Dr. Thomas L. Constable
The title "Acts of the Apostles" is very ancient. The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke (A.D. 150-180) contains the oldest reference to the book by this name. The title is a bit misleading, however, because the book contains only a few of the "acts" of some of the apostles, primarily Peter and Paul. The book is more a story of the extension of the church from Jerusalem to Rome than it is a complete history of the apostles' acts. Whereas Jesus is the chief character in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit working through the apostles is in Acts.
Two lines of argument lead to the conclusion that Luke, the friend, fellow missionary, and physician of Paul wrote this book, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. First, there is the internal evidence, the passages written in the first person plural that can refer to Luke (16:10-40; 20:5—21:18; 27:1—28:16). Second, we have external evidence indicating that Luke wrote Acts. This evidence includes references by early church fathers, comments in collections of New Testament books, and editorial statements in early notes on certain New Testament books. Luke's name does not appear in Acts, but it is a shortened Greek form of a Latin name—either Lucanus, Lucianus, Lucius, or Lucillus. Eusebius and Jerome wrote that Luke was a native of Syrian Antioch. There is also some tradition that he was from Philippi.
The date of composition was probably in the early sixties, A.D. 60-62. In view of his emphases, Luke probably would have mentioned several important events had they occurred by the time he wrote. These include the Neronian persecution of Christians that began in A.D. 64, Paul's death in A.D. 68, and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
We do not know for sure where Luke was when he wrote Acts. Perhaps he composed it over a period of years, drawing on various sources, and then put it into its final form in Rome where Paul was in confinement for two years (28:30-31; A.D. 60-62).
"Fortunately the intelligibility and value of the book are largely independent of a knowledge of the precise situation in which it was written. While the finer points of the interpretation of Acts can still cause intense discussion among scholars, the essential themes of the book are basically clear and simple."
The events recorded in Acts cover a period of about 30 years: beginning with the Lord Jesus' ascension in A.D. 33, and extending to Paul's two-year Roman house arrest that ended about A.D. 62. The Delphic Inscription and several references in Josephus, plus one in Suetonius, enable us to identify key dates in Acts.
Most scholars believe that Acts fits within the literary classification of ancient history. The Greek word praxeis, "acts," identifies a specific genre or subgenre in the ancient world: narratives of the heroic deeds of individuals or cities. However, it was not the name of a technical genre as such. Acts bears all the marks of a book of ancient history. Luke was on a par with other writiers of ancient history in his day regarding his skill and methods.
There seems to have been a three-fold purpose for the writing of Acts. As with the other books of the Bible that record history in narrative form, certainly the Holy Spirit had a historical purpose. He intended to provide an inspired record of selected events that show the spread of the gospel and the church. They branched out from Jerusalem, the center of Judaism where the church began, to Rome, the uttermost part of the Gentile earth in Luke's day.
"Streeter suggested that an alternative title for the book of Acts might be 'The Road to Rome', for this is indeed the significance of Luke's work. Whatever minor motifs Luke had in mind, such as the establishment of Christianity in men's minds as a constructive and not destructive element in the social order, his main concern was to show that, in God's plan for the renewal of the life of mankind, Jerusalem, the heart of old Israel, was the goal of Stage I [i.e., the Book of Luke], while Rome, the centre of the world, was the goal of Stage II [i.e., the Book of Acts]."
However, the fact that Luke included what he did, and omitted much other historical data, indicates a second, theological purpose. He showed how the plans and purposes of God were working out through history. In particular, he showed how Jesus Christ was faithfully and irresistibly building His church (Matt. 16:18). This involved clarifying how God's dealings with humankind had taken a different course because of the Jews' rejection of their Messiah.
". . . Luke in Acts is not merely concerned to draw a link between the time of Jesus and the time of the early church, as is commonly noticed, but also between the time of Israel and the time of Jesus and His church. Acts insists that the God who was at work in the history of his ancient people, Israel, bringing them salvation, is the same God who is at work in the church."
Third, Luke evidently had an apologetic purpose in writing. He frequently pointed out the relationship of the church to the Roman state by referring to many Roman officials, not one of whom opposed Christianity because of its doctrines or practices. This would have made Acts a powerful defensive tool for the early Christians in their struggle to survive in a hostile pagan environment.
Acts is the only New Testament book that continues the history begun in the Gospels. Whereas Luke's Gospel focuses on the vertical universalization of the gospel (up and down the social scale), Acts focuses on its horizontal universalization (from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the world).
". . . the Acts is to be seen in close literary association with the Gospel [of Luke]. They form two parts of one work, conceived in its final form as a unity, whether or not the original composition of the Gospel took place independently of the plan to produce the two-part work. Although there are other examples of literary compositions in two parts (Josephus, Contra Apionem, is one of the nearest parallels to Luke-Acts in time and cultural context), Luke's work appears to be unique among Christian writings and to have no close secular precedents in its combination of the stories of a religious leader and of his followers."
"The book which we call the Acts of the Apostles may be said to complete the Pentateuch of New Testament history. Four of these books present the Person of our Lord; while the fifth gives the first page of the history of the Church . . ."
Acts is also an indispensable historical record for understanding the Apostle Paul's epistles; without it we could not understand some of the things he wrote. It is the only Bible book that records the historical transition from Judaism to Christianity. It provides basic information about and insight into the early church. And it challenges every modern Christian.
Richard Longenecker has shown that Luke's method of writing history was in line with current historiography of his day. Ben Witherington observed that Luke-Acts is more typical of ancient Greek history writing than Roman (Latin). Others have argued that it is more like the Hebrew Scriptures than anything else.
The Gospel of Luke is the longest book in the New Testament with 1,151 verses, Matthew is the second longest with 1,071 verses, and Acts is the third longest with 1,003 verses.
Longenecker identified five phenomena about the structure of Acts that the reader needs to recognize to appreciate what Luke sought to communicate.
"1. It begins, like the [Third] Gospel, with an introductory section of distinctly Lukan cast dealing with the constitutive events of the Christian mission (1:1—2:41) before it sets forth the advances of the gospel 'in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth' (1:7).
"2. This introductory section is followed by what appears to be a thematic statement (2:42-47). This material, while often viewed as a summary of what precedes, most probably serves as the thesis paragraph for what follows.
"3. In his presentation of the advance of the Christian mission, Luke follows an essentially geographical outline that moves from Jerusalem (2:42—6:7), through Judea and Samaria (6:8—9:31), on into Palestine-Syria (9:32—12:24), then to the Gentiles in the eastern part of the Roman Empire (12:25—19:20), and finally culminates in Paul's defenses and the entrance of the gospel into Rome (19:21—28:31).
"Taking all these literary and structural features into account, we may conclude that Luke developed his material in Acts along the following lines:
"Introduction: The Constitutive Events of the Christian Mission (1:1—2:41)
Part I: The Christian Mission to the Jewish World (2:42—12:24)
Panel 1—The Earliest Days of the Church at Jerusalem (2:42—6:7)
Summary Statement: 'So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith' (6:7).
Panel 2—Critical Events in the Lives of Three Pivotal Figures (6:8—9:31)
Summary Statement: 'Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord' (9:31).
Panel 3—Advances of the Gospel in Palestine-Syria (9:32—12:24)
Summary Statement: 'But the word of God continued to increase and spread' (12:24).
Part II: The Christian Mission to the Gentile World (12:25—28:31)
Panel 4—The First Missionary Journey and the Jerusalem Council (12:25—16:5)
Summary Statement: 'So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers' (16:5).
Panel 5—Wide Outreach Through Two Missionary Journeys (16:6—19:20)
Summary Statement: 'In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power' (19:20).
Panel 6—To Jerusalem and Thence to Rome (19:21—28:31)
Darrell Bock has identified the key subjects in Acts as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. More particularly, he noted the following theological emphases: the plan and work of the mighty God; mission, opposition, and the inclusion of the Gentiles; Jesus, the Lord of all for a gospel sent to all; the new community's emerging separate identity; the law; the triumph of the gospel; and eschatology.
I. The witness in Jerusalem 1:1—6:7
A. The founding of the church 1:1—2:47
1. The resumptive preface to the book 1:1-5
2. The command to witness 1:6-8
3. The ascension of Jesus 1:9-11
4. Jesus' appointment of a twelfth apostle 1:12-26
5. The birth of the church 2:1-41
6. The early state of the church 2:42-47
B. The expansion of the church in Jerusalem 3:1—6:7
1. External opposition 3:1—4:31
2. Internal compromise 4:32—5:11
3. Intensified external opposition 5:12-42
4. Internal conflict 6:1-7
II. The witness in Judea and Samaria 6:8—9:31
A. The martyrdom of Stephen 6:8—8:1a
1. Stephen's arrest 6:8—7:1
2. Stephen's address 7:2-53
3. Stephen's death 7:54—8:1a
B. The ministry of Philip 8:1b-40
1. The evangelization of Samaria 8:1b-25
2. Philip's ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch 8:26-40
C. The mission of Saul 9:1-31
1. Saul's conversion and calling 9:1-19a
2. Saul's initial conflicts 9:19b-30
3. The church at peace 9:31
III. The witness to the uttermost part of the earth 9:32—28:31
A. The extension of the church to Syrian Antioch 9:32—12:24
1. Peter's ministry in Lydda and Joppa 9:32-43
2. The conversion of Cornelius 10:1—11:18
3. The initiatives of the Antioch church 11:19-30
4. The persecution of the Jerusalem church 12:1-24
B. The extension of the church to Cyprus and Asia Minor 12:25—16:5
1. The divine appointment of Barnabas and Saul 12:25—13:3
2. The mission to Cyprus 13:4-12
3. The mission to Asia Minor 13:13—14:21a
4. Paul and Barnabas' return to Antioch of Syria 14:21b-28
5. The Jerusalem Council 15:1-35
6. The strengthening of the Gentile churches 15:36—16:5
C. The extension of the church to the Aegean shores 16:6—19:20
1. The call to Macedonia 16:6-10
2. The ministry in Macedonia 16:11—17:15
3. The ministry in Achaia 17:16—18:17
4. The beginning of ministry in Asia 18:18-22
5. The results of ministry in Asia 18:23—19:20
D. The extension of the church to Rome 19:21—28:31
1. Ministry on the way to Jerusalem 19:21—21:16
2. Ministry in Jerusalem 21:17—23:32
3. Ministry in Caesarea 23:33—26:32
4. Ministry on the way to Rome 27:1—28:15
5. Ministry in Rome 28:16-31
The message of Acts is that the church of Jesus Christ is God's instrument to glorify Himself in the present age. The subject of the Book of Acts, what is its primary focus of attention, is the church of Jesus Christ.
Acts contains three major revelations regarding the church.
The first of these concerns is the origin of the church. Jesus Christ created the church.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ prepared for the creation of the church. He instructed His disciples with truth they did not fully understand at the time, and He demonstrated for them life that they did not fully appreciate at the time (John 14:6). We have this record in the Gospels.
After His ascension, Christ poured out His Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This was the birthday of the church. The baptism of the Spirit did something God had never done before in history. It united believers with Christ in a new relationship: as fellow members of the spiritual body of Christ (John 14:17: "He abides with you and will be in you."). Believers then shared the life of Christ in a way never before experienced. God united them with Him. The same Spirit of God that indwelt Him now indwells us. The unity of the church is not external: what we believe (creeds), how we organize ourselves (polity), or where and how we meet (culture). It is internal: through Him who indwells us. The basis of our unity in the church goes back to the origin of the church. It began when the Holy Spirit first baptized believers on the day of Pentecost (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 8:9). The "church" is not just a new name for Israel.
The second major revelation of the church that we receive in Acts concerns the nature of the church. The church is one with Jesus Christ. That is its nature. It shares one life with its risen Lord.
In Luke's Gospel, Luke presented Jesus Christ as the Head of a new race. As Adam was the head of one race, Christ is the last Adam, the Head of a new race. As Adam was the first man, Christ is the second man, the Head of a new race. As the first-born from the dead, Christ is the Head of a new race.
In Acts, we see the new race springing from "The Firstborn from the Dead." We see the brotherhood of which Christ is the Elder Brother. We see the body growing of which Christ is the Head. The spiritual bonds that unite the members of Christ's race are stronger than the physical bonds that unite the members of Adam's race (cf. Matt. 12:47-50). The members of the new race are often feeble, faulty, and foolish, but they possess the life of Christ. Christ is manifesting His life through those who have become partakers of His life by Holy Spirit baptism. The nature of the church is that it is one organic whole (one body) empowered by the life of Christ. The Holy Spirit has joined us organically to Christ. Whenever Christians partake of the Lord's Supper, they should remember that just as the bread and wine (or juice) become part of the participant's physical body, so Christ has become part of us spiritually.
The third major revelation of the church that Acts gives us concerns the function of the church. The function of the church is to be the instrument of Jesus Christ, His hands and feet and mouth, to carry out His will in the world. What is the will of Christ? There are three things that Acts emphasizes.
The will of God is the imparting of life where there is death. Jesus Christ ministers divine life through His human instruments. We see Peter, Paul, and all God's other servants in Acts, doing the same kinds of things Jesus did when He walked this earth. They even did the same types of miracles. Christ, by His Spirit, was working through them (cf. 1:1-2). References to their being filled with the Spirit reflect Christ's control of these people as His instruments. He wants to impart life through us too, and He does so as we herald the gospel.
The will of God is also the manifesting of light where there is darkness. The light of the gospel shines through Spirit-filled believers, effectually bringing the lost into the light of God's presence. In Acts we see Christ, through the Holy Spirit, choosing the persons to whom the gospel would go. We see Him indicating the places where the gospel would reach. We see Him initiating the procedures by which the gospel would penetrate the darkness caused by Satan. This is what Christ wants to do today too. He wants to manifest light through believers. Spiritual ignorance is taking over in the post-modern world. Our world needs to see light through Christians.
Third, the will of God is the producing of love where there is apathy, bitterness, and hatred. Christ's love reaches through believers, His instruments, by the Holy Spirit. It produces in the believer love for the Lord, love for Christian brothers and sisters, and love for the world. We see this illustrated in Acts. This is what Christ wants to do through Christians: produce love.
In summary, there are three great revelations of the church in Acts: As to its origin, Jesus Christ created it (Matt. 16:18). As to its nature, the church is one with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). As to its function, the church is the instrument of Christ. Second Corinthians 6:1 says that we are "workers together" with God. It is a tremendous privilege to be Christ's members!
Acts also warns us of three major antagonists facing the church.
The first of these is prejudice. Prejudice means prejudging, judging on the basis of limited information. The outstanding example of this type of opposition in Acts is the unbelieving Jews. They refused to accept the witness of the Christians. They would not tolerate the evidence that the Christians presented. They became the major enemies of the church, as well as missing the blessings that could have been theirs if they had acknowledged their Messiah. The church faces the same opposition today (e.g., traditional concepts as opposed to Scriptural revelation). Many Christians are simply playing church. The commitment of many Christians to non-biblical traditions, as though they were biblical, is frightening.
The root cause of this problem is lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit. Prejudice says, "I do not trust what the Holy Spirit has said in Scripture." We must always interpret experience in the light of revelation, not the other way around. Many Christians feel safer with tradition. Many Christians simply want to be told what to believe and do. They do not want to think for themselves, or even read the Bible for themselves.
The second antagonist the church faces that Acts identifies is personal agendas. By this I mean the desire for something other than the will of God. There are several examples of this peril in Acts. Ananias and Sapphira wanted a reputation for spirituality, not just spirituality itself. Simon Magus wanted a supernatural gift for his own personal glory, not just for the glory of God. Our flesh also tempts us to serve ourselves while we serve God. This is compromising with the will of God.
The root cause of this problem seems to me to be lack of passive yielding to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not fill or control such Christians. They are double-minded. We need to yield total control to Him (cf. Rom. 6:12-13).
A third antagonist the church faces that we also see in Acts is pride. Two men provide perhaps the outstanding examples of this peril: Felix and Agrippa. Their desire for personal prestige determined their response to God's will. Many a person's career goals and ego needs have kept that one from salvation, or limited God's use of him or her as a Christian.
The cause of this problem is lack of active obedience to the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit through His Word says, "Do this," and we refuse, it is because we set our wills against His. That is pride. We need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. In 10:14, Peter said, "By no means, Lord." What a contradiction!
These are three major perils to the church corporately, as well as to Christians individually. Luke warned us of them in Acts. They are major obstacles to Christ building His church in the world: prejudice, personal agendas, and pride.
Acts also presents three major lessons for the church that it should always keep in view.
First, the church's passion must be the glory of God. This was the driving motive in the lives of Peter, Paul, and the other faithful missionaries and witnesses that Luke recorded in this book. Their passion was not their own personal safety or their physical comfort, or the opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others, or the desire to create better living conditions in the world. They subordinated all these worthy ambitions to God's glory in their hearts. We too must commit ourselves to glorifying God above everything else, personally and corporately. The cry of the Protestant Reformers was, "Sola gloria dei; Only the glory of God." Jesus taught us to pray, "Hallowed be thy name" (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2).
Second, the church's governing principle must be loyalty to Christ. Again, the leaders of the early church modeled this for us. They put Christ's interests before their own, and they were single-minded in their living. This is the evidence of their being filled with the Spirit. Their primary commitment was to letting His life work in and through them, and to carrying out His work, not their own. How loyal are we to Christ individually and corporately? John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). We must be single-minded and radical in our commitment to please the Lord (cf. 2 Tim. 2:4).
Third, the church's power must be the Holy Spirit. The many references to prayer in Acts show us how conscious the early Christians were of their dependence on God's power. They did not go out in self-confidence, but in God-confidence. They called on Him to reveal Christ's life in and through them (4:24-30). They called on Him to direct Christ's works in and through them (12:12; 20:36). We must not only be obedient and yielded to the Holy Spirit but also dependent on Him, because He is our power individually and corporately (John 15:5).
Finally, three challenges grow out of the emphases of Acts.
First, what is your motivation as a Christian? Why do you do what you do? What motivated the Spirit-filled believers in Acts was the desire that God should get the glory above everything else. Who do you want to get the credit for what you do? Former President Ronald Reagan reportedly had a sign on his desk in the White House that said, "There is no limit to what you can accomplish, if you don't care who gets the credit."
Second, what is your method as a Christian? How do you do what you do? Our models in Acts cooperated with God so Christ could work through them by His Holy Spirit. This involved having confidence in His revelation, yielding to His will, obeying His Word, and depending on His Holy Spirit.
Third, what is your emphasis as a Christian? What do you do? In Acts, the leaders of the church gave priority to what is most important to God, not to what was most important to themselves personally. Furthermore, they emphasized the essentials, not the incidentals. Let us not get so fascinated with the incidentals, such as how God manifested His power (healings, speaking in tongues, etc.), that we fail to give priority to the essentials.
One essential is that He is powerful enough to do anything to accomplish His purposes. Many Christians are very reluctant to believe that God can do whatever needs to be done. Let us give ourselves to the task before us wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said: "All authority has been given unto Me in heaven and on earth." In Acts 1:8, He said, "You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you." In Matthew 16:18, He said: "I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Acts is a fantastic book, because in it we see Him doing just that, and we find encouragement to participate in His great program of church building.
This first major section of Acts contains the record of the founding of the church on the day of Pentecost, and its expansion in the city of Jerusalem.
In his account of the founding of the Christian church, Luke gave background information that ties Jesus' giving of the Great Commission to the day of Pentecost. He showed how Jesus enabled His disciples to obey His command to evangelize the nations.
Luke wrote these introductory statements to connect the Book of Acts with his Gospel. In his former book, Luke had recorded what Jesus had begun to do and to teach during His earthly ministry. In this second book, he wrote what Jesus continued doing to build His church through Spirit-indwelt Christians (cf. John 14:12).
1:1 Luke referred to his Gospel as "the first account." The Greek word proton means "first," but it does not imply that Luke intended to write more than two books. This has been the unnecessary conclusion of some scholars. It simply means that Luke was the first of these two books that he wrote.
"Theophilus" means lover of God. Some interpreters have suggested that Theophilus was not an actual person and that Luke was writing to all lovers of God whom he personified by using this name (cf. Luke 1:3). All things considered, it seems more likely that Theophilus was a real person. There is no reason he could not have been. Such is the implication of the address, and Theophilus was a fairly common Greek proper name. (Flavius Josephus similarly addressed his Antiquities of the Jews to a man named Epaphroditus.)
Luke wanted his readers to be careful to note that the remarkable supernatural events he was to unfold were ultimately the work of Jesus Christ. They were not just those of His enthusiastic followers.
"The order of the words 'doing' and 'teaching' is noteworthy. Deeds first; then words. The same order is found in Luke 24:19 (contrast Acts 7:22). The 'doing' comes first, for Christianity is primarily life. The teaching follows afterwards, for 'the life is the light of men.'"
1:2 Jesus was "taken up" at His ascension (Luke 24:51). The orders that He had given His apostles were that they should remain temporarily in Jerusalem (1:4; Luke 24:49). Then they should go out into the whole world to herald the good news of salvation (1:8; Luke 24:47; Matt. 28:19-20).
Apostles are by definition "sent ones." However, this term here has specific reference to the few disciples Jesus gave this command to personally. Their calling was unique; these men laid the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). All Christians are "apostles," in the sense that Christ has sent all of us who are believers on this mission. Yet the 12 apostles (and Paul) were a unique group with special powers the Lord did not give to the rest.
1:3 The Greek word tekmeriois, translated "proofs," occurs only here in the New Testament. It refers to proof by incontrovertible evidence as contrasted with the proof claimed by a witness. Luke asserted that Jesus Christ's resurrection was beyond dispute.
As 40 days of temptation in the wilderness preceded Jesus' earthly ministry (Luke 4:2), so He introduced His present ministry with a 40-day period of preparation. Jesus' baptism with the Spirit occurred before his 40-day test, whereas the reverse order of events appears here in Acts. God had instructed Moses for 40 days on Mt. Sinai in preparation for Israel's mission in the world. Now Jesus instructed the Apostles for 40 days in preparation for the church's mission in the world.
"What Luke is describing is a new beginning, yet a beginning which recalls the beginning already made in the Gospel and with which the story of Acts is continuous. The forty days, therefore, is a vital vehicle for conveying Luke's theology of continuity . . ."
The term "kingdom" occurs only eight times in Acts, but 39 times in Luke, and 18 times in the New Testament epistles. The "kingdom of God," of which Jesus taught His disciples between His resurrection and ascension, probably refers to God's rule in its largest sense, including His rule over the church, and His messianic kingdom.
Dispensationalists believe that Jesus Christ will rule on the earth as Messiah in the future. Progressive dispensationalists, along with covenant premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists, believe that the messianic kingdom began during Jesus' first advent ministry and that the church is the present form of the messianic kingdom on earth.
Normative dispensationalists (i.e., those other than "progressives") believe that the Jews' rejection of Jesus resulted in a temporary withdrawal or postponement of the kingdom and that the church is a distinct entity, not another name for the messianic kingdom. They believe that the messianic kingdom is an earthly kingdom and that it will begin when Jesus Christ returns to reign personally on the earth. I believe there is better scriptural support for the normative view.
Since I will be referring to these various groups of Bible interpreters throughout these notes, let me digress briefly and take a few paragraphs to define them. "Dispensationalists" believe that references to Israel in the New Testament always refer to ethnic Jews. This is how "Israel" is used in the Old Testament. "Non-dispensationalists" believe that some references to Israel in the New Testament refer to Christians who may be either Jewish or Gentile. They speak of the church as "the new Israel." They believe that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God, and that there is no special future for Israel as a people; God will fulfill His promises to Israel in the church—all Christians—in a spiritual rather than a literal way.
Among dispensationalists, there are those who believe that God will fulfill His promises concerning the reign of Christ as Messiah after Jesus returns to the earth at His Second Coming. These are "normative" or "traditional" dispensationalists. Sometimes this group is further divided into "classical" dispensationalists (who represent the earlier forms of dispensational teaching) and "revised" dispensationalists (who represent later refinements in dispensational teaching).
In contrast to "normative" (traditional) dispensationalists, there are "progressive" dispensationalists. They believed that God has already begun to fulfill His promises concerning the reign of Christ as Messiah from heaven as the Head of the Church, and that He will fulfill the promises concerning Christ's earthly reign after He returns at His Second Coming. "Ultradispensationalists" believe that the church did not begin at Pentecost but later.
"Non-dispensationalists" are for the most part covenant theologians. These can be divided into "amillennialists" (who believe that the Messianic reign of Christ will not be on the earth but is Christ's present reign from heaven), "postmillennialists" (who believe that the present age will improve, this will culminate in Messianic kingdom conditions on earth, and then Christ will return to the earth), and "historic (covenant) premillennialists" (who believe that Christ will return to earth and then set up an earthly kingdom, but presently the church is the new Israel).
Sometimes the phrase "kingdom of God" refers to God's heavenly rule over humans throughout history. Both are biblical uses of the term "kingdom of God." An earthly kingdom seems clearly in view in this passage, since the disciples had expected Jesus to inaugurate the messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament on earth then (v. 6). However, God postponed that kingdom because Israel rejected her King (v. 7). Evidently, during those 40 days before His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples further instruction concerning the future and the postponed kingdom. There may be some significance in the fact that God renewed the broken Mosaic Covenant with Moses on Mt. Sinai in 40 days (Exod. 34:5-29).
1:4 What Jesus told His disciples to wait for in Jerusalem was the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; cf. 1:5; John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). It must have been difficult for these disciples to wait for God to do what He had promised, as all Christians find it to be. Jesus viewed the Spirit as a significant gift of God's grace to His people (cf. Luke 11:13). He is not just a means to an end but a major part of the blessings of salvation.
"No New Testament writer more clearly emphasises [sic] the Divine Personality and continuous power of the Spirit of God. Thus in the two-fold emphasis on the Exalted Lord and the Divine Spirit we have the most marked feature of the book, namely, the predominance of the Divine element over the human in Church life and work."
1:5 "Baptized" (Gr. ebaptisen) means "dipped" or "immersed," and results in union with something (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-2). John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; cf. John 7:39). Jesus now announced that this baptism would take place in just a few days (v. 5). It took place 10 days after His ascension (ch. 2). As the Holy Spirit had baptized Jesus and had thereby empowered Him for service, so His successors also needed such a power-producing baptism.
"Luke's purpose in writing his history is not primarily apologetic. He writes in order to provide his readers with an orderly account of the rise and progress of Christianity. But since this movement was 'everywhere spoken against' (Acts 28:22), it seemed desirable to refute some of the current objections to it. The first Christian historian found himself accordingly obliged to be the first Christian apologist. Of three main types of Christian apologetic in the second century Luke provided first-century prototypes: apologetic in relation to pagan religion (Christianity is true; paganism is false); apologetic in relation to Judaism (Christianity represents the fulfillment of true Judaism); apologetic in relation to the political authorities (Christianity is innocent of any offense against Roman law)."
The key to the apostles' successful fulfillment of Jesus' commission was their baptism with, and consequent indwelling by, the Holy Spirit. Without this divine enablement, they would only have been able to follow Jesus' example, but with it, Jesus could literally continue to do His work and teach His words through them. Consequently their preparation for the baptism of the Spirit was very important. Luke recorded it to highlight its foundational significance.
Verses 6-8 announce the theme of Acts and set the stage for all that follows.
"The concept of 'witness' is so prominent in Acts (the word in its various forms appears some thirty-nine times) that everything else in the book should probably be seen as subsumed under it—even the primitive kerygma [preaching] . . ."
1:6 The Old Testament associated Spirit baptism with the beginning of the messianic (millennial) kingdom (Isa. 32:15-20; 44:3-5; Ezek. 39:28-29; Joel 2:28—3:1; Zech. 12:8-10). It was natural, therefore, that the disciples would ask if that kingdom was about to begin, in view of Jesus' promise that the Spirit would baptize them in a few days. "This time" refers to "not many days from now" (v. 5). In the Septuagint, the term "restoration" (Gr. apokatastaseos) technically refers to God's political restoration of Israel (Ps. 16:5; Jer. 15:19; 16:15; 23:7; Ezek. 16:55; 17:23; Hos. 11:11). The Gentiles had taken the Jews' kingdom from them, which occurred with Nebuchadnezzar's conquest in 586 B.C. Clearly the messianic kingdom is in view here.
1:7 Jesus did not correct the disciples for believing that the messianic kingdom would come. He only corrected their assumption that they could know when the kingdom would begin and that the kingdom would begin in a few days.
Amillennialists do not believe that God will restore an earthly kingdom to Israel as Israel, but that He will restore a spiritual kingdom to the church, which they believe has replaced physical Israel as "spiritual Israel" or "the new Israel." Premillennialists believe that since the promises about Messiah's earthly reign have not yet been fulfilled, and since every reference to Israel in the New Testament can refer to physical Israel, we should anticipate an earthly reign of Messiah on the earth following His Second Coming.
"Jesus' answer to the question about restoring the reign to Israel denies that Jesus' followers can know the time and probably corrects their supposition that the restoration may come immediately, but it does not deny the legitimacy of their concern with the restoration of the national life of the Jewish people."
"This passage makes it clear that while the covenanted form of the theocracy has not been cancelled and has only been postponed, this present age is definitely not a development of the Davidic form of the kingdom. Rather, it is a period in which a new form of theocratic administration is inaugurated. In this way Jesus not only answered the disciples' question concerning the timing of the future Davidic kingdom, but He also made a clear distinction between it and the intervening present form of the theocratic administration."
Jesus' disciples were not to know yet when the messianic kingdom would begin. God would reveal the "times" (Gr. chronous, length of time) and "epochs" (Gr. kairous, dates, or major features of the times) after Jesus' ascension, and He would make them known through His chosen prophets (cf. 1 Thess. 5:1; Rev. 6—19).
"In Acts 3:20 [sic 19], the phrase chosen is kairoi anapsuxeos (seasons of refreshing). . . . In other words, the last days of fulfillment have two parts. There is the current period of refreshing, which is correlated to Jesus' reign in heaven and in which a person shares, if he or she repents. Then at the end of this period Jesus will come to bring the restoration of those things promised by the Old Testament."
"There is a close connection between the hope expressed in 1:6 and the conditional promise of Peter in 3:19-21, indicated not only by the unusual words 'restore' and 'restoration . . .' but also by the references to 'times . . .' and 'seasons . . .' in both contexts. The 'times of restoration of all that God spoke' through the prophets include the restoration of the reign to Israel through its messianic King."
1:8 Rather than trying to figure out when the kingdom would come, the disciples were to give their attention to something different, namely, worldwide witness. Moreover, the disciples would receive divine enablement for their worldwide mission (cf. Luke 24:47-49). As God's Spirit had empowered both the Israelites—and Jesus—as they executed their purposes, so God's Spirit would empower the disciples as they executed their purpose. The power promised was not to enable the apostles to live godly lives, though the Holy Spirit does enable believers to do that.
"What is promised to the apostles is the power to fulfil their mission, that is, to speak, to bear oral testimony, and to perform miracles and in general act with authority. This power is given through the Spirit, and conversely the Spirit in Acts may be defined as the divine agency that gives this power."
"You shall be" translates a future indicative verb (as in "you shall receive"). Is the clause "You shall be" a prediction or a command? Grammatically it could be either. The apostles clearly felt compelled to preach (cf. 10:42). However, if it was a command, it could have been stated more forcefully. Therefore both verbs ("you shall be" and "you shall receive") are probably predictions, and statements of fact, rather than commands.
"They were now to be witnesses, and their definite work was to bear testimony to their Master; they were not to be theologians, or philosophers, or leaders, but witnesses. Whatever else they might become, everything was to be subordinate to the idea of personal testimony. It was to call attention to what they knew of Him and to deliver His message to mankind. This special class of people, namely, disciples who are also witnesses, is therefore very prominent in this book. Page after page is occupied by their testimony, and the key to this feature is found in the words of Peter: 'We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard' (4:20)."
This verse contains an inspired outline of the Book of Acts. Note that it refers to a person (Jesus Christ), a power (the Holy Spirit), and a program (ever expanding worldwide witness). Luke proceeded to record that the fulfillment of this prediction would continue until the gospel and the church had reached Rome. From the heart of the empire, God would pump the gospel out to every other remote part of the world. Starting from Jerusalem, the gospel message radiated farther and farther, as ripples do when a stone lands in a placid pool of water. Rome was over 1,400 miles from Jerusalem.
"The Christian church, according to Acts, is a missionary church that responds obediently to Jesus' commission, acts on Jesus' behalf in the extension of his ministry, focuses its proclamation of the kingdom of God in its witness to Jesus, is guided and empowered by the self-same Spirit that directed and supported Jesus' ministry, and follows a program whose guidelines for outreach have been set by Jesus himself."
Jerusalem was the most wicked city on earth, in that it was there that Jesus Christ's enemies crucified Him. Nevertheless there, too, God manifested His grace first. The linking of "Judea and Samaria" preserves an ethnic distinction, while at the same time describing one geographic area. The phrase "to the remotest part of the earth" is literally "to the end of the earth." This phrase is rare in ancient Greek, but it occurs five times in the Septuagint (Isa. 8:9; 48:20; 49:6; 62:11; Pss. Sol. 1:4). Jesus was evidently alluding to Isaiah's predictions that God would extend salvation to all people, Gentiles as well as Jews.
"Witnessing to the Jews meant witnessing to those who held a true religion, but held it for the most part falsely and unreally [sic].
"Witnessing in Samaria meant witnessing to those who had a mixed religion, partly true, and partly false, Jewish and Heathen.
Gospel Outreach in Acts
Judea and Samaria
The uttermost part of the earth
This pericope (vv. 6-8) is Luke's account of Jesus' farewell address to His successors (cf. Gen. 49; Num. 20:26; 27:16-19; Deut. 31:14-23; 34:9; 2 Kings 2; et al.). Luke used several typical features of a Jewish farewell scene in 1:1-14.
1:9 Jesus Christ's ascension necessarily preceded the descent of the Holy Spirit to baptize and indwell believers, in God's plan (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Acts 2:33-36). "While they were looking on" stresses the fact that the apostles really saw Jesus ascending, which they bore witness to later. This reference supports the credibility of their witness. In previous post-resurrection appearances Jesus had vanished from the disciples' sight instantly (Luke 24:31), but now He gradually departed from them.
The "cloud" seems clearly to be a reference to the shekinah, a visible symbol of the glorious presence of God (cf. Exod. 40:34; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7). Thus what the disciples saw was the symbol of God's presence receiving and enveloping Jesus into heaven. This connoted God's approval of Jesus and Jesus' entrance into the glorious presence of God.
1:10-11 "Intently" (Gr. atenizein) further stresses that these men really did see Jesus ascend (v. 2; Luke 24:51). Luke used this dramatic Greek word 12 times. It only appears two other times in the New Testament. "Into the sky" (lit. "into heaven," eis ton ouranon) occurs four times in these two verses. Luke emphasized that Jesus was now in heaven. From there He would continue His ministry on earth through His apostles and other witnesses. The two "men" were angelic messengers who looked like men (cf. Matt. 28:3; John 20:12; Luke 24:4).
Some commentators have suggested that the "two men" may have been Enoch and Elijah, or Moses and Elijah, but this seems unlikely. Probably Luke would have named them if they had been such famous individuals. Besides, the similarity between Luke's description of these two angels and the ones that appeared at Jesus' tomb (Luke 24:1-7) suggests that they were simply angels.
The 11 disciples were literally "men of Galilee" (v. 11). Judas Iscariot was the only one of the Twelve who originated from Judea. This conclusion assumes the traditional interpretation that "Iscariot" translates the Hebrew 'ish qeriyot, "a man of Kerioth," Kerioth being Kerioth-Hezron, which was 12 miles south of Hebron. The "men" announced two things: the Jesus they had known had entered into His heavenly abode, and the Jesus they had known would return to the earth. Jesus ascended in a cloud personally, bodily, visibly, and gloriously, and He will return the same way (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 24:50-51; Rev. 1:7). He will also return to the same place, the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).
Jesus' own descriptions of His return to the earth appear in Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; and Luke 21:27. This was no repetition of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:27-36).
"Throughout the period of the post-resurrection forty days, Jesus had frequently appeared to the disciples, and during the intervals he had disappeared. Each time, apparently, they had no reason to suppose that he would not reappear shortly, and until this time he had not disappointed them."
What filled these disciples with great joy (Luke 24:52) was probably the hope that they would see Jesus again soon. Without this hope His departure would have made them very sad. The joyful prospect of the Lord's return should have the same effect on us.
John Maile summarized the significance of the ascension narratives in Luke-Acts as follows. First, he stated, "The ascension is the confirmation of the exaltation of Christ and his present Lordship." Second, it is "the explanation of the continuity between the ministry of Jews and that of the church." Third, it is "the culmination of the resurrection appearances." Fourth, it is "the prelude to the sending of the Spirit." Fifth, it is "the foundation of Christian mission." Sixth, it is "the pledge of the return of Christ."
"In Luke's mind the Ascension of Christ has two aspects: in the Gospel it is the end of the story of Jesus, in Acts it is the beginning of the story of the Church, which will go on until Christ comes again. Thus for Luke, as Barrett says, 'the end of the story of Jesus is the Church, and the story of Jesus is the beginning of the Church'."
Peter perceived the importance of asking God to identify Judas' successor in view of the ministry that Jesus had said the Twelve would have in the future. He led the disciples in obtaining the Lord Jesus' guidance in this important matter (cf. vv. 21, 24). From his viewpoint, the Lord could have returned very soon to restore the kingdom to Israel (v. 6), so the Twelve had to be ready for their ministry of judging the twelve tribes of Israel when He did.
1:12-13 The disciples returned to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.
"They are about to undergo a spiritual transformation; to pass, so to speak, from the chrysalis to the winged stage. They are on the eve of the great illumination promised by Jesus before His death. The Spirit of Truth is about to come and lead them into all Christian truth."
The short trip from where Jesus ascended on Mt. Olivet to "the upper room" was only "a Sabbath day's journey away" (about 2,000 cubits, two-thirds of a mile, or one kilometer; cf. Exod. 16:29; Num. 35:5). This "upper room" may not have been the same one in which the disciples had observed the first Lord's Supper with Jesus (Luke 22:12). Different Greek words describe the places. It may have been the place where He had appeared to them following His resurrection (Luke 24:32, 36; John 20:19, 26), but this too is unclear.
The definite article "the" with "upper room" in the Greek text (to hyperoon), and the emphatic position of this phrase, may suggest that Luke meant to identify a special upper room that the reader would have known about from a previous reference to it. One writer suggested that this upper room, as well as the ones mentioned in 9:37, 39, and 20:8, may have been part of a synagogue. The repetition of the apostles' names recalls Jesus' previous appointment of them as apostles (cf. Luke 6:13-16). This list, however, omits Judas Iscariot and sets the stage for the selection of his replacement.
1:14 The apostles gave (devoted) "themselves to prayer" (Gr. proseuche) probably for the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised would take place shortly (cf. Dan. 9:2-3; Luke 11:13). "The" prayer (in Greek) suggests that they may have been praying at the Jewish designated times of prayer (cf. 2:42; 6:4). Proseuche sometimes has the wider meaning of worship, and it may mean that here. Luke stressed their unity ("all with one mind"), a mark of the early Christians that Luke noted frequently in Acts. The disciples were "one" in their purpose to carry out the will of their Lord. Divine promises should stimulate prayer, not lead to abandonment of it.
". . . when God is going to do some great thing He moves the hearts of people to pray; He stirs them up to pray in view of that which He is about to do so that they might be prepared for it. The disciples needed the self-examination that comes through prayer and supplication, that they might be ready for the tremendous event which was about to take place . . ."
The women referred to were apparently the same ones who accompanied the disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 8:1-3; cf. 23:49; 23:55—24:10). Luke's interest in women, which is so evident in his Gospel, continues in Acts.
"Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there, but you will notice they were not praying to Mary, nor were they burning candles to her; they were not addressing themselves to her, nor asking her for any blessing; but Mary, the mother of Jesus, was kneeling with the eleven and the women, and all together they prayed to the Father."
This is, by the way, the last reference to "Mary the mother of Jesus" in the Bible. Jesus' half-brothers (John 7:5; Mark 6:3), among those "devoting themselves to prayer," apparently had become believers following His death and resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7).
1:15 In view of Peter's leadership gifts, so obvious in the Gospels, it is no surprise that he is the one who took the initiative on this occasion.
"Brethren" is literally "disciples" (Gr. matheton). The group of 120 that Peter addressed on this occasion (cf. vv. 13-14) was only a segment of the believers living in Jerusalem at this time (cf. 1 Cor. 15:6, which refers to more than 500 brethren). Nonetheless this was a tiny group from which the church grew. God can take a small number of people, multiply them, and eventually fill the earth with their witness.
1:16-17 Peter addressed the assembled disciples in a way that was evidently customary when speaking to Jews. Here "brethren" is literally "men, brothers" (andres, adelphoi). This same salutation occurs elsewhere in Acts always in formal addresses to Jews (cf. 2:29, 37; 7:2; 13:15, 26, 38; 15:7, 13; 22:1; 23:1, 6; 28:17).
Notice the high regard with which Peter viewed the Old Testament. He believed David's words came from the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16), and he viewed them as Scripture (holy writings). Peter interpreted David's words about false companions and wicked men who opposed God's servants as applying to Judas. What God had said through David about David's enemy was also true of Jesus' enemy, since Jesus was the LORD's Anointed whom David anticipated.
Peter said this Scripture "had" (Gr. dei, by divine necessity) to be fulfilled.
"The understanding [of Peter] here is . . . (1) that God is doing something necessarily involved in his divine plan; (2) that the disciples' lack of comprehension of God's plan is profound, especially with respect to Judas who 'was one of our number and shared in this ministry' yet also 'served as guide for those who arrested Jesus'; and (3) that an explicit way of understanding what has been going on under divine direction is through a Christian understanding of two psalms that speak of false companions and wicked men generally, and which by means of the then widely common exegetical rule qal wahomer ('light to heavy,' or a minore ad majorem) can also be applied to the false disciple and wicked man par excellence, Judas Iscariot."
1:18-19 Luke inserted these verses, assuming his readers were unfamiliar with Judas' death and did not know Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine in the first century. This helps us understand for whom he wrote this book. Judas purchased the "Field of Blood" indirectly by returning the money he received for betraying Jesus to the priests who used it to buy the field (Matt. 27:3-10). Perhaps the name "field of blood" was the nickname the residents of Jerusalem gave it since "blood money" had purchased it.
This account of Judas' death differs from Matthew's, who wrote that Judas hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). Undoubtedly both accounts were true. Perhaps Judas hanged himself and in the process also fell (lit. "flat on his face") and tore open his abdomen. Perhaps the rope or branch with which he hanged himself broke. Or perhaps when others cut his corpse down it fell and broke open, as Luke described. The traditional location of Hakeldama is southeast of Jerusalem, near where the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys meet. This description of Judas' death stressed the awfulness of that apostle's situation.
It was Judas' defection which led to his horrible death, and not just his death, that led to the need for a successor. Matthias succeeded Judas because Judas had been unfaithful, not just because he had died. Thus this text provides no support for the view that Christ intended one apostle to succeed another when the preceding one died. We have no record that when the apostle James died (12:1-2) anyone succeeded him.
1:20 Peter's quotations are from Psalms 69:25 and 109:8. Luke's quotations from the Old Testament are all from Greek translations of it. Psalm 69 is an Old Testament passage in which Jesus Himself, as well as the early Christians, saw similarities to and foreviews of Jesus' experiences (cf. John 2:17; 15:25; Rom. 11:9-10; 15:3). Jesus fulfilled the passage Peter cited, in the sense that His situation proved to be the same as David's, only on a more significant messianic scale.
Peter did not appeal to Psalm 69:25 to justify replacing Judas with another apostle, however. He used the quotation from Psalm 109:8 to do that. It is another verse that Peter applied to Jesus' case, since it described something analogous to Jesus' experience. He used what David had written about someone who opposed the LORD's king—and was replaced—to support the idea that someone should replace Judas in his office as one of the Twelve.
1:21-22 Why did Peter believe it was "necessary" to choose someone to take Judas' place? Evidently he remembered Jesus' promise that the 12 disciples would sit on 12 thrones in the messianic kingdom, judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; cf. Rev. 21:14). To be as qualified for this ministry as the other 11 disciples, the twelfth had to have met the conditions Peter specified.
"In 1:21 Peter speaks not of being with Jesus but of going with him on his journeys. . . . This emphasis on journeying with Jesus, particularly on his final journey to the cross, suggests that the apostolic witnesses are qualified not simply because they happened to be present when something happened and so could report it, like witnesses to an accident. Rather they have been taught and trained by Jesus for their work. They shared Jesus' life and work during his mission. In the process they were tested and discovered their own defects. That discovery may also be part of their preparation. The witness of the Galileans does not arise from casual observation. They speak out of a life and mission shared with Jesus, after being taught and tested. From this group the replacement for Judas is chosen."
Having been a witness to Jesus Christ's resurrection was especially important. The apostles prepared themselves, so that if Jesus Christ had returned very soon and set up His kingdom on the earth—they would have been ready. Often, in biblical history, God replaced someone who proved unworthy with a more faithful steward (e.g., Zadok for Ahithophel, Shebna for Eliakim, Samuel for Samson, David for Saul, et al.).
These two verses provide the basis for distinguishing a technical use of "apostle" from the general meaning of the word. By definition, an "apostle" (from apo stello, "to send away") is anyone sent out as a messenger. Translators have frequently rendered this word "messenger" in the English Bible. Barnabas, Paul's fellow workers, James, and Epaphroditus—were apostles in this sense (Acts 14:4, 14; 2 Cor. 8:23; Gal. 1:19; Phil. 2:25).
Every Christian should function as an apostle, since Christ has given us the Great Commission. Nevertheless, the Twelve were apostles in a special sense. They not only went out with a message, but they went out having been personally discipled by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. They were the official apostles, the apostles who occupied the apostolic office (v. 20), which Jesus established when He first chose and sent out the Twelve (Luke 6:13). As we shall see, Paul was also an official apostle, even though he had not been personally discipled by Jesus as the Twelve had been.
This address of Peter (vv. 16-21) is the first of some 23 or 24 speeches that Luke reported in Acts. About one third of the content of Acts is speeches. This one is an example of deliberative rhetoric, in which the speaker seeks to persuade his hearers to follow a certain course of action in the near future. How accurate did Luke attempt to be when he recorded the speeches in Acts?
"To an extent, of course, all the speeches in Acts are necessarily paraphrastic, for certainly the original delivery contained more detail of argument and more illustrative material than Luke included—as poor Eutychus undoubtedly could testify (Acts 20:7-12)! Stenographic reports they are not, and probably few ever so considered them. They have been reworked, as is required in any précis, and reworked, moreover, in accord with the style of the narrative. But recognition of the kind of writing that produces speeches compatible with the narrative in which they are found should not be interpreted as inaccurate reporting or a lack of traditional source material. After all, a single author is responsible for the literary form of the whole."
Josephus "recorded" many speeches in his histories, but he clearly put them in his own words. One example is Herod the Great's speech to the Jews encouraging them to defend themselves against the attacking Arabians. The same speech appears in both the Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews, but the content is somewhat different. Another is Herod Agrippa I's speech to the Jews discouraging them from getting into war with the Romans.
1:23-26 Those present, probably the other apostles, nominated two apparently equally qualified men. "Joseph" is a Hebrew name, "Barsabbas" is Aramaic, meaning "Son of the Sabbath," and "Justus" is Roman. "Matthias" is Hebrew, and is a short form of "Mattithia." The apostles then prayed for the Lord to indicate which one He chose (cf. 6:6; 13:3; 14:23; 1 Sam. 22:10; 23:2, 4, 10-12). They acknowledged that only God knows people's hearts (1 Sam. 16:7), and He would not make the mistake that the Israelites did when they chose King Saul. They wanted God to identify the man after His own heart, as He had done with David.
Next they cast "lots," probably by drawing one of two designated stones out of a container, or by throwing down specially marked objects (cf. Lev. 16:8; Josh. 14:2; 1 Sam. 14:41-42; Neh. 10:34; 11:1; Prov. 16:33). The ancient Greeks often used pebbles in voting, black for condemning and white for acquitting. The Lord identified "Matthias" as His sovereign choice to fulfill the ministry (service) and apostleship (office) of Judas. Judas' "own place" was a place different from that of the Eleven, namely: perdition (hell). Matthias received no further mention in the New Testament. Legend has it that he died as a martyr in Ethiopia.
This instance of casting lots to determine God's will is the last one the New Testament writers recorded. This was not a vote. "Casting lots" was necessary before the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but when He came, He provided the guidance, inwardly, that God had formerly provided externally. Christians do not need to cast lots to determine God's will, since now the indwelling Holy Spirit provides that guidance. He does so objectively through Scripture, and subjectively by impressing His will on yielded believers in response to prayer.
Was Peter correct in leading the believers to recognize a twelfth apostle, or did God intend Paul to be the replacement? Several commentators believed that Paul was God's intended replacement. Paul was, of course, an apostle with authority equal to that of the Twelve. However, Paul had not been with Jesus during His earthly ministry. Luke, Paul's friend, spoke of the Twelve without equivocation as an official group (Acts 2:14; 6:2). Furthermore the distinctly Jewish nature of the future ministry of the Twelve (Matt. 19:28) supports Paul's exclusion from this group. His ministry was primarily to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9). Paul never claimed to be one of the Twelve, though he did contend that his official apostleship had come to him as a direct commission from the Lord. However, it came from the risen Lord, and he considered himself abnormally born as an apostle (1 Cor. 15:7-8). Finally, there is no hint in Scripture that the decision made on this occasion was a mistake.
". . . the pericope suggests that a Christian decision regarding vocation entails (1) evaluating personal qualifications, (2) earnest prayer, and (3) appointment by Christ himself—an appointment that may come in some culturally related fashion, but in a way clear to those who seek guidance."
"Matthew concludes with the Resurrection, Mark with the Ascension, Luke with the promise of the Holy Spirit, and John with the promise of the Second Coming. Acts 1 brings all four records together and mentions each of them. The four Gospels funnel into Acts, and Acts is the bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles."
The Holy Spirit's descent on the day of Pentecost inaugurated a new dispensation in God's administration of the human race. Luke featured the record of the events of this day to explain the changes in God's dealings with humankind that followed in the early church and to the present day. This was the birthday of the church. Many non-dispensationalists, as well as most dispensationalists (except ultradispensationalists), view the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost as the beginning of the church.
"The plot of a work can often be illuminated by considering the major conflict or conflicts within it. Although Jesus' witnesses face other conflicts, the central conflict of the plot, repeatedly emphasized and still present in the last major scene of Acts, is a conflict within Judaism provoked by Jewish Christian preachers (including Paul). Acts 2:1—8:3 traces the development of this conflict in Jerusalem."
Luke had introduced the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry with His baptism with the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22). He now paralleled that with the beginning of Jesus' heavenly ministry with the Spirit baptism of His disciples (Acts 2:1-4). The same Spirit who indwelt and empowered Jesus during His earthly ministry would now indwell and empower His believing disciples. John the Baptist had predicted this Pentecost baptism with the Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16), as had Jesus (Acts 1:8). Jesus had already done the baptizing, and now the Spirit "came upon" the disciples.
2:1 The day of Pentecost was an annual spring feast at which the Jews presented the first-fruits of their wheat harvest to God (Exod. 34:22a). The Jews also called Pentecost the Feast of Harvest and the Feast of Weeks in earlier times. They celebrated it at the end of seven weeks (i.e., a week of weeks) following the Feast of Passover. God received a new crop of believers, Christians, on this particular day of Pentecost. The Jews also celebrated Pentecost as the anniversary of the giving of the Mosaic Law (cf. Exod. 19:1). Paul regarded the Spirit's indwelling presence as God's replacement for the external guidance that the Mosaic Law had provided believers under that old covenant (Gal. 3:3, 23-29).
"Pentecost" is a Greek word, transliterated into English, that means "fiftieth." This feast fell on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was one of the feasts at which all the male Jews had to be present at the central sanctuary (Exod. 34:22-23). Jews who lived up to 20 miles from Jerusalem were expected to travel to Jerusalem to attend these feasts. Pentecost usually fell in late May or early June. Traveling conditions that time of year made it possible for Jews who lived farther away to visit Jerusalem, too. These factors account for the large number of Jews present in Jerusalem on this particular day. This feast was the most crowded in Jerusalem, and the most attended by foreigners, of any of the Jewish festivals.
". . . by paralleling Jesus' baptism with the experience of Jesus' early followers at Pentecost, Luke is showing that the mission of the Christian church, as was the ministry of Jesus, is dependent upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. And by his stress on Pentecost as the day when the miracle took place, he is also suggesting (1) that the Spirit's coming is in continuity with God's purposes in giving the law and yet (2) that the Spirit's coming signals the essential difference between the Jewish faith and commitment to Jesus, for whereas the former is Torah centered and Torah directed, the latter is Christ centered and Spirit directed—all of which sounds very much like Paul."
The antecedent of "they" is apparently the believers Luke mentioned in 1:15. However, it could refer to the Twelve, since Luke later wrote that the multitude marveled that those who spoke in tongues were "Galileans" (v. 7). It is not possible to identify the place (lit. "the house," Gr. ton oikon) where they assembled with certainty. Perhaps it was the "upper room" already mentioned (1:13), or another house. Clearly the disciples were indoors (v. 2).
2:2 The sound like "a violent rushing wind" came from heaven, the place where Jesus had gone (1:10-11). This noise symbolized the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. The same Greek word (pneuma) means either "wind" or "spirit." Ezekiel and Jesus had previously used the wind as an illustration of God's Spirit (Ezek. 37:9-14; John 3:8).
Jesus' earlier breathing on the disciples and giving them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) may have been only a temporary empowerment with the Spirit along the lines of Old Testament empowerments. Others believe that Jesus was giving these disciples a symbolic and graphic reminder, an advance example as it were, of the Spirit who would come upon them later. It was a demonstration of what Jesus would do when He returned to the Father, and which He did do on Pentecost. He was not "imparting" the Spirit to them in any sense then. I prefer this second explanation.
"A friend of my daughter lives in Kansas and went through the experience of a tornado. It did not destroy their home but came within two blocks of it. When she wrote about it to my daughter, she said, 'The first thing we noticed was a sound like a thousand freight trains coming into town.' Friend, that was a rushing, mighty wind, and that was the sound. It was that kind of sound that they heard on the Day of Pentecost."
2:3 "Fire," as well as wind, symbolized the presence of God (cf. Gen. 15:17; Exod. 3:2-6; 13:21-22; 19:18; 24:17; 40:38; Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). The believers received a visual as well as an audio indication that the promised Holy Spirit of God had come. Evidently, at first the apparent fire came in one piece, and then separated into individual flames, which always resemble tongues of fire. "Distributing themselves" translates diamerizomenai, a present and probably a middle participle, suggesting that the fire was seen dividing itself.
Each one of these "flames" abode (settled) on a different believer present. God could hardly have depicted the distribution of His Spirit to every individual believer more clearly. The Spirit had in the past abode on the whole nation of Israel corporately, symbolized by the pillar of fire. Now He abode on each believer, as He had on Jesus. This fire was obviously not normal fire because it did not burn up what it touched (cf. Exod. 3:2-6).
Probably the Jews present connected the "tongues," by which the believers spoke miraculously, with the "tongues of fire." They probably attributed the miracle of speaking in tongues to the God whose presence they had identified with fire in their history and who was now obviously present among them.
Was this the fulfillment of John the Baptist's statement that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; cf. Joel 2:28-29; Mal. 3:2-5)? Some believe it was a complete fulfillment of those prophecies and that we should expect no further subsequent fulfillment. This seems doubtful, since these prophecies occur in contexts involving the experiences of all Israel.
Others believe that what happened on the day of Pentecost was an initial, partial, or similar fulfillment, and that complete fulfillment is still future. Some who hold this second view believe that the prophecy about the baptism with the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on Pentecost, but that the prophecy about baptism with fire was not fulfilled at that time, and will be fulfilled in the Tribulation. Others who hold this second view believe that both baptisms occurred on Pentecost, and both will occur again in the future and will involve Israel.
A third view is that what happened on Pentecost was not what the Old Testament predicted at all, since those predictions have Israel in view. I view what happened on Pentecost as a foreview of what will happen for Israel in the future. What we have in this verse is a gracious baptizing—that involved the Holy Spirit and the presence and power of God—symbolized by fire.
2:4 "Spirit filling" and "Spirit baptism" are two distinct ministries of the Holy Spirit. Both occurred on this occasion, though Luke only mentioned filling specifically. We know that Spirit baptism also took place, because Jesus predicted it would take place "not many days from now" before His ascension (1:5). Moreover, Peter spoke of it as having taken place on Pentecost a short time later (11:15-16).
Filling with the Spirit was a phenomenon believers experienced at various times in the Old Testament economy (Exod. 35:30-34; Num. 11:26-29; 1 Sam. 10:6, 10), as well as in the New. An individual Christian can now experience it many times. God can fill a person with His Spirit on numerous separate occasions (cf. Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9, 52). Furthermore, God has commanded all believers to "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). Luke used "filling" to express the Holy Spirit's presence and enablement.
Filling by (or with) the Spirit results in the Spirit's control (influence) of the believer (Eph. 5:18). The Spirit controls a believer to the degree that He fills the believer and vice versa. Believers experience Spirit-control to the extent that they yield to His direction. On the day of Pentecost, the believers assembled were under the Spirit's control because they were in a proper personal relationship of submission to Him (cf. 1:14). In the Book of Acts, whenever Luke said the disciples were Spirit-filled, their filling always had some connection with their gospel proclamation or some specific service related to outreach (2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9).
". . . Luke always connects the 'filling of the Holy Spirit' with the proclamation of the gospel in Acts (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9). Those who are 'full of the Holy Spirit' are always those who are faithfully fulfilling their anointed task as proclaimers (Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:52)."
