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Acts 14:1-7 by Robert Dean

As the church expands, we see a trend toward the future disconnect of Christian Jews as a sect meeting in the synagogue. The move is from a Jewish framework to a Gentile framework. Great multitudes of Jews and Gentiles in Iconium responded to Paul’s message in their synagogue. The Jews who were not obedient to the message of God’s grace stirred up a serious division. Paul and Barnabas had to flee to Lystra and Derbe where they continued to preach the gospel. Study all that is understood in the word believe. Is the word here for unbelieving the opposite of believing? How is this word translated in other passages?

Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 13 secs

Expansion: Belief vs Disobedience, Signs and Wonders. Acts 14:1-12


We are now in Acts 14 where we see the continued expansion of the church. The church now is being expanded from a purely Jewish framework to a Gentile framework. This is a transition that actually took place over the next forty years and it still continued into the first part of the second century. It is not until approximately 135 AD that the second Jewish revolt against Rome, the Bar Kochba revolt, that a genuine, hard and fast separation of Jews and Gentiles, Judaism and Christianity, was seen. Up until the first Jewish revolt (66-70 AD) Christians still went to the synagogue. Those who received Jesus Christ as Messiah were just considered to be another sect of Judaism and there wasn't this hard distinction that developed later.

The first time that a major explosive division between Judaistic Jews and Christian Jews took place was at the time of the Jewish revolt. As the armies of Rome surrounded Jerusalem the Christians in Jerusalem recognized the prophecy of Jesus that saw Jerusalem being surrounded and that they were to flee to the mountains. After the death of Nero there was a pause and the Christians who were in Jerusalem and Judea left; they got out of Israel. This was viewed as an act of treason by many of the Jews and that continued to be a problem all of the way up to the second Jewish revolt in 135 AD. It is interesting that according to the sources that we have not a single Jewish Christian lost their life in either the first or the second Jewish revolt, because of Jesus' prophecy that was part of the Olivet discourse.

So this is the beginning of this outreach to the Gentiles. Paul is following the standard procedure of taking the gospel to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. He has left Antioch and gone to Iconium. Acts 14:1 NASB "In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks." The "they" referred to Barnabas and Paul. They went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so again Paul has left one location and he is going to repeat the same procedure in a second location and give the gospel first to the Jews. There is an immediate response where a large number believed. But it was to also stir up a little trouble.

This is in the province of Galatia and this is one of the groups that the apostle Paul addressed in his very first epistle, which is the epistle to the Galatians. He goes from Antioch to Iconium and then to Derby and Lystra, and it is the these believers who come to the gospel—they believe and are saved—but then they become confused because of the Jews who come in and pervert the gospel that Paul had proclaimed.

The name Iconium has a Phrygian background, an interesting legendary one. There was a story they had, a mythology, of a great flood that destroyed mankind, and life was restored when Prometheus and Athena (of Greek mythology) breathed life into human beings made from mud left over from the flood waters. So we see how pagan myth always has a sort of core, residual memory of actual truth. They had the story of the universal flood and the idea of man being created from the chemicals of the soil. As this new life, these new human images as they referred to them, come into existence these were called icons. The Greek word for an image is the word ikon, and the root of the word Iconium is the word ikon.

During the Greek period after the death of Alexander the Great Iconium was part of the territory controlled by the Seleucid kings and controlled by Syria, and this turned Iconium into a Hellenistic city where the language was no longer the language of the Phrygians but it became the language of the Greeks. In 36 BC Mark Anthony gave the city to Antimus, one of the eastern rulers, and when he died in 25 BC Iconium  joined the neighboring cities of Lystra and Derby. 

So Paul comes to this city, goes to the synagogue, and there proclaims the gospel. The positive news in that the Jews and the Greeks believed. The word here for believe is pisteuo, and it simply means to believe something. To believe something means that you agree in your mind or you assent to the fact that that something is true. There are those who think that that is a weak definition of faith, that faith isn't just intellectual assent. But that is a perfectly sound definition. First of all, if it is not intellectual then with what organ of your body are you believing it? Some say it is a heart faith, but there is no intellectual activity taking place in your heart. The heart is the physical organ that pumps your blood. So the seat of your belief is the mind. The mind is the source of thought, and so faith is an intellectual activity.

To believe something you have to first understand it. That doesn't mean that you exhaustively comprehend it. For example, when the apostle Peter was out on the fishing boat and the Lord Jesus walked on the water Peter did not understand the physical properties that allowed Jesus to walk on the water. But he had enough understanding to know that Jesus as God and as the creator could control these things and that he could trust Jesus to enable him to walk upon the water. So he did it. So faith doesn't mean you have and exhaustive understanding of something but you have to understand something. It is not vacuous, you don't say, Oh well, the pastor said it so I believe it. You can't believe something you don't understand. That doesn't mean you understand it exhaustively but you have to at least be able to comprehend and restate something in your own words in a limited sense, otherwise you can't believe it. Believe is something that says, I understand what X is, I believe that to be true. That is what faith is. It is an intellectual activity, it is not an e motional activity; and it is a result of a volitional act because you have to come to understand that something is true. That means you are moving from a position of non-understanding or non-comprehension to a position where you say you understand what that statement is expressing and you are convinced from the evidence presented and explained to me that it is true. Another way of saying that is that we have been persuaded by evidence or by explanation or from logic that something is true. So there is one form of activity called persuasion and then there is the response to the information given, to choose to be persuaded and to believe, or to resist the evidence and to not believe.

There is a reason for expressing it this way and that is because within the so-called free grace theology something came up about twelve years ago that has also eroded the orthodoxy of some theologians. It was in reference to understanding the gospel. One of the problems was that they began to ask the question about what is the least amount of information I need in order to be saved, and they limited that to Jesus' statement in John 5 that it was to simply believe in Him for eternal life.

Another aspect that came up was the aspect of persuasion. They went to these two words that we are going to see in these verses. We need to be aware of this. Part of the job of a pastor is to protect the sheep from the ravenous wolves. And the way to do that is to help the congregation to understand some of the issues that are floating around out there.

pisteuo is a word that means to believe. What is the opposite of believing? Unbelieving, disbelieving, and that would be apisteuo—negative prefix. We get an opposite statement here is verse 2 as translated wrongly in the NKJV. They understood a contrast is going on, so the translators of NKJV put it as belief versus disbelief or unbelief. But the Greek here translated "the unbelieving Jews" (NKJV) is not apisteuo, it is apeitheo. There is an etymological connection between pisteuo and peitho but it doesn't mean anything; it doesn't mean they are tied together in terms of usage. According to Arndt and Gingrich apeitheo has two meanings listed in the text: to be disobedient or to disobey. It doesn't mean unbelief. It is related to unbelief because when you don't believe the gospel what is the result? But remember, it is cause and effect. When you disbelieve the gospel you are disobedient, but disbelief is not a synonym for disobedience. They are two different things.

apeitheo is consistently translated disobedient in a lot of passages. Luke 1:17 NASB "It is he who will go {as a forerunner} before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." The nkjv translates it "unbelief" or "disbelief in John 3:36, which is wrong. The nasb translates it correctly in John 3:36: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." The word (according to the Greek dictionaries and usage) apeitho means disobedience.

The verse that our errant brethren in the free grace movement have camped out on is Acts 28:24. The NKJV translation reads: "And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved." Once again Paul is proclaiming the gospel. Some were persuaded, and that is the word peitho. The basic, fundamental error of logic from the free grace guys is that they said: "Ah, peitho (persuade) is the opposite of disbelief." They go to this verse as if they are opposites. Where they go with that in their theology is to say that belief is simply being persuaded; it is not a decision. So in their view it is not decisional.

What they are really arguing against is the idea that is expressed in some Baptist and some other evangelical quarters that if you can't pinpoint when you made a decision for Jesus then you can't be sure you are saved. They refer to that ultimately as "decisional evangelism." They are right as far as it goes at that point. You don't have to know when you made a decision to trust in Jesus.

A.T. Roberston, an extremely well-known Baptist Greek scholar from the early part of the 20th century, has somewhat of a confusing statement here in his commentary called Word Pictures of the New Testament. He says, "Strictly, apeitheo does mean to disobey, and apisteuo mean to disbelief." As far as he goes at that point he is absolutely correct. But then he says, "But that distinction is not observed in John 3:36 or in Acts 19:9 or Acts 28:24." But that is only in the English translations. He wrote in the early part of the 20th century when basically there were a couple of other English translations but primarily everything was going off the KJV. That distinction isn't observed in the English translations but it is observed in the original Greek text. He then goes on to say that the word apeitheo means to be apeithes, which is to be unwilling to be persuaded, or to withhold belief, and then also to withhold obedience. He is waffling here. This is where critical reading skills come into play.

He starts off by saying strictly peaking apeitheo means disobedient and apisteuo means disbelief. He is waffling a little bit and trying to act like he didn't really mean that. And lastly he says the two meaning run into one another. Well they do because one leads to the next, but they are not the same; they are not interchangeable, they are not synonyms; there is a process that goes on. In any course of movement of the will and decision to believe in something first one is persuaded by the facts, and then when one lets himself (passive activity) be persuaded by the facts or information, then he chooses to believe or not. A person can resist facts and logic because they really don't want to believe where the argument is taking him. He is not teachable and doesn't want to follow that chain, he has already made up his mind and no matter what the facts he is not going to respond. He doesn't want to be persuaded.

But if he has an open mind, is humble and objective, then as he learns the facts he is willing to be persuaded. So you go through that process of persuasion, which culminates then in him saying yes, he believes what you are saying. But the conclusion of the process of persuasion is belief. Being persuaded is not the same as believing. Persuasion emphasizes someone convincing another person of the truth, so belief and persuasion are not the same. Belief results from being willing to be persuaded. That is where volition enters in.

But our free grace brethren want to take volition completely out (some of them, not all of them) of this equation and say it is passive: you are being persuaded and all of a sudden you've been persuaded. There is a very uncomfortable similarity between how they are explaining this and how our high-Calvinist friends are explaining irresistible grace. Because you don't make a decision, it is just something that happens to you as a result of an external process, and your will isn't involved at all.

But the issue is, if the lexicons are correct, if A.T. Robertson is correct, and if most of the ways English translations translate apeitheo is correct, it means to be disobedient. Disobedience is an act of the will, a choice to reject something. This is why belief in the gospel is presented as a command in a number of places, like Acts 16:31. If you ignore or reject the command it is disobedience. God commands us to obey the gospel, which means to believe that Jesus died on the cross for us. If we reject the gospel then we are being disobedient to God; that is an act of the will. So if disobedience is an act of the will, and it is, an act of negative volition, then belief is a positive act of the will.

The "unbelieving Jews" in that verse means the disobedient Jews. The term refers to unbelievers who are disobedient because that is the end result of unbelief; it is disobedience to the gospel.

Acts 14:2 NASB "But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren." The word for "minds" is psuche or "soul." It views the thinking part of the soul here but it affects the entire immaterial part of the life. This is one of those places where the soul simply refers to the immaterial part of a person's being. Poisoning or embittering the minds originates with the sin nature but it is a mental attitude. The translators have correctly caught the idiom of the Greek here that their thought process towards their brethren, i.e. those who responded positively to the gospel, has developed into bitterness and that results in division in the synagogue.

There has been a huge response of Jews and Gentiles to the gospel and they leave the synagogue and met separately. 

Acts 14:3 NASB "Therefore they spent a long time …" That is really not what it says in the Greek. The Greek uses the word hikanos, which means "sufficient." They stayed there a sufficient amount of time, long enough to teach basic doctrine to those who had now become Christians. "…{there} speaking boldly {with reliance} …" Greek: parresiazomai which means to speak with boldness or confidence.  "… upon the Lord, who was testifying [martureo] to the word of His grace …" The "word" is logos, often referring to the written Word but it can also be translated "message." Arndt and Gingrich has long columns of different nuances to the word logos. It is the word from which we get our word "logic," and also the word "logo." It has to do with a word, a message, a statement, the statement of something, the science of something. One of the meanings is simply message, so every time we see the message of God we tend to look at it and say the Word of God, the Bible. But it is really the message of God. In context what are they talking about? The message that the apostles are bringing. It is the message of God's grace, which is that they can have a free salvation because Jesus Christ provided salvation for them. So it is a better translation contextually to say that the Lord was "bearing witness to the message of grace." How? " …as granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands." It was an external witness. The word there "to be done" is ginomai, something that came into existence, something that was not part of their experience but now entered into their experience—miracles to be done by the hands of Barnabas and Paul—primarily Paul.

Barnabas isn't an apostle, capital A, like Paul is. We have to understand that basically there are different kinds of people who are called apostles in the New Testament. The Greek verb apostello means to commission or send somebody out on a mission. It depends on who is doing the commissioning or sending and who is being sent and what they are being sent for. So there is one group in the New Testament that are commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ and sent out on a mission to take the gospel to the whole world. Those are the apostles, capital A. Then there is another group that is commissioned by individual local churches who are sent out on a mission. Those are apostles with a lower case A. Barnabas is not one of the original eleven, he is not commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ, and there are other passages of Scripture that tell us that the requirement for being an apostle is being a witness to the resurrected Jesus Christ and commissioned directly by Him.

We must take a little time to look at "signs and wonders" in the New Testament. This is something that has become a confusing thing down through the ages because a lot of folk don't understand the nature and function of the signs and wonders and miracles in the New Testament. We have an example of their primary purpose here in this verse. Miracles were performed in order to bear witness to the message. It is confirmatory, it is not authenticating. It confirms the credentials of the apostles and the credentials of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it isn't in and of itself convincing. If miracles were convincing then everybody in Iconium would have responded positively to the gospel, and Jesus would not have been crucified. Jesus performed many different signs, as John tells us in his Gospel, and He was crucified. So the performance of miracles is not designed to convince people of the truth. This was the basic error that led to a lot of confusion in the 70s, 80s and 90s under the term "power evangelism" which was promoted out of southern California by a pastor by the name of John Wember. It was also known as "the third wave of the Holy Spirit" and "the vineyard movement."

There were many, many Jews as well as Gentiles who were unconvinced by the miracles because they were negative in terms of their will.

The terms "signs" is used 77 times in the New Testament; 61 times in the Gospels—Remember that three of the Gospels are very similar to one another, which is why they are called Synoptic Gospels. Then the Gospel of John uses the term in a little bit of a distinct manner because he is going to present the signs that were done by Jesus to authenticate His Messiahship—and Acts; only seven times in Revelation, which leaves only 16 uses between Romans and Jude—so it is not a major topic in terms of New testament epistles. Many of those uses are pointing out the false miracles of the Antichrist and problems in the end times. So it is not talking about the miracles that church age believers should experience.

One of the greatest signs in the New Testament is the sign of resurrection. Matthew 12:28, 39 the Pharisees come to Jesus and say, "We would have a sign from you." Jesus answered: "An evil and adulterous nation seeks after a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah." The signs and wonders movement just reverses that and says you need to have signs. Jesus is saying that the desire for signs is wrong. He gives signs but seeking a sign is not putting faith and trust in the statements of the Scripture. The word "signs" is only used one more time in Acts and that is in the next chapter (15:12). So after Acts 15 the term "signs and wonders" doesn't appear again in the book. 

The second word that is used here is "wonders"—teras in the Greek—occurs only 16 times in the New Testament: three times in the Gospels where it is usually referring to false wonders in the end times, nine times in Acts and four times in the epistles. This is not a major doctrine. When we examine the usage it is really not talking about the expectation of the miraculous in the church age. Usually it is referring back to the Gospels—Romans 15:19 NASB "in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." Paul is using the term to refer to the miracles that occurred at the beginning of his ministry. 2 Corinthians 12:12 NASB "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles." Paul is talking to the Corinthians about his second missionary journey. So even though Acts doesn't use the term signs and wonders there were some miracles that occurred when Paul was in Corinth during the second missionary journey. But they were the signs of an apostle; they weren't performed by the everyday believer. They were authenticating signs to the apostles who were the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20).

There are also passages where these words are used in the negative: the coming of the lawless one or the Antichrist is according to the working of Satan with all power, signs and lying wonders.

Signs and wonders were miraculous events used to establish the credentials of Jesus as the Messiah and the apostles as His messengers. For example, the prophecies of the Old Testament in Isaiah 42:7; 29:18; 35:4 talk about the fact that when the Messiah came the lame would walk, the blind would receive sight, the deaf would hear. These would indicate the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah 35:5 NASB "Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. [6] Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah." So there was a prediction that there would be miracles that would authenticate the claims of the Messiah.

Jesus' miracles, therefore, were not performed at random or indiscriminately. He didn't always heal those who needed healing or perform on demand. He only healed those at certain times and certain places related to what He was teaching and specifically to establish His credentials. Jesus didn't heal just to heal otherwise He would have healed everybody. 

During the apostolic era healing followed the same pattern. There are several examples in Acts.

What about Mark 16? First of all there is a textual problem. It has a long ending but it is not well documented in terms of the text. There is a shorter ending, nobody is really sure where the ending is. But assuming this is true: Mark 16:18 NASB "they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly {poison,} it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." All of those things happened under the apostles. They didn't last beyond the apostolic age. Jesus is not saying that all believers are going to exhibit these things. He is just saying that these things will occur with the gospel in the future under the apostolic ministry.

The word "signs" is used frequently in the Olivet discourse which is talking about the signs of the end times. The disciples asked: "What are the signs of your coming?" He is not talking about anything miraculous, He is talking about the indications of the Second Coming. It is talking about the counterfeit miracles of the Antichrist as well as to the prophetic fulfillment of the various signs indicating the proximity of Jesus' coming. 

The Gospel with the most significant use of the word is the Gospel of John. What was the sign they had just had in chapter 20? The resurrection. John 20:30, 31 NASB "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." It confirms to us who Jesus Christ is. That is the function of signs. When these signs occurred in the early church they established the credentials for the church, for Jesus as Messiah, the apostles and their ministry, and they don't need to be repeated in every generation, every decade and every century. They happened once when the church was established. You don't get reborn every decade of your life, you get born once and then you grow on the basis of that foundation. 

Se we have these signs and miracles of the apostles and the result is a division. It is not that everybody believed but, Acts 14:4 NASB "But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. [5] And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them"—there is now a political force that has been brought to bear against the Christians [6] they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region." They had accomplished their mission. They had stayed sufficiently to teach the new body of believers there, and then they left and fled to the smaller towns. Acts 14:7 NASB "and there they continued to preach the gospel."