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St Paul was both worshipped and reviled in Lystra

Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Historical articles, History, Religion on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

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This edited article about St Paul originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 111 published on 29 February 1964.

St Paul, picture, image, illustration

St Paul heals a cripple at the gates of Lystra by Clive Uptton

The two men who first preached the Christian Faith outside the Holy Land itself were Paul and Barnabas. Of the many strange adventures they had, none could have been stranger than the day they spent at a city called Lystra, in what is now Turkey. It was a day of surprises. In the morning they were treated like gods; in the afternoon like criminals!

At the gate of the city Paul had healed a crippled man. The people of Lystra were astonished, and could only explain such a miracle by supposing that their own gods had come to earth in human form.

The gods of the city of Lystra were the ancient gods of Greece and Rome, two of whom were said to have walked the earth before. Surely these two men were they. So the people called Barnabas “Jupiter” and Paul “Mercury,” and the rumour soon ran through the city that the old gods had returned.

By the time this strange rumour reached the priest who kept the temple of Jupiter, it had doubtless lost nothing in the telling. Everyone added his own touch to the story, and the priest was so impressed that he hurriedly arranged a procession of honour with which to meet the strange, and supposedly divine visitors to Lystra.

Before long, Paul and Barnabas were astonished to see this procession coming towards them. People were carrying garlands of flowers which they laid at the apostles’ feet, and soon they heard the lowing of oxen. When Paul asked what it was all about, he was told that the priest of Jupiter was about to sacrifice the oxen in honour of Barnabas and himself, in recognition of their godlike powers.

The two visitors looked at one another in amazement, and saw that something must be done to dispel the impression that they were gods. After a hurried consultation, Paul and Barnabas stood where all could see them, then deliberately tore their cloaks as a sign that they were not pleased, but distressed at what was happening. Then they ran among the crowd saying, “Look at us! Touch us! We are not gods! We are ordinary people just like yourselves!”

Eventually they persuaded the people to give up the idea of the sacrifice. Perhaps this disappointed their hearers and made them feel rather foolish. Then other visitors arrived saying, “These men have already been turned out of our city; they are trouble-makers! Don’t listen to them.”

The people of Lystra, already disappointed, turned angry and resentful. A stone was thrown at Paul, then many more, and by the end of the day the man who had been hailed as a god was left for dead outside the city walls. Only the care of his few devoted followers enabled him to recover enough to slip quietly away with Barnabas the next day.

Once more Paul had had a narrow escape from his enemies – but it did not discourage him. He and Barnabas travelled to Derbe to continue their teaching there.

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