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Bible Commentaries
Acts 4

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Verse 1

The priests - It is probable that these priests were a part of the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. It is evident that they claimed some authority for preventing the preaching of the apostles.

The captain of the temple - See the Matthew 26:47; Luke 22:4 note. This was the commander of the guard stationed chiefly in the tower Antonia, especially during the great feasts; and it was his duty to preserve order and prevent any tumult. He came at this time to prevent a tumult or suppress a riot, as it was sup posed that the teaching of the apostles and the crowd collected by the healing of the lame man would lead to a tumult.

And the Sadducees - See the notes on Matthew 3:7. One of the doctrines which the Sadducees maintained was, that there was no resurrection of the dead. Hence, they were particularly opposed to the apostles for preaching it, because they gave so clear proof that Jesus had risen, and were thus spreading the doctrine of the resurrection among the people.

Came upon them - This expression implies that they came in a sudden and violent manner. See Luke 20:1.

Verse 2

Being grieved - The word thus translated occurs in only one other place in the New Testament Acts 16:18. It implies more than simple sorrow; it was a mingled emotion of indignation and anger. They did not grieve because they thought it a public calamity, but because it interfered with their authority and opposed their doctrine. It means that it was painful to them, or they could not bear it. It is often the case that bigots, and people in authority, have this kind of grief, at the zeal of people in spreading the truth, and thus undermining their influence and authority.

That they taught the people - The ground of their grief was as much the fact that they should presume to instruct the people as the matter which they taught them. They were offended that unlearned Galileans, in no way connected with the priestly office, and unauthorized by them, should presume to set themselves up as religious teachers. They claimed the right to watch over the interests of the people, and to declare who was authorized to instruct the nation. It has been no unusual thing for men in ecclesiastical stations to take exceptions to the ministry of those who have not been commissioned by themselves. Such men easily fancy that all power to instruct others is lodged in their hands, and they oppose others simply from the fact that they have not derived their authority from them. The true question in this case was whether these Galileans gave proof that they were sent by God. The working of the miracle in this case should have been satisfactory. We have here, also, a striking instance of the fact that men may turn away from evidence, and from most important points, and fix their attention on something that opposes their prejudices, and which may be a matter of very little moment. No inquiry was made whether the miracle had been really performed; but the only inquiry was whether they had conformed to their views of doctrine and order.

And preached through Jesus ... - The Sadducees would be particularly opposed to this. They denied the doctrine of the resurrection, and they were troubled that the apostles adduced proof of it so strong as the resurrection of Jesus. It was perceived that this doctrine was becoming established among the people; multitudes believed that he had risen; and if he had been raised up, it followed also that others would rise. The Sadducees, therefore, felt that their cause was in danger, and they joined with the priests in endeavoring to arrest its spread among the people. This is the account of the first opposition that was made to the gospel as it was preached by the apostles. It is worthy of remark that it excited so much and so speedily the enmity of those in power, and that the apostles were so soon called to test the sincerity of their attachment to their Master. They who but a few days before had fled at the approach of danger, were now called to meet this opposition, and to show their attachment to a risen Redeemer; and they did it without shrinking. They showed now that they were indeed the true friends of the crucified Saviour, and this remarkable change in their conduct is one of the many proofs that they were influenced from above.

Verse 3

Put them in hold - That is, they took them into “custody,” or into safe keeping. Probably they committed them to the care of a guard.

Eventide - Evening. It was not convenient to assemble the council at night. This was, moreover, the time for the evening prayer or sacrifice, and it was not usual to assemble the Sanhedrin at that hour.

Verse 4

Howbeit - But; notwithstanding.

Many of them ... - This was one of the instances, which has since been so often repeated, in which persecution is seen to have a tendency to extend and establish the faith which it was designed to destroy. It finally came to be a proverb that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”; and there is no lesson which men have been so slow to learn as that to oppose and persecute men is the very way to confirm them in their opinions and to spread their doctrines. It was supposed here that the disciples were few; that they were without power, wealth, and influence; and that it was easy to crush them at once. But God made their persecution the means of extending, in a signal manner, the truths of the gospel and the triumphs of his word. And so in all ages it has been, and so it ever will be.

And the number ... - It seems probable that in this number of 5,000 there were included the 120 persons who are mentioned in Acts 1:15, and the 3,000 people who were converted on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:41. It does not appear probable that 5,000 would have been assembled and converted in Solomon’s porch Acts 3:11 on occasion of the cure of the lame man. Luke doubtless means to say that, up to this time, the number of persons who had joined themselves to the apostles was about 5,000. On this supposition, the work of religion must have made a very rapid advance. How long this was after the day of Pentecost is not mentioned, but it is clear that it was at no very distant period; and the accession of near two thousand to the number of believers was a very striking proof of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Of the men - Of the “persons.” The word “men” is often used without reference to sex, Luke 11:31; Romans 4:8; Romans 11:4.

Verses 5-6

Their rulers - The rulers of the Jews; doubtless the members of the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. Compare Acts 4:15. See the notes on Matthew 2:4; Matthew 5:22. The expression their rulers looks as if this book was written for the Gentiles, or Luke would have said our rulers.

Elders - Presbyters, or those who were chosen from among the people to sit in the Sanhedrin. It is probable that the rulers were those who held also some other office, but were also authorized to sit in the Great Council.

Scribes - See the notes on Matthew 2:4.

And Annas ... - See the notes on John 18:13. It is by no means certain that Annas was at that time the high priest, but he had been, and doubtless retained the title. He was father-in-law to Caiaphas, the high priest; and from this fact, together with his former dignity, he is mentioned first.

Caiaphas - Son-in-law of Annas, and now exercising the office of the high priest, John 18:13.

John, and Alexander ... - Of these persons nothing more is known. It is clear that they were members of the Great Council, and the mention of their names shows that the men of chief authority and influence were assembled to silence the apostles. Annas and Caiaphas had been concerned in the condemnation of Jesus, and they would now feel a special interest in arresting the progress of the gospel among the people. All the success of the gospel reflected back light upon the wicked ness of the act of condemning the Lord Jesus. And this fact may serve, in part, to account for their strong desire to silence the apostles.

At Jerusalem - εἰς eis. This was the usual place of assembling the Sanhedrin. But the Jewish writers (see Lightfoot on this place) say that 40 years before the destruction of the city, on account of the great increase of crime, etc., the Sanhedrin was removed from place to place. The declaration of Luke that they were now assembled in Jerusalem, seems to imply that they sometimes met in other places. It is probable that the members of the Sanhedrin were not in the city at the time mentioned in Acts 4:3, and this was the reason why the trial was deferred to the next day.

Verse 7

In the midst - In the presence of the Great Council.

By what power ... - A similar question was put to Christ in the temple, Matthew 21:23.

By what name - That is, by whose authority. It is very probable that they expected to intimidate the apostles by this question. They claimed the right of regulating the religious affairs of the nation. They had vast power with the people. They assumed that all power to instruct the people should originate with them; and they expected that the apostles would be confounded, as having violated the established usage of the nation. It did not seem to occur to them to enter into an investigation of the question whether this acknowledged miracle did not prove that they were sent by God, but they assumed that they were impostors, and attempted to silence them by authority. It has been usual with the enemies of religion to attempt to intimidate its friends, and when argument fails, to attempt to silence Christians by appealing to their fears.

Verse 8

Filled with the Holy Ghost - See the notes on Acts 2:4.

