Acts 14:12
And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.
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(12) They called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius.—St. Luke gives, as was natural, the Greek forms—Zeus and Hermes. The main reason for the assignment of the two names was that the listeners recognised in St. Paul the gift of eloquence, which was the special attribute of Hermes. Possibly, also, unlike as were the weak bodily presence and the many infirmities of the Apostle to the sculptured grace with which we are familiar as belonging to the sandalled messenger of the gods—young, and beautiful, and agile—there may have been something in the taller stature and more stately presence of Barnabas which impressed them with the sense of a dignity like that of Jupiter. In any case, we must remember that the master-pieces of Greek art were not likely to have found their way to a Lycaonian village, and that the Hermes of Lystra may have borne the same relation to that of Athens and Corinth as the grotesque Madonna of some Italian wayside shrine does to the masterpieces of Raphael. Real idolatry cares little about the æsthetic beauty of the objects of its worship; and the Lycaonians were genuine idolaters.

The chief speaker.—Literally, the ruler of speech—taking the chief part in it.



Acts 14:11 - Acts 14:22

The scene at Lystra offers a striking instance of the impossibility of eliminating the miraculous element from this book. The cure of a lame man is the starting-point of the whole story. Without it the rest is motiveless and inexplicable. There can be no explosion without a train and a fuse. The miracle, and the miracle only, supplies these. We may choose between believing and disbelieving it, but the rejection of the supernatural does not make this book easier to accept, but utterly chaotic.

I. We have, first, the burst of excited wonder which floods the crowd with the conviction that the two Apostles are incarnations of deities.

It is difficult to grasp the indications of locality in the story, but probably the miracle was wrought in some crowded place, perhaps the forum. At all events, it was in full view of ‘the multitudes,’ and they were mostly of the lower orders, as their speaking in ‘the speech of Lycaonia’ suggests.

This half-barbarous crowd had the ancient faith in the gods unweakened, and the legends, which had become dim to pure Greek and Roman, some of which had originated in their immediate neighbourhood, still found full credence among them. A Jew’s first thought on seeing a miracle was, ‘by the prince of the devils’; an average Greek’s or Roman’s was ‘sorcery’; these simple people’s, like many barbarous tribes to which white men have gone with the marvels of modern science, was ‘the gods have come down’; our modern superior person’s, on reading of one, is ‘hallucination,’ or ‘a mistake of an excited imagination.’ Perhaps the cry of the multitudes at Lystra gets nearer the heart of the thing than those others. For the miracle is a witness of present divine power, and though the worker of it is not an incarnation of divinity, ‘God is with him.’

But that joyful conviction, which shot through the crowd, reveals how deep lies the longing for the manifestation of divinity in the form of humanity, and how natural it is to believe that, if there is a divine being, he is sure to draw near to us poor men, and that in our own likeness. Then is the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation but one more of the many reachings out of the heart to paint a fair picture of the fulfilment of its longings? Well, since it is the only such that is alleged to have taken place in historic times, and the only one that comes with any body of historic evidence, and the only one that brings with it transforming power, and since to believe in a God, and also to believe that He has never broken the awful silence, nor done anything to fulfil a craving which He has set in men’s hearts, is absurd, it is reasonable to answer, No. ‘The gods are come down in the likeness of men’ is a wistful confession of need, and a dim hope of its supply. ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us’ is the supply.

Barnabas was the older man, and his very silence suggested his superior dignity. So he was taken for Jupiter {Zeus in the Greek}, and the younger man for his inferior, Mercury {Hermes in the Greek}, ‘the messenger of the gods.’ Clearly the two missionaries did not understand what the multitudes were shouting in their ‘barbarous’ language, or they would have intervened. Perhaps they had left the spot before the excitement rose to its height, for they knew nothing of the preparations for the sacrifice till they ‘heard of it, and then they ‘sprang forth,’ which implies that they were within some place, possibly their lodging.

