traveller and settler among rude people has been similarly honoured. And in Lycaonia the Apostles were close upon places that were celebrated in Greek mythology as having witnessed the very two gods, here spoken of, wandering among the shepherds and entertained with modest hospitality in their huts.

The incident is a very striking and picturesque one. The shepherd people standing round, the sudden flash of awe and yet of gladness which ran through them, the tumultuous outcry, which, being in their rude dialect, was unintelligible to the Apostles till it was interpreted by the appearance of the priest of Jupiter with oxen and garlands for offerings, the glimpse of the two Apostles-the older, graver, venerable Barnabas, the younger, more active, ready-tongued Paul, whom their imaginations converted into the Father of gods and men, and the herald Mercury, who were already associated in local legends; the priest, eager to gain credit for his temple ‘before the city,’ the lowing oxen, and the vehement appeal of the Apostles, make a picture which is more vividly presented in the simple narrative than even in the cartoon of the great painter whom the narrative has inspired.

But we have not to deal with the picturesque element alone. The narratives of Scripture are representative because they are so penetrating and true. They go to the very heart of the men and things which they describe: and hence the words and acts which they record are found to contain the essential characteristics of whole classes of men, and the portrait of an individual becomes that of a class. This joyful outburst of the people of Lycaonia gives utterance to one of the most striking and universal convictions of heathenism, and stands in very close and intimate relations with that greatest of all facts in the history of the world, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. That the gods come down in the likeness of men is the dream of heathenism. ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,’ is the sober, waking truth which meets and vindicates and transcends that cry.

I. The heathen dream of incarnation.

In all lands we find this belief in the appearance of the gods in human form. It inspired the art and poetry of Greece. Rome believed that gods had charged in front of their armies and given their laws. The solemn, gloomy religion of Egypt, though it worshipped animal forms, yet told of incarnate and suffering gods. The labyrinthine mythologies of the East have their long-drawn stories of the avatars of their gods floating many a rood on the weltering ocean of their legends. Tibet cherishes each living sovereign as a real embodiment of the divine. And the lowest tribes, in their degraded worship, have not departed so far from the common type but that they too have some faint echoes of the universal faith.

Do these facts import anything at all to us? Are we to dismiss them as simply the products of a stage which we have left far behind, and to plume ourselves that we have passed out of the twilight?

Even if we listen to what comparative mythology has to say, it still remains to account for the tendency to shape legends of the earthly appearance of the gods; and we shall have to admit that, while they belong to an early stage of the world’s progress, the feelings which they express belong to all stages of it.

Now I think we may note these thoughts as contained in this universal belief:

The consciousness of the need of divine help.

The certainty of a fellowship between heaven and earth.

The high ideal of the capacities and affinities of man.

We may note further what were the general characteristics of these incarnations. They were transient, they were ‘docetic,’ as they are called-that is, they were merely apparent assumptions of human form which brought the god into no nearer or truer kindred with humanity, and they were, for the most part, for very self-regarding and often most immoral ends, the god’s personal gratification of very ungodlike passions and lust, or his winning victories for his favourites, or satisfying his anger by trampling on those who had incurred his very human wrath.

II. The divine answer which transcends the human dream.

We have to insist that the truth of the Incarnation is the corner-stone of Christianity. If that is struck out the whole fabric falls. Without it there may be a Christ who is the loftiest and greatest of men, but not the Christ who ‘saves His people from their sins.’

That being so, and Christianity having this feature in common with all the religions of men, how are we to account for the resemblance? Are we to listen to the rude solution which says, ‘All lies alike’? Are we to see in it nothing but the operation of like tendencies, or rather illusions, of human thought-man’s own shadow projected on an illuminated mist? Are we to let the resemblance discredit the Christian message? Or are we to say that all these others are unconscious prophecies-man’s half-instinctive expression of his deep need and much misunderstood longing, and that the Christian proclamation that Jesus is ‘God manifest in the flesh’ is the trumpet-toned announcement of Heaven’s answer to earth’s cry?

Fairly to face that question is to go far towards answering it. For as soon as we begin to look steadily at the facts, we find that the differences between all these other appearances and the Incarnation are so great as to raise the presumption that their origins are different. The ‘gods’ slipped on the appearance of humanity over their garment of deity in appearance only, and that for a moment. Jesus is ‘bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,’ and is not merely ‘found in fashion as a man,’ but is ‘in all points like as we are.’ And that garb of manhood He wears for ever, and in His heavenly glory is ‘the Man Christ Jesus.’

