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Thursday, July 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 11

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

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Verse 1

1.And the apostles. Whereas Luke declareth that the fame of one house which was converted was spread abroad everywhere amongst the brethren, that did arise by reason of admