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LYSTRA (lĭs'tra, Gr. Lystra). A Roman colony founded by Augustus. It had an aristocratic core of citizens with franchise, a group likely to honor the similar status of Paul. The community at large was not culturally advanced. In Lystra W. M. Ramsay discovered an inscription dedicating a statue to Zeus and Hermes, two deities who were linked in a local cult explained by Ovid.

Philemon and Baucis, the legend ran, entertained the two gods unawares with hospitality the rest of the community churlishly withheld. Hence the identification of Paul and Barnabas with the same two deities (Latinized by Vulgate and kjv into Jupiter and Mercury). At Isauria, not far away, an inscription has been found to “Zeus before the gate,” hence it was probably the location of the proposed ceremony mentioned in Acts.14.13. Timothy was a native of Lystra (Acts.16.1). Its ruins are near the modern village of Katyn Serai.——EMB

LYSTRA lĭs’ trə (ἡ Λύστρα τὰ Λύστρα). A town in the central region of S Asia Minor (Acts 14:6, 8, 21; 16:1, 2; 2 Tim 3:11).

Lystra is an ancient village of the district of Lycaonia which was c. twenty-four m. S of Iconium, a Phrygian village. Lystra was built upon a small hill suddenly rising c. 100-150 ft. above the surrounding plain located on the E of the mountain ranges which form the Pisidian triangle. It was not located on any significant road or trade route; in fact, it was located c. eight to ten m. from the great trade route. It is probable that the territory of Lystra was bounded in the N by Iconium, in the W by the mountains, and in the S by Isauria Vetus. The borders of the territory of Lycaonia are difficult to determine, esp. in the E, because of the absence of towns in the area. It is thought that the territory of Lycaonia was not any larger than 100 square m. The plain surrounding Lystra was fertile, with two small rivers passing by the village’s mound.

In becoming a Rom. colony, Lystra sent (in the 2nd cent.) a statute of concord to its sister colony of Antioch in Pisidia. When Lystra had become a colony she acquired some Rom. settlers, most of whom were veterans. Also, under the Rom. influence roads were built during Augustus’ rule, whereby a road went from Iconium through Lystra and then on to Derbe and Laranda and finally into Cilicia.

Regarding Lystra’s inhabitants, first, the Rom. element was a small group of the local aristocracy of soldiers. They were the ruling class. Second, there were the Gr.-educated residents who were called the Hellenes. The Hellenes were not a racial group but an educated and generally well-to-do segment of the population. Timothy, whose father was a Hellene and his mother a Jewess (Acts 16:1), prob. belonged to the educated and upper income bracket. Finally, the majority of the population was made up of the uneducated Lycaonians who were a small Anatolian tribe.

The Rom. aristocracy spoke Lat., the educated were able to speak Gr., and the Lycaonians spoke in their own vernacular (cf. Acts 14:11) (which was still spoken in the 6th cent. a.d.) and were not well acquainted with Gr.

On the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas arrived at Lystra (c. a.d. 49), having fled the hostility of the Jews at Iconium (Acts 14:6). Upon arrival at Lystra Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth and the crowd concluded that the apostles were the gods Hermes and Zeus (Acts 14:6-18). On an earlier occasion, the same two gods, as the local legend relates, had come to that region to visit an aged and pious couple, Philemon and Bucis (Ovid, Metamorphoses viii. 626-724). Afterward the Jews from Antioch of Pisidia and Iconium came and influenced the people against Paul and consequently stoned Paul dragging him out of the city as dead. Probably it was this visit of Paul during which Timothy was converted and undoubtedly helped to establish the infant church at Lystra (2 Tim 3:10, 11). Paul and Barnabas went on to Derbe but later on their return visited Lystra (Acts 14:19-23).

On his second missionary journey Paul traveled through Syria and Cilicia and revisited the churches and Derbe and Lystra (c. a.d. 50) (Acts 15:41-16:2). A visit to Lystra, on the third journey (c. a.d. 53), is implied in Acts 18:23.


W. M. Ramsay, The Historical Geography of Asia Minor (1890), passim; W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire before A.D. 170, 5th ed. (1897), 47-54, passim; W. M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (1899), 223-227; W. M. Ramsay, “Lystra,” HDB (1900), 178-180; W. M. Ramsay, The Cities of St. Paul (1907), 407-418; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 15th ed., enlarged (1925), passim; W. M. Ramsay, The Social Basis of Roman Power in Asia Minor (1941), 180-199, passim; D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor (1950) I, 462-464; II, 1324-1327; F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts (1954), ad loc.; E. Lerle, “Die Predigt in Lystra,” NTS, VII (1960), 46-55; M. J. Mellink, “Lystra,” IDB, III (1962), 194, 195; E. M. Blaiklock, Cities of the New Testament (1965), 31-34; B. Levick, Roman Colonies in Southern Asia Minor (1967), 51-53, 195-197, passim; A. H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd ed. (1971), 134, 135.

