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Bible Commentaries
Acts 11

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

And the apostles and brethren - The Christians who Were in Judea.

Heard ... - So extraordinary an occurrence as that at Caesarea, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles, and their reception into the church, would excite attention, and be likely to produce much sensitiveness in regard to the conduct of Peter and those with him. It was so contrary to all the ideas of the Jews, that it is not to be wondered at that it led to contention.

Verse 2

They that were of the circumcision - Christians who had been converted from among the Jews.

Contended with him - Disputed; reproved him; charged him with being in fault. This is one of the circumstances which show conclusively that the apostles and early Christians did not regard Peter as having any particular supremacy over the church, or as being in any special sense the vicar of Christ upon earth. If he had been regarded as having the authority which the Roman Catholics claim for him, they would have submitted at once to what he had thought proper to do. But the earliest Christians had no such idea of Peter’s so-called authority. This claim for Peter is not only opposed to this place, but to every part of the New Testament.

Verse 3

And didst eat with them - See the notes on Acts 10:13-14.

Verse 4

But Peter rehearsed - Greek: Peter beginning, explained it to them in order; that is, he began with the vision which he saw, and gave a narrative of the various events in order, as they actually occurred. A simple and unvarnished statement of facts is usually the best way of disarming prejudice and silencing opposition. Opposition most commonly arises from prejudice, or from false and exaggerated statements, and such opposition can be best removed, not by angry contention, but by an unvarnished relation of facts. In most cases prejudice will thus be disarmed, and opposition will die away, as was the case in regard to the admission of the Gentiles to the church.

And expounded it - Explained it; stated it as it actually occurred.

In order - One event after another, as they happened. He thus showed that his own mind had been as much biased as theirs, and stated in what manner his prejudices had been removed. It often happens that those who become most zealous and devoted in any new measures for the advancement of religion were as much opposed to them at first as others. They are led from one circumstance to another, until their prejudices die away, and the providence and Spirit of God indicate clearly their duty.

Verses 5-13

See Acts 10:9-33.

Verse 14

And all thy house - Thy family. This is a circumstance which his omitted in the account in Acts 10:0: It is said, however, in Acts 10:2, that Cornelius feared God with all his house. It is evident from Acts 10:48 that the family also received the ordinance of baptism, and was received into the church.

Verse 15

And as I began to speak - Or, while I was speaking.

The Holy Ghost ... - Acts 10:44.

Verse 16

The word of the Lord - See the notes on Acts 1:5.

Verse 17

What was I - What power or right had I to oppose the manifest will of God that the Gentiles should be received into the Christian church.

Withstand God - Oppose or resist God. He had indicated his will; he had showed his intention to save the Gentiles; and the prejudices of Peter were all overcome. One of the best means of destroying prejudice and false opinions is a powerful revival of religion. More erroneous doctrines and unholy feelings are overcome in such scenes than in all the bigoted and fierce contentions that have ever taken place. If people wish to root error out of the church, they should strive by all means to promote everywhere revivals of pure and undefiled religion. The Holy Spirit more easily and effectually silences false doctrine, and destroys heresy, than all the denunciations of fierce theologians; all the alarms of heated zealots for orthodoxy; and all the anathemas which professed love for the purity of the church ever utters from the icebergs on which such champions usually seek their repose and their home.

Verse 18

They held their peace - They were convinced, as Peter had been, by the manifest indications of the will of God.

Then hath God ... - The great truth in this manner established that the doors of the church are opened To the entire Gentile world - a truth that was worthy of this remarkable interposition. It at once changed the views of the apostles and of the early Christians; gave them new, large, and liberal conceptions of the gospel; broke down their long-cherished prejudices; taught them to look upon all people as their brethren; impressed their hearts with the truth, never after to be eradicated, that the Christian church was founded for the wide world, and that it opened the same glorious pathway to life wherever man might be found, whether with the narrow prejudice of the Jew, or amidst the degradations of the pagan world. To this truth we owe our hopes; for this, we should thank the God of heaven; and, impressed with it, we should seek to invite the entire world to partake with us of the rich provisions of the gospel of the blessed God.

