What Happened To Paul and Barnabas In Iconium?

Paul and Barnabas are driven from Antioch and go to the synagogue in Iconium to preach the gospel there.

 

Read Acts Chapter 14

 

What Happened To Paul and Barnabas In IconiumAs was their habit, Paul and Barnabas went to the local synagogue in Iconium and were given a chance to speak. Many trusted as a result: Jews and God-fearing gentiles (pagan gentiles would not be attending synagogues).

Iconium was a major Roman city located about 95 miles east of Pisidian Antioch, situated at a crossroad of the main trade routes. A sizeable Jewish community lived there no doubt due in part to the business opportunities.

But like many, as had come to believe, the hyper sensitive number of Jews were also opposed and upset at the Gospel message of the disciples, so they sought an alliance with the local gentiles to stir up trouble against Paul and Barnabas. As always, we have to wonder what the major upset was about. Out in the Diaspora, the issues of religion were less apparent than they were in the

As always, we have to wonder what the major upset was about. Out in the Diaspora, the issues of religion were less apparent than they were in the hypersensitive religious environment of Jerusalem; but religious issues remained nonetheless.  In Jerusalem, the issues were mostly about internal, highly nuanced doctrinal matters within Judaism that involved factional infighting. But outside of the Holy Land, the issues of religion were more about Judaism versus the various pagan religions that dominated the Roman Empire.

I think it can be challenging for Christians and Bible students to understand what it sounded like to pagans of the New Testament era when the Jews told them about their One-God, and then when they spoke so harshly against the evils of idolatry.

 

Idolatry According To Who?

Idolatry According To Who?

You see the concept of idolatry only exists in a religion whereby idols are forbidden, and that prohibition of idols is restricted only to Judeo-Christianity. In other words, up to New Testament times, it was only Jews who leveled the charge of idolatry, because in all other religions the use of idols was usual, ordinary and customary.

To be chastised and told by a small but vocal minority who lived their lives in nonconformist ways that you are evil for having your cherished household idols. And for sincerely worshipping the Greek/Roman gods and goddesses that practically everyone did, including your esteemed political and social leaders. That did not sit well with the majority who felt very good about their idols and their religion.

To be chastised and told by a small but vocal minority who lived their lives in nonconformist ways that you are evil for having your cherished household idols. And for sincerely worshipping the Greek/Roman gods and goddesses that practically everyone did, including your esteemed political and social leaders. That did not sit well with the majority who felt very good about their idols and their religion.

Jews showed open contempt for the pantheon of gods that dominated every Gentile society they lived among in the Diaspora. And it made the citizens of the Roman Empire feel like Jews and Judaism were cultish isolationists who thought that everything they did regarding the spirit world was right, and everything everyone else did regarding the spirit world was not just different, but it was wrong. The gentile Roman society, on the other

The gentile Roman society, on the other hand, was quite tolerant of all the many different religious beliefs and god systems, including Judaism, unless the Jews became too radical and irritating to their way of thinking.

And it must be realized just how different and separate from all other of the world’s religions Judaism was and remains. The Roman Historian Tacitus who was born at the time of the events we are reading about in the Book of Acts said this about the Jewish religion: “The Jews regard as profane all that we hold sacred”.

How would you feel? Let that sink in for a moment. The Romans may have been pagans in the eyes of the Jews, but they certainly didn’t consider themselves pagans. The Romans, in general, were very religious. They prayed regularly, they had Temples, sacrificed, tithed, and they believed in divine beings superior to themselves. They saw themselves as generally religious and good people.

But the Laws of Moses were so contrary to most religious customs that existed in the Roman Empire. And the Jews were so different in what they ate, what they wore, and in their religious observances; and so resistant to recognize or join in the pagan religious practices of their neighbors, so that they were often seen as aloof, unfriendly, uncooperative and highly intolerant.

Greeks and Romans were open minded towards religion; Jews were closed minded. And of course in our time, just as 2000 years ago, the qualities of tolerance and open mindedness concerning all things (including morals and religion) were highly valued by society in general.

So when a particular religion, like Judaism or Christianity, comes along and turns up their noses at tolerance and open mindedness, or refuses acceptance of all faiths and all holy books as good, then the followers of that religion are looked down upon by others as hateful and backward; a societal problem to be dealt with.

And just like today, most Jews in the Roman Empire tried very hard to walk a fine line between observing their religion, and having a live and let live attitude towards their pagan neighbors. So when Paul and Barnabas come along and upset the apple cart (pretty much wherever they went), they weren’t very welcomed by the majority of Jews or gentiles. And that is why we see Paul attacked and ran out of town as almost routine. But he never gave up, because the cause was greater than himself.

Let us end with this thought. The Book of Revelation reveals that the End Times will be much like the time of the Roman Empire. And especially to the challenges that worshippers of the God of Israel will face. So as Believers living in the 21st century what shall we do?

 

  • Shall we do what society wants us to do?
  • Shall we learn from history to compromise and do as the Romans did and join in their tolerance for anything and everything as what they saw as an honest expression of love and intelligence?
  • Shall we agree that faith in anything is a good and equal faith to our faith?
  • Shall we practice our faith as a purely private matter and keep it secret by not revealing any element of it in public or at our workplace, sometimes not even to friends or family?

 

Or shall we do as the Jews of Paul’s day and in the years after that, and stubbornly adhere to our faith even though the world will misunderstand and think us as aloof, intolerant, unloving and isolationist? Well here is what our Savior had to say about this very challenge.

 

John 15:17-21 CJB

This is what I command you: keep loving each other! “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would have loved its own. But because you do not belong to the world- on the contrary, I have picked you out of the world- therefore the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they kept my word, they will keep yours too. But they will do all this to you on my account because they don’t know the One who sent me.

 

Stay tuned for the rest of Acts 14 in my next blog post. Have a blessed day!

 

Reference
http://www.torahclass.com/bible-studies/new-testament-studies/1851-new-testament-acts/2121-acts-lesson-31-chapters-13-14

 

 

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