Where is Lystra, where they thought St. Paul was a god?
The town of Lystra lies in central Turkey. This is where St. Paul and St. Barnabas fled to from Iconium where the Gentiles and Jews were trying to kill them. At Lystra there was a man lame from birth who never walked. St. Paul called out to him “Stand up. On your feet.” Suddenly the man jumped up and walked around. When the crowds saw this miracle, they thought St. Paul and St. Barnabas were gods in the form of men. They called Barnabas Zeus or Jupiter and Paul Hermes or Mercury. Even the local priest of the god Zeus, whose temple stood just outside the town, brought oxen and garlands to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas.
Paul and Barnabas then shouted “We are only men. We want to bring you the good news about the living God.”
M. Pennock mentions that the first-century Roman poet Ovid speaks of a legendary visit of the gods Zeus and Hermes to Lystra. The gods came disguised and asked for lodging, but everyone refused. Then they found a tiny hut where the elderly peasants fed them. The gods then punished the unfriendly locals, but transformed the hut of the peasants into a magnificent temple. Maybe the people knew this legend and that is why they thought Paul and Barnabas were gods.
Then some Jews from Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium came to Lystra and strongly criticized St. Paul’s preaching about Jesus. These Jews may have come to Lystra to purchase grain, since this town was famous for its grain crops. The Jews won over the crowd who stoned Paul and dragged him out of Lystra, leaving him for dead. But Paul rose up well and headed for the town of Derbe the next day.
Scholars are not sure of the exact location of Lystra. A. Edmonds says some suggest the village of Gilistra, 35 kilometers southwest of Iconium, where St. Paul had previously been. Others propose the village of Ilistra, further south. About 6 B.C. the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus put soldiers in Lystra to protect the people against the tribes and bandits from the Taurus Mountains to the south. St. Paul says he had been beset with danger from robbers.
After St. Paul left Derbe, he returned to Lystra, even though it was dangerous, to encourage the disciples there and to install presbyters who would perform liturgical rites, such as the Holy Eucharist. Later on, during his second missionary journey, St. Paul again returned to Lystra, where he met a young disciple named Timothy. Timothy became a close friend of St. Paul and was made the bishop of Ephesus in Turkey, the fourth largest city of the Roman Empire at this time. St. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, contained in the New Testament, where he shows the sacrament of Holy Orders via the imposition of hands.
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