Ye rulers ... - Peter addressed the Sanhedrin with perfect respect. He did not call in question their authority to propose this question. He seemed to regard this as a favorable opportunity to declare the truth and state the evidence of the Christian religion. In this he acted on the principle of the injunction which he himself afterward gave 1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Innocence is willing to be questioned; and a believer in the truth will rejoice in any opportunity to state the evidence of what is believed. It is remarkable, also, that this was before the Great Council of the nation - the body that was clothed with the highest authority. Peter could not have forgotten that before this very council, and these very men, his Master had been arraigned and condemned; nor could he have forgotten that in the very room where this same council was convened to try his Lord, he had himself shrunk from an honest avowal of attachment to him, and shamefully and profanely denied him.

That he was now able to stand boldly before this same tribunal evinced a remarkable change in his feelings, and was a most clear and impressive proof of the genuineness of his repentance when he went out and wept bitterly. Compare Luke 22:54-62. And we may remark here, that one of the most clear evidences of the sincerity of repentance is when it leads to a result like this. So deeply was the heart of Peter affected by his sin Luke 22:62, and so genuine was his sorrow, that he doubtless remembered his crime on this occasion, and the memory of it inspired him with boldness. It may be further remarked, that one evidence of the genuineness of repentance is a desire to repair the evil which is done by crime. Peter had done dishonor to his Master and his cause in the presence of the great council of the nation. Nothing, on such an occasion, would be more likely to do injury to the cause than for one of the disciples of the Saviour to deny him - one of his followers to be guilty of profaneness and falsehood. But here was an opportunity, in some degree, at least, to repair the evil. Before the same council, in the same city, and in the presence. of the same people, it is not an unnatural supposition that Peter rejoiced that he might have opportunity to bear his testimony to the divine mission of the Saviour whom he had before denied. By using the customary language of respect applied to the Great Council, Peter also has shown us that it is proper to evince respect for office and for those in power. Religion requires us to render this homage, and to treat men in office with deference, Matthew 22:21; Rom 13:7; 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Verse 9

If we this day - If as is the fact; or since we are thus examined.

Examined - Questioned; if the purpose is to institute an inquiry into this case, or since it is the purpose to institute such an inquiry.

The good deed - The act of benevolence; the benefit conferred on an infirm man. He assumes that it was undeniable that the deed had been done.

To the impotent man - To this man who was infirm or lame. The man was then present, Acts 4:10, Acts 4:14. He may have been arrested with the apostles; or he may have been present as a spectator; or, as Neander supposes, he may have been summoned as a witness.

By what means - This was the real point of the inquiry. The fact that he had been made whole was not denied. The only question was whether it had been done by the authority and power of Jesus of Nazareth, as Peter declared it to be, Acts 3:6, Acts 3:16.

Verse 10

Be it known ... - Peter might have evaded the question, or he might have resorted to many excuses and subterfuges (Calvin), if he had been desirous of avoiding this inquiry. But it was a noble opportunity for vindicating the honor of his Lord and Master. It was a noble opportunity also for repairing the evil which he had done by his guilty denial of his Lord. Although, therefore, this frank and open avowal was attended with danger, and although it was in the presence of the great and the mighty, yet he chose to state fully and clearly his conviction of the truth. Never was there an instance of greater boldness, and never could there be a more striking illustration of the fitness of the name which the Lord Jesus gave him, that of a rock, John 1:42; Matthew 16:17-18. The timid, trembling, yielding, and vacillating Simon; he who just before was terrified by a servant-girl, and who on the lake was afraid of sinking, is now transformed into the manly, decided, and firm Cephas, fearless before the Great Council of the nation, and in an unwavering tone asserting the authority of him whom he had just before denied, and whom they had just before put to death. It is not possible to account for this change except on the supposition that this religion is true. Peter had no worldly motive to actuate him. He had no prospect of wealth or fame by this. Even the hopes of honor and preferment which the apostles had cherished before the death of Jesus, and which might have been supposed to influence them then, were now abandoned by them. Their Master had died, and all their hopes of human honor and power had been buried in his grave. Nothing but the conviction of the truth could have made this change, and transformed this timid disciple to a bold and uncompromising apostle.

By the name - By the authority or power, Acts 3:6.

Of Jesus Christ - The union of these two names would be particularly offensive to the Sanhedrin. They denied that Jesus was the Christ, or the Messiah; Peter, by the use of the word “Christ,” affirmed that he was. In the language then used, it would be, “By the name of Jesus, the Messiah.”

Of Nazareth - Lest there should be any mistake about his meaning, he specified that he referred to the despised Nazarene; to him who had just been put to death, as they supposed, covered with infamy. Christians little regard the epithets of opprobrium which may be affixed to themselves or to their religion.

Whom ye crucified - There is emphasis in all the expressions that Peter uses. He had before charged the people with the crime of having put him to death, Acts 2:23; Acts 3:14-15. But he now had the opportunity, contrary to all expectation, of urging the charge with still greater force on the rulers themselves, on the very council which had condemned him and delivered him to Pilate. It was a remarkable providence that an opportunity was thus afforded of urging this charge in the presence of the Sanhedrin, and of proclaiming to them the necessity of repentance. Little did they imagine, when they condemned the Lord Jesus, that this charge would be so soon urged. This is one of the instances in which God takes the wise in their own craftiness, Job 5:13. They had arraigned the apostles; they demanded their authority for what they had done; and thus they had directly opened the way, and invited them to the serious and solemn charge which Peter here urges against them.

Verse 11

This is the stone - This passage is found in Psalms 118:22. It is quoted, also, by our Saviour as applicable to himself. See the notes on Matthew 21:42. The ancient Jews applied this to David. In the Targum on Psalms 118:22, this passage is rendered, “The child who was among the sons of Jesse, and was worthy to be constituted king, the builders rejected.” The New Testament writers, however, apply it without any doubt to the Messiah. Compare Isaiah 28:16; Romans 9:33; Ephesians 2:20. And from this passage we may learn that God will overrule the devices and plans of wicked men to accomplish his own purposes. What people despise and set at naught, he esteems of inestimable value in his kingdom. What the great and the mighty contemn, he regards as the very foundation and cornerstone of the edifice which he designs to rear. Nothing has been more remarkable than this in the history of man; and in nothing is more contempt thrown on the proud projects of people, than that what they have rejected God has made the very basis of his schemes.

Verse 12

Neither is there salvation - The word “salvation” properly denotes any “preservation,” or keeping anything in a “safe” state; a preserving from harm. It I signifies, also, deliverance from any evil of body or mind; from pain, sickness, danger, etc., Acts 7:25. But it is in the New Testament applied particularly to the work which the Messiah came to do, “to seek and to save that which was lost,” Luke 19:10. This work refers primarily to a deliverance of the soul from sin Matthew 1:21; Acts 5:31; Luke 4:18; Romans 8:21; Galatians 5:1. It then denotes, as a consequence of freedom from sin, freedom from all the ills to which sin exposes man, and the attainment of that perfect peace and joy which will be bestowed on the children of God in the heavens. The reasons why Peter introduces this subject here seem to be these:

(1) He was discoursing on the deliverance of the man that was healed - his salvation from a long and painful calamity. This deliverance had been accomplished by the power of Jesus. The mention of this suggested that greater and more important salvation from sin and death which it was the object of the Lord Jesus to effect. As it was by his power that this man had been healed, so it was by his power only that people could be saved from death and hell. Deliverance from any temporal calamity should lead the thoughts to that higher redemption which the Lord Jesus contemplates in regard to the soul.