But the difference between all these other appearances of gods and the Incarnation lies in the acts to which they and it respectively led, and the purposes for which they and it respectively took place. A god who came down to suffer, a god who came to die, a god who came to be the supreme example of all fair humanities, a god who came to suffer and to die that men might have life and be victors over sin- where is he in all the religions of the world? And does not the fact that Christianity alone sets before men such a God, such an Incarnation, for such ends, make the assertion a reasonable one, that the sources of the universal belief in gods who come down among men and of the Christian proclamation that the Eternal Word became flesh are not the same, but that these are men’s half-understood cries, and this is Heaven’s answer?Acts 14:11-12. And when the people — Who were present when this wonderful cure was wrought; saw what Paul had done — By merely speaking a word, being all in raptures of astonishment; they lifted up their voices — In loud acclamations; saying, The gods are come down — Which the heathen supposed they frequently did, Jupiter especially. But how amazingly does the prince of darkness blind the minds of them that believe not! The Jews would not own Christ’s Godhead, though they saw him work numberless miracles: but these heathen, seeing mere men work one miracle, were for deifying them immediately! And they called Barnabas, Jupiter, &c. — Chrysostom observes, that the heathen represented Jupiter as an old, but vigorous man, of a noble and majestic aspect, and large robust make; which, therefore, he supposes might be the form of Barnabas: whereas Mercury appeared young, little, and nimble, as Paul might probably do, for he was yet but a young man. The reason, however, given by Luke is different, namely; because he was, ο ηγουμενος του λογου, the chief speaker, or, the leader of the discourse; on which account, they thought it more probable that he was Mercury, their god of eloquence.14:8-18 All things are possible to those that believe. When we have faith, that most precious gift of God, we shall be delivered from the spiritual helplessness in which we were born, and from the dominion of sinful habits since formed; we shall be made able to stand upright and walk cheerfully in the ways of the Lord. When Christ, the Son of God, appeared in the likeness of men, and did many miracles, men were so far from doing sacrifice to him, that they made him a sacrifice to their pride and malice; but Paul and Barnabas, upon their working one miracle, were treated as gods. The same power of the god of this world, which closes the carnal mind against truth, makes errors and mistakes find easy admission. We do not learn that they rent their clothes when the people spake of stoning them; but when they spake of worshipping them; they could not bear it, being more concerned for God's honour than their own. God's truth needs not the services of man's falsehood. The servants of God might easily obtain undue honours if they would wink at men's errors and vices; but they must dread and detest such respect more than any reproach. When the apostles preached to the Jews, who hated idolatry, they had only to preach the grace of God in Christ; but when they had to do with the Gentiles, they must set right their mistakes in natural religion. Compare their conduct and declaration with the false opinions of those who think the worship of a God, under any name, or in any manner, is equally acceptable to the Lord Almighty. The most powerful arguments, the most earnest and affectionate addresses, even with miracles, are scarcely enough to keep men from absurdities and abominations; much less can they, without special grace, turn the hearts of sinners to God and to holiness.They lifted up their voices - They spoke with astonishment, such as might be expected when it was supposed that the gods had come down.

In the speech of Lycaonia - What this language was has much perplexed commentators. It was probably a mixture of the Greek and Syriac. In that region generally the Greek was usually spoken with more or less purity; and from the fact that it was not far from the regions of Syria, it is probable that the Greek language was corrupted with this foreign admixture.

The gods ... - All the region was idolatrous. The gods which were worshipped there were those which were worshipped throughout Greece.

Are come down - The miracle which Paul had performed led them to suppose this. It was evidently beyond human ability, and they had no other way of accounting for it than by supposing that their gods had personally appeared.

In the likeness of men - Many of their gods were heroes, whom they worshipped after they were dead. It was a common belief among them that the gods appeared to people in human form. The poems of Homer, of Virgil, etc., are filled with accounts of such appearances, and the only way in which they supposed the gods to take knowledge of human affairs, and to help people, was by their personally appearing in this form. See Homer's Odyssey, xvii. 485; Catullus, 64, 384; Ovid's Metamorph., i. 212 (Kuinoel). Thus, Homer says:

"For in similitude of strangers oft.

The gods, who can with ease all shapes assume,

Repair to populous cities, where they mark.

Th' outrageous and the righteous deeds of men."


11-13. in the speech of Lycaonia—whether a corruption of the Greek tongue, which was well enough understood in this region, or the remains of some older tongue, is not known.

The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men—the language of an unsophisticated people. But "that which was a superstition in Lycaonia, and for which the whole "creation" groaned, became a reality at Bethlehem" [Webster and Wilkinson].

In the speech of Lycaonia; which was a dialect of the Greek tongue, that language being in the Lesser Asia ordinarily spoken.

