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Bible Commentaries
Acts 9

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-43

IX 1-30 The Conversion of St Paul —See also §§ 664, 676f, g.—1-9 On the Road to Damascus, a.d. 36 (?) The persecution after the martyrdom of St Stephen, not only spread the Church, but led to the conversion of the man who was to be its chief Apostle in the pagan world. Besides this narrative, St Luke gives two, more oratorical, accounts by St Paul, that to the Jewish mob, 22:6, and the speech before the pagan Festus, 26:12. The slight differences in the accounts reflect their varying audiences and are a guarantee of their historicity. We are meant to understand that here was an event of epoch-making importance, effected, not by the Holy Spirit, but by our Lord in Person, and constituting the new convert an Apostle, on a level with those who had seen him after the Resurrection.

1. The history is carried on from 8:3. After persecuting with all his might in Jerusalem, Saul turns his attention to the Christian centre next in importance, and the date is still soon after the death of St Stephen.

2. From 22:5 we learn that the Sanhedrin as well as the high-priest authorized Saul. The Sanhedrin theoretically had jurisdiction over the Jews of the Dispersion, Deuteronomy 17:8 ff., and Josephus tells us that the empire had acknowledged this right, Ant. XIV, 10 and Jos. B.J. I. 24.2. Damascus, 180 m. from Jerusalem, and occupied by the Romans since 65 b.c., was a Hellenistic city with a large Jewish population. The first Christians dwelling there were, no doubt, converts from Pentecost, and were still attending the synagogue. ’Belonging to the way’, i.e. way of life; cf.Genesis 18:19; Psalms 5:9; Psalms 17:31. This was a regular term for the new faith, 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22, cf. 16:17, and John 14:6. To those outside, Christianity appeared essentially as a new way of life.

3. The place was near enough to Damascus for the journey to be completed on foot, 8. The time was midday, 22:6, and the light that flashed, brighter than the sun.

4. Saul and his companions fell to the ground, and Saul heard a voice that spoke in Aramaic, adding, at the end of this verse, ’it is hard for thee to kick against the goad, 26:14, i.e. the prong used for oxen; cf. too, Ecclesiastes 12:11. The phrase seems to have been a proverb, and is applied to the external circumstances of the conversion of Saul, who always insisted that he had acted in good faith as a persecutor, and ascribed his conversion to the overpowering grace of God; cf. 23:1; 24:16; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-16. The rationalist attempt to explain the vision away, on psychological grounds, as the resolution of a conflict in Saul’s mind, has no basis in the known facts. In persecuting his followers Saul was persecuting Jesus. ’Caput pro membris clamabat’;cf.Matthew 10:25; Luke 10:16. The Pauline doctrine is here in germ, salvation by faith, cf. 26:18, and by the grace of God, and Jesus one with his followers.

5-7a. Realizing that here is a divine intervention, Saul asks who speaks, prepared at once to obey cf. 26:19. His life is changed in an instant. ’I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But arise, go into the city, and there shall it be told thee what thou must do’. The intervening words ate not found in the Gk MSS, nor in many of Vg. 7b. Saul’s companions fell down at the first shock, but had by now risen to their feet. They heard the voice speak, but they did not understand what was said, as is clear from 22:9, which says, ’they heard not the voice’. The word ’hear’ in the later passage is used in the sense of ’understand’, as in 1 Corinthians 14:2. The word for ’voice’ in 7 is in the genitive, suggesting the sound, but in 22:9 it is in the accusative, suggesting intellectual perception. ’An old and well-known distinction between the acc. and gen. with ????? saves the author of 9:7 and 22:9 from a patent self-contradiction. . . .’ J. H. Moulton, A Grammar of NT Gk ( 19083) 66. For a parallel of the fact, see John 12:28-29. All saw the light, 22:9, only Saul saw Jesus. The vision is attested independently by Ananias 9:17; 22:14. 8. cf. 22:11. Saul is led captive, to learn the faith he had attacked, and later to open the eyes of others, 26:18.

10-19a Saul’s Baptism —10. Ananias was a Christian, but also ’ a man according to the Law’, 22:12. Jesus receives from his followers the divine title of ’Lord’.

11. This famous street, once divided in three by a double row of columns, still runs through Damascus from East to West. Nothing is known of Judas.

12. ’Saul is praying, and he has seen, in a vision, a man named Ananias come in and put his hands upon him to give him sight’. Ananias is reassured, his visit will be expected. cf. the double vision in the case of Cornelius. Vg and DV take 12 as a parenthesis by St Luke. [It might also be a gloss.—Gen. Ed.]

13. The Church in Jerusalem obtained the name of the ’Saints’, derived from the OT, owing to the impression produced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Its members were those chosen by God as the kernel of the new Messianic kingdom. They were saints because the Holy Spirit had come to them visibly, and dwelt in them. St Paul was to take over the word and the idea, adding that of ’Noblesse oblige’. cf. 9:32, and L. Cerfaux, ETL 2 ( 1925) 510. In calling them the saints of Jesus Ananias reveals that for him, Jesus is God.