(2) This was a favorable opportunity to introduce the doctrines of the gospel to the notice of the Great Council of the nation. The occasion invited to it; the mention of a part of the work of Jesus invited to a contemplation of his whole work. Peter would not have done justice to the character and work of Christ if he had not introduced that great design which he had in view to save people from death and hell. It is probable, also, that he advanced a sentiment in which he expected they would immediately concur, and which accorded with their wellknown opinions, that salvation was to be obtained only by the Messiah. Thus, Paul Acts 26:22-23 says that he taught nothing else than what was delivered by Moses and the prophets, etc. Compare Acts 23:6; Acts 26:6. The apostles did not pretend to proclaim any doctrine which was not delivered by Moses and the prophets, and which did not, in fact, constitute a part of the creed of the Jewish nation.

In any other - Any other person. He does not mean to say that God is not able to save, but that the salvation of the human family is entrusted to the hands of Jesus the Messiah.

For there is none other name - This is an explanation of what he had said in the previous part of the verse. The word “name” here is used to denote “the person himself” (i. e., There is no other being or person.) As we would say, there is no one who can save but Jesus Christ. The word “name” is often used in this sense. See the notes on Acts 3:6, Acts 3:16. That there is no other Saviour, or mediator between God and man, is abundantly taught in the New Testament; and it is, indeed, the main design of revelation to prove this. See 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Acts 10:43.

Under heaven - This expression does not materially differ from the one immediately following, “among men.” They are designed to express with emphasis the sentiment that salvation is to be obtained in “Christ alone,” and not in any patriarch, or prophet, or teacher, or king, or in any false Messiah.

Given - In this word it is implied that “salvation” has its origin in God; that a Saviour for people must be given by him; and that salvation cannot be originated by any power among people. The Lord Jesus is thus uniformly represented as given or appointed by God for this great purpose John 3:16; John 17:4; 1 Corinthians 3:5; Galatians 1:4; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:25; 1 Timothy 2:6; Romans 5:15-18, Romans 5:21; and hence, Christ is called the “unspeakable gift” of God, 2 Corinthians 9:15.

Whereby we must be saved - By which it is fit, or proper δεῖ dei, that we should be saved. There is no other way of salvation that is adapted to the great object contemplated, and therefore, if saved, it must be in this way and by this plan. The schemes of people’s own devices are not adapted to the purpose, and therefore cannot save. The doctrine that people can be saved only by Jesus Christ is abundantly taught in the Scriptures. To show the failure of all other schemes of religion was the great design of the first part of the Epistle to the Romans. By a labored argument Paul there shows Romans 1:0 that the Gentiles had failed in their attempt to justify themselves; and in Rom. 2–3 that the same thing was true also of the Jews. If both these schemes failed, then there was need of some other plan, and that plan was that by Jesus Christ. If it be asked, then, whether this affirmation of Peter is to be understood as having respect to infants and the pagan, we may remark:

  1. That his design was primarily to address the Jews, “Whereby we must be saved.” But,
  2. The same thing is doubtless true of others. If, as Christians generally believe, infants are saved, there is no absurdity in supposing that it is by the merits of the atonement. But for that there would have been no promise of salvation to any of the human race. No offer has been made except by the Mediator; and to him, doubtless, is to be ascribed all the glory of raising up even those in infancy to eternal life. If any of the pagan are to be saved, as most Christians suppose, and as seems in accordance with the mercy of God, it is no less certain that it will be in consequence of the intervention of Christ. Those who will be brought to heaven will sing one song Revelation 5:9, and will be prepared for eternal union in the service of God in the skies. Still, the Scriptures have not declared that great numbers of the pagan will be saved who have not the gospel. The contrary is more than implied in the New Testament, Romans 2:12.

Neither has the Scripture affirmed that all the pagan will certainly be cut off. It has been discovered by missionaries among the pagan that individuals have, in a remarkable way; been convinced of the folly of idolatry, and were seeking a better religion; that their minds were in a serious, thoughtful, inquiring state; and that they at once embraced the gospel when it was offered to them as exactly adapted to their state of mind, and as meeting their inquiries. Such was extensively the case in the Sandwich Islands; and the following instance recently occurred in this country: “The Flathead Indians, living west of the Rocky Mountains, recently sent a deputation to the white settlements to inquire after the Bible. The circumstance that led to this singular movement is as follows: It appears that a white man (Mr. Catlin) had penetrated into their country, and happened to be a spectator at one of their religious ceremonies. He informed them that their mode of worshipping the Supreme Being was radically wrong, and that the people away toward the rising of the sun had been put in possession of the true mode of worshipping the Great Spirit. On receiving this information, they called a national council to take this subject into consideration. Some said, if this be true, it is certainly high time we were put in possession of this mode. They accordingly deputed four of the chiefs to proceed to Louis to see their great father, General Clark, to inquire of him the truth of this matter.

They were cordially received by the general, who gave them a succinct history of revelation, and the necessary instruction relative to their important mission. Two of them sunk under the severe toils attending a journey of 3,000 miles. The remaining two, after acquiring what knowledge they could of the Bible, its institutions and precepts, returned, to carry back those few rays of divine light to their benighted countrymen.” In what way their minds were led to this State we cannot say, or how this preparation for the gospel was connected with the agency and merits of Christ we perhaps cannot understand; but we know that the affairs of this entire world are placed under the control of Christ John 17:2; Ephesians 1:21-22, and that the arrangements of events by which such people were brought to this state of mind are in his hands. Another remark may here be made. It is, that it often occurs that blessings come upon us from benefactors whom we do not see, and from sources which we cannot trace.

On this principle we receive many of the mercies of life; and from anything that appears, in this way many blessings of salvation may be conferred on the world, and possibly many of the pagan be saved. Still, this view does not interfere with the command of Christ to preach the gospel, Mark 16:15. The great mass of the pagan are not in this state; but the fact here adverted to, so far as it goes, is an encouragement to preach the gospel to the entire world. If Christ thus prepares the way; if he extensively fits the minds of the pagan for the reception of the gospel; if he shows them the evil and folly of their own system, and leads them to desire a better, then this should operate not to produce indolence, but activity, and zeal, and encouragement to enter into the field white for the harvest, and to toil that all who seek the truth, and are prepared to embrace the gospel, may be brought to the light of the Sun of righteousness.

Verse 13

Boldness - This word properly denotes “openness” or “confidence in speaking.” It stands opposed to “hesitancy,” and to “equivocation” in declaring our sentiments. Here it means that, in spite of danger and opposition, they avowed their doctrines without any attempt to conceal or disguise them.

Peter and John - It was they only who had been concerned in the healing of the lame man, Acts 3:1.

And perceived - When they knew that they were unlearned. This might have been ascertained either by report or by the manner of their speaking.

Unlearned - This word properly denotes “those who were not acquainted with letters, or who had not had the benefit of an education.”

Ignorant men - ἰδιῶται idiōtai. This word properly denotes “those who live in private, in contradistinction from those who are engaged in public life or in office.” As this class of persons is commonly also supposed to be less learned, talented, and refined than those in office, it comes to denote “those who are rude and illiterate.” The idea intended to be conveyed here is, that these men had not had opportunities of education (compare Matthew 4:18-21), and had not been accustomed to public speaking, and hence, they were surprised at their boldness. This same character is uniformly attributed to the early preachers of Christianity. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:27; Matthew 11:25. The Galileans were regarded by the Jews as particularly rude and uncultivated, Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:17.

They marvelled - They wondered that men who had not been educated in the schools of the rabbis, and accustomed to speak in public, should declare their sentiments with so much boldness.