Verse 19

Now they ... - This verse introduces a new train of historical remark; and from this point the course of the history of the Acts of the Apostles takes a new direction. Thus far, the history had recorded chiefly the preaching of the gospel to the Jews. From this point the history records the efforts made to convert the Gentiles. It begins with the labors put forth in the important city of Antioch (Acts 11:19-20); and as, during the work of grace that occurred in that city, the labors of the apostle Paul were especially sought (Acts 11:25-26), the sacred writer thenceforth confines the history mainly to his travels and labors.

Which were scattered abroad - See Acts 8:1.

As far as Phenice - Phoenice, or Phoenicia, was a province of Syria, which in its largest sense comprehended a narrow strip of country lying on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and extending from Antioch to the borders of Egypt. But Phenice Proper extended only from the cities of Laodicea to Tyre, and included only the territories of Tyre and Sidon. This country was called sometimes simply “Canaan.” See the notes on Matthew 15:22.

And Cyprus - An island off the coast of Asia Minor, in the Mediterranean Sea. See the notes on Acts 4:36.

And Antioch - There were two cities of this name, one situated in Pisidia in Asia Minor (see Acts 13:14); the other, referred to here, was situated on the Orontes River, and was long, the capital of Syria. It was built by Seleucus Nicanor, and was called Antioch in honor of his father Antiochus. It was founded in 301 b.c. It is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but is several times mentioned in the Apocrypha and in the New Testament. It was long the most powerful city of the East, and was inferior only to Seleucia and Alexandria. It was famous for the fact that the right of citizenship was conferred by Seleucus on the Jews as well as the Greeks and Macedonians, so that here they had the privilege of worship in their own way without molestation. It is probable that the Christians would be regarded merely as a sect of Jews, and would be here suffered to celebrate their worship without interruption.

On this account it may have been that the early Christians regarded this city as of such particular importance, because here they could find a refuge from persecution, and be permitted to worship God without molestation. This city was honored as a Roman colony, a metropolis, and an asylum. It was large; was almost square; had many gaines; was adorned with fine fountains; and was a city of great opulence. It was, however, subject to earthquakes, and was several times nearly destroyed. In the year 588 it experienced an earthquake in which 60,000 persons were destroyed. It was conquered by the Saracens in 638 a.d., and, after some changes and revolutions, was taken during the Crusades, after a long and bloody siege, by Godfrey of Bouillon, June 3, 1098 ad. In 1268 it was taken by the Sultan of Egypt, who demolished it, and placed it under the dominion of the Turk. Antioch is now called Antakia, and contains about 10,000 inhabitants (Robinson’s Calmet). “There was everything in the situation and circumstances of the city,” say Conybeare and Howson (“Life and Epistles of Paul,” vol. 1, p. 121), “to make it a place of concourse for all classes and kinds of people. By its harbor of Seleucia it was in communication with all the trade of the Mediterranean; and, through the open country behind the Lebanon, it was conveniently approached by the caravans from Mesopotamia and Arabia. It united the inland advantages of Aleppo with the maritime opportunities of Smyrna. It was almost an Oriental Rome, in which all the forms of the civilized life of the empire found some representative. Through the first two centuries of the Christian era it was what Constantinople became afterward, ‘the Gate of the East.’ “If any city in the first century was worthy to be called the Pagan Queen and Metropolis of the East, that city was Antioch. She was represented, in a famous allegorical statue, as a female figure, seated on a rock and crowned, with the river Orontes at her feet” (Conybeare and Howson, vol. 1, p. 125).

Preaching the word - The Word of God, the Gospel.

To none but unto the Jews only - They had the common prejudices of the Jews, that the offers of salvation were to be made only to Jews.