The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men; the heathens (especially their poets) did frequently believe such kind of apparitions; probably at first from the appearing of angels unto the patriarchs and others, which by tradition they might have heard of. And when the people saw what Paul had done,.... In curing the lame man in so marvellous a manner, and concluding it to be a divine work, and what a mere creature could never perform:

they lift up their voices; not in indignation and wrath, but as persons astonished:

saying in the speech of Lycaonia; by which it should seem that Lystra was a city of Lycaonia, since the Lycaonian language was spoken in it; the Arabic version reads, "in their own tongue"; and the Syriac version, "in the dialect of the country"; very likely a dialect of the Greek tongue;

the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men; they had a notion of deity, though a very wrong one; they thought there were more gods than one, and they imagined heaven to be the habitation of the gods; and that they sometimes descended on earth in human shape, as they supposed they now did.

And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.
Acts 14:11. Λυκαονιστί] Chrysostom has finely grasped the object of this remark: οὐκ ἦν τοῦτο οὐδέπω δῆλον, τῇ γὰρ οἰκείᾳ φωνῇ ἐφθέγγοντο λέγοντες, ὅτι οἱ θεοὶ κ.τ.λ. Διὰ τοῦτο οὐδὲν αὐτοῖς ἔλεγον. The more surprised and astonished the people were, the more natural was it for them to express themselves in their native dialect, although Zeller reckons this very improbable and calculated with a view to make the homage go as far as possible. Nothing definite can be made out concerning the Lycaonian language; perhaps a dialect of the Lycian (Lassen in the Zeit. d. Deutsch. morgenl. Gesellsch. 1856, p. 329 ff.), which Jablonsky (in Iken’s nov. Thes. II. p. 638 ff.) considered as derived from the Assyrian; Grotius, as identical with the Cappadocian; and Gühling (de lingua Lycaon., Viteb. 1726), as a corrupt Greek.

ὁμοιωθέντες ἀνθρώποις] having become similar to men. Theophanies in human form (Hom. Od. xvii. 485 ff.) belonged, at the instance of the myths of antiquity,[17] to the heathen popular belief, in which such conceptions survived as an echo of these ancient myths (comp. Themist. vii. p. 90, quoted by Wetstein on Acts 14:12); although Baur (comp. Zeller) discovers here an imitation, in which the author of the Acts shows himself as “acquainted with mythology.” Comp., moreover, the analogous conception which attached itself to the appearance of Pythagoras, of Apollonius of Tyana, and others (Valckenaer, p. 506). Such a belief was naturally rejected by philosophers (Plat. Rep. ii. p. 381 C–E; Cic. de Harusp. 28); but just as naturally it lingered among the people.

[17] See also Nägelsbach, Homer. Theol. p. 153.Acts 14:11. ἐπῆραν τὴν φ. αὐτῶν: aorist; lifted up their voices with a sudden outburst, and then went on to devise names for the two: ἐκάλουν, “were for calling,” imperfect; cf. Luke 1:54 (Rendall). The phrase here only found in Acts 2:14, Acts 22:22 and Luke 11:27; Friedrich, p. 29, cf. LXX, Jdg 9:7; phrase also found in classical Greek.—οἱ ὄχλοι: the common city mob; the crowd, who would speak in their own native tongue. The Apostles had evidently spoken in Greek, which the native Lycaonians would understand and speak, Church in the Roman Empire, p. 57. But in moments of excitement their native tongue would rise more naturally to their lips, and they would give expression to their old superstitious beliefs, see Church in the Roman Empire, p. 58, and Wendt (1888), p. 313.—Λυκαονιστὶ: specially mentioned not only on account of its naturalness here (see above) but also because, as St. Chrysostom noted, this mention of the fact would explain why Paul and Barnabas made no protest. Bethge’s objection that ὁμοιοπαθεῖς (Acts 14:15) shows that St. Paul understood the words of Acts 14:11 is no answer, because the preparations for the sacrifice, rather than the words of the people, enabled the Apostles to understand the bearings of the scene. On the speech of . see Conder, Palestine Explor. Fund, October, 1888.—Οἱ θεοὶ κ.τ.λ.: the knowledge of the story of Baucis and Philemon, according to which Jupiter and Mercury visited in human form the neighbouring district, Ovid, Met., viii. 611 ff., would render such words quite natural (cf. Fasti, v., 495, and Dio Chrys., Orat., xxxiii., p. 408). Baur, Zeller, and Overbeck, followed by Wendt, object that the people would not have thought of such high gods, but rather of magicians or demons, and the latter evidently thinks that St. Luke has coloured the narrative by introducing into it the form which in his opinion the adoration of the Apostles would assume; but the same narrative emphasises the fact that the miracle was a notable one, and we can scarcely limit the bounds of excitement on the part of a superstitious people who were wont to make their pilgrimages to the spot where Jupiter and Mercury conversed with men. At Malta a similar result follows from the miracle of Paul, and heathen mythology was full of narratives of the appearances of high gods, which were by no means strange to N.T. times (see Holtzmann’s note, Hand-Commentar, p. 378). Moreover, the people, rude as they were, might easily have seen that Paul and Barnabas were not altogether like the common magicians of the day. The main incident, McGiffert admits, was entirely natural under the circumstances, and is too striking and unique to have been invented, Apostolic Age, pp. 188, 189.11. in the speech of Lycaonia] Which would come more naturally to their lips than any other. The people were bilingual, and St Paul had been speaking to them in Greek. This fact may give us some additional light on the question of what the gift of tongues was, which was bestowed upon the Apostles. Clearly, from what we see here, it was not such a power as enabled them at once to understand and converse in the various dialects of all the people into whose countries they might be brought in their missionary labours. For it is manifest that neither Paul nor Barnabas understood the cry of these Lycaonians. If they had, we cannot suppose that they would have allowed a moment to elapse before they corrected the false impression which the words conveyed, and at which, when they came to know its purport, they expressed such horror. They, however, left the place where the multitude of listeners had been assembled, and departed to their own lodgings without any knowledge of what the mistaken people were about to do.