"No great decision was ever taken, no important step was ever embarked upon, by the early Church without the guidance of the Spirit. The early Church was a Spirit-guided community.
The Christian never repeats Spirit baptism (in contrast to filling), God never commanded Spirit baptism, and it does not occur in degrees. Spirit baptism normally takes place when a person becomes a Christian (Rom. 8:9). However, when it took place on the day of Pentecost, the people baptized were already believers. This was also true on three later occasions (8:17; 10:45; 19:6). (Chapter 19 does not clearly identify John's disciples as believers, but they may have been.) These were unusual situations, however, and not typical of Spirit baptism.
Spirit baptism always unites a believer to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). The "body of Christ" is a figure that the New Testament writers used exclusively of the church, never of Israel or any other group of believers. Therefore this first occurrence of the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the church, the body of Christ (cf. Matt. 16:18).
Speaking with other tongues (unlearned languages) was the outward evidence that God had done something to these believers inwardly (i.e., controlled them and baptized them into the body). The same sign identified the same thing on the other initial instances of Spirit baptism (10:46; 19:6). In each case, it was primarily for the benefit of Jews present, who as a people sought a sign from God to mark His activity, that God gave this sign (Luke 11:16; John 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:22).
One of the fundamental differences between charismatic and non-charismatic Christians is the issue of the purpose of the sign gifts (speaking in tongues, healings on demand, spectacular miracles, etc.). Charismatic theologians have urged that the purpose of all the gifts is primarily edification (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7).
They "always seem to be spoken of as a normal function of the Christian life . . . [in which the Spirit] makes them willing and able to undertake various works for the renewal and upbuilding of the Church."
Many non-charismatics believe that the purpose of the sign gifts was not primarily edification but the authentication of new revelation.
There is an ". . . inseparable connection of miracles with revelation, as its mark and credential; or, more narrowly, of the summing up of all revelation, finally, in Jesus Christ. Miracles do not appear on the page of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring His gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic Age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course."
". . . glossolalia [speaking in tongues] was a gift given by God, not primarily as a special language for worship; not primarily to facilitate the spread of the gospel; and certainly not as a sign that a believer has experienced a second 'baptism in the Holy Spirit.' It was given primarily for an evidential purpose to authenticate and substantiate some facet of God's truth. This purpose is always distorted by those who shift the emphasis from objective sign to subjective experience."
Other non-charismatics believe that the specific purpose of the sign gifts was to identify Jesus Christ as God's Son and to authenticate the gospel message that the apostles preached.
Most non-charismatics grant that the sign gifts were edifying in their result, but say their purpose was to authenticate new revelation to the Jews (Acts 2:22; Mark 16:20; Acts 7:36-39, 51; Heb. 2:2-4; 1 Cor. 14:20-22). Jews were always present when tongues took place in Acts (chs. 2, 10, and 19). It is understandable why God-fearing Jews, whom the apostles asked to accept new truth in addition to their already authenticated Old Testament, would have required a sign. They would have wanted strong proof that God was now giving new revelation that seemed on the surface to contradict their Scriptures.
God had told the Jews, centuries earlier, that He would some day speak to them in a foreign language—because they refused to pay attention to Isaiah's words to them in their own language (Isa. 28:11; cf. 1 Cor 14:21). Jews who knew this prophecy and were listening to Peter should have recognized that what was happening was evidence that it was God who was speaking to them.
"Barclay and others have puzzled over the necessity for using various dialects when it would have been more expedient to simply use either Greek or Aramaic—languages known to speaker and hearer alike. However to suggest this is to miss the point of the record. The Spirit desired to arrest the attention of the crowd. What better means could He adopt than to have men who quite evidently did not speak the dialects in question suddenly be endowed with the ability to speak these languages and 'declare the wonders of God' before the astonished assembly? The effect would be a multiple one. Attention would be gained, the evidence of divine intervention would be perceived, the astonished crowd would be prepared to listen with interest to the sermon of Peter, and thus the Spirit's purpose in granting the gift would be realized."
". . . the startling effect of the phenomenon on those who in difficult circumstances desperately wished otherwise (as in Acts 4:13-16; 10:28-29; 11:1-3, 15-18; and 15:1-12) supports the purpose of authentication (and not edification) for the sign gifts."
It is clear from the context of Acts 2:4 that this sign involved the ability to speak in another language that the speaker had not previously known (vv. 6, 8). However, the ability to speak in tongues does not in itself demonstrate the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Satan can give the supernatural ability to speak in other languages, as the blasphemous utterances of some tongues speakers have shown. Sometimes an interpreter was necessary (cf. 1 Cor. 14), but at other times, as at Pentecost, one was not.
Instances of Speaking in Tongues in Acts
Relation to conversion
Unsaved Jews and Christians
Sometime after conversion
To validate (for Jews) God's working as Joel prophesied
Jewish believers who doubted God's plan
Immediately after conversion
To validate (for Jews) God's working among Gentiles as He had among Jews
Jews who needed confirmation of Paul's message
Immediately after conversion
To validate (for Jews) Paul's gospel message
Were the tongues here the same as in Corinth (1 Cor. 12; 14)? If so, was ecstatic speech present on both occasions, and or were foreign languages present on both occasions? Or were the tongues here foreign languages and the tongues in Corinth ecstatic speech?
"It is well known that the terminology of Luke in Acts and of Paul in 1 Corinthians is the same. In spite of this some have contended for a difference between the gift as it occurred in Acts and as it occurred in Corinth. This is manifestly impossible from the standpoint of the terminology. This conclusion is strengthened when we remember that Luke and Paul were constant companions and would have, no doubt, used the same terminology in the same sense. . . . In other words, it is most likely that the early believers used a fixed terminology in describing this gift, a terminology understood by them all. If this be so, then the full description of the gift on Pentecost must be allowed to explain the more limited descriptions that occur elsewhere."
Probably, then, the gift of tongues was a term that covered speaking in a language or languages that the speaker had never studied. Note that the miracle was not hearing one's own language, but speaking in another language. This gift was very helpful as the believers began to carry out the Great Commission, especially in their evangelization of Jews. Acts documents and emphasizes the Lord's work in executing that mission.
Evidently most, if not all the believers present, spoke in tongues (vv. 3, 7-11). It has been suggested that the tongues speaking on the day of Pentecost was not a normal manifestation of the gift of tongues. It may have been a unique divine intervention (miracle) instead.
If these early Christians spoke in tongues, should not modern Christians do so too? Speaking in tongues is never commanded in the New Testament. Its purpose was to authenticate new revelation to Jews. And it was not a practice that the apostles valued highly, even in the early church (cf. 1 Cor. 12—14). Therefore, I would say they should not.
God gave three signs of the Spirit's coming to the Jews who were celebrating the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem: wind, fire, and inspired speech. Each of these signified God's presence in Jewish history.
"At least three distinct things were accomplished on the Day of Pentecost concerning the relationship of the Spirit with men:
(1) The Spirit made His advent into the world here to abide throughout this dispensation. . . . [i.e., permanent indwelling]
(2) Again, Pentecost marked the beginning of the formation of a new body, or organism which, in its relation to Christ, is called 'the church which is his body.' . . . [i.e., Spirit baptism]
2:5-6 The Jews living in Jerusalem were probably people from the "Diaspora" ("dispersion," residing outside the land of Palestine) who had returned to settle down in the Jewish homeland. Luke's other uses of katoikountes ("living") are in Acts 1:20; 7:2, 4, 48; 9:22; 11:29; 13:27; 17:24, 26; and 22:12, and these suggest permanence compared with epidemeo ("sojourning") in verse 10.
A list of nations from which they had come follows in verses 9 and 10. The sound that attracted attention may have been the wind (v. 2) or the sound of the tongues speakers (v. 4). The Greek word translated "noise" in verse 2 is echos, but the word rendered "sound" in verse 6 is phones. The context seems to favor the sound of the tongues speakers. Verse 2 says the noise filled the house where the disciples were, but there is no indication that it was heard outside the house. Also verse 6 connects the sound with the languages being spoken.
The text does not clearly identify when what was happening in the Upper Room became public knowledge, or when the disciples moved out of the Upper Room to a larger venue. Evidently upon hearing the sound, these residents of Jerusalem assembled to investigate what was happening.
When they found the source of the sound, they were amazed to discover Galileans speaking in the native languages of the remote regions from which these Diaspora Jews had come. The Jews in Jerusalem who could not speak Aramaic would have known Greek, so there was no need for other languages. Yet what they heard were the languages that were common in the remote places in which they had lived.
Perhaps the sound came from the Upper Room initially, and then when the disciples moved out into the streets, the people followed them into the temple area. Since about 3,000 people became Christians that day (v. 41), the multitude (v. 6) must have numbered many thousands. As many as 200,000 people could have assembled in the temple area. This fact has led some interpreters to assume that that may have been where this multitude congregated.
2:7-11 Most of the disciples were Galileans at this time, and all of the Twelve evidently were. They were identifiable by their rural appearance and their accent (cf. Matt. 26:73).
"Galileans had difficulty pronouncing gutturals and had the habit of swallowing syllables when speaking; so they were looked down upon by the people of Jerusalem as being provincial (cf. Mark 14:70). Therefore, since the disciples who were speaking were Galileans, it bewildered those who heard because the disciples could not by themselves have learned so many different languages."
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and Mesopotamians lived to the east and north of Palestine. Some of them were probably descendants of the Jews who did not return from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Many texts do not include "Judea," but if authentic it probably refers to the Roman province of Judea that included Syria. Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia were all provinces in Asia Minor to the northwest. Egypt, Libya, and Cyrene lay to the south and west. Simon of Cyrene, in North Africa, had carried Jesus' cross (Luke 23:26). Rome, of course, lay farther northwest in Europe.
Luke had a special interest in the gospel reaching "Rome," so that may be the reason he singled it out for special mention here. It may be that some of these Roman expatriates returned to Rome and planted the church there. Ambrosiaster, a fourth-century Latin father, wrote that the Roman church was founded without any special miracles and without contact with any apostle. Josephus wrote that visitors to Jerusalem for a great feast could swell the population to nearly 3,000,000.
"The Roman Empire had an estimated population of fifty to eighty million, with about seven million free Roman citizens (Schnabel 2004: 558-59). About two and a half million people inhabited Judea, and there were about five million Jews altogether in the empire, 10 percent of the whole population."
A "proselyte" was a Gentile who had adopted Judaism, and had become a part of the nation of Israel by submitting to three rites. Acts and Matthew are the only New Testament books that mention proselytes. These rites were circumcision (if a male), self-baptism before witnesses, and ideally the offering of a sacrifice. "Cretans" lived on the island of Crete, and "Arabs" refers to the Arabians who lived east of Palestine between the Red Sea and the Euphrates River. All of these ethnic groups heard "the mighty deeds of God" (i.e., the gospel) in their own languages. This was a reversal of what took place at Babel (Gen. 11), and illustrated the human unity that God's unhindered working produces.
"Although every Jew could not be present for Peter's speech, the narrator does not hesitate to depict representatives of the Jews of every land as Peter's listeners. This feature shows a concern not just with Gentiles but with a gospel for all Jews, which can bring the restoration of Israel as a united people under its Messiah."
"The point [of Luke's list] is not to provide a tour of the known world but to mention nations that had known extensive Jewish populations, which of course would include Judea. More to the point, Luke's arrangement involves first listing the major inhabited nations or regions, then those from the islands (Cretans), then finally those from desert regions (Arabs)."
2:12-13 Unable or unwilling to accept the miraculous working of God in their midst, some observers charged that the believers were under the control ("full") of wine rather than the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 14:23). The Greek word for wine here (gleukous) means "sweet wine," which had a higher alcoholic content than regular wine.
"The miraculous is not self-authenticating, nor does it inevitably and uniformly convince. There must also be the preparation of the heart and the proclamation of the message if miracles are to accomplish their full purpose. This was true even for the miracle of the Spirit's coming at Pentecost. . . . All this prepares the reader for Peter's sermon, which is the initial proclamation of the gospel message to a prepared people."
Barclay pointed out four different kinds of preaching that the early Christians practiced. I would add two more. The first is kerugma, which means proclamation of the clear facts of the Christian message. The second is didache or teaching. This was explanation and interpretation of the facts—the "So what is the point?" Third, there was paraklesis, exhortation to apply the message. Fourth, there was homilia, the treatment of a subject or area of life in view of the Christian message. Fifth, there was prophesia, the sharing of a word from God be it new revelation or old. Sixth, there was apologia, a defense of the Christian message in the face of hostile adversaries. Often the speaker combined two or more of these kinds of address into one message, as Peter did in the sermon that follows. Here we find defense (vv. 14-21), proclamation (vv. 22-36), and exhortation (vv. 37-41). This speech is an excellent example of forensic rhetoric, the rhetoric of defense and attack.
2:14-15 Peter, again representing the apostles (cf. 1:15), addressed the assembled crowd. He probably gave this speech in the temple's outer courtyard (the court of the Gentiles). He probably spoke in the vernacular—in Aramaic or possibly in Koine (common) Greek—rather than in tongues. Peter had previously denied that he knew Jesus, but now he was publicly representing Him. The apostle distinguished two types of Jews in his audience: native Jews living within the province of Judea, and all who were living in Jerusalem.
The Diaspora contingent was probably the group most curious about the tongues phenomenon. Peter began by refuting the charge of drunkenness. It was too early in the day for that to be a reasonable explanation, since it was only 9:00 a.m. The Jews began each day at sundown. There were about 12 hours of darkness, and then there were 12 hours of daylight. So the third hour of the day would have been about 9:00 a.m.
"Scrupulous Jews drank wine only with flesh, and, on the authority of Ex. xvi. 8, ate bread in the morning and flesh only in the evening. Hence wine could be drunk only in the evening. This is the point of Peter's remark."
2:16-21 Was Peter claiming that the Spirit's outpouring on the day of Pentecost fulfilled Joel's prophecy (Joel 2:28-32)? Conservative commentators express considerable difference of opinion on this point. This is an interpretive problem because not only Joel but other Old Testament prophets prophesied that God would give His Spirit to individual believers in the future (Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 36:27; 37:14; 39:29; Zech. 12:10). Moreover John the Baptist also predicted the pouring out of God's Spirit on believers (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).
Some commentators believe that Peter was claiming that all of what Joel prophesied happened that day.
"What was happening was to be seen as the fulfillment of a prophecy by Joel. . . . Peter regards Joel's prophecy as applying to the last days, and claims that his hearers are now living in the last days. God's final act of salvation has begun to take place."
Other scholars believe that God fulfilled Joel's prophecy only partially. Some of these, for example, believed that He fulfilled verses 17-18 on the day of Pentecost, but He will yet fulfill verses 19-21 in the future. I believe the following explanation falls into this category.
"This clause does not mean, 'This is like that'; it means Pentecost fulfilled what Joel had described. However, the prophecies of Joel quoted in Acts 2:19-20 were not fulfilled. The implication is that the remainder would be fulfilled if Israel would repent."
Still others believe Peter was not claiming the fulfillment of any of Joel's prophecy. They believe he was only comparing what had happened that day with what would happen in the future as Joel predicted.
"Peter was not saying that the prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost or even that it was partially fulfilled; knowing from Joel what the Spirit could do, he was simply reminding the Jews that they should have recognized what they were then seeing as a work of the Spirit also. He continued to quote from Joel at length only in order to be able to include the salvation invitation recorded in verse 21."
"It seems quite obvious that Peter did not quote Joel's prophecy in the sense of its fulfillment in the events of Pentecost, but purely as a prophetic illustration of those events. As a matter of fact, to avoid confusion, Peter's quotation evidently purposely goes beyond any possible fulfillment at Pentecost by including events in the still future day of the Lord, preceding kingdom establishment (Acts 2:19-20). . . . In the reference there is not the slightest hint at a continual fulfillment during the church age or a coming fulfillment toward the end of the church age."
"Virtually nothing that happened in Acts 2 is predicted in Joel 2. What actually did happen in Acts two (the speaking in tongues) was not mentioned by Joel. What Joel did mention (dreams, visions, the sun darkened, the moon turned into blood) did not happen in Acts two. Joel was speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole of the nation of Israel in the last days, while Acts two speaks of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Twelve Apostles or, at most, on the 120 in the Upper Room. This is a far cry from Joel's all flesh. However, there was one point of similarity, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. Acts two does not change or reinterpret Joel two, nor does it deny that Joel two will have a literal fulfillment when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the whole nation of Israel. It is simply applying it to a New Testament event because of one point of similarity."
"Peter did not state that Joel's prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The details of Joel 2:30-32 (cp. Acts 2:19-20) were not realized at that time. Peter quoted Joel's prediction as an illustration of what was taking place in his day, and as a guarantee that God would yet completely fulfill all that Joel had prophesied. The time of that fulfillment is stated here ('aferward,' cp. Hos. 3:5), i.e. in the latter days when Israel turns to the LORD."
I prefer this third view. Some writers have pointed out that the phrase "this is what" (touto estin to) was a particular type of expression called a "pesher."
"His [Peter's] use of the Joel passage is in line with what since the discovery of the DSS [Dead Sea Scrolls] we have learned to call a 'pesher' (from Heb. peser, 'interpretation'). It lays all emphasis on fulfillment without attempting to exegete the details of the biblical prophecy it 'interprets.'"
Peter seems to have been claiming that what God had predicted through Joel for the end times was analogous to the events of Pentecost. The omission of "fulfilled" here may be deliberate to help his hearers avoid concluding that what was happening was the complete fulfillment of what Joel predicted. It was similar to what Joel predicted.
Peter made a significant change in Joel's prophecy as he quoted it from the Septuagint, and this change supports the view that he was not claiming complete fulfillment. First, he changed "after this" (Joel 2:28) to "in the last days" (Acts 2:17). In the context of Joel's prophecy, the time in view is the day of the Lord: the Tribulation (Joel 2:30-31) and the Millennium (Joel 2:28-29). Peter interpreted this time as the last days.
Many modern interpreters believe that when Peter said "the last days," he meant the time in which he lived. However, he was not in the Tribulation or the Millennium. Thus he looked forward to the last days as being future. The "last days" is a phrase that some New Testament writers used to describe the age in which we live (2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; James 5:3; 1 Pet. 1:5, 20; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 18), but in view of what Joel wrote, that must not be its meaning here. In the Old Testament, "the last days" refers to the days just before the age to come, namely, just before the age of Messiah's earthly reign. That is what it means here.
There are some similarities between what Joel prophesied would come "after this" (Joel 2:28) and what happened on Pentecost. The similarities are why Peter quoted Joel. Yet the differences are what enable us to see that this prophecy was not completely fulfilled then. For example, God had not poured out His Spirit on "all mankind" (v. 17), as He will in the future. He had only poured out His Spirit on some believers in Jesus. Joel referred to deliverance in the Tribulation (Joel 2:32), but Peter applied this offer to those who needed salvation in his audience. Joel referred to Yahweh as the LORD, but Peter probably referred to Jesus as the Lord (cf. 1:24).
Many dispensationalists understand Peter as saying that Joel's prophecy was fulfilled initially or partially on Pentecost (view two above). Progressive dispensationalists believe that the eschatological kingdom age of which Joel spoke had begun. Therefore the kingdom had come in its first phase, which they view as the church. The New Covenant had begun, and the Holy Spirit's indwelling was a sign of that, but that does not mean the messianic reign had begun.
The Old Covenant went into effect some 500 years before any king reigned over Israel, and the New Covenant went into effect at least 2,000 years before Messiah will reign over Israel and the world. Thus the beginning of these covenants did not signal the beginning of a king's reign. One progressive dispensationalist wrote, ". . . the new covenant is correlative to the kingdom of God . . ." I disagree with this.
Not all normative dispensationalists agree on the partial fulfillment interpretation. By the term "normative dispensationalists," I mean traditional dispensationalists, not progressives, including classical and revised varieties. Some of them, like Toussaint, see a partial fulfillment on Pentecost, while others, like Ryrie, see no fulfillment then.
How one views the church will affect how he or she understands this passage. If one views the church as the first stage of the messianic kingdom, as progressive dispensationalists do, then he or she may see this as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the outpouring of the Spirit in the eschatological age. If one views the church as distinct from the messianic (Davidic) kingdom, then one may or may not see this as a partial fulfillment.
It seems more consistent to me not to see the Pentecost outpouring as a partial fulfillment, but as a similar outpouring to others, specifically the one Jesus predicted in the Upper Room (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Some normative dispensationalists, who hold the "no fulfillment" position, distinguish baptism with the Spirit, the future event, from baptism by the Spirit, the Pentecost event. There does not seem to me to be adequate exegetical basis for this distinction.
"Realized eschatologists and amillennialists usually take Peter's inclusion of such physical imagery [i.e., "blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke," and "the sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood"] in a spiritual way, finding in what happened at Pentecost the spiritual fulfillment of Joel's prophecy—a fulfillment not necessarily tied to any natural phenomena. This, they suggest, offers an interpretative key to the understanding of similar portrayals of natural phenomena and apocalyptic imagery in the OT."
By repeating, "And they will prophesy" (v. 18), which is not in Joel's text, Peter stressed prophecy as a most important similarity between what Joel predicted and what his hearers were witnessing. God was revealing something new through the apostles. Peter proceeded to explain what that was.
Another variation of interpretation concerning the Joel passage that some dispensationalists espouse is this. They believe that Peter thought Joel's prophecy could have been fulfilled quite soon if the Jewish leaders had repented and believed in Jesus. This may be what Peter thought, but it is very difficult to be dogmatic about what might have been in Peter's mind when he did not explain it. Jesus had told the parable of the talents to correct those "who supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately" (Luke 19:11-27). He also predicted that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Jews], and given to a nation producing the fruit of it" (Matt. 21:43).
Daniel predicted that seven years of terrible trouble were coming on the Jews (Dan. 9:24-27; cf. Matt. 24—25). So there had to be at least seven years of tribulation between Jesus' ascension and His return. If advocates of this view are correct, Peter either did not know this, or he forgot it, or he interpreted the Tribulation as a judgment that God would not send if Israel repented. Of course, Peter did not understand, or he forgot, what the Old Testament revealed about God's acceptance of Gentiles (cf. ch. 10). Peter may have thought that Jesus would return and set up the kingdom immediately if the Jewish leaders repented, but it is hard to prove conclusively that God was reoffering the kingdom to Israel at this time. There are no direct statements to that effect in the text. More comments about this re-offer of the kingdom view will follow later.
In this part of his speech Peter cited three proofs that Jesus was the Messiah: His miracles (v. 22), His resurrection (vv. 23-32), and His ascension (vv. 33-35). Verse 36 is a summary conclusion.
2:22 Peter argued that God had attested to Jesus' Messiahship by performing miracles through Him. "Miracles" is the general word, which Peter defined further as "wonders" (miracles eliciting awe) and "signs" (miracles signifying something). Jesus' miracles attested the fact that God had empowered Him (cf. John 3:2), and they led many people who witnessed them to conclude that He was the Son of David (Matt. 12:23). Others, however, chose to believe that He received His power from Satan rather than God (Matt. 12:24).
2:23 Peter pointed out that Jesus' crucifixion had been no accident, but was part of God's eternal plan (cf. 3:18; 4:28; 13:29). Peter laid the guilt for Jesus' death at the Jews' feet (cf. v. 36; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52; 10:39; 13:28) and on the Gentile Romans (cf. 4:27; Luke 23:24-25). Note Peter's reference to both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in this verse.
The ultimate cause of Jesus' death was God's plan and foreknowledge, but the secondary cause was the antagonism of godless Jewish and Roman men. Really the sins of every human being put Jesus on the cross.
2:24 God, a higher Judge, reversed the decision of Jesus' human judges by resurrecting Him. God released Jesus from the "pangs (finality) of death" (Gr. odinas tou thanatou), namely, its awful clutches (cf. 2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 18:4-6; 116:3). A higher court in heaven overturned the decision of the lower courts on earth. It was impossible for Death to hold Jesus because He had committed no sins Himself. He had not personally earned the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), but He voluntarily took upon Himself the sins of others.
2:25 Peter appealed to Psalm 16:8-11 to prove that David prophesied Messiah's resurrection in the Jewish Scriptures. Psalm 16 is perhaps the clearest prediction of Messiah's resurrection in the Old Testament. As earlier (1:20), Peter saw that Messiah's (Jesus') experiences fulfilled David's words.
In this Psalm, David spoke of Christ as being at God's "right hand," a figure for close association and powerful assistance. Peter saw Jesus' presence in heaven at God's right hand as an extension of what David had written.
2:26 God's presence with David made him happy and hopeful. Likewise, the fact that Jesus was now at God's right hand, made Peter happy and hopeful.
2:27 David said he would not go "to Hades" (the place of departed spirits, Old Testament Sheol), and his body would not "suffer (undergo) decay." This was a poetic way of expressing his belief that God would not allow him to experience ultimate humiliation. David referred to himself as God's devout one. Peter saw this fulfilled literally in Jesus' resurrection from the grave after only three days. Jesus was the supremely Devout One.
2:28 David ended this psalm by rejoicing that, in spite of his adversaries, God would spare his life and enable him to enjoy God's presence in the future. Peter interpreted these statements as referring to Jesus entering into new life following His resurrection, and into God's presence following His ascension.
"Peter quotes from Psalm 16, not to teach that Christ is on the Davidic throne, but rather to show that David predicted the resurrection and enthronement of Christ after His death. The enthronement on David's throne is a yet-future event while the enthronement at His Father's right hand is an accomplished fact."
2:29-31 Peter next argued that David's words just quoted could not refer literally to David, since David had indeed died and his body had undergone corruption. Ancient tradition places the location of King David's tomb south of the old city of David, near the Pool of Siloam. David's words were a prophecy that referred to Messiah as well as a description of his own experience. God's oath to place one of David's descendants on his throne as Israel's king is in Psalm 132:11 (cf. 2 Sam. 7:16).
Peter did not say that Jesus now sits on David's throne (v. 30), which is what many progressive dispensationalists affirm. He said that David prophesied that "God had sworn . . . to seat" a descendant of David on David's throne. Jesus now sits on a throne in heaven, but He has yet to sit on David's throne, which is a throne on earth. He will sit on David's throne when He returns to the earth to reign as Messiah.
2:32 Peter equated Jesus with the Christ (Messiah, v. 31). He also attributed Jesus' resurrection to "God" again (cf. v. 24). The resurrection of Jesus Christ was one of the apostles' strongest emphases (cf. 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33-34, 37; 17:31; 26:23). They proceeded to bear witness to what they had seen and heard as Christ had commanded and foretold (1:8).
2:33 Peter next explained that it was Jesus, now at God's right hand, who had "poured forth" the promised Holy Spirit from the Father (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27). The evidence of this was the tongues of fire and demonstration of tongues speaking that his audience saw and heard. "The right hand of God" figuratively represents supreme power and authority, and reference to it sets up the quotation of Psalm 110:1 in the next verse.
Peter mentioned all three members of the Trinity in this verse.
2:34-35 Peter then added a second evidence that Jesus was the Christ. He had proved that David had prophesied Messiah's resurrection (v. 27). Now he said that David also prophesied Messiah's ascension (Ps. 110:1). This was a passage from the Old Testament that Jesus had earlier applied to Himself (Matt. 22:43-44; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-42). It may have been Jesus' use of this passage that enabled His disciples to grasp the significance of His resurrection. It may also have served as the key to their understanding of these prophecies of Messiah in the Old Testament.
David evidently meant that "the LORD" (Yahweh, God the Father) said the following to David's "(my) Lord" (Adonai, Master, evidently a reference to Messiah or possibly Solomon). David may have composed this psalm on the occasion of Solomon's coronation as Israel's king. Clearly it is an enthronement psalm. Yahweh, the true King of Israel, extended the privilege of serving as His administrator to Messiah (or Solomon), His vice-regent.
Yahweh included a promise that He would subdue His vice-regent's enemies (until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet"). Peter took this passage as a prophecy about David's greatest son, Messiah. Yahweh said to David's Lord: "Messiah, sit beside Me and rule for Me, and I will subdue Your enemies." This is something God the Father said to God the Son. Peter understood David's reference to his Lord as extending to Messiah, David's ultimate descendant.
"Peter's statement that Jesus is presently at 'the right hand of God,' in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1, has been a focal point of disagreement between dispensational and non-dispensational interpreters. Traditional dispensationalists have understood this as teaching the present session of Christ in heaven before his return to fulfill the Davidic messianic kingdom promise of a literal reign on earth. They are careful to distinguish between the Davidic throne and the position that Christ presently occupies in heaven at the right hand of God (Ac 2:30).
"Non-dispensationalists, by contrast, see Peter's statement as a clear indication that the New Testament has reinterpreted the Davidic messianic prophecies. The messianic throne has been transferred from Jerusalem to heaven, and Jesus 'has begun his messianic reign as the Davidic king.'"
". . . it is preferable to see David's earthly throne as different from the Lord's heavenly throne, because of the different contexts of Psalms 110 and 132. Psalm 110 refers to the Lord's throne (v. 1) and a Melchizedekian priesthood (v. 4) but Psalm 132 refers to David's throne (v. 11) and (Aaronic) priests (vv. 9, 16). . . .
"Because the Messiah is the anointed Descendant of David and the Davidic Heir, He presently possesses the right to reign though He has not yet assumed David's throne. This was also true of David, who assumed the throne over Israel years after he was anointed.
"Before Christ will be seated on David's throne (Ps. 110:2), He is seated at the right hand of God (v. 1). His present session is a position of honor and power, but the exercise of that power is restricted to what God has chosen to give the Son. God the Father reigns and has decreed that Christ dispense blessings from the Holy Spirit to believers in this present age. When Christ returns to earth to begin His messianic reign on David's throne, He will conquer His enemies (Ps. 110:2, 5-7). Until then, He is now seated at God's right hand (v. 1), exercising the decreed role of the Melchizedekian King-Priest (v. 4), the believer's great High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 4:14-15; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11; 10:21)."
"Christ's enthronement at the time of His ascension was not to David's throne, but rather was a restoration to the position at His Father's right hand (Heb. 1:3; Acts 7:56), which position He had given up at the time of the Incarnation (Phil. 2:6-8). It was for this restoration that Christ had prayed to His Father in John 17:5. Since Christ had never occupied David's throne before the Incarnation it would have been impossible to restore Him to what He had not occupied previously. He was petitioning the Father to restore Him to His place at the Father's right hand. Peter, in his message, establishes the fact of resurrection by testifying to the Ascension, for one who had not been resurrected could not ascend."
Christ's messianic reign will be on earth.
Christ's messianic reign is now from heaven and will be on earth.
Christ's messianic reign is now from heaven and will be on earth.
Christ's messianic reign is now and will be from heaven.
2:36 Peter wanted every Israelite to consider the evidence he had just presented, because it proved "for certain" that Jesus of Nazareth (cf. v. 22) was God's sovereign ruler (Lord) and anointed Messiah (Christ). It is clear from the context that by "Lord," Peter was speaking of Jesus as the Father's co-regent. He referred to the same "Lord" he had mentioned in verse 21.
Normative dispensationalists (both classical and revised, to use Blaising's labels) hold that Peter only meant that Jesus of Nazareth was the Davidic Messiah. Progressive dispensationalists, along with covenant theologians (i.e., non-dispensationalists), believe that Peter meant that Jesus not only was the Davidic Messiah but that He was also reigning as the Davidic Messiah then. Thus, for them, the Davidic messianic kingdom had begun. Its present (already) phase is with Jesus on the Davidic throne ruling from heaven, and its future (not yet) phase will be when Jesus returns to earth to rule on earth.
Progressive dispensationalists (and covenant theologians) also believe that Jesus' reign as Messiah began during his earthly ministry. They see the church as the present stage in the progressive unfolding of the messianic kingdom (hence the name "progressive dispensationalism"). Normative dispensationalists interpret the Davidic kingdom as entirely earthly, and say that Jesus has not yet begun His messianic reign. He now sits on the Father's throne in heaven, ruling sovereignly as God, not on David's throne fulfilling Old Testament prophecies concerning the Davidic king's future reign (cf. Rev. 3:21).
"The beginning and ending of the main body of the speech emphasize the function of disclosure. Peter begins, 'Let this be known to you,' and concludes, 'Therefore, let the whole house of Israel know assuredly . . .,' forming an inclusion (2:14, 36). In the context this is a new disclosure, for it is the first public proclamation of Jesus' resurrection and its significance. Acts 2:22-36 is a compact, carefully constructed argument leading to the conclusion in v. 36: 'God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.' Peter not only proclaims Jesus' authority but also reveals the intolerable situation of the audience, who share responsibility for Jesus' crucifixion. The Pentecost speech is part of a recognition scene, where, in the manner of tragedy, persons who have acted blindly against their own best interests suddenly recognize their error."
"The Pentecost speech is primarily the disclosure to its audience of God's surprising reversal of their intentions, for their rejection has ironically resulted in Jesus' exaltation as Messiah, Spirit-giver, and source of repentance and forgiveness."
God bestowed His Spirit on the believers on Pentecost (and subsequently) for the same reason He poured out His Spirit on Jesus Christ when He began His earthly ministry. He did so to empower them to proclaim the gospel of God's grace (cf. 1:8). Luke recorded both outpourings (Luke 3:21-22; Acts 2:2-4; cf. Acts 4:27; 10:28). This fact is further evidence that Luke wanted his readers to view their own ministries as the extension of Jesus' ministry (1:1-2).
"Luke's specific emphasis (and contribution) to NT pneumatology is that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church not just to incorporate each believer into the body of Christ or provide the greater new covenant intimacy with him, but also to consecrate the church to the task of worldwide prophetic ministry as defined in Luke 4:16-30."
Peter mentioned that Jesus was now at "the right hand of God"—in "heaven"—four times in this part of his speech (vv. 25, 30, 33, 34). This had particular relevance for "all the house of Israel" (cf. vv. 14, 22, 29).
"Apparently, therefore, the messiahship of Jesus was the distinctive feature of the church's witness within Jewish circles, signifying, as it does, his fulfillment of Israel's hopes and his culmination of God's redemptive purposes.
"The title 'Lord' was also proclaimed christologically in Jewish circles, with evident intent to apply to Jesus all that was said of God in the OT . . . . But 'Lord' came to have particular relevance to the church's witness to Gentiles just as 'Messiah' was more relevant to the Jewish world. So in Acts Luke reports the proclamation of Jesus 'the Christ' before Jewish audiences both in Palestine and among the Diaspora, whereas Paul in his letters to Gentile churches generally uses Christ as a proper name and proclaims Christ Jesus 'the Lord.'"
2:37 The Holy Spirit used Peter's sermon to bring conviction, as Jesus had predicted (John 16:8-11). He convicted Peter's hearers of the truth of what he said and of their guilt in rejecting Jesus. Their question arose from this twofold response.
Notice the full meaning of their question. These were Jews who had been waiting expectantly for the Messiah to appear. Peter had just explained convincingly that He had come, but the Jewish nation had rejected God's anointed King. Jesus had gone back to heaven. What would happen to the nation over which He was to rule? What were the Jews to do? Their question did not just reflect their personal dilemma but the fate of their nation. What should they do in view of this terrible situation nationally as well as personally?
2:38 Peter told them what to do. They needed to "repent." Repentance involves a change of mind and heart first, and secondarily a change of conduct. The Greek word translated repentance (metanoia) literally means a change of outlook (from meta and noeo meaning to reconsider). The Jews had just recently regarded Jesus as less than Messiah, and had rejected Him. Now they needed to accept Him and embrace Him. John the Baptist and Jesus had previously called for repentance in their audiences (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; et al.), and the apostles continued this emphasis, as Luke reported in Acts (Acts 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 10:43; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21; 26:18, 20).
"The context of repentance which brings eternal life, and that which Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, is a change of mind about Jesus Christ. Whereas the people who heard him on that day formerly thought of Him as mere man, they were asked to accept Him as Lord (Deity) and Christ (promised Messiah). To do this would bring salvation."
When people speak of "repentance," they may mean one of two different things. We use this English word in the sense of a conduct change (turning away from sinful practices). We also use it in the sense of a conceptual change (turning away from false ideas previously held). These two meanings also appear in Scripture. This has led to some confusion concerning what a person must do to obtain salvation.
"The Greek verb [metanoeo, translated "to repent"] means 'to change one's mind,' but in its Lucan usage it comes very close to the Hebrew verb for repent which literally means 'to turn or turn around' (sub). . . . A change of perspective, involving the total person's point of view, is called for by this term. In fact, John called for the Israelites to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance ([Luke] 3:8). This passage is significant for it separates repentance from what it produces, and also expresses a link between repentance and fruit. One leads to the other.
If a person just thinks of repentance as turning from sinful practices (reforming oneself), repentance becomes a good work that a person does. This kind of repentance is not necessary for salvation for two reasons. First, this is not how the gospel preachers in the New Testament used the word, as one can see from the meaning of the Greek word metanoia (defined above). Second, other Scriptures make it clear that good works, including turning from sin, have no part in justification (e.g., Eph. 2:8-9). God does not save us because of what we do for Him but because of what He has done for us in Christ.
Repentance by definition is not an act separate from trusting Christ. It is part of the process of believing. A few scholars believe that repentance plays no part in salvation, but that repentance is a condition for harmonious fellowship with God. This is a minority view, however.
When a person trusts Christ, he or she abandons his or her false notions about the Savior and embraces the truth. The truth is that Jesus Christ is God's provision for our eternal salvation. When we rest our confidence in Him and the sufficiency of His cross work for us, God gives us eternal life. This is not just giving mental assent to facts that are true. Saving faith does that, but also places confidence in Christ, rather than in self, for salvation.
". . . it needs ever to be insisted on that the faith that justifies is not a mere intellectual process—not simply crediting certain historical facts or doctrinal statements; but it is a faith that springs from a divinely wrought conviction of sin which produces a repentance that is sincere and genuine."
Peter called for individual repentance ("each of you," Gr. second person plural). The Jews thought corporately about their responsibilities as God's chosen people, but Peter confronted them with their individual responsibility to believe in Jesus.
The New Testament uses the word "baptism" in two ways: Spirit baptism and water baptism. This raises the question of which type Peter was calling for here. In verse 38, "baptism" probably refers to water baptism, as most commentators point out. A few of them believe that Peter was referring to Spirit baptism, in the sense of becoming identified with Christ.
"The baptism of the Spirit which it was our Lord's prerogative to bestow was, strictly speaking, something that took place once for all on the day of Pentecost when He poured forth 'the promise of the Father' on His disciples and thus constituted them the new people of God; baptism in water continued to be the external sign by which individuals who believed the gospel message, repented of their sins, and acknowledged Jesus as Lord, were publicly incorporated into the Spirit-baptized fellowship of the new people of God."
This verse is a major proof text for those who believe that water baptism is essential for salvation. Many people refer to this viewpoint as sacramental theology as contrasted with evangelical theology. It encounters its greatest problem with passages that make the forgiveness of sin, and salvation in general, dependent on nothing but trust in Christ (e.g., Acts 16:31; 10:43; 13:38-39; 26:18; Luke 24:47; John 3:16, 36; Rom. 4:1-17; 11:6; Gal. 3:8-9; Eph. 2:8-9). Peter later promised forgiveness of sins on the basis of faith alone (5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). Over 100 verses that deal with how to become a Christian make faith in Christ the only condition.
What is the relationship of repentance, water baptism, forgiveness, and the gift of the Spirit that this verse brings together? At least three explanations are possible if we rule out the idea that water baptism results in the forgiveness of sins.
1. One acceptable option is to take the Greek preposition translated "for" (eis) as "because of" or "on the basis of." This is not the usual meaning of the word. The usual meaning is "for" designating aim or purpose. However, it clearly means "because of" in some passages (e.g., Matt. 3:11; 12:41; Mark 1:4). This explanation links forgiveness with baptizing. We could paraphrase this view as follows. "Repent and you will receive the gift of the Spirit. Be baptized because your sins are forgiven."
2. Other interpreters emphasize the correspondence between the number (singular and plural) of the verbs and pronouns in the two parts of the sentence. "Repent" is plural as is "your," and "be baptized" and "you" (in "each of you") are singular.
Repent (second person plural)
be baptized (third person singular)
each (third person singular) of you
for the forgiveness of your (second person plural) sins
According to this view Peter was saying, "You [all] repent for [the purpose of] the forgiveness of your sins, and you [all] will receive the Spirit." Then he added parenthetically, "And each of you [singular] be baptized [as a testimony to your faith]." This explanation links forgiveness with repentance. This seems to me to be the best explanation.
3. A third, less popular, view is that God withheld Spirit baptism from Palestinian converts to Christianity when the church was in its infancy. He did so until they had entered into communion with God by obeying His command to undergo baptism in water (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Their Christian experience unfolded in this sequence of events: regeneration, water baptism, forgiveness of sins, fellowship with God, Spirit baptism. These Palestinian converts were individuals who had exposure to but had rejected the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus.
One advocate of this view felt that it accounts best for the instances of Spirit baptism in Acts 2:38; 8:12-17; 19:1-7; and 22:16. He took these occurrences as non-normative Christian experience unique in the early years of Christianity. Acts 10:43-48 reflects normative Christian experience where regeneration, forgiveness, and Spirit baptism take place simultaneously with water baptism following. By the time Paul wrote Romans, this later sequence had become normative (Rom. 8:9; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).
Baptism in water was common in both Judaism and early Christianity. The Jews baptized themselves for ceremonial cleansing. Gentile converts to Judaism commonly baptized themselves in water publicly as a testimony to their conversion. The apostles evidently took for granted that the person who trusted in Christ would then submit to baptism in water.
"Since baptism signifies association with the message, group, or person involved in authorizing it [cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-2], baptism in the name of Jesus Christ meant for these people a severing of their ties with Judaism and an association with the messages of Jesus and His people. Baptism was the line of demarcation. Even today for a Jew it is not his profession of Christianity nor his attendance at Christian services nor his acceptance of the New Testament, but his submission to water baptism that definitely and finally excludes him from the Jewish community and marks him off as a Christian."
Was Peter violating the Lord Jesus' instructions when the apostle told his hearers to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ alone? Jesus had commanded His disciples to baptize "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). I do not think so. When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He had in view the discipling of the nations: everyone. When evangelizing non-Christians, it was necessary to have them identify with the triune God of Christianity through water baptism.
Peter's audience on the day of Pentecost, however, was Jewish. They needed to identify with the true God too, but identification with Jesus Christ is what Peter stressed, since baptism "in the name of Jesus" would have been a particular problem for Jews. It meant acknowledging Jesus as their God. Jews already accepted the fatherhood of God and the idea that God is a Spirit.
The "gift of the Holy Spirit" was baptism with the Spirit. The Spirit is the gift. Peter connected reception of the Spirit with repentance. The Holy Spirit immediately baptized those who repented (11:15). Their Spirit baptism was not a later "second blessing."
Notice that Peter said nothing in this verse about acknowledging Jesus as Lord, in the sense of surrendering completely to His Lordship to receive eternal life. Those who contend that submission to the Lordship of Christ is essential for salvation must admit that Peter did not make that a requirement here. This would have been the perfect opportunity for him to do so. Peter did not mention submission to the Lordship of Christ because he did not believe it was essential for salvation. Admittedly he referred to Jesus as Lord in verse 36, but as I have explained, the context there argues for "Lord" meaning God rather than master. Further discussion of the "Lordship Salvation" view will follow in these notes.
2:39 The "promise" is the gift of the Holy Spirit (1:5, 8; 2:33). Peter's reference to "your children" reflects the strong influence that Jewish fathers exercised in their homes. When a father became a Christian, his children would normally follow his lead and become Christians too. Those "far off" probably include the Diaspora Jews, future generations of Jews, and the Gentiles. Peter had already expressed his belief that Gentiles could be saved (v. 21; cf. Joel 2:32), a fact taught repeatedly in both the Old and the New Testament.
Peter's later problem involving the salvation of Cornelius, was not due to a conviction that Gentiles were unsaveable. It was a question of the manner by which they became Christians (i.e., not through Judaism, but directly—without becoming Jews first). Note, too, Peter's firm belief in God's sovereignty (cf. v. 23). God takes the initiative in calling the elect to salvation, and then they repent (v. 38; cf. John 6:37; Rom. 8:28-30).
2:40 The Greek word translated "generation" (genea) sometimes has a wider scope than simply all the people living within the same generational period. It has a metaphorical meaning here as elsewhere (e.g., Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:19; 13:30; Luke 9:41; 16:8). It means "a race of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character; and especially in a bad sense a perverse race." Here the reference seems to be to unbelieving Jews of all time, but particularly those living during Peter's lifetime. "Generation" in this larger sense is virtually the same as "race."
Jesus had announced that the actual generation of Jews who had rejected Him would experience God's judgment on themselves and their nation (Matt. 21:41-44; 22:7; 23:34—24:2). In view of that prediction, it seems that Peter may have had that impending judgment in mind when he issued this call to his hearers. Jesus' promised judgment fell in A.D. 70 when Titus invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and scattered the Jews.
"This exhortation shows that Peter viewed that generation under the physical, temporal judgment about which Christ had spoken so forcefully and clearly. What Jesus had warned them about earlier (Matt. 12:31-32) had come on them and was inescapable. . . .
"While judgment on the nation was inescapable, individuals could be delivered from it. Peter's answer was, 'Be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven,' that is, they were no longer to participate in the repeated sin of the nation in rejecting Christ. The confession of their faith in Christ and of their identification with him by baptism would demonstrate their separation from the nation. They would be put out of the synagogue and lose all identity in the nation. Thus, by this separation they would individually not undergo the judgment on that generation since they ceased to be a part of it. Baptism did not save them. Only their faith in the One in whose name they were being baptized could do that. But baptism did terminate their identity with the nation so that they could escape its judgment."
2:41 Peter had called on his audience to repent and to be baptized (v. 38). Luke recorded the response of the believers. This reference, too, is probably to water baptism.
More people may have become Christians on this one day than did so during the whole earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:12). Luke evidently meant that 3,000 were added to the 120 mentioned in 1:15, since he was describing the visible relationships of the believers. When the Israelites apostatized with the golden calf, 3,000 people died (Exod. 32:28). "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).
Some interpreters believe that this verse does not describe what took place immediately following the conclusion of Peter's sermon, however. Luke may have been summing up the results of Peter's preaching as a new point of departure in his narrative. He often used the Greek word translated "then" (men) in Acts to do this. Furthermore "day" (hemera) can refer to a longer time as well as to one 24-hour period. Here it could refer to the first period in the church's life.
The period between the death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a transitional period. The tearing of the temple veil when Jesus died (Matt. 27:51) symbolized the termination of the old Mosaic order and the beginning of a new order. The new order began when Jesus Christ died. However, it took several decades for God's people to make the transition in their thinking and practice. The Book of Acts documents many of those transitions.
"The transition was extensive. Ethnically, there was a transition from dealing primarily with Jews to dealing with both Jew and Gentile without distinction. There was also a transition in the people with whom God was dealing, from Israel to the church. Likewise, there was a transition in the principle on which God was dealing with men, from Law to grace. There was a transition from the offer to Israel of an earthly Davidic kingdom to the offer to all men of salvation based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There was a transition from the prospect of Messiah's coming to the historical fact that the promised One had come. There was a transition from the promise that the Spirit would be given to the historical fact that the Spirit had come.
"Again, all these transitions were made positionally in the brief period of time from the death of Christ to the Day of Pentecost. Yet experientially these truths were understood and entered into only over a span of some four decades. The Book of Acts records the positional transition as well as the experiential transition in the development of the theocratic kingdom program."
". . . the Book of the Acts is particularly valuable as giving to us the earliest models of several ordinances and institutions which have since become part of the life of the Christian Church. These first occasions should be studied as types and models of what all subsequent occasions should be.
"The first descent of the Spirit (chap. 2); the first Christian preaching (chap. 2); the first Christian Church (chap. 2); the first opposition to Christianity (chap. 4); the first persecution (chap. 4); the first prayer meeting (chap. 4); the first sin in the Church (chap. 5); the first Church problem (chap. 6); the first martyr (chap. 7); the first Church extension (chap. 8); the first personal dealing (chap. 8); the first Gentile Church (chap. 11); the first Church Council (chap. 11).
"The first missionary (chap. 13); the first missionary methods (chaps. 13, 14); the first Church contention (chap. 15); the first Church in Europe (chap. 16); the first address to Christian ministers (chap. 20)."
This list could be developed even further.
Luke now moved from describing what took place on a particular day to a more general description of the life of the early Jerusalem church (cf. 4:32—5:11; 6:1-6). Interestingly he gave comparatively little attention to the internal life of the church in Acts. His selection of content shows that his purpose was to stress its outward expansion.
2:42 These new converts, along with the disciples, gave ("devoted," Gr. proskartereo, cf. 1:14) themselves to two activities primarily: the apostles' teaching and fellowship. The grammar of the Greek sentence sets these actions off as distinct from the following two activities that define fellowship. The apostles' teaching included the Jewish Scriptures as well as the teachings of Christ on earth and the revelations He gave to the apostles from heaven. This means the early Christians gave priority to the revealed Word of God.
The "fellowship" (Gr. te koinonia) refers to sharing things with others. The presence of the article with fellowship indicates that this fellowship was distinctive. It was a fellowship within Judaism. Even though their fellowship included material goods, its primary reference must be to the ideas, attitudes, purposes, mission, and activities that the Christians shared.
Two distinctive activities marked the fellowship of the early church. The "breaking of bread" is a term that here probably included the Lord's Supper as well as eating a meal together (cf. v. 46; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-25; Jude 12). Elsewhere the phrase describes both an ordinary meal (Luke 24:30, 35; Acts 20:11; 27:35) and the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24). Probably these early Christians ate together and as part of the meal, or after it, used their common food, bread and wine, to commemorate Christ's death.
In "the prayers," the believers must have praised and thanked God, as well as petitioning and interceding for His glory (cf. Matt. 6:9-13). The article with prayer probably implies formal times of prayer (cf. 1:14), though they undoubtedly prayed together at other times too.
"Just as Luke has set up in Luke-Acts the parallelism between the Spirit's work in relation to Jesus and the Spirit's work in the church, so he also sets up the parallelism between prayer in the life of Jesus and prayer in the life of the church."
"Prayer is an expression of dependence, and when the people of God really feel their need you will find them flocking together to pray. A neglected prayer meeting indicates very little recognition of one's true need."
Their persistence in these activities demonstrated their felt need to learn, to encourage one another, to refocus on Christ's death, and to praise and petition God (1:1).
2:43 The feeling of "awe" that the obvious working of God in their midst inspired, continued among all the people in Jerusalem. The wonder-inspiring miracles that the apostles performed pointed to God's hand at work and kept this spirit alive. Not the least of these wonders must have been the remarkable unity and self-sacrifice of the believers. Compare 2:22, where Peter said Jesus had done "wonders and signs," with this verse, where Luke wrote that the apostles performed "wonders and signs." This shows again Jesus' continuing work through His servants following His ascension.
2:44-45 These early believers had frequent contact with each other. Communal living was voluntary and temporary in the Jerusalem church (4:32, 34-35; 5:4); it was not forced socialism or communism. No other New Testament church practiced communal living to the extent that the Jerusalem Christians did. The New Testament nowhere commands communal living, and Acts does not refer to it after chapter five.
The believers' willingness to sell their property (real estate, cf. 5:37) and personal possessions to help others in need demonstrated true Christian love. One writer argued that Luke's portrait of the early church was true to reality and not an idealized picture. Others have disputed this claim. The believers were probably giving to non-believers as well as to their Christian brethren, but what Luke stressed was their sacrificial giving to one another. Besides Christian love, it may have been their hope that Jesus Christ would return very soon that motivated them to live as they did. Furthermore since Jesus had predicted judgment on Jerusalem, what was the use of keeping property?
2:46-47 This progress report summarizes the growth of the church thus far. It is one of seven in Acts, each of which concludes a major advance of the church in its worldwide mission (cf. 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31).
The believers met with one another daily, enjoying the unity of the Spirit. They congregated in the temple area, probably for discussion and evangelization (cf. 3:11; 5:12). Probably these Jewish believers considered themselves the true remnant within Israel until they began to realize the distinctiveness of the church. They ate meals and observed the Lord's Supper together in homes.
In the ancient Near East, eating together reflected a common commitment to one another and deep fellowship. A meal shared together was both a symbol and a seal of friendship. In contemporary pagan religions, the meal formed the central rite of the religion, because it established communion between the worshippers and between the worshippers and their god. In Judaism, too, eating some of the offerings of worship symbolized these things, especially the peace offering.
Public church buildings were unknown until the third century. At the general time that chapter 2 records, there was no significant opposition to the Christian movement, though there was, of course, difference of opinion about Jesus. The believers enjoyed the blessing of their Jewish brethren. People trusted Christ daily, and the Lord added these to the church so that it grew steadily. Luke, in harmony with his purpose (1:1-2), stressed the Lord Jesus' work in causing the church to grow (v. 47; cf. Matt. 16:18). R. J. Knowling noted a similarity between the growth of the church and the growth of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 2:52).
". . . this is one of the few references in Acts to the Christians worshipping God in the sense of rendering thanks to him. The fewness of such phrases reminds us that according to the New Testament witness Christian gatherings were for instruction, fellowship, and prayer; in other words for the benefit of the people taking part; there is less mention of the worship of God, although of course this element was not absent."
Luke recorded the events of this section to document the continued expansion of the church and to identify the means God used to produce growth. In chapters 3—5 the emphasis is on how the Christians' witness brought them into conflict with the Jewish leaders.
Opposition to the Christians' message first came from external sources, particularly the leaders of Judaism.
Luke had just referred to the apostles' teaching, to the awe that many of the Jews felt, to the apostles doing signs and wonders, and to the Christians meeting in the temple (2:43-44, 46). Now he narrated a specific incident that included these elements. The Gospel writers also chose a healing to illustrate the nature of Jesus' early ministry (Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16, 24; John 4:46-54). The healing of this man resulted in the leaders of the Jews changing their attitudes toward the disciples from favorable to antagonistic (4:1-4). The Christians were not able to continue to enjoy favor with all the people (2:47).
This is the first of 14 miracles in Acts (by Peter: 3:1-10; 5:1-11; 9:32-35, 36-42; by an angel: 5:17-26; 12:1-19, 20-23; and by Paul: 13:4-12; 14:8-11; 16:16-19, 20-42; 20:7-12; 28:3-6, 7-8). These include four healings (three paralytics and one involving fever), two raisings from the dead, four liberations (two from physical bondage and two involving exorcisms), three acts of judgment, and one preservation miracle. There are also 10 summary notices of miracles in Acts (2:43; 5:12, 15, 16; 6:8; 8:6-7, 13; 14:3; 19:11-12; 28:9).
3:1-2 The "John" in view was undoubtedly the writer of the fourth Gospel, the brother of James. The temple was Herod's Temple, and the Jewish hour of prayer in view was 3:00 p.m., the other key prayer time for the Jews being 9:00 a.m. (cf. 2:15; 10:9, 30; Dan. 6:10; 9:21; Judith 9:1). The early Jewish Christians continued to follow their former habits of worship in Jerusalem. The lame man had been in his condition for over 40 years (4:22). Furthermore he had to be carried by others. His was a "hopeless case."
The term "Beautiful Gate" is descriptive rather than specific. We do not know exactly which of the three main entrances into the temple from the east Luke referred to. He could have meant the Shushan (or Golden) Gate that admitted people into the Court of the Gentiles from the outside world. He could have meant the Corinthian (or Eastern) Gate that led from the Court of the Gentiles into the Women's Court. Another possibility is that it was the Nicanor Gate that led from the Women's Court into the Court of Israel. Josephus' descriptions of the temple do not solve the problem, since he described both of these latter gates as very impressive. The last two of the above options appear more probable than the first.
3:3-6 "In the East it was the custom for beggars to sit begging at the entrance to a temple or a shrine. Such a place was, and still is, considered the best of all stances because, when people are on their way to worship God, they are disposed to be generous to their fellow men."
Peter told the beggar to look at him and John because Peter needed his full attention. Peter then gave him a gift far better than the one he expected to receive. This is typical of how God deals with needy people. When we give people the gospel, we give them God's best gift.
The name of a person represented that person. When Peter healed this man in the name of Jesus, he was saying that it was Jesus who was ultimately responsible for the healing, not Peter. Peter healed him in the power of and with the authority of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. v. 16).
This was the first of three crippled people that Luke recorded the apostles healing in Acts (9:32-34; 14:8-10; cf. John 5; 9).
The gift of healing as it existed in the early church was quite different from the so-called gift of healing some claim to possess today. Examples of people using this gift in the New Testament seem to indicate that the person with this gift could heal anyone, subject to God's will (cf. Matt. 10:1, 8; Acts 28:8-9; et al.). The sick person's belief in Jesus Christ and in God's ability to heal him or her also seems to be a factor (v. 16; cf. Mark 6:5-6). There is a similar account of Paul healing a lame man in Lystra, in 14:8-10, where Luke said the man's faith was crucial. Jesus Christ gave this gift to the early church to convince people that He is God, and that the gospel the Christians preached had divine authority. He gave it for the benefit of Jewish observers primarily (1 Cor. 1:22).
"The New Testament gift of healing is a specific gift to an individual enabling him to heal. It is not to be confused with the healing performed by God in answer to prayer.
"There is little correspondence between modern-day charismatic 'healings' and the healings recorded in the New Testament. The differences are so vast that many of today's healers are careful to point out that they do not have the gift of healing, but are merely those to whom God often responds with healing."
Of course, many other modern healers do claim that their healings are the same as what the New Testament records.
3:7-8 Peter evidently did not touch the lame man to heal him ("seized him by the right hand"), as much as to help him to his feet. God healed this man completely and instantaneously. The healed beggar began to test the capability of his strengthened limbs immediately. He evidently followed Peter and John into whatever part of the temple they were entering ("entered the temple with them"), "walking and leaping" and "praising God."