Verse 20

Were men of Cyprus and Cyrene - Were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene. Cyrene was a province and city of Libya in Africa. It is at present called Cairoan, and is situated in the kingdom of Barca. In Cyprus the Greek language was spoken; and from the vicinity of Cyrene to Alexandria, it is probable that the Greek language was spoken there also. From this circumstance it might have happened that they were led more particularly to address the Grecians who were in Antioch. It is possible, however, that they might have heard of the vision which Peter saw, and felt themselves called on to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

Spake unto the Grecians - πρὸς τοὺς Ἑλληνιστὰς pros tous Hellēnistas. To the Hellenists. This word usually denotes in the New Testament “those Jews residing in foreign lands, who spoke the Greek language.” See the notes on Acts 6:1. But to them the gospel had been already preached; and yet in this place it is evidently the intention of Luke to affirm that the people of Cyprus and Cyrene preached to those who were not Jews, and that thus their conduct was distinguished from those (Acts 11:19) who preached to the Jews only. It is thus manifest that we are here required to understand the Gentiles as those who were addressed by the people of Cyprus and Cyrene. In many mss. the word used here is Ἕλληνας Hellēnas, “Greeks,” instead of “Hellenists.” This reading has been adopted by Griesbach, and is found in the Syriac, the Arabic, the Vulgate, and in many of the early fathers. The Aethiopic version reads “to the Gentiles.” There is no doubt that this is the true reading; and that the sacred writer means to say that the gospel was here preached to. Those who were not Jews, for all were called “Greeks” by them who were not Jews, Romans 1:16. The connection would lead us to suppose that they had heard of what had been done by Peter, and that, imitating his example, they preached the gospel now to the Gentiles also.

Verse 21

And the hand of the Lord - See the notes on Luke 1:66. Compare Psalms 80:17. The meaning is, that God showed them favor, and evinced his power in the conversion of their hearers.

Verse 22

Then tidings ... - The church at Jerusalem heard of this. It was natural that so remarkable an occurrence as the conversion of the Gentiles, and the extraordinary success of the gospel in a splendid and mighty city, should be reported at Jerusalem, and excite deep interest there.

And they sent forth - To aid the disciples there, and to give them their sanction. They had done a similar thing in the revival which occurred in Samaria. See the notes on Acts 8:14.

Barnabas - See Acts 4:36-37. He was a native of Cyprus, and was probably well acquainted with Antioch. He was, therefore, especially qualified for the work on which they sent him.

Verse 23

Had seen the grace of God - The favor, or mercy of God, in converting sinners to himself.

Was glad - Approved of what had been done in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, and rejoiced that God had poured down his Spirit on them. The effect of a revival is to produce joy in the hearts of all those who love the Saviour.

And exhorted them all - Entreated them. They would be exposed to many trials and temptations, and he sought to secure their firm adherence to the cause of religion.

That with purpose of heart - With a firm mind; with a fixed, settled resolution that they would make this their settled plan of life, their main object. A purpose, πρόθεσις prothesis, is a resolution of the mind, a plan, or intention, Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 3:11; 2Ti 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:10. It is especially a resolution of the mind in regard to future conduct, and the doctrine of Barnabas here was, undoubtedly, that it should be a regular, fixed, determined plan or design in their minds that they would henceforward adhere to God. Such a plan should be formed by all Christians in the beginning of their Christian life, and without such a plan there can be no evidence of piety. We may also remark that such a plan is one of the heart. It is not simply of the understanding, but is of the entire mind, including the will and affections. It is the leading principle; the strongest affection; the guiding purpose of the will to adhere to God, and, unless this is the prevalent, governing desire of the heart, there can be no evidence of conversion.

They would cleave - Greek: that they would remain; that is, that they would adhere constantly and faithfully attached to the Lord.

Verse 24

For he was a good man - This is given as a reason why he was so eminently successful. It is not said that he was a man of distinguished talents or learning; that he was a splendid or an imposing preacher; but simply that he was a man of an amiable, kind, and benevolent disposition - a pious, humble man of God. We should not undervalue talent, eloquence, or learning in the ministry, but we may remark that humble piety will often do more in the conversion of souls than the most splendid talents. No endowments can be a substitute for this. The real power of a minister is concentrated in this, and without this his ministry will be barrenness and a curse. There is nothing on the earth so mighty as goodness. If a man wished to make the most of his powers, the true secret would be found in employing them for a good object, and suffering them to be wholly under the direction of benevolence. John Howard’s purpose “to do good” has made a more permanent impression on the interests of the world than the talents of Alexander or Caesar.