And they took knowledge - This expression means simply that riley knew, or that they obtained evidence that they had been with Jesus. It is not said in what way they obtained this evidence, but the connection leads us to suppose it was by the miracle which they had performed, by their firm and bold declaration of the doctrines of Jesus, and perhaps by the irresistible conviction that none would be thus bold who had not been personally with him, and who had not the firmest conviction that he was the Messiah. They had not been trained in their schools, and their boldness could not be attributed to the arts of rhetoric, but was the native, ingenuous, and manly exhibition of a deep conviction of the truth of what they spoke, and that conviction could have been obtained only by their having been with him, and having been satisfied that he was the Messiah. Such conviction is of far more value in preaching than all the mere teachings of the schools; and without such a conviction, all preaching will be frigid, hypocritical, and useless.

Had been with Jesus - Had been his followers, and had attended person ally on his ministry. They gave evidence that they had seen him, been with him, heard him, and were convinced that he was the Messiah. We may learn here:

(1) That if men wish to be successful in preaching, it must be based on deep and thorough conviction of the truth of what they deliver.

(2) They who preach should give evidence that they are acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ; that they have imbibed his spirit, pondered his instructions, studied the evidences of his divine mission, and are thoroughly convinced that he was from God.

(3) Boldness and success in the ministry, as well as in everything else, will depend far more on honest, genuine, thorough conviction of the truth than on the endowments of talent and learning, and the arts and skill of eloquence. No man should attempt to preach without such a thorough conviction of truth; and no man who has it will preach in vain.

(4) God often employs the ignorant and unlearned to confound the wise, 1 Corinthians 1:27-28. But it is not by their ignorance. It was not the ignorance of Peter and John that convinced the Sanhedrin. It was done in spite of their ignorance. It was their boldness and their honest conviction of truth. Besides, though not learned in the schools of the Jews, they had been under a far more important training, under the personal direction of Christ himself, for three years; I and now they were directly endowed by the Holy Spirit with the power of speaking with tongues. Though not taught in the schools, yet there was an important sense in which they were not unlearned and ignorant men. Their example should not, therefore, be pled in favor of an unlearned ministry. Christ himself expressed his opposition to an unlearned ministry by teaching them himself, and then by bestowing on them miraculous endowments which no learning at present can furnish. It may be remarked, further, that in the single selection which he made of an apostle after his ascension to heaven, when he came to choose one who had not been under his personal teaching, he chose a learned man, the apostle Paul, and thus evinced his purpose that there should be training or education in those who are invested with the sacred office.

(5) Yet in the case before us there is a striking proof of the truth and power of religion. These men had not acquired their boldness in the schools; they were not trained for argument among the Jews; they did not meet them by cunning sophistry; but they came with the honest conviction that what they were saying was true. Were they deceived? Were they not competent to bear witness? Did they have any motive to attempt to palm a falsehood onto people? Infidelity must answer many such questions as these before the apostles can be convicted of imposture.

Verse 14

They could say nothing ... - The presence of the man that was healed was an unanswerable fact in proof of the truth of what the apostles alleged. The miracle was so public, clear, and decisive; the man that was healed was so well known, that there was no evasion or subterfuge by which they could escape the conclusion to which the apostles were conducting them. It evinced no little gratitude in the man that was healed that he was present on this occasion, and showed that he was deeply interested in what befell his benefactors. The miracles of Jesus and his apostles were such that they could not be denied, and hence, the Jews did not attempt to deny that they performed them. Compare Matthew 12:24; John 11:45-46; Acts 19:36.

Verses 15-18

What shall we do to these men? - The object which they had in view was evidently to prevent their preaching. The miracle was performed, and it was believed by the people to have been made. This they could not expect to be able successfully to deny. Their only object, therefore, was to prevent the apostles from making the use which they saw they would to convince the people that Jesus was the Messiah. The question was, in what way they should prevent this; whether by putting them to death, by imprisoning them, or by scourging them; or whether by simply exerting theft authority and forbidding them. From the former they were deterred, doubtless, by fear of the multitude; and they therefore adopted the latter, and seemed to suppose that the mere exertion of their authority would be sufficient to deter them from this in future.

The council - Greek: The “Sanhedrin.” This body was composed of 71 or 72 persons, and was entrusted with the principal affairs of the nation. It was a body of vast influence and power, and hence they supposed that their command might be sufficient to restrain ignorant Galileans from speaking. Before this same body, and probably the same men, our Saviour was arraigned, and by them condemned before he was delivered to the Roman governor, Matthew 26:59, etc. And before this same body, and in the presence of the same men, Peter had just before denied his Lord, Matthew 26:70, etc. The fact that the disciples had fled on a former occasion, and that Peter had denied his Saviour, may hate operated to induce them to believe that they would be terrified by their threats, and deterred from preaching publicly in the name of Jesus.

A notable miracle - A known, undeniable miracle.

That it spread - That the knowledge of it may not spread among them any further.

Let us straitly threaten them - Greek: “Let us threaten them with a threat.” This is a “Hebraism” expressing intensity, certainty, etc. The threat was a command Acts 4:18 not to teach, implying their displeasure if they did do it. This threat, however, was not effectual. On the next occasion, which occurred soon after Acts 5:40, they added beating to their threats in order to deter them from preaching in the name of Jesus.

Verse 19

Whether it be right ... - The apostles abated nothing of their boldness when threatened. They openly appealed to their judges whether their command could be right. And in doing this, they expressed their full conviction of the truth of what they had said, and their deliberate purpose not to regard their command, but still to proclaim to the people the truth that Jesus was the Messiah.

In the sight of God - That is, whether God will judge this to be right. The grand question was how God would regard it. If he disapproved it, it was wrong. It was not merely a question pertaining to their reputation, safety, or life; it was a question of conscience before God. We have here a striking instance of the principle on which Christians act. It is, to lay their safety, reputation, and life out of view, and bring everything to the test whether it will please God. If it will, it is right; if it will not, it is wrong.

To hearken - To “hear” and to “hearken” are often used to denote to “obey,” John 5:24; John 8:47, etc.

Judge ye - This was an appeal to them directly as judges and as men. And it may be presumed that it was an appeal which they could not resist. The Sanhedrin acknowledged itself to have been appointed by God, and to have no authority which was not derived from his appointment. Of course, God could modify, supersede, or repeal their authority; and the abstract principle that it was better to obey God than man they could not call in question. The only inquiry was whether they had evidence that God had issued any command in the case. Of that the apostles were satisfied, and that the rulers could not deny. It may be remarked that this is one of the first and most bold appeals on record in favor of the right of private judgment and the liberty of conscience. That liberty was supposed in all the Jewish religion. It was admitted that the authority of God in all matters was superior to that of man. And the same spirit manifested itself thus early in the Christian church against all dominion over the conscience, and in favor of the right to follow the dictates of the conscience and the will of God. As a mere historical fact, therefore, it is interesting to contemplate this, and still more interesting in its important bearings on human liberty and human happiness. The doctrine is still more explicitly stated in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than man.”

Verse 20

For ... - This is given as a reason why they should obey God rather than man. They had had so clear evidence that God had sent the Messiah, and they had received a direct and solemn command Mark 16:15 to preach the gospel, that they could not be restrained. There was a necessity laid on them to preach. See 1 Corinthians 9:16. Compare Jeremiah 20:9; Acts 18:5; Job 32:18-19; Psalms 39:1-3.