The gods are come down to us] Nothing was more familiar to the heathen mind than the thought of the gods assuming human shape and going about among mankind, and it has often been noticed that the scene of the legend of Baucis and Philemon related by Ovid (Metam. viii. 611 seqq.), and in which Jupiter and Mercury are said to have wandered on earth and to have been received as guests by Baucis and Philemon, is laid in Phrygia, which province was close to Lycaonia.Acts 14:11. Κατέβησαν, have come down) Often the Gentiles ascribed such a descent to their gods, especially to Jupiter, καταβάτης, the Descender. See J. H. a Seelen Medit. Exeget. pp. 453, 458.Verse 11. - Multitudes for people, A.V.; voice for voices, A.V. In the speech of Lycaonia. It is not known what the language of Lycaonia was, whether Cappadocian, or Celtic, or Lycian; but we learn incidentally from Stephanus Byzantinus, that there was a Lycaonian language, for he tells us that Delbia (as some write the name Derbe) was the Lycaonian for ἄρκευθος, a juniper tree or berry. No other Lycaonian word is known (see "Jablouskii Disquis. de Ling. Lycaon," in Stephan., 'Thesaur.'). The Lycaoniaus doubtless understood Greek as the language of intercommunication all over Roman Asia, but among themselves would speak their native dialect. The belief that the gods were come down in the likeness of men, and that these gods were Jupiter and Hermes, or Mercury, was most natural to Lycaonians, who were conversant with, and doubtless believed, the Phrygian legend of Philemon and Baucis, who entertained hospitably Jupiter and Hermes, when no one else would take them in, and whose cottage was by the gods turned into a temple (when all the neighborhood was drowned by a flood), of which they were made priest and priestess during life, and simultaneously metamorphosed into an oak and lime tree when their life ended (Ovid, 'Metamorph.,'8:611, etc.). Ovid places the scene of the legend at Tyana, the site of which has been ascertained by Hamilton to be near Erekli, in Cappadocia, close to the borders of Lycaonia. The moral drawn in the legend itself seems to have been that which influenced the people of Lycaonia in their conduct towards the two strangers: "Cura pii dis sunt, et qui coluere coluntur," which may be Englished, "Them that honor me I will honor" (1 Samuel 2:30). In the speech of Lycaonia

The apostles had been conversing with them in Greek. The fact that the people now spoke in their native tongue explains why Paul and Barnabas did not interfere until they saw the preparations for sacrifice. They did not understand what was being said by the people about their divine character. It was natural that the surprise of the Lystrans should express itself in their own language rather than in a foreign tongue.

In the likeness of men (ὁμοιωθέντες ἀνθρώποις)

Lit., having become like to men. A remnant of the earlier pagan belief that the gods visited the earth in human form. Homer, for example, is full of such incidents. Thus, when Ulysses lands upon his native shore, Pallas meets him

"in the shape

Of a young shepherd delicately formed,

As are the sons of kings. A mantle lay

Upon her shoulder in rich folds; her feet

Shone in their sandals; in her hands she bore

A javelin."

Odyssey, xiii., 221-225.

Again, one rebukes a suitor for maltreating Ulysses:

"Madman! what if he

Came down from heaven and were a god! The gods


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