Full of the Holy Ghost - Was entirely under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is the second qualification mentioned here of a good minister. He was not merely exemplary for mildness and kindness of temper, but he was eminently a man of God. He was filled with the influences of the sacred Spirit, producing zeal, love, peace, joy, etc. See Galatians 5:22-23. Compare the notes on Acts 2:4.

And of faith - Confidence in the truth and promises of God. This is the third qualification mentioned; and this was another cause of his success. He confided in God. He depended, not on his own strength, but on the strength of the arm of God. With these qualifications he engaged in his work, and he was successful. These qualifications should be sought by the ministry of the gospel. Others should not indeed be neglected, but a man’s ministry will usually be successful only as he seeks to possess those endowments which distinguished Barnabas - a kind, tender, benevolent heart; devoted piety; the fulness of the Spirit’s influence; and strong, unwavering confidence in the promises and power of God.

And much people - Many people.

Was added unto the Lord - Became Christians.

Verse 25

Then departed ... - Why Barnabas sought Saul is not known. It is probable, however, that it was owing to the remarkable success which he had in Antioch. There was a great revival of religion, and there was need of additional labor. In such times the ministers of the gospel need additional help, as men in harvest-time need the aid of others. Saul was in this vicinity Acts 9:30, and he was eminently suited to assist in this work. With him Barnabas was well acquainted Acts 9:27, and probably there was no other one in that vicinity whose help he could obtain.

To Tarsus - See the notes on Acts 9:11.

Verse 26

That a whole year - Antioch was a city exceedingly important in its numbers, wealth, and influence. It was for this reason, probably, that they spent so long a time there, instead of traveling in other places. The attention of the apostles was early and chiefly directed to cities, as being places of influence and centers of power. Thus, Paul passed three years in the city of Ephesus, Acts 20:31. And thus he continued a year and a half at Corinth, Acts 18:11. It may be added that the first churches were founded in cities; and the most remarkable success attended the preaching of the gospel in large towns.

They assembled themselves ... - They came together for worship.

With the church - Margin, in the church. The Greek ἐν en will bear this construction; but there is no instance in the New Testament where the word “church” refers to the edifice in which a congregation worships. It evidently here means that Barnabas and Saul convened with the Christian assembly at proper times, through the space of a year, for the purposes of public worship.

And the disciples were called Christians ... - As this became the distinguishing name of the followers of Christ, it was worthy of record. The name was evidently given because they were the followers of Christ. But by whom, or with what views it was given, is not certainly known. Whether it was given by their enemies in derision, as the names Puritan, Quaker, Methodist, etc., have been; or whether the disciples assumed it themselves, or whether it was given by divine intimation, has been a matter of debate. That it was given in derision is not probable, for in the name “Christian” there was nothing dishonorable. To be the professed friends of the Messiah, or the Christ, was not with Jews a matter of reproach, for they all professed to be the friends of the Messiah. The cause of reproach with the disciples was that they regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah; and hence, when their enemies wished to speak of them with contempt, they would speak of them as Galileans Acts 2:7, or as Nazarenes Acts 24:5, “And a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” It is possible that the name might have been given to them as a mere appellation, without intending to convey by it any reproach. The Gentiles would probably use this name to distinguish them, and it might have become thus the common appellation. It is evident from the New Testament, I think, that it was not designed as a term of reproach. It occurs but twice elsewhere: Acts 26:28, “Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”; 1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.” No certain argument can be drawn in regard to the source of the name from the word which is used here. The word used here, and translated “were called” - χρηματίζω chrēmatizō - means:

(1) To transact any business; to be employed in accomplishing anything, etc. This is its usual signification in the Greek writers.

(2) To be divinely admonished, to be instructed by a divine communication, etc., Matthew 2:12; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 11:7; Hebrews 12:25.