3:9-10 Almost everyone in Jerusalem would have known this beggar, since he had sat for so long at an entrance to the temple. Jesus may have passed this man many times as He walked in and out of the temple. There would have been no doubt about the genuineness of his healing. Peter performed this sign (a miracle with significance), just like Jesus had healed lame people before His crucifixion. By doing it in Jesus' name, it would have been evident to all present that the power of Jesus was now at work through His apostles. Isaiah had predicted that in Israel's future "the lame will leap like a deer" (Isa. 35:6). The healing of this lame man, as well as the healing of other lame people in the Gospels and Acts, indicated to the Jews present that the Messiah had come. Peter claimed that Jesus was that Messiah!
". . . the similarity between Jesus' healing of the paralytic and Peter's healing of the lame man lies less in the healing itself than in the function of these scenes in the larger narrative. In both cases the healing becomes the occasion for a fundamental claim about Jesus' saving power, emphasizing its importance and general scope ('on earth,' Luke 5:24; 'under heaven,' Acts 4:12). In both cases the healing leads to proclamation of a saving power that goes beyond physical healing. In both cases the claim is made in the face of new opposition and is directly related to the mission announced in the Scripture quotation in the inaugural speech."
This incident and the other miracles recorded in Acts have led readers of this book to wonder if God is still working miracles today. He is. God can and does perform miracles whenever and wherever He chooses. Regeneration is one of God's greatest miracles. Perhaps a better question would be, does God still give the gift of working miracles to believers today as He gave this ability to Peter, Paul, and other first-century apostles?
Significantly, each of the three periods in biblical history when God dramatically manifested this gift to selected servants, was a time when God was giving new revelation through prophets. These three periods are the times of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles. However, God has performed miracles throughout history. Each period of miraculous activity was brief, spanning no more than two generations of people. When the miraculous gift was present not even those who had it healed everyone who could have benefited from it (e.g., Mark 6:5-6; Phil. 2:27; 2 Tim. 4:20; et al.).
As is often true in Acts, an event led to an explanation (cf. ch. 2).
"It seems strange, at first glance, that in his narrative Luke would place two such similar sermons of Peter so close together. But his putting the Pentecost sermon in the introductory section of Acts was evidently meant to be a kind of paradigm of early apostolic preaching—a paradigm Luke seems to have polished for greater literary effectiveness. As for the Colonnade sermon, Luke seems to have included it as an example of how the early congregation in Jerusalem proclaimed the message of Jesus to the people of Israel as a whole."
"In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter had to refute the accusation that the believers were drunk. In this sermon, he had to refute the notion that he and John had healed the man by their own power [cf. 14:8-18]."
Peter and John, with the healed lame man clinging to them, moved into the "portico" of the temple, and a large crowed, amazed by the healing, followed them (cf. 21:30). A covered porch supported by a series of columns surrounded the outer temple courtyard, the Court of the Gentiles. The eastern portion of this porch bore the name Solomon's portico "because it was built on a remnant of the foundations of the ancient temple." Peter addressed the curious throng from this convenient shaded area, where Jesus had formerly taught (John 10:23).
"In his former address Peter had testified to the power and presence of the Spirit of God at work in a new way in the lives of men through Jesus. Now he proclaims the power and authority of the name of Jesus by which his disciples are enabled to continue his ministry on earth. In both speeches there is a call for repentance for the crime of crucifying the Messiah, but here Peter stresses the role of Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God and as the new Moses who must be obeyed."
3:12-15 Luke recorded seven of Peter's addresses in Acts (1:16-22; 2:14-36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12: 10:34-43; 11:4-17; 15:7-11). It is noteworthy that in these sermons, Peter did not discuss abstract doctrines or reason about profound theological problems. He presented the person and work of Christ in simple terms.
Peter spoke to his audience as a fellow Jew. First, he denied that it was the power or good character of himself, or John, that was responsible for the healing. Rather it was the God of the patriarchs, the God of their fathers, who was responsible. He had performed this miracle through the apostles to glorify His Servant Jesus (cf. 2:22). It was God's Servant, Jesus, whom Peter's hearers had disowned and put to death—preferring a murderer, Barabbas, to Him.
Peter called Jesus the Servant (Gr. paida) of the Lord, the subject of messianic prophecy (Isa. 42:1; 49:6-7; 52:13; 53:11; cf. Mark 10:45); the Holy One, a title of Messiah (Ps. 16:10; Isa. 31:1; cf. Mark 1:24; 1 John 2:20); the Righteous One (Isa. 53:11; Zech. 9:9; cf. 1 John 2:1); and the Prince (Author) of Life (Ps. 16; cf. John 1:1-18; Col. 1:14-20; Heb. 1:2-3; 2:10; 12:2).
Peter charged these Jews with four things: First, handing Jesus over to be killed. He then pointed out three inconsistencies in the Jews' treatment of Jesus and contrasted their treatment of Him with God's. They had condemned Him when Pilate was about to release Him (v. 13). They rejected the Holy and Righteous One out of preference for a murderer, Barabbas (v. 14; Luke 23:18-19). Furthermore they executed the Author of Life whom God raised from the dead, of which the apostles were witnesses (v. 15). "Prince" or (better here) "Author of Life" presents Jesus as the resurrected Messiah who gives life that overcomes death.
3:16 The proclamation portion of Peter's sermon expounds "the name of Jesus" (cf. v. 6). The "name" of Jesus summarizes everything about Him here as elsewhere in Scripture. Peter attributed the beggar's healing to the power of Jesus and to the man's trust in what he knew about Jesus. Jesus had given him faith. If the beggar had had no confidence in the deity and divine power of Jesus, he would not have responded to Peter's invitation to walk (v. 6). His response demonstrated his faith. Undoubtedly this man had previously seen and heard Jesus when He was in the temple. Jesus, now unseen but present in Peter, had given him "perfect health."
"The Christian knows that so long as he thinks of what I can do and what I can be, there can be nothing but failure and frustration and fear; but when he thinks of 'not I, but Christ in me' there can be nothing but peace and power."
3:17-18 If Peter's charges against his hearers were harsh (vv. 13-15), his concession that they "acted out of (in) ignorance" was tender. He meant that they did not realize the great mistake they had made. Peter undoubtedly hoped that his gentle approach would win a reversal of his hearers' attitude.
Jesus did not demonstrate His deity as convincingly as He might have during His earthly ministry. Consequently the reaction of unbelief, that many rulers as well as common Israelites demonstrated, was partially due to their ignorance. They were also ignorant of the fact that Jesus fulfilled many messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Peter hastened to point out that Jesus' sufferings harmonized with those predicted of the Messiah by Israel's prophets. It was the prophets' revelations about the death of Messiah that the Jews in Peter's day, including Jesus' own disciples, had difficulty understanding.
"Doubtless many in Peter's Jewish audience would have been agreeable to much of the preceding statement. They would not have been averse to accepting the idea of a genuine miracle, nor were they unfamiliar with Jesus' reputation as a miracle worker. The problem they faced was identifying Jesus as their conquering Messiah in the light of the crucifixion."
3:19-21 If Jesus was the Messiah, where was the messianic kingdom? Peter proceeded to explain from Scripture that the Jews needed to accept their Messiah before the messianic kingdom would begin. He again called on his hearers to repent, in view of what he had pointed out (cf. 2:38). He also invited them to "return" to a proper relationship to God, which was possible only by accepting Jesus. The result would be forgiveness of their sins. Note that there is no reference to baptism as being essential to either repentance or forgiveness in this verse (cf. 2:38).
What is repentance, and what place does it have in salvation? The Greek noun translated "repentance" (metanoia) literally means "after mind," as in afterthought, or change of mind. Concerning salvation, it means to think differently about sin, oneself, and the Savior than one used to think. Peter's hearers had thought Jesus was not the Messiah. Now they needed to change their minds and believe He is the Messiah.
The Greek verb metanoeo, translated "repent," does not mean to be sorry for sin or to turn from sin. These are the results or fruits of repentance.
"The conclusive evidence that repentance does not mean to be sorry for sin or to turn from sin is this: in the Old Testament, God repents. In the King James Version, the word repent occurs forty-six times in the Old Testament. Thirty-seven of these times, God is the one repenting (or not repenting). If repentance meant sorrow for sin, God would be a sinner."
People can repent concerning many things, not just sin, as the Scriptures use this term. They can change their minds about God (Acts 20:21), Christ (Acts 2:37-38), and works (Heb. 6:1; Rev. 9:20; 16:11), as well as sin (Acts 8:22; Rev. 9:21). This shows that in biblical usage, repentance means essentially a change of mind.
Repentance and faith are not two steps in salvation, but one step looked at from two perspectives. Appeals to repent do not contradict the numerous promises that faith is all that is necessary for salvation (e.g., John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 20:30-31; Rom. 4; et al.). The faith that saves includes repentance (a change of mind). One changes from unbelief to belief (Acts 11:17-18). Sometimes the New Testament writers used the two terms, "repent and believe," together (e.g., Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Sometimes they used repentance alone as the sole requirement for salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20; 2 Pet. 3:9). Nonetheless whether one term or both occur, they are as inseparable as the two sides of a coin.
"Biblical repentance may be described thus: the sinner has been trusting in himself for salvation, his back turned upon Christ, who is despised and rejected. Repent! About face! The sinner now despises and rejects himself, and places all confidence and trust in Christ. Sorrow for sin comes later, as the Christian grows in appreciation of the holiness of God, and the sinfulness of sin."
"We believe that the new birth of the believer comes only through faith in Christ and that repentance is a vital part of believing, and is in no way, in itself, a separate and independent condition of salvation; nor are any other acts, such as confession, baptism, prayer, or faithful service, to be added to believing as a condition of salvation."
The phrase "times of refreshing" (v. 19) seems to refer to the blessings connected with the day of the Lord, particularly the Millennium, in view of how Peter described them in verses 20-21. They connect with the second coming of Messiah, the "period" of restoration of all things. They are the subjects of Old Testament prophecy. Zechariah predicted that the Jews would one day accept Messiah whom they had formerly rejected (Zech. 12:10-14; cf. Deut. 30:1-3; Jer. 15:19; 16:15; 24:6; 50:19; Ezek. 16:55; Hos. 11:11; Rom. 11:25-27). Peter urged them to do that now.
Some dispensational expositors believe that if the Jews had repented as a nation, in response to Peter's exhortation, Christ might have returned and set up His kingdom.
There seems to be nothing in scriptural prophecy that would have made this impossible. Peter, therefore, may have been calling for both individual repentance and national repentance. The result of the former was individual forgiveness and spiritual salvation. The result of the latter would have been national forgiveness and physical deliverance from Rome, and the inauguration of the messianic (millennial) kingdom.
"Was Peter saying here that if Israel repented, God's kingdom would have come to earth? This must be answered in the affirmative for several reasons: (1) The word restore (3:21) is related to the word 'restore' in 1:6. In 3:21 it is in its noun form (apokatastaseos), and in 1:6 it is a verb (apokathistaneis). Both occurrences anticipate the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (cf. Matt. 17:11; Mark 9:12). (2) The concept of restoration parallels regeneration when it is used of the kingdom (cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22; Matt. 19:28; Rom. 8:20-22). (3) The purpose clauses are different in Acts 3:19 and 20. In verse 19 a so that translates pros to (some mss. have eis to) with the infinitive [in the NIV]. This points to a near purpose. The two occurrences of that in verses 19b and 20 are translations of a different construction (hopos with subjunctive verbs), and refer to more remote purposes. Thus repentance would result in forgiveness of sins, the near purpose (v. 19a). Then if Israel as a whole would repent, a second more remote goal, the coming of the kingdom (times of refreshing at the second coming of Christ) would be fulfilled. (4) The sending of the Christ, that is, Messiah (v. 20) meant the coming of the kingdom. (5) The Old Testament 'foretold these days' (v. 24; cf. v. 21). The Old Testament prophets did not predict the church; to them it was a mystery (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1-6). But the prophets often spoke of the messianic golden age, that is, the Millennium.
"This offer of salvation and of the Millennium pointed both to God's graciousness and to Israel's unbelief. On the one hand God was giving the Jews an opportunity to repent after the sign of Christ's resurrection. They had refused the 'pre-Cross' Jesus; now they were being offered a post-Resurrection Messiah. On the other hand Peter's words underscore Israel's rejection. They had been given the sign of Jonah but still they refused to believe (cf. Luke 16:31). In a real sense this message confirmed Israel's unbelief.
"Some Bible scholars oppose the view that the kingdom was offered by Peter. They do so on the basis of several objections: (1) Since God knew Israel would reject the offer, it was not a legitimate offer. But it was as genuine as the presentation of the gospel to any nonelect person. (2) This puts kingdom truth in the Church Age. However, church truth is found before the church began at Pentecost (cf. Matt. 16:18; 18:17; John 10:16; 14:20). (3) This view leads to ultradispensationalism. But this is not a necessary consequence if this offer is seen as a transition within the Church Age. Acts must be seen as a hinge book, a transition work bridging the work of Christ on earth with His work through the church on earth.
"In conclusion, Acts 3:17-21 shows that Israel's repentance was to have had two purposes: (1) for individual Israelites there was forgiveness of sins, and (2) for Israel as a nation her Messiah would return to reign."
"Just as in the period of the Gospels the Kingdom had been offered to the nation of Israel, even so during the history of Acts the Kingdom was again offered to Israel. In both periods the offer was authenticated by the same 'signs and wonders' which, according to the prophets, belonged properly to such an offer. And its establishment, in both periods, was conditioned upon repentance and acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah on the part of the nation. Furthermore, in both periods there was Jewish opposition which moved to a crisis of rejection."
Other dispensational interpreters believe that this was not a reoffer of the kingdom to Israel.
"Here Peter was not reoffering the kingdom to the nation, nor was he telling them that if the nation repented the kingdom would be instituted at that time. Rather he was telling the nation—the same nation that had committed the sin for which there is no forgiveness [cf. Matt. 12:22-37]—what they must do as a nation in order to enter into the benefits of the kingdom that had been covenanted and promised to them. In a word, they must 'repent.' . . .
"The time 'for God to restore everything,' to which Peter refers in Acts 3:21, is the same restoration referred to in 1:6. Therefore, this statement does not constitute a reoffer of the kingdom, since the necessary prerequisites are not at hand. Jesus Christ is not personally present and offering Himself to the nation. Only He could make a genuine offer of the kingdom. . . .
". . . Peter was not offering the kingdom to Israel, nor was he stating that the kingdom had already been instituted; instead he was stating the conditions by which the nation will eventually enter into their covenanted blessings."
"Luke's manner of representing the nationalistic hopes of the Jewish people implies that he himself believed that there would be a future, national restoration. If Luke really believed that there would not be a restoration, he has certainly gone out of his way to give the contrary impression."
"In his first sermon S. Peter had explained the Lord's absence by the necessity for the outpouring of the Spirit: now he answers the difficulty about the Messianic kingdom by unfolding its true nature."
3:22-23 Peter proceeded to quote from the first writing prophet to confirm what he had just stated. Moses had predicted that God would provide prophets, similar to himself, through whom He would make His will known to His people (Deut. 18:15-19; cf. Lev. 23:29). As time passed, the Jews saw that this prophecy referred to one Prophet in particular who would appear and who would be like Moses in other respects as well. He would deliver and judge His people.
Thus believers in Peter's day regarded this passage as messianic prophecy (cf. John 1:21b, 25; 7:40). Peter, by quoting this prophecy, affirmed that Jesus was the Messiah, then urged his readers to accept Him or face destruction (v. 23). Destruction followed in A.D. 70. Belief in Moses should have led to belief in Jesus, and belief in Jesus would have made Peter's hearers obedient to Moses.
"The particular interest of this sermon lies in the way in which it gives further teaching about the person of Jesus, describing him as God's servant, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of life and the prophet like Moses. This indicates that a considerable amount of thinking about Jesus, based on study of the Old Testament, was taking place [in Jerusalem following Jesus' death and resurrection]."
3:24 "Samuel" announced that David would replace Saul (1 Sam. 13:14; 15:28; 28:17; cf. 1 Sam. 16:13), but we have no record that he ever gave an explicitly messianic prophecy. Peter seems to have meant that in announcing David's reign, Samuel was also anticipating Messiah's reign. The other prophets whom Peter apparently had in mind were all those who spoke of David's continuing dynastic rule. Peter's statement in this verse, by the way, shows that Joshua did not fulfill Moses' prophecy about the coming prophet.
3:25-26 Peter's hearers were "the sons of the prophets" in that they were the descendants of those people, not prophets themselves. They were "sons . . . of the covenant" God made with Abraham because they were Abraham's physical descendants. They were part of Abraham's physical seed through whom God purposed to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 26:4). Their acceptance of God's Messiah was essential to their fulfilling all of God's purposes through them and in them.
God desired to bless all people, but He purposed to bless humanity by first blessing the Jews. It was to bless the Jews first, and after that all humanity, that God had called Jesus forth as a Prophet. "For you first" (v. 26, Gr. hymin proton) reflects the emphatic position of this phrase in the Greek text, which stresses the primacy of Jewish blessing.
It seems that in view of the context, the phrase "raised up" (v. 26) refers to God raising up Jesus as a prophet like Moses (v. 22). He probably did not mean that God raised Him up from the grave by resurrection, though obviously God did that too.
The gospel went to the Jews before it went to the Gentiles (cf. Matt. 10:5-6; Acts 13:46; Rom. 1:16) because the establishment of Christ's earthly kingdom depends on Israel's acceptance of her Messiah (Matt. 23:39; Rom. 11:26). Before Christ can reign on the earth, Israel must repent (Zech. 12:10-14).
". . . as the original offer of the Kingdom by the King was made to Israel first during the 'days of his flesh,' so now again, having been raised from the dead, He is offered 'first' to the chosen nation for the purpose of turning them away from their iniquities (Acts 3:25-26)."
"This speech is one of the most christologically rich addresses in Acts, as Jesus is the servant, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of life, the prophet like Moses, the Christ, and the seed of Abraham."
Should modern Christians evangelize Jews before they evangelize Gentiles? We are not commanded to do so. The Great Commission passages make no Jew-Gentile distinction regarding who should get the gospel first. Evangelizing Jews first was the practice of the early church, but we are not commanded to do so. How can we tell whether we should practice a New Testament practice? We should ask ourselves: "Is it commanded, and is the practice trans-cultural (not limited to one particular situation)?"
By the way, there are several meanings of the word "Jew," and it is helpful to distinguish them. Biological or ethnic Jews are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Some were "saved" in Old Testament times, but some were not. Today, most ethnic Jews are unbelievers in Jesus: non-Christians. Religious Jews are people who have practiced the religion of Israel in one of its various forms throughout history. Some Gentiles became adherents to Judaism as a faith (cf. Ruth). Some of these were "saved," and others were not. Today, a person may follow the religion of Judaism without being an ethnic Jew, and Christian ethnic Jews do not normally adhere to Judaiam. They adhere to Christianity. "Saved" Jews are ethnic Jews who believe in God like Abraham did, trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. Today, many "saved" Jews refer to themselves as Messianic or completed Jews.
In Old Testament times, “Jew” was a term that non-Jews used to describe the Israelites. It comes from the name “Judah.” The Israelites typically referred to themselves as Israelites.
When we read about the Israelites in the New Testament, we have to decide who is in view. Dispensationalists believe that “Israel” always refers to ethnic Jews in the New Testament, either "saved" or "unsaved," as is true in the Old Testament. Sometimes "saved" Jews are in view (e.g., Gal. 6:16), but they are "saved" ethnic Jews. Non-dispensationalists believe that in the New Testament, "Israel" sometimes refers to the new people of God: Christians, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles.
In chapters 4—7 there is a series of similar confrontations, with each one building up to the crisis of Stephen's death and the persecution that followed. The first four verses of chapter 4 conclude the incident recorded in chapter 3 ("As they were speaking," v. 1), and they introduce what follows in 4:5-31.
4:1 Evidently John spoke to the people as did Peter ("they"). Three separate though related (5:17) individuals and groups objected to Peter and John addressing the people as they did. Jesus had also encountered opposition from leaders who questioned His authority when He taught in the temple (Mark 11:27-28; Luke 20:1-2). The captain (Gr. strategos) of the temple guard was the commanding officer of the temple police force. The Talmud referred to this officer as the Sagan. This individual was second in command under the high priest. He apparently feared that this already excited throng of hearers might get out of control.
The Sadducees were Levitical priests who claimed to represent ancient orthodoxy. They opposed any developments in biblical law, and they denied the doctrine of bodily resurrection (23:8)—and therefore disagreed with Peter's teaching on that subject (cf. John 12:10). They believed that the messianic age had begun with the Maccabean heroes (168-134 B.C.) and continued under the Sadducees' supervision, so they rejected Peter's identification of Jesus as the Messiah.
"For them the Messiah was an ideal, not a person, and the Messianic Age was a process, not a cataclysmic or even datable event. Furthermore, as political rulers and dominant landlords, to whom a grateful nation had turned over all political and economic powers during the time of the Maccabean supremacy, for entirely practical reasons they stressed cooperation with Rome and maintenance of the status quo. Most of the priests were of Sadducean persuasion; the temple police force was composed entirely of Levites; the captain of the temple guard was always a high-caste Sadducee, and so were each of the high priests."
4:2 Two things disturbed these leaders. First, the apostles were teaching the people. This was the Sadducees' function, since they were the recognized leaders of the Jews. Second, the apostles were teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead and that there was a resurrection from the dead.
". . . a woman called and asked me to serve on a committee that was trying to clean up downtown Los Angeles. I agreed it needed cleaning up, but I told her that I could not serve on the committee. She was amazed. 'Aren't you a minister?' she asked. 'Aren't you interested in cleaning up Los Angeles?' I answered, 'I will not serve on your committee because I don't think you are going about it in the right way.' Then I told her what the late Dr. Bob Shuler had told me years ago. He said, 'We are called to fish in the fish pond, not to clean up the fish pond.' This old world is a place to fish. Jesus said He would make us fishers of men, and the world is the place to fish. We are not called upon to clean up the fish pond. We need to catch the fish and get the fish cleaned up.
"I have found that the biggest enemies of the preaching of the gospel are not the liquor folk. The gangsters have never bothered me. Do you know where I had my trouble as a preacher? It was with the so-called religious leaders, the liberals, those who claimed to be born again. They actually became enemies of the preaching of the gospel. It was amazing to me to find out how many of them wanted to destroy my radio ministry."
Having worked with Dr. McGee in his church, I know that he sought to help people physically as well as spiritually. His point here was that spiritual help is more important than physical help.
4:3 It was too late in the day to begin a hearing to examine Peter and John formally, though this had not stopped the Sanhedrin from abusing Jesus (cf. Luke 22:63-66). Therefore the temple officials arrested the two and put them in jail, probably the Antonia Fortress. Thus the Sadducees became the first opponents of Christianity (cf. 2:47).
"Some of the most glorious traditions in Jewish history were connected with this castle, for there had been the ancient 'armoury of David,' the palace of Hezekiah and of Nehemiah, and the fortress of the Maccabees."
4:4 Belief was the key factor in many more becoming Christians (cf. 3:19), not believing plus being baptized (2:38). Note that Luke simply wrote that they "believed" the message they had heard. The total number of male converts in Jerusalem now reached 5,000 (cf. 1:15; 2:41) because of Peter's message. The Greek word andron specifies males rather than people. Normally most of the people in the temple courtyard who would have witnessed these events would have been males.
Estimates of Jerusalem's total population at the time range from 25,000 to 250,000, though the lower figure seems more probable. One writer argued for 60,000 or more inhabitants. Another believed 100,000 to 120,000 people inhabited the city in the forties. Obviously there is a wide range of speculation.
4:5 The "Council" (v. 15) before which soldiers brought Peter and John the next day was the Sanhedrin, which was the senate and supreme court of Israel. It consisted of the high priest, who served as its presiding officer, and 70 other men. Its aristocratic members, the majority, were Sadducees, and its lay leaders were Pharisees. Most of the experts in the Jewish law were Pharisees who were also nationalistic, but the Sadducees supported Rome. The Sadducees were more conservative, though rationalistic theologically, and the Pharisees were more liberal since they accepted oral traditions as authoritative in addition to the Old Testament.
The Sanhedrin normally held its meetings, including the one described in this chapter, in a hall adjoining the southwest part of the temple courtyard, the Chamber of Hewn Stone. "Rulers" were priests who represented the 24 priestly courses (cf. 23:5; Matt. 16:21), "elders" were tribal and influential family heads of the people, and "scribes" were teachers of the law. Individuals from these three groups made up this body (cf. Luke 9:22). The rulers and elders were mainly Sadducees, while most of the scribes were Pharisees.
"The Sanhedrin was acting within its jurisdiction when it convened to examine Peter and John. The Mosaic Law specified that whenever someone performed a miracle and used it as the basis for teaching, he was to be examined, and if the teaching were used to lead men away from the God of their fathers, the nation was responsible to stone him (Deut. 13:1-5). On the other hand, if his message was doctrinally sound, the miracle-worker was to be accepted as coming with a message from God."
This is the first of four times some of Jesus' followers stood before the Sanhedrin according to Acts. The others were Peter and the apostles (5:27), Stephen (6:12), and Paul (22:30).
4:6 "Annas," whom Luke called the high priest here (v. 6), was technically not the high priest at this time. He had served as high priest from A.D. 6 to 15, but from A.D. 18 on, his son-in-law Caiaphas had been the high priest. However, Annas continued to exert great influence (cf. Luke 3:2; John 18:13-24). He was so powerful that Luke could refer to him as "the high priest," even though he was only the power behind the office (cf. Luke 3:2; John 18:13; Acts 7:1). During this time, former high priests seem to have kept their titles and membership in the Sanhedrin. At this time in Israel's history, the Roman governor of Palestine appointed the high priest. "John" may refer to Jonathan, a son of Annas who succeeded Caiaphas as high priest in A.D. 36. Luke did not mention "Alexander" elsewhere, and he is presently unknown.
The High Priests of Israel
(ca. A.D. 6-66)
Annas (ca. A.D. 6-15): the co-high priest with Caiaphas during Jesus' trial (Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24), and the high priest who, with Caiaphas, tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)
Eleazar (ca. A.D. 16-17): the son of Annas
Caiaphas (ca. A.D. 18-36): the son-in-law of Annas, the high priest during Jesus' earthly ministry (Luke 3:2; Matt. 26:3, 57; John 11:49-50), and the high priest who with Annas tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)
Jonathan (ca. A.D. 36-37): the son of Annas, and possibly the "John" of Acts 4:6
Theophilus (ca. A.D. 37-41): the son of Annas
Matthias (ca. A.D. 42): the son of Annas
Ananias (ca. A.D. 47-59): tried Paul in Jerusalem and Caesarea (Acts 23:1-10; 24:1-23)
Annas (ca. A.D. 61): the son of Annas
Matthias (ca. A.D. 65-66): the son of Theophilus, grandson of Annas
4:7 The healed lame man was also present (v. 14), though we do not know if he had been imprisoned with Peter and John, or was simply brought in for the hearing. The Sanhedrin wanted to know by what authority—or in whose "name" (under whose jurisdiction)—Peter and John (plural "you") had behaved as they had.
4:8 Jesus had promised that when the disciples stood before hostile adversaries, God would give them the words to speak (Luke 21:12-15). This special filling appears to be in view in this verse. Again, filling reflects control by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit filled (controlled) Peter as he served as a witness in obedience to Jesus (1:8). The aorist passive participle plestheis ("filled") indicates an act performed on Peter rather than a continuing state. Peter addressed all the Sanhedrin members as "rulers and elders" of the Jews.
4:9-10 Peter referred to the "trial" as a preliminary hearing (Gr. anakrinomai), which it was. Jewish law required that people had to be informed of the consequences of their crime before being punished for it. Peter's answer was straightforward and plain: "the power (name) of Jesus Christ" had benefited a sick man by healing him. This was good news not only for the Sanhedrin but for all the people of Israel. Peter used a Greek word that means saved (sothenai), which some English translators have rendered "made well." His use of this word anticipates the use of the same word in verse 12, where it has a broader meaning.
Peter's intent was obviously to prick the consciences of these men, too (cf. 2:23, 36; 3:13-15). He laid the guilt for Jesus' death at their feet, and gave witness that God had raised Him from the dead. The Sanhedrin did not now or at any later time attempt to deny the fact that Jesus had arisen.
4:11 Peter showed that this teaching did not lead the people away from God, but rather fulfilled something that God had predicted. In quoting Psalm 118:22, Peter applied to Jesus Christ what David had said about the nation of Israel (cf. Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). Israel's leaders had "rejected" Jesus as an unacceptable Messiah ("stone which was rejected"), but He would prove to be the most important part of what God was building.
Some scholars believe Peter meant that Jesus was the cornerstone ("chief corner stone"), the foundation of what God was building (cf. Isa. 28:16; 1 Pet. 2:7). Others believe he meant the "capstone," the final piece of what God was building (cf. Dan. 2:34-35). If the former interpretation is correct, Peter was probably anticipating the church as a new creation of God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-8). In the latter view, he was viewing the Messiah as the long-expected completion of the house of David. Since Peter was addressing Israel's rulers, I think he probably meant that Jesus was the capstone, their Messiah. These rulers, the builders of Israel, had rejected their Messiah.
4:12 The verses immediately following Psalm 118:22 in the Book of Psalms refer to Messiah's national deliverance of Israel. It seems that Peter was referring to both national deliverance and personal salvation in this address, as he had in the previous one. The former application would have been especially appropriate in view of his audience here. The messianic age to which the Jews looked forward could only come if Israel's leaders repented and accepted Jesus as their Messiah.
Peter boldly declared that "salvation" comes through "no one else" but Jesus ("no other name"), not the Maccabean heroes or the Sadducees or anyone else. Zechariah (Luke 1:69), Simeon (Luke 2:30), and John the Baptist (Luke 3:6) had previously connected God's salvation with Jesus. Peter stressed that Jesus was a man: He lived "under heaven" and "among men." Jesus, the Messiah, the Nazarene (v. 10), is God's only authorized savior. Apart from Him there is no salvation for anyone (cf. John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).
". . . when we read the speech of Peter, we must remember to whom it was spoken, and when we do remember that it becomes one of the world's great demonstrations of courage. It was spoken to an audience of the wealthiest, the most intellectual and the most powerful in the land, and yet Peter, the Galilaean fisherman, stands before them rather as their judge than as their victim. But further, this was the very court which had condemned Jesus to death. Peter knew it, and he knew that at this moment he was taking his life in his hands."
4:13-14 The Sanhedrin observed in Peter and John what they had seen in Jesus, namely, courage to speak boldly and authoritatively without formal training (cf. Matt. 7:28-29; Mark 1:22; Luke 20:19-26; John 7:15). They may also have remembered seeing them "with Jesus" (John 18:15-16), but that does not seem to be Luke's main point here.
"They spoke of the men as having been with Jesus, in a past tense. What was the truth? Christ was in the men, and speaking through the men; and the similarity which they detected was not that lingering from contact with a lost teacher, but that created by the presence of the living Christ."
These powerful educated rulers looked on the former fishermen with contempt. What a change had taken place in the apostles in the short time since Peter had denied that he knew Jesus (Luke 22:56-60)! The rulers also observed facility in handling the Scriptures that was extraordinary in men who had not attended the priests' schools. This examining board could not dispute the apostles' claim that Jesus' power had healed the former beggar. The obvious change in the man made that impossible. They had no other answer, and "had nothing to say." Unwilling to accept the obvious, the Sanhedrin could offer no other explanation.
Several details in the stories of the apostles' arrests recall Jesus' teaching concerning the persecution that the disciples would experience (cf. Luke 12:12 and Acts 4:8; Luke 21:12 and Acts 4:3 and 5:18; Luke 21:13 and Acts 4:8-12 and 5:29-32; Luke 21:15 and Acts 4:13).
4:15-17 Evidently someone in the Sanhedrin, or someone else present in the room who was then or later became a Christian, reported the information in these verses to Luke. Perhaps Gamaliel told Paul, and Paul told Luke. Perhaps Nicodemus or some other believing member of the Sanhedrin was the source of this information. The most the Sanhedrin felt it could do was to "warn" and try to intimidate the apostles. The Sanhedrin members acknowledged that a miracle had taken place.
It seems clear that the Jewish leaders could not disprove the miracle. They were completely silent about the apostles' claims that Jesus was alive. After all, the simplest way to discredit the apostles would have been to produce Jesus' body or in some other way prove to the people that Jesus had not risen.
4:18-20 The Sanhedrin ordered ("commanded") the apostles "not to speak or teach at all" as Jesus' spokesmen. This order provided a legal basis for further action should that be necessary (cf. 5:28). Peter and John saw the command of the Sanhedrin as contradicting the command that Christ had given them (1:8; Matt. 28:19-20). They could not obey both, so they had to obey ("give heed to") God (cf. Jer. 20:9). This is the only basis for civil disobedience that Scripture permits. In all other matters we must obey those in authority over us (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Speaking what one has seen and heard (v. 20) is the essence of witnessing (1:8). Contempt and threats have silenced many witnesses, but these tactics did not stop the Spirit-filled apostles.
In many parts of the world these days, Christians wonder if they should break the law in order to evangelize. The principle that the apostles followed, and that we should follow is: breaking the law is only legitimate when it requires (not just permits) us to disobey the Lord.
4:21-22 Even in the face of open defiance, the Sanhedrin could do no more than threaten the apostles again. Peter and John had done nothing wrong. Furthermore they had become popular heroes by this healing. By punishing them, the rulers would have antagonized the people.
4:23-28 After hearing the apostles' report, the Christians sought the Lord (Gr. Despota, sovereign ruler) in prayer.
"Three movements may be discerned in this prayer of the early church: (1) God is sovereign (v. 24). (2) God's plan includes believers' facing opposition against the Messiah (vv. 25-28). (3) Because of these things they petitioned God to grant them boldness to preach (vv. 29-30)."
The believers contrasted God's position with that of His servants: David (v. 25), Jesus (vv. 27, 30), and themselves (v. 29). The word translated "servant" (pais), used of David and Jesus, contrasts appropriately with the word rendered "bond-servants" (doulos), used of the disciples.
The opening reference to God's creative power in the disciples' prayer (v. 24) has many parallels in other Old Testament prayers (e.g., Exod. 20:11; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 146:6; Isa. 42:5; cf. Acts 14:15; 17:24). This was a common and appropriate way to approach God in prayer, especially when a request for the exercise of that power followed, as it did here (cf. 2 Kings 19:15-19; Isa. 37:15-20).
Note the testimony to the divine inspiration of Psalm 2 contained in verse 25. God is the author of Scripture who has worked through human instruments to announce and record His revelations (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21).
The believers saw a parallel to Jesus' crucifixion in the psalmist's prophecy that Messiah would experience opposition from Gentiles and leaders. This prophecy will find its fullest fulfillment in events still future from our time in history. God anointed Jesus at His baptism (cf. 10:38). David's references to "Gentiles," "the peoples," "kings," and "rulers" (vv. 25-26) applied to: the Roman Gentiles, the Israelites, Herod, and Pontius Pilate (v. 27). However, the believers again saw God's sovereign hand (the ultimate effective cause) behind human actions (the secondary instrumental cause, v. 28; cf. 2:23a; 3:18).
4:29-30 The disciples called on God to "take note of" the "threats" of the Sanhedrin. They may have done so, more to stress their need for more of His grace, than to call down His wrath on those rulers. The will of God was clear. The disciples were to witness for Christ (1:8; Matt. 28:19-20). Consequently they only needed enablement to carry out their task. They did not assume that God would automatically give them the courage to witness boldly, as He had done in the past. They voiced a fresh appeal for this grace, since additional opposition and temptations lay ahead of them (cf. Mark 9:29). They also acknowledged that God, not they, was doing a spiritual work. In these respects their prayer is a helpful model for us.
"It might have been thought that when Peter and John returned with their story a deep depression would have fallen on the Church, as they looked ahead to the troubles which were now bound to descend upon them. The one thing that never even struck them was to obey the Sanhedrin's command to speak no more. Into their minds at that moment there came certain great convictions and into their lives there came a tide of strength."
It is noteworthy that these Christians did not pray for judgment on their persecutors, nor freedom from persecution, but for strength and enablement in their persecution (cf. Isa. 37:16-20). They rightly saw that their number one priority was preaching Jesus to a needy world.
4:31 It is not clear whether we should understand the shaking of the place where the disciples had assembled literally or metaphorically (cf. Exod. 19:18; 1 Kings 19:11-12; Isa. 6:4; Acts 16:26). In either case, those assembled received assurance from this phenomenon that God was among them and would grant their petition.
The same control by the Spirit, that had characterized Peter (v. 8) and the disciples earlier (2:4), now also marked these Christians. They now spoke boldly (Gr. parresias, with confidence, forthrightly; cf. v. 13, 29) as witnesses, as Peter had done.
Note that tongues speaking did not occur here. This was not another baptism with the Spirit but simply a fresh filling.
"In Luke 22:39-46, just before Jesus' arrest and just after Peter's assertion of readiness to suffer, Jesus urged the disciples to pray in order that they might not enter into temptation. Instead, the disciples fell asleep and were unprepared for the following crisis. In Acts 4:23-31 Jesus' followers are again confronted with the dangerous opposition of the Sanhedrin. Now they pray as they had previously been told to do. As a result they receive power from God to continue the mission despite the opposition. We have already noted that Peter's boldness before the Sanhedrin in Acts contrasts with his denial of Jesus in Luke. The church in Acts, finding power for witness in prayer, also contrasts with the disciples who slept instead of praying in Luke. These contrasts contribute to the narrator's picture of a dramatic transformation in Jesus' followers."
As was true of Israel when she entered Canaan under Joshua's leadership, failure followed initial success in the early church. The source of that failure lay within the company of believers, not their enemies.
"The greater length of the story of Ananias and Sapphira should not lead to the conclusion that it is the important incident, the preceding section being merely an introduction to give it a setting; on the contrary, it is more likely that 4:32-35 describes the pattern of life, and is then followed by two illustrations, positive and negative, of what happened in practice."
This brief pericope illustrates what Luke wrote earlier, in 2:44-46, about the early Christians sharing and selling their possessions, as well as giving verbal witness. Luke recorded this description to emphasize the purity and unity in the church that resulted from the Spirit's filling (v. 31).
4:32 The unity of the believers extended beyond spiritual matters to physical, material matters (cf. Matt. 22:37-39). They owned personal possessions, but they did not consider them private possessions. Rather, they viewed their belongings as "common (Gr. koina, cf. koinonia, "fellowship") property." Customarily they shared what they had with one another (cf. 2:44, 46; Deut. 15:4). Their unity manifested itself in a sense of responsibility for one another. Love, not law, compelled them to share (cf. 1 John 3:17-18).
The economic situation in Jerusalem was deteriorating at this time due to famine and political unrest. Employment opportunities were declining, and unsaved Jews were beginning to put economic and social pressure on the Christians.
4:33 The "great power" in the witness of the believers was their love for one another (cf. John 13:35), not just their rhetorical (homiletical) and miraculous power. Notice the central place "the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" occupied in their witness. His resurrection fulfilled prophecy and identified Jesus as the Messiah (cf. 2:29-32). The "abundant grace" that rested upon these Christians was the divine enablement that God granted them to speak and to live as they did. This grace was on the young church as it had been on the young Jesus (cf. Luke 2:40).
4:34-35 The voluntary sharing described in verse 32 seems to have been customary, but the occasional selling mentioned here was evidently exceptional (cf. 2:45). The imperfect tense verbs here imply "from time to time" (NIV). The apostles were in charge of distributing help to those in need (cf. 6:1-4). The Christians were witnessing with their works (vv. 32, 34-35) as well as with their words (v. 33).
Sincerity or insincerity could motivate these magnanimous deeds. An example of each type of motivation follows.
Luke now gave a specific instance of what he had just described in verses 34 and 35. This reference to "Barnabas" is significant because it introduces him to the reader. Barnabas becomes an important character in Acts later, mainly as a missionary (apostle) and preacher. Furthermore Barnabas provides a vivid contrast to Ananias in chapter 5.
4:36 His given Jewish name was "Joseph," but people called him by his Jewish nickname (cognomen), Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement" (Gr. huios parakleseos). The Jews often called a person "son of ___" to denote his or her characteristics (e.g., "son of Beliel"). They probably did so because Barnabas was a constant positive influence on those around him, as further references to him in Acts will demonstrate (cf. 9:27; 11:22-30; 13:1—14:28; 15:2-4, 12, 22, 36-41; 1 Cor. 9:6). Luke probably mentioned that he was "a Levite" just to identify him more specifically, not to throw a cloud of suspicion over him. The Mosaic Law forbade Levites from owning property in the Promised Land (Num. 18:24).
Levites had connections to the temple, but not everyone with temple connections opposed the apostles (cf. 4:1). Barnabas had lived on the island of Cyprus at some time, though he had relatives in Jerusalem, namely: John Mark, Mark's mother, and perhaps others (cf. 12:12; Col. 4:10).
4:37 Barnabas evidently "sold" some of his "land"—where it was we do not know—to provide cash for the needs of the church members. He humbly presented the proceeds of the sale to the apostles for their distribution.
"Barnabas is a first example in Acts of the tendency to introduce an important new character first as a minor character, one who appears and quickly disappears. Philip (6:5) and Saul (7:58; 8:1, 3) are similarly introduced before they assume important roles in the narrative. This procedure ties the narrative together, and in each case the introductory scene contributes something significant to the portrait of the person."
We might conclude from what precedes that the church was a sinless community at this time. Unfortunately this was not the case. There were sinning saints in it. This episode reveals that God was working dramatically in the church's early days in judgment as well as in blessing. Luke did not idealize his portrait of the early church but painted an accurate picture, "warts and all."
5:1-2 "But" introduces another sacrificial act that looked just as generous as Barnabas' (4:37). However, in this case, the motive was quite different. Ananias' Jewish name, "Hananiah," means "Yahweh is gracious," and Sapphira's Aramaic name, "Sappira," means "beautiful." Their names proved as ironic as their behavior was hypocritical.
The Greek word nosphizo, ("kept back") also appears at the beginning of the record of Achan's sin in the Septuagint (Josh. 7:1, translated "took"). Ananias presented their gift to the apostles exactly as Barnabas had done (4:37).
5:3-4 Rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to fill him (cf. 2:4; 4:8, 31), Ananias had allowed Satan to control his heart. Ananias' sin was lying. He sought to deceive the Christians by trying to gain a reputation for greater generosity than he deserved. By deceiving the church, Ananias was also trying to deceive the Holy Spirit who indwelt the church. In attempting to deceive the Holy Spirit, he was trying to deceive God. Note the important identification of the Holy Spirit as "God" in these verses. His sin was misrepresenting his gift by claiming that it was the total payment that he had received when it was really only "a portion" of it. Since believers were free to keep their money, the Jerusalem church did not practice socialism or communism. Ananias' sin was hypocrisy, a particular form of lying.
"I am a preacher of the Word—a glorious privilege—and if I have prayed once I have prayed a thousand times and said, 'Don't let me be able to preach unless in the power of the Holy Ghost.' I would rather be struck dumb than pretend it is in the power of the Spirit if it isn't; and yet it is so easy to pretend. It is so easy to come before men and take the place of an ambassador for God, and still want people to praise the preacher instead of giving the message only for the Lord Jesus."
Achan, as well as Ananias and Sapphira, fell because of the love of material possessions (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 4:10).
"Like Judas, Ananias was covetous; and just as greed of gain lay at the bottom of most of the sins and failures in the Acts—the sin of Simon Magus, the opposition of Elymas, of the Philippian 'masters' and the Ephesian silversmiths, the shortcomings of the Ephesian converts and the injustice of Felix—so Ananias kept back part of the price."
Lying to the Holy Spirit is a sin that Christians commit frequently today. When Christians act hypocritically by pretending a devotion that is not theirs, or a surrender of life they have not really made, they lie to the Holy Spirit. If God acted today as He did in the early Jerusalem church, undertakers would have much more work than they do.
5:5 Peter identified Ananias' sin, but God judged it (cf. Matt. 16:19). Luke did not record exactly how Ananias died, even though he himself was a physician. His interest was solely in pointing out that he died immediately because of his sin. The Greek word ekpsycho ("breathed his last") occurs in the New Testament here and only where God strikes someone in judgment (v. 10; 12:23; cf. Judg. 4:21, LXX, where Sisera was the victim). Ananias' sin resulted in premature physical death. It was a sin unto death (cf. 1 John 5:16; 1 Cor. 11:30).
We should not interpret the fact that God rarely deals with sinners this way as evidence that He cannot or should not. He does not do so out of mercy. He dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, Achan, Nadab and Abihu, and others—severely—when He began to deal with various groups of believers. He did so for those who would follow in the train of those judged, in order to illustrate how important it is for God's people to be holy (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6). Furthermore God always deals more severely with those who have greater privilege and responsibility (cf. Luke 12:48; 1 Pet. 4:17).
5:6 Immediate burial was common in Palestine at this time, as the burial of Jesus illustrates. Evidently some of the younger and stronger believers disposed of Ananias' corpse by preparing it for burial. Many people were buried in caves or holes in the ground that had been previously prepared for this purpose, as we see in the burials of Lazarus and Jesus.
". . . when a man had been struck down by the hand of Heaven (as Joshua specifically says was the case with Achan: Josh. 7.25) his corpse must surely be consigned rapidly and silently to the grave. No one should mourn him. The suicide, the rebel against society, the excommunicate, the apostate, and the criminal condemned to death by the Jewish court would be buried . . . in haste and without ceremonial, and no one might (or need) observe the usual lengthy and troublesome rituals of mourning for him."
5:7 The answers to questions such as whether someone tried to find Sapphira to tell her of Ananias' death lay outside Luke's purpose in writing. He stressed that she was as guilty as her husband, and therefore experienced the same fate.
5:8 Peter graciously gave Sapphira an opportunity to tell the truth, but she did not. He did not warn her ahead of time by mentioning her husband's death because he wanted her to speak honestly. She added a spoken lie to her hypocrisy.
5:9-10 Peter's "why" question to her means virtually the same thing as his "why" question to Ananias (v. 3). "Putting God to the test" means seeing how far one can go in disobeying God—in this case lying to Him—before He will judge (cf. Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:7). This is very risky business.
Some readers of Acts have criticized Peter for dealing with Sapphira and Ananias so harshly. Nevertheless the text clearly indicates that in these matters Peter was under the Holy Spirit's control (4:31), even as Ananias and Sapphira were under Satan's control (v. 3). Peter had been God's agent of blessing in providing healing to people (3:6), but he was also God's instrument to bring judgment on others, as Jesus Christ had done.
"Peter was severe, and the fate of the two delinquents shocking, but the strictures of Christ on hypocrisy must be borne in mind (Mt. xxiii). . . . The old 'leaven of the Pharisees' was at work, and for the first time in the community of the saints two persons set out deliberately to deceive their leaders and their friends, to build a reputation for sanctity and sacrifice to which they had no right, and to menace, in so doing, all love, all trust, all sincerity. And not only was the sin against human brotherhood, but against the Spirit of God, so recently and powerfully manifest in the Church."
5:11 Luke reemphasized the sobering effect these events produced in all who heard about them (v. 5; cf. 2:43). People probably said, "There but for the grace of God go I!"
Here is the first of 23 uses of the word "church" in Acts. The Western (Beza) text used it in 2:47, but it is probably incorrect there. The Greek word, ekklesia, means "called out assembly." This was a common word that writers often used to describe assemblies of people that congregated for political and various other types of meetings. The word "church," like the word "baptism," can refer to more than one thing. Sometimes it refers to the body of Christ as it has existed throughout history, the universal church. Sometimes it refers to Christians living in various places during one particular period of time (e.g., the early church). Sometimes it refers to a group of Christians who live in one area at a particular time, a local church. Here it seems to refer to the local church in Jerusalem.
The writers of Scripture always referred to the church, the body of Christ, as an entity distinct from the nation of Israel. Every reference to Israel in the New Testament refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is true in the Old Testament also.
Ananias and Sapphira presented an appearance of commitment to God that was not true of them. They were insincere, appearing to be one way but really not being that way. Had Ananias and Sapphira never professed to be as committed as they claimed when they brought their gift, God probably would not have judged them as He did. They lacked personal integrity.
"So familiar are we with 'spots and wrinkles' in the church that we can with difficulty realize the significance of this, the first sin in and against the community. It corresponds to the entrance of the serpent into Eden with the fall of Eve in the OT: and the first fall from the ideal must have staggered the apostles and the multitude. . . . The sin really was not the particular deceit, but the state of heart [cf. v. 3]—hypocrisy and unreality."
Some interpreters have wondered if Ananias and Sapphira were genuine believers. Luke certainly implied they were; they were as much a part of the church as Barnabas was. Are true Christians capable of deliberate deceit? Certainly they are. One writer gave four reasons to conclude that they were real Christians.
"It is plain that the New Testament not only teaches the existence of the carnal Christian [1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18] but of true Christians who persisted in their carnality up to the point of physical death.
God's power, manifest through the apostles in blessing (3:1-26) as well as in judgment (5:1-11), made an increasingly powerful impact on the residents of Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders increased their opposition to the apostles, just as they had increased their opposition to Jesus. Luke preserved the record of the developing attitudes that resulted. The Sadducees became more jealous and antagonistic, the Pharisees chose to react with moderation, and the Christians gained greater joy and confidence.
This pericope is another of Luke's summaries of conditions in the church that introduces what follows (cf. 2:42-47; 4:32-35). It also explains why the Sadducees became so jealous that they arrested, not only Peter and John, but other apostles as well. The apostles were gaining great influence, not only in Jerusalem, but also in the outlying areas. The healing of one lame man had triggered initial opposition (3:1-10), but now many people were being healed.
5:12 The lame beggar was not the only person who benefited from the apostles' ministry of performing miracles. Many other needy people did as well. These miracles signified who Jesus really was ("signs"), and they filled the people with awe ("wonders"). The believers continued to meet in Solomon's portico (cf. 3:11).
5:13 The "rest" (Gr. hoi loipoi) were probably the unbelieving Jews. Other possibilities are that they were the apostles, other Christians, or other Jerusalemites. They steered clear of the Christians because of the Jewish leaders' opposition (4:18) and the apostles' power (vv. 1-10). The "people" (Gr. ho laos), the responsive Jews, honored the believers ("held them in high esteem").
5:14 Luke stopped giving numbers for the size of the church (cf. 1:15; 2:41; 4:4) and just said that God was adding "multitudes" of both "men and women" to the church constantly.
5:15 Peter's powerful influence reminds us of Jesus' influence during the early days of His Galilean ministry when all Capernaum gathered at His door (Mark 1:32-34). Elsewhere Luke described the power of God's presence overshadowing someone (cf. Luke 1:35; 9:34). The text does not say that Peter's "shadow" healed people. It says that people wanted to get close to Peter because he was so powerful.
"In the ancient world many people believed that a person's shadow could possess magical healing powrs. The people referred to in this verse were not necessarily Christians, but those who believed that Peter, as an advocate of a new religion, had magical powers. The people imposed their superstitions upon this new faith."
Even today, some people superstitiously believe that a person's shadow carries his power. Some parents have pulled their children away from the shadow of a wicked person and thrust them into the shadow of an honored individual. The action of these first-century Near Easterners shows their respect for Peter, who had the power to heal. These signs and wonders authenticated the apostles as Jesus' and God's representatives (cf. 19:11-12; Matt. 10:8).
"I have often told how my oldest son at one time had an eclipse of faith until one day several of us were invited to spend an afternoon with William Jennings Bryan in his Florida home, and I was asked to bring my son. During that visit, for two or three hours we discussed the Word of God and exchanged thoughts on precious portions of Scripture. The young man sat apart and said very little, but as we left that place he turned to me and exclaimed, 'Father, I have been a fool! I thought I couldn't believe the Bible, but if a man like that with his education and intelligence can believe, I am making a fool of myself to pretend I cannot accept it.' So much for the shadow ministry of William Jennings Bryan."
5:16 News of the apostles' powers was spreading beyond Jerusalem. People from outlying areas were "bringing" their "sick" friends to them, just as people had brought sick friends to Jesus from miles around (cf. Luke 5:15). Luke probably meant that "all" whom the apostles intended to heal experienced restoration, not that they healed every single individual who was sick (cf. Matt. 8:16). Even Jesus' healings were limited in their scope (cf. Luke 5:17). This verse is one of the texts that advocates of the "prosperity gospel" appeal to as proof that it is never God's will for anyone to be sick. Other texts they use include Exodus 15:26; 23:25; Psalm 103:3; Proverbs 4:20-22; Isaiah 33:24; Jeremiah 30:17; Matthew 4:23; 10:1; Mark 16:16-18; Luke 6:17-19; and Acts 10:38.
This section is very similar to 4:32-35, though this summary shows the church gaining many more adherents and much greater influence than the former one documented.
The popularity and effectiveness of the apostles riled the Sadducees just as Jesus' popularity and effectiveness had earlier.
5:17-18 The high priest "rose up" (Gr. anastas, cf. v. 34), taking official action as leader of the Sanhedrin. As mentioned above, the high priest and most of the Sanhedrin members were "Sadducees" (4:1). The Holy Spirit filled the believers, Satan had filled Ananias and Sapphira, and now "jealousy" filled the Sanhedrin members, particularly the Sadducees. They had the apostles arrested and confined "in a common (public) jail" (Gr. teresis demosia).
"The Sadducees are often seen as more hostile to the new movement than the Pharisees in Acts, whereas in Luke's Gospel the Pharisees are major opponents of Jesus. This fits the shift of attention to Jerusalem from the setting of Jesus's ministry outside the city. The Sadducees have more to lose, since they control the council and have worked out a compromise with the Romans to share power."
Peter and John have been the apostles in view to this point, but now we read that "Peter and the apostles (plural) . . . stood . . . before the (Council) Sanhedrin" (vv. 27, 29). It is probable, therefore, that more apostles than just Peter and John are in view in this whole incident beginning with verse 17.
5:19 "Angel" (Gr. angelos) means messenger. Wherever this word occurs, the context usually determines whether the messenger is a human being or a spirit being. Luke did not identify which kind of messenger God used here. His point was that "the Lord" secured the apostles' release. The messenger's message had a very authoritative ring, so probably he was a spirit being (cf. 12:6-10; 16:26-27). This is one of three "jail door miracles" that Luke recorded in Acts (cf. Peter in 12:6-11; and Paul and Silas in 16:26-27).
5:20 The angel instructed the apostles to "go" (Gr. poreuesthe) and "stand" their ground (stathentes). They were to resist the opposition of the Sanhedrin. They were to continue addressing "the people," the Jews, with the full message that they had been heralding. They were not to back down or trim their words. The "whole message of this life" is a synonym for the message of salvation (cf. 4:12; 13:26). The Greek words zoe ("life") and soteria ("salvation") both translate the same Hebrew word, hayyah.
5:21 The apostles obeyed their instructor and began teaching in the temple again early the next morning. At this same time, the full Sanhedrin assembled to try the apostles, whom they assumed were still in jail.
5:22-23 Luke's account of the temple police's bewilderment is really quite amusing. This whole scene calls to mind scenes from old Keystone Cops movies. The people readily accepted the miracles that the apostles were performing, but their leaders seem to have been completely surprised by this miracle.
5:24 The major concern of the leaders ("captain of the temple" and "chief priests") was the potential public reaction when what had happened became known. They appear again to have been more concerned about their own reputation and security than about the facts of the case.
5:25 Eventually word reached the Sanhedrin that the prisoners were "teaching" the people "in the temple." Probably they expected to discover that the apostles had fled the city.
5:26 The apostles were so popular with the people that the captain and his temple police had to be very careful not to create the impression that they were going to harm the apostles. The apostles had become local heroes, as Jesus recently had been in the eyes of many. Earlier when Israel's leaders had wanted to arrest Jesus, they were careful about how they did so, because they feared the reaction of the people (Luke 20:19; 22:2).
5:27-28 Perhaps the apostles accompanied "the captain" and his "officers" submissively ("without violence") because they remembered Jesus' example of nonviolence and nonretaliation when He was arrested (Luke 22:52-53). Furthermore the guards' power over them was inferior to their own. They may have offered no resistance, as well, because their appearance before the Sanhedrin would give them another opportunity to witness for Christ.
The high priest introduced his comments with a reference to the authority of Israel's leaders. Pilate had similarly threatened Jesus with his authority (cf. John 19:10-11). The high priest showed his dislike for Jesus by not referring to the Lord by name, referring instead to "this name." Official Jewish opposition to Jesus was firm. He believed the authority of the Sanhedrin was greater than the authority of Jesus (cf. Matt. 28:18).
The leaders earlier had instructed Peter and John not to teach "in the name of Jesus" (4:18, 21), but Peter had said they would continue to do so because of Jesus' authority (4:19-20). Moreover Peter had charged Israel's leaders with Jesus' death (4:10-11). These rulers had rationalized away their guilt for Jesus' death, probably blaming it on Jesus Himself and the Romans (cf. 3:15). The Jewish leaders felt the disciples were unfairly heaping guilt on them for having shed Jesus' blood. However, only a few weeks earlier they had said to Pilate, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25; cf. Matt. 23:35).
5:29 This verse clarifies that the authorities had arrested other apostles besides Peter and John. Peter, as spokesman for the apostles, did not attempt to defend their civil disobedience, but simply repeated their responsibility to "obey God rather than men," specifically the Sanhedrin (4:19; cf. Luke 12:4-5). This is Peter's fourth speech that Luke reported.
5:30 Peter also reaffirmed that "the God of their (our) fathers" had "raised up Jesus" from the dead, and that the Sanhedrin was responsible for His crucifixion, an extremely brutal and shameful death. "Hanging Him on a cross" is a euphemism for crucifying Him (cf. Deut. 21:22-23; 1 Pet. 2:24).