If we could be sure what ‘gates’ are meant in Acts 14:13, the course of events would be plainer. Were they those of the city, in which case the priest and procession would be coming from the temple outside the walls? or those of the temple itself? or those of the Apostles’ lodging? Opinions differ, and the material for deciding is lacking. At all events, whether from sharing in the crowd’s enthusiasm, or with an eye to the reputation of his shrine, the priest hurriedly procured oxen for a sacrifice, which one reading of the text specifies as an ‘additional’ offering-that is, over and above the statutory sacrifices. Is it a sign of haste that the ‘garlands,’ which should have been twined round the oxen’s horns, are mentioned separately? If so, we get a lively picture of the exultant hurry of the crowd.

II. The Apostles are as deeply moved as the multitude is, but by what different emotions!

The horror of idolatry, which was their inheritance from a hundred generations, flamed up at the thought of themselves being made objects of worship. They had met many different sorts of receptions on this journey, but never before anything like this. Opposition and threats left them calm, but this stirred them to the depths. ‘Scoff at us, fight with us, maltreat us, and we will endure; but do not make gods of us.’ I do not know that their ‘successors’ have always felt exactly so.

In Acts 14:14 Barnabas is named first, contrary to the order prevailing since Paphos, the reason being that the crowd thought him the superior. The remonstrance ascribed to both, but no doubt spoken by Paul, contains nothing that any earnest monotheist, Jew or Gentile philosopher, might not have said. The purpose of it was not to preach Christ, but to stop the sacrifice. It is simply a vehemently earnest protest against idolatry, and a proclamation of one living God. The comparison with the speech in Athens is interesting, as showing Paul’s exquisite felicity in adapting his style to his audience. There is nothing to the peasants of Lycaonia about poets, no argumentation about the degradation of the idea of divinity by taking images as its likeness, no wide view of the course of history, no glimpse of the mystic thought that all creatures live and move in Him. All that might suit the delicate ears of Athenians, but would have been wasted in Lystra amidst the tumultuous crowd. But we have instead of these the fearless assertion, flung in the face of the priest of Jupiter, that idols are ‘vanities,’ as Paul had learned from Isaiah and Jeremiah; the plain declaration of the one God, ‘living,’ and not like these inanimate images; of His universal creative power; and the earnest exhortation to turn to Him.

In Acts 14:16 Paul meets an objection which rises in his mind as likely to be springing in his hearers: ‘If there is such a God, why have we never heard of Him till now?’ That is quite in Paul’s manner. The answer is undeveloped, as compared with the Athenian address or with Romans 1:1 - Romans 1:32 But there is couched in Acts 14:16 a tacit contrast between ‘the generations gone by’ and the present, which is drawn out in the speech on Mars Hill: ‘but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent,’ and also a contrast between the ‘nations’ left to walk in their own ways, and Israel to whom revelation had been made. The place and the temper of the listeners did not admit of enlarging on such matters.

But there was a plain fact, which was level to every peasant’s apprehension, and might strike home to the rustic crowd. God had left ‘the nations to walk in their own ways,’ and yet not altogether. That thought is wrought out in Romans 1:1 - Romans 1:32, and the difference between its development there and here is instructive. Beneficence is the sign-manual of heaven. The orderly sequence of the seasons, the rain from heaven, the seat of the gods from which the two Apostles were thought to have come down, the yearly miracle of harvest, and the gladness that it brings-all these are witnesses to a living Person moving the processes of the universe towards a beneficent end for man.

In spite of all modern impugners, it still remains true that the phenomena of ‘nature,’ their continuity, their co-operation, and their beneficent issues, demand the recognition of a Person with a loving purpose moving them all. ‘Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness; and Thy paths drop fatness.’