(3) To be named, or called, in any way, without a divine communication, Romans 7:3, “She shall be called an adulteress.” It cannot be denied, however, that the most usual signification in the New Testament is that of a divine monition, or communication; and it is certainly possible that the name was given by Barnabas and Saul. I recline to the opinion, however, that it was given to them by the Gentiles who were there, simply as an appellation, without intending it as a name of reproach; and that it was readily assumed by the disciples as a name that would fitly designate them. If it had been assumed by them, or if Barnabas and Saul had conferred the name, the record would probably have been to this effect; not simply that they “were called,” but that they took this name, or that it was given by the apostles. It is, however, of little consequence whence the name originated. It soon became a name of reproach, and has usually been in all ages since, by the wicked, the frivolous, the licentious, and the ungodly.

It is, however, an honored name - the most honorable appellation that can be conferred on a mortal. It suggests at once to a Christian the name of his great Redeemer; the idea of our intimate relation to him; and the thought that we receive him as our chosen Leader, the source of our blessings, the author of our salvation, the fountain of our joys. It is the distinguishing name of all the redeemed. It is not that we belong to this or that denomination; it is not that our names are connected with high and illustrious ancestors; it is not that they are recorded in the books of heraldry; it is not that they stand high in courts, and among the frivolous, the fashionable, and the rich, that true honor is conferred upon men. These are not the things that give distinction and speciality to the followers of the Redeemer. It is that they are “Christians.” This is their special name; by this they are known; this at once suggests their character, their feelings, their doctrines, their hopes, their joys.

This binds them all together - a name which rises above every other appellation; which unites in one the inhabitants of distant nations and tribes of men; which connects the extremes of society, and places them in most important respects on a common level; and which is a bond to unite in one family all those who love the Lord Jesus, though dwelling in different climes, speaking different languages, engaged in different pursuits of life, and occupying distant graves at death. He who lives according to the import of this name is the most blessed and eminent of morals. This name shall be had in remembrance when the names of royalty shall be remembered no more, and when the appellations of nobility shall cease to amuse or to dazzle the world.

Verse 27

And in these days - While Barnabas and Saul were at Antioch.

Came prophets - The word “prophet” denotes properly “one who foretells future events.” See the notes on Matthew 7:15. It is sometimes used in the New Testament to denote simply “religious teachers, instructors sent from God, without particular reference to future events.” To teach the people in the doctrines of religion was a part of the prophetic office, and this idea was only sometimes denoted by the use of the word. See Rom 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1Co 13:2, 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 14:3, 1 Corinthians 14:5,1 Corinthians 14:24. These prophets seem to have been endowed in a remarkable manner with the knowledge of future events; with the power of explaining mysteries; and in some cases with the power of speaking foreign languages. In this case, it seems that one of them at least had the power of foretelling future events.

Verse 28

Named Agabus - This man is mentioned but in one other place in the New Testament. In Acts 21:10-11, he is referred to as having foretold that Paul would be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. It is not expressly said that he was a Christian, but the connection seems to imply that he was.

And signified - See John 12:33. The word usually denotes “to indicate by signs, or with a degree of obscurity and uncertainty, not to declare in explicit language.” But here it seems to denote simply “to foretell, to predict.”

By the Spirit - Under the influence of the Spirit. He was inspired.

Great dearth - A great famine.

Throughout all the world - The word used here οἰκουμένην oikoumenēn usually denotes “the inhabitable world, the parts of the earth which are cultivated and occupied.” It is sometimes used, however, to denote “an entire land or country,” in contradistinction from the parts of it: thus, to denote “the whole of the land of Palestine” in distinction from its parts; or to denote that an event would have reference to all the land, and not be confined to one or more parts, as Galilee, Samaria, etc. See the notes on Luke 2:1. The meaning of this prophecy evidently is, that the famine would be extensive; that it would not be confined to a single province or region, but that it would extend so far as that it might be called “general.” In fact, though the famine was particularly severe in Judea, it extended much further. This prediction was uttered not long after the conversion of Saul, and probably, therefore, about the year, 38 a.d. or 40 a.d. Dr. Lardner has attempted to show that the prophecy had reference only to the land of Judea, though in fact there were famines in other places (Lardher’s Works, vol. 1, pp. 253, 254, edit. London, 1829).