5:31 Peter further claimed that "God" had "exalted" Jesus to the place of supreme authority, namely, at "His right hand." The Sanhedrin had asked Jesus if He was the Christ, and Jesus had replied that they would see Him seated at God's right hand (cf. Luke 22:67-71). Jesus was Israel's national "Prince" (leader, Messiah) and the Jews' individual and collective "Savior" (deliverer). Jesus had the authority to "grant repentance" (a change of mind) about Himself to the nation, and consequently "forgiveness of sins." Jesus' authority to forgive sins had been something Israel's leaders had resisted from the beginning of the Lord's ministry (Luke 5:20-24).
5:32 The apostles thought of themselves, not just as heralds, but as eyewitnesses ("witnesses") of that to which they now testified. The witness of "the Holy Spirit," to which Peter referred, was evidently the evidence that Jesus was the Christ—which the Spirit provided through fulfilled messianic prophecy. The apostles saw themselves as the human mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus had promised to send to bear witness concerning Himself (John 15:26-27).
They were announcing the fulfillment of what the Holy Spirit had predicted in the Old Testament, namely, that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Furthermore, God had now "given" the "Holy Spirit" to those who obeyed God by believing in Jesus (John 6:29). The Holy Spirit was also the greatest gift God had given people who lived under the Old Covenant (cf. Luke 11:13). These leaders needed to "obey" God by believing in Jesus, and then they too would receive this wonderful gift.
The early gospel preachers never presented belief in Jesus Christ as a "take it or leave it" option in Acts. God has commanded everyone to believe in His Son (e.g., 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). Failure to do so constitutes disobedience and results in judgment. The Holy Spirit now baptizes and indwells every person who obeys God by believing in His Son (John 3:36; 6:29; Rom. 8:9). This must be the obedience Peter had in mind.
5:33 Peter's firm but gracious words so infuriated the Sadducees that they were now about to order the death of the apostles—regardless of public reaction!
"While the Sanhedrin did not have authority under Roman jurisdiction to inflict capital punishment, undoubtedly they would have found some pretext for handing these men over to the Romans for such action—as they did with Jesus himself—had it not been for the intervention of the Pharisees, as represented particularly by Gamaliel."
Gamaliel's advocacy of moderation is the main point and reason for Luke's record of the apostles' second appearance before the Sanhedrin. Whereas the Sadducees "rose up" against the apostles (v. 17), Gamaliel "rose up" against the Sadducees (v. 34). He proved to be God's instrument for preserving the apostles, and perhaps all the early Christians in Jerusalem, at this time. This is the first speech by a non-Christian that Luke recorded in Acts, which shows its importance.
5:34 As mentioned previously, the Pharisees were the minority party in the Sanhedrin, though there were more than 6,000 of them in Israel at this time. They were, notwithstanding, far more influential with the masses than the Sadducees were. The Pharisees looked for a personal Messiah. They believed in the resurrection of the dead and the existence and activity of angels and demons. They tried to live a simple life, in contrast to the Sadducees' luxurious living.
The name "Pharisee" evidently comes from the Aramaic verb peras, meaning "to separate." They considered themselves to be separated to holiness and dedicated entirely to God. Most of the scribes, the Bible expositors of that day, were Pharisees. Consequently the Sadducees listened to the Pharisees and especially to Gamaliel.
Gamaliel was the leader of the more liberal school of Hillel, one of the two most influential parties within Pharisaism. He had been a protégé of Hillel, who may have been Gamaliel's grandfather. Saul of Tarsus was one of his own promising young disciples (22:3). People called him Rabban Gamaliel. Rabban (lit. "our teacher") was a title of higher honor than rabbi (lit. "my teacher"). Gamaliel was the most "respected" Pharisee of his day ("respected by all the people"). The Mishnah, a collection of commentaries on the oral laws of Israel published toward the end of the second century A.D., contains the following statement about him.
Gamaliel was able to direct the Sanhedrin as he did through his personal influence, not because he had any superior official authority within that body.
5:35-36 After the apostles had left the meeting room, Gamaliel addressed his colleagues with the traditional designation "Men of Israel" (cf. 2:22). He warned his brethren to do nothing rash. He pointed to two similar movements that had failed when their leaders had died. Historians do not know anything about this "Theudas," though he may have come to prominence shortly after Herod the Great's death (ca. A.D. 4). Josephus referred to a revolt led by a (different?) Theudas, but this occurred more than a decade after Gamaliel's speech.
5:37 "Judas of Galilee" led a revolt against Rome in A.D. 6. The "census" in view was probably the one that Quirinius, legate of Syria, took in A.D. 6 when Archelaus was deposed and Judea became part of the Roman province of Syria. Judas founded the Zealot movement in Israel that sought to throw off Roman rule violently.
His influence was considerable, though it declined after his death. Gamaliel seems to have been playing down the influence of Judas a little more than it deserved.
5:38-39 Gamaliel's point was that if God was not behind the apostles, their efforts would prove futile in time. Obviously Gamaliel believed this was the case, or else he would likely have become a Christian. He offered the theoretical option that if the apostles were "of God," the Sanhedrin would find itself in the terrible position of "fighting against God." Obviously Gamaliel believed in the sovereignty of God. He advised his brethren to wait and see. He did not believe that the apostles presented as serious a threat to the leaders of Judaism as the Sadducees believed they did.
Saul of Tarsus, on the other hand, took a different view of how the Jews should respond to the growing threat of Christianity. He executed many Christians, but that was after the number and influence of the Christians had increased dramatically (cf. chs. 6—7).
"The point made . . . by Gamaliel . . . has already been made by the narrator through the rescue from prison and the ensuing scene of discovery. Here we have an instance of reinforcement through reiteration. A message is first suggested by an event and then clearly stated in the interpretive commentary of a story character."
Gamaliel's counsel helps us understand how objective unbelieving Jews were viewing the apostles' claims at this time. There had been others besides the apostles who had insisted that their leaders were great men. Yet their claims had eventually proved false. Many of the Jews, whom Gamaliel represented, likewise viewed the apostles' preaching as well-meaning but mistaken. Jesus to them was no more special than Theudas, or Judas of Galilee, had been. Other than their ideas about Jesus being the Messiah, the apostles held views that did not challenge fundamental Pharisaic theology. However the disciples, like Jesus, rejected the authority of oral tradition over Scripture.
"No credence whatever can be attributed to the tradition that Gamaliel became a Christian, or that he was secretly a Christian, although we may sympathise with St. Chrysostom's words, 'it cannot be that he should have continued in unbelief to the end'. The Talmud distinctly affirms that he died a Jew, and, if he had betrayed his faith, we cannot understand the honour which Jewish tradition attaches to his name, . . ."
5:40 Gamaliel convinced his fellow Sanhedrin members. They decided to settle for flogging the apostles, probably with 39 lashes (Deut. 25:3; Acts 22:19; 2 Cor. 11:24). The Mishnah contains a description of how the Jews normally did this This flogging (whipping) was for disobeying the Sanhedrin's former order to stop preaching (4:18). This is the first recorded instance, by Luke in Acts, of Christians receiving a physical beating for witnessing. The rulers also threatened the apostles again and then released them (cf. 4:21). The official ban against preaching in Jesus' name remained in force.
5:41 Rather than emerging from their beating repentant or discouraged, the apostles "went home (on their way) rejoicing." They did not enjoy the lashes, but they considered it an honor to "suffer" dishonor for the sake of Jesus' name (cf. 3:6; 16:25). Jesus had predicted that people would hate and persecute His disciples, and had instructed them to rejoice in these responses (Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23). Peter later wrote that Christians should count it a privilege to suffer for Christ's sake (1 Pet. 4:13; cf. 2:18-21; 3:8-17; Phil. 1:29). As the Master had suffered abuse from His enemies so, too, His servants were suffering abuse for their witness.
5:42 This treatment did not deter the apostles at all. Instead they continued explaining (Gr. didasko) and evangelizing (euaggelizomai) daily, publicly "in the temple" and privately "from house to house" (cf. 2:46), declaring that Jesus was the Messiah (cf. 28:31).
The scene shifts back to life within the church (cf. 4:32—5:11). Luke wrote this pericope to explain some administrative changes that the growth of the church made necessary. He also wanted to introduce the Hellenistic Jews, who took the lead in evangelizing the Gentiles. Their activity began shortly after the event he recorded here.
In this chapter we see two of Satan's favorite methods of assailing the church that he has employed throughout history: internal dissension (vv. 1-7) and external persecution (vv. 8-15).
6:1 The number of the disciples of Jesus continued to grow. This is the first mention of the word "disciple" in Acts, where it occurs 28 times. In addition, the word appears about 238 times in the Gospels, but nowhere else in the New Testament. This is probably because when Jesus was present, or had just departed to heaven, the New Testament writers referred to His followers in relationship to Him. Afterward they identified them in relation to one another and society.
Two types of Jews made up the Jerusalem church. Some were native "Hebrews," who had lived primarily in Palestine, spoke Aramaic predominantly but also Greek, and used the Hebrew Scriptures. The others were "Hellenists," who originally lived outside Palestine (Jews of the Diaspora), but were now living in Palestine. Many of these Jews returned to Palestine to end their days in their ancestral homeland. They spoke Greek primarily, as well as the language of the area where they had lived, and they used the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul classed himself among the Hebrews (2 Cor. 11:22; cf. Phil. 3:5), even though he grew up outside Palestine.
"It is enough to say, generally, that in the Aramaean ["Hebrew"] theology, Oriental elements prevailed rather than Greek, and that the subject of Babylonian influences has more connection with the life of St. Peter than that of St. Paul."
The basic distinction between the Hebrews and Hellenists appears to have been linguistic. Those who could speak a Semitic language were Hebrews, and those who could not were Hellenists. Philo of Alexandria was the great intellectual representative of the Hellenists. Within Judaism, frequent tensions arose between these two groups, and this cultural problem carried over into the church. The Hebrews observed the Mosaic Law much more strictly than their Hellenistic brethren. Conversely the Hellenists typically regarded the Hebrews as quite narrow-minded and self-centered.
The Hebrews and the Hellenists had their own separate synagogues in Jerusalem. But when they became Christians, they came together in one fellowship. As the church grew, some of the Christians believed that the church leaders were discriminating against the Hellenists unfairly (cf. Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). The conflict ("complaint") arose over the distribution of food to church "widows" (cf. 2:44-45; 4:32—5:11). Care of widows and the needy was a priority in Judaism (Exod. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; et al.). The Jews provided for their own widows weekly—in their own synagogues—along with the poor.
6:2-4 The 12 apostles wisely delegated responsibility for this ministry to other qualified men in the congregation, so that it would not distract them from their primary duties. This is the only reference to "the Twelve" in Acts (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5), though Luke referred to the Eleven earlier (2:14). "Serving tables" probably involved the organization and administration of ministry to the widows, rather than simply serving as waiters or dispensers (cf. Matt. 21:12; Luke 19:23).
The leaders of the church asked the congregation to nominate ("select") "seven" qualified "men" whom the apostles would officially appoint. Many churches today take this approach in selecting secondary church leaders, basing their practice on this model. For example, the congregation nominates deacons, and the elders appoint some or all of them. This approach was common in Judaism. It was not a new method of leadership selection that the apostles devised, though it was new for the church.
These men needed to have "good reputation(s)," to be under the Spirit's control ("full of the Spirit"), and to be wise ("full of wisdom"; v. 3). Note that these are character traits, not special talents or abilities (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). The Twelve then would be free to concentrate on their primary responsibilities: "prayer" and "the ministry of" God's "Word" (v. 4).
"It is not necessarily suggested that serving tables is on a lower level than prayer and teaching; the point is rather that the task to which the Twelve had been specifically called was one of witness and evangelism."
As elsewhere in Scripture, prayer is the primary way God has ordained whereby His people secure His working in human affairs.
"Prayer is the most powerful and effective means of service in the Kingdom of God . . . It is the most dynamic work which God has entrusted to His saints, but it is also the most neglected ministry open to the believer.
"The Bible clearly reveals that believing prayer is essential for the advancement of the cause of Christ. It is the essential element for Christian victory . . .
"We may marvel at the spiritual power and glorious victories of the early apostolic church, but we often forget that its constant prayer life was the secret of its strength . . .
6:5 All seven men whom the congregation chose had Greek names. Luke gave the impression, by using only Greek names, that these seven were from the Hellenistic group in the church, though many Palestinian Jews at that time had Greek names. Thus Hellenists appear to have been given responsibility for settling a Hellenist complaint—a wise approach.
"One commentator has called it the first example of affirmative action—'Those with political power generally repressed complaining minorities; here the apostles hand the whole system over to the offended minority.'"
"Stephen" and "Philip" appear later in Acts, in important roles as apologist and evangelist, respectively. Luke did not mention "Prochorus," "Nicanor," "Timon," or "Parmenas" after this point. "Nicolas" was a Gentile who had first become a Jew by the "proselyte" process, and then became a Christian. He came "from Antioch" of Syria, which Luke may have mentioned because of Antioch's later prominence as a center of Christianity. Traditionally Antioch was Luke's hometown. Tradition also links this Nicolas with the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6, 15), but this connection is questionable since there is no solid evidence to support it. Many Jews lived in Syria because of its proximity to Judea, and most of these lived in the city of Antioch.
6:6 Laying hands on someone symbolized the bestowal of a blessing (Gen. 48:13; et al.). It also represented identification with the person (Lev. 1:4; 3:2; et al.), commissioning as a kind of successor (Num. 27:23), and granting authority (8:17-19; 9:17; 13:3; 19:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; Heb. 6:2). Here, commissioning for a task is in view (cf. 13:1-3), rather than formal ordination, which came later in church history. Prayer accompanied this ceremony on this occasion, as was customary.
Many Bible students regard these seven men as the first deacons of the church. However, the text never uses the term "deacon" to describe them (cf. 21:8). The Greek word diakonos (deacon) does not occur in Acts at all, though related forms of the word do, even in this pericope. Diakonia ("serving" or "distribution" and "ministry") appears in verses 1 and 4, and diakonein ("serve" or "wait on") occurs in verse 2. I think it is more likely that these seven men represent a stage in the development of what later became the office of deacon. They probably served as a model for this office. Office typically follows function.
The historical origin of deacons lies in Jewish social life. The historical origin of the elder office, incidentally, lies in Jewish civil and religious life, most recently in synagogue organization. As the Jerusalem church grew and as its needs and activities proliferated, it adopted some of the organizational features of Jewish culture that these Jewish believers knew well.
"The early church had problems but, according to Acts, it also had leaders who moved swiftly to ward off corruption and find solutions to internal conflicts, supported by people who listened to each other with open minds and responded with good will."
6:7 This verse is another one of Luke's summary progress reports that ends each major section of Acts (cf. 2:47; 9:31; 12:24; 16:6; 19:20; 28:31). It also corresponds to other summary paragraphs within this section of the book (cf. 4:32-35; 5:12-16). Luke linked the spread of God's Word with church growth. This cause-and-effect relationship has continued throughout history. The advances of the gospel and the responses of the people were his primary concern in 3:1—6:7. "Many" of the numerous "priests" in Jerusalem were also becoming Christians. One writer estimated that about 2,000 priests lived in Jerusalem at this time. The gospel did not win over only the "laity" in Israel.
"The ordinary priests were socially and in other ways far removed from the wealthy chief-priestly families from which the main opposition to the gospel came. Many of the ordinary priests were no doubt men holy and humble of heart, like Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, men who would be readily convinced of the truth of the gospel."
This pericope helps us see several very important things about the priorities of the early church. First, the church showed concern for both spiritual and physical needs. Its leaders gave priority to spiritual needs (prayer and the ministry of the Word), but they also gave attention to correcting injustice and helping the poor. This reflects the Christians' commitment to loving God wholeheartedly and loving their neighbors as themselves, God's great ethical demands.
Second, the early church was willing to adapt its organizational structure and administrative procedures: to minister effectively and to meet needs. It did not view its original structure and practices as binding, but adapted traditional structures and methods to facilitate the proclamation of the gospel and the welfare of the church. In contrast, many churches today try to duplicate the form and functions of the early church because they feel bound to follow these.
Third, the early church did not practice some things that the modern church does. Rather than blaming one another for the problem that arose, the disciples corrected the injustice and continued to give prayer and the ministry of the Word priority. Rather than paternalistically feeling that they had to maintain control over every aspect of church life, the apostles delegated authority to a group within the church (that had the greatest vested interest) and let them solve the distribution problem.
Verse 7 concludes Luke's record of the witness in Jerusalem. From that city the gospel spread out into the rest of Judea, and it is that expansion that Luke emphasized in the chapters that follow next.
In this next major section of Acts, Luke narrated three significant events in the life and ministry of the early church. These events were the martyrdom of Stephen, the ministry of Philip, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Luke's presentation of these events was primarily biographical. In fact, he began his account of each event with the name of its major character (6:8; 8:5; 9:1). The time when these events took place was probably shortly after those reported in the preceding chapters of the book.
Luke presented the events surrounding Stephen's martyrdom in Jerusalem next. He did so to explain the means God used to scatter the Christians and the gospel from Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This record also throws more light on the spiritual strength and vitality of the church at this time. Stephen's experiences as recorded here resemble those of our Lord, as Peter's did in the earlier chapters. Witherington listed 10 parallels between the passions of Jesus and Stephen.
6:8 Stephen was "full of grace" (cf. cf. 4:33; Luke 4:22) "and power" (cf. 2:22; 4:33), as well as the Holy Spirit (vv. 3, 5), wisdom (v. 3), and faith (v. 5). His ability to perform miracles seems unrelated to his having been appointed as one of the Seven (v. 5; cf. 21:8). Jesus and the Twelve were not the only ones who had the ability to perform miracles (cf. 2:22, 43; 5:12).
6:9-10 Many different synagogues existed in Jerusalem at this time (cf. 24:12). The Talmud said there were 390 of them before the Romans destroyed the city. Other rabbinic sources set the number at 460 and 480, but these may be exaggerations. Like local churches today, they tended to attract people with similar backgrounds and preferences. Many families, that had experienced liberation from some kind of slavery or servitude, evidently populated the "Synagogue of the Freedmen." Some scholars believe that as many as five synagogues are in view in this reference, but the best interpretation seems to be that there was just one.
"The Freedmen were Roman prisoners (or the descendants of such prisoners) who had later been granted their freedom. We know that a considerable number of Jews were taken prisoner by the Roman general Pompey and later released in Rome, and it is possible that these are meant here."
These people had their roots in North Africa (Cyrene and Alexandria) and Asia Minor (Cilicia and Asia). Thus these were Hellenistic Jews, the group from which Stephen himself probably came. Since Saul of Tarsus was from Cilicia, perhaps he attended this synagogue, though he was not a freed man. He had been born free. The leading men in this congregation took issue with Stephen, whom they had heard defend the gospel. Perhaps he, too, attended this synagogue. However, they were unable to defeat him in debate. Stephen seems to have been an unusually gifted defender of the faith, though he was not one of the Twelve. He was a forerunner of later apologists. God guided wise Stephen by His Spirit as he spoke (cf. Luke 21:15).
This is the first occurrence in Acts of someone presenting the gospel in a Jewish synagogue. Until now we have read that the disciples taught and preached in the temple and from house to house (5:42). We now learn that they were also announcing the good news in their Jewish religious meetings. Paul normally preached first in the synagogue in the towns he evangelized on his missionary journeys.
"While not minimizing the importance of the apostles to the whole church, we may say that in some way Stephen, Philip, and perhaps others of the appointed seven may well have been to the Hellenistic believers what the apostles were to the native-born Christians."
6:11 Failing to prove Stephen wrong by intellectual argumentation, his adversaries falsely accused him of defying Moses and God (cf. Matt. 26:61, 65). At this time in history, the Jews defined blasphemy as any defiant sin.
6:12 Stephen's accusers "stirred up" the Jewish "people," the Jewish "elders" (family and tribal leaders), and the "scribes" (Pharisees) against Stephen. Soldiers then arrested him and "brought him before the Sanhedrin (Council)," as they had done to Jesus, Peter, John, and the other apostles (4:15; 5:27; cf. 22:30). Until now we have read in Acts that Jewish persecution focused on the apostles, but now we read that other Christians began to experience this persecution.
6:13-14 The false testimony against Stephen was that he was saying things about the temple ("this holy place") and the Mosaic "Law" that the Jews regarded as untrue and unpatriotic (cf. Matt. 26:59-61). Stephen appeared to be challenging the authority of the Pharisees, the Mosaic Law, and a major teaching of the Sadducees, namely, the importance of the temple. He was evidently saying the same things Jesus had said (cf. Matt. 5:21-48; 12:6; 24:1-2; Mark 14:58; John 2:19-21).
"Like the similar charge against Jesus (Matt. 26:61; Mark 14:58; cf. John 2:19-22), its falseness lay not so much in its wholesale fabrication but in its subtile and deadly misrepresentation of what was intended. Undoubtedly Stephen spoke regarding a recasting of Jewish life in terms of the supremacy of Jesus the Messiah. Undoubtedly he expressed in his manner and message something of the subsidiary significance of the Jerusalem temple and the Mosaic law, as did Jesus before him (e.g., Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6; 7:14-15; 10:5-9). But that is not the same as advocating the destruction of the temple or the changing of the law—though on these matters we must allow Stephen to speak for himself in Acts 7."
"For Luke, the Temple stands as a time-honored, traditional place for teaching and prayer in Israel, which serves God's purpose but is not indispensable; the attitude with which worshippers use the temple makes all the difference."
6:15 Luke may have intended to stress Stephen's being full of the Holy Spirit, that resulted in his confidence, composure, and courage, by drawing attention to "his face." Moses' face similarly shone when he descended from Mt. Sinai after seeing God (cf. 7:55-56; Exod. 34:29, 35). Perhaps Stephen's hearers recalled Moses' shining face. If so, they should have concluded that Stephen was not against Moses, but was like Moses.
Stephen proceeded to function as "an angel" (a messenger from God), as well as looking like one, by bringing new revelation to his hearers, as Moses had. The Old Covenant had come through angelic mediation at Mt. Sinai (Deut 33:2 LXX; cf. Heb. 2:2). Now revelation about the New Covenant was coming through one who acted and even looked "like . . . an angel." As on the day of Pentecost, God was giving both audio and visual evidence that what the speaker was saying came from Him.
7:1 The "high priest" probably refers to Caiaphas, the official high priest then, but possibly Luke meant Annas (cf. 4:6). Jesus had stood before both of these men, separately, to face similar charges (John 18:13-14, 24; Matt. 26:57). This was the third time that Christian leaders had defended their preaching before the Sanhedrin that Luke recorded in Acts (cf. 4:15; 5:27).
As a Hellenistic Jew, Stephen possessed a clearer vision of the universal implications of the gospel than did most of the Hebraic Jews. It was this breadth of vision that drew attack from the more temple-bound Jews in Jerusalem and led to his arrest. His address was not a personal defense designed to secure his acquittal by the Sanhedrin. It was instead an apologetic for the new way of worship that Jesus taught, and which His followers embraced.
"On the surface it appears to be a rather tedious recital of Jewish history [cf. 13:16-33] which has little relevance to the charges on which Stephen has been brought to trial; on closer study, however, it reveals itself as a subtile and skilful proclamation of the Gospel which, in its criticism of Jewish institutions, marks the beginning of the break between Judaism and Christianity, and points forward to the more trenchant exposition of the difference between the old faith and the new as expressed by Paul and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews."
Luke evidently recorded this speech, the longest one in Acts, to explain and defend this new way of worship quite fully. He showed that the disciples of Jesus were carrying on God's plan, whereas the unbelieving Jews had committed themselves to beliefs and behavior that God had left behind and disapproved. The story of his speech opens with a reference to "the God of glory" (v. 2), and it closes with mention of "the glory of God" (v. 55).
The form of Stephen's defense was common in his culture, but it is uncommon in western culture. He reviewed the history of Israel and highlighted elements of that history that supported his contentions. He built it mainly around outstanding personalities: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and, to a lesser degree, David and Solomon.
The first section of Stephen's defense (vv. 2-16) deals with Israel's patriarchal period and refutes the charge of blaspheming God (6:11). The second major section (vv. 17-43) deals with Moses and the Law, and responds to the charge of blaspheming Moses (6:11) and speaking against the Law (6:13). The third section (vv. 44-50) deals with the temple, and responds to the charge of speaking against the temple (6:13), and Stephen's alledgedly saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and alter Jewish customs (6:14). Stephen then climaxed his address with an indictment of his hardhearted hearers (vv. 51-53). Longenecker believed Stephen's main subjects were the land (vv. 2-36), the Law (vv. 37-43), and the temple (vv. 44-50), plus a concluding indictment (vv. 51-53).
Stephen's purpose was also to show that Jesus experienced the same things Abraham, Joseph, and Moses had experienced as God's anointed servants. As the Sanhedrin recognized them as men whom God had anointed for the blessing of Israel and the world, so should they recognize Jesus. The people to whom these three patriarchs went as God's representatives all initially rejected them—but later accepted them—which is also Jesus' history.
Stephen quoted from the Septuagint (Greek) Old Testament. This was the translation most commonly used by Hellenistic Jews such as himself. His selective history of Israel stressed the points that he wanted to make.
"In this discourse three ideas run like cords through its fabric:
"1. There is progress and change in God's program. . . .
2. The blessings of God are not limited to the land of Israel and the temple area. . . .
The false witnesses had accused Stephen of blaspheming God (6:11). He proceeded to show the Sanhedrin that his view of God was absolutely orthodox. However in relating Israel's history during the patriarchal period, he mentioned things about God and the patriarchs that his hearers needed to reconsider.
Stephen began his defense by going back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, and to the Abrahamic Covenant, God's foundational promises to the Jews.
7:2-3 Stephen called for the Sanhedrin's attention, addressing his hearers respectfully as "brethren and fathers" (cf. 22:1). These men were his brethren, in that they were fellow Jews, and fathers, in that they were older leaders of the nation.
He took the title "God of glory" from Psalm 29:2, where it occurs in a context of God revealing His glory by speaking powerfully and majestically. God had revealed His glory by speaking this way to their "father (ancestor) Abraham" when he was in Mesopotamia (cf. Gen. 15:7; Neh. 9:7). Genesis 12:1-3 records God's instruction for Abraham to leave his homeland to go to a foreign country that God would show him. Stephen was quoting from the Septuagint translation of Genesis 12:1. According to Rackham, this is one of 15 historical problems in Stephen's speech, but these problems include additions to previous revelation as well as apparent contradictions.
At least three solutions are possible. First, Stephen may have been referring to a Jewish tradition that God first called Abraham in Ur. Second, he may have been telescoping Abraham's moves, from Ur and then from Haran, and viewing them as one event. Third, he may have viewed Genesis 15:7 as implying Abraham's initial call to leave Ur.
God directed Abraham to a promised land. The Promised Land had become a Holy Land to the Jews, and in Stephen's day the Jews venerated it too greatly. We see this in the fact that they looked down on Hellenistic Jews, such as Stephen, who had not lived there all their lives. What was a good gift from God, the land, had become a source of inordinate pride that made the Jews conclude that orthodoxy was bound up with being in the land.
7:4 Obeying God's call, Abraham "left" Mesopotamia, specifically Ur "of the Chaldeans" (cf. Gen. 15:7; Josh. 24:3; Neh. 9:7), and "settled" temporarily "in Haran," near the top of the Fertile Crescent. After Abraham's father Terah died, God directed Abraham south into Canaan, the land the Jews occupied in Stephen's day (Gen. 12:5).
"A comparison of the data in Genesis (11:26, 32; 12:4) seems to indicate that Terah lived another 60 years after Abraham left [Haran]. . . . The best solution seems to be that Abraham was not the oldest son of Terah, but was named first because he was the most prominent (11:26)."
"It is more likely that Stephen is using an old and alternate Jewish tradition here that has left its trace in the LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch, although the possibility also exists that Gen. 11:26 should be read differently, so that the MT and the LXX are closer than it might appear."
The father of Judaism was willing to depart from where he was, in order to follow God into unknown territory, on the word of God alone. The Jews in Stephen's day were not willing to depart from where they were in their thinking, even though God's word was leading them to do so, as Stephen would point out. Stephen wanted them to follow Abraham's good example of faith and courage.
7:5 Stephen also contrasted Abraham's lack of, or "no inheritance" in the land with God's promise to give the land to Abraham's descendants as an inheritance (Gen. 12:7; cf. Heb. 11:8). God promised this when the patriarch had no children. Thus the emphasis is on God's promise of future possession of the land through descendants to come. Of course, Abraham did possess the cave of Machpelah in Canaan (Gen. 23:3-20), but perhaps Stephen meant that God gave no continuing or full possession to Abraham.
The Jews of Stephen's day needed to realize that God had not exhausted (finished or used up) His promises to Abraham in giving them what they presently had and valued so highly. There was greater inheritance to come, but it would come to future generations of their descendants, not to them. Specifically it would come to those who continued to follow Abraham's good example of faith by believing in Jesus. God sought to teach these Jews that there were spiritual descendants of Abraham who were not his physical descendants (Gal. 3:6-9, 29).
7:6 God also told Abraham that his offspring would be slaves and suffer mistreatment outside their land "for 400 years" (Gen. 15:13), namely, from the year their enslavement began, evidently 1845 B.C., to the Exodus, 1446 B.C. Some interpreters take the 400 years as a round number.
The Israelites were currently under Roman oppression, but were again about to lose their freedom and experience antagonism, outside the land, for many years. Jesus had predicted this (Matt. 23:1—25:46).
7:7 God promised to punish ("judge") the nations that oppressed Israel (Gen. 12:3), and to bring her back into the land ("this place") eventually (Gen. 15:13). God had told Moses that He would bring the Israelites out of Egypt, and that they would worship Him at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 3:12). Stephen's point was that God had promised to punish those who oppressed His people. The Jews had been oppressing the Christians by prohibiting their preaching and even flogging them (4:18; 5:40). Gamaliel had warned that if the Christians were correct, the Jewish leaders would be fighting against God by opposing them (5:39). God's promise to judge His people's oppressors went back into the Abrahamic Covenant, which the Jews treasured and Stephen reminded them of here.
7:8 Stephen probably referred to God giving Abraham "the covenant of circumcision" (Gen. 17), because this was the sign that God would deliver on what He had promised. It was the seal of the Abrahamic Covenant. God's promise was firm. Moreover, God supernaturally enabled Abraham to father "Isaac," whom Abraham obediently "circumcised," and later Isaac begot "Jacob," who fathered "the 12 patriarchs." Thus this chapter in Israel's history ends with emphasis on God's faithfulness to His promises to Abraham. The Sanhedrin needed to reevaluate these promises in the light of how God was working in their day.
Stephen affirmed belief that the God of glory had given the Abrahamic Covenant, which contained promises of land (vv. 2-4), seed (v. 5), and blessing (vv. 6-7). He had sealed this covenant with a sign, namely, circumcision (v. 8). Circumcision was one of the Jewish customs that would pass away in view of the new revelation that had come through Jesus Christ (cf. 6:14).
Throughout his speech, Stephen made many statements that had revolutionary implications for traditional Jewish thinking of his day. He did not expound these implications, but they are clear in view of what the disciples of Jesus were preaching. As such his speech is a masterpiece of understatement, or rather non-statement. That the Sanhedrin saw these implications and rejected them, becomes clear at the end of the speech, when they reacted as negatively as possible.
Stephen next proceeded to show what God had done with Joseph and his family. He apparently selected this segment of the patriarchal narrative primarily for two reasons. First, it shows how God miraculously preserved His people in faithfulness to His promises. Second, it shows the remarkable similarity between the career of Joseph, a "savior" God raised up, and that of Jesus. Jesus repeated many of Joseph's experiences, thus illustrating God's choice of Him. Also, the Israelites in the present were similar to Joseph's brothers in the past. Stephen's emphasis continued to be on God's faithfulness to His promises, despite the fact that Joseph's brothers were wicked and the chosen family was outside of the Promised Land. Stephen mentioned Jesus explicitly only once in his entire speech, in his very last sentence (v. 52). Nevertheless he referred to Him indirectly many times, by drawing parallels between the experiences of Joseph and Moses and those of Jesus.
7:9-10 The "patriarchs," Joseph's brothers, "became jealous of" him (Gen. 37:11), and "sold him" as a slave "into Egypt" (Gen. 37:28). One of Jesus' 12 disciples was responsible for selling Him, even as one of Joseph's 11 brothers had been responsible for selling him. Nevertheless, "God was with Joseph" (Gen. 39:2, 21) "and rescued him" from prison, gave him "favor and wisdom before (in front of) Pharaoh (lit. 'Great House')," and "made him ruler (governor) over Egypt" (Gen. 41:41) and his father's family. God was with Joseph, even though his brothers rejected him, because he was one of God's chosen people and because he followed God faithfully. This is what the Christians were claiming to be and do.
Like Joseph, Jesus' brethren rejected and literally sold Him for the price of a slave. Nevertheless God was with Joseph and Jesus (v. 9). God exalted Joseph under Pharaoh, and placed him in authority over his domain. God had done the same with Jesus.
7:11-12 The Jews' forefathers suffered from "a famine" in the Promised Land, and were sent to Egypt for "food" (Gen. 41:54-55; 42:2, 5). When hard times came upon God's people, He sustained them and brought them into blessing and under the rule of Joseph. So will it be in the future with Jesus. The Jews would first suffer hardship (in the destruction of Jerusalem and in the Tribulation), and then God will bring them into blessing under Jesus' rule (in the Millennium).
7:13-14 On their "second" visit, Joseph revealed himself "to his brothers," who could not believe he was their ruler, and he revealed his family's identity "to Pharaoh" (Gen. 45:1-4). In the future, similarly, Israel will finally recognize Jesus as her Messiah (Zech. 12:10-14). Joseph then "invited Jacob" and "all his family (relatives)," who numbered "75," to move to Egypt (Gen. 45:9-10). I take it that this was the number of people invited to Egypt. Some interpreters believe 75 people entered Egypt.
"One of the most widely accepted solutions is to recognize that the Hebrew text includes Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (a total of 70), but that the Septuagint omits Jacob and Joseph but includes Joseph's seven grandchildren (mentioned in 1 Chron. 7:14-15, 20-25). This is supported by the Hebrew in Genesis 46:8-26 which enumerates 66 names, omitting Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph's two sons."
7:15 The number of people who made the trip and entered Egypt was probably 70 (Gen. 46:26-27; Exod. 1:5; Deut. 10:22). "Jacob . . . died," safe and blessed under Joseph's rule. Likewise will Israel end its days under Jesus' rule in the Millennium. Jacob died in "Egypt," as did his sons and their immediate descendants. Thus verses 11-15 record both a threat to the chosen people and God's preservation of them, a second testimony to God's faithfulness in this pericope (cf. vv. 9-10).
7:16 From Egypt the chosen people eventually returned to the Promised Land. God had been with them away from the land, and He now returned them to the land. Believers in Jesus will end up in the final resting place of Jesus: heaven.
"Shechem" was of special interest to Stephen. The Israelites buried Joseph's bones there after their initial conquest of the land (Josh. 24:32). Stephen's allusion to this event was his way of concluding this period of Israel's history. Moses wrote that Jacob, not Abraham, "had purchased" the "tomb" from "Hamor in Shechem" (Gen. 33:19; cf. 23:16; 50:13). This is probably a case of attributing to an ancestor what one of his descendants did (cf. Heb. 7:9-10). In the ancient Near Eastern view of things, people regarded an ancestor as in one sense participating in the actions of his descendants (Gen. 9:25; 25:23; cf. Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:11-13).
Abraham had "purchased" Joseph's burial site, in the sense that his grandson Jacob eventually purchased it (cf. Heb. 7:9-10). Stephen probably intended that his reference to Abraham, rather than to Jacob, would remind his hearers of God's faithfulness in fulfilling the promises God gave to Abraham. He did this in one sense when Israel possessed Canaan under Joshua's leadership. Israel will experience the ultimate fulfillment of God's land promises to Abraham when she enters rest under Jesus' messianic rule in the Millennium.
Two other explanations of this apparent error are these. Stephen telescoped two events into one: Abraham's purchase from Ephron in Hebron (Gen. 23:1-20), and Jacob's purchase from Hamor in Shechem. Second, Abraham really did purchase the plot in Shechem, though Moses did not record that (cf. Gen. 12:6-7), and Jacob repurchased it later because the Canaanites had retaken it.
In Stephen's day, Shechem was in Samaritan territory. Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin that their ancestral deliverer Joseph was buried in the land that orthodox Jews despised and avoided. This was yet another instance of helping them understand that they should not think the only place God worked was in the Promised Land. Stephen had previously referred to Mesopotamia as the place where God had revealed Himself to Abraham (v. 2).
Stephen continued his review of Israel's history by proceeding into the period of the Exodus. He sought to refute the charge that he was blaspheming against Moses (6:11) and was speaking against the Mosaic Law (6:13).
Stephen's understanding of Moses was as orthodox as his view of God, but his presentation of Moses' career made comparison with Jesus' career unmistakable. As in the previous pericope, there is a double emphasis in this one, first, on God's faithfulness to His promises in the Abrahamic Covenant and, second, on Moses as a precursor of Jesus.
7:17-18 Stephen had gotten ahead of himself briefly in verse 16. Now he returned to his history of Israel just before the Exodus. "The promise" God had made to Abraham was that He would judge his descendants' enslaving nation and free the Israelites (Gen. 15:14). This was a particular way that He would fulfill the earlier promises to give Israel the land, to multiply the Israelites, and to curse those nations that cursed Israel (Gen. 12:1-3, 7). The Israelites "increased" in Egypt until another Pharaoh ("king") arose who disregarded ("did not know") Joseph (Exod. 1:7-8).
Similarly, Christ had come in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). Before Moses appeared on the scene, Israel increased in numbers and fell under the control of an enemy that was hostile to her. Likewise, before Jesus appeared, Israel had increased numerically and had fallen under Roman domination.
7:19 This Pharaoh "took advantage" of the Israelites, and "mistreated" them by decreeing the death of "their infants" (Exod. 1:10, 16, 22). Like Pharaoh, Herod the Great had tried to destroy all the Jewish babies at the time of Jesus' birth.
7:20-22 "Moses," the great deliverer of his people, was "born," preserved, protected ("nurtured" by "Pharaoh's daughter" no less), and "educated" in Egypt.
Moses became a powerful man "in word" (his writings?) "and deed." All this took place outside the Promised Land, which further depreciated the importance of that land in Stephen's account.
Like Moses, Jesus was lovely in God's sight when He was born, because God chose Him, and Mary nurtured Him at home, temporarily, before He came under the control of the Romans (cf. Matt. 1:18-21). Moses had great knowledge, as did Jesus; both became powerful men in words and deeds (v. 22).
". . . after forty years of learning in Egypt, God put him [Moses] out into the desert. There God gave him his B. D. degree, his Backside of the Desert degree, and prepared him to become the deliverer."
7:23-29 Moses' presumptive attempt to deliver his people resulted in his having to flee Egypt to "Midian," where he "became an alien" (cf. v. 6). These verses relate another story of an anointed leader of God's people who, like Joseph, was rejected by those people. Yet God did not abandon Moses or His people. God blessed Moses in a foreign land, Midian, by giving him "two sons."
Although Moses offered himself as the deliverer of his brethren, they did not understand him. The same thing happened to Jesus. Moses' Jewish brethren, who did not recognize that God had appointed him as their ruler and judge, rejected him even though Moses sought to help them. Likewise Jesus' Jewish brethren rejected Him. Moses' brethren feared that he might use his power to destroy them rather than help them. Similarly the Jewish leaders feared that Jesus, with His supernatural abilities, might bring them harm rather than deliverance and blessing (cf. John 11:47-48). Moses' rejection led him to leave his brethren and to live in a distant land where he fathered "sons" (v. 29). Jesus, too, had left His people (the Israelites), and had gone to live in a distant land (heaven) where He was producing descendants (i.e., Christians).
7:30-34 It was in Midian, "after 40 years," that God appeared to Moses in the "burning bush." The "angel" that appeared to Moses was the Angel of the Lord, very possibly the preincarnate Christ (vv. 31-33; cf. Exod. 3:2, 6; 4:2; John 12:41; 1 Cor. 10:1-4; Heb. 11:26). God commanded Moses to return "to Egypt" as His instrument of deliverance for the Israelites. Again, God revealed Himself and His Law outside the Holy Land.
Moses received a commission from God, in Midian, to return to his brethren in order to lead them out of their oppressed condition. Jesus, upon God's order, will return to the earth to deliver Israel from her oppressed condition during the Tribulation, when He returns at His Second Coming.
7:35-36 The very man ("This man Moses") whom the Israelite leaders had rejected as their "ruler and judge" (v. 27) "God sent" back to fulfill that role "with" His "help" (cf. 3:13-15). Moses proceeded to perform "wonders and signs in . . . Egypt," at the "Red Sea," and "in the wilderness."
The third reference to 40 years (cf. vv. 23, 30, 36) divides Moses' career into three distinct parts. These stages were: (1) preparation ending with rejection by his brethren, (2) preparation ending with his return to Egypt, and (3) ruling and judging Israel. The parallels with the career of Jesus become increasingly obvious as Stephen's speech unfolds.
As Moses became Israel's ruler and judge with angelic assistance, so will Jesus. As Moses had done miracles, so had Jesus. The ultimate Prophet, whom Moses had predicted would follow him, was Jesus (cf. 3:22).
Stephen continued dealing with the Mosaic period of Israel's history, but he focused next, more particularly, on Moses' teaching: the Mosaic Law. This is what the Jews of his day professed to venerate and follow exactly, but Stephen showed that they really had rejected what Moses taught.
7:37-38 Stephen stressed the fact that "this" Moses was the man who had given the prophecy about the coming Prophet (Deut. 18:15), and had received other divine oracles for the Israelites. "This" (Gr. houtos estin) with the articular adjectival participle in verses 37 and 38 is an intensified form of the demonstrative pronouns translated "this" in verses 35 (touton) and 36 (houtos). Stephen clearly respected Moses, but he noted that Moses himself had predicted that a Prophet like himself would appear (cf. Acts 3:22). Therefore the Jews should not have concluded that the Mosaic Law was the end of God's revelation to them. The fact that Stephen spoke of the Mosaic Law as "living oracles" suggests that he viewed it more in its revelatory than in its regulatory aspect.
". . . preaching Christ was not disloyalty to an ancient tradition, but its fulfilment. This was powerful argument, and a continuation of Peter's theme (iii. 22, 23). (This truth was to be more fully developed for similar minds in the Epistle to the Hebrews; see iii. 1-6, ix. 18-20, xii. 24).)"
Jesus had spent a time of temptation "in the wilderness" (40 days), and had heard God "speaking" audibly from heaven at His baptism. He, too, had rubbed shoulders with Israel's leaders, and had received revelations from God for His people.
7:39 The Israelites in the wilderness refused to listen ("were unwilling to be obedient") to Moses, and "repudiated" his leadership of them (Num. 14:3-4; Exod. 32:1, 23). By insisting on the finality of the Mosaic Law so strongly, as they did, Stephen's hearers were in danger of repudiating what Moses had prophesied about the coming Prophet.
The Israelites refused to follow Moses, wanting instead to return to their former place of slavery. So had Israel refused to follow Jesus, but "turned back" instead to her former condition of bondage under the Law (cf. Gal. 5:1).
7:40-43 The Israelites turned from Moses to idolatry (the golden calf "idol"), and in this rebellion their high priest, Aaron, helped them. Consequently God gave them over to what they wanted (cf. Rom. 1:24). He also purposed to send them into captivity as punishment (Amos 5:25-27).
By implication, turning from the revelation that Jesus had given amounted to idolatry. Stephen implied that by rejecting Moses' coming Prophet—Jesus—his hearers could expect a similar fate, despite the sacrifices they brought to God.
"Stephen's quotation of Amos 5:27, 'I will carry you away beyond Babylon,' differs from the OT. Both the Hebrew text and the LXX say 'Damascus.' The prophet Amos was foretelling the exile of the northern kingdom under the Assyrians which would take them beyond Damascus. More than a century later, the southern kingdom was captured because of her similar disobedience to God and was deported to Babylon. Stephen has merely substituted this phrase in order to use this Scripture to cover the judgment of God on the entire nation."
Israel had turned from Jesus to idolatry, and her high priest had helped her do so. One of Stephen's concerns in this speech, therefore, was false worship. The Israelites had previously rejoiced in their idolatry, in the wilderness, and once again more recently, since Jesus was out of the way. God had turned from them because of their apostasy in the past, and He was doing the same in the present. They did not genuinely offer their sacrifices to God, and He did not accept them, since they had rejected His anointed Ruler and Judge. The Israelites were heading for another wilderness experience. They adopted a house of worship, and an object of worship, that were not God's choice—but their own creations. God would remove them far from their land in punishment (i.e., in A.D. 70).
Stephen had answered his accusers' charge that he had spoken against Moses (6:11, 13) by showing that he believed what Moses had predicted about the coming Prophet. It was really his hearers, like Jesus' hearers earlier, who rejected Moses—since they refused to allow the possibility of prophetic revelation that superseded the Mosaic Law.
"Joseph's brethren, rejecting the beloved of their father, Moses' people, turning with scorn and cursing on the one who only sought to give them freedom—these were prototypes which the audience would not fail to refer to themselves."
Stephen effectively refuted the general charges that he had blasphemed God and Moses (6:11; cf vv. 2-16) and had spoken against the Law (6:13; cf. vv. 17-43). He next addressed the charge that he spoke against the temple (6:13). The charges that he had said Jesus would destroy the temple and alter Jewish customs (6:14) were really specific accusations growing out of Stephen's view of the temple.
The Jewish leaders of Stephen's day attached inordinate importance to the temple, as they did to the Mosaic Law and the Promised Land. They had distorted God's view of the temple, as they had distorted His meaning in the Law. Instruction concerning both the Law, which specified Israel's walk before people, and "the tabernacle," which specified her worship of God, came to Moses when he was not in the Promised Land, but at Mt. Sinai.
7:44 Stephen pointed out that it was the "tabernacle of testimony" in the wilderness that God had ordered built, not the temple. God even gave Moses blueprints ("the pattern") to follow in constructing it, because its design had instructive value. The tabernacle of testimony was important, primarily because it contained God's revealed will, and it was the place that God's presence dwelt in a localized sense. The "testimony" was the tablets of the Mosaic Law that stayed in the ark of the covenant.
7:45 The tabernacle was so important that the Israelites "brought it in" to the Promised Land when they conquered Palestine under Joshua's leadership. The Greek form of "Joshua" is "Jesus." God drove out the Canaanites in faithfulness to His promise to give the land to His people. The tabernacle continued to be God's ordained center of worship throughout David's reign.
7:46 God blessed David's reign, and it was the tabernacle—not the temple—that existed then. The initiative to build the temple ("a dwelling place for the God of Jacob") was David's, not God's. It had been David's desire to build God a more glorious place in which to dwell. However, God did not "jump" at this suggestion because He did not need another place in which to dwell.
7:47 God did not even permit David to build the temple. He was not that eager to have a temple. However, He allowed "Solomon," a king who did not find as much favor in God's sight as David did, to build it.
7:48-50 Stephen hastened to clarify that the "Most High" God, for whom a suitable house was certainly a reasonable desire, does not restrict Himself to a habitation constructed by human "hands." Solomon himself had acknowledged this when he dedicated the temple (cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1-2).
"Judaism never taught that God actually lived in the temple or was confined to its environs but spoke of his 'Name' and presence as being there. In practice, however, this concept was often denied. This would especially appear so to Stephen, when further divine activity was refused out-of-hand by the people in their preference for God's past revelation and redemption as symbolized in the existence of the temple."
Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1-2 for support. He referred to Isaiah as "the prophet." As a prophet, Isaiah was worthy of as much respect as Moses. Significantly, the last part of Isaiah 66:2 says that God esteems those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at His Word. Stephen left this timely and powerful challenge unstated for his hearers.
"It would seem that these verses form the real thrust of Stephen's speech. In quoting with approval Isaiah's words, Stephen would appear to imply that, as Christ is the new Moses, he is also the new Temple. In him and through him alone can men approach God."
Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin that the temple, which they venerated excessively, was not the primary venue of God's person and work. He was arguing that Jesus was God's designated replacement for the temple, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also taught (Heb. 8:1-2; 9:11-28).
There have been three major interpretations of Stephen's view of the temple: (1) God would replace it; (2) God had rejected it; and (3) God is above it. All three views are implications of Stephen's words.
"Throughout his speech he has, of course, been undermining the superstition which exalted a place of worship. The first great revelations of God had, in fact, taken place in foreign lands, Ur, Sinai, Midian, long before the temple existed (2-4, 29-34, 44-50)."
Stephen concluded his defense by indicting (formally accusing, charging) his accusers. They had brought charges against him, but now he brought more serious charges against them.
In his first speech to the Sanhedrin, Peter had been quite brief and forthright (4:8-12). He had presented "Jesus" as the only name by which people must be saved (4:12). In his second speech to that body, Peter had again spoken briefly but more directly (5:29-32). He had charged the Sanhedrin with crucifying the Prince and Savior whom God had provided for His people (5:30-31). In this third speech before the Sanhedrin, Stephen spoke extensively, giving even more condemning evidence. The Sanhedrin was guilty of unresponsiveness to God's Word, and of betraying and murdering the Righteous One (v. 52).
7:51 By rejecting Jesus, the Sanhedrin was doing just what their forefathers had done in rejecting God's other anointed servants, such as Joseph and Moses. They were "stiff-necked," a figure of speech for being self-willed. Moses used this expression to describe the Israelites when they rebelled against God and worshipped the golden calf (cf. Exod. 33:5; Deut. 9:13). While Stephen's hearers had undergone physical circumcision, and were proud of it, they were "uncircumcised" in their affections and responsiveness to God's Word. They were resisting the Holy Spirit, rather than allowing Him to control (fill) them. They were similar to the apostates in Israel's past (cf. Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16), whom the former prophets had rebuked (cf. Jer. 4:4; 9:26). By resisting Stephen, who was full of the Holy Spirit (6:3, 5), they were resisting the Holy Spirit.
7:52 The Sanhedrin members were behaving just as their forefathers had. Note that Stephen had previously associated himself with "our fathers" (vv. 2, 11-12, 15, 19, 39, 44-45), but now he disassociated himself from the Sanhedrin by referring to "your fathers." "Our fathers" were the trusting and obeying patriarchs, but "your fathers" were the unresponsive apostates.
The Jews' ill treatment of their prophets was well known and self-admitted (cf. 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 2:30). They had consistently resisted God's messengers sent to them, even killing the heralds ("those who had previously announced the coming") of God's "Righteous One" (cf. 3:14; 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 26:20-24; Luke 6:23; 11:49; 13:34; 1 Thess. 2:15; Heb. 11:36-38). Stephen said the Sanhedrin members were responsible for the betrayal and murder of that same One, Jesus.
7:53 Their guilt was all the greater because they had received God's "law," which "angels" had delivered (Deut. 33:2 LXX; cf. Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2), but they had disobeyed it. They were the real blasphemers (defiant sinners). Stephen, as an angel (cf. 6:15), had brought them new insight, but they were about to reject it too.
The primary theme of Stephen's speech is that Israel's leaders had failed to recognize that God had told His people ahead of time that they could expect a change. They had falsely concluded that the present state of Judaism was the final stage in God's plan of revelation and redemption. We, too, can become so preoccupied with the past and the present that we forget what God has revealed about the future. We need to keep looking ahead.
"He [Stephen] saw that the men who played a really great part in the history of Israel were the men who heard God's command, 'Get thee out,' and who were not afraid to obey it [cf. vv. 3, 15, 29, 36, 45]. The great men were the men who were prepared to make the adventure of faith. With that adventurous spirit Stephen implicitly contrasted the spirit of the Jews of his own day, whose one desire was to keep things as they were and who regarded Jesus and His followers as dangerous innovators."
A second, related theme, is that Israel's leaders had departed from God's priorities to give prominence to secondary issues for their own glory (the Holy Land, Moses, the temple). We also can think too highly of our own country, our leaders, and our place of worship.
Another related theme, the theme of Israel's rejection of the Lord's anointed servants, also runs through Stephen's speech. Jesus was another of God's anointed servants. The Jews had dealt with Him as they had dealt with the other anointed servants whom God had sent them. They could expect to experience the consequences of their rejection as their forefathers had. We need to observe the pattern of humiliation followed by glorification, that has marked the careers of God's servants in the past, and to anticipate that pattern in our own careers.
". . . it [Stephen's defense] is not designed to secure Stephen's acquittal of the charges brought against him, but to proclaim the essence of the new faith. It has been well said that, although the name of Christ is never mentioned, Stephen is all the while 'preaching Jesus'. He is demonstrating that everything in Israel's past history and experience pointed forward to God's culminating act in his plan for the redemption of the world in sending the Christ. The witness of Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David in one way or another underlined the transitory nature of existing Jewish institutions and the hollowness of Jewish claims to have the monopoly of the way to salvation. The presence of God could not be restricted to one Holy Land or confined in one holy Temple, nor could his Law be atrophied in the ceremonialism of the Sadducees or the legalism of the Pharisees."
Stephen's speech demonstrated remarkable insight, but this was more than mere human genius because the Holy Spirit was controlling (filling) him (6:5, 10). While it is easy to overstate Stephen's importance, he seems to have understood the changes that would take place because of the Jews' rejection of Jesus. He did so earlier, and more clearly, than some of the other leaders of the Jerusalem church, such as Peter (cf. ch. 10). He appears to have been an enlightened thinker, whom God enabled to see the church's future in relationship to Israel, as few did this early in the church's history. Many Jewish Christians—who still observed the Jewish hour of prayer, feasts, and temple ritual—probably did not appreciate this relationship. Stephen was in a real sense the forerunner of Paul, who became the champion of God's plan to separate Christianity from Judaism.
"So he [Stephen] perceived, and evidently was the first to perceive clearly, the incidental and temporary character of the Mosaic Law with the temple and all its worship. This was the first germ of doctrine which S. Paul was afterward to carry out to its full logical and far-reaching consequences, viz. the perfect equality of Jew and Gentile in the church of God . . .
"S. Stephen then is the connecting link between S. Peter and S. Paul—a link indispensable to the chain. Stephen, and not Gamaliel, was the real master of S. Paul. . . . For 'the work' of Stephen lasts on till chapter xii (see xi 19), and then it is taken up by his greater pupil and successor—Paul."
Stephen's speech caused a revolution in the Jews' attitude toward the disciples of Jesus, and his martyrdom began the first persecution of the Christians.
Luke recorded the Sanhedrin's response to Stephen's message in order to document Jesus' continued rejection by Israel's leaders. He did so to explain why the gospel spread as it did, and why the Jews responded to it as they did, following this event.
7:54 "Cut to the quick" is a figure of speech that describes being painfully wounded. Stephen's charge of always resisting God's Spirit convicted and offended the members of the Sanhedrin. They retaliated fiercely. "Gnashing (grinding) their teeth" pictures brutal antagonism.
"The possibilities are that what took place was a spontaneous act of mob violence or that Stephen was legally executed by the Sanhedrin, either because there was some kind of special permission from the Romans or because there was no Roman governor at the time and advantage was taken of the interregnum. The first of these possibilities is the more likely."
7:55 Fully controlled by ("Being full of") the "Holy Spirit" (cf. 6:3, 5, 8, 15), Stephen received a vision of "Jesus standing at the right hand of God" in all His "glory." This vision of God's throne room in heaven is similar to visions that Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John saw.
The unusual fact that Stephen saw Him standing rather than seated, as the biblical writers elsewhere describe Him (e.g., Ps. 110:1), may imply several things. It may imply His activity as Prophet and Mediator, standing between God and man, and as a Witness, since He was witnessing through His witnesses on earth.
"Stephen has been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing His servant before God. The proper posture for a witness is the standing posture. Stephen, condemned by an earthly court, appeals for vindication to a heavenly court, and his vindicator in that supreme court is Jesus, who stands at God's right hand as Stephen's advocate, his 'paraclete.' When we are faced with words so wealthy in association as these words of Stephen, it is unwise to suppose that any single interpretation exhausts their significance. All the meaning that had attached to Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13f. is present here, including especially the meaning that springs from their combination on the lips of Jesus when He appeared before the Sanhedrin; but the replacement of 'sitting' by 'standing' probably makes its own contribution to the total meaning of the words in this context—a contribution distinctively appropriate to Stephen's present role as martyr-witness."
"Standing" may also imply Jesus' welcome of Stephen into His presence as the first Christian martyr.
Psalm 110:1 describes Messiah as at God's right hand, where Stephen saw Jesus. Jesus' position in relation to God suggests His acceptance by Him, His authority under God, and His access to God.
7:56 Stephen announced his vision and described Jesus as the "Son of Man" (cf. Rev. 1:13; 14:14). This was a title of the Messiah used by Daniel that implied the universal aspect of His rule (Dan. 7:13-14). Only Jesus used this title of Himself in the Gospels. He had used it of Himself when He stood before the Sanhedrin not many weeks earlier (Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69). Stephen was virtually saying that his vision confirmed Jesus' claim to be the Son of Man. Access to God is through Jesus Christ, not through temple ritual, as the Jews taught (1 Tim. 2:5).
7:57-58 Stephen's declaration amounted to blasphemy to the Sanhedrin. They knew that when he said "Son of Man" he meant "Jesus." Furthermore, the Jews believed that no one had the authority to be "at God's right hand" in heaven. The Sanhedrin members therefore cried out in agony of soul, covered their ears so they would hear no more, and seized Stephen to prevent him from saying more or escaping. "Stoning" was the penalty for blasphemy in Israel (Lev. 24:16; Deut. 17:7), and the Sanhedrin members went right to it.
There are two traditions concerning the place of Stephen's execution: The older one is a site north of the present Damascus Gate, and a more recent one is east of the present St. Stephen's Gate. The exact location is impossible to nail down.