It has already been remarked that these two verses contain an important principle in favor of religious liberty the liberty of conscience and of private judgment. They contain the great principle of Christianity and of the Protestant religion, that the responsibility of men for their religious opinions is direct to God, and that other men have no power of control. The opposite of this is tyranny and oppression. It may be proper, in addition, to present some further remarks, involved in the principle here stated:

(1) Religion, from the beginning, has been favorable to liberty. There was no principle more sacred among the Jews than that they were to be independent of other nations. Perhaps no people have ever been so restive under a foreign yoke, so prone to rebel, and so difficult to be broken down by oppression and by arms, as were the Jews. So true was this, that it appeared to other nations to be mere obstinacy. They were often subdued, but they rose against their oppressors and threw off the yoke. No people have been found who were so difficult to be reduced to slavery. It is well known that the Romans were accustomed to subject the captives taken in war to perpetual servitude; and commonly the spirit of the captive was broken, and he remained quietly in bondage. But not so the Jew. Nothing ever tamed his spirit. No bribes, or threats, or chains could induce him to violate the laws of his religion. Even in captivity, we are told that the Jewish slaves at Rome would observe the Sabbath; would keep the feasts of their nation, and would never conform to the customs of an idolatrous people. To the Romans this appeared to be mere obstinacy. But it was the genius of their religion. The right of liberty of thought was one which they would not surrender. The spirit of the patriarchs was favorable to liberty, and implied responsibility only to God. Familiarity with the sacred books had taught them these lessons, and neither time nor distance could obliterate them. In the time of Christ, the great mass of the nation were evidently opposed to the tax paid to the Roman nation, and sighed under this burden, until they rose and attempted to assert their rights; and their city, and temple, and land were sacrificed rather than yield this great principle.

(2) This same principle was evinced by the apostles and by the early Christians. With this doctrine fresh upon their hearts, they went forth to other lands. They maintained it at the expense of their blood, and thousands fell as martyrs in the cause of liberty and of private judgment in religion. No one ever defended liberty more firmly than the early martyrs; and each one that died, died in defense of a principle which is now the acknowledged right of all people.

(3) The designs of tyranny and superstition have been to destroy this principle. This was the aim of the Sanhedrin; and yet, when Peter and John appealed to their consciences, they did not dare to avow their purpose. This has been the aim of all tyrants, and this the effect of all superstition. Hence, the Church of Rome has taken away the Scriptures from the people, and has thus furnished incontestable evidence that in its view the Bible is favorable to liberty. For centuries, tyranny reigned in one black flight over Europe; nor was the darkness dispelled until the Bible, that taught people the principles of freedom, was restored to them.

(4) The effect of the principle avowed by the apostles had been uniform. Luther began the reformation by finding in a monastery a copy of the Bible, a book which until that time - when more than twenty years of age - he had never seen. The effect on the liberties of Europe was immediately seen. Hume admitted that whatever liberty England possessed was to be traced to the Puritans. Our own land (America) is a striking instance of the effect of this great principle, and of its influence on the rights of man. And just in proportion as the New Testament is spread abroad will people seek for freedom and break the chains of oppression. The best way to promote universal liberty is to spread the Bible to the ends of the earth. There is not a precept in it that is not favorable to freedom. It tends to enlarge and liberalize the mind; to teach people their rights; to put an end to ignorance, the universal stronghold of superstition and tyranny; and to diffuse the love of justice, truth, and order. It shows man that he is responsible to God, and that no one has a right to ordain anything which contravenes the liberty of his fellow.

If it be asked here what the principle is, I answer:

(1) That people have a right to their private judgment in matters of religion, subject only to God. The only restraint which, it is now settled, can be imposed on this, is, that no man has a right, under pretence of conscience, to injure or molest his fellow-men, or to disturb the peace and harmony of society.

(2) No magistrate, church, council, or parent, has a right to impose a creed on others, and to demand subscription to it by mere authority.

(3) No magistrate, church, or parent, has a right to control. the free exercise of private judgment in this case. The power of a parent is to teach, advise, and entreat. The duty of a child is to listen with respect; to examine with candor; to pray over the subject, and to be deliberate and calm, not rash, hasty, impetuous, and self-willed. But when the child is thus convinced that his duty to God requires a particular course, then here is a higher obligation than any earthly law, and he must obey God rather than man, ever a father or a mother, Matthew 10:37-38.

(4) Every man is responsible to God for his opinions and his conduct. Man may not control him, but God may and will. The great question before every man is, What is right in the sight of God? It is not, What is expedient, or safe, or pleasurable, or honorable among people? but, What is right in the sight of God? Neither in their opinions nor their conduct are people free from responsibility. From this whole subject we see the duty of spreading the Bible. If we love liberty; if we hate tyranny and superstition; if we wish to extend the knowledge of the rights of man, and break every arm of oppression, let us spread far and wide the Book of God, and place in every palace and every cottage on the globe a copy of the sacred Scriptures.

Verse 21

Finding nothing ... - That is, not being able to devise any way of punishing them without exciting a tumult among the people, and endangering their own authority. The Sanhedrin was frequently influenced by this fear; and it shows that their own authority was much dependent on the caprice of the multitude. Compare Matthew 21:26.

All men - That is, the great mass or body of the people.

Glorified God - Praised God for the miracle. This implies:

  1. That they believed that the miracle was genuine.

(2)That they were grateful to God for so signal a mercy in conferring health and comfort on a man who had been long afflicted. We may add further, that here is the highest evidence of the reality of the miracle. Even the Sanhedrin, with all their prejudice and opposition, did not call it in question; and the common people, who had doubtless been acquainted with this man for years, were convinced that it was real. It would have been impossible to impose on keensighted and jealous adversaries in this manner if this had been an imposture.

Verse 22

For the man ... - The age of the man is mentioned to show the certainty and greatness of the miracle. If it had been a man who had been lame but a few years, or if it had been a child or a very young man, the case would not been so remarkable. But after a continuance of 40 years, all hope of healing him by any ordinary means must have been abandoned, and all pretence that this was jugglery or deception must have been absurd.

Verse 23

Their own company - They joined the other apostles and Christians, Acts 2:44-45.

And reported ... - It doubtless became a subject of interesting inquiry what they should do in this case. They had been threatened by the highest authority of the nation, and commanded not to preach again in the name of Jesus. Whether they should obey them and be silent, or whether they should leave Jerusalem and preach elsewhere, could not but be an interesting subject of inquiry, and they very properly sought the counsel of their brethren, and looked to God for direction, an example which all should follow who are exposed to persecution, or who are in any perplexity about the path of duty.

Verse 24

They lifted up their voice - To lift up the voice, among the Hebrews, was a phrase denoting either an “address” to the people Judges 9:7, or a phrase expressive of “weeping” Genesis 29:11; Judges 2:4; Ruth 1:9; 1 Samuel 24:16, or of “prayer.” To lift up the voice to God means simply they prayed to Him.

With one accord - Unitedly. Properly, with one mind or purpose. See notes on Acts 1:14. The union of the early Christians is often noticed in the Acts of the Apostles. Thus far, there was no jar or dissension in their society, and everything has the appearance of the most entire affection and confidence.

Lord - Greek: Δέσποτα Despota - “Despota.” From this word is derived the word “despot.” This is not the usual word employed by which to address God. The word commonly translated “Lord” is Κυρίος Kurios. The word used here denotes “one who rules over others,” and was applied to the highest magistrate or officer. It denotes “authority; power; absoluteness in ruling.” It is a word denoting more authority in ruling than the other. That more commonly denotes a property in a thing; this denotes “absolute rule.” It is applied to God in Luke 2:29; Revelation 6:10; Jude 1:4; to Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 2:1; to masters, 1 Timothy 6:1; Tit 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18; to husbands, 1 Peter 3:6; and to a possessor or owner, 2 Timothy 2:21.

Thou art God - This ascription of praise seems to have been designed to denote their sense of his power to deliver them, and of his right to dispose of them. They were employed in his service; they were encompassed with dangers; and they acknowledged him as their God, who had made all things, and who had an entire right to direct, and to dispose of them for his own glory. In times of danger and perplexity we should remember that God has a right to do with us as he pleases; and we should go cheerfully, and commit ourselves into his hands.