III. The malice of the Jews of Antioch is remarkable.

Not content with hounding the Apostles from that city, they came raging after them to Lystra, where there does not appear to have been a synagogue, since we hear only of their stirring up the ‘multitudes.’ The mantle of Saul had fallen on them, and they were now ‘persecuting’ him ‘even unto strange cities.’

No note is given of the time between the attempted sacrifice and the accomplished stoning, but probably some space intervened. Persuading the multitudes, however fickle they were, would take some time; and indeed one ancient text of Acts has an expansion of the verse: ‘They persuaded the multitudes to depart from them [the Apostles], saying that they spake nothing true, but lied in everything.’

No doubt some time elapsed, but few emotions are more transient than such impure religious excitement as the crowd had felt, and the ebb is as great as the flood, and the oozy bottom laid bare is foul. Popular favourites in other departments have to experience the same fate-one day, ‘roses, roses, all the way’; the next, rotten eggs and curses. Other folks than the ignorant peasants at Lystra have had devout emotion surging over them and leaving them dry.

Who are ‘they’ who stoned Paul? Grammatically, the Jews, and probably it was so. They hated him so much that they themselves began the stoning; but no doubt the mob, which is always cruel, because it needs strong excitement, lent willing hands. Did Paul remember Stephen, as the stones came whizzing on him? It is an added touch of brutality that they dragged the supposed corpse out of the city, with no gentle hands, we may be sure. Perhaps it was flung down near the very temple ‘before the city,’ where the priest that wanted to sacrifice was on duty.

The crowd, having wreaked their vengeance, melted away, but a handful of brave disciples remained, standing round the bruised, unconscious form, ready to lay it tenderly in some hastily dug grave. No previous mention of disciples has been made. The narrative of Acts does not profess to be complete, and the argument from its silence is precarious.

Luke shows no disposition to easy belief in miracles. He does not know that Paul was dead; his medical skill familiarised him with protracted states of unconsciousness; so all he vouches for is that Paul lay as if dead on some rubbish heap ‘without the camp,’ and that, with courage and persistence which were supernatural, whether his reviving was so or not, the man thus sorely battered went back to the city, and next day went on with his work, as if stoning was a trifle not to be taken account of.

The Apostles turned at Derbe, and coming back on their outward route, reached Antioch, encouraging the new disciples, who had now to be left truly like shepherdless sheep among wolves. They did not encourage them by making light of the dangers waiting them, but they plainly set before them the law of the Kingdom, which they had seen exemplified in Paul, that we must suffer if we would reign with the King. That ‘we’ in Acts 14:22 is evidently quoted from Paul, and touchingly shows how he pointed to his own stoning as what they too must be prepared to suffer. It is a thought frequently recurring in his letters. It remains true in all ages, though the manner of suffering varies.

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.And they called Barnabas, Jupiter - Jupiter was the most powerful of all the gods of the ancients. He was represented as the son of Saturn and Ops, and was educated in a cave on Mount Ida, in the island of Crete. The worship of Jupiter was almost universal. He was the Aremon of Africa, the Belus of Babylon, the Osiris of Egypt. His common appellation was, The Father of gods and men. He was usually represented as sitting upon a golden or an ivory throne, holding in one hand a thunderbolt, and in the other a scepter of cypress. His power was supposed to extend over other gods; and everything was subservient to his will except the Fates. There is the most abundant proof that he was worshipped in the region of Lycaonia and throughout Asia Minor. There was, besides, a fable among the inhabitants of Lycaonia that Jupiter and Mercury had once visited that place, and had been received by Philemon. The whole fable is related by Ovid, "Metam.," 8, 611, etc.

And Paul, Mercurius - Mercury, called by the Greeks Hermes, was a celebrated god of antiquity. No less than five of this name are mentioned by Cicero. The most celebrated was the son of Jupiter and Maia. He was the messenger of the gods, and of Jupiter in particular; he was the patron of travelers and shepherds; he conducted the souls of the dead into the infernal regions; he presided over orators, and declaimers, and merchants; and he was also the god of thieves, pickpockets, and all dishonest persons. He was regarded as the god of eloquence; and as light, rapid, and quick in his movements. The conjecture of Chrysostom is, that Barnabas was a large, athletic man, and was hence taken for Jupiter; and that Paul was small in his person, and was hence supposed to be Mercury.

