The book of Acts mentions Zeus, the Greek name for Jupiter … Mercurius, in the following passage: “Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city [of Lystra], brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them” (Acts 14:12–13).
In this passage, Barnabas may have been of more impressive posture than Paul, and thus to him was given the title of Jupiter. And since Paul had done much of the preaching, he was assigned the title of Mercury. This took place during the first missionary journey of Paul.
Who Was Zeus?
Zeus is the chief of the gods, and his son Hermes, the herald and messenger of the gods, and patron of eloquence in the ancient Greek religion. He is the sky and thunder god, who rules as king of the gods of Mount Olympus. In the Mycenaean age, during the second millennium b.c., the society of heaven was pictured on the model of the regal courts of that era.
Zeus is the child of Cronus and Rhea, the youngest of his siblings to be born, though sometimes considered the eldest. In most traditions, he is married to Hera, by whom he is usually said to have fathered Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus. At the oracle of Dodona, his consort was said to be Dione, by whom the Iliad says that he fathered Aphrodite.
His mythology and powers are similar, though not identical, to those of Indo-European deities such as Jupiter, Perkūnas, Perun, Indra, Dyaus and Thor. Zeus was also infamous for his erotic exploits which brought heroic offspring, including Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.
Zeus’ symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak. He is often portrayed by Greek artists in one of two poses: standing, striding forward with a thunderbolt leveled in his raised right hand, or seated in majesty.
The worship of Zeus and Hermes seems to have been popular in the region of Lystra. An inscription has been discovered near Lystra saying that certain men, whose names are Lycaonian, had devoted a statue to Zeus. Also, a stone altar has been discovered near Lystra dedicated to the “Hearer of Prayer,” who was perhaps Zeus, and Hermes.
The people of Lystra would naturally believe that if any deity were to live among them for a good cause, it would be the god Jupiter, for whom a temple had been built facing their city, and to whom their principle worship was given. Mercury was counted as the primary attendant of Jupiter.
In His service,