Which hast made ... - Genesis 1:0: This passage is taken directly from Psalms 146:6. Compare Revelation 14:7.

Verse 25

Who by the mouth ... - , Psalms 2:1-2. This is a strong, solemn testimony to the inspiration of David. It is a declaration of the apostles, made in solemn prayer, that God himself spake by the mouth of David. This is the second part of their prayer. In the first, they acknowledge the right of God to rule; in this, they appeal to a prophecy; they plead that this was a thing foretold; and as God had foreseen it and foretold it, they appealed to him to protect them. The times of tumult and opposition which had been foreseen, as about to attend the introduction of the gospel, had now come. They inferred, therefore, that Jesus was the Messiah; and as God had designed to establish his kingdom, they appealed to him to aid and protect them in this great work. This passage is taken from Psalms 2:1-2, and is an exact quotation from the Septuagint. This proves that the Psalm had reference to the Messiah. Thus, it was manifestly understood by the Jews; and the authority of the apostles settles the question. The Psalm was composed by David, but on what occasion is not known; nor is it material to our present purpose. It has been a matter of inquiry whether it referred to the Messiah primarily, or only in a secondary sense. Grotius supposes that it was composed by David when exposed to the hostility of the Assyrians, the Moabites, Philistines, Amalekites, etc.; and that, in the midst of his dangers, he sought consolation in the purpose of God to establish him and his kingdom. But the more probable opinion is, that it referred directly and solely to the Messiah.

Why did the heathen - The nations which were not Jews. This refers, doubtless, to the opposition which would be made to the spread of Christianity, and not merely to the opposition made to the Messiah himself, and to the act of putting him to death.

Rage - This word refers to the excitement and tumult of a multitude; not a settled plan, but rather the heated and disorderly conduct of a mob. It means that the progress of the gospel would encounter tumultuous opposition, and that the excited nations would rush violently to put it down and destroy it.

And the people - The expression “the people” does not refer to a class of people different essentially from the pagan. The “pagan,” Hebrew and Greek, “the nations,” refer to people as organized into communities; the expression the people is used to denote the same persons without respect to their being so organized. The Hebrews were in the habit, in their poetry, of expressing the same idea essentially in parallel members of a sentence; that is, the last member of a sentence or verse expressed the same idea, with some slight variation, as the former. (See Lowth on the sacred poetry of the Hebrews.)

Imagine - The word “imagine” does not quite express the force of the original. The Hebrew and the Greek both convey the idea of meditating, thinking, purposing. It means that they employed “thought,” “plan,” “purpose,” in opposing the Messiah.

Vain things - The word used here κενά kena is a literal translation of the Hebrew רק rēyq, and means usually “empty,” as a vessel. which is not filled; then “useless,” or what amounts to nothing, etc. Here it means that they devised a plan which turned out to be vain or ineffectual. They attempted an opposition to the Messiah which could not succeed. God would establish his kingdom in spite of their plans to oppose it. Their efforts were vain because they were not strong enough to oppose God; because he had purposed to establish the kingdom of his Son; and because he could overrule even their opposition to advance his cause.

Verse 26

The kings of the earth - The Psalmist specifies more particularly that kings and rulers would be opposed to the Messiah. This had occurred already by the opposition made to the Messiah by the rulers of the Jewish people, and it would be still more evinced by the opposition of princes and kings as the gospel spread among the nations.

Stood up - The word used here παρίστημι paristēmi commonly means “to present oneself, or to stand forth, for the purpose of aiding, counseling,” etc. But here it means that they “rose,” or “presented themselves,” to evince their opposition. They stood opposed to the Messiah, and offered resistance to him.

The rulers - This is another instance of the Hebrew parallelism. The word does not denote another class of people from kings, but expresses the same idea in another form, or in a more general manner, meaning that all classes of persons in authority would be opposed to the gospel.

Were gathered together - Hebrew, consulted together; were united in a consultation. The Greek implies that they were assembled for the purpose of consultation.

Against the Lord - In the Hebrew, “against Yahweh.” This is the special name which is given in the Scriptures to God. They rose against his plan of appointing a Messiah, and against the Messiah whom he had chosen.

Against his Christ - Hebrew, against his Messiah, or his Anointed. See the notes on Matthew 1:1. This is one of the places where the word “Messiah” is used in the Old Testament. The word occurs in about 40 places, and is commonly translated “his anointed,” and is applied to kings. The direct reference of the word to the Messiah in the Old Testament is not frequent. This passage implies that opposition to the Messiah is opposition to Yahweh. And this is uniformly supposed in the sacred Scriptures. He that is opposed to Christ is opposed to God. He that neglects him neglects God. He that despises him despises God, Matthew 10:40; Matthew 18:5; John 12:44-45; Luke 10:16, “He that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” The reasons of this are:

  1. That the Messiah is “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person,” Hebrews 1:3.

(2)He is equal with the Father, possessing the same attributes and the same power, John 1:1; Philippians 2:6.

(3)He is appointed by God to this great work of saving people. To despise him, or to oppose him, is to despise and oppose him who appointed him to this work, to contemn his counsels, and to set him at naught.

(4)His work is dear to God. It has engaged his thoughts. It has been approved by him. His mission has been confirmed by the miraculous power of the Father, and by every possible manifestation of his approbation and love. To oppose the Messiah is, therefore, to oppose what is dear to the heart of God, and which has long been the object of his tender solicitude. It follows from this, that they who neglect the Christian religion are exposing themselves to the displeasure of God, and endangering their everlasting interests. No man is safe who opposes God; and no man can have evidence that God will approve him who does not embrace the Messiah, whom He has appointed to redeem the world.

Verse 27

For of a truth - Truly; in reality.

Thy holy child Jesus - The word “child” is commonly applied to infants, or to sons and daughters in very early life. The word which is used here παῖς pais is different from what is commonly applied to the Lord Jesus υἱός huios. The latter expresses sonship without respect to age. The word which is here used also sometimes expresses sonship with out any regard to age, and the word “son” would have been a more happy translation. Thus, the same word is translated in Acts 3:13, Acts 3:26. In Acts 20:12, it is translated “youngman.”

Both Herod ... - Luke 23:1-12.

With the Gentiles - The Romans, to whom he was delivered to be crucified.

The people of Israel - The Jews, who were excited to this by the rulers, Matthew 27:20.

Verse 28

For to do ... - See the notes on Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18. The facts which are brought to view in these verses are among the most remarkable on record. They are briefly these:

  1. That the Jewish rulers were opposed to the Messiah, and slew him.

(2)That the very people to whom he came, and for whose benefit he labored, joined in the opposition, so that it became the act of a united people.

(3)That the Romans, who were there as a sort of representation of all pagan nations, were easily prevailed on to join in the persecution, and to become the executioners.

(4)That thus opposite factions, and dissimilar and prejudiced people, became united in opposing the Messiah.

(5)That the rulers of the Roman people, the emperors, the statesmen, the philosophers, and the rulers of other nations, united to oppose the gospel, and brought all the power of persecution to stay its progress.

(6)That the people of the empire, the mass of people, were easily prevailed upon to join in the persecution, and to endeavor to arrest its progress. It may be added,

  1. That the gospel has encountered similar difficulties and opposition wherever it has been faithfully presented to the attention of people. It has become a very serious question why this has been; on what pretence this opposition has been vindicated, or how it can be accounted for - a question which it is of as much importance for the infidel as for the Christian to settle. We know that accusations of the corrupt lives of the early Christians were freely circulated, and that most gross accounts of their scandalous conduct were propagated by those who chose to persecute them. (See Lardner’s “Credibility.”) But such accounts are not now believed, and it is not certain that they were ever seriously believed by the rulers of the pagan people. It is certain that it was not on things account that the first opposition arose to Christ and his religion.