Because he was the chief speaker - The office of Mercury was to deliver the messages of the gods; and as Paul only had been discoursing, he was supposed to be Mercury.

12. they called Barnabas, Jupiter—the father of the gods, from his commanding mien (Chrysostom thinks).

and Paul, Mercurius—the god of eloquence and the messenger and attendant of Jupiter, in the heathen mythology.

Jupiter; whom the heathens took for their chief God.

Mercury was feigned to be the messenger of their gods, and therefore represented with wings; as also the interpreter of the gods, which caused their applying of his name to Paul.

And they called Barnabas Jupiter,.... The supreme God; it may be because that Barnabas was the oldest man, of the tallest stature, and largest bulk, and made the best figure; whereas Paul was younger, of a low stature, and mean appearance:

and Paul Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker; Mercury was the god of eloquence, and the messenger of the gods, and the interpreter of their will (r); Paul being chiefly concerned in preaching and speaking to the people, they called him by the name of this God: the Jews had a doctor in their schools, whom they called , "the chief of the speakers" (s).

(r) Vid Macrob. Saturnal. l. 1. c. 17, 19. (s) Juchasin, fol. 45. 2. & 46. 1.

And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.
Acts 14:12. The fact that Barnabas and Paul were declared to be Zeus and Hermes, is explained partly and primarily from the well-known provincial myth, according to which these gods were once hospitably entertained in the same regions by Philemon and Baucis (Ovid. Met. viii. 611 ff.); but partly also from Zeus having a temple in front of the city (Acts 14:13), and from its being the office of Hermes, as the eloquent (vocis et sermonis potens, Macrob. Sat. I. 8) interpreter (λόγου προφήτης, Orph. H. 27. 4) and messenger of the gods (Apollod. iii. 10. 2), to accompany his father when he came down to the earth (Hygin. Poet. Astron. 34; Ovid. Fast. v. 495). Comp. Walch, Diss. in Act. III. p. 173 ff Paul was called Hermes, because, in contrast to his companion, it was he who was “leader of the word” (αὐτὸς ἦν ὁ ἡγ. τ. λ.), as Hermes was considered Θεὸς ὁ τῶν λόγων ἡγεμών, Jamblich. de myster. Aeg. 1. Probably also his more juvenile appearance and greater activity, compared with the calmer and older Barnabas, contributed to this; but certainly not, as Neander conjectures, his insignificant bodily appearance; for apart from the fact that this rests only on very uncertain tradition (in the Acta Pauli et Theclae in Tischendorf, Act. apocr. p. 41, he is described as μικρὸς τῷ μεγέθει, ψιλὸς τὴν κεφαλήν, ἀγκύλος ταῖς κνήμαις; comp. Malalas, Chronogr. x. p. 247; Nicephor. H. E. iii. 37), Hermes is always represented as a handsome, graceful, very well-formed young man. Comp. Müller, Archäol. § 379, 380. But certainly Barnabas must have had a more imposing appearance, καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ὄψεως ἀξιοπρεπής Chrysostom.