Which came to pass ... - This is one of the few instances in which the sacred writers in the New Testament affirm the fulfillment of a prophecy. The history having been written after the event, it was natural to give a passing notice of the fulfillment.

In the days of Claudius Caesar - The Roman emperor. He began his reign in 41 a.d., and he reigned for 13 years. He was at last poisoned by one of his wives, Agrippina, who wished to raise her son Nero to the throne. During his reign no less than four different famines are mentioned by ancient writers, one of which was particularly severe in Judea, and was the one, doubtless, to which the sacred writer here refers:

(1) The first happened at Rome, and occurred in the first or second year of the reign of Claudius. It arose from the difficulties of importing provisions from abroad. It is mentioned by Dio, whose words are these: “There being a great famine, he (Claudius) not only took care for a present supply, but provided also for the time to come.” He then proceeds to state the great expense which Claudius was at in making a good port at the mouth of the Tiber, and a convenient passage from thence up to the city (did, lib. Ix. p. 671, 672; see also Suetonius, Claudius, cap. 20).

(2) A second famine is mentioned as having been particularly severe in Greece. Of this famine Eusebius speaks in his Chronicon, p. 204: “There was a great famine in Greece, in which a modius of wheat (about half a bushel) was sold for six drachmas.” This famine is said by Eusebius to have occurred in the ninth year of the reign of Claudius.

(3) In the latter part of his reign, 51 a.d., there was another famine at Rome, mentioned by Suetonius (Claudius, cap. 18), and by Tacitus (Ann., John 12:43). Of this, Tacitus says that it was so severe that it was deemed to be a divine judgment.

(4) A fourth famine is mentioned as having occurred particularly in Judea. This is described by Josephus (Antiq., book 20, chapter 2, section 5). “A famine,” says he, “did oppress them at the time (in the time of Claudius); and many people died for the lack of what was necessary to procure food withal. Queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of grain, and others of them to Cyprus to bring a cargo of dried figs.” This famine is described as having continued under the two procurators of Judea, Tiberius Alexander and Cassius Fadus. Fadus was sent into Judea, on the death of Agrippa, about the fourth year of the reign of Claudius, and the famine, therefore, continued probably during the fifth, sixth, and seventh years of the reign of Claudius. See the note in Whiston’s Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 2, section 5; also Lardner as quoted above. Of this famine, or of the want consequent on the famine, repeated mention is made in the New Testament.

Verse 29

Then the disciples - The Christians at Antioch.

According to his ability - According as they had prospered. It does not imply that they were rich, but that they rendered such aid as they could afford.

Determined to send relief - This arose not merely from their general sense of obligation to aid the poor, but they felt themselves particularly bound to assist their Jewish brethren. The obligation to relieve the temporal needs of those from whom important spiritual mercies are received is repeatedly enforced in the New Testament. Compare Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:1-2; Galatians 2:10.

Verse 30

Sent it to the elders - Greek: to the presbyters. This is the first mention which we have in the New Testament of elders, or presbyters, in the Christian church. The word literally denotes “aged men,” but in the Jewish synagogue it was merely a name of office. It is clear, however, I think, that the elders of the Jewish synagogue here are not included, for the relief Was intended for the “brethren” (Acts 11:29); that is, the Christians who were at Jerusalem, and it is not probable that a charity like. this would have been entrusted to the hands of Jewish elders. The connection here does not enable us to determine anything about the sense in which the word was used. I think it probable that it does not refer to officers in the church, but that it means simply that the charity was entrusted to the aged, prudent, and experienced men in the church, for distribution among the members. Calvin supposes that the apostles were particularly intended. But this is not probable. It is possible that the deacons, who were probably aged men, may be here particularly referred to, but it seems more probable that the charity was sent to the aged members of the church without respect to their office, to be distributed according to their discretion.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 11". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-11.html. 1870.
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