Paul in Malta and Lystra: He’s a God. No He’s Not. He Must Die. But He Doesn’t.
Acts 14:8-20 and Acts 28:1-6
In Lystra, locals first believe Paul is a god, and later try to kill him. In Malta, locals first believe Paul deserves death, and later believe he is a god.
In Lystra (Acts 14:8-20), Paul and Barnabas are hailed by the locals after Paul cured a man with crippled feet. The Lycaonians believe Paul and Barnabas are the gods Hermes and Zeus. Visiting Jews arrive and, opposing Paul’s evangelical mission for Christ, convince the Lycaonians that Paul and Barnabas are instead a menace. The locals stone Paul, apparently to his death. Like the crippled man healed by Paul, Paul himself is cured of his injuries and he and Barnabas make their escape.
In Malta (Acts 28:1-6), Paul is among prisoners facing potential death from the sea, from their prison guards, and from Roman authorities. On shore among the friendly Maltans, Paul again faces what should be certain death after being bitten by a presumably poisonous snake. The locals take this as a sign that prisoner Paul is a murderer, and the Maltesian goddess Dike, i.e., Justice, is administering justice via the snake bite. Paul instead does not die. Paul suffers no ill effects, much less death. The locals then take this as a sign that Paul is a god.
Read these accounts carefully. We have included them below.
Is Luke making a point with these two accounts of Paul’s miraculous escapes from death? Or is he simply reporting similar things that happened with no underlying message?
Is Luke making a point with the two accounts of locals believing incorrectly that Paul is pagan god?
Is there something to the order reversal of Paul-is-a-God and Paul-is-a-Bum between the Lycaonian and Maltan accounts?
In Lystra, where Paul is stoned, who does the stoning? The locals of Lystra or the visiting Jews?
In Lystra, where Paul is stoned, does Paul suffer serious, life-threatening injuries, yet nevertheless escape while still suffering from those injuries? Or is Paul miraculously cured fully from those injuries, as was the man with crippled feet? Or does Paul never suffer at all, miraculously, from the stoning, as in the case of the snake bite?
Does the Greek and English text answer these questions?
Here is the NASB translation of Acts 14:8-20, the Lystra account:
8 At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you 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. 16 In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. (NASB)
And the NASB of Acts 28:1-6, Malta:
1 When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. 3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god. (NASB)
Here is the Greek for verse 19. “They” stoned him. Who is “they?”
they dragged [him]
to have died
Our Reform Study Bible makes note of the Paul-must-die + Paul-is-a-god reversal to Paul-is-a-god + Paul-must-die between Lystra and Malta. Neither the Anchor Bible (Johannes Munck) nor the Baker New Testament Commentary (Simon J. Kistemaker) make anything of the reversal, though both these heavy volumes make note of the two Paul-is-god accounts, and also of Peter’s parallel (?) healing of a cripple in Acts 3. Neither stops to consider carefully who exactly stones Paul in Lystra. These and other full-volume commentaries on Acts will offer many more details for consideration other than those offered up by Bible Bits.
So, does your commentary weigh-in on the reversal? Or any of our questions above?
As always, cite scripture and commentary in your replies.
Blessings to you! And read the actual Bible for yourself!