M. A symbol used by the NT scholar B. H. Streeter in his Four-Document hypothesis to designate one of the supposed sources of the gospel of Matthew, standing for matter peculiar to this gospel.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

lis’-tra: The forms Lustran, and Lustrois, occur. Such variation in the gender of Anatolian city-names is common (see Harnack, Apostelgeschichte, 86; Ramsay, Paul the Traveler, 128). Lystra was visited by Paul 4 times (Ac 14:6,21; 16:1; 18:23 --the last according to the "South Galatian" theory), and is mentioned in 2Ti 3:10 f as one of the places where Paul suffered persecution. Timothy resided in Lystra (Ac 16:1).

1. Character and Site:

Lystra owed its importance, and the attention which Paul paid to it, to the fact that it had been made a Roman colonia by Augustus (see Antioch), and was therefore, in the time of Paul, a center of education and enlightenment. Nothing is known of its earlier, and little of its later, history. The site of Lystra was placed by Leake (1820) at a hill near Khatyn Serai, 18 miles South-Southwest from Iconium; this identification was proved correct by an inscription found by Sterrett in 1885. The boundary between Phrygia and Lycaonia passed between Iconium and Lystra. (Ac 14:6) (see Iconium).

The population of Lystra consisted of the local aristocracy of Roman soldiers who formed the garrison of the colonia, of Greeks and Jews (Ac 16:1,3), and of native Lycaonians (Ac 14:11).

2. Worship of Paul and Barnabas:

After Paul had healed a life-long cripple at Lystra, the native population (the "multitude" of Ac 14:11) regarded him and Barnabas as pagan gods come down to them in likeness of men, and called Barnabas "Zeus" and Paul "Hermes." Commentators on this incident usually point out that the same pair of divinities appeared to Baucis and Philemon in Ovid’s well-known story, which he locates in the neighboring Phrygia. The accuracy in detail of this part of the narrative in Ac has been strikingly confirmed by recent epigraphic discovery. Two inscriptions found in the neighborhood of Lystra in 1909 run as follows:

(1) "Kakkan and Maramoas and Iman Licinius priests of Zeus";

(2) "Toues Macrinus also called Abascantus and Batasis son of Bretasis having made in accordance with a vow at their own expense (a statue of) Hermes Most Great along with a sun-dial dedicated it to Zeus the sun-god."

Now it is evident from the narrative in Ac that the people who were prepared to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods were not Greeks or Romans, but native Lycaonians. This is conclusively brought out by the use of the phrase "in the speech of Lycaonia" (Ac 14:11). The language in ordinary use among the educated classes in Central Anatolian cities under the Roman Empire was Greek; in some of those cities, and especially of course, in Roman colonies, Latin also was understood, and it was used at this period in official documents. But the Anatolian element in the population of those cities continued for a long time to use the native language (e.g. Phrygian was in use at Iconium till the 3rd century of our era; see Iconium). In the story in Ac a fast distinction is implied, and in fact existed, between the ideas and practices of the Greeks and the Roman colonists and those of the natives. This distinction would naturally maintain itself most vigorously in so conservative an institution as religious ritual and legend. We should therefore expect to find that the association between Zeus and Hermes indicated in Ac belonged to the religious system of the native population, rather than to that of the educated society of the colony. And this is precisely the character of the cult illustrated in our two inscriptions. It is essentially a native cult, under a thin Greek disguise. The names in those inscriptions can only have been the names of natives; the Zeus and Hermes of Ac and of our inscriptions were a graecized version of the Father-god and Son-god of the native Anatolian system. The college of priests which appears in inscription number 1 (supporting the Bezan variant "priests" for "priest" in Ac 14:13) was a regular Anatolian institution. The miracle performed by Paul, and his companionship with Barnabas would naturally suggest to the natives who used the "speech of Lycaonia" a pair of gods commonly associated by them in a local cult. The two gods whose names rose to their lips are now known to have been associated by the dedication of a statue of one in a temple, of the other in the neighborhood of Lystra.


Ramsay, Cities of Paul, 407 ff. On the new inscriptions, see Calder, The Expositor, 1910, 1 ff, 148 ff; id, Classical Review, 1910, 67 ff. Inscriptions of Lystra are published in Sterrett, Wolfe Expedition, and in Jour. Hell. Stud., 1904 (Cronin).