Acts 14:12. ἐκὰλουν, see above on Acts 14:11.—τὸν μὲν Β. Δία. τὸν δὲ Π. Ἑρμῆν. The relative estimate of the Lycaonians was strikingly in accordance with Oriental notions—Barnabas, the more silent and passive, is identified with Jupiter; and Paul, the more active, with Mercury. Ramsay, Church in the Roman Empire, p. 57; St. Paul, pp. 84, 85; McGiffert, Apostolic Age, p. 189. With the reason given for the identification of Paul with Mercury, cf. Iamblichus, De Myst. Ægypt., i., where Mercury is designated as Θεὸς ὁ τῶν λόγων ἡγεμών (see also Wetstein). The comparison could not have been because of the Apostle’s insignificant appearance (although the fact that he was the younger of the two men may be taken into account), since Hermes is always represented as of a graceful well-formed figure. On the traditional accounts of Paul’s personal appearances see Wendt (1888), in loco, Blass, Renan, and Plumptre, Acts (Excursus, pp. 191, 192). It is of interest to note that in Galatians 4:14 Paul writes to the Galatians: “Ye received me as a messenger of God,” Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 117.

12. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius] Of course this was not known until afterwards, and St Luke in his narrative, as a Greek, gives the Greek names of the gods, Zeus and Hermes. We can understand how the heathen people concluded that if any deity came to visit them with a beneficent purpose it would be that god Jupiter whose temple was before their city and to whom therefore their chief worship was paid; and Mercury was counted as the principal attendant on Jupiter, and moreover as the god of eloquence. It was obvious, therefore, to assign that name to the chief speaker, and the name of Jupiter to that one of the two Apostles who had the more commanding presence. That St Paul was not such a figure we know from his own words, and tradition describes him as “little in height, with a bald head and crooked legs” (Acta Apocryph. p. 41, Tischendorf).

because he was the chief speaker] Literally, “the leader of the speech.” This character is always assigned to Mercury by the heathen writers, and almost the very words of the text are used of him by Iamblichus, de Myst. ad init.

Acts 14:12. Δία, Jupiter) The people of Lystra used to worship Jupiter. The ancients called Jupiter Σωτήρ, the Saviour: therefore they accounted Barnabas as Jupiter in particular.

Verse 12. - Mercury for Mercurius, A.V. For the Latin Jupiter and Mercury the Greek original has Zeus and Hermes. Jupiter is Jovis Pater, where Jovis or Diovis or Dies (in Diespiter) is the Latin form of Zeus, gen. Δίος. Mercury is Hermes in his special character as the god of markets and trade. But the Lycaonians here thought of him in his principal character of herald and messenger of the gods, and hence the god of eloquence and speech. Acts 14:12Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul Mercury

The Greek names of these deities were Zeus and Hermes. As the herald of the gods, Mercury is the god of skill in the use of speech and of eloquence in general, for the heralds are the public speakers in the assemblies and on other occasions. Hence he is sent on messages where persuasion or argument are required, as to Calypso to secure the release of Ulysses from Ogygia ("Odyssey," i., 84:); and to Priam to warn him of danger and to escort him to the Grecian fleet ("Iliad," xxiv., 390). Horace addresses him as the "eloquent" grandson of Atlas, who artfully formed by oratory the savage manners of a primitive race ("Odes," i., 10). Hence the tongues of sacrificial animals were offered to him. As the god of ready and artful speech, his office naturally extended to business negotiations. He was the god of prudence and skill in all the relations of social intercourse, and the patron of business and gain. A merchant-guild at Rome was established under his protection. And as, from its nature, commerce is prone to degenerate into fraud, so he appears as the god of thievery, exhibiting cunning, fraud, and perjury. "He represents, so to speak, the utilitarian side of the human mind....In the limitation of his faculties and powers, in the low standard of his moral habits, in the abundant activity of his appetites, in his indifference, his ease, his good-nature, in the full-blown exhibition of what Christian theology would call conformity to the world, he is, as strictly as the nature of the case admits, a product of the invention of man. He is the god of intercourse on earth" (Gladstone, "Homer and the Homeric Age").

The chief speaker (ὁ ἡγούμενος τοῦ λόγου)

Lit., the leader in discourse. Barnabas was called Jupiter, possibly because his personal appearance was more imposing than Paul's (see 2 Corinthians 10:1, 2 Corinthians 10:10), and also because Jupiter and Mercury were commonly represented as companions in their visits to earth.

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