In the three trials before the Sanhedrin that Luke recorded thus far, the first ended with a warning (4:17, 21), the second with flogging (5:40), and the third with stoning (7:58-60). The Sanhedrin now abandoned Gamaliel's former moderating advice (5:35-39). It did not have the authority to execute someone without Roman sanction, and Jewish law forbade executing a person on the same day as his trial. However, since witnesses were present to cast the first stones, as the Mosaic Law prescribed, Stephen's death seems not to have been simply the result of mob violence, but official action. Probably it was mob violence precipitated and controlled by the Sanhedrin, along the lines of Jesus' execution (cf. Matt. 26:67-68).
One of the officially approved methods of punishment, when a person supposedly violated a positive precept of the Mosaic Law or the traditions of the elders, was the "rebel's beating." Such offenders could be punished on the spot, without a trial.
"Saul" of Tarsus was there, and cooperated with the authorities by holding their cloaks, while they carried out their wicked business (cf. 8:1; 22:20). He was then a "young man" (Gr. neanias, cf. 20:9; 23:17-18, 22), but we do not know his exact age. Since he died about A.D. 68, and since Stephen probably died about A.D. 34, perhaps Saul was in his early or mid-thirties. Jesus and Saul appear to have been roughly contemporaries. This verse does not imply that Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin.
This is the first reference to Saul of Tarsus ("Saul," v. 58; later known as "Paul the Apostle" after his conversion) in the book of Acts. Saul's importance in the growth of Christianity can hardly be overestimated. The famous Jewish historian Abram Sachar wrote of Him:
7:59-60 Stephen "called upon" the Lord (Gr. epikaloumenon), as Peter had exhorted his hearers to do, for deliverance (2:21): "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Stephen died as Jesus did, with prayers for his executioners ("Lord, do not hold this sin against them!") being his last words (cf. Luke 23:34, 46; cf. 2 Chron. 24:22; Luke 6:27-28). However, Stephen prayed to Jesus, whereas Jesus prayed to His Father. Luke probably wanted his readers to connect the two executions, but they were not exactly the same. Some commentators have argued that Luke presented Stephen's execution as a reenactment of Jesus' execution.
Stephen's body, not his soul, fell asleep to await resurrection (cf. 13:36; John 11:11; 1 Thess. 4:13, 15; et al.).
"For Stephen the whole dreadful turmoil finished in a strange peace. He fell asleep. To Stephen there came the peace which comes to the man who has done the right thing even if the right thing kills him."
"As Paul is to become Luke's hero, in that he more than any other single man was instrumental in spreading the Gospel throughout the Gentile world, so Stephen here receives honourable recognition as the man who first saw the wider implications of the Church's faith and laid the foundations on which the mission to the Gentiles was built."
8:1a Saul's active approval of Stephen's execution reveals his commitment to the extermination of Jesus' disciples, which he proceeded to implement zealously. This verse introduces Saul and provides a transition to what follows later concerning Saul's conversion and subsequent ministry.
Luke next featured other important events in the expansion of the church and the ministry of another important witness. "Philip" took the gospel into Samaria, and then indirectly to Ethiopia, one of the more remote parts of the earth (cf. 1:8). The account of Philip's ministry in this chapter has several connections with chapters 6 and 7. Philip, like Stephen, was a member of the Seven (6:5). The persecution begun in chapters 6 and 7 continues in chapter 8, where it became a "great persecution," and the church continued to feel Saul's antagonism.
The first part of Philip's important witness took place in Samaria. Luke recorded the cause of Philip's ministry there (vv. 1b-3), its nature (vv. 4-8), and its effects (vv. 9-24).
This short section sets the stage for Philip's ministry by giving us its cause.
8:1b Stephen's execution ignited the first popular ("great") "persecution" of Christian Jews. Luke showed that the early Jerusalem Christians first received a warning (4:21), then flogging (5:40), then martyrdom (7:58-60), then widespread persecution. Since Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew, the Hellenistic Jewish Christians were probably the main targets of this antagonism. The unbelieving Jews living in Jerusalem turned against the believing Jews. This hostility resulted in many of the believers leaving Jerusalem for more secure places of residence. They took the gospel seed with them, and planted churches in all Judea (cf. 1 Thess. 2:14) as well as in Samaria.
The Greek word diesparesen, translated "scattered" here and in v. 4, comes from the verb speiro, used to refer to sowing seed (cf. Matt. 6:26; 13:3-4, 18; 25:24, 26; Luke 8:5; 12:24; et al.). The word "diaspora" derives from it. This persecution was hard on the Christians, but it was good for the church since it resulted in widening evangelization. The apostles probably stayed in Jerusalem because they believed their presence there was essential regardless of the danger. Moreover, the persecution seems to have been against Hellenistic Jews particularly, and the Twelve were Hebraic Jews.
8:2 The "devout men" who buried Stephen were probably God-fearing Jews like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who buried Jesus (Luke 23:50-53). There were undoubtedly many Jews in Jerusalem who were still sympathetic with the Christians (cf. 6:7). Some of them evidently gave Stephen a burial suitable to his importance. The Mishnah considered open lamentation for someone who had suffered death by stoning as inappropriate. Luke's notation that people "made loud lamentation" for Stephen may, therefore, be evidence that there were many Jews who regarded Stephen's stoning as extremely unfortunate.
8:3 The Greek word translated "ravaging" (lumainomai) occurs only here in the New Testament. The Septuagint translators used it in Psalm 80:13 to describe wild boars destroying a vineyard. In English we use "ravaging" as a synonym for raping. This is how Saul began behaving. The verb is evidently an inceptive imperfect, indicating the beginning of the action. Saul was a leader of the persecution in Jerusalem (9:1-2, 29; 22:4-5; 26:11). Evidently Stephen's execution fueled Saul's hatred for the Christians, and resulted in his increasing antagonism toward them. He not only went from house to house, arresting Christians (cf. 2:46; 5:42) and putting them "in prison," but also carried his purges into the synagogues (cf. 6:9), and tried to force believers to blaspheme there (22:19; 26:11).
8:4 Whereas persecution resulted in the death of some believers, it also dispersed the disciples over a wider area. Luke described what they did, as scattered believers, as "preaching the word" (Gr. euaggelizomenoi ton logon, lit. "proclaiming good news the word"). The gospel message is in view. Sometimes, what appears to be very bad, turns out to be very good (Matt. 16:18).
". . . the thrust of the church into its mission after the persecution of the Christian community in Jerusalem is parallel with Luke's portrayal in his Gospel of the spread of Jesus' fame after the devil's assault in the wilderness."
"As the mission begins to move beyond Jerusalem and Judea, it is useful to distinguish two roles within it: the role of the initiator and the role of the verifier. The apostles shift at this point from the former to the latter role. That is, their function is reduced to recognizing and confirming the work of the evangelists who bring the gospel to new areas and groups, or to working as evangelists in areas already opened for mission (cf. 8:25; 9:32-42)."
8:5 This "Philip" was apparently a Hellenistic Jew like Stephen. He was Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven (cf. 6:5), not the Philip who was one of the Twelve. He traveled north from Jerusalem to Samaria, and followed Jesus' example of taking the gospel to the Samaritans (cf. John 4).
The other Jews (non-Hellenistic) did not like the people who lived in this area, and had no dealings with them (John 4:9). They regarded them as racial and religious half-breeds. They did so because their ancestors were the Jews who had intermarried with the Gentiles, whom the Assyrians had sent to live there following Assyria's conquest of Israel in 722 B.C. Furthermore, the Samaritans had opposed the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra's day, and had erected their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, in competition with the temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.
In view of Stephen's recent depreciation of the Jerusalem temple (7:44-50), it is not incredible to read that Philip took the gospel to Samaritans. The Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch as authoritative, and looked for a personal Messiah who would be like Moses.
We do not know exactly where Philip went, because Luke did not identify the place specifically. It was "down" from Jerusalem topographically, not geographically. Some ancient versions of Acts refer to "a city of Samaria," whereas others have "the city of Samaria." Probably "the city" is correct, even though some scholars believe the region of Samaria is in view. The capital town stood a few miles west and a little north of Old Testament Shechem, and very near New Testament Sychar (cf. John 4:5).
The Old Testament city of Samaria—"Sebaste" was the Greek name of Caesar Augustus that Herod the Great gave the city—had been the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Philip's willingness to preach "the Christ" (cf. v. 12) to the Samaritans demonstrates an openness that had not characterized Jesus' disciples formerly (cf. John 4:9). Sometimes God moves us out of our comfort zone because He has a job for us to do elsewhere. A whole new people-group came to faith in Christ.
8:6-8 Philip also could perform miracles like Jesus and the apostles. He cast out demons and healed "paralyzed" and "lame" people. These "signs" attracted the attention of multitudes ("crowds") of Samaritans, and supported Philip's claim that God was with him. Perhaps the fact that the Jerusalem Jews had rejected Philip made him appealing to the Samaritans, since they too had experienced rejection by those Jews. Again, deliverance brought rejoicing (cf. 2:46-47).
"It is not too difficult to imagine what would have happened had the apostles at Jerusalem first been the missioners [sic] to Samaria. Probably they would have been rebuffed, just as they were rebuffed earlier in their travels with Jesus when the Samaritans associated them with the city of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51-56). But God in his providence used as their evangelist the Hellenist Philip, who shared their fate (though for different reasons) of being rejected at Jerusalem; and the Samaritans received him and accepted his message."
8:9-11 Another person who was doing miracles in Samaria, but by satanic power, was "Simon," whom people have sometimes called "Simon Magus." "Magus" is the transliteration of the Greek word magos meaning "magician" or "sorcerer." The magic that he did was not sleight of hand deception, but sorcery: the ability to control people and or nature by demonic power. This ability had made Simon very popular, and he had encouraged people to think that he was a "great power" whom God had sent ("the Great Power of God").
"As the counterfeit of the true, these false prophets were among the most dangerous enemies of Christianity; and the distinction between the true and the false, between religion and spiritualism, had to be sharply drawn once for all."
8:12 Simon promoted himself, but Philip preached "Christ."
Luke described Philip's message as "the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (cf. 1:3, 6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). Those who trust in Christ become partakers in His spiritual rule over them now, and eventually will enter into His future earthly millennial rule. Both aspects of the "kingdom" are probably in view here (cf. 1:3). The phrase "name of Jesus Christ" points to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Messiah (cf. 1 John 5:1). Note that water baptism followed conversion almost immediately (cf. 2:38). Both "men and women" believed, and "were being baptized." This was clearly water baptism, since they did not experience Spirit baptism until later (v. 17).
8:13 Even "Simon himself" believed. I see no reason to conclude that Simon's faith was spurious, though many students of this passage have concluded that he was an unbeliever. The text says that "Simon himself believed," just like the others Luke mentioned (v. 12), and there is no reason to doubt the reality of their faith. Having practiced Satan's magic, Simon could hardly believe the difference between Philip's God-given miracles and his own magic.
8:14-17 The 12 apostles were, of course, the divinely appointed leaders of the Christians (ch. 1). It was natural and proper, therefore, that they should send representative apostles to investigate the Samaritans' response to the gospel. This was especially important in view of the hostility that existed between the Hebrews and the Samaritans. The way the Jews and the Samaritans felt about one another was similar to how most Israelis and Palestinians feel about one another today.
It was important that both the Samaritan Christians and the Jewish Christians believed that God had united them in Christ. When "Peter and John . . . came down," they observed that these Samaritans had, like themselves, also accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They asked God in prayer to send His "Holy Spirit" to baptize them, as He had baptized the Jews who believed in Jesus (cf. Luke 11:13).
However, this baptism of (by) "the Holy Spirit" occurred somewhat differently than it had in Jerusalem (ch. 2; cf. 8:38; 10:44). There it happened spontaneously, but here it came in answer to the apostles' prayer and with the laying on of their hands. There the sound of a mighty wind, visible flames of fire, and speaking in tongues had accompanied it. Here there is no mention that these phenomena were present. Perhaps tongues were not spoken here, if they were not, because the Jews and the Samaritans spoke the same language. In both places, Jerusalem and Samaria, the Spirit's reception for permanent indwelling through Spirit baptism is in view, and the Holy Spirit baptized people who were already believers in Jesus Christ.
"But what if the Spirit had come upon them [the Samaritans] at their baptism when administrated by Philip? Undoubtedly what feelings there were against Philip and the Hellenists would have carried over to them, and they would have been doubly under suspicion. But God in his providence withheld the gift of the Holy Spirit till Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans—Peter and John, two leading apostles who were highly thought of in the mother church at Jerusalem and who would have been accepted at that time as brothers in Christ by the new converts in Samaria."
Does what happened in Jerusalem and Samaria set a precedent for a "second blessing" experience (i.e., the baptism of the Spirit as a separate work of God subsequent to regeneration)? Paul described normative Spirit baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Romans 8:9. The person who has not experienced Spirit baptism is not a Christian (Rom. 8:9). Therefore the instances of Spirit baptism in Acts, when it followed salvation later, must have been exceptional occasions. This unusual separation of salvation and Spirit baptism is understandable. People needed to perceive Spirit baptism as such at the beginning of the church's history. God baptized believers with the Spirit—in this way—to validate Jesus' promise that He would send the Spirit to indwell believers permanently, something not occurring previously (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).
In chapter 2, God identified Spirit baptism—which normally takes place without the believer being aware that it is happening—with wind, fire, and speaking in tongues. These things served as signs to the Jews present of God's working. Here in chapter 8, signs apparently did not announce the baptism of the Spirit, but accompanied Philip's preaching. What would have convinced the Samaritans that the baptism of the Spirit was taking place? And what would have convinced the Jews in Jerusalem that it had taken place in Samaria? The Spirit's baptizing work taking place in response to "the laying on of the apostles' hands" (v. 18) would have done so (cf. 9:17; 19:6). This is, of course, exactly what happened.
"Peter used the keys committed to him (Matt. 16:18, 19) to open the door officially to the Samaritans, just as he did to 3,000 Jews at Pentecost, and would again a little later to the gentiles at the house of Cornelius (chap. 10). It would be a great mistake, however, to treat this incident at Samaria as normative for all subsequent believers. A look at the Spirit's coming upon Saul (9:17) and Cornelius (10:44) will reveal considerable differences, so that the Samaritan experience was not the regular pattern in the Book of Acts."
8:18-19 Clearly, some external sign accompanied the coming of the Spirit to baptize, because the people present perceived it as happening ("when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed"). Simon desired to buy the ability to produce Spirit baptism and its accompanying sign from Peter and John (cf. 19:19). This practice, the attempt to buy spiritual powers and offices, has become identified with Simon's name (i.e., "simony").
Simon may have thought that paying for this power was legitimate, since others had probably paid him for the secrets of his magic. Simon failed to appreciate the uniqueness and holiness of Spirit baptism. He appears to have wanted to produce this in anyone, not just believers. Possibly Simon's error was an innocent mistake, due to theological ignorance. It was clear to Simon that the laying on of hands communicated Spirit baptism (v. 19).
8:20-23 Peter's stern response, however, revealed the seriousness of Simon's error. J. B. Phillips paraphrased Peter's opening words, "To hell with you and your money!" Literally Peter said, "Your silver be with you into perdition." By his request, Simon had revealed that he hoped he could buy God's gifts, namely: the Holy Spirit and the ability (or "authority") to impart the Holy Spirit to others. Peter corrected him harshly. God's gifts are gifts; people cannot purchase them, because God gives them freely and sovereignly. Simon had much to learn about the grace of God.
Peter then told Simon that God would not grant the ability ("authority") he sought ("you have no part or portion"), because his "heart" was "not right with (before) God." Simon wanted to be able to bring glory to himself rather than to God. Barclay referred to James Denney, the Scottish preacher, as having said that we cannot at one and the same time show that we are clever and that Christ is wonderful. Proper motives are essential as we seek to serve Jesus Christ. Simon's flesh, rather than the Holy Spirit, still controlled him. Bitterness, bondage, and iniquity still characterized him (v. 23). Probably Peter received insight as a prophet into Simon's motivation (cf. 5:3).
Simon was to the Samaritan church what Ananias and Sapphira were to the Jerusalem church: an early instance of self-seeking (cf. 5:1-11). Peter may have wondered if God would judge Simon as He had Ananias and Sapphira, and if Simon was about to fall dead at his feet.
8:24 Peter's rebuke terrified Simon. A man with the tremendous spiritual power Peter had demonstrated, which Simon himself had witnessed, was no one to antagonize. Probably Simon's request for prayer that God would be merciful to him was sincere.
Many interpreters believe that Simon was not a genuine believer, but he may have been. True Christians can do, and have done, everything that Simon said and did. His background, fresh out of demonism, makes his conduct easier to understand. I see him as another Ananias, except that Ananias knew exactly what he was doing, whereas Simon's error seems to have involved ignorance to some extent. Probably that is why he did not suffer the same fate as Ananias. Both men became examples to the Christians, in their respective geographical and ethnic areas, of how important it is to behave under the control of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:15-21).
The subjects of this verse are evidently Peter and John. The fact that, while the apostles were returning to Jerusalem they preached the gospel in other Samaritan towns, shows that they now fully accepted the Samaritans as fellow believers. Furthermore they welcomed them into the church. Quite a change had taken place in John's heart, in particular, and in Peter's, since the time these disciples had first visited Samaria with Jesus. John had wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (cf. Luke 9:52-54).
This mission into Samaria constituted a further gospel advance to the Gentiles. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as half Jew and half Gentile. In view of Peter's later reluctance to go to the Gentiles (ch. 10), this incident was clearly part of God's plan to broaden his vision. It prepared him to accept Gentiles into the church on an equal basis with Jews.
Luke recorded this incident to show the method and direction of the church's expansion to God-fearing Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism at this time. The Ethiopian eunuch had visited Jerusalem to worship, was studying the Old Testament, and was open to instruction by a Jew. Therefore he was much more sympathetic to the Christians' gospel than the average Gentile. This man appears to have been the first full-fledged Gentile that Luke recorded being evangelized in Acts, though he could have been a "diaspora Jew."
"The admirably-told story of the Ethiopian is probably in Philip's own words, passed on to the author when he and Paul were entertained in the evangelist's house at Caesarea, twenty years later (xxi. 8). As a piece of narrative it ranks with the stories of the Lord's own personal work (e.g. John iii and iv)."
8:26 God's messenger (an angel? cf. 5:19) directed Philip to "go south" to a road that ran "from Jerusalem to Gaza." Philip did not return to Jerusalem with Peter and John. Whenever Luke introduced "an angel of the Lord" (Gr. angelos kyriou) into his narrative, he desired to stress God's special presence and activity (Luke 1:11; 2:9; Acts 12:7, 23; cf. Acts 7:30, 35, 38; 10:3, 7, 22; 11:13; 12:11; 27:23). The Lord's direction was evidently clear and precise because Philip had been involved in evangelizing multitudes successfully (v. 6). Now God definitely told him to leave that fruitful ministry to go elsewhere. Luke did not say exactly where Philip was when he received this direction, but he was probably somewhere in Samaria or in Caesarea, where we find him later (v. 40; 21:8).
Luke added for the benefit of Theophilus (1:1), who was evidently not familiar with the geography of Palestine, that this was desert territory. The word "desert" can modify either "road" or "Gaza."
To get from Jerusalem to Gaza, a traveler such as this eunuch would normally route himself west through the hill country of Judah, the Shephelah (foothills), and down to the coastal plain. There he would finally turn south onto the international coastal highway that ran along the Mediterranean Sea connecting Damascus and Egypt. Only as it left Gaza, the southeasternmost city in Palestine, did the road pass through desert. This is in the modern Gaza Strip.
The Ethiopian's spiritual condition when Philip met him was as arid as the desert. However, when the two men parted, the eunuch had experienced the refreshing effects of having been washed by the Water of Life.
8:27-28 We can see Philip's yieldedness to the Spirit's control in his obedience. Traveling down the road, he met the man who was evidently "in charge of all" of Queen Candace's (i.e. the Ethiopian nation's) treasury (cf. Isa. 56:3-8; Ps. 68:31). The name "Ethiopia" at this time described a kingdom located south of modern Egypt in Sudan (i.e., Nubia). It lay between the first Nile cataract at Aswan and the modern city of Khartoum, many hundreds of miles from Jerusalem.
". . . in ancient Greek historiographical works there was considerable interest in Ethiopia and Ethiopians precisely because of their ethnic and racially distinctive features. . . . Furthermore, in the mythological geography of the ancient Greek historians and other writers as well, Ethiopia was quite frequently identified with the ends of the earth . . . in a way that Rome most definitely was not. We are entitled, then, to suspect that Luke the historian has decided to portray in miniature a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the rest of Jesus' mandate (Acts 1:1) in Acts 8 . . ."
"Candace" was the dynastic title of the queen mother, who at this time served as the head of the government in Ethiopia. Her personal name was evidently Amanitare (sometimes spelled Amantitere; A.D. 25-41). The king of Ethiopia did not involve himself in the routine operations of his country, since his people regarded him as the "Child of the Sun."
It was not uncommon for men in high Near Eastern government positions to be castrated. This prevented them from impregnating royal women and then making claims on the throne. However, the word "eunuch" (Gr. eunouchos) appears often in the Septuagint (e.g., of Potiphar, Gen. 39:1) and in other Greek writings, as describing a high military or political figure. This eunuch, therefore, might not have been emasculated but simply a high official. Some scholars believe he was both. Luke repeatedly referred to him as a "eunuch" (vv. 27, 34, 36, 38, 39). Emasculated men could not participate fully in Israel's worship (Deut. 23:1).
This official had made a pilgrimage "to worship" Yahweh. Somehow he had heard of Him, and had come to reverence Him. He was making the trip home, probably to the capitol city of Meroe, in his "covered wagon." While traveling, he was reading the Septuagint translation of Isaiah's prophecy (i.e., Isa. 53:7-9; cf. Isa. 56:3-8). Perhaps he had purchased this roll of Isaiah in Jerusalem.
"The chariot would have been in fact an ox-drawn wagon and would not have moved at much more than a walking pace, so that it would cause no difficulty for Philip to run alongside it and call out to the occupant."
It was unusual for a non-Jew to possess a personal copy of the Old Testament. Scrolls were expensive in the first century, but this man could afford one. Perhaps he was able to do so because of his high government position, or perhaps he had only a part of Isaiah's prophecy, that he or someone else had copied. In any case, his great interest in the Jews' religion is obvious.
"In those days the world was full of people who were weary of the many gods and the loose morals of the nations. They came to Judaism and there they found the one God and the austere moral standards which gave life meaning. If they accepted Judaism and were circumcised and took the Law upon themselves they were called proselytes; if they did not go that length but continued to attend the Jewish synagogues and to read the Jewish scriptures they were called God-fearers. So this Ethiopian must have been one of these searchers who came to rest in Judaism either as a proselyte or a God-fearer."
"Some of the God-fearers were only one step from becoming converts [to Judaism], while others just added the Jewish God to their pantheon. So long as they showed some kind of sympathy with the Jewish religion they were considered God-fearers."
8:29-31 Philip felt compelled by the Holy Spirit's leading to approach ("join") the wagon (cf. v. 26). The Spirit's leading is essential in evangelism; He sometimes directs us to people whom He has prepared to trust in Jesus Christ.
Quite possibly this important official was part of a caravan that was heading to Africa, and Philip joined it temporarily. Evidently the eunuch's vehicle was either standing still or moving slowly down the road. Luke's comment that Philip "ran up" to the wagon may reflect the evangelist's willing compliance, or simply the fact that he needed to run to catch up with it. There were probably other people besides Philip who were walking beside the various vehicles in this caravan.
As he approached, Philip "heard" the Ethiopian "reading" aloud. This was the common method of reading in ancient times, due to the difficulty of deciphering sentences with no spaces between words and no punctuation marks. Philip recognized what the Ethiopian was reading and struck up a conversation with him. The official was having difficulty understanding what he was reading, so he invited Philip into his wagon to see if he could get some help.
8:32-35 Philip responded to the eunuch's perplexity by explaining how Jesus had fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant.
Most of the Jews regarded Isaiah 52:13—53:12 as referring either to their nation or to the Gentile nations. Jesus Himself had quoted Isaiah 53 as finding fulfillment in His passion (Luke 22:37). Philip here followed Jesus' interpretation, and from this very passage proceeded to "preach Jesus" to the eunuch.
This is an excellent example of the "Spirit of God" using the "Word of God" through a "man of God," to bring salvation to the "elect of God" (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Note also the parallels between this story and the one in Luke 24, about Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
"There is evidence that Luke has very carefully structured his narrative [of Philip's ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch] in the form of a chiasm. Vv. 32-35, the citation of Isa. 53:7-8, are at the heart of the passage and serve as its hinge."
8:36-38 The road on which this conversation took place crossed several stream beds that empty water from the higher elevations into the Mediterranean Sea during the wetter months. Even though the land generally was desert, water was not entirely absent at some times of the year. The Ethiopian may have already known about water baptism, since he had held an interest in Judaism. The Jews required water baptism of Gentile converts. Philip may have instructed him further on the importance of baptism (cf. 2:38; 8:12). In any case, the official was eager to submit to it. The Jews did not baptize physical eunuchs and take them in as proselytes of Judaism (Deut. 23:1). If the official was a physical eunuch, perhaps this was why he asked Philip if there was some reason he could not undergo baptism as a Christian.
Obviously there was enough water for Philip to immerse the Ethiopian ("they both went down into the water"), the normal method of baptism in Judaism and early Christianity. Some interpreters have argued, however, that the two men may have stood in the water while Philip poured water over or sprinkled the Ethiopian. This is a possibility but, I think, it is improbable. The normal meaning of the Greek word baptizo (to baptize) is "to immerse," and this was the common custom.
"He [Philip] would have met the chariot somewhere southwest of Latron. There is a fine steam of water, called Murubbah, deep enough even in June to satisfy the utmost wishes of our Baptist friends. This Murubbah is merely a local name for the great Wady Surar, given to it on account of copious fountains which supply it with water during summer."
The Ethiopian official testified to his faith in Jesus as the Messiah by submitting to water baptism (cf. 2:38; 8:12).
8:39-40 The Holy Spirit directed Philip to the eunuch (v. 29), and He led ("snatched") him away from him (v. 39). Luke stressed the Spirit's leadership in this evangelism of the first Gentile convert in Acts (cf. Matt. 12:18). God had prepared both Philip (v. 29) and the eunuch (v. 30) for their especially important conversation.
Luke described the Lord leading Philip away from the eunuch very dramatically. Perhaps the Spirit jerked Philip out of the wagon physically (cf. 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16). More likely, I think, this description reflects the Lord's immediate relocation of Philip to the place where He wanted him to serve next.
"Philip's behavior in this incident is reminiscent of that of Elijah, following impulses which he recognizes as divine prompting, appearing in unexpected places, and disappearing equally unexpectedly. It has also often been noted that there are curious correspondences between Zeph. 2—3 and this passage—among other similarities Gaza, Ethiopia and Azotus are mentioned in both."
The eunuch rejoiced in his new faith (cf. 2:46-47; 8:8; 16:34). Presumably he returned home and became one of the earliest Gentile witnesses and missionaries in Africa. This is what happened according to early Christian tradition.
Philip proceeded north up the coast, probably along the international highway, to "Azotus" (Ashdod), and farther on to "Caesarea." He "preached the gospel" in "all" the intermediate "cities." About 20 years later we find him living in Caesarea (21:8). In the Roman world, the average distance that people would travel in one day on land was about 20 miles. If traveling by camel, it would normally take 10 hours to travel 25 miles.
Philip was the first Jewish Christian in Acts to evangelize a Gentile who lived in such a remote country that the first readers of this book regarded it as "the uttermost part of the earth" (cf. 1:8).
The very first Christians were Jews (2:1-8:4). Then Samaritans became Christians (8:5-25). Now, a Gentile, who was either a Jewish proselyte or a near-proselyte, entered the church. Probably all these converts thought of themselves, at this point, as simply religious Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Only later did they learn that what God was doing, was not just creating a group of believers in Jesus within Judaism, or a faithful remnant, but a whole new entity, namely: the Christian church (cf. Eph. 2—3).
The writer next focused our attention on a key figure in the spread of the Christian mission, and on significant events in the development of that mission to the Gentiles. Peter's evangelization of Cornelius (ch. 10) will continue to advance this theme. Luke has given us three portraits of significant individuals in the evangelization of Gentiles: Stephen, Philip, and now, climactically, Saul. He stressed that Saul's conversion and calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles came supernaturally and directly from God, and Saul himself played a passive role in these events. Saul (Paul) retold the story of his conversion and calling twice, in Acts 22 and 26, and a third time in Galatians 1. Its importance in Acts is clear from its repetition.
Saul (as Paul) became God's primary instrument in taking the gospel to the Gentile world.
Luke recorded the conversion and calling of Saul of Tarsus to demonstrate the supernatural power and sovereign direction of God. Saul's conversion was one of the most miraculous and significant instances of repentance that took place during the early expansion of the church. His calling to be God's main missionary to the Gentiles was equally dramatic.
"The partitive genitive of apeiles [threats] and phonou [murder] means that threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed, like a warhorse who sniffed the smell of battle. He breathed on the remaining disciples the murder that he had already breathed in from the death of the others. He exhaled what he inhaled."
The Jewish high priest's Roman overseers gave the high priest authority to extradite Jews who were strictly religious offenders and had fled outside the Sanhedrin's jurisdiction. Saul obtained "letters" from the high priest (evidently Caiaphas) giving him the power (legal authority) to arrest Jesus' Jewish disciples from Palestine, who had fled to Damascus because of persecution in Jerusalem. This grand inquisitor undoubtedly believed that he was following in the train of other zealous Israelites who had purged idolatry from Israel (e.g., Moses in Num. 25:1-5; Phinehas in Num. 25:6-15; Elijah in 1 Kings 18; Mattathias in 1 Macc. 2:23-28, 42-48).
The King of the Nabateans who governed Damascus at this time cooperated with Saul. He was Aretas IV (9 B.C.-A.D. 40). "Damascus" stood about 135 miles to the north-northeast of Jerusalem, about a week’s journey. It was within the Roman province of Syria, and was one of the towns of the Decapolis, a league of 10 self-governing cities. "The Way" was one of the earliest designations of Christianity (cf. 18:24-25; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), and it appears only in Acts. It meant the path characterized by life and salvation. This title may go back to Jesus' teaching that He was "the way," and that His way of salvation was a narrow way (John 14:6; Matt. 7:14).
9:3-4 Other passages throw more light on the details of Saul's blinding vision. It took place about midday, when the sun would usually have been shining its brightest (22:6; 26:13). What blinded Saul was not the sun, however, but a revelation of Jesus Christ (vv. 17, 27; 22:14; 26:16; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). He now saw the same Person Stephen had seen while Saul witnessed Stephen dying (7:55). Jesus spoke to Saul "from heaven," addressing him by his Jewish name and in the language of the Jews (cf. 26:14). After riveting his attention, Jesus asked Saul "why" he was "persecuting" Him—not His followers, but Himself. Saul would have understood the voice as God's, since in rabbinism a voice from heaven always connoted a rebuke or instruction from God.
Jesus' question made Saul begin to appreciate the intimate union that Christians enjoy with Jesus, the Head of the body, the church. He was in His disciples, not just with them or ruling over them, by His Spirit (cf. John 14:17). What they suffered He suffered.
9:5-6 In what sense did Saul address Jesus as "Lord" (Gr. kyrios)? It seems from Saul's reaction to this vision, and his later descriptions of it, that he believed the Person addressing him was God. "Lord" therefore seems to be more than a respectful "Sir." Yet God was Saul's master already, even before he became a Christian, so he probably addressed the voice as his personal master as well as God. The identity of the voice was not completely clear to Saul. When Stephen had a similar vision, he recognized Jesus (7:55-56), but Saul did not recognize Him. This may imply that Saul had never seen Jesus during His earthly ministry. Or perhaps he asked "Who are You?" because, even though he believed "God" was speaking to him, he had never heard a voice from heaven before.
Jesus' self-revelation totally shocked Saul, who until then had regarded Jesus as a blasphemous pretender to Israel's messianic throne. Saul now discovered that Jesus was God, or at least was with God in heaven, yet He was in some sense also present in His followers whom Saul was persecuting. Jesus again referred to Saul's persecution of Himself, a doubly convicting reminder of Saul's erroneous theology and sinful conduct. Jesus did not condemn him, but graciously commanded him to enter Damascus and to wait for further directions from Himself. Saul now learned that Jesus had a mission for him, although he did not know what or how extensive it would be ("it will be told you what you must do").
9:7-9 Evidently Saul's traveling companions heard a voice-like sound, but only Saul understood Jesus' words (cf. v. 7; 22:9; 26:14; cf. John 12:29). They all fell to the ground when they saw the light (26:14), but now they "stood speechless." The intense light of the vision Saul had just seen blinded him temporarily ("three days"). His companions had to lead him off "into Damascus," where he waited for three days for further instructions: blind, fasting, and praying (cf. 1:14; Luke 1:22).
"In the light of Paul's subsequent career, his single-minded devotion to Christ, his tireless efforts to bring Jews and Gentiles alike face to face with the same Lord as he had encountered on the Damascus road, his remorse for his vindictive cruelty, his atonement for it in selfless service of the Church he had tried to crush, it is frivolous to attempt to explain away Paul's conversion as a hallucination, an attack of sunstroke, or an epileptic fit [as some Bible critics have alleged]. It was as is every genuine conversion experience a miracle of the grace of God."
9:10-12 Evidently Ananias was not a refugee from Jerusalem (22:12), but a resident of Damascus. He, too, received "a vision" of the Lord Jesus (v. 17), to whom he submitted willingly (cf. 1 Sam. 3:4, 10). Jesus gave Ananias specific directions to another man's house in Damascus where he would find Saul. "Straight Street" is still one of the main thoroughfares running through Damascus east-west.
Saul had been "preying on Christians," but now he was "praying to Christ." Saul, like most Pharisees, was a man of prayer, and he continued to give prayer priority after his conversion (cf. 16:25; 20:36; 22:17). Luke recorded that Jesus was also a man of prayer (Luke 3:21; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:41). The Lord sovereignly prepared both Ananias and Saul with revelations of Himself, so that when He brought them together, they would have no doubt about His personal dealings with them (cf. Peter and Cornelius in 10:1-23).
9:13-14 Ananias wanted to make sure he had heard the Lord correctly, since Saul had become infamous for harming believers in Jesus. He had heard of Saul's reason for visiting Damascus, and his new authority to arrest and to extradite, that he had received from the chief priests. Ananias referred to the believers in Jerusalem as "saints," set apart ones, the equivalent of those who call on the Lord's name. This is the first time Luke used the name "saints" for Christians in Acts.
"The Lord's work is revealed through events that overthrow human expectations. Humans calculate the future on the basis of their normal experience. These calculations leave them unprepared for the appearance of the Overruler, who negates human plans and works the unexpected. This is a problem not only for the rejectors of Jesus but also for the church, which, as our narrative indicates, is led by the Lord into situations beyond its fathoming. The narrator's sharp sense of God (and the exalted Messiah) as one who surprises appears again in this episode, and the reaction of Ananias (and in 9:26 the Jerusalem disciples) shows that the church, too, has difficulty keeping up with such a God."
9:15-16 God revealed (to Ananias) His "purpose for Saul in order to bolster Ananias' courage. The inquisitor (Saul) was to become Jesus' "chosen instrument" (Paul), the proud Pharisee His apostle to "Gentiles and kings," and the poster boy of Judaism a persecuted Christian. "To bear my name" means to bear witness of Jesus. In the Greek text of verse 16, "I" is emphatic. Jesus meant that Ananias need not fear going to Saul, because Jesus Himself would show Saul "how much" he would "suffer" (i.e., he was now a friend of Ananias and no longer his enemy); Ananias would not need to balk at his mission. This assurance would have given Ananias added encouragement to go to Judas' house in search of Saul.
"In highlighting these features of being a 'chosen instrument,' sent to 'the Gentiles,' and to 'suffer for my [Jesus'] name,' Luke has, in effect, given a theological précis of all he will portray historically in chapters 13—28—a précis that also summarizes the self-consciousness of Paul himself as reflected in his own letters."
9:17 Ananias communicated his Christian love for his new Christian brother with a touch ("laying his hands on him") and a loving word of greeting: "Brother." He then explained his double purpose for coming to Saul. It was to restore his "sight," as well as to enable Saul to experience the filling of "the Holy Spirit." Ananias' purpose was not to commission Saul. Saul's commission came directly from the Lord, though Ananias announced it (22:14-16).
"The choice of Ananias for this task made it clear that Saul of Tarsus was not dependent upon the Twelve, and also that an apostle was not required for bestowing the Spirit (as might have been concluded from the case in Samaria)."
The Holy Spirit filled Saul as he responded to God's Word appropriately. We may infer that Saul's conversion happened on the Damascus road and that he received the baptism of the Spirit at the same time. Notice again the importance of being "filled with (under the control of) the Holy Spirit." This is the first time that Luke wrote about the Spirit coming on someone outside of the land of Israel.
9:18-19a God then restored Saul's sight. The impression given in the text is that the first thing he did ("he got up") was identify with Christ ("and was baptized") and the disciples of Christ by water baptism (cf. 8:12, 38). He did this even before breaking his fast of three days. Then he ate ("took food") and received strength physically.
Saul later wrote that immediately following his conversion, he did not consult with others about the Scriptures, but went into Arabia—and later returned to Damascus (Gal. 1:15-17). "Arabia" describes the kingdom of the Nabateans that stretched south and east from Damascus beyond Petra. Damascus was in the northwest sector of Arabia. After Saul's conversion and baptism, he needed some time and space for quiet reflection and communion with God. He had to rethink the Scriptures, receive new understanding from the Lord, and revise his Pharisaic theology. So, like Moses, Elijah, and Jesus before him, he retired into the wilderness. These were Saul's "Arabian nights."
The changes that took place in Saul were important because of his subsequent activity. Luke wrote this pericope to note those changes, so that his readers would understand why Saul acted as he did afterward. Luke stressed the genuineness of Saul's conversion by showing next the radical change it made in him.
9:19b-20 How verses 19b-20 fit into the chronology of events in Saul's life is not perfectly clear. They could fit in any number of ways. We should probably understand "immediately" in a general sense. As soon as Saul became a Christian ("at once," NIV) he began to contend that Jesus was the Messiah when he attended synagogue worship, which he did regularly (cf. 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8). This proclamation was the result and evidence of his being filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 17), as well as the result of his conversion.
This is the only mention in Acts of someone proclaiming Jesus as the "Son of God" (but cf. 13:33). This fact reflects the clear understanding of Jesus that Saul had—even shortly after his conversion. As used in the Old Testament, this title referred to Israel (Exod. 4:22; Hos. 11:1), Israel's anointed king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:26), and Messiah (Ps. 2:7). Saul recognized that Jesus was the Son of God predicted there. He used this title of Jesus frequently in his epistles (Rom. 1:3-4, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor. 1:9; 15:28; 2 Cor. 1:19; Gal. 1:16; 2:20; 4:4, 6; 1 Thess. 1:10).
9:21-22 Saul's unexpected and extreme conduct, understandably bewildered the Jews who lived in Damascus. Instead of persecuting the Christians, he was proving that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. This is what people—then and now—need to believe to obtain salvation (cf. 1 John 5:1). Saul had made a 180-degree change in his thinking and in his conduct; he had truly repented. Saul's understanding and commitment kept growing as he continually sought to convince the Damascus Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. Perhaps Saul's sojourn in Arabia occurred between verses 21 and 22 or between verses 22 and 23.
Luke included this incident to prove the genuineness of Saul's conversion. He, who had been persecuting "to the death" believers in Jesus, had now become the target of deadly persecution because of his changed view of Jesus.
9:23-24a It is hard to determine how "many days" had elapsed, but evidently Saul remained in Damascus several months. F. F. Bruce dated his return to Jerusalem about A.D. 35 and his conversion in 33. This would mean that Saul was converted just a few months after Jesus' ascension to heaven. I think it is more probable that Saul became a Christian a little later, perhaps in 34, and returned to Jerusalem in A.D. 37. Regardless of the dates, we know that he finally left Damascus for Jerusalem "three years" after his conversion (Gal. 1:18).
"No one persecutes a man who is ineffective and who obviously does not matter. George Bernard Shaw once said that the biggest compliment you can pay an author is to burn his books. Someone has said, 'A wolf will never attack a painted sheep.' Counterfeit Christianity is always safe. Real Christianity is always in peril. To suffer persecution is to be paid the greatest of compliments because it is the certain proof that men think we really matter."
9:24b-25 It would have been natural for Saul's enemies to be "watching the gates" of Damascus, since he would have had to pass out of one of them to leave the city under normal circumstances. "Disciples" everywhere but here in Acts refers to followers of Jesus. Here it describes followers of Saul, probably to indicate that his preaching had resulted in some people coming to faith in Christ. Perhaps it was one of these disciples who owned the house on the wall from which Saul escaped the city.
Paul described his escape from Damascus in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, and it is there we learn that someone lowered him "in a basket" from a house built on the city wall ("through a window in the wall"). The fact that Paul did not minimize this ignominious exit in his writings says a lot for his humility and the transformation God effected in this once self-righteous Pharisee. The local Jews arranged this attempt on his life, and their Nabatean governor supported them.
Luke concluded each of his narratives of the Samaritans' conversion (8:4-25), Saul's conversion (9:1-31), and Cornelius' conversion (10:1—11:18), with references to the mother church in Jerusalem. He evidently wanted to stress the fact that all these significant advances were part of one great plan that God orchestrated, and not just independent occurrences (cf. Matt. 16:18; Acts 1:8).
9:26 Perhaps the fact that Saul had not sought out the apostles, and other Christians in Jerusalem—for three years following his conversion—made the believers there suspicious of him (cf. Gal. 1:18). They had not met him personally, and since they were being persecuted, they may have wondered if Saul had adopted clandestine methods to oppose them.
9:27 "Barnabas" willingly reached out to the new convert in Jerusalem, as Ananias had done in Damascus. His behavior here is consistent with what we read of him elsewhere in Acts (cf. 4:36-37; 11:22-30; 13:1—14:28; 15:2-4, 12, 22). Barnabas proved to be a true "Son of Encouragement" (4:36) for Saul.
"First, the Church owed Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Then the Church owed Paul to the forgiving spirit of Ananias. And now we see that the Church owed Paul to the large-hearted charity of Barnabas. . . . The world is largely divided into people who think the best of others and people who think the worst of others; and it is one of the curious facts of life that ordinarily we see our own reflection in others, and we make them what we believe them to be."
The "apostles" whom Saul met were Peter and James, the Lord's half-brother (Gal. 1:17-19). Paul wrote later that he stayed with Peter for 15 days (Gal. 1:15), but he may have been in Jerusalem somewhat longer at this time. James was an apostle in the general sense of that term. He was not one of the Twelve.
Barnabas pointed out three indications that Saul's conversion was genuine for the benefit of the Christian skeptics: Saul "had seen the Lord," he "had talked with" Him, and "he had witnessed (spoken out) boldly" in Damascus "in Jesus' name." Imagine how difficult it must have been, for those Christians who had relatives whom Saul had persecuted, to sit down with him in church meetings and share the Lord's Supper.
9:28-29 While Saul was in Jerusalem, he resumed Stephen's work of debating the "Hellenistic Jews." He was himself a Hellenist, as Stephen apparently was, having been born and reared in Tarsus. Paul described himself as "a Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5; cf. 2 Cor. 11:22), by which he meant that his training in Jerusalem and his sympathies were more in line with the Hebrews than with the Hellenists. At first he enjoyed freedom in the city, but soon the unbelieving Jews as well tried to silence him. Evidently Saul continued evangelizing in Jerusalem, until it became obvious to the other believers that he must leave immediately, or suffer death as Stephen had. They probably envisioned a recurrence of the persecution of the disciples that followed Stephen's martyrdom.
9:30 Saul's concerned Christian brethren traveled with him "to Caesarea." We do not know how long he stayed there, but Luke's account gives the impression that it was not long. Saul then departed, apparently by ship, "to Tarsus" in Cilicia, his hometown (21:39; Gal. 1:21), probably to tell his family and others about Jesus. Saul traveled about 690 miles in these trips: from Jerusalem to Damascus, back to Jerusalem, then to Caesarea and home to Tarsus, excluding his trip into Arabia, which cannot be calculated (cf. Gal. 1:17-19).
In 22:17-21, Saul later testified that during this first visit to Jerusalem as a believer, he had received a vision of Jesus telling him to leave Jerusalem, because God wanted to use him to evangelize the Gentiles. Thus his departure from Jerusalem was willing rather than forced.
Saul remained in the province of Cilicia until Barnabas tracked him down and brought him to Syrian Antioch (11:19-26). This was some six years later. We have no record of Saul's activities during this period (probably A.D. 37-43), except that many of his experiences that he described in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 and 12:1-9, seem to fit into these silent years. If they do, we know that Saul was active in ministry gaining experience that fitted him for what we read he did later in Acts on his missionary journeys.
There are some interesting similarities between the beginning of Saul's ministry and the beginning of Jesus' ministry (cf. 9:20-35 and Luke 4:16-30). Both men began their ministries by entering a synagogue and delivering a salvation message. The audiences in both cases reacted with shock and astonishment. In Jesus' case, the audience asked if He was not the son of Joseph, and in Saul's case, the audience asked if he was not the violent persecutor of Christians. Then both men escaped a violent response to their messages.
Notice that "church" is in the singular here. This is probably a reference to the Christians throughout Palestine—in "Judea," "Galilee," and "Samaria"—not just in one local congregation, e.g. in Jerusalem, but in the whole body of Christ. Saul's departure from Palestine brought greater peace to the churches there. He was an extremely controversial figure among the Jews because of his conversion. Peaceful conditions are conducive to effective evangelism and church growth (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-4). The church continued to experience four things: inward strengthening, a proper attitude and relationship to God (in contrast to Judaism), the comfort (encouragement, Gr. paraklesis) provided by the Holy Spirit, and numerical growth.
Besides this verse, there are few references to Galilee in Acts (cf. 10:37; 13:31). This has led some commentators to speculate that Galilee had been evangelized during Jesus' ministry and was, by this time, fully Christian. The evidence from church history, however, indicates that there were few Christians in Galilee at this time and in later years.
This statement is Luke's third major progress report on the state of the church (cf. 2:47; 6:7; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). It closes this section dealing with the church's expansion in Judea and Samaria (6:8—9:31). The Lord had first added about 3,000 new believers to the core group of disciples (2:41). Then He added more who became Christians day by day (2:47). Shortly after that, He added multitudes of new believers (5:14). Then we read that the number of disciples increased greatly (6:7). Now we read that the church ". . . continued to increase" (9:31).
Luke next recorded the church's expansion beyond Palestine to the "uttermost parts of the earth" (1:8). The Ethiopian eunuch took the gospel to Africa, but he became a Christian in Judea. Now we begin to read of people becoming Christians in places farther from Jerusalem and Judea.
As Jerusalem had been the Palestinian center for the evangelization of Jews, Antioch of Syria became the Hellenistic center for Gentile evangelization in Asia Minor and Europe. The gospel spread increasingly to Gentiles, which Luke emphasized in this section of Acts. He recorded three episodes: Peter's ministry in the maritime plain of Palestine (9:32-43), the conversion of Cornelius and his friends in Caesarea (10:1—11:18), and the founding of the Antioch church (11:19-30). Luke then looked back to Jerusalem again to update us on what was happening there (12:1-23). He concluded this section with another summary statement of the church's growth (12:24).
Luke now returned to Peter's continuing ministry in Judea. Luke apparently recorded the healing of Aeneas and the raising of Tabitha in order to show that the gospel was being preached effectively in a region of Palestine that both Jews and Gentiles occupied. Peter, the apostle to the Jews, was responsible for its advancing farther into Gentile territory. Luke thereby helped his readers see the equality of Gentiles and Jews in the church as it continued to expand (cf. Eph. 2:11—3:12).
Peter continued his itinerant ministry around Palestine (cf. 8:25).
9:32 "Lydda" (modern Lod, the site of Israel's international airport) lay on the Mediterranean coastal plain, about 10 miles from the sea. It was about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It stood at the junction of the roads from Joppa to Jerusalem and the highway from Egypt to Syria. There were already "saints" there (cf. vv. 13, 41).
9:33 Peter healed another lame man in Lydda (cf. 3:6-8; Luke 5:17-26). "Aeneas" is a Greek name. He was probably a Hellenistic Jew. We do not know if he was a Christian. The fact that Luke called him "a man," but referred to Tabitha as "a disciple" (v. 36), may imply that he was not a believer.
9:34 Peter announced that the healing was Jesus Christ's work (cf. 1:1; 3:6): "Jesus Christ heals you." Jesus had also told a paralytic in Capernaum to take up his pallet and walk (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:11; Luke 5:24). He later told another paralytic who lay at the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem to do the same thing (John 5:8). The Greek clause stroson seauto literally means "spread for yourself," and can refer to making a bed or preparing a table. The power of Jesus was still at work through Peter. The formerly paralyzed man arose "immediately." Later Paul healed Publius' father (28:8).
9:35 "Sharon" was the name of the section of maritime plain that stretched from Joppa to Mt. Carmel. Lydda was near its southeastern edge, and Caesarea was at its center on the Mediterranean coast. As with the healing of the lame temple beggar, and Jesus' healings of the paralytics at Capernaum and Jerusalem, the healing of Aeneas resulted in many people hearing the gospel and believing in Jesus ("all who lived at Lydda and Sharon").
One of the reasons Luke included this healing in his book, seems to have been because the results of this healing affected "all" the people living in this area of Palestine. One of these people was the Gentile Cornelius, who will figure significantly in the next chapter.
9:36 The site of "Joppa" (modern Yafo, a suburb of Tel Aviv) was on the Mediterranean coast, 10 miles west and a little north of Lydda. It was the ancient seaport for Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chron. 2:16; Jon. 1:3). "Tabitha" (lit. "Gazelle") was a Jewish Christian, and she was a "disciple" (Gr. mathetria). This is the only place in the New Testament where the feminine form of the Greek word translated "disciple" appears. "Tabitha" was her Aramaic name, whereas "Dorcas" was her Greek name. She had a marvelous reputation for helping people in her community ("abounding in deeds of kindness and charity")—because she had a servant's heart.
9:37-38 When "she . . . died," the believers sent word to Peter in nearby "Joppa," asking him to come. Apparently they expected him to raise her back to life, just as Jesus had done, since they "washed her body," and "laid it in an upper room."
9:39 Luke told this story with much interesting detail. Peter accompanied the two men, who came to Lydda for him, back to Joppa (cf. 10:7, 23). The "widows" were evidently wearing the clothing Tabitha had made for them. The middle voice of the Greek verb translated "showing" in verse 39 suggests this. She had made these clothes for the poor widows. This was her ministry.
9:40-41 Peter's procedure here was almost identical to Jesus' when He raised Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:41; Luke 8:51-56). Peter's praying shows that he was relying on Jesus for his power, just as his previous announcement, "Jesus Christ heals you," had manifested that attitude when he healed Aeneas (v. 34). There is only one letter difference in what Peter said (Tabitha qumi) and what Jesus had said (Talitha qumi, lit. "Little girl, get up"). This miracle is yet another evidence of Jesus' working powerfully through His witnesses in word and deed (1:1-2; cf. John 14:12). Tannehill pointed out many similarities between this story and the stories of Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus raising dead people. Jesus had given the Twelve the power to raise the dead (Matt. 10:8).
9:42 "Many" people "all over Joppa" became believers because of the news of this miracle, too. The phrase "believed in the Lord" (v. 42) is similar to "turned to the Lord" (v. 35; cf. 11:21; 15:19). It is another way of saying they "became Christians," and emphasizes that the Person they believed in was the Lord Jesus. Notice that "turning" is equated with "believing," and that Luke mentioned no other conditions for salvation.
9:43 This verse provides a geographical and ideological transition to the account of Peter's visit to Cornelius (10:1—11:18). Evidently Peter remained "in Joppa" for quite some time ("many days") to confirm these new converts and to help the church in that town. His willingness to stay "with a tanner" shows that Peter was more broad-minded in his fellowship than many other Jews. Many Jews thought that tanners practiced an unclean trade because they worked with the skins of dead animals, so they would have nothing to do with them. However, Peter was about to receive a challenge to his convictions, similar to the one that Saul had received on the Damascus road.
Note how God used the invitation of the people of Joppa to bring Peter there. Likewise God often uses, what initially appear to be incidental occurrences, to open up great ministries. Luke illustrated this divine method repeatedly in Acts.
"It was important to demonstrate that Peter was in the full stream of his usefulness, and the agent of miracles curiously like those performed by his Master (Mt. ix. 23-26; Mk. v. 38-43; Jn. v. 6-9), when the call came to him to baptize a Gentile."
Many people consider healing a lame person a great miracle, and raising a dead person back to life an even greater one. But the spiritual salvation of a lost sinner is greater than both of them. The Lord performed the first two miracles through Peter (9:32-35, 36-43), and now He did the third (ch. 10).
"In a sense this scene is the book's turning point, as from here the gospel will fan out in all directions to people across a vast array of geographical regions, something Paul's three missionary journeys will underscore."
The episode concerning Cornelius is obviously very important, since there are three lengthy references to it in Acts (chs. 10, 11, and 15). It deals with an important issue concerning the mission that the Lord gave His disciples. That issue is how the Christians should carry out that mission in view of the obstacle of Gentile uncleanness. Gentiles were ritually unclean and communicated ritual uncleanness to Jews, according to the Mosaic Law, mainly because they did not observe Jewish dietary distinctions (Lev. 11). This obstacle kept Jews and Gentiles separate in society.
Luke stressed four things in this conversion story particularly: First, the Christians initially resisted the ideas of evangelizing Gentiles, and of accepting them into the church apart from any relationship to Judaism (10:14, 28; 11:2-3, 8). Second, God Himself led the way in Gentile evangelism and acceptance, and He showed His approval (10:3, 11-16, 19-20, 22b, 30-33, 44-46; 11:5-10, 13, 15-17). Third, it was Peter, the leader of the Jerusalem apostles, whom God used to open the door of the church to Gentiles—rather than Paul (10:23, 34-43, 47-48; 11:15-17). Fourth, the Jerusalem church accepted the conversion of Gentiles—apart from their associating with Judaism—because God had validated this in Cornelius' case (11:18).
"Although Paul is the primary agent in the mission to the Gentiles, Luke wishes to make it plain, not only that Peter was in full sympathy with his position, but that, as head of the Church, Peter was the first to give its official blessing to the admission of Gentiles as full and equal members of the New Israel [i.e., the church] by his action in the case of a Roman centurion and his friends . . ."
10:1 "Caesarea" stood on the Mediterranean coast, about 30 miles north of Joppa. Formerly its name was Strato's Tower, but Herod the Great built it into a major seaport and renamed it in honor of Augustus Caesar, his patron who was the adopted heir of Julius Caesar. "Sebaste" is the Greek equivalent of the Latin "Augustus." Herod the Great had modernized the city, made it the provincial capital of Judea (Pilate lived there), and built its magnificent harbor. It was at that time the major Roman seaport for Palestine, and its most important center of Roman government and military activity.
"Cornelius" was a common Roman name. Centurions were non-commissioned officers of the Roman army, who each commanded 100 soldiers, and had about the same level of authority as a captain in the United States army. A "cohort" contained 600 soldiers, and Cornelius' "Italian cohort" had connections with Italy. Every reference to centurions in the New Testament is positive (Matt. 8:5-10; 27:54; Mark 15:44-45; Acts 22:25-26; 23:17-18; 27:6, 43). These men were "the backbone of the Roman army." Cornelius was similar to the centurion of Luke 7:1-10 (see especially v. 5).
"The legion was the regiment [cf. an American division] of the Roman army, and it consisted nominally of 6000 men. Each legion was divided into ten cohorts [Amer. battalion], and again each cohort contained six centuries or 'hundreds' of men [Amer. company]. The officer in command of a cohort was called a tribune or in the Greek chiliarch: Such was Claudius Lysias of xxi 31 and xxiii 26. A century was under a centurion or kekatontarch."
Cornelius represents a new type of person to whom the gospel had not gone before, as recorded in Acts. The Ethiopian eunuch, as well, was a Gentile, but the Jews viewed his occupation favorably. There was nothing about his occupation that would have repulsed the Jews. However, Cornelius, in addition to being a Gentile, was a member of Israel's occupying army. The Jews would have avoided him solely because of his occupation, even though he possessed an admirable character and was friendly to the Jews.
It is interesting to note that the first Gentile whom Jesus dealt with during His ministry was a Roman centurion, and that he, too, believed. In response to that man's faith, Jesus announced that many would come from among the Gentiles to join Jews in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11).
10:2 Cornelius lived a moral life because he "feared God," as did "all" the other members of "his household." His generosity ("alms") to the people (Gr. to lao, i.e., to the Jews), and his continual prayers (Gr. deomai, lit. "begging"), were further evidences of his respect for Israel's God. His relations with God and people were admirable (cf. Matt. 22:37-39). Cornelius had not become a full Jewish proselyte (11:3), but he did pray to the Jews' "God."
The Jews called full Gentile proselytes who had undergone circumcision "proselytes of righteousness." They referred to Gentiles who adhered to Judaism to a lesser extent, without submitting to circumcision, "proselytes of the gate." Luke called these latter people "God-fearers." Cornelius may have been one of the latter proselytes or "God-fearers," and the Ethiopian eunuch may have been another (cf. 8:27). This type of Gentile constituted fertile soil for the gospel seed (cf. 8:26-40). It was mainly such God-fearing Gentiles who responded to Paul's ministry.
Scholars debate the existence of the "God-fearers" as a distinct group. The scriptural evidence points to their existence (cf. Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26, 43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7), and this has been the opinion of the majority of scholars over the years.