It is not proper here to enter into an examination of the causes of this opposition. We may state the outlines, however, in few words:

(1) The Jewish rulers were mortified, humbled, and moved with envy, that one so poor and despised should claim to be the Messiah. They had expected a Messiah of a different rank and character; and all their prejudices rose at once against his claims to this high office, Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10.

(2) The common people, disposed extensively to acknowledge his claims, were urged on by the enraged and vindictive priests to demand his death, Matthew 27:20.

(3) Pilate was pressed on against his will by the impetuous and enraged multitude to deliver one whom he regarded as innocent.

(4) The Christian religion, in its advances, struck at once at the whole fabric of superstition in the Roman empire and throughout the world. It did not, like other religions, ask a place amidst the religions already existing. It was exclusive in its claims. It denounced all other systems as idolatry or superstition, and sought to overthrow them. Those religions were interwoven with all the habits of the people; they were connected with all the departments of the state; they gave occupation to a vast number of priests and other officer who obtained their livelihood by the existing superstitions, and who brought, of course, all the supposed sacredness of their character to support them. A religion which attempted to overthrow the whole fabric, therefore, at once excited all their malice. The monarchs whose thrones were based on the existing state of things, and the people who venerated the religion of their ancestors, would be opposed to the new system.

(5) Christianity was despised. It was regarded as one form of the superstition of the Jews, and there were no people who were regarded with so much contempt by other nations as the Jews. The writings of the Romans on this point are full proof.

(6) The new religion was opposed to all the crimes of the world. It began its career in a time of eminent wickedness. It plunged at once into the midst of that wickedness; sought the great cities where crimes and pollutions were concentrated, and boldly reproved every form of prevailing impiety. At Athens, at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Rome itself, it denounced the judgment of God against every form of guilt. Whatever may be charged on the apostles, it will not be alleged that they were timid in denouncing the sins of the world. From all these causes it is not wonderful that the early Christians were persecuted. If it be asked.

(7) Why the same religion meets with opposition now in lands that are nominally Christian, it may be remarked:

(a)That the human heart is the same that it always was, opposed to truth and righteousness;

(b)That religion encounters still a host of sins that are opposed to it - pride, envy, malice, passion, and the love of the world;

(c)That there has always been a special opposition in the human heart to receiving salvation as the gift of God through a crucified Redeemer; and,

(d)That all the forms of vice, and lust, and profaneness that exist in the world, are opposed, and ever will be, to a religion of purity, self-denial, and love.

On the whole, we may remark here:

  1. That the fact that Christianity has been thus opposed, and has triumphed, is no small proof of its divine origin. It has been fairly tried, and still survives. It was well to put it to the rest, and to bring to bear on it everything which had a tendency to crush it, and thus to furnish the highest proof that it is from God.

(2)This religion cannot be destroyed; it will triumph; opposition to it is vain; it will make its way throughout the world; and the path of safety is not to oppose what God is intending to establish in the earth. Sinners who stand opposed to the gospel should tremble and be afraid, for sooner or later they must fall before its triumphant advances. It is not safe to oppose what has already been opposed by kings and rulers in every form, and yet has triumphed. It is not wise to risk one’s eternal welfare on the question of successful opposition to what God has, in so many ages and ways, pledged himself to protect; and when God has solemnly declared that the Son, the Messiah, whom he would set on his holy hill of Zion, should “break” his enemies “with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel,” Psalms 2:9.

Verse 29

Behold their threatenings - So look upon them as to grant us deliverance. They did not purpose to abandon their undertaking; they resolved to persevere; and they expected that this purpose would involve them in danger. With this purpose they implored the protection of God; they asked that he would not suffer them to be deterred from speaking boldly; and they sought that constant additional proof might be granted of the presence and power of God to confirm the truth of their message.

And grant ... - This is an instance of heroic boldness, and a determination to persevere in doing their duty to God. When we are assailed by those in power; when we are persecuted and in danger, we should commit our way unto God, and seek his aid, that we may not be deterred from the path of duty.

Verse 30

By stretching forth thine hand ... - The apostles not only desired boldness to speak, but they asked that God would continue to work miracles, and thus furnish to them, and to the people, evidence of the truth of what they delivered. They did not even ask that he would preserve their lives, or keep them from danger. They were intent on their work, and they confidently committed their way to God, making it their great object to promote the knowledge of the truth, and seeking that God would glorify himself by establishing his kingdom among people.

Signs and wonders - Miracles. (See the notes on Acts 2:43.

Verse 31

And when they had prayed - The event which followed was regarded by them as an evidence that God heard their prayer.

The place was shaken - The word which is translated “was shaken” commonly denotes “violent agitation,” as the raging of the sea, the convulsion of an earthquake, or trees shaken by the wind, Matthew 11:7; Acts 16:26; Hebrews 12:26. The language here is suited to express the idea of an earthquake. Whether the motion was confined to the house where they were is not said. They probably regarded this as an answer to their prayer, or as an evidence that God would be with them:

  1. Because it was sudden and violent, and was not produced by any natural causes;
  2. Because it occurred immediately, while they were seeking divine direction;
  3. Because it was an exhibition of great power, and was an evidence that God could protect them; and,
  4. Because a convulsion so great, sudden, and mighty was suited at that time to awe them with a proof of the presence and power of God. A similar instance of an answer to prayer by an earthquake is recorded in Acts 16:25-26. Compare Acts 2:1-2. It may be added, that among the Jews an earthquake was very properly regarded as a striking and impressive proof of the presence of Yahweh, Isaiah 29:6; Psalms 68:8, “The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God; even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.” See also the sublime description in Habakkuk 3:0, particularlyActs 4:6-11; Acts 4:6-11. Compare Matthew 27:54. Among the pagan, an earthquake was regarded as proof of the presence and favor of the Deity. (See Virgil, Aeneid, 3:89.)

They were all filled ... - See the notes on Acts 2:4. Their being filled with the Holy Spirit here rather denotes their being inspired with confidence or boldness than being endowed with new powers, as in Acts 2:4.

Verse 32

And the multitude - The number of believers at this time had become large. In Acts 4:4, it is said that it was five thousand, and the number was constantly increasing.

One heart - This expression denotes “tender union.” They felt alike, or were attached to the same things, and this preserved them from jars and dissensions.

One soul - This phrase also denotes “close and tender union.” No expression could denote it more strikingly than to say of friends they have one soul. Plutarch cites an ancient verse in his life of Cato of Utica with this very expression - “Two friends, one soul” (Grotius). Thus, Diogenes Laertius also (5, Acts 1:11) says respecting Aristotle, that “being asked what was a friend, answered that it was one soul dwelling in two bodies” (Kuinoel). The Hebrews spake of two friends as being “one man.” There can be no more striking demonstration of union and love than to say of more than five thousand suddenly drawn together that they had one soul! And this union they evinced in every way possible - in their conduct, in their prayers, and in their property. How different would have been the aspect of the church if the union had continued to the present time!

Neither said ... - That is, I they did not regard it as their own, but to be used for the benefit of the whole society. See the notes on Acts 2:44.

Verse 33

And with great power - See Acts 1:8. The word “power” here denotes “efficacy,” and means that they had “ability” given them to bear witness of the resurrection of the Saviour. it refers, therefore, I rather to their preaching than to their miracles.