14. As much is implied by invoking his name, i.e. in the language of the OT, adoring Jesus, cf. 21. This ’invocation’ separated Christians from Jews, cf. 4:17; 5:28. 15. The Gk can also be translated ’a chosen instrument’, and this metaphor fits better than that of the potter’s vessel. The Gentiles are mentioned first because Saul will be their apostle, cf. 22:21; Galatians 1:15-16; Galatians 2:7. From 22:15 and 26:16 we see that Saul is to be a ’minister and witness’ like the other Apostles; cf. 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:5-11; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Romans 1:5. He was to appear before proconsuls, governors, Herod and perhaps Nero himself. 16. Saul will also obtain the blessings promised to those persecuted for Jesus’ sake, Matthew 5:11, and will learn his sufferings by experiencing them, rather than by revelation, cf. rest of Ac, and 2 Corinthians 11:23-3317. In 22:13-16 St Paul gives more fully the message of Ananias. See too on 26:16. Ananias had the grace of healing, and it may be that the exercise of this and no more, is implied by Saul’s being filled with the Holy Spirit. The text, however, leaves it open to us to hold that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit followed the baptism, as always, except in the special case of Cornelius. Then we should say that Ananias, as head of the Christian community at Damascus, had the power to lay on hands for the conferring of the Holy Spirit. 18. A crust had evidently formed over Saul’s eyes. The way Luke the physician describes the miracle, rules out the idea that as it were scales’ should be taken metaphorically.

19b-25 Saul preaches at Damascus —19b. Baptism brings Saul into communication with the disciples.

20. Galatians 1:17 says that Saul went to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus, going to Jerusalem three years after his conversion. St Luke omits all reference to this retreat in Arabia. His point of view is that of the external development of the Church, while St Paul was proving that he did not visit Jerusalem for three years. The retreat can be placed at once after 19, or after 22, after a period of preaching in Damascus. The former is perhaps the more likely, if the retreat was sufficiently short to suit the ’immediately’ of 20 and if by Arabia is meant the desert near Damascus. St Luke tells us that Saul was only a few days at Damascus, 19, and yet later, ’when many days were passed’, he is there again, all of which implies an absence. He preached that Jesus is the Son of God, the only occurrence of the phrase in Ac. In view of St Paul’s usage, he was already teaching the Jews that Jesus was God like his Father.

22. Not affirming but ’proving’ from Scripture that Jesus was the Messias.

23. The Jewish plot to slay him (as being an apostate from Judaism) was three years after the conversion. Galatians 1:18 ( ca.d. 39?). This date is confirmed by the mention of the Ethnarch of Aretas, 2 Corinthians 11:32, who seems to have ruled in Damascus c a.d. 38-40. 24. In 2 Cor the Jews are not mentioned. They were very influential, and had evidently secured the Ethnarch’s support. 25. ’But his own disciples’. Saul already had a following. There are still houses built against the walls of Damascus, with windows overlooking.

26-30 Saul’s Visit to Jerusalem —26. Galatians 1:18-19 gives the motive —’to see Peter’. The difficulty in accepting the conversion of Saul may have been increased by lack of information, caused by his retreat in Arabia and by the war between Aretas and Herod Antipas, which interrupted communications.

27. Barnabas was well qualified to act as intermediary; see note on 4:36.

29. Gk has, ’He spoke and disputed with the Hellenists’. The Hellenists here are Jews, not Christians as in 6:1. The differing use of the term is probably due to St Luke’s different sources. Saul the Hellenist takes up the work of St Stephen, and arouses the same fury, cf. 22:18.

30. Saul’s stay was cut short and lasted only 15 days unless it was St Peter who left after that period; and of the Apostles he saw only Peter and James the brother of the Lord, Galatians 1:18. During it he was given the vision in the temple and the command to go to the Gentiles, which also speeded his departure, 22:17-21. Perhaps too, as 31 suggests, the Church in Jerusalem was anxious to avoid another persecution like that following the preaching of St Stephen. Saul returned to his home in Tarsus, till fetched by Barnabas, four years later, c a.d. 43. Tarsus was a commercial and cultured Hellenized city, on the trade route to Mesopotamia. IX 31-XI 18 Acts of St Peter the Missionary—31 A Summary —During a.d. 39-40 the Jews were resisting Caligula’s attempt to have his statue set in the temple, so the Church had peace, and was ’built up’, spiritually, as in St Paul’s epistles, rather than externally. The description of external growth follows: ’And grew in numbers through the consolation of the Holy Spirit’. The word ’Paraclesis’ is used for the consolation imparted by the Paraclete.

32-35 St Peter at Lydda —32. St Peter makes a visitation of the churches. Lydda was a small town at the southern end of the plain of Sharon.

36-43 St Peter raises Tabitha to Life —36. Joppe was on the coast, 10 m. from Lydda. Tabitha is Aramaic, Dorcas Gk for ’gazelle’. 40. ’But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed’; cf.Mark 5:40, where our Lord had no need to pray.

43. A tanner was unclean, since he must touch dead bodies, Leviticus 11:39. St Peter was beginning to ignore Jewish prejudices, and this prepares for the sequel.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Acts 9". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/acts-9.html. 1951.
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