Some students of Acts have contended that Cornelius was a believer (i.e., an Old Testament saint) before he sent for Peter. Some scholars argue that Cornelius was righteous before he heard Peter's gospel message, so it is unnecessary for people to hear the gospel to be saved. It seems to many others, and to me, that in view of what we read in this chapter and the next he was not truly saved (i.e., justified) until verse 44 (cf. 11:14).
10:3-4 The "ninth hour" (3:00 p.m.) was the Jewish hour of prayer (cf. 3:1), so Cornelius may have been praying. Again God would prepare two people to get together by giving each of them a vision (Cornelius and Peter; cf. Saul and Ananias). Cornelius saw "an angel," not Jesus (vv. 7, 22, 30; 11: 13; cf. 1:20). "Lord" here is a respectful address such as "Sir," but the centurion undoubtedly felt great awe when he saw this supernatural visitor (cf. v. 30). Cornelius was not calling the angel his "Savior" or his "Sovereign." God had noted Cornelius' piety (his prayers Godward, proseuchai, and his alms manward, cf. v. 2), and was now going to give him more revelation.
"Luke is suggesting that the prayers and the alms of this Gentile were accepted by God in lieu of the sacrifices which he was not allowed to enter the Temple to offer himself. In other words, God had acted to break down barriers between Jew and Gentile by treating the prayers and alms of a Gentile as equivalent to the sacrifice of a Jew."
Modern missionaries have told stories of similar seekers after God. After the missionaries had penetrated some remote tribe and had preached the gospel, the natives explained how they had previously worshipped the same God the missionary preached, and had prayed for more light. Romans 3:11 means that no one seeks God unless God draws him or her to Himself, which is what God did with Cornelius.
10:5-6 God told Cornelius to "send (dispatch)" some "men to Joppa" for "Simon (also called) Peter," who was staying there with another "Simon," the "tanner" (cf. 9:43). Tanners used quite a bit of water in practicing their trade, and this may be the reason this Simon lived by the Mediterranean Sea.
10:7-8 Cornelius immediately (v. 33) "sent . . . two of his servants," probably to assist Peter, plus a spiritually "devout" military aide ("soldier") to ask Peter to come. These servants appear to have been God-fearing individuals, and members of his household (cf. v. 2), who were in sympathy with Cornelius' purpose.
"Though Peter was not by training or inclination an overly scrupulous Jew, and though as a Christian his inherited prejudices were gradually wearing thin, he was not prepared to go so far as to minister directly to Gentiles. A special revelation was necessary for that, and Luke now tells how God took the initiative in overcoming Peter's reluctance."
The original Greek, Roman, and Jewish readers of Acts all put much stock in dreams, visions, and oracles. They believed they came from "the gods," or from the "one true God" in the case of Jews. So it is not surprising that Luke put much emphasis on these events in his conversion stories of Saul and Cornelius. This would have put the divine sanction for Christianity beyond dispute in the readers' minds.
10:9-10 Most Jews prayed twice a day, but pious Jews also prayed at noon ("the sixth hour"), a third time of prayer (Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10). However, Peter may have been praying—more because of the recent success of the gospel in Joppa (cf. 9:42)—than because praying at noon was his habit. The aorist tense of the Greek verb proseuchomai suggests that Peter may have been praying about something definite rather than general. This Greek word also sometimes refers to worship. He probably "went up on the" flat "housetop" for privacy and the fresh sea air. Luke's reference to Peter's hunger, which God evidently gave him, explains partially why God couched his vision in terms of food. Food was what was on Peter's mind. Peter's "trance" (Gr. ekstasis, v. 10) was a vision (horama, vv. 17, 19; 11:5).
10:11-13 The sheet-like container, similar perhaps to an awning on the roof or a ship's sail, was full of "all kinds of animals," clean and unclean (cf. 11:6). The issue of unclean food was the basic one that separated observant Jews like Peter from Gentiles.
"Milk drawn by a heathen, if a Jew had not been present to watch it, bread and oil prepared by them, were unlawful. Their wine was wholly interdicted—the mere touch of a heathen polluted a whole cask; nay, even to put one's nose to heathen wine was strictly prohibited!"
". . . the point is that the Lord's command frees Peter from any scruples about going to a Gentile home and eating whatever might be set before him. It would be a short step from recognizing that Gentile food was clean to realizing that Gentiles themselves were 'clean' also."
The Jewish laws distinguishing between clean and unclean animals appear in Lev. 11.
10:14 Peter protested the Lord Jesus' command, strongly but politely (Gr. Medamos, kurie), as Ezekiel had done when he received similar instructions from God (Ezek. 4:14). Peter may have remembered and recognized the voice as that of Jesus. He had either not understood or not remembered Jesus' teaching in which He had declared all foods clean (Mark 7:14-19, cf. Rom. 14:14).
Peter's "No, Lord," is, of course, an inconsistent contradiction. Nevertheless Peter's response was very consistent with his impulsive personality and former conduct. He had said, "No," to the Lord before (cf. Matt. 16:22; John 13:8). His reaction to this instruction reminds us of Peter's similar extreme reactions on other, earlier occasions (e.g., John 13:8-9; 21:7). Saul's response to the voice from heaven on the Damascus Road, however, had not been negative (9:5-8).
"The cliché, 'If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all' is simply that—a cliché and not a biblical or theological truth. He can be Lord of aspects of my life while I withhold other areas of my life from His control. Peter illustrated that as clearly as anyone that day on the rooftop when the Lord asked him to kill and eat unclean animals. He said, 'By no means, Lord' (Acts 10:14). At that point was Christ Lord of all of Peter? Certainly not. Then must we conclude that He was not Lord at all in relation to Peter's life? I think not."
Watch out for the teaching that Christians should observe the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law. This is a modern form of legalism. Some of what God forbade for Israel had nothing to do with guaranteeing good health (e.g., wearing mixed fiber clothing, not yoking an ox with a donkey, etc.).
10:15-16 Peter's Jewish cultural prejudices were overriding the Word of God in his thinking. For this reason God repeated the vision two more times, so Peter would be sure he understood God's command correctly.
"The message pervading the whole [of Peter's vision] . . . is that the disciples are to receive the Gentiles, not before cleansing, but after God has cleansed them as He will do later through the cleansing Gospel which Peter will share with them the next day."
"The particular application had to do with nullifying Jewish dietary laws for Christians in accord with Jesus' remarks on the subject in Mark 7:17-23. But Peter was soon to learn that the range of the vision's message extended much more widely, touching directly on Jewish-Gentile relations as he had known them and on those relations in ways he could never have anticipated."
I wonder if Peter remembered Jonah as he thought about the mission God had given him of preaching to the Gentiles. God had also called that prophet to carry a message of salvation to the Gentiles in Nineveh, but Jonah had fled from that very city, Joppa, to escape his calling. Now Peter found himself in the same position.
"Because Jonah disobeyed God, the Lord sent a storm that caused the Gentile sailors to fear. Because Peter obeyed the Lord, God sent the 'wind of the Spirit' to the Gentiles and they experienced great joy and peace."
10:17-18 Peter did not understand what the vision meant. While he pondered the subject, being "greatly perplexed in mind," Cornelius' messengers called out below, inquiring about Simon Peter's presence in the house.
10:19-20 Somehow the Holy Spirit convinced Peter that God wanted him to accompany the messengers to Cornelius' house.
". . . it is both exegetically and experientially difficult, if not impossible, to draw any sharp lines between 'an angel of God [vv. 3, 22],' the Holy Spirit [v. 19], and the ascended Christ [vv. 4, 14]."
We could also add "God" (v. 28; cf. 8:26, 29, 39; 16:6-7; Rom. 8:9-11; 2 Cor. 3:17-18).
Peter was to feel free to ("without misgivings") enter the house of Cornelius, since the centurion was not unclean. Quite possibly while Peter "was reflecting" (v. 19), he remembered Jesus' teaching in which He terminated the clean/unclean distinction (cf. v. 29; Mark 7:19).
10:21-22 Peter probably descended from the roof by using a stairway on the outside of the house, as was common, and met the messengers outside the door where they had been standing. They described Cornelius as a "man well spoken of by the whole (entire) nation (Gr. ethnos) of the Jews," as well as "a righteous and God-fearing man" (cf. v. 2). They obviously wanted their description of their master to influence Peter to accompany them back to Caesarea.
10:23a After learning their intent, Peter invited them inside and acted as their host. This was very unusual, since Jews normally did not provide hospitality for Gentiles. Peter had apparently already begun to understand the meaning of the vision he had seen, and right away began to apply it in his relationships with these Gentiles.
10:23b-24 Peter wisely took six other Jewish Christians with him (11:12). A total of seven believers witnessed what took place in Cornelius' house. The trip from Caesarea to Joppa took part of two days (v. 30). Cornelius was so sure Peter would come, that even before the apostle arrived, he gathered a group of "his relatives and (close) friends" to listen to him. The text gives no reason to assume that Cornelius knew Peter was the foremost apostle among the early Christians (cf. v. 5). Cornelius had an exemplary concern for the spiritual welfare of others even before he became a Christian (cf. v. 27).
10:25-26 Cornelius met Peter just like, on another occasion, the Apostle John responded to God's angelic messenger: he "fell at his feet and worshipped him." Nevertheless Peter, like the angel, refused this unwarranted veneration (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
Later, Paul and Barnabas received a similar reception from the Lystrans, and likewise refused worship (14:11-15).
10:27-29 It was taboo for Jews "to associate with Gentiles (a foreigner)" and or "to visit" them in their homes. Gentiles did not observe the strict rules Jews followed in eating, preparing, and even handling food, nor did they tithe or practice circumcision. Any physical contact with Gentiles laid a Jew open to becoming ceremonially unclean because of the Gentiles' failure to observe these Mosaic laws.
Food was the crux of the issue that separated them. However, Peter had gotten the message of the sheet full of food: food does not make a person unholy or unclean. Consequently he had come "without" further "objection." Peter's explanation in these verses stressed the fact that God had convinced him to go against traditional Jewish custom, which was well-known among the Gentiles.
"He [Peter] violates the first rule of homiletics when he begins his message with an apology. What he says is not a friendly thing to say. In fact, it is an insult. . . . How would you feel, especially if you are a lady who is a housekeeper, if some visitor came into your home and his first words were, 'I am coming into your home, which I consider dirty'?"
Nevertheless Peter quickly and humbly explained that he had been wrong about how he formerly felt about Gentiles (v. 29).
10:30-33 Cornelius then related the vision he had seen to Peter. The angel in Cornelius' vision (v. 2) had looked like "a man" dressed "in shining garments" (v. 30). The vision God had given him was a response to the centurion's prayers ("prayer") and "alms."
". . . there are certain things that do count before God. These are things which can in no way merit salvation, but they are things which God notes. . . . Wherever there is a man who seeks after God as Cornelius did, that man is going to hear the gospel of the grace of God. God will see that he gets it."
Cornelius had responded to God admirably, by sending for Peter "immediately" (cf. Peter's "By no means, Lord," v. 14). Cornelius then invited Peter to tell him and his guests what God wanted him to say to them. What a prepared and receptive audience this was!
Luke stressed the significance of Cornelius' experience by repeating certain details (cf. 11:4-10). This is another example of his doublet style, which increases emphasis. Other examples are: the repetition of Jesus' miracles by His followers, and the repetition of the same types of miracles—that Peter performed—by Paul.
Peter's sermon on this occasion is the first sermon in Acts addressed to a Gentile audience (cf. 14:15-17; 17:22-31). It is quite similar to the ones Peter preached in 2:14-40 and 3:11-26, except that this one has more information about Jesus' pre-crucifixion ministry. This emphasis was appropriate, since Peter was addressing Gentiles who would have known less about Jesus' ministry than the Jews did. Also this speech contains no quotations from the Old Testament, though there are many allusions to the Old Testament.
10:34 "Opening his mouth" is a phrase that typically introduces something very important (cf. 8:35; 18:14; Matt. 5:2; 13:35).
What Peter confessed that he now understood, was something God had revealed throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Amos 9:7; Mic. 6:8), but that most Jews had not grasped due to centuries of ill-founded pride. God had now clarified this revelation.
Since "God is not one to show partiality" (cf. Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19), certainly Christians should not do this either. Peter proceeded to prove that God deals with all people equally through His Son (cf. vv. 36, 38, 42, 43), not on the basis of their race (cf. John 10:16). Whenever Christians practice racial discrimination, they need to reread Acts 10.
10:35 God requires faith in Jesus Christ for total acceptance (v. 43; cf. 11:17). However, anyone who "fears" God, and "does what is right" in harmony with His will, as Cornelius did, meets with His initial acceptance ("is welcome to Him").
10:36 All of this verse is a kind of caption for what Peter proceeded to announce to Cornelius and his guests. Its three main emphases are: first, that the message to follow was a presentation of revelation that God had sent to the Jews. Second, it was a message resulting in "peace" that comes through Jesus Christ. Third, Jesus Christ is Lord of all, both Jews and Gentiles. "Lord of all" was a pagan title for deity, which the Christians adopted as an appropriate title for Jesus Christ. "He is Lord of all" expressed Peter's new insight. It is probably the main statement in the verse.
"What is the nature of Jesus' lordship [v. 36]? Because of His lordship, He had a ministry of power as He healed all who were oppressed by the devil (v. 38). As Lord, He was the object of a testimony that declared Him to be the Judge of the living and the dead (v. 42). He is the one of whom all the prophets testified that forgiveness of sins is found in His name (v. 43). Again [as in 2:21, 32-39; 5:14; and 9:42] lordship described the authority that Jesus has as the Bearer of salvation—an authority that involves work in the past (exorcising demons), present (granting forgiveness of sins), and future (serving as Judge)."
That "lord" does not always mean "master" should be clear from this chapter. In verse 4, it is simply a respectful address and means "Sir." In verse 14, it means "God." And in this verse, it means "sovereign." The context helps us to interpret the meaning in each case. Also in each case, however, the idea of respect is present.
10:37 Peter proceeded to outline Jesus of Nazareth's career for his listeners, assuming some knowledge that was common, but adding more details than Luke recorded in Peter's previous speeches. This is the most comprehensive review of Jesus' career found in any speech in Acts. These details would have been appropriate since Peter's hearers here were Gentiles. Peter's sketch followed the same general outline as Mark's Gospel, which, according to early Christian tradition, Peter influenced.
Luke undoubtedly summarized Peter's message, as he did most, if not all of the other addresses in Luke-Acts, and stressed points important to his readers. These points included the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1 (in v. 38, cf. Luke 4:14-30), the importance of apostolic witness (in vv. 39-41, cf. Acts 1:8), and Jesus' post-resurrection eating and drinking with His disciples (v. 41, cf. Luke 24:41-43). "The thing" to which Peter referred was the earthly ministry of Jesus.
10:38 Jesus' anointing by God "with the Holy Spirit" took place at His baptism by John the Baptist (cf. Luke 3:21-22), when He became God's officially Anointed One (i.e., the Messiah). The "all" whom Jesus healed were the many He healed. This is hyperbole, since Jesus did not heal every needy person He met. However, Peter probably meant that Jesus healed all Jews and Gentiles alike. This is another verse which advocates of the "prosperity gospel" cite, attempting to prove their case. Jesus' good deeds and supernatural miracles testified to God's presence with Him (cf. Gen. 39:2).
10:39 The apostles regularly mentioned in their preaching that they were eye "witnesses" of Jesus' ministry (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:41; 13:30-31). This had tremendous persuasive appeal to their hearers. Peter divided Jesus' acts into those that He performed "in the land of the Jews," and the ones "in Jerusalem," their capital city. Those who "put Jesus (Him) to death" were the Jews (3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52) and the Gentiles (4:27). Here Peter referred generally to all those involved in the Crucifixion. "Hanging him on a cross" emphasizes the horrible way the enemies of Jesus killed Him.
"It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul's day. The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 16); even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism . . ."
10:40-41 In contrast to man's treatment of Jesus, God "raised Him" from the grave after three days (cf. 17:31). Jesus also appeared to selected individuals whom God chose to be "witnesses" of His resurrection. Among these was Peter himself, who even "ate and drank with" the risen Lord, proof that He really was alive!
"The resurrection appearances were not made to the people at large. The reason appears to have been that those who saw Jesus were constituted to act as witnesses to the many people who could not see him, and this obligation was not laid on people who were unfit for it but only on those who had been prepared by lengthy association with Jesus and by sharing his work of mission."
10:42-43 Peter referred to the Great Commission, which Jesus gave His disciples after His resurrection (v. 41), in verse 42.
"This entire experience is an illustration of the commission of Matthew 28:19-20. Peter went where God sent him and made disciples ('teach') of the Gentiles. Then he baptized them and taught them the Word."
Jesus Christ will one day judge all people ("the living and the dead") as forgiven or not forgiven (cf. Acts 17:31). To be forgiven one must "believe in Him" (cf. 5:14; 9:42; 11:17). Peter said this is what the Old Testament prophets taught (e.g., Isa. 53:11; Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25-26; et al.). The Messiah (Christ) would be the "Judge" of all people, and Jesus of Nazareth is that Messiah (cf. John 5:27). The Lord of all (v. 36) is also the Judge of all (v. 42).
Note how Peter stressed the universal benefit of Jesus' ministry in this message to Gentiles; it was for Gentiles as well as Jews. Not only is Jesus Lord of all (v. 36), but He went about healing all (v. 38). Furthermore He is the Judge of all (v. 42) to whom all the prophets bore witness (v. 43a), and God forgives all who believe in Him (v. 43b).
10:44 Peter did not need to call for his hearers to repent on this occasion (cf. 2:38; 3:19). As soon as he gave them enough information to trust in Jesus Christ, they did so. Immediately "the Holy Spirit fell on (upon) them, filling them (v. 47; 11:15; cf. 2:4) and baptizing them (11:16; cf. 1:5).
God gave His Spirit to individuals from both groups, Jews and Gentiles, solely because of their faith in Jesus Christ (11:17). The Gentiles did not have to do anything but believe on Jesus. They did not need to become Jewish proselytes, experience baptism in water, undergo circumcision, turn from their sins, or even say they were willing to turn from them.
Note that Spirit baptism took place here without the laying on of an apostle's hands. The identification of Spirit baptism with the apostles was not necessary here, as it had been with the Samaritans (cf. 8:17-19). However, the important point was the connection between faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any external Jewish rite, and Spirit baptism.
"Through Peter's experience with Cornelius it is made plain that the norm for this age for both Jews and Gentiles, is for the Holy Spirit to be given without delay, human mediation, or other conditions than simple faith in Jesus Christ for both Jew and Gentile."
10:45 The outward evidence that God had given His Spirit to these Gentile believers as a gift, was that they spoke in tongues and praised God (cf. 11:15-16). This amazed Peter's Jewish companions, because it proved that God was not making a distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus regarding His acceptance of them.
10:46a Probably Peter and his Jewish companions heard these Gentiles praising God in Aramaic (and classical Hebrew?), which these Gentiles would not have known previously, since Aramaic was a language the Jews understood. The Jews present would have understood Aramaic immediately, and would have recognized that the ability to speak in an unstudied language was an evidence of Spirit baptism, as it was at Pentecost.
10:46b-48 There was no reason to withhold "water" baptism from these Gentile converts; they could undergo baptism in water as a testimony to their faith immediately. They had believed in Jesus Christ and had experienced Spirit baptism. Baptism with the Spirit was Jesus' sign of His acceptance of them, and baptism with water was their sign of their acceptance of Him. They had done everything they needed to do. They did not need to experience anything more such as circumcision, or admission into the Jewish community, or the adoption of traditional Jewish dietary laws, or anything else.
"I have heard people say sometimes that if you are baptized with the Holy Ghost you do not need to be baptized in water. It is not a question of what you need—it is a question of what God has commanded."
The events Luke recorded in 9:32—10:48 prepared Peter for the Lord's further expansion of His church to include Gentiles. Peter had unlocked the door of the church to Jews on Pentecost (Matt. 16:19; cf. Eph. 2:14). What happened in Cornelius' house was "the Pentecost of the Gentile world." By pouring out His Spirit on these Gentiles, God showed that—in His sight—Jews and Gentiles were equal. The Jew had no essential advantage over the Gentile in entering the church. God observes no distinction in race when it comes to becoming a Christian (cf. Eph. 2:11—3:12).
The Ethiopian eunuch was probably a descendant of Ham, Saul was a descendant of Shem, and Cornelius was a descendant of Japheth (cf. Gen. 10). Thus, with the record of their conversions in chapters 8—10, Luke told us that the church is equally accessible to all branches of the human family.
Why was the conversion of Cornelius, rather than the earlier conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, the opening of the church's door to the Gentiles? The conversion of the Gentile eunuch was a case of individual private salvation. The conversion of Cornelius, on the other hand, involved several Gentiles, and it was public. God had saved individual Gentiles by faith throughout history (e.g., Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, et al.). With the conversion of Cornelius, He now, for the first time, publicly brought Gentiles into the church, the new creation of God, by Spirit baptism. The eunuch had become a Christian and a member of the church, but that was not evident to anyone at the time of his conversion.
With Cornelius's conversion, God made a public statement, as He had at Pentecost, that He was doing something new, namely, forming a new body of believers in Jesus. In chapter 2, He had shown that it would include Jews, and here in chapter 10, He now clarified that it would also include Gentiles. The sole prerequisite for entrance into this group (the church) was faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of ethnicity, which had separated Jews from Gentiles for centuries. The distinctive difference between becoming a Christian and becoming a Jew (religiously), was that God gave the Holy Spirit to every Christian. The sign of this, for the benefit of the Jews, was that He enabled those to whom He gave the Spirit to speak in tongues. In the rest of Acts, Luke proceeded to narrate the conversion of various kinds of Gentiles in various parts of the Mediterranean world.
Peter's actions in Caesarea drew criticism from conservative Jews. Luke wrote this pericope to enable his readers to understand and appreciate more fully God's acceptance of Gentiles into the church as Gentiles. An additional purpose was to present this acceptance as essential to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The leaders of the Jerusalem church recognized what God was doing in bringing Gentiles into the church, as they had done formerly with the Samaritan believers in Jesus (8:14-25). Luke documented this recognition, in this pericope, because it plays an important role in proving the distinction between Israel and the church and explaining the worldwide mission of the church.
News of what had happened in Cornelius' house spread quickly throughout Judea. "The brethren" (v. 1) and "those who were circumcised" (v. 2) refer to Jewish Christians, not unsaved Jews. Peter's response to their criticism of him makes this clear (e.g., v. 15). They objected to his having had contact with "uncircumcised" Gentiles, particularly eating with them (v. 3). Apparently Peter "ate with" his host while he was with him for several days (10:48), though Luke did not record this. The same taboo that had bothered Peter was bothering his Jewish brethren (cf. 10:28). They undoubtedly would have felt concern over the non-Christian Jews' reaction to themselves. Peter's actions in Caesarea could only bring more persecution on the Jewish Christians from the unsaved Jews (cf. 7:54—8:3).
"It is possible to hear a subtile echo of Jesus' critics in 11:3. Jesus was also accused of eating with or lodging with the wrong kind of people. . . . Now Peter must face the kind of criticism that Jesus faced, arising this time from the circle of Jesus' disciples."
"It was one thing for the Ethiopian to be received into the Church of Christ by the Hellenist Philip, but it was another thng—and a marked advance—when the principle asserted by Philip was ratified by the Apostles of the circumcision in the case of Cornelius."
Luke recorded Peter's retelling of these events to his critics, in order to further impress the significance of this incident on his readers. Peter particularly stressed God's initiative (vv. v. 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 17a), as well as his own inability to withstand God (v. 17b).
Cornelius and "all" his "household" were not "saved" from God's wrath until they heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ that Peter proclaimed to them (v. 14; cf. 10:43).
Peter was speaking of the day of Pentecost when he referred to "the beginning" of the church (v. 15, cf. 2:4). Clearly the baptism of the Holy Spirit is what he referred to (v. 16). Peter justified his actions in Caesarea (eating with Gentiles) by appealing to what God had done (v. 17a). Note that Peter identified "believing in the Lord Jesus Christ" as the only necessary prerequisite to receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit (v. 17a). Spirit baptism ("the same gift as He gave to us") was not an experience subsequent to salvation for Cornelius and his household, but something that happened simultaneously with salvation.
Peter's explanation was satisfactory to his critics. His Jewish brethren agreed that God was saving Gentiles simply by faith in Jesus Christ—just as He was saving Jews—and that they should no longer regard Gentiles as "unclean." They recognized and yielded to God's initiative in this event. As a result, the bonds between Jewish and Gentile Christians became stronger, and the bonds between unbelieving Jews and believing Jews became weaker.
"The word 'repentance' summarizes Cornelius' conversion in Acts. 'Repentance' can be a summary term for conversion stressing that a change of orientation has taken place when one believes. Faith stresses what the object of belief is. Faith is directed toward a Person, namely, Jesus. Repentance stresses what belief involves in that it is a change of mind or of orientation from oneself and his own works to a reliance on Jesus to save him. The repentant man of faith recognizes that, as the hymnwriter puts it, his 'hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness' and that he is to 'wholly lean on Jesus' name.' Metanoeo ('to repent') is used in Acts 2:38 and 3:19 to call Jewish audiences to come to Jesus, and it is used in the same way in Acts 17:30 and 26:20 to describe the call to or response of Gentiles. Metanoia ('repentance') is the summary term of the Great Commission in Luke 24:47. It is also used in salvation contexts in Acts 5:31 (to Jews); 11:18 (of Cornelius); 20:21 (of Jews and Gentiles who believe on the Lord Jesus); and 26:20 (in Paul's message to Jews and Gentiles)."
It is clear, however, that not all of those who accepted Peter's explanation also understood the larger issue. Probably few of them did. The larger issue was that God had created a new entity, the church, and that He was dealing with humankind on a different basis than He had for centuries. Those whom God accepted by faith in Christ were now under a new covenant, not the old Mosaic Covenant, so they did not need to continue to observe the Mosaic Law. It was no longer necessary for Gentiles to come to God through Judaism, or to live within the constraints of Judaism. Opposition to this larger issue, the implications of what happened in Cornelius' home, cropped up later (15:1; cf. Gal.). Even today, many Christians do not understand the implications of this change, and or their application in daily life.
Whereas the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem did come to agree with Peter, the non-Christian Jews did not. They still regarded Gentiles as outside the pale of God's favor. The Christian Jews' new attitude toward Gentiles, on the one hand, had opened them up to the Gentiles. However, it also resulted in non-Christian Jews excluding Christian Jews, increasingly, from the life of Judaism.
"Even though Peter does not convert the first Gentile [in Acts, i.e., the Ethiopian eunuch], the Cornelius episode is a breakthrough for the Gentile mission. The conversion of the Ethiopian was a private and isolated event that had no effect [in Acts]. The conversion of Cornelius has consequences in the following narrative, as the reference back to it in Acts 15 makes clear. It is a breakthrough not simply because Peter and the Jerusalem church now accept Gentiles for baptism but also because they recognize the right of Jewish Christians to freely associate with Gentiles in the course of their mission."
The scene now shifts to Antioch of Syria. Antioch was a very significant town, because from there the church launched its major missionary offensives to "the uttermost parts of the earth." Luke recorded events in the early history of this church because of its significant initiatives. The disciples in Antioch reached out to Gentiles with spiritual aid, and they reached out to their Jewish brethren in Jerusalem with material aid.
"With the ratification by the Jerusalem mother church of Peter's action in admitting the first group of Gentiles into the Church as his preface, Luke now launches into the main theme of the book of Acts—the expansion of the Church into the whole Gentile world. Again he emphasizes the part played by anonymous believers in spreading Christianity."
11:19 Luke's reference back to "the persecution" resulting from Stephen's martyrdom (7:60) is significant. It suggests that he was now beginning to record another mission of the Christians that ran parallel—logically and chronologically—to the one he had just described in 8:4—11:18.
Luke had already pointed out that as a result of Stephen's execution, the gospel had spread throughout Judea and Samaria (8:4). Now we learn that it was that event that also led to its being taken to the uttermost parts of the earth. While Philip went to Samaria, other refugees went to the country of Phoenicia north of Caesarea, the island of "Cyprus" (cf. 4:36; 21:16), and the city of "Antioch." Those disciples, who were Jews, were evangelizing other "Jews" exclusively ("alone").
Persecution was good for the church. It frequently causes the church to grow rather than die. However, peaceful conditions are normally more conducive to effective evangelism than persecution (1 Tim. 2:2-4).
11:20 Some Jews from "Cyprus," Barnabas' homeland not far from Antioch, and "Cyrene," in North Africa (cf. 2:10; 6:9; 13:1), visited Antioch (cf. 13:1). Antioch was at this time the third largest city in the Roman world, after Rome and Alexandria. These Jews may have traveled there on business. Antioch was about 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, on the Orontes River, and 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was the capital of the Roman province of Syro-Cilicia, north of Phoenicia, and it was one of the most strategic population centers of its day. It contained between 500,000 and 800,000 inhabitants, about one-seventh of whom were Jews. Many Gentile proselytes to Judaism lived there. Antioch was also notorious as a haven for pleasure-seekers.
"The Roman satirist, Juvenal, complained, 'The sewage of the Syrian Orontes has for long been discharged into the Tiber.' By this he meant that Antioch was so corrupt it was impacting Rome, more than 1,300 miles away."
"It seems incredible but nonetheless it is true that it was in a city like that that Christianity took the great stride forward to becoming the religion of the world. We have only to think of that to discover there is no such thing as a hopeless situation."
Some of the Hellenistic Jews also began sharing the gospel with Gentiles ("speaking to the Greeks also"). This verse documents another significant advance in the mission of the church: For the first time, Luke recorded Jews aggressively evangelizing non-Jews. The Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius, who were both Gentiles, had taken the initiative in reaching out to Jews and had obtained salvation. Now believing Jews were taking the initiative in reaching out to Gentiles with the gospel.
The Antiochian evangelists preached "the Lord Jesus." For Gentiles "Christ" (Messiah) would not have been as significant a title as "Lord" (sovereign, savior, and deity). Many pagan Gentiles in the Roman Empire regarded Caesar as "Lord."
11:21 Luke stressed the Lord Jesus' blessing of their witness. "The hand of the Lord" is an Old Testament anthropomorphism that pictures God's power (cf. Isa. 59:1; 66:14). The early disciples put Jesus on a par with Yahweh; His deity was not a late (recent) development read back into the early history of the church. Response to this evangelistic work was very good. Perhaps these Gentiles were "God-fearers" similar to the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius. Perhaps they were pagans who were not Jewish proselytes, but were open to the message of life because of their dissatisfaction with paganism. Probably both types of Gentiles responded.
11:22-24 As the apostles had done previously, when they had heard of the Samaritans' salvation, they once again investigated when word ("news") of the salvation of Gentiles "reached . . . Jerusalem" (8:14-15). They chose a representative to visit the scene to evaluate what was happening. The Lord obviously controlled these men in their choice of an observer. "Barnabas" (cf. 4:36-37) was an excellent man for this mission since he, like some of the evangelists in Antioch, was from Cyprus. He was also a more broad-minded Hellenist. Furthermore he was a positive, encouraging person (4:36), and he was "full of the Holy Spirit," "faith," and goodness ("a good man").
Barnabas "rejoiced" when he observed God's grace at work in Antioch, and, true to his name ("Son of Encouragement," 4:36), he "encouraged" the new converts "to remain faithful (true) to the Lord." The alternative of not remaining faithful to the Lord is clearly an option for believers (cf. 13:43; 14:21-22). Even more people ("considerable numbers") became believers because of Barnabas' ministry to these Christians. According to tradition, Luke came from Antioch. The second-century Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke's Gospel referred to Luke as an Antiochian of Syria. Also, Eusebius wrote in the fourth century, ". . . Luke, who was born at Antioch . . ." So perhaps he was one of the converts.
Discipling in Acts was not done mainly "one on one," but in community. We see the same emphasis in Ephesians 4. One-on-one discipling is certainly all right, but it can become self-centered. Growth in a group is much more conducive to the discovery and development of spiritual gifts.
Luke may have described Barnabas in such glowing terms, partly because this situation was such a serious crisis for the early church. Much depended on how Barnabas would react, what he would do, and what he would report back to the mother church in Jerusalem. The evangelization of Gentiles was at stake.
11:25 As the church in Antioch continued to grow, Barnabas and perhaps others sensed the need for Saul's help. Consequently, at this time, Barnabas set out to track him down in "Tarsus," where Saul had gone (9:30). "Saul" was an ideal choice for this work, since God had given him a special appointment to evangelize Gentiles (22:21). Moreover, he had considerable experience in ministry already, probably about nine years of it since his conversion.
Some Bible scholars have deduced that Saul's family in Tarsus had disinherited him (cf. Phil. 3:8). Some also believe that he endured some of the afflictions, that he described in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, while he ministered in and around Tarsus. These included persecution by the Jews, probably for trying to evangelize Gentiles. Furthermore, some say that Saul had the revelation, to which he referred in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, while he was ministering near there. He was undoubtedly very active in missionary work around Tarsus during his residence there, even though we have no record of it.
11:26 Barnabas had earlier sponsored Saul in Jerusalem (9:27). Now Barnabas "brought" Saul from Tarsus "to Antioch," a distance of about 90 miles, where they ministered together "for a (an entire) year," teaching and leading the church. This was probably in A.D. 43, ten years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the day of Pentecost.
Luke noted another advance for the church in that observers called the believers "Christians" (lit. "those belonging to Christ's party," i.e., "Christ followers") "first . . . in Antioch." In other words, people now distinguished the Christians as a group, both from religious Jews as well as from pagan Gentiles (cf. 1 Cor. 10:32). Howson argued that it was probably the Romans in Antioch who first gave the Christians this name. There are only three occurrences of the name "Christian" in the New Testament, and in each case Christians did not use it of themselves (cf. 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). Similarly, biblical references indicate that the name "Jew" is one that people other than the Israelites used to describe them.
"Note the three elements in the name [Christian]. (i) It contains Jewish thought, as the equivalent of Messiah, the Anointed. (ii) It shows the Greek language in the substantive—'Christ.' (iii) It also includes the Latin language in the adjectival ending 'ians' (Latin, iani). This universality is a reminder of the language of the title on the Cross."
For Gentiles, however, the title "Christ" became a personal name for Jesus.
11:27 Official "prophets" were still active in the church, apparently until the completion of the New Testament canon. A prophet was a person to whom God had given ability to speak for Him (forth-telling, cf. 1 Cor. 14:1-5), which in some cases included the ability to receive and announce new revelation (fore-telling). Prophesying also equaled praising God (1 Chron. 25:1).
"The Jews believed that with the last of the [Old Testament] writing prophets, the spirit of prophecy had ceased in Israel; but the coming Messianic Age would bring an outpouring of God's Spirit, and prophecy would again flourish. The early Christians, having experienced the inauguration of the Messianic Age [i.e., the age of fulfillment], not only proclaimed Jesus to be the Mosaic eschatological prophet (cf. 3:22; 7:37) but also saw prophecy as a living phenomenon within the church (cf. also 13:1; 15:32; 21:9-10) and ranked it among God's gifts to his people next to that of being an apostle (cf. 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11)."
11:28 God fulfilled Agabus' prophecy (cf. 21:10). "In the reign of" Emperor "Claudius" (A.D. 41-54), there was a series of severe famines and poor harvests in various parts of the Roman Empire. The Romans used the Greek word oikoumene ("world," lit. "inhabited world") as an exaggerated reference for the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 2:1).
11:29 The Christians in Antioch demonstrated love for and unity with their brethren in Jerusalem by sending them some "relief" money. Luke previously documented the love and generosity of the Jerusalem Christians for one another (2:42; 4:32-35). Now he revealed that the Antioch Christians surpassed even their sacrifice by sharing what they had with another congregation. The giving was voluntary and according to the ability that each Christian possessed (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7).
11:30 The church leaders chose "Barnabas and Saul" to carry the gift to Jerusalem. There they gave it to the "elders" (Gr. presbyteroi). This is the first use of that word in Acts. It can refer to older men, chronologically (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1), or to officers in the church (Tit. 1:5). Probably the latter meaning is in view here, since official leaders would probably have been responsible to distribute the gift. Evidently the apostles had set up elders, even as they had set up "the Seven," in order to facilitate the ministry there. Elders were common in Jewish synagogue worship where they served as overseers. As time passed, this organizational structure became normal in Christian churches as well.
The visit to which Luke referred here probably took place about A.D. 46, when Judea suffered from a severe famine. This so-called "Famine Visit to Jerusalem" is probably the one Paul referred to in Galatians 2:1-10.
As the Jerusalem church had ministered to the church in Antioch by providing leadership and teaching, the Antioch church now was able to minister to the Jerusalem church with financial aid (cf. Gal. 6:6). Luke probably included this reference to this relief to illustrate, among other things, the strength of the Gentile church outside Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.
"The summary of the establishment of the church in Antioch presents an important new development, both geographically and ethnically. The gospel reaches a major city of the empire and finds a ready response from people of Greek culture, including Gentiles. The narrator pulls together threads from the preceding narrative, especially chapters 2 and 8, and weaves them into a tapestry to describe the new phase of the mission."
The saints in Jerusalem not only suffered as a result of the famine, they also suffered because Jewish and Roman governmental opposition against them intensified as time passed. Luke recorded the events in this section to illustrate God's supernatural protection and blessing of the church, even though the Christians suffered increased persecution, and Israel's continued rejection of her Messiah. Looked at another way, this section confirms Israel's rejection of her Messiah. This is why the church advanced more dramatically in Gentile territory, as the rest of Acts shows. Contrasts mark verses 1-23: James dies, God delivers Peter, and Herod dies.
"Peter's rescue from prison is an unusually vivid episode in Acts even when simply taken as a story about Peter. Because it is not connected with events in the chapters immediately before and after it, however, it may seem rather isolated and unimportant for Acts as a whole. Yet it becomes more than a vivid account of an isolated miracle when we probe below the surface, for this story is an echo of other stories in Luke-Acts and in Jewish Scripture. An event that is unique, and vividly presented as such, takes on the importance of the typical when it reminds us of other similar events. It recalls the power of God to rescue those chosen for God's mission, a power repeatedly demonstrated in the past."
12:1-2 "About that time" probably harks back to the famine visit of Barnabas and Saul mentioned in 11:30. If that took place in A.D. 46, and Herod died in A.D. 44, then the events Luke related in chapter 12 must have antedated the famine visit, and probably all of 11:27-30, by about two years.
". . . Luke seems to have wanted to close his portrayals of the Christian mission within the Jewish world (2:42—12:24) with two vignettes having to do with God's continued activity on behalf of the Jerusalem church."
"Herod the king" was Herod Agrippa I, whom the Roman emperor Gaius appointed king over Palestine in A.D. 37. When Claudius succeeded Gaius as emperor, he added Judea and Samaria to Agrippa's territories so that Agrippa governed all that his grandfather, Herod the Great, had ruled. Agrippa ruled Judea for three years, A.D. 41-44 (cf. v. 23), and moved his headquarters to Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa I had Jewish blood in his veins and consistently sought to maintain favor with and the support of the Jews over whom he ruled, which he did effectively. Josephus referred to Agrippa positively as "a person that deserved the greatest admiration." Herod Agrippa was the friend of Caligula, as Herod the Great had been the friend of Augustus.
As the Christian Jews became increasingly offensive to their racial brethren (cf. 11:18), Herod took advantage of an opportunity to please his subjects by mistreating some believers, and by executing (beheading) the Apostle "James," the "brother of John" (cf. Matt. 20:23). Josephus wrote that "Ananus" (Ananias), the high priest, was responsible for James' death, but this seems to be inaccurate. This is the only apostle's death that the New Testament recorded. James was the second Christian martyr whom Luke identified (cf. 7:54-60). Persecution of the Christians now swung from religious to include political motivation.
Roman Emperors in New Testament Times
Bible Books Written
(31 B.C.-A.D. 15)
Ordered the census that took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1).
Jesus' earthly ministry conducted during his reign (Luke 3:1; 20:22, 25; 23:2; John 19:12, 15).
Appointed Herod Agrippa I king over Palestine (Acts 12:1).
Matthew (A.D. 40-70)
Extensive famines (Acts 11:28).
Expelled the Jews, including Priscilla and Aquilla, from Rome (Acts 18:2).
James (A.D. 45-48)
Paul appealed for trial before him (Acts 25:11).
Favored Christianity early in his reign, but when Rome burned in 64 A.D. he blamed the Christians and from then on persecuted them.Had Paul and Peter executed (according to early Christian tradition).
1 & 2 Cor. (A.D. 56)
Hebrews (A.D. 68-69)
John (A.D. 85-95)
It is noteworthy that the Christians evidently did not seek to perpetuate the apostalate by selecting a replacement for James as they had for Judas (ch. 1). They probably believed that God would reestablish The Twelve in the resurrection.
12:3 The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a seven-day celebration that began on the day after Passover each spring. This was one of the three yearly feasts in Jerusalem that the Mosaic Law required all Jewish males to attend. As on the day of Pentecost (ch. 2), the city would have been swarming with patriotic Jews when Herod made his grandstand political move of arresting Peter. These Jews knew Peter as the leading apostle among the Christians, and as a Jew who fraternized with Gentiles (ch. 10). This was the third arrest of Peter that Luke recorded (cf. 4:3; 5:18). Note that this persecution of the Christians did not arise from anything they had done, but simply because Herod wanted to gain popularity with ("when he saw that it pleased") the Jews.
12:4 "Four squads of soldiers"—four soldiers made up each squad—guarded Peter in six-hour shifts, so he would not escape as he had done previously (5:19-24). Evidently two of the soldiers on each shift chained themselves to Peter, and the other two guarded his cell door (vv. 6, 10). "Passover" was the popular term for the continuous eight-day combined Passover and Unleavened Bread festival.
12:5 His captors probably imprisoned Peter in the Roman Fortress of Antonia. It stood against the north wall of the temple enclosure, and on the western end of this wall. Prisons are no match for prayers, however, as everyone was to learn. The Christians prayed fervently about Peter's fate, believing that God could effect his release again.
12:6 The night before Peter's trial and probable execution, he lay sound asleep in his cell. How could he sleep soundly when God had allowed James to die? Peter, of course, had a record of sleeping when he should have been praying (cf. Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:45). He had no problem with insomnia. Nevertheless on this occasion God may have wanted him to sleep. Perhaps he did not fear for his life because Jesus had implied that he would live to an old age (John 21:18). Normally the Romans chained a prisoner by his right hand to his guard's left hand, but each of Peter's hands was chained to a different guard on either side of him. Herod wanted to make sure Peter did not get away.
12:7 Again "an angel of the Lord" (Gr. angelos kyriou) visited Peter in prison (5:19; cf. 8:26; 12:23). "A light" also illuminated ("shone in") his cell (cf. 9:3). The angel instructed him to "Get up quickly," and when he did, "his chains fell from (off) his hands." Peter's guards slept through the whole event.
12:8-9 The angel coached Peter, like a parent, to get dressed ("gird" himself) and to "follow" him out of the prison. Peter was so groggy that "he did not know" that he was really being set free. He thought he might be having another "vision" (10:10, cf. 9:10).
12:10-11 Luke related this incident as though God was orchestrating Peter's release (cf. 5:18-20; 16:23-29). There is no reason to take the account as anything less than this. Once outside the prison, and left alone by his angelic guide, Peter realized that his release was genuine. God did here for Peter what He had done for the Israelites in leading them out of their Egyptian prison in the Exodus. God's enemies can never frustrate His plans (Matt. 16:18).
Why did God allow Herod to kill James but not Peter?
"The answer is that this is the sovereign will of God. He still moves like this in the contemporary church. I have been in the ministry for many years, and I have seen the Lord reach in and take certain wonderful members out of the church by death. And then there are others whom He has left. Why would He do that? If He had asked me, from my viewpoint as the pastor, I would say that He took the wrong one and He left the wrong one! But life and death are in the hands of a sovereign God. . . . This is His universe, not ours. It is God's church, not ours. The hand of a sovereign God moves in the church."
12:12 Peter went directly to a home where he may have known that Christians would be praying for him. This was "the house of Mary, the mother of John (Jewish name) . . . Mark" (Greek name). Barnabas sold his land and gave it to the church (4:37), but Mary kept her house. This shows that communal living was not required among the early Christians.
John Mark (short for "John who was also called Mark") was the man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (13:5). "Mark," as he was usually identified in the New Testament, was also Barnabas' cousin (Col. 4:10) who traveled with Barnabas to Cyprus, when Paul chose Silas as his companion for his second missionary journey (15:37-39). Mark later accompanied Paul again (Col. 4:10; Phile. 24), as well as Peter (1 Pet. 5:13). According to early church tradition, he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, served as Peter's interpreter in Rome, and founded the church in Alexandria, Egypt.
12:13-16 This amusing incident is very true to life. Rhoda's (Rosebud's) "joy" at finding Peter "standing in front of the gate," which admitted people from the street into a courtyard (cf. 10:18), overpowered her common sense. Instead of letting him in, "she . . . ran" inside the house "and announced" his arrival. The believers could not believe that God had answered their prayers so directly and dramatically, and told Rhoda: "You are out of your mind!" Peter, meanwhile, stood outside "knocking," still trying to get in. Finally they let him in, hardly able to believe that it really was Peter.
Evidently the Christians at first believed it was Peter's guardian angel, or an "angel" especially sent to guard him, who had appeared (v. 15; Dan. 10:21; Matt. 18:10). Another explanation is that we should understand "angel" as a reference to a human messenger that Peter had sent. A third possibility is that the Christians thought that Herod had executed Peter, and that the apostle's spirit had come to visit them. This is a problem that we cannot solve for sure.
12:17 The "James" Luke mentioned here was the half-brother of Jesus (cf. 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12: James 1:1). He became the foremost leader of the Jerusalem church after Peter's departure. Peter proceeded to disappear from Jerusalem. Scripture does not tell us where he went next. Probably he left Judea (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5). Many other believers in Jerusalem were not present in Mary's house that night. Peter wanted to be sure they learned of his release, too.
Earlier, Peter had returned from prison to the temple, and had resumed preaching at the Lord's command (5:19-21). Now the Jews were much more hostile to the Christians. Saul had previously left Jerusalem for his own safety (9:29-30), and this time Peter followed his example. Peter had become infamous among the Jews in Jerusalem for associating with Samaritans and Gentiles, as well as for being the leader of the Christians. Corinth and Rome are two places that Peter evidently visited (1 Cor. 1:12; 9:5; 1 Pet. 5:13), and various church fathers wrote that he ministered throughout the Jewish Diaspora. Peter also may have gone to Antioch (Gal. 2:11-21), and we know he was in Jerusalem again for the Jerusalem Council (15:7-11, 14), though perhaps only as a visitor.
12:18-19 Understandably there was "no small disturbance" (a litotes, cf. 14:28; 15:2; 17:4, 12; 19:23-24) when the authorities found Peter's cell empty. Herod evidently concluded that the guards had cooperated with Peter's escape, or at least had been negligent. Roman guards who allowed their prisoners to escape suffered the intended punishment of those prisoners. These guards died (were "led away to execution"). Herod then left Judea (the old Jewish name for the area around Jerusalem) and returned "to Caesarea," the nominal capital of the Roman province of Judea. One wonders if Peter's escape played a role in Herod's decision to leave the center of Jewish life so he could save face. Even a Roman authority could not prevent the church from growing.
"In the New Testament there is a distinction made between Caesarea and the province of Judaea (Acts xii, 19; xxi. 10). This affords one of the indirect evidences not only of the intimate acquaintance of the writer with strictly Rabbibical views, but also of the early date of the composition of the Book of Acts. For, at a later period Caesarea was declared to belong to Judaea . . ."
Herod viewed Peter as the enemy of the unbelieving Jews, which he was not. Really Herod was the enemy of the believing Christians. Having set the innocent Christian leader free, God now put the guilty Jewish Roman leader to death.
12:20 King Herod had become displeased ("very angry") with his subjects who lived in "Tyre and Sidon," on the Mediterranean coast north of Caesarea. Because these towns depended on Galilee, part of King Herod's country, for their food supply, they were eager to get on his good side again. One writer pointed out parallels between King Herod and the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:17 and 28:4. "Blastus," Herod's "chamberlain" (Gr. koitonos), was one of the king's trusted servants.
12:21-23 Josephus recorded this incident in more detail than Luke did. He added that Herod appeared in the outdoor theater at Caesarea. He stood before the officials from Tyre, Sidon, and his other provinces on a festival day dressed in a silver robe. When the sun shone brilliantly on his shiny robe, some flatterers in the theater began to call out words of praise, acclaiming him "a god." Immediately severe stomach pains attacked him. Attendants had to carry him out of the theater, and five days later he died.
Doctor Luke saw Herod's intestinal attack as a judgment from God, and gave a more medical explanation of his death than Josephus did. One writer suggested that Herod suffered from appendicitis that led to peritonitis complicated by roundworms. Another diagnosed him as having a cyst caused by a tapeworm. More important than the effect was the cause, namely, Herod's pride (cf. Isa. 42:8; Dan. 4:30).
"The angel of the Lord who had delivered Peter was now to smite Herod the persecutor. He had 'smitten' Peter, and we see that the same divine visitation may be for life or for death. Herod Agrippa is the NT antitype of Pharaoh and Sennacherib, the oppressor smitten by the angel of the Lord."
In contrast to Herod, but like Peter, "the word of the Lord," the gospel, "continued to grow" and "multiply" through God's supernatural blessing. Therefore the church continued to flourish in Jewish territory as well as among the Gentiles. This verse is another of Luke's progress reports that concludes a section of his history (cf. 6:7; 9:31). Nothing seemed capable of stopping the expansion of the church. Corruption and contention in its ranks did not kill it (5:1-11; 6:1-7). Its religious enemies could not contain it (4:1; 8:1, 3; 11:19). Even Roman officials could not control it (vv. 1-23). In the next section, we see that it broke out into Asia Minor. Jesus' prediction that even the "gates of Hades" could not overpower it was proving true (Matt. 16:18; Acts 1:8). God's purposes will prevail!
Luke recorded that Jesus came to bring deliverance to the Jews and to the whole world (Luke 4:14-30). In his Gospel, Luke told the story of Jesus' personal ministry, primarily to the Jews. In Acts the emphasis is mainly on Jesus' ministry, through His apostles, to the Gentile world. As the mission to the Gentiles unfolds in Acts, we can see that Luke took pains to show that the ministry to the Gentiles paralleled the ministry to the Jews. He did this by relating many things that the missionaries to the Gentiles did, that were very similar to what the missionaries to the Jews did. This demonstrates that God was indeed behind both missions, and that they are really two aspects of His worldwide plan: to bring the gospel to all people and to build a worldwide church.
The present section of text (12:25—16:5) does more than just present the geographical expansion of the church into Asia Minor (modern western Turkey). Primarily it shows the legitimacy of dealing with Gentiles as Gentiles—rather than through Judaism—before and after their conversion. It becomes increasingly clear that the church and Judaism are two separate entities. God was not renewing the remnant in Israel by replenishing it with Gentiles who believed in Jesus. He was creating a new body: the church. This section culminates in the Jerusalem Council (ch. 15), in which the issue of the Gentiles' relationship to the church came to a head. The last verse (16:5) summarizes these events and issues.
Luke recorded these verses to set the stage for the account of Barnabas and Saul's first missionary journey that follows.
12:25 After delivering the Antioch Christians' gift to the church in Jerusalem (11:27-30), Barnabas and Saul "returned" to Antioch, "taking along with them John (also called) Mark" (12:12), who was Barnabas' cousin (Col. 4:10). The round trip between Antioch and Jerusalem would have been a distance of about 560 miles. This verse bridges what follows with the earlier account of the virile Antioch church (11:19-30). The reference to "John Mark" here also connects the preceding section about the Jerusalem church (12:1-24) with what follows. The effect is to give the reader the impression that what follows has a solid basis in both the Gentile Antioch church and the Jewish Jerusalem church—which it did.
13:1 There were five prominent prophets and teachers in the Antioch church at this time. The Greek construction suggests that Barnabas, Simeon, and Lucius were prophets (forthtellers and perhaps foretellers), and Manaen and Saul were teachers (Scripture expositors). The Greek particle te occurs before "Barnabas" and before "Manaen" in this list, dividing the five men into two groups.
"A teacher's ministry would involve a less-spontaneous declaration and preaching than that of the prophets, including instruction and the passing on to others of the received apostolic teaching (. . . 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). This was how the church taught its doctrine before the use of the books that later became a part of the NT."
"Barnabas" (cf. 4:36-37; 9:27; 11:22-30) seems to have been the leader among the prophets and teachers. The priority of his name in this list, as well as other references to his character qualities, suggests this. "Simeon" is a Jewish name, but this man's nickname or family name, Niger, is Roman and implies that he was dark skinned, possibly from Africa. The Latin word niger means black. Some people think this Simeon was Simon of Cyrene (in North Africa), who carried Jesus' cross (Luke 23:26). There is not enough information to prove or to disprove this theory.
"Lucius" was a common Roman name; "Luke" was his Greek name. He was from North Africa (cf. 11:20). It seems unlikely that he was the same Luke who wrote this book. Since Luke did not even identify himself by name as a member of Paul's entourage, it is improbable that he would have recorded his own name here. Some scholars believe that this Luke was the writer, however.
"Herod the tetrarch" refers to Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist and tried Jesus (Mark 6:14-19; Luke 13:31-33; 23:7-12). Saul was evidently the newcomer (cf. 7:58—8:3; 9:1-30; 11:25-30). This list of leaders shows that the church in Antioch was cosmopolitan, and that God had gifted it with several speakers who exhorted and taught the believers.
"There in that little band there is exemplified the unifying influence of Christianity. Men from many lands and many backgrounds had discovered the secret of 'togetherness' because they had discovered the secret of Christ."
13:2 It was "while" these men were serving ("ministering") that God redirected them. Many have observed that it is easier to direct a ship that is in motion than one that is standing still. Similarly, God often uses His servants who are already serving Him, as they have opportunity, rather than those who are not serving Him, but just sitting by idly waiting for direction. Notice also that the ministry of these men, while to the church, was primarily "to the Lord" (cf. Col. 3:24). "Fasting" in this context, undoubtedly involved going without food temporarily, to give attention to spiritual matters of greater importance than eating.
The Holy Spirit probably revealed His "call" through one or more of these prophets (cf. 8:29; 10:19; 13:4). How He did it was less important to Luke than that He did it (cf. v. 4). God leads His people though a variety of means that His disciples who are walking with Him can identify as His leading. If Luke had revealed just how the Spirit gave this "missionary call," every missionary candidate that followed might expect exactly the same type of leading. One commentator speculated as follows.
13:3 "They" probably refers to the entire congregation together with its leaders (cf. 14:27; 15:2). The other church leaders did several things for Barnabas and Saul. They "fasted and prayed," presumably for God's blessing on them (cf. 14:23; Neh. 1:4; Luke 2:37). They probably fasted while they prayed, indicating the priority they placed on seeking God's blessing in prayer. They also "laid their hands on them," evidently not to bestow a spiritual power, but to identify with and encourage them (cf. 9:17). Then they released them from their duties in Antioch so they could depart. This was a commissioning for a particular work, not ordination to lifetime service.
"In commissioning Barnabas and Saul by the imposition of hands, the other office-bearers invest them with authority to act on behalf of the Christian community at Antioch, and symbolically identify the whole congregation with their enterprise."
"This short paragraph [13:1-3] marks a major departure in Luke's story. Up to this point, contacts with Gentiles (one might almost say, missionary activity in general) have been almost fortuitous [happening by chance]. Philip was despatched along an unusual road not knowing that he would encounter an Ethiopian eunuch reading Scripture; Peter was surprised by the gift of the Holy Spirit to an uncircumcised and unbaptized Gentile; the missionaries to Antioch did not set out with the intention of evangelizing Gentiles. Here, however, though the initiative is still ascribed to the Holy Spirit (v. 2), an extensive evangelistic journey into territory in no sense properly Jewish (though there was a Jewish element in the population, as there was in most parts of the Empire) is deliberately planned, and two associates of the local church are commissioned to execute it."
Luke recorded the events of Paul's first missionary journey, in order to document the extension of the church into new territory, and to illustrate the principles and methods by which the church grew. He also did so to show God's supernatural blessing on the witness of Barnabas and Saul.
Peter had encountered Simon, a sorcerer, when the Jerusalem church initiated its first major outreach in Samaria (8:9-24). Similarly, Barnabas and Saul ran into Bar-Jesus, a false prophet and sorcerer, when the Antioch church conducted its first major outreach to Gentiles. Luke undoubtedly wanted his readers to note the parallel, and to draw the conclusion that God was behind the second outreach to Gentiles, just as He had been behind the first one to Samaritans.
13:4 Luke carefully noted that the Person ultimately responsible for the venture that followed was "the Holy Spirit" (cf. 1:1-2). This mission was another of God's initiatives in building His church. Barnabas and Saul departed from Antioch's port, "Seleucia," located about 15 miles to the west, near where the Orontes River flowed into the Mediterranean Sea. The island of Cyprus (Kittim, Gen. 10:4; et al.) was Barnabas' homeland (Acts 4:36). On a clear day, the mountains of Cyprus are visible from Seleucia.
"Cyprus was an island of great importance from very early times, being situated on the shipping lanes between Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece. In 57 B.C. it was annexed by Rome from Egypt and in 55 B.C. incorporated into the province of Cilicia. In 27 B.C. it became a separate province governed on behalf of the emperor Augustus by an imperial legate. In 22 B.C. Augustus relinquished its control to the senate, and, like other senatorial provinces, it was administered by a proconsul."
13:5 "Salamis" was the largest town in eastern Cyprus, about 60 miles from Seleucia. It lay on the coast, and there were enough Jews there to warrant more than one "synagogue" (from the Greek meaning "gathering together"). Salamis' population was mainly Greek, but many Jews lived there as well. Barnabas and Saul habitually visited the Jewish synagogues when they preached the gospel. They undoubtedly did so because this was where the people who were God-fearers and anticipators of the Messiah assembled, both Jews and Gentiles.
Of course, this was not the first time the Christian gospel had come to Cyprus, but the Christians had only evangelized Jews earlier (cf. 11:19). "John" Mark probably provided assistance in many ways, since they "had [him] as their helper." Timothy served in a similar capacity when Paul and Silas left Lystra on Paul's second missionary journey (cf. 16:1-3).
13:6-8 Barnabas and Saul traveled west across Cyprus, coming eventually to "Paphos," the provincial capital of the island. Paphos was 90 miles west of Salamis, and lay on the western coast of Cyprus. Evidently word reached "Sergius Paulus" of the missionaries' preaching. Since he was "a man of intelligence" (Gr. aner syneton, an understanding or sagacious man, cf. v. 12), he ordered them to meet with him so he could hear their message personally.
"In the Greek world it was the custom for philosophers, rhetoricians, or religious propagandists, to travel about from city to city and give public orations. By this means they often secured permanent professorships. So when Sergius Paulus heard of Barnabas and Saul, he took them for similar professors, and having an interest in these matters he summoned them to give a declamation before his court."
He was a "proconsul," the highest Roman government official on the island—who was there by appointment of Rome's senate. In contrast, procurators were appointed by the emperor. Procurators mentioned in the New Testament were Pontius Pilate, Antonius Felix, and Porcius Festus. Evidently "Bar-Jesus" (lit. "Son of a Savior") was "a Jewish false prophet," in the sense that he claimed to be a prophet of God but was not. He was only a so-called "magician," who may have had some Satanic power (cf. 8:9).
"And we may also fitly remember that Satan has his miracles, which, though they are deceitful tricks rather than true powers, are of such sort as to mislead the simple-minded and untutored [cf. II Thess. 2:9-10]. Magicians and enchanters have always been noted for miracles. Idolatry has been nourished by wonderful miracles, yet these are not sufficient to sanction for us the superstition either of magicians or of idolaters."
The Mosaic Law forbade Jews from practicing magic (Deut. 18:10-11). "Elymas" (wise) seems to have been a nickname. It describes a "sorcerer," "magician," or "fortune-teller" (Gr. magos, cf. Matt. 2:1, 7, 16). He may have "opposed" the missionaries because they brought the true message of God. (Moses and Aaron had similarly withstood magicians in Pharaoh's court [Exod. 7:11, 22; 8:7].) Additionally, he may have felt that if Sergius Paulus believed the gospel, his relationship to the proconsul would suffer.
Roman officials were notoriously superstitious.
13:9 Luke now introduced Saul's Greek name "Paul," by which he referred to him hereafter in Acts (cf. 14:12; 15:12, 25), and by which Paul always identified himself in his epistles (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15). This indicates an important change in the career of Paul. (Compare the changing of Abram's name to Abraham, and Simon's to Peter.) The reason for Luke's change at this point, seems to be that it was here that Paul's ministry to the Gentiles really began (cf. 22:21). "Paul" means "Little," perhaps an allusion to his physical stature, and obviously rhymes with his Jewish name "Saul" (lit. "Asked"). "Paul" therefore may have been a cognomen (nickname). Howson, however, believed that "Paul" was the apostle's Roman name. Yet others believed that Paul's first and family Roman names appear nowhere in Scripture.
Note Luke's reference to Paul's being "filled with the Holy Spirit." We have seen that Spirit-filling marked the early believers (v. 9; 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 9:17). Paul was about to announce a divine miracle designed to frustrate Satan's work in hindering the progress of the gospel (cf. 8:9-23; 16:16-18; 19:13-17). A true prophet of the Lord was getting ready to pronounce a curse on a "false prophet" (cf. 2 Chron. 18:9-27). This fresh filling (Gr. plestheis, an aorist participle) empowered him for the task.
13:10 Instead of being full of wisdom, Paul accused Elymas of being "full of all deceit and fraud." Instead of being the "son of a savior" or the "follower of Jesus," Bar-Jesus was a "son of the devil" and a fraud. Instead of being the promoter of righteousness, this magician was making the straight way of the Lord crooked. This is the second of four incidents involving victory over demonic powers in Acts (cf. 8:9-23; 16:16-18; 19:13-17).
13:11 Paul's stern words recall Peter's, when he dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, and with Simon the sorcerer (5:3-4, 9; 8:20-23). Perhaps Paul hoped that when God darkened Elymas' physical eyesight, He might restore his spiritual eyesight, as had been his own experience (ch. 9).
13:12 This show of superior power convinced Sergius Paulus of the truth of Paul's gospel, and he "believed" it. Notice again that belief is all that was necessary for his salvation (cf. 14:1; 17:34; 19:18). It was Paul's "teaching" concerning the Lord that Sergius Paulus "believed." There is some extrabiblical evidence that Sergius Paulus' daughter and other descendants also became Christians.
The "blinding" of Elymas shows that Paul possessed the power of "binding" that God had also given to Peter (cf. Matt. 16:19). God validated Paul's message by granting a miracle. This was especially helpful in evangelism before the completion of the New Testament. Here a Roman Gentile responded to the gospel, whereas a Jew did not.
This incident is significant in the unfolding of Luke's purpose, because at Paphos Paul assumed the leadership among the missionaries (cf. v. 13). The mission of the church also became more Gentile oriented. Jewish response continued to be rejection, symbolized by Elymas' blindness (cf. 28:26-27). Furthermore, this was the first appearance of Christianity before Roman aristocracy and high authority, a new benchmark for the advance of the mission. Paul's conflict with Elymas is also reminiscent of others, in the Old Testament, in which prophets with rival messages made presentations to kings and people (cf. 1 Kings 22; Jer. 28—29).
"The conversion of Sergius Paulus was, in fact, a turning point in Paul's whole ministry and inaugurated a new policy in the mission to Gentiles—viz., the legitimacy of a direct approach to and full acceptance of Gentiles apart from any distinctive Jewish stance. This is what Luke clearly sets forth as the great innovative development of this first missionary journey (14:27; 15:3). Earlier Cornelius had been converted apart from any prior commitment to Judaism, and the Jerusalem church had accepted his conversion to Christ. But the Jerusalem church never took Cornelius's conversion as a precedent for the Christian mission and apparently preferred not to dwell on its ramifications. However, Paul, whose mandate was to Gentiles, saw in the conversion of Sergius Paulus further aspects of what a mission to Gentiles involved and was prepared to take this conversion as a precedent fraught with far-reaching implications for his ministry. It is significant that from this point on Luke always calls the apostle by his Greek name Paul and, except for 14:14; 15:12; and 15:25 (situations where Barnabas was more prominent), always emphasizes his leadership by listing him first when naming the missioners. For after this, it was Paul's insight that set the tone for the church's outreach to the Gentile world."
Having evangelized Barnabas' homeland, the missionaries next moved into southern Asia Minor (modern western Turkey).
"The contact with Sergius Paulus is the key to the subsequent ininerary of the first missionary journey. From Cyprus Paul and Barnabas struck east [sic north] to the newly founded colony of Pisiddian Antioch, miles away from any Cypriot's normal route. Modern scholars have invoked Paul's wish to reach the uplands of Asia and recover from a passing sickness. . . . We know, however, that the family of the Sergii Pauli had a prominent connection with Pisidian Antioch . . . the Sergii Pauli's local influence was linked with their ownership of a great estate nearby in central Anatolia: it is an old and apt guess that these connections go back to the time of Paul's governor. They explain very neatly why Paul and Barnabas left the governor's presence and headed straight for distant Pisidian Antioch. He directed them to the area where his family had land, power and influence. The author of Acts saw only the impulse of the Holy Spirit, but Christianity entered Roman Asia on advice from the highest society."
"Pamphylia" was a Roman province that lay west of the kingdom of Antiochus, which was west of Cilicia, Paul's home province. "Perga" (modern Perge) stood 12 miles inland from the major seaport of Attalia (modern Antalya, cf. 14:25-26), but it had an inland harbor on the Cestrus River. In Perga, John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul did not approve of his decision (15:38), but Luke did not record Mark's motives. The commentators have suggested several reasons, including: homesickness (cf. 12:12), fear of illness (cf. Gal. 4:13), and fear of danger in the Taurus Mountains north of Perga. Paul purposed to cross these mountains to get to Antioch of Pisidia. Others have cited the changes that were taking place in the mission's leadership from Barnabas to Paul. Another probable explanation is disagreement over the validity of a direct approach to and full acceptance of Gentiles. John Mark, of course, had strong ties to the Jerusalem church and could well have resisted this approach, as so many other Jews did.
Paul and Barnabas proceeded north, inland from the coast, about 100 miles to Antioch of Pisidia. The road took them from sea level to 3,600 feet elevation through bandit-infested country. They arrived on a lake-filled plateau. Paul later wrote to the Galatians that he had preached the gospel to them at first because of a weakness of the flesh (Gal. 4:13). This seems to indicate that Paul was not in good health when he ministered in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Many commentators followed the theory of William Ramsay, who argued that Paul suffered from malaria, which he contracted on the lowlands of Perga. Antioch of Pisidia was a Roman colony, as were Lystra, Troas, Philippi, and Corinth. Roman colonies stood at strategic places in the empire along frequently traveled roads. As such, Antioch would have been a good place to plant a church. The Via Sebaste, the Roman road that ran from Ephesus to the Euphrates River, passed through this Antioch.
"Antioch was the most important city of southern Galatia and included within its population a rich amalgam of Greek, Roman, Oriental, and Phrygian traditions. Acts tells us that it also had a sizeable Jewish population."
People referred to this town as "Pisidian Antioch" (Antioch of Pisidia), because it was close to the geographical region of Pisidia, though its site was in the geographical region of Phrygia. They called it "Antioch of Pisidia" to distinguish it from another "Antioch" also located in Phrygia.
This town was in the Roman province of Galatia and was the chief military and political center in the southern part of the Galatian province. Luke recorded that the missionaries had contact with seven different types of people here: synagogue officials, Jews, proselytes, God-fearers, devout women of high standing, Gentiles, and leading men of the city. They reached all levels of society.
Paul and Barnabas attended the Sabbath service in a local synagogue.
"In the Hellenistic and Roman periods Asia Minor had a substantial Jewish population. . . .
"The massive influx of a Jewish population into Asia Minor took place at the end of the third century BC, when Antiochus III settled two thousand Jewish families from Mesopotamia and Babylonia in Lydia and Phrygia, in order to maintain the security of his hold over this region."
Normally the synagogue service began with the Shema ("Hear, O Israel, . . .") and the Shemoneh Esreh (a liturgy of benedictions, blessings, and prayers). Then the leaders would read two passages from the Old Testament aloud, one from the Mosaic "Law," and a related passage from the "Prophets" section of the Hebrew Bible. Then some competent person whom the synagogue rulers designated would give an address. The service would conclude with a benediction. On this occasion the synagogue leaders, who were local Jewish laymen, invited Paul and Barnabas to give an address if they had some encouraging word to share.
Paul initiated his typical pattern of ministry in Antioch of Pisidia. In every town with a sizable Jewish population that he visited, except Athens, according to Luke, the apostle first preached in the synagogue to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. When the Jews refused to listen further, he then went to Gentiles directly with the gospel. Evidently Paul went to the synagogues first, because his audience there had a theological background that made it easier for them to understand and believe the gospel.
Luke recorded three of Paul's evangelistic messages to unbelievers: here in Pisidian Antioch, in Lystra (14:15-17), and in Athens (17:22-31). This is the longest of the three, though Luke quite certainly condensed all of them. This one takes most people less than a minute to read.
This sermon is very similar to Peter's sermon in 2:14-40, and Stephen's in 7:2-53. It contains three parts, marked off by three occurrences of direct address: preparation for the coming of Messiah (vv. 16-25), the rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection of Messiah (vv. 26-37), and the application and appeal (vv. 38-41).
"The variety in these missionary sermons and the speeches of Christians on trial before Jewish and Roman bodies is no doubt meant to illustrate the different ways in which the gospel was presented to different groups of people, Jews and Greeks, cultured and uncultured, and it is hard to resist the impression that the sermons are presented as models for Luke's readers to use in their own evangelism."
13:16 Paul "stood up" and "motioned with his hand," both gestures being typical of synagogue exhortations. He addressed his Jewish hearers as "Men of Israel," and he called the Gentile God-fearers who were present: "you who fear God."
13:17-22 Paul first reviewed God's preparation for Israel's redemption from Abraham through David (cf. 7:2-50; Matt. 1:2-17). He highlighted five important points that the Jews often stressed in their confessions: (1) God was the God of the Israelites ("of this people Israel"; v. 17). (2) God "chose" the patriarchs ("our fathers"; v. 17). (3) God created the Israelite nation ("made the people great"), redeemed His people out of Egypt, and patiently led them through the wilderness (vv. 17-18). (4) He then gave them Canaan ("distributed their [the Canaanaites'] land") "as an inheritance" (v. 19). The "about" 450 years mentioned (v. 19) probably refers to: Israel's 400 years in Egypt, plus the 40 years in the wilderness, plus the 10 years of conquest and settlement in the Promised Land (1845—1395 B.C.; cf. 7:6). (5) Finally, God gave the Israelites faithful King David after a succession of lesser leaders (vv. 20-22). It was particularly David's heart for God, resulting in his carrying out God's will, that Paul stressed (v. 22). These qualities marked David's successor, Jesus Christ, too.
13:23 Paul then announced that the "promised" Messiah had come—"a Savior"—and that He was "Jesus." The promise in view seems to be the one in Isaiah 11:1-16, which speaks of Messiah coming from David's descendants.
13:24-25 Most of the Jews of the dispersion knew of "John" the Baptist's ministry ("baptism of repentance to all the people"). Often the early Christian preachers began the message of Jesus with John the Baptist, who announced and prepared for His coming (cf. Mark 1:2-8). John clarified that he himself was "not" the Messiah, but was simply His forerunner (Luke 3:15-18).
"It may be that followers of John the Baptist, believing him to have been the Messiah, and constituting a sect which had spread outwards from Palestine, presented more of a problem to Christian missionaries about this time than the NT evidence would suggest; a hint of this is given in 19:3-5. If such were the case, it would account for Paul's strong emphasis here on John's role as merely the herald of the Messiah."
13:26 Before proceeding to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, Paul paused to address his hearers by groups again (cf. v. 16), and to personalize the gospel message to them. He noted that the gospel is for both Jews ("sons of Abraham's family") and Gentiles ("those . . . who fear God").
13:27-31 He then proceeded to narrate the rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-5). He pointed out that all these events were fulfillments of Old Testament predictions, which most of the Jews living in Jerusalem did not recognize at the time (vv. 27, 29). He also noted Jesus' innocence of the charges ("no ground for . . . death") brought against Him (v. 28). Paul stressed Jesus' resurrection particularly as God's vindication of Him (v. 30), and he highlighted the apostles' personal witness of His resurrection (v. 31; cf. 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39-41). God had vindicated and prepared Him to reign by raising Him from the dead. This is the fifth time in Acts that the apostles claimed to be personal "witnesses" of Jesus Christ's resurrection (cf. 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39-41; 13:30-31). Paul's point was that David's promised heir, the Messiah, had come (cf. v. 33).
13:32-37 Paul supported the fulfillment of this promise by quoting three Old Testament Messianic passages: Psalm 2:7 (v. 33), Isaiah 55:3 (v. 34), and Psalm 16:10 (v. 35; cf. 2:27). These Old Testament texts all found fulfillment in the raising up of Jesus. However, Paul used "raised up" in two different senses in this speech. In verses 33 and 37, he spoke of God raising up Jesus as the promised Messiah. Psalm 2:7 refers to God similarly raising up David as Israel's king. Second, Paul spoke in verses 30 and 34 of God raising up Jesus from the dead.
Jesus was always the "Son of God" ontologically (with regard to His being), but God declared Him to be His "Son" when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him the Davidic ruler (Ps. 2:7). Similarly, God had declared Solomon His "son" when He gave David the Davidic Covenant (cf. 2 Sam. 7:10-14).
Progressive dispensationalists believe that Paul meant that Jesus is now ruling over David's kingdom. Though there are connections with Jesus' enthronement as the Davidic King in these Old Testament passages, it seems clear from Paul's emphasis on God raising up Jesus, in verses 30-37, that he was using these passages to show that Jesus' resurrection proved that He is the Davidic King, not that He has begun to reign as the Davidic King. Here Paul said nothing explicitly about Jesus' reigning as Israel's King, but he said much about Jesus' being Israel's King.
Since Jesus rose from the dead, God can give people the blessings that He promised would come through David (v. 34; Isa. 55:3; cf. 2:25-32). The blessings mentioned in this Old Testament passage are those of the New Covenant. The facts that Jesus was "raised from the dead," and "did not undergo decay," prove that He is the "Holy One" of whom David spoke in Psalm 16:10 (v. 35).
Paul's argument was that God had first raised up David, and had promised a Savior from his posterity. God then fulfilled that promise by raising up Jesus as the Messiah, whom He identified as "His (My) Son" by raising Him from the dead.
13:38-39 Paul ended his historical review with an exhortation and appeal to his readers (cf. v. 15). He now addressed his two types of hearers collectively as "men brethren" (v. 38, Gr. andres adelphoi). When it comes to responding to the gospel, all people, Jews and Gentiles, are on the same level. Through Jesus, Paul asserted, "everyone who believes" (the only condition) has "forgiveness of sins" (cf. 2:38; 10:43) and justification ("is freed from all things"; God's judicial declaration of righteousness, cf. Deut. 25:1). Justification could not come through the Mosaic Law, he reminded his hearers. This is the only reference in Acts to justification by faith in Jesus.
"What we have in the application of Paul's message (despite its cumbersome expression in its précis form) are his distinctive themes of 'forgiveness of sins,' 'justification,' and 'faith,' which resound in this first address ascribed to him in Acts just as they do throughout his extant letters."
Paul later developed the truth of justification, or the forgiveness apart from the Mosaic Law, in his epistle to the Galatians. He probably wrote Galatians to the same people he spoke to here, shortly after he completed this first missionary journey. Later he set forth these themes more fully in his epistle to the Romans. These verses summarize the arguments of Galatians and Romans in one sentence.
13:40-41 Paul concluded his message by applying Habakkuk's warning to all who reject the good news about Jesus Christ. God's working in their day (i.e., providing the Messiah) was something they could not afford to disbelieve and scoff at, or they would "perish."
"Habakkuk 1:5, which Paul quoted here, refers to an invasion of Judah by a Gentile nation that would be used as God's disciplinary instrument to punish Judah for her disobedience. Paul evidently saw his generation in Israel under a similar disciplinary judgment. Paul's message, like Peter's [on the day of Pentecost] was delivered to a generation in Israel under the judgment Christ had predicted [in Luke 21:24, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70]."
In a larger sense, of course, unbelieving "scoffers . . . perish" eternally for rejecting the gospel.
"Parallel with the positive theme of the preparation for the coming of the Christ through Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David and John the Baptist, he [Paul] has interwoven an admonitory reminder of those who have failed to recognize the divine plan and purpose—the Canaanites, Saul, the Jerusalem Jews and Pilate. Now he presents the Dispersion Jews with a similar challenge to accept or refuse the Gospel message."
13:42-43 Paul's message created great interest in the hearts of many people who listened to him. Paul possessed great powers of persuasion (cf. 18:4; 19:8, 26; 26:28; 28:23; 2 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 1:10), but the Holy Spirit was at work too. Paul and Barnabas continued clarifying the gospel for their inquirers during the following week. The English translators supplied "Paul and Barnabas" (NASB, NIV) or "Jews" (AV), and "the people" (NASB, NIV) or "Gentiles" (AV), for the third person plural that appears in the best ancient Greek manuscripts. Here "the grace of God" refers to the sphere of life into which one enters by believing in Jesus Christ.
13:44-45 One reason for the unsaved Jews' antagonism was the large crowd ("nearly the whole city") that Paul's message attracted. "Jealousy," rather than the Holy Spirit, filled and controlled these unbelieving Jews—and again led to persecution (cf. 5:17).
"Knowing (as we unfortunately do) how pious Christian pew-holders can manifest quite un-Christian indignation when they arrive at church on a Sunday morning to find their places occupied by rank outsiders who have come to hear a popular visiting preacher, we can readily appreciate the annoyance of the Jewish community at finding their synagogue practically taken over by a Gentile congregation on this occasion."
Another reason for the Jews' hostile reaction was that, like other Jews elsewhere, most of the Jews in Pisidian Antioch did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They were "blaspheming" by saying that He was not.
13:46 As the apostles in Jerusalem had done, Paul and Barnabas responded to the opposition with bold words (cf. 4:29). It was necessary for the gospel to go to the Jews before the Gentiles, not only because Jewish acceptance of Jesus is a prerequisite to the messianic kingdom (cf. 3:26). It was also necessary because Jesus was the Messiah whom God had promised to deliver the Jews. The gospel was good news to the Jews in a larger sense than it was to the Gentiles. Paul almost always preached the gospel to the Jews first in the towns he visited (cf. 13:50-51; 14:2-6; 17:5, 13-15; 18:6; 19:8-9; 28:23-28; Rom. 1:16). The Jews' rejection of the gospel led him to offer it next to the Gentiles.
"Now for the first time Dispersion Jews follow the example of their Jerusalem counterparts in rejecting Christ, and for the first time Paul publicly announces his intention of turning his back on them and concentrating on the purely Gentile mission."
By rejecting Jesus, these Jews were in actuality, though not consciously, judging themselves "unworthy" of salvation. In irony, Paul said those who rejected ("repudiated") the gospel were really judging themselves to be "unworthy of eternal life" (i.e., salvation and its benefits). Usually most of the Jews who heard Paul's preaching would reject it, and only a few of them would believe, but usually many Gentiles accepted the gospel.
13:47 Paul quoted the Isaiah commission because he was addressing Jews. Isaiah explained their duty. He and Barnabas were only carrying out God's will. The "servant of the Lord" is the person addressed in Isaiah 49:6. Jesus Christ, the perfect Servant of the Lord, was the ultimate "light to (for) the Gentiles" who would "bring salvation to the end of the earth" (cf. Luke 2:28-32). As Israel and Christ had been lights to the Gentiles (Gen. 46:3; Luke 2:29-32), so now were Paul and Barnabas (cf. Matt. 5:14-16). Not only had the Jews received a commission to reach out to the Gentiles with blessing (Exod. 19:5-6; Isa. 49:6), but so had Jesus' disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).
13:48-49 Luke again stressed that the results of the preaching of the gospel were due to God's work (1:1-2). The Christian evangelists were only harvesting the wheat that God had already prepared. Verse 48 is a strong statement of predestination: those whom God had previously "appointed to eternal life believed" the gospel (cf. Eph. 1:4, 11).
Good news spreads fast, and the good news of the gospel "spread through that entire (the whole) region."
"This spreading of the word, along with the apostles' own outreach to the cities named in chapters 13 and 14, probably led to the agitation of the so-called Judaizers that resulted in the problem Paul dealt with in Galatians."
13:50 The "Jews" secured Paul and Barnabas' explusion "from (out of) their district." They did this through influential local residents who "brought persecution" on the missionaries. Some of these people were "devout women," evidently God-fearers whom the unbelieving Jews turned against Paul and Barnabas (cf. 10:2).
13:51 Shaking the dust off one's feet was a graphic way that Jews illustrated separation from unbelievers (cf. Matt. 10:14; Luke 9:5; 10:11). "Iconium" (modern Konia) stood about 90 miles to the southeast of Antioch, also in Phrygian Galatia. Paul and Barnabas undoubtedly traveled the southeast branch of the Via Sebaste to arrive there. Another branch of this major road went from Antioch to Comana, about 120 miles to the north.
13:52 The identity of the "disciples" in verse 52 is not clear. They could be Paul and Barnabas or the new converts in Antioch. I tend to think the word refers to both groups. Fullness of "joy" and fullness of "the Holy Spirit" marked these disciples.
It is interesting that two references to "joy" (vv. 48, 52) bracket the one reference to "persecution" in this passage (v. 50), suggesting that the missionaries' joy overrode the discomforts of persecution (cf. 16:24-25).
14:1-2 Iconium was a Greek city-state in the geographic region of Phrygia, the easternmost city in that region.
". . . it would appear that the people of Iconium regarded themselves as Phrygian even after Iconium had been united with Lycaonia in one district of Roman administration . . . Strictly speaking, Lystra and Derbe were cities of Lycaonia-Galatica, while Iconium reckoned itself as a city of Phyrgia-Galatica, all three being comprised within the Roman province of Galatia."
". . . while Rome chose Antioch of Pisidia and Lystra as bastions of its authority in the area, Iconium remained largely Greek in temper and somewhat resistant to Roman influence, though Hadrian later made it a Roman colony."
"Iconium" comes from eikon, the Greek word for "image." According to Greek mythology, Prometheus and Athena recreated humanity there after a devastating flood by making images of people from mud and breathing life into them.
Iconium was, ". . . a garden spot, situated in the midst of orchards and farms, but surrounded by deserts. . . . Iconium, too, owed its bustling business activity to its location on the main trade route connecting Ephesus with Syria and the Mesopotamian world, as well as its orchard industries and farm produce."
In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas followed the same method of evangelizing that they had used in Antioch (13:14). They visited the synagogue first. They also experienced the same results: many conversions among both Jews and Gentiles, but also rejection by some of the Jews (cf. 13:43). These unbelieving Jews "stirred up" unbelieving Gentiles, and these Gentiles joined them in opposing the missionaries (13:50).
14:3 Because God was saving many people, the missionaries stayed on in Iconium "a long time," regardless of opposition that evidently increased gradually. They testified "boldly" (cf. 13:46), and relied on the Lord Jesus for their success. The phrase "the word of His grace" (v. 3) describes the gospel message, stressing the prominence of God's grace in it (cf. 20:24-32). They did many miracles ("signs and wonders") there, too, thus confirming their message (cf. 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:6, 13; 15:12; Gal. 3:5, 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4).
". . . the couplet 'miraculous signs and wonders' places the ministry of Paul and Barnabas directly in line with that of Jesus (cf. 2:22) and the early church (cf. 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36) in fulfillment of prophecy (cf. 2:19)—as it does also in 15:12. Later when writing his Galatian converts (assuming a 'South Galatian' origin for the letter), Paul appeals to these mighty works performed by the Spirit as evidence that the gospel as he preached it and they received it was fully approved by God (cf. Gal 3:4-5)."
14:4 The "apostles" were Paul and Barnabas. Luke used the word "apostle" in a technical sense to describe the Twelve apostles plus Paul in Acts. He also used it less frequently, in a non-technical sense, to describe any believer sent out into the world with the salvation message (e.g., v. 14; cf. Rom. 16:7; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). There were only 13 men with the office of apostleship, but there were many others who, with more or less gift, did the work of an apostle. Similarly there were some with the prophetic office, but many more with prophetic ministries.
The Gentiles and the Jewish rulers took the initiative in persecuting the evangelists. The attempt "to stone them" appears to have been an act of mob violence, rather than a formal Jewish attempt at execution (cf. 7:58-59).
"Paul and Barnabas had no idea of remaining to be stoned (lynched) by this mob. It is a wise preacher who always knows when to stand his ground and when to leave for the glory of God. Paul and Barnabas were following the directions of the Lord Jesus given to the twelve on their special tour of Galilee (Matt. 10:23)."
Consequently Paul and Barnabas moved ("fled") south into the geographical "region" of "Lycaonia," which was also in the Roman province of Galatia. "Lycaonia" means "land of the wolf." This became the next area for their ministry. They left one political area to start afresh in another.
"Luke's accuracy was once severely challenged on this point because abundant records exist showing that Iconium was also a Lycaonian city, and thus no border would have been crossed between Iconium and Lystra. It was careful study of this matter which changed the British scholar William Ramsay into a strong defender of Luke's accuracy when he discovered that Iconium was Lycaonian earlier and again later, but that Luke's statement 'was accurate at the period when Paul visited Lycaonia; that it was accurate at no other time except between 37 and 72 A.D.'"
14:8 Like Antioch of Pisidia, "Lystra" (modern Zoldera) was a Roman colony. It was the most eastern of the fortified cities of Galatia. Lystra was about 20 miles south of Iconium. Twenty miles was a normal day's travel in the Roman Empire at this time. Luke did not mention synagogue evangelism here. Evidently there were so few Jews that there was no synagogue in Lystra (or in Philippi).
Luke stressed the hopeless case of the "lame man" (cf. 3:1-10; 9:33-35).
"In opposition to those who would challenge Paul's claim to apostolic authority based on his direct commission from the risen Christ, Luke is concerned to show that his hero shares with the chief Apostle [Peter] the healing power vested in his disciples by the Lord himself (Jn 14:12) and exemplified in Jesus' own ministry (Lk. 7:22)."
". . . it must be remembered that ancient historians looked for and believed in the existence of repeated cycles or patterns in history, such that one could learn from what has gone before and to a certain degree know what to expect from the future. This sort of thinking was characteristic of various of the Hellenistic historians, especially Polybius . . ."
14:9-10 As is true of other, similar references to a healed person's "faith," this man's confidence was in God. He believed God could heal him, not that God would do so. Confidence that God would heal him, in other words, is not what made him whole. It was confidence that God, through His servant, could heal him that constituted his faith (e.g., Matt. 9:28-29; Mark 9:22-24). His faith was a factor in his receiving healing (cf. Mark 6:5-6).
". . . Paul and Barnabas had the gifts of an apostle, the sign gifts. They came into these places without any New Testament with the message of the gospel. What were their credentials? How could they prove their message was from God? The sign gifts were their credentials—they needed them. Today we have the entire Bible, and what people need today is to study this Bible and to learn what it has to say."
14:11-12 Why did Luke refer to the fact that the natives spoke in the local "Lycaonian language"? He probably did so to explain why their plans to honor Paul and Barnabas got as far as they did before the missionaries objected (v. 14). People who lived in Asia Minor spoke three languages at least: Latin (the official administrative language), Greek (the lingua franca of the empire), and the native vernacular, which in this case was Lycaonian.
Archaeology has turned up evidence of a legend in Lystra that Zeus and Hermes once visited an elderly couple who lived there, a man named Philemon and his wife Baucis. This supposedly took place before Paul and Barnabas' visit. Apparently the locals concluded that these gods had returned. Zeus was the chief god in the Greek pantheon, and Hermes was his herald. The residents of Lystra identified Barnabas with "Zeus" (whom the Romans called Jupiter). Perhaps he looked dignified and authoritative. They called Paul "Hermes" (the Roman Mercury) because he was the chief speaker. According to Greek legend, Hermes invented speech and was an eloquent speaker. The English word "hermeneutics," the science of interpretation, comes from this word.
If Satan cannot derail Christian witness with persecution, he will try praise. Too much persecution has destroyed many preachers, and too much praise has ruined many others. One of the problems with miracles is that they often draw more attention to the miracle worker than to God.
14:13 Customarily the pagan Gentiles decorated animals destined for "sacrifice" to the Greek gods, like these oxen, with woolen "garlands"—and then led them to the place of sacrifice.
14:14 Tearing one's robe was a common way Jews expressed grief and, in this case, horror because of blasphemy (cf. Mark 14:63). Usually they tore the robe for about four or five inches from the neckline.
14:15-18 By recording the substance of what Paul and Barnabas said here, Luke preserved a sample of their preaching to pagan audiences (cf. 13:16-41; 17:22-31).
In earlier times, God had manifested the knowledge of Himself to Gentiles mainly through creation and Israel (cf. Rom. 1). Now He was giving them more special revelation through the church. This was the first time Luke recorded the preaching of the gospel to a group that was predominantly, if not exclusively, Gentile. Thus this incident became another benchmark of worldwide gospel extension.
Timothy was apparently a native of Lystra (cf. 16:1-2; 20:4; 2 Tim. 1:5). He apparently had a Jewish mother and grandmother (cf. 16:3; 2 Tim. 1:5). This may indicate that there were some Jews who lived there.
"Paul's speech here, apart from his address to the Athenian philosophers (17:22ff.), is the only example in Acts of his technique in dealing with a purely pagan audience; it is a striking example of his ability to reinterpret the Gospel in terms intelligible to his hearers. It differs widely from his approach to Jews and adherents of Judaism, as illustrated by his sermon in the synagogue at Antioch (13:16ff.), where some knowledge of the scriptures could be assumed on the part of his listeners. Here, as at Athens, he proceeds on the basis of natural revelation—the providential order of the universe—which ought to lead men's thoughts from the cult of idols to the worship of a living God, Creator of all that exists; he expounds this line of argument more fully in Rom. 1:19ff.; 2:14f., and he writes of its successful outcome at Thessalonica in I Th. 1:9)."
14:19-20a We do not know how long it took the hostile Jews from Antioch and Iconium to turn the tide of popular sentiment against Paul and Barnabas. They convinced the fickle residents of Lystra that the missionaries were deceivers rather than gods and deserved to die (cf. 28:4-6; Matt. 12:24).
Some scholars believe that Paul died from this stoning and experienced resurrection. However, the text only says that onlookers supposed that Paul was dead (cf. 2 Cor. 11:25). It is possible that young Timothy was standing in the group of disciples who surrounded the apparently lifeless body of Paul. Ironside believed that this is when Paul was caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). There is no way to prove or to disprove this theory. Luke's description of Paul's speedy recovery (v. 20) stresses God's powerful hand in restoring His servant (cf. 1:1-2). Paul courageously returned to Lystra, but he left town the next day (v. 20b).
Paul and Barnabas next moved about 60 miles farther to the southeast, to Derbe (meaning juniper, modern Kerti Hüyük), on the eastern border of the Galatian province. Many more people became believers and disciples there (cf. 20:4). Luke did not record what the apostles experienced there, but this was the home of Gaius, one of Paul's later companions (20:4). Perhaps Gaius became a convert at this time.
The larger towns of Antioch and Iconium seem to have produced more influential churches, but the smaller ones of Lystra and Derbe contributed more young men who became leaders (i.e., Timothy and Gaius).
14:21b-22 The missionaries confined their labors to the Galatian province on this trip. They did not move farther east into the kingdom of Antiochus, or the province of Cilicia, that Paul may have evangelized previously during his time in Tarsus. Tarsus stood some 160 miles east of Derbe. Instead they retraced their steps to encourage, instruct, and organize the new converts in "Lystra," "Iconium," and "Antioch" (cf. 18:23). Apparently they did more discipleship ("strengthening the souls . . . encouraging . . . in the faith") than evangelism, on this return trip to the very cities where the apostles' lives had been in danger.
Paul and Barnabas warned the new converts that they, too, should expect persecution (cf. Gal. 4:13; 6:17; 2 Tim. 3:11). The "kingdom of God" evidently refers to the rule of God generally, including His rule now (in the church) and later (in the messianic kingdom; cf. 1:3; 8:12). Entrance into Christ's messianic kingdom was still in the future, for these "disciples," from when the missionaries gave them this exhortation. Though Christians will not go through the Tribulation, we believers will experience "tribulation(s)" before we enter the Millennium (2 Tim. 3:12).
14:23 The "elders" (plural) in every "church" (singular) that the apostles "appointed" must have been the more mature Christians in each congregation. Note that each of these churches had more than one leader (cf. 20:17; Phil. 1:1). There may have been more than one local church in each of these towns eventually, but at this early stage of pioneer evangelism there was probably only one church in each town.
Perhaps some of the elders from the synagogues in these communities, who had become Christians, became elders in the churches. Elder qualifications may have developed and become more specific and somewhat stricter, between the time when these elders assumed office, and when Paul specified their qualifications in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1).
The text does not explain exactly how the appointment of these elders took place. "They" probably refers to Paul and Barnabas, since they are the subjects in view in the context. However, the Greek word used here (cheirotonesantes, "appointed") sometimes meant to elect by a vote of raised hands. Consequently some interpreters believe that the Christians in these churches selected the elders (cf. 6:3). I favor the view that Paul and Barnabas made the selections, and that the people in the churches indicated their support of those chosen. The apostles had earlier appointed elders in the Jerusalem church (11:30).
Note again the importance that Paul and Barnabas placed on prayer. They went without eating in order to pray (cf. 13:3). They also committed ("commended") their new converts "to the Lord" Jesus, the Head of the church, in whom they had believed. These missionaries did not overestimate their own importance and become paternalistic, as church planters sometimes are tempted to do.
14:24-26 "Pisidia" was the southernmost geographic region in the Roman province of Galatia. "Pamphylia" was the province south of Galatia and east of the kingdom of Antiochus. "Perga," like Derbe, was one of the sites the missionaries visited that Luke chose not to comment on extensively (cf. 13:13-14). Perhaps Paul and Barnabas planted a church there, too. The apostles then went down to Attalia, the seaport 10 miles south of Perga, from where they set sail for Syrian Antioch.
"Ports in antiquity were often satellite towns of larger and more important cities situated some distance inland for protection from pirates. So Luke's mention of Attalia here probably has no more significance than his mention of Seleucia (13:4), the port of Syrian Antioch, and merely identifies the place of embarkation for the voyage back to Syria."
14:27-28 The chronological references in Acts and the Pauline epistles make it difficult to tell just how long it took Paul and Barnabas to complete the first missionary journey. Commentators estimate that it took them from the better part of one year to almost two years. They traveled a minimum of 500 miles by sea plus 700 by land. Beitzel estimated that Paul covered a total of about 1,400 miles on this journey.
Luke was careful to record again the priority of God's initiative in this evangelistic mission (cf. 1:1-2). Paul and Barnabas had accomplished a wonderful work (v. 26), but they were careful to give God the credit for it. He was the One ultimately responsible for their success.
"Paul and Barnabas never thought that it was their strength or their power which had achieved anything. They spoke of what God had done with them. . . . We will begin to have the right idea of Christian service when we work, not for our own honour or prestige, but only from the conviction that we are tools in the hand of God."
The fact that God had granted salvation to Gentiles on an equal basis with Jews—simply by faith in Christ—would have been of special interest to Luke's early readers. This new phenomenon had taken place before: on the Gaza Road, in Caesarea, and in Syrian Antioch. However, now large numbers of Gentile converts were entering the church through the "door of faith"—without first becoming Jewish proselytes. Paul also used the figure of a door, in 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12, and Colossians 4:3. This "door of faith" situation constituted the background of the Jerusalem Council that Luke recorded in the next chapter.
It was probably during the time Paul was in Syrian Antioch, after returning from the first missionary journey and before attending the conference in Jerusalem (ch. 15), that he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. He wrote that letter to instruct the believers in the new churches he and Barnabas had just planted. This would have been in the late A.D. 40s, probably A.D. 49. Galatians appears to have been the first of Paul's inspired epistles.
"What about Luke's omission of Paul as letter writer? . . . Acts is about beginnings and missionary endeavors. Paul's letters, so far as we know, were written to congregations [and individuals] that were already established. This falls outside the purview of what Luke seeks to describe. Such an omission was only natural since Luke chose not to record the further developments of church life within the congregations Paul founded."
There are many ways in which Paul's ministry and Peter's corresponded. Here are a few of the correlations that Luke recorded, apparently to accredit Paul's ministry—that was mainly to the Gentiles and highly controversial among the Jews. Peter's ministry was primarily to the Jews.
"1. Both Peter and Paul engaged in three significant tours journeys [sic] recorded in the Book of Acts. Peter: 8:14ff; 9:32—11:2; 15:1-14 (see Gal. 2:11); Paul: 13:2—14:28; 15:36—18:22; 18:23—21:17.
2. Early in their ministry both healed a lame person. Peter: 3:2ff; Paul: 14:8ff.
3. Both saw extraordinary healings take place apart from physical contact with the afflicted individual. Peter's shadow in 5:15; those who brought handkerchiefs and aprons to Paul in 19:11. [The text does not say Peter's shadow was God's instrument in healing people.]
4. Both were God's instruments to bring judgment on those who hindered the growth and purity of the infant church. Peter condemned Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11); Paul smote Elymas with blindness (13:6-11).
5. Each had at least one long discourse [re]produced in full which gives a summary of his preaching. Peter at Pentecost (2:14-40); Paul at Antioch (13:16-42).
6. Both made the resurrection a primary emphasis in their proclamation. Peter: 2:24-36; 3:15, 26; 5:30; 10:40, 41; Paul: 13:30-37; 17:3, 18, 31; 24:15, 21; 25:19; 26:8, 23.
7. Both exorcised demons. Peter: 5:16; Paul: 16:18.
8. Both communicated the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Peter: 8:17; Paul: 19:6.
9. Both had triumphant encounters with sorcerers. Peter: 8:18ff; Paul: 13:6ff.
10. Both raised the dead. Peter: 9:36ff; Paul: 20:9ff.
11. Both received visions to direct them into critical witnessing efforts. Peter: 10:9ff; Paul: 16:6ff.
The increasing number of Gentiles who were becoming Christians raised a problem within the church. What was the relationship of the church to Judaism? Some Christians, especially the more conservative Jewish believers, argued that Christianity was a party within Judaism, the party of true believers. They assumed that Gentile Christians, therefore, needed to become Jewish proselytes, which involved being circumcised and obeying the Mosaic Law.
"In truth, there was no law to prevent the spread of Judaism [within the Roman Empire at this time]. Excepting the brief period when Tiberius (19 A.D.) banished the Jews from Rome and sent 4,000 of their number to fight the banditti in Sardinia, the Jews enjoyed not only perfect liberty, but exceptional privileges."
Other Christians, the more broad-minded Jewish believers and the Gentile converts, saw no need for these restrictions. They viewed the church not as a party within Judaism, but as a distinct group—separate from Judaism—that incorporated both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. This difference of viewpoint led to the meeting Luke recorded in this section. He described it at length, in order to explain the issues involved, and to clarify their importance. Therefore not a few students of Acts believe that chapter 15 is the most crucial chaper in the entire book. It is both structurally and theologically central to Acts.
"Throughout this commentary [i.e., Witherington's commentary] we have noted the signs that Luke was following ancient historiographical conventions in the way he presents his material, in particular his penchant for dealing with matters from an ethnographic and region-by-region perspective. With these concerns the extended treatment in Acts 15 comes as no surprise. Here the matter must be resolved as to what constitutes the people of God, and how the major ethnic division in the church (Jew/Gentile) shall be dealt with so that both groups may be included in God's people on equal footing, fellowship may continue, and the church remain one. Luke is eager to demonstrate that ethnic divisions could be and were overcome, despite the objection of very conservative Pharisaic Christians."
15:1 The "men . . . from Judea" who "came down" to Antioch appear to have been Jewish Christians who took the former view of Christianity described above. They believed a person could not become a Christian without first becoming a Jew, which included circumcision. Perhaps they based their theology on texts such as Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 12:48-49. Their claim was essentially a denial of the sufficiency of faith in Christ for salvation. They evidently claimed that James, the Lord's half-brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church, endorsed their position (cf. 15:24; Gal. 2:12). Peter, who was in Antioch at this time, compromised with these men, by withdrawing from eating with the Gentile Christians there. Barnabas also inclined to do so. Paul, however, saw the inconsistency and danger in this practice and rebuked Peter (Gal. 2:11, 13-14).
This situation posed the fourth crisis in the history of the early church. The first was selfishness (Ananias and Sapphira, ch. 5), and the second was murmuring (over the treatment of the Hellenistic widows, ch. 6). The third was simony (Simon Magus, ch. 8), and now doctrinal controversy raised its ugly head (the "Galatian heresy," ch. 15). This was the most serious problem thus far, both in terms of the issue itself, and its potential consequences. It involved the conditions for becoming a Christian, and therefore the gospel message.
15:2 This situation led to hot debate ("dissension") among the Christians generally. It ended with a decision to move the discussion "to Jerusalem," and to place the whole matter before the apostles and elders there for a verdict. This general procedure was common in the Greco-Roman world. Men from Antioch accompanied Paul and Barnabas, as witnesses undoubtedly, to protect Paul and Barnabas from accusations of distorting the facts.
15:3 On the way to Jerusalem, the missionaries recounted to the Christians in "Phoenicia and Samaria" what God had done in Cyprus and Asia Minor. These believers rejoiced because they saw a continuation of what had happened to them.
"This undoubtedly means that Gentiles were converted on a direct basis apart from any necessary commitment to Judaism, because the presence of proselytes and 'God-fearing' Gentiles in the church was hardly newsworthy in A.D. 49."
15:4 When Paul's party arrived in Jerusalem, the leaders ("apostles and elders") there "received" them and listened to their story. Note again that Luke stressed the Lord's initiative in spreading the gospel (cf. 14:27).
15:5 Some in that meeting, converted "Pharisees" who had a high view of the Mosaic Law, repeated the same objection Paul and Barnabas had encountered in Antioch. These were not necessarily "ex-Pharisees," since a Pharisee could become a Christian without relinquishing his distinctive beliefs concerning Scripture and theology.
". . . it is possible that nationalist pressure [against Rome] was increasing in Judea, and that [Jewish] Christians were having to tread carefully to avoid being thought of as disloyal to their Jewish heritage."
Unsaved Jews also believed that keeping the Mosaic Law is essential for acceptance by God (cf. 1 Thess. 2:14-16).
The Old Testament taught that Gentiles would share in the promises made to Israel (Gen. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Isa. 49:6; 55:5-7; Zeph. 3:9-10; Zech. 8:22). The Old Testament prophets also spoke of Gentile salvation as happening in the last days (Isa. 2:2; 11:10; 25:8-9; Zech. 8:23) through the witness of a restored Israel (Isa. 2:3; 60:2-3; Zech. 8:23).
"It [the revelation stated above] was the underlying presupposition for Jewish proselytizing (cf. M[ishnah] Pirke Aboth 1:12; Matt 23:15) and was implicit in the sermons of Peter at Pentecost (2:39) and in the house of Cornelius (10:35). But the correlative conviction of Judaism was that Israel was God's appointed agent for the administration of these blessings—that only through the nation and its institutions could Gentiles have a part in God's redemption and share in his favor."
15:6 Evidently a large group of people observed the meeting that the church convened to debate the issue (vv. 12, 22). Most commentators took the whole passage as describing public proceedings, but a few understood verse 6 as referring to a private meeting that took place during the public forum.
15:7-9 First, spokesmen for each side presented arguments pro and con. Then Peter rose and reminded those assembled that several years earlier, God had chosen him as the person from whom Gentiles (i.e., Cornelius and his friends) should "hear . . . the gospel." Then God gave these Gentiles His Spirit as soon as they believed in Jesus Christ. They did nothing but "believe," and they received "the Holy Spirit," the sign of their acceptance by God. This was the same thing that had taken place earlier, among the Jews, on the day of Pentecost.
15:10 Requiring that Gentiles become Jews before God would save them would "test" God, in that it would question the rightness of His action in giving the Spirit to Cornelius. When a Gentile became a Jewish proselyte, the Jew in charge of the ceremony said the Gentile now "took up the yoke of the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Matt. 23:4; Gal. 5:1). Peter said this "yoke," the Mosaic Covenant, was an obligation that was both unbearable and unnecessary (cf. Matt. 11:29-30).
15:11 By referring to the Jews being saved in the same manner as the Gentiles, instead of vice versa, Peter repudiated any thought of Jewish superiority. Clearly he had recovered from his temporary lapse at Syrian Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14). Salvation is by "grace" (v. 11), through faith (v. 9), plus nothing.
The old order of these two names recurs here. "Barnabas," as a respected member of this church (4:36-37; 11:22), took the lead in relating the experiences that he "and Paul" had undergone in ministering to Gentiles. Barnabas emphasized the "signs and wonders" God had performed, because these would have persuaded the Jews that God had been at work in their ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22).
15:13-14 "James" was Jesus' half-brother, the writer of the Epistle of James, and the leading figure in the Jerusalem church (12:17; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12). "Simeon" was Peter's older Jewish name. James' use of it would have emphasized Peter's Jewishness as well as implying affection for him. Peter had related the salvation experience of Cornelius, and James' reference to "first" was to that experience near the beginning of the church.
". . . he showed how he felt about the question at issue by speaking of believing Gentiles as a 'people' (laos) whom God had taken 'for himself' (to onomati autou; lit., 'for his name')—thus (1) applying to Gentile Christians a designation formerly used of Israel alone and (2) agreeing with Peter that in the conversion of Cornelius God himself had taken the initiative for a direct Gentile ministry."
15:15 James reminded his hearers that the Old Testament "prophets" supported the salvation of Gentiles apart from Judaism. Note that James did not say the salvation of Gentiles then was the fulfillment of these prophecies. He said the prophets' predictions of future Gentile salvation harmonized with the present salvation of Gentiles apart from Judaism (cf. 2:16). James then quoted Amos 9:11-12 as a representative prophecy. Another view is that by "the prophets," James meant the Book of the 12 Minor Prophets, of which Amos was a part. Neither Amos, nor any other prophet, said Gentiles had to become Jews in order to enjoy the blessings of salvation (cf. Rom. 11:12).
"James's major contribution to the decision of the council was to shift the discussion of the conversion of Gentiles from a proselyte model to an eschatological one. . . . James is saying, God's people will consist of two concentric groups. At their core will be restored Israel (i.e., David's rebuilt tent); gathered around them will be a group of Gentiles (i.e., 'the remnant of men') who will share in the messianic blessings but will persist as Gentiles without necessarily becoming Jewish proselytes."
15:16-18 Amos predicted the (second) advent of Messiah after "these things" (i.e., the Tribulation, Amos 9:8-10). Messiah would set up His kingdom on the earth, and restore the nation Israel (during the Millennium), under which the Gentiles would seek the Lord. We should understand the "and" in verse 17 in the sense of "even" (the epexegetical use of this conjunction).
"A close examination of this passage [vv. 14-17] reveals that there is a progression of thought leading to James' conclusion. First, God visits the Gentiles, taking from them a people for His name. In other words, God has promised to bless the Gentiles as well as Israel, but each in his own order. The Gentile blessing is first. Second, Christ will return—after the outcalling of the people for His name. Third, as a result of the coming of the Lord, the tabernacle of David will be built again; that is, the kingdom will be established exactly as promised in the Davidic Covenant. Amos clearly declared that this rebuilding will be done 'as it used to be' (Amos 9:11); that is, the blessings will be earthly and national and will have nothing to do with the church. Fourth, the residue of men will seek the Lord; that is, all the Gentiles will be brought to a knowledge of the Lord after the kingdom is established. This same truth is taught in passages like Isaiah 2:2; 11:10; 40:5; and 66:23."
There have been three main interpretations of James' use of Amos' prophecy (Amos 9:11-12). Some interpreters believe James meant that the inclusion of Gentiles in the church fulfilled God's promise through Amos. These (generally amillennial) interpreters see the church as fulfilling God's promises to Israel. This view seems to go beyond what Amos said, since his prophecy concerns "the tabernacle of David,, which literally interpreted would involve Israel, not the church.
Second, some interpreters believe James meant that God would include Gentiles when He fulfilled this promise to Israel in the future. However, there was no question among the Jews that God would bless the Gentiles through Israel in the future. The issue was whether He would do this apart from Judaism, and this interpretation contributes nothing to the solution of that problem. This view does not seem to go far enough.
A third view is that James meant that the present inclusion of Gentiles in the church is consistent with God's promise to Israel through Amos (cf. Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:9). In other words, the present salvation of Gentiles, apart from Judaism, does not contradict anything Amos said about future Gentile blessing. This seems to be the best interpretation.
"In other words, James says, God is working out His own plan: Israel, His covenant people have been set aside nationally because of their rejection of the Messiah. God is now taking out a people, Jew and Gentile, to constitute the Church of God. When He completes this work, the Lord is coming back the second time. That will be the time of blessing for the whole world [i.e., the millennial reign of Christ]."
James added the quotation from Isaiah 45:21, in verse 18b, probably to add authority to the Amos prophecy.
The typical non-dispensational understanding of this text, is that James was saying that the messianic kingdom had come, and that Amos' prediction was completely fulfilled. Progressive dispensationalists believe he meant that the first stage of the messianic kingdom had come, and that Amos' prediction was partially fulfilled. Normative dispensationalists view the messianic kingdom as entirely future. They believe Amos was predicting the inclusion of Gentiles in God's plan, and that James was saying that the present situation was in harmony with God's purpose. Thus the Amos prediction has yet to be fulfilled.
Deciding between these options depends first on whether or not one believes the church replaces Israel in God's plan. If it does, one will side with non-dispensationalists here. If one believes that the church and Israel are distinct in the purpose of God, then one has to decide if there is better evidence that Jesus has begun to rule over David's kingdom now (progressive dispensationalism), or not yet (normative dispensationalism). I believe the evidence points to the fact that David's kingdom is an earthly kingdom, and that Jesus will begin reigning over it when He returns to earth at His Second Coming.
James would have quoted a version of the Old Testament text that would have been acceptable to his audience, which included strict Jews. His quotation from Amos differs from the Hebrew text in meaning, and from the Septuagint in form, but it is identical to the text of 4QFlorilegium (1:12), an Essene rendering.
15:19 "Not" to "trouble" the Gentiles meant not imposing the requirements of Jewish proselytes on them, namely: circumcision and observance of the Mosaic Law.
15:20 To help Gentile converts not put a stumbling block in the path of Jews, James recommended that Christian teachers encourage their disciples to avoid ("abstain from") four things. By the way, Acts presents the apostles as more effective at conflict resolution than the Sanhedrin, and James as a better problem solver than Gamaliel. Filling (control) by the Holy Spirit accounts for these differences. These four things were: first, the "things" (food, etc.) associated with "idols," or idolatry (cf. 1 Cor. 10:14-22); and second, "fornication" (Gr. porneias, all kinds of sexual aberrations). The Gentile converts were also to: third, avoid eating "strangled" animals (those with the blood not drained out); and fourth, "blood" (the essence of life; cf. Gen. 9; Lev. 17:11). These four restrictions involved ethical and moral issues, and practices that offended Jews.
One writer argued that smothering rather than strangling is in view, and that the apostles' intent was to prohibit infanticide, which was a normal method of birth control in the Graeco-Roman world. This is a minority view that I do not share.
"Concerning the nature of the prohibitions the most likely explanation is that all four were associated to some degree with pagan [or Jewish] religious practices. Since this association was highly offensive to Jews, Gentile believers were asked to avoid even the appearance of evil by avoiding such practices altogether. Thus the purposes of the decree and its prohibitions [cf. 15:29; 21:25] were to promote unity among believing Jews and believing Gentiles."
15:21 The reason for these restrictions was this: In the weekly synagogue Scripture readings, teachers of the Mosaic Law had stressed Jewish scruples regarding these matters for generations. Consequently the Jews regarded them as extremely important. If Gentile Christians disregarded the convictions of these Jews, they would only alienate those they hoped to bring to faith in Jesus Christ or to growth in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 8:13).
"If there was ever a good opportunity to say that the Gentiles were under the law this was it; for that would have settled the matter simply and quickly. But the apostles, who were Jews themselves, recognized that the law had no force any longer, and they did not try to impose it."
James was not putting Gentile converts under the Mosaic Law by imposing these restrictions. He was urging them to limit their exercise of Christian liberty to make their witness to unsaved Jews more effective, and their fellowship with saved Jews more harmonious (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23).
"To sum up, we may say that two types of 'necessary' questions were raised at the Jerusalem Council. The first had to do with the theological necessity of circumcision and the Jewish law for salvation, and that was rejected. The second had to do with the practical necessity of Gentile Christians abstaining from certain practices for the sake of Jewish-Gentile fellowship within the church and for the sake of the Jewish Christian mission throughout the Diaspora, and that was approved."
15:22 The Jerusalem leaders chose two witnesses to return to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, to verbally confirm the decision of this council. The custom of sending four persons, representing the people and the council, with an official document has been attested in ancient Greco-Roman literature. Likewise, in many places oral testimony was regarded more highly than written. "Judas" had a Jewish name" so he may have been a Hebraic Jew, whereas "Silas" had a Greek name, and probably was a Hellenistic Jew. These men represented both segments of the Jerusalem church.
Judas had the same surname as Joseph Barsabbas, the candidate with Matthias for the vacant apostleship (1:23). Consequently some interpreters have assumed that Judas and Joseph were brothers. We also know Silas by his Roman name, Silvanus, in Scripture (2 Cor. 1:19). He was a Hellenistic Jew who had been a leader in the Jerusalem church (vv. 22, 27). He was a prophet (v. 32), a vocal minister in Antioch (v. 32), a Roman citizen (16:37), and an effective amanuensis (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:12). Silas became Paul's primary companion on his second missionary journey (v. 40).
"When one considers the situation of the Jerusalem church in A.D. 49, the decision reached by the Jerusalem Christians must be considered one of the boldest and most magnanimous in the annals of church history. While still attempting to minister exclusively to the nation, the council refused to impede the progress of that other branch of the Christian mission whose every success meant further difficulty for them from within their own nation."
"It is interesting to note the process the council followed in resolving this conflict. First, the problem was clarly stated: Each side was presented in a debate. Second, the facts were presented by those who were acquainted with them. Third, the counsel was given by a person who was trusted for his objectivity and wisdom. Fourth, unanimity was sought in the decision. Fifth, the attitude of preserving the unity of the Spirit remained utmost on the council's mind. This same formula would be helpful in resolving conflicts found within the church today."
15:23 The destination of this letter throws light on extensive missionary activity that had taken place throughout "Syria and Cilicia," which activity Luke did not record. We know of the mission to Antioch, but Luke gave no details about the evangelization of the rest of the surrounding area of "Syria." We know that Paul had done missionary work in "Cilicia," but Luke did not tell his readers anything about it. Here we learn that there were churches in these regions already, as we may have assumed, but now know for sure (cf. v. 41). "Antioch" was the capital city of Syria and Cilicia, which Rome administered as a single province until A.D. 72.
15:24-29 The men who had come to Antioch from Jerusalem, advocating "circumcision . . . " (v. 1) had no authorization ("instruction") to do so from the Jerusalem church (v. 24). They spoke on their own authority. The church in Jerusalem had reached a unified opinion ("become of one mind") on the issue at hand (v. 25). The apostles presented "Barnabas and Paul" as men whom the saints in Jerusalem held in the highest regard (vv. 25-26). The church leaders had sensed the Holy Spirit's control in the decision they had reached (v. 28).
"It should be noted that the letter traced the unanimity of the decision to the action of the Holy Spirit (15:28), even though the Spirit was not mentioned previously as intervening in the proceedings. This is the way in which the Spirit usually works in the church. There need not be miraculous displays to indicate his direction. Spirit-filled people can detect his presence through the harmony which prevails when men are responsive to his will."
The decision reached at the Jerusalem Council was very important. Even though false teachers continued to propagate the view that Gentiles had to undergo the rites of proselytes to Judaism before they could enter the church, this view was now officially unacceptable. The apostles had greatly strengthened the case for salvation by faith alone. Again, the trip that Paul and Barnabas made, from Antioch to Jerusalem and back, consisted of about 560 ground miles (cf. 11:30—12:25; Gal. 2:1-10).
Luke reported Paul and Barnabas' efforts to strengthen the churches they had planted in Cyprus and Asia Minor to emphasize the importance of this phase of church extension. He also did so to set the scene for the next major advance of the church. Paul went next into the provinces around the Aegean Sea, some of which were on what we now call the European continent.
15:36-39 Some commentators have overestimated the "sharp disagreement" between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark, in my opinion. The text says they disagreed vigorously over this issue, but there is no statement or implication that they ended up disliking each other, as some of the commentators have inferred. It seems that they were both led by the Holy Spirit to arrive at their respective conclusions regarding the wisdom of taking John Mark with them. Their separation, I infer, was friendly.
Paul later wrote with respectful admiration of both Barnabas (1 Cor. 9:6) and John Mark (Col. 4:10; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11). Their decision to go in separate directions certainly resulted in greater gospel expansion, since more people became involved as fellow missionaries, and they covered more area in less time. Some Christians erroneously feel that any disagreement between believers is sinful, but there is no indication in the text that this difference of opinion was sinful.
Barnabas' desire to offer John Mark another opportunity was certainly commendable and godly, even though Paul viewed it as unwise. Many of God's servants would have dropped out of ministry had it not been for a gracious Barnabas who was willing to give us another chance after we failed.
15:40-41 "Paul" and "Silas" departed from Antioch with the church's blessing. This time the missionaries traveled first by land, north through Syria, then through Cilicia where Paul had been born and had previously labored. They strengthened the young churches in those Roman provinces.
16:1 Paul and Silas, now traveling west, probably crossed the Taurus Mountains at a pass called the Cilician Gates (modern Gülek Bogaz). Alexander the Great had marched east through this pass to conquer the vast Persian Empire four centuries earlier. This route would have led them into the kingdom of Antiochus, located west of Cilicia, to the south of Galatia, and to the east of Pamphylia. They proceeded on into Lycaonian Galatia, first to "Derbe," and then to "Lystra."
At Lystra a young believer named "Timothy" impressed Paul. Many Bible students have assumed that Timothy was from Lystra, and had trusted Christ during Paul's first trip to that town (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17). The text does not state these facts, but they are certainly strong possibilities. Mixed marriages between Jews and Gentiles were more common outside Palestine than within it. Timothy's mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois were both sincere Jews, and had instructed Timothy in the Hebrew Scriptures (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). This young man now filled the place that John Mark had occupied on the first journey, before Mark returned to Jerusalem. Timothy was to become one of Paul's closest friends and most faithful fellow workers.
16:3 Paul obviously did not circumcise Timothy because he believed that rite was necessary for his justification or sanctification (cf. 1 Cor. 7:19). He did so because it was necessary for effective evangelistic ministry among Jews (cf. 1 Cor. 9:20-22; Rom. 14:13-15). Unbelieving Jews would not have given Paul a hearing, if he had traveled with an uncircumcised Gentile, even though Timothy was half Jewish (cf. 1 Cor. 9:20). The Jews regarded an uncircumcised son of a Jewish mother to be an apostate Jew, a violator of the Mosaic Covenant. Paul was being culturally sensitive here.
16:4 Part of Paul's ministry included acquainting the churches in Galatia with the directives ("decrees") formulated at the Jerusalem Council.
16:5 This fifth progress report concludes the section on the church's expansion into Asia Minor (12:25—16:5; cf. 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 19:20; 28:31). This part of its history was particularly crucial, since in this phase of its expansion the church changed from predominantly Jewish to predominantly Gentile.
The missionary outreach narrated in this section of the book took place in major cities along the Aegean coastline that major Roman roads connected.
Luke recorded Paul's vision of the Macedonian man to explain God's initiative in encouraging Paul and his companions to carry the gospel farther west into what is now Europe.
"His [Luke's] subject is the rapid extension of Christianity among the Gentiles, especially in three great provinces of the empire, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia; and he describes the firm establishment of the church in their capitals, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus . . . These three great provinces embraced respectively the northern, western and eastern coasts of the Aegean Sea, and they were all members of one great Roman empire, and all enjoyed one great Hellenic civilization . . .
"The foundation of the churches of Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia was the work of S. Paul, and it was his greatest achievement. Ch. xvi 11-xix 19 is really the record of his life work. It filled a period of five years from 49 to 54; and in the composition of the book it corresponds to the ministry of the Lord in the Gospel (Lk iv 16 to xvii 10 or xviii 30) and of S. Peter in the church of Jerusalem in the first part of the Acts (ii 14-xi 26)."
16:6 Phrygia was a geographical region, and Galatia was a Roman province. Phrygia was part of Galatia, as well as part of the province of Asia that lay west of Galatia. The province of Asia was one of several Roman provinces that occupied the larger district of Asia Minor. Asia Minor was ancient Anatolia and modern western Turkey. Paul evangelized Asia later (18:19—19:20). The time was not right for him to go there yet. Probably Paul intended to follow the Via Sebaste westward to Ephesus, the chief city and capital of Asia. Luke did not record how "the Holy Spirit" closed the door to "Asia" at this time. His emphasis was on the One who directed Paul, not how He did it (cf. 13:1-3).
"The missionary journeys of Paul reveal an extraordinary combination of strategic planning and sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in working out the details of the main goals. This is especially noticeable here."
"Paul may have had visions or dreams (cf. verse 9, 23:11), or inward prompting. Silas, a prophet (15:32), may have been moved to utter words of warning, or they may have had to change their plans by force of circumstances (e.g. Jewish opposition), which they afterwards recognized as the overruling intervention of Providence."
16:7-8 Paul then turned his attention north, and purposed (was "trying") to enter the province of "Bithynia." It lay along the southern shores of the Black Sea, and contained many Roman cities and Jewish colonies. Mysia was another geographical region like Phrygia, but located in northwest Asia, "through" (Gr. parelthontes, not "by," v. 8) which Paul's party passed to get to Bithynia. Again the Holy Spirit, whom Luke here called "the Spirit of Jesus" (cf. 1:1-2), prevented their entering that province. This unusual title of the Holy Spirit highlights Jesus' leadership in the mission. Other, unidentified Christian missionaries evangelized Bithynia (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1).
Consequently Paul turned west from where he was, and proceeded to Troas. This city was a Roman colony, like Antioch of Pisidia and Lystra, located at a very strategic site. It was one of the main seaports from which travelers entered Asia Minor from the west, or departed from Asia Minor toward the Roman provinces farther west. It was about 25 miles south of ancient Troy, and 585 miles from Antioch of Syria.
"To the Greeks, mountains protected but separated people, whereas the sea, while frightening, united people. Therefore Troas, at the mouth of the Dardenelles, was the pivotal port between the land masses of Europe and Asia Minor and the great waterways of the Aegean and Black seas."
16:9 This time God gave positive direction to Paul, and Luke recorded that He did it in "a vision" (cf. 9:10; 10:3, 17, 19; 11:5; 12:9; 13:4).
"Paul could have recognized the man in his dream as a Macedonian from what he said; but it has been conjectured that the man might have been Luke himself, who indicates his presence at this point by changing the narrative from 'they' to 'we' in the following verse. If this were so, it would suggest that Luke, a Macedonian or of Macedonian ancestry, had encountered Paul at Troas, perhaps as a medical attendant, and pressed him to preach the Gospel to the Macedonians. In this case, his appearance in Paul's dream would make him seem to be a God-sent messenger, and would clinch the matter. This is, of course, no more than an attractive speculation."
"Macedonia" was a Roman province that comprised roughly the northern half of ancient and modern Greece. Its name honored Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father.
16:10 Luke joined Paul's party, which consisted of Silas, Timothy, and perhaps others, in Troas. This is clear because in his narration he changed from the third to the first person. This is the beginning of the first of four so-called "we" sections in Acts, the sections in which Luke was traveling with Paul (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1—28:16). Paul surrounded himself with a group of disciples, as Jesus had done.
Note that Luke used three terms to stress the fact that the triune "God" was leading these apostles by His Spirit. He first referred to the "Holy Spirit" (v. 6), then the "Spirit of Jesus" (v. 7), and then "God" (v. 10)—as leading them.
"Authentic turning points in history are few. But surely among them that of the Macedonian vision ranks high. Because of Paul's obedience at this point, the gospel went westward; and ultimately Europe and the Western world were evangelized. Christian response to the call of God is never a trivial thing. Indeed, as in this instance, great issues and untold blessings may depend on it."
This passage has become popular because in it, God gave Paul definite guidance concerning where He wanted him to minister. Anyone who wants to propagate the gospel has questions about this kind of guidance. Notice that Paul was actively ministering, and was seeking to do what appeared to him to be the wise thing, when God said "no" or "yes" to his efforts. In providing positive direction, God brought new information to Paul that impressed the apostle with a particular need that God wanted him to meet. It seems to me that we should not concern ourselves mainly with the methods God uses to guide people.
These methods varied in Acts, and were not Luke's primary concern. We should, however, concentrate on where we can be of most use as the Lord's servants. This was Paul's dominant concern. If our choices for places of ministry are equally acceptable to God, He probably will not steer us away from any of them, as was true in Paul's first missionary journey. We can go wherever we please. However, if He does not want us in one or more of these places, I believe He will shut one or more doors for us as He did for Paul. God often guides us by bringing information to our attention that enlightens our judgment when we need to make decisions.
Luke recorded Paul's ministry in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea to continue his history of Jesus' works in Macedonia.
The Macedonians were a distinct national group, though they had strong ties to the Greeks. They had offered the most stubborn resistance against Rome's efforts to extend its influence. In an attempt to break down their strong nationalistic spirit of independence, Rome divided Macedonian territory into four districts, each of which had its own local government under Rome. We see this stubborn character in the Macedonians' reaction to Paul's preaching. Nevertheless once won over, the Macedonian converts became just as loyal to Paul as they had been hostile to him at first.
Luke devoted more space to Paul's evangelizing in Philippi than he did to the apostle's activities in any other city on the second and third journeys, even though Paul was there only briefly. It was the first European city in which Paul preached the gospel.
16:11-12 Traveling by sea from Troas, the apostolic band made its way to the island of "Samothrace." From there they sailed to Neapolis (modern Cavalla), the port of Philippi in Macedonia, a journey of 125 miles. Philippi was 10 miles northwest inland. This town, previously called Crenides (lit. "Fountains"), also received its newer name of "Philippi" from Philip of Macedon. It stood at the eastern end of another major Roman highway that connected the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, the Via Egnatia (Egnatian Road). Macedonia consisted of four parts or districts, and Philippi was the chief city of one of these four districts.
"After Mark Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, near Philippi in 42 B.C., the city was made into a Roman colony. This gave it special privileges (e.g, [sic] fewer taxes) but more importantly it became like a 'transplanted' Rome . . . The primary purpose of colonies was military, for the Roman leaders felt it wise to have Roman citizens and sympathizers settled in strategic locations. So Octavian (who became Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, in 27 B.C.) settled more colonists (primarily former soldiers) at Philippi after his defeat of Antony at Actium, on Greece's west coast, in 31 B.C."
"Augustus" means "the august one" or "the revered one." The best modern equivalent might be "his majesty."
"Philippi's importance during the NT period . . . resulted from its agriculture, its strategic commercial location on both sea and land routes, its still functioning gold mines, and its status as a Roman colony. In addition, it had a famous school of medicine with graduates throughout the then-known world."
Luke's mention of Philippi's status as a "Roman colony" is unusual; he did not identify Roman colonies as such elsewhere. Other Roman colonies that feature in Acts, which Luke did not identify as colonies, were Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Troas, Corinth, and Ptolemais. Probably he identified Philippi here as one, because of the events that followed in Philippi—that we can understand more easily with this status in mind. Another possibility is that he did so because of his personal interest in this town. He spent considerable time there.
Some scholars conjecture that Philippi was Luke's hometown, or the town in which he lived before joining Paul's party. This seems unlikely to me, since Paul and his party stayed with Lydia when they were in Philippi (v. 15). If Luke had a home there, they probably would have stayed with him. A Roman colony was a city that the imperial government had granted special privileges for having rendered some special service to the empire. All of its free citizens enjoyed the rights of Roman citizens. Living in such a colony was similar to being in Rome away from Rome (cf. Phil. 3:20).
16:13 Normally Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and this "place of prayer" may have been a synagogue. On the other hand, Philippi may have had too few Jews to warrant a synagogue. It only took 10 Jewish men to establish a synagogue. Whether or not this "place of prayer" was a synagogue, worshippers of Yahweh met beside the Gangites "River" one and one-half miles west of town, to pray together, and to do what the Jews did in a normal synagogue service.
The Greek word proseuche describes both prayer and a place of prayer. Sometimes this word for "a place of prayer" was used in Jewish writings as a synonym for "synagogue," since Jewish synagogues were essentially places of prayer. It was customary for Jews and Gentile God-fearers (sebomene ton theon, "worshipper of God," v. 14; 13:43; 18:7) to meet in the open air—by a river or the sea—when a synagogue was not available.
"Where there was no Synogogue there was at least a Proseuche, or meeting-place, under the open sky, after the form of a theatre, generally outside the town, near a river or the sea, for the sake of lustrations [i.e., purification rites]."
Evidently no men were there the day Paul found the place. Nonetheless Paul preached the gospel to the women assembled. That Paul, a former Pharisee, would preach to an audience of women reveals much about his changed attitude—since the Pharisees commonly thanked God that they were not Gentiles, slaves, or women (cf. Gal. 3:28). This is hardly the picture of a woman-hater that some have painted Paul as being.
16:14-15 At least one of the women was a lady who was in Philippi on business. She trusted Christ. "Thyatira," her hometown in the province of Asia, was a city famous for its "purple fabrics," dye, and cloth (cf. Rev. 2:18-29). During the Roman Period, laws restricted who could wear clothes dyed purple because it was the most precious of all colors. Thus "Lydia" undoubtedly dealt with an exclusive and affluent clientele. It had not been the right time for Paul to evangelize Asia (v. 6), but God brought a woman who lived there to him in Macedonia.
Her name, "Lydia," may have had some connection with the fact that her hometown stood in an area that was formerly part of the old "kingdom of Lydia." Some scholars have even surmised that Lydia was not her name but only her place of origin. We owe coined money to the Lydian kingdom. King Croesus first produced uniform coins there in the sixth century B.C. Wealthy King Croesus may have been the person behind the legend of King Midas, whose touch supposedly turned anything to gold.
Luke again emphasized God's initiative in opening "her heart" to the gospel (v. 14, cf. 2 Cor. 4:4), and the hearts of those in "her household" (cf. v. 33; 11:14). Her "household" included servants as well as her family (cf. 10:24, 44; 16:31; 18:8; Rom. 16:10-11; 1 Cor. 1:16). Water baptism is in view (v. 15). It followed her conversion immediately (cf. v. 33; 8:36; et al.).
Lydia offered her large home to Paul and his companions ("come into my house"), as their headquarters ("and stay"), while they remained in Philippi. This was a common practice in the Roman world, especially among Christians, since public housing facilities were few and unpleasant (cf. Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9).
"Young people sometimes hear a fervent missionary from a distant field tell of the need of young men and young women for work in Africa or China or in some other country. They say, 'I must answer the call.' They arrange to leave everything here and go out to the mission field, only to find that nobody wants them. And they say, 'Isn't that queer? They were pleading that we come, and instead of wanting us they are ready, in some instances, to kill us.' Was the missionary wrong? Did he give a false impression of conditions? Not at all! The heathen do not realize their need often until the preaching of the true God gives them a sense of their real condition, but it is that need, nevertheless, which calls for someone to help."
16:16 Luke probably recorded the conversions of three very different individuals in Philippi (Lydia, the slave-girl, and the jailer), in order to illustrate the appeal and power of the gospel. The demon-possessed "slave-girl" (cf. Rhoda, 12:13), who met the missionaries on their way to the prayer meeting (v. 13), was a tool of her masters who used her to make money ("much profit") through "fortune-telling." The demon (Gr. pneuma pythona) within her knew of Paul, and announced through her who he was and what he was doing (cf. Mark 1:24; 3:11; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28).
"The Python was a mythical serpent or dragon that guarded the temple and oracle of Apollo, located on the southern slope of Mount Parnassus to the north of the Gulf of Corinth. It was supposed to have lived at the foot of Mount Parnassus and to have eventually been killed by Apollo (cf. Strabo Geography 9.3.12). Later the word python came to mean a demon-possessed person through whom the Python spoke—even a ventriloquist was thought to have such a spirit living in his or her belly (cf. Plutarch De Defectu Oraculorum 9.414)."
16:17-18 This girl's screaming recalls the behavior of the demon-possessed people whom Jesus encountered. The title "Most High God" would have had meaning for Greeks, Romans, and Jews. All of these groups had some interest in a (not "the") "way of salvation." The Greeks called Zeus the "Most High God." However, it is probable that those who heard this girl associated the Most High God with the God of the Jews. In any case, the girl's crying out would have roused the interest of Greeks as well as Jews. Paul proceeded to take advantage of this situation.
The demon-controlled girl seems to have appointed herself the apostles' herald, announcing them wherever they went. Paul did not want her to continue doing that, however. Her presence and public relations work implied that the missionaries were allies of the demon that people knew indwelt her (cf. Mark 1:24-25). Jesus, working through Paul, cast the demon out (Mark 9:14-29; Luke 4:33-35; 6:18; 7:21; Acts 8:9-24; 13:6-12; 19:13-20). Luke did not record whether this girl became a Christian, though she probably did. His interest lay in what happened as a result of this incident.
Verse 18 raises a question about Paul's motivation in exorcising this demon. The text says that he became "greatly annoyed" after the girl had accompanied the missionaries "for many days." Why did he not cast the demon out immediately if he felt compassion for the girl? We can only conclude that God did not lead him to cast the demon out sooner, because He used this witness to bring people to Himself. Undoubtedly Paul felt compassion for her, since there is plenty of evidence elsewhere that Paul was a compassionate person. It was evidently the continued irritation that this girl created in Paul that God finally used to lead Paul to cast the demon out of her. The Lord Jesus used the same strong Greek word, paraggello ("command"), when He charged another unclean spirit to come out (Luke 8:29; cf. Acts 1:4).
16:19-21 Clearly the actions of the girl's masters against Paul and Silas, whom the people perceived as Jews, were prejudicial. They wanted to get even for causing them financial loss (cf. 19:24-27), not for preaching the gospel.
Normally only wealthy people took the risk of prosecuting someone in court, since such action was very expensive. This is the first formal indictment against Paul that Luke recorded in Acts. The "market place" was the agora.
Two magistrates (praetors) governed each Roman colony. Recently the Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome (18:2). Consequently anti-semitism was running high throughout the empire, and especially in Philippi, which had an unusually large military population. It was contrary to Roman law for local people to try to change the religion of Roman citizens, of which there were many in Philippi. The girl's masters assumed that Paul and Silas were proselytizing for Judaism, since the "customs" Paul proclaimed included worship of Jesus—a Jew—rather than the emperor.
"The accusation against Paul and Silas in 16:20-21 is one of a series. In Acts 16—19 we find four scenes that feature accusations against Christians, and these accusations are parts of similar sequences of events. The sequence contains three basic elements: (1) Christians are forcefully brought before officials or a public assembly. (2) They are accused, and this accusation is highlighted by direct quotation. (3) We are told the result of this attempt to curb the Christian mission."
The Greeks divided humanity into "Greeks" and "Barbarians." But the Romans divided people into "Romans" and "Strangers." "Strangers" were those who had no link to the city of Rome, except that of subjugation.
16:22 The "crowd" got behind the missionaries' accusers. The charges against them seemed so clear, that the "chief magistrates" did not even investigate them, but proceeded to have Paul and Silas "beaten with rods" and imprisoned (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23, 25). Lictors (police officers) would have done the beating (caning; cf. v. 35). Acts records only two instances in which Gentiles threatened or harmed Paul (cf. 19:23-41). In both cases, people were losing money in vested interests, and in both cases, a Roman official vindicated Paul.
On another occasion, Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship to escape a beating (22:25). He may not have done this in Philippi, or he may have done so and experienced a beating anyway. Cicero described a situation in which a Roman citizen was scourged while he claimed his citizenship. Perhaps the mob action in Philippi was so intense that Paul's appeal, if he made it, was lost in the commotion.
16:23-24 The jailer treated his prisoners as dangerous criminals. His treatment surely reflected his own attitude more than the seriousness of their alleged crimes.
"If Lydia came from the top end of the social scale and the slave girl from the bottom, the Roman gaoler was one of the sturdy middle class who made up the Roman civil service; and so in these three the whole gamut of society was complete."
16:25-26 We can see that Paul and Silas were full of the Spirit by the way they reacted to the pain that resulted from their beating and from being locked in stocks (cf. Ps. 42:8). The other "prisoners" undoubtedly wondered who these men were, and how they could rejoice, while even "praying and singing hymns of praise to God." Perhaps some of them became Christians and members of the Philippian church. If so, Paul's exhortations to "rejoice in the Lord always," in his epistle to the Philippians, would have reminded them of his example on this occasion. Again God miraculously freed His servants from prison (cf. 5:18-20; 12:3-11).
"This was the first sacred concert ever held in Europe . . .
"The world is watching Christians, and when they see Christians shaken by circumstances as they themselves, they conclude that after all there is very little to Christianity; but when they find Christians rising above circumstances and glorying in the Lord even in deepest trial, then even the unsaved realize the Christian has something in knowing Christ to which they are strangers."
"If we ask, Why did not the prisoners escape? the answer is that a semi-Oriental mob would be panic-stricken by the earthquake, and there is nothing strange in the fact that they made no dash for safety; moreover, the opportunity must have been very quickly lost, for the jailor was not only roused himself, but evidently called at once to the guard for lights . . ."
This jailer was about to commit suicide, and so avoid the shame of a public execution. He was certain his prisoners "had escaped." God had restrained the other prisoners from escaping somehow, possibly out of fear or out of respect for Paul and Silas.
". . . were the other prisoners as terrified as the jailer at what they believed to be the magical power of two Jewish sorcerers which could bring about an earthquake? This might account for their failure to try to escape."
Whatever the other prisoners may have thought, Luke's emphasis was on the love and concern that Paul and Silas demonstrated for the jailer, by remaining in prison when they could have escaped, as well as preventing his suicide. It was primarily this love, I think, that won the jailer over.
16:29-30 Paul and Silas' love for him, in contrast to the hatred they had received from the magistrates, the police, and the jailer, transformed the jailer's attitude. Apparently the jailer had heard the gospel from Paul and Silas previously, or had at least heard what they were preaching (cf. v. 17), but had hardened his heart against it (v. 24). Now, because of his brush with death, he humbled himself, and asked how he could ("what" he "must do to") "be saved." Another, less likely possibility, is that the jailer only wanted deliverance from his physical danger.
". . . if these were the jailer's exact words they probably meant: 'How can I be saved from the consequences of having ill-treated two obviously powerful magicians?' Paul uses the question as an opening for his Gospel message (verse 31)."
"The earthquake has presented him with irrefutable evidence that God is at work with Paul's group. He wants to know whatever more Paul can offer. Is there a way to escape God's reaction to the injustice in which the jailer has played a role? In the face of this evidence, the jailer does not want to be found on the opposing side."
This verse raises the question of Lordship Salvation most clearly in Acts. Must a person make Jesus the "Lord (Master)" of his or her life in order to become a Christian?
Most evangelicals believe that to become a Christian, one need only trust in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is not necessary to submit to Him completely as one's personal Master to get saved. Some, however, contend that the sinner must also yield his life completely to Jesus as Master—as well as Savior—to get saved.
Those who hold the Lordship view insist on the necessity of acknowledging Jesus as Master of one's life in the same act of receiving Him as Savior. According to them, these are not two separate, sequential acts or successive steps, but one act of faith. A few expressions of the Lordship Salvation view are these:
"In most instances the modern 'evangelist' assures his congregation that all any sinner has to do in order to escape Hell and make sure of Heaven is to 'receive Christ as his personal Savior.' But such teaching is utterly misleading. No one can receive Christ as His Savior while he rejects Him as Lord. Therefore, those who have not bowed to Christ's sceptre and enthroned Him in their hearts and lives, and yet imagine that they are trusting Him as Savior, are deceived."
"When we teach (whether it is Matthew, or Romans, or any other book in the New Testament—even in comparison to the Old Testament), we teach that when a person comes to Christ, he receives Him as Savior and Lord, and that genuine salvation demands a commitment to the lordship of Christ."
"'Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven' means 'Unless you who call yourselves Christians, who profess to be justified by faith alone and therefore confess that you have nothing whatever to contribute to your own justification—unless you nevertheless conduct yourselves in a way which is utterly superior to the conduct of the very best people, who are hoping to save themselves by their works, you will not enter God's kingdom. You are not really Christians.'"
There are many excellent evangelical scholars and expositors who believe it is not necessary to fully commit one's life to Jesus, when one trusts in Him as Savior, in order to experience salvation. Some of their statements follow:
"The importance of this question cannot be overestimated in relation to both salvation and sanctification. The message of faith only and the message of faith plus commitment of life cannot both be the gospel; therefore, one of them is false and comes under the curse of perverting the gospel or preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)."
"If discipleship is tantamount to salvation, then one must continue in the Word in order to be saved, for John 8:31 says, 'If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed.' Continuance is absolutely demanded for discipleship. If discipleship and salvation are the same, then continuance is demanded for salvation. Yet the New Testament clearly teaches that salvation is by faith and it is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). You have eternal life at the point of faith (John 3:36). Continuance is not a requirement for salvation."
"It is an interpretative mistake of the first magnitude to confuse the terms of discipleship with the offer of eternal life as a free gift. 'And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely' (Rev. 22:17), is clearly an unconditional benefaction. 'If anyone comes to me and does not . . . he cannot be my disciple' clearly expresses a relationship which is fully conditional. Not to recognize this simple distinction is to invite confusion and error at the most fundamental level."
". . . I am not a lordship salvation person. I preach the importance of dedication to Jesus Christ. I talk about the works that follow faith. But I believe eternal life is a gift and that I receive it not by anything I do, or am, or promise to become. I take the gift that God offers."
When people trusted Jesus Christ in Acts, what did Luke record they believed about Him?
"In Acts 2, 10, and 16—passages that present the most material about salvation in the Book of Acts—what one confessed was that Jesus was the Lord in that He was the divine Mediator of salvation with the total capacity and authority to forgive sins and judge men. He is the Lord over salvation because they have turned away from themselves or their own merit to the ascended Lord. He is the divine Dispenser of salvation."
Other New Testament passages corroborate this testimony (2:38-39; 3:19-26; 4:12; 8:12, 35; 10:43; 13:38-39; John 20:28; Rom. 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:5; James 1:1; 2:1; 1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 4, 21, 25; Rev. 19:16).
Submitting to Jesus' total Lordship is the responsibility of all people, but not even all Christians do it (Rom. 6:12-14; 12:1-2). It is therefore not biblical, and it is unrealistic, to make it a condition for salvation.
The Philippian jailer now believed that Jesus had the power to protect and deliver His own. He saw Him as the One with adequate power and authority to save. Note that he had previously appealed to Paul and Silas as "Sirs" (lit. "Lords," Gr. kyrioi, v. 30). Now Paul clarified that there was only one "Lord" (kyrion) that he needed to believe in, namely: Jesus.
"The word 'Lord' in the phrase, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,' is no different than a modern equivalent such as, 'put confidence in President Reagan.' The term 'President' is his title. It indicates his position and his ability to follow through on promises. In a similar fashion, the term 'Lord,' when applied to Jesus Christ, indicates His position as God and thus His ability to save us and grant us eternal life."
What did the jailer need to do to be lost? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
Paul did not mean that the jailer's whole household would be saved simply because the jailer believed. Other members of the jailer's household believed individually, and were saved, just like he believed and was saved (cf. v. 15; 8:36). Personal salvation always depends on personal belief (John 3:16; et al.).
This verse seems to teach that faith logically precedes regeneration, not the other way around.
However, elsewhere regeneration seems to precede faith (cf. Rom. 8:8).
"Verse 8 [of Romans 8] is one of the clearest texts teaching that an unbelieving man cannot please God until a work of the Spirit has been performed on his inner being. It plainly teaches that regeneration must precede faith."
Clearly "a work of the Spirit must be performed on his inner being" before "an unbelieving man" can "please God," but that work may not be regeneration. It may simply be giving the gift of faith. I think the solution is that saving faith and regeneration occur simultaneously.
16:32 Paul went on to explain the gospel more fully. The only condition for salvation was trust in Jesus Christ. As elsewhere, references to household members trusting Christ presuppose the ability to do so. Those who were old enough and capable enough to believe did so.
16:33-34 The jailer proceeded to "wash(ed)" Paul and Silas' "wounds." Then they washed him with the water of baptism. The jailer no longer needed to keep his prisoners under lock and key, but only to deliver them at the required time. He believed they would not try to escape, so he "brought them into his house," and treated them as beloved brothers rather than as lawbreakers.
16:35-36 The "policemen" (Roman lictors) returned to the jailer the next morning with orders to "release" Paul and Silas. Lictors carried bundles of rods tied around axes to symbolize their authority. Evidently the "chief magistrates" only intended to teach them a lesson for disturbing the peace, not incarcerate them and bring them to trial.
16:37 The Roman government guaranteed its citizens a public trial and freedom from degrading punishment such as beatings. Paul was now able to use his (and Silas') citizenship to their advantage. He may have tried unsuccessfully to communicate their citizenship earlier during his arrest, or he may have waited for the right moment to do so. Apparently the magistrates did not challenge Paul's claim (cf. 22:27).
"How would one be able to demonstrate that he or she was a Roman citizen? Though Acts does not mention it, it is possible that Paul carried a testatio, a certified private copy of evidence of his birth and citizenship inscribed on the waxed surface of a wooden diptych, in a stereotypical five-part form . . ."
People who made a false claim to having Roman citizenship suffered death. Paul's claim here, resulted not only in his own protection from mistreatment, but in the authorities looking on his fellow believers as well with favor, rather than abusing them. Paul undoubtedly demanded what he did for the progress of the gospel, not for personal glory or revenge (cf. Phil. 1:18).
16:38-39 Roman officials charged with mistreating Roman citizens faced the danger of discipline by their superiors. These magistrates meekly "appealed to" Paul and Silas not to file a complaint. They also wanted them to "leave" Philippi, since popular opinion was still hostile to them because Paul had healed the slave-girl. Furthermore the local magistrates did not want to have to protect Paul's party of foreigners from irate local residents.
16:40 Paul did not leave Philippi immediately. First, he "encouraged" the Christians. This group (that met in Lydia's house) formed the nucleus of the church in Philippi, that forever afterward was a source of joy to Paul and a source of encouragement to other believers (cf. Phil. 1:3; 4:10-16).
17:1 Paul, Silas, and perhaps others, left Philippi and headed southwest on the Egnatian Road. Luke evidently stayed in Philippi, since he once again described Paul's party as "they" instead of "we" (cf. 20:5-6). Timothy may have departed with Paul, or he may have remained in Philippi. We next read of him being with Paul and Silas in Berea (17:14).
Paul and Silas probably stayed overnight in "Amphipolis," which is 33 miles (a day's journey by horse) down the Egnatian Road. It stood at the mouth of the Strymon River. The next day they traveled another 27 miles, farther west-southwest, to "Apollonia." Lastly, a 35-mile day of travel farther west on the Via Egnatia took them to "Thessalonica" (modern Salonika), situated on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea.
The text does not state that Paul's party stayed only overnight in Amphipolis and Apollonia, but most interpreters have inferred this from the narrative. Luke recorded more information concerning the apostles' ministry in Thessalonica, where they stayed for some time. Thessalonica was the chief city and capital of Macedonia, about 100 miles from Philippi. As such, it was a strategic center for the evangelization of its region (cf. 1 Thess. 1:7-8).
"The local magistrates had the power of life and death over the citizens of the place. No stationary garrison of Roman soldiers was quartered within its territory. No insignia of Roman office were displayed in its streets."
17:2-3 Paul evidently "reasoned with them" in the synagogue only "three" Sabbath days (cf. 13:5, 14; 14:1), but he seems to have stayed longer in Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thess. 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:5). We know that Paul supported himself there by making tents (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-10), and that the Philippians sent two monetary gifts to him there (Phil. 4:15-16). Perhaps he ministered primarily to Jews for the first three weeks, and then turned to the Gentiles.
Luke described Paul's method of evangelizing in Thessalonica as reasoning (Gr. dielexato, cf. v. 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; 24:25) from the Scriptures, explaining (dianoigon), giving evidence (proving, paratithemenos), and proclaiming (katangello). These terms imply that Paul dealt carefully with his hearers' questions and doubts. He showed that the facts of gospel history confirmed what the Scriptures predicted. His subject was "Jesus," whom Paul believed and proclaimed was "the Christ." His Jewish hearers needed convincing that their "Scriptures" taught that Messiah would "suffer" death "and rise" from the grave (cf. 3:18; 13:30, 34; Luke 24:13-27; 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Paul used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ).
17:4 Paul's reasoning "persuaded (epeisthesan) some" in the synagogue services (cf. 26:28; 28:23). His converts seem to have been mainly Gentiles (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9), many ("a large number") of whom were God-fearers, or "God-fearing Greeks" (cf. 10:4; 13:43; 16:14), but some of them were Jews. "Jason" (v. 5), Aristarchus (Col. 4:10), and Secundus (20:4) appear to have been among these new believers. The "leading women" could have belonged to the upper classes, or they may have been the wives of the city's leading men. In either case, the gospel had an impact on the leadership level of society in Thessalonica.
17:5 The "Jews" treated Paul harshly here, as they had in Galatia (13:45, 50; 14:2, 19), because they were again "jealous" of the popularity and effectiveness of his message.
"Loungers of the type employed here by the Jews to attack Paul and Silas were common in the agora or forum of Graeco-Roman cities. They invariably assembled around the rostrum where an orator was speaking, and applauded or heckled according to who paid them . . ."
The AV translators described these men colorfully as "lewd fellows of the baser sort." Jason was evidently Paul's host in Thessalonica, as Lydia had been in Philippi (16:15, 40). This "Jason" may not be the same one Paul named in Romans 16:21, since that name was common among the Greeks. It is the Greek equivalent of "Joshua."
17:6-7 The Jewish antagonists charged the missionaries with revolutionary teaching, namely: that "another king, Jesus," would rule and reign (cf. 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:1-11; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; 2:14).
"'Those,' they said, 'who are upsetting the civilised world have arrived here.' That is one of the greatest compliments which has ever been paid to Christianity. . . . When Christianity really goes into action it must cause a revolution both in the life of the individual and in the life of society."
The Jews in Jesus' ministry made similar charges, namely, that He advocated overthrowing the emperor (Luke 23:2; John 18:33-37). These Thessalonian Jews also claimed no king but "Caesar" (cf. John 19:15). Jason was guilty of harboring the fugitives.
Several inscriptions found in Thessalonica describe the rulers of the city as politarchs, the very word Luke used to describe them here (cf. v. 8). One of these is on the still-standing Arch of Galerius over the Egnatian Way, which commemorates Roman victories over the Persians in the late third century A.D. Before the discovery of these inscriptions, critics said Luke erred when he wrote that there were politarchs who ruled in Thessalonica. "Politarch" was a title used only in Macedonia to describe city officials.
"Since the term was unknown elsewhere, the critics of Luke once dismissed it as a mark of ignorance. Sixteen epigraphical examples now exist in modern Salonica, and one is located in the British Museum on a stone which once formed part of an archway. It was evidently the Macedonian term. It was Luke's general practice to use the term in commmonest use in educated circles. Hence he called the officials of Philippi 'praetors', and an inscription has similarly established the fact that this was a courtesy title given to the magistrates of a Roman colony."
17:8-9 The city officials could not find the missionaries (v. 6) to bring them to trial. Consequently they made Jason and his friends pay a bond ("pledge"), guaranteeing that Paul would cause no further trouble but leave town. If trouble continued, Jason would lose his money. If it did not, he would receive it back. Paul did leave town, and later wrote to the Thessalonians that Satan hindered his return (1 Thess. 2:18). His inability to return may have been the result of this tactic of his enemies. The Christians, however, carried on admirably, for which Paul thanked God (1 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:14-16).
17:10 For the second time, Paul fled a city under cover of "night" (cf. 9:25; Matt. 10:23). He and Silas left the Via Egnatia, at Thessalonica, and took the eastern coastal road toward Athens. They headed for Berea (modern Verria), about 45 miles west-southwest of Thessalonica. Berea was a very old Mecedonian city situated on the Astraeus River. In spite of continued Jewish antagonism, Paul and Silas launched their ministry in this town, again by visiting "the synagogue."
17:11-12 The Jews in Berea did not react out of jealousy (cf. v. 5), but listened carefully to what Paul preached ("received the word"), and compared it to the teachings of their Hebrew Scriptures ("examining the Scriptures daily"). Their example of daily Bible study has inspired Christians ever since to do the same. Anyone who listens to new religious truth would do well to compare it with Scripture, as these Jews did. Many of these noble skeptics believed because Paul's teaching was consistent with the Old Testament.
Here there seem to have been "many" Jewish converts, rather than the usual few that resulted from Paul's preaching. Many Gentiles also believed. Among them were "a number of prominent . . . women" (cf. v. 4), as well as "men." "Sopater," who later traveled with Paul, as did Aristarchus and Secundus, evidently was one of the converts (20:4).
17:13 Hearing of Paul's presence in Berea, the Thessalonian Jews followed him there. They evidently adopted the same tactics they had used in Thessalonica ("agitating and stirring up the crowds") in order to force Paul out of Berea (cf. vv. 5, 9). They had charged the missionaries with stirring up trouble (v. 6), but it was really they who were disturbing the peace.
17:14-15 The text is not clear if Paul took a ship to Athens, or traveled there by land. Perhaps his pursuers did not know either. Paul's escorts may have taken him to the sea to give the impression that they intended to put him on a ship, but then they accompanied him to Athens by land instead. On the other hand, he may have traveled by sea In any case he reached Athens, 195 miles south-southwest of Berea—safely—and sent instructions back with the Berean brethren who had accompanied him, that Silas and Timothy should join him soon. They apparently had stayed behind, or had been sent back, in order to confirm the new converts (18:5). They appear to have rejoined Paul in Athens since "they [had] left" Berea as he requested (cf. 1 Thess. 3:1).
"Then Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica (1 Thess 3:2). Silas, however, seems to have gone back to Macedonia (cf. 18:5)—probably to Philippi, where he received from the young congregation there a gift of money for the support of the missioners (Phil 4:15). In the meantime, Paul had moved from Athens to Corinth (18:1) and was joined there by Silas and Timothy on their return from Macedonia (18:5; 1 Thess 3:6)."
Thus Luke's account of Paul's evangelizing in Macedonia concludes. From there the gospel went south to the neighboring province of Achaia.
Luke recorded this section to document the advance of the gospel and the church into the pagan darkness that enveloped the province of Achaia, southern modern Greece.
This section of Luke's narrative contains three parts: the experiences of the missionaries that resulted in Paul preaching to the pagan Greeks there, the sermon itself, and the results of the sermon.
17:16 "Athens" stood five miles inland from its port of Piraeus, which was on the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. The city had reached its prime 500 years before Paul visited it, in the time of Pericles (461-429 B.C.). During that era, the events of the Book of Nehemiah transpired (ca. 445-420 B.C.), and the post-exilic prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) ministered. However, Athens was still the cultural and intellectual center of the Greek world. Paul observed many of the temples and statues that still stand there today. Today these objects are of interest mainly for their artistic value, but in Paul's day they were idols and places of worship that the Greeks regarded as holy.
Paul's Jewish upbringing and Christian convictions made all this idolatry repulsive to him—so while "observing" all the "idols," his "spirit" was "provoked within."
"The Greek religion was a mere deification of human attributes and the powers of nature. It was doubtless better than other forms of idolatry which have deified the brutes: but it had no real power to raise him to a higher position than that which he occupied by nature. It could not even keep him from falling continually to a lower degradation."
17:17 Paul continued his ministry to "Jews" and "God-fearing" Greeks "in the synagogue," but also discussed the gospel with any who wanted to do so "in the market place" (Gr. agora; cf. Jer. 20:9). The latter were probably not God-fearing Gentiles but simply pagan Gentiles. The Agora was the center of civic life in Athens. There the philosophers gathered to discuss and debate their views. It lay to the west of the Acropolis, on which the Parthenon still stands, and Mars Hill.
17:18 Epicureans were disciples of Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) who believed that pleasure was the greatest good and the most worthy pursuit of man. They meant pleasure in the sense of tranquility and freedom from pain, disquieting passions, and fears, especially the fear of death. Epicurus taught that the gods took no interest in human affairs. Thus organized religion was bad, and the gods would not punish evildoers in the afterlife. They were atheists. Epicurus' followers also believed that everything happened by chance, and that death was the end of one's existence. They were similar to "agnostic secularists." This philosophy is still popular today. One of its fairly modern poets was A. C. Swinburne.
"A motto, written by Diogenes, an Epicurean, in about A.D. 200, sums up this belief system: 'Nothing to fear in God; Nothing to feel in death; Good [pleasure] can be attained; Evil [pain] can be endured.'"
"Stoics" followed the teachings of Zeno the Cypriot (340-265 B.C.). The name "Stoic" comes from "stoa," a particular portico (Gr. stoa) where he taught when he lived in Athens. His followers placed great importance on living in harmony with nature. They stressed individual self-sufficiency and rationalism, and they had a reputation for being quite arrogant. Stoics were pantheists, who believed that God is in everything, and everything is God. They were also fatalistic. Their teaching is also common today. A modern poet who set forth this philosophy of life, W. E. Henley, wrote, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul," in his poem Invictus. Stoics were also idealists.
Knowling compared the Stoics to the Pharisees, and the Epicureans to the Sadducees, in the world of philosophy. He wrote that when Paul stood before them in Athens, it was as though he stood before the philosophical Sanhedrin.
The Greek word spermologos, translated "babbler," refers to someone who picked up the words of others as a bird picks up seeds. Paul's hearers implied that he had put together a philosophy of life simply by picking up this and that scrap of an idea from various sources. Others accused him of proclaiming new gods ("strange deities"), though his critics may have misunderstood his references to the resurrection (Gr. anastasis) as being references to a person, perhaps a female counterpart of Jesus. This is less likely than that they simply did not believe in resurrection.
17:19-20 The exact location of the "Areopagus" (Gr., Areios Pagos; lit. "Court [or Council] of Ares," the Greek god of war) is difficult to determine. The Athenians used the term in two ways in Luke's day. It first of all referred to the Hill of Ares (i.e., Mars Hill), on which the Council of the Areopagus conducted its business in ancient times. Secondly it also referred to the group of about 30 citizens, known as the Council of the Areopagus, who met in the Royal Portico of the Agora. The question is: Does "the Areopagus" refer to the people or the place? Luke's description is ambiguous, though I favor the people in view of the context.
The Council of the Areopagus had authority over religion, morals, and education in Athens. Its members wanted to know what Paul was advocating. Enemies of Socrates had poisoned him for teaching strange ideas in Athens, so Paul was in some danger.
17:21 Luke inserted this sentence to help his readers, who might not be familiar with Athenian culture, to understand how unusually attracted the Athenians were to "new" ideas. One Athenian wrote the following.
They were guiltier of "seed picking" than Paul was, but their interest gave Paul an opportunity to preach the gospel.
Luke probably recorded Paul's address (vv. 22-31) as a sample of his preaching to intellectual pagans (cf. 13:16-41; 14:15-18; 20:18-35). In this speech, Paul began his argument with God as everyone's Creator and brought his hearers to God as everyone's Judge.
17:22 Paul was not flattering his audience by calling them "very religious"; this was a statement of fact. The Greek words simply mean that they were firm in their reverence for their gods.
Paul again followed his policy of adapting to the people he was seeking to evangelize, and met them where they were in their thinking (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22).
17:23 Paul may have meant that he was going to tell his audience more about a particular "God," whom they worshipped but did not know much about, namely: Yahweh. This interpretation assumes that there were people in Athens who were worshipping the Creator. Alternatively, Paul may have meant that he would inform them of a God whom they did not know at all, but for whom they had built an altar to honor: "The Unknown God". In either case, Paul began with the Athenians' interest in gods, and their confessed ignorance about at least one "god," and proceeded to explain what Yahweh had revealed about Himself (cf. John 4:10; 7:37-37; et al.). Paul was not implying that the idol "to the unknown God" that he had observed had been erected in honor of "Yahweh," who was "unknown" to most Athenians.
"As we are told by a Latin writer that the ancient Romans, when alarmed by an earthquake, were accustomed to pray, not to any specified divinity, but to a god expressed in vague language, as avowedly Unknown: so the Athenians acknowledged their ignorance of the True Deity by the altars 'with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD,' which are mentioned by Heathen writers [i.e., Pausanias and Philostratus], as well as by the inspired historian [Luke]."
"An altar has been found at Pergamum inscribed 'to the unknown deities'. Such altars had no special deity in view. The dedication was designed to ensure that no god was overlooked to the possible harm of the city."
"His point, as in Rom. 2:14-16, is that God has revealed some knowledge of himself and his will to all men, but that this has been clarified and illuminated by his special revelation through the Scriptures and now finally in the Gospel."
17:24 The true God "created (made) all things." Since He is "Lord of heaven and earth," human "temples" cannot contain Him. He is transcendent over all (cf. 7:48-50). This harmonized with the Epicureans' idea of God as above the world, but it corrected the Stoics' pantheism. Some Greek philosophers, including Euripides, agreed that temples did not really house their pagan gods, but many Greeks thought they did.
17:25 The true God also sustains all of creation ("all things"); He does not need people to sustain Him. In other words, He is imminent as well as transcendent. He participates in human existence. This contradicted the Epicureans' belief that God took no interest in human affairs, as well as the Stoics' self-sufficiency.
17:26 The Greeks, and especially the Athenians, prided themselves on being racially superior to all other people. Yet Paul told them that they, like all other people, had descended from one source: Adam. This fact excludes the possibility of the essential superiority of any race. God also determines the "times" of nations—their seasons, when they rise and fall—and their "boundaries." In other words, God is sovereign over the political and military affairs of nations. The Greeks liked to think that they determined their own destiny.
17:27 God's purpose in regulating times and boundaries was that people would realize His sovereignty and "seek . . . Him" (cf. Rom. 1; John 6:44; 12:32). God, Paul said, is "not far from" human contact ("from each one of us"). This, again, harmonized with some Greek philosophy, but it contradicted the teachings of other philosophers.
"It is implied in Acts xvii that the pagan world had made little progress in searching for its Creator. In Romans it is more vigorously stated that, for all God's visible presence in His creation, the world at large had failed to find Him."
17:28 Here Paul cited lines from two Greek writers who expressed ideas that were consistent with divine revelation. The Cretan poet Epimenides (ca. 600 B.C.; cf. Titus 1:12) had written: "For in thee we live and move and have our being." The Cilician poet Aratus (c. 315-240 B.C.), and Cleanthes (331-233 B.C.) before him, had written: "We are also his offspring." Paul's purpose in citing these quotations was to get his audience to continue to agree with him about the truth.
17:29 Paul's conclusion was that idolatry, therefore, is illogical. If God created people, then God cannot be "an image" or an idol, or comprised of "gold or silver or stone," the earthly materials from which idols are made. Paul was claiming that God's divine nature is essentially spiritual rather than material.
17:30 Before Jesus Christ came, God did not view people as being as guilty as He does now, now that Christ has come. People before were guilty of failing to respond to former revelation, but now they are more guilty, in view of the greater revelation that Jesus Christ brought at His incarnation (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). God "overlooked the times of ignorance" (i.e., when people had only limited revelation; cf. 3:17; 14:16; Rom. 3:25; 2 Pet. 3:9) in a relative sense only.
Before the Incarnation, people died as unbelievers and were lost, but now there is more light. Consequently people's guilt is greater this side of the Incarnation. Obviously many people have not heard the gospel, and are as ignorant of the greater revelation of God that Jesus Christ brought, as were people who lived before the Incarnation. Nevertheless they live in a time when God has revealed more of Himself than previously. Therefore God demands that "all people everywhere should repent."
This makes it all the more important that Christians take the gospel to everyone. Greater revelation by God means greater responsibility for people, both for the unsaved and for the saved. God previously took the relative lack of understanding about Himself into consideration as He dealt with people. Now that Christ has come, He will hold people more responsible for their sins.
"Paul appeals to the relation of Creator and creature, and to God as universal judge, in order to provide a foundation for a gospel that can address the whole of humanity. The internal impulse for this speech (internal to the implied author's perspective) comes from the need to speak of all humanity sharing an essentially similar relation to God as a basis for an inclusive gospel, a gospel commensurate with the inclusive saving purpose of God announced in Luke 2:30-32."
"The Bible requires repentance for salvation, but repentance does not mean to turn from sin, nor a change in one's conduct. Those are the fruits of repentance. Biblical repentance is a change of mind or attitude concerning either God [Acts 20:21], Christ [Acts 2:38], dead works [Heb. 6:1], or sin [Acts 8:22]. When one trusts Christ it is inconceivable that he would not automatically change his mind concerning one or more or even all of these things."
17:31 The true knowledge of God leads to (encourages) repentance because it contains information about coming judgment. Paul concluded his speech by clarifying His hearers' responsibility.
Wiersbe outlined Paul's speech as presenting the greatness of God: He is Creator (v. 24); the goodness of God: He is Provider (v. 25); the government of God: He is Ruler (vv. 26-29); and the grace of God: He is Savior (vv. 30-34).
Note that Paul referred to sin (v. 29), righteousness (v. 31), and judgment (v. 31; cf. John 16:5-11; Rom. 1—3). The resurrected Jesus is God's agent of judgment (cf. 7:13; Ps. 96:13; John 5:22, 27), the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13). Paul stressed that Jesus was a man—rather than an idol or a mythological character such as the Greek gods—and that it was He whom the true God has appointed as His agent of judgment.
The "proof" of Jesus' qualification to judge humanity was His resurrection. Jesus' resurrection vindicated His claims about Himself (e.g., His claim to be the Judge of all humankind, John 5:22, 25-29).
Most Greeks rejected the possibility of physical resurrection. Many of them believed that the most desirable condition lay beyond the grave where the soul would finally be free of the body (e.g., Platonists). Both the Stoics and the Epicureans believed that there would be no retribution beyond the grave. The response of the Athenians to Paul's preaching was typical: some mocked, others procrastinated, and a few believed. Among the believers were "Dionysius," a member of the Council of the Areopagus that had examined Paul, and "Damaris," a woman about whom we know nothing more. Paul later wrote that the household of "Stephanas" was the firstfruits of Achaia (1 Cor. 16:15), so he and his household may have been other converts that Luke did not mention here. Or perhaps Stephanas lived in Corinth but he and his household became Christians through Paul's early ministry in Achaia.
Some Bible students have interpreted Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 1:18—2:5 as evidence that the apostle believed he had taken the wrong approach in Athens. In that passage, Paul repudiated worldly wisdom. He wrote that he determined to "know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified" when he preached. He also said that he had entered Corinth, his next stop after Athens, with "fear and trembling." In Athens, Paul had preached Christ, but he had spent considerable time, assuming Luke's summary of his sermon accurately reflects the whole, discussing natural revelation and philosophy.
I agree with those interpreters who do not think Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians reflect belief that he had taken the wrong approach in Athens. The lack of response in Athens was due to the fact that, although the Athenians loved to discuss issues, they did not like to take action. Moreover, unsaved educated, intelligent people generally tend to be more critical and non-committal than others when they first hear the gospel. Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians seem to reflect his general commitment to elevate Jesus Christ in all aspects of his ministry including his preaching, which he also did in Athens.
The absence of any reference to a church being planted in Athens, in this passage or elsewhere in the New Testament, is hardly an adequate basis for concluding there was none. As we have seen repeatedly in Acts, Luke made no attempt to provide a comprehensive history, but selected only those facts and events he wished to emphasize. In this section (vv. 16-34), he emphasized Paul's preaching to cultured pagans. We do not know if Paul planted a church in Athens; there is no record that he did. I suspect that if he did, Luke would have mentioned it, since the spread of the gospel is such a major theme in Acts. However, there is evidence that the gospel at some point took root in Athens, if not during Paul's visit.
"In the next century that Church at Athens gave to the Christian church Publius, Quadratus, Aristides, Athenagoras, and others, bishops, and martyrs; and in the third century the church there was peaceable and pure. In the fourth century the Christian schools of Athens gave to the Christian Church Basil and Gregory."
Chiasm is "a stylistic literary figure which consists of a series of two or more elements (words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or longer sections) followed by a presentation of corresponding elements in reverse order."
Writers used this device to highlight the central elements in the structure, and or to clarify the meaning of paired elements. The central section of the 12:25—21:16 chiasm, as Meisner saw it, is Paul's sermon in 17:16-34.
"The chiastic structure of the missionary journeys narrative suggests that, of all the places on the itinerary, Athens is the most significant intermediate point as the gospel moves to the end of the earth. . . .
"The Areopagus speech . . . is the only sermon reported by Luke which is preached to Gentiles by 'the apostle to the Gentiles' (except for the brief Lystra sermon [14:15-17]). . . . Now that Paul had preached the word in the spiritual capital of the Greek world, he turned his face toward the imperial capital of the Greco-Roman world. It is only after the Athens climax that Luke noted Paul's expression of his necessity to go to Rome, which he stated both at Ephesus (19:21), and at Jerusalem (23:11)."
To the Philippian jailer, Paul preached Christ as the personal Savior of individuals. To the Jews in Thessalonica, he presented Him as the promised Messiah. To the intellectual Gentiles in Athens, he proclaimed Him as the proven Judge of all humankind—appointed by the One True God.
Silas and Timothy had evidently rejoined Paul in Athens (1 Thess. 3:1). Before leaving Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:2) and Silas back to somewhere in Macedonia (18:5), perhaps Philippi (cf. Phil. 4:16). Paul arrived in Corinth without these brethren, but they joined him in Corinth later (18:5; 1 Thess. 3:6).
18:1 "Corinth," the largest city in Greece at this time, was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia and a Roman colony. The Romans razed Corinth in 146 B.C., but it was rebuilt a century later in 46 B.C. Its site lay about 50 miles southwest of Athens at a very strategic location. Land traffic from northern Achaia to its southern peninsula, the Peloponnesus, crossed a land bridge very near Corinth.
Stevedores hauled smaller ships traveling from either of Corinth's port towns, Lechaeum on the west or Cenchrea on the east, to the other, overland on wooden rollers. They handled the cargoes of larger ships the same way. The distance between the ports was three and a half miles. Sea captains preferred this inconvenience because they did not want to sail 200 miles around dangerous Cape Malea at the southern tip of the Peloponnesus. Consequently Corinth constantly buzzed with commercial activity, and it possessed all the vices that have typically haunted cosmopolitan ports.
Corinth was about 20 times as large as Athens at this time, with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants. The city was infamous for its immorality, that issued from two sources: its numerous transients and its temple to Aphrodite. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, and here devotees promoted immorality in the name of religion. Her temple, which boasted 1,000 religious prostitutes, stood on the Acrocorinth, a 1,857-foot flat-topped mountain just outside the city. It is easy to understand why sexual problems plagued the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5; et al.).
Archaeologists have also discovered the remains of temples dedicated to: Melkart, the god of sailors; to Apollo, the god of music and poetry; and to Asclepius, the god of healing; and there were others.
When Paul entered Corinth he was fearful (1 Cor. 2:1-5), probably because of the wicked reputation of this city and perhaps because his fellow workers were not with him.
It was as though Paul had left Boston and had landed in Las Vegas.
18:2-3 "Pontus" was the Roman province in Asia Minor that lay east of Bithynia on the Black Sea coast (in modern northern Turkey).
"Priscilla" had another name, Prisca (Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19), the latter being more formal. Luke normally used the colloquial, diminutive form of names (e.g., Silas, Sopatros, Priscilla, Apollos), but Paul preferred their formal names in his writings (e.g., Silvanus, Sosipatros, Prisca, Epaphroditus). Nevertheless he sometimes used the more popular form of a name (e.g., Apollos, Epaphras). Priscilla's name frequently appears before her husband's—"Aquila"—in the New Testament (e.g., 18:18-19, 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). This may indicate that she came from a higher social class than Aquila, or that others regarded her as superior to him in some respect. Here, however, Luke mentioned Aquila first.
The Roman writer Suetonius referred to an edict by Emperor "Claudius" ordering non-Roman citizen "Jews to leave Rome," and he dated this expulsion at A.D. 49-50. There were other expulsions of Jews from Rome in 139 B.C. and 19 A.D.
"It was commonly supposed that Suetonius was referring to riots in the Jewish community over the preaching of Christ, but that he has misspelled the name and has perhaps erroneously thought that Christ was actually a rebel leader in Rome (Suetonius was born in A.D. 69, and wrote considerably after the event)."