Gave the apostles witness - The apostles bore testimony to.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus - This was the main point to be established. If it proved that the Lord Jesus came to life again after having been put to death, it established all that he taught, and was a demonstration that he was sent from God. They exerted, therefore, all their powers to prove this, and their success was such as might have been expected. Multitudes were converted to the Christian faith.

And great grace ... - The word “grace” means “favor.” See the notes on John 1:16. The expression here may mean either that the favor of God was remarkably shown to them, or that they had great favor in the sight of the people. It does not refer, as the expression now does commonly, to the internal blessings of religion on a man’s own soul, to their personal advancement in the Christian graces, but to the favor or success that attended their preaching. The meaning probably is, that the “favor” of the “people” toward them was great, or that great success attended their ministry among them. Thus, the same word grace (Greek) is used in Acts 2:47. If this is its meaning, then here is an instance of the power of the testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus to impress the minds of people. But this is not all, nor probably is it the main idea. It is that their union, their benevolence their liberality in supplying the needs of the needy, was a means of opening the hearts of the people, and of winning them to the Saviour. If we wish to incline others to our opinions, nothing is better adapted to it than to show them kindness, and even to minister to their temporal needs.

Benevolence toward them softens the heart, and inclines them to listen to us. It disarms their prejudices, and disposes them to the exercise of the mild and amiable feelings of religion. Hence, our Saviour was engaged in healing the diseases and supplying the needs of the people. He drew around him the poor, the needy, and the diseased, and supplied their necessities, and thus prepared them to receive his message of truth. Thus, God is love, and is constantly doing good, that his goodness may lead people to repentance, Romans 2:4. And hence, no persons have better opportunities to spread the true sentiments of religion, or are clothed with higher responsibilites, than those who have it in their power to do good, or than those who are habitually engaged in bestowing favors. Thus, physicians have access to the hearts of people which other persons have not. Thus, parents have an easy access to the minds of children. for they are constantly doing them good. And thus Sunday-school teachers, whose whole work is a work of benevolence, have direct and most efficient access to the hearts of the children committed to their care.

Verse 34

That lacked - That was in want, or whose needs were not supplied by the others.

As many as ... - The word used here is employed in a large, indefinite sense; but it would be improper to press it so as to suppose that every individual that became a Christian sold at once all his property. The sense doubtless is, that this was done “when it was necessary:” they parted with whatever property was needful to supply the needs of their poor brethren. That it was by no means considered a matter of “obligations,” or enjoined by the apostles, is apparent from the case of Ananias, Acts 5:4. The fact that “Joses” is particularly mentioned Acts 4:36 shows that it was by no means a universal practice thus to part with all their possessions. He was “one” instance in which it was done. Perhaps there were many other similar instances; but all that the passage requires us to believe is, that they parted with whatever was “needful” to supply the needs of the poor. This was an eminent and instructive instance of Christian liberality, and of the power of the gospel in overcoming one of the strongest passions that ever exist in the human bosom - the love of money. Many of the early Christians were poor. They were collected from the lower orders of the people. But “all” Were not so. Some of them, it seems, were people of affluence; but the effect of religion was to bring them all, in regard to feeling, at least, on a level. They felt that they were members of one family, and they therefore imparted their property cheerfully to their brethren. Besides this, they were about to go to other lands to preach the gospel, and they cheerfully parted with their property that they might go and proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. See the notes on Acts 2:44.

Verse 35

And laid them down ... - That is, they committed the money received for their property to the disposal of the apostles, to distribute it as was necessary among the poor. This soon became a burdensome and inconvenient office, and they therefore appointed men who had special charge of it, Acts 6:1-2, etc.

Verse 36

And Joses - Many manuscripts, instead of “Joses,” here read “Joseph.” The reasons why this individual is selected and specified particularly were, doubtless, because he was a foreigner; because it was a remarkable instance of liberality; and because he subsequently distinguished himself in the work of the ministry. He gave himself, his property, his all, to the service of the Lord Jesus, and went forth to the self-denying labors of the gospel. He is mentioned elsewhere with honor in the New Testament Acts 11:24, Acts 11:30, and usually as the companion of the apostle Paul. The occasion on which he became connected with Paul in the ministry was when he himself was sent forth by the church at Jerusalem to Antioch. There, it seems, he heard of the fame of Paul and went to Tarsus to seek him, and brought him with him to Antioch, Acts 11:22-26. Before this he had been acquainted with him, and had introduced him to the other apostles at a time when they were afraid of Paul, and unwilling to acknowledge him as an apostle, Acts 9:26-27. At Antioch, Barnabas was led into dissimulation by Peter in regard to the Gentiles, and was reproved by his friend and companion, Paul, Galatians 2:13. He and Paul continued to travel in fellowship until a dispute arose at Antioch about Mark, and they separated, Paul going with Silas through Syria and Cilicia, and Barnabas, with Mark, sailing for his native place, Cyprus, Acts 15:35-41. See the following places for particulars of his history: Acts 11:22, Acts 11:25, Acts 11:30; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:1-2, Acts 13:50; Acts 14:12; Act 15:12; 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1, Galatians 2:9.

Who by the apostles was surnamed ... - The practice of giving surnames, as expressive of character, was not uncommon. Thus, Simon was called Peter, or Cephas, John 1:44; and thus James and John were surnamed Boanerges, Mark 3:17.

Barnabas, which is ... - This word properly denotes “the son of prophecy.” It is compounded of two Syriac words, the one meaning “son,” and the other “prophecy.” The Greek word which is used to interpret this παράκλησις paraklēsis, translated “consolation,” means properly exhortation, entreaty, petition, or advocacy. It also means “consolation or solace”; and from this meaning the interpretation has been given to the word “Barnabas,” but with evident impropriety. It does not appear that the name was bestowed on account of this, though it is probable that he possessed the qualification for administering comfort or consolation in an eminent degree, but on account of his talent for “speaking,” or “exhorting” the people to holiness, and his success in preaching. Compare Acts 11:23.

A Levite - One of the descendants of Levi employed in the lower services of the temple. The whole tribe of Levi was set apart to the service of religion. It was divided into priests and Levites. The three sons of Levi were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Of the family of “Kohath” Aaron was descended, who was the first high priest. His oldest son succeeded him, and the remainder of his sons were “priests.” All the others of the tribe of Levi were called “Levites,” and were employed in the work of the temple, in assisting the priests in performing sacred music, etc., Numbers 3:0; Deuteronomy 12:18-19; Deuteronomy 18:6-8; 1 Chronicles 23:24.

Of the country of Cyprus - Cyprus is the largest island in the Mediterranean; an island extremely fertile, abounding in wine, honey, oil, wool, etc. It is mentioned in Acts 13:4; Acts 15:39. The island is near to Cicilia, and is not far from the Jewish coast. It is said by Dion Caccius (lib. 68, 69) that the Jews were very numerous in that island - Clark. Barnabas afterward became, with Paul, a distinguished preacher to the Gentiles. It is worthy of remark, that “both” were born in pagan countries, though by descent Jews; and as they were trained in pagan lands, they were better suited for their special work. The case of Barnabas is that of a man who had property when he entered the ministry, and who gave up all for the Lord Jesus. The great mass of ministers, like very many who have been distinguished in other professions, have been taken from among the poor, and from humble ranks in life. But all have not been. Many have been wealthy, and have devoted all to Christ; and in regard to others, it is to be remarked, that a very considerable proportion of them could have gained more “wealth” in some other profession than they do in the ministry. The ministry is a work of self-denial, and none should enter it who are not prepared to devote all to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-4.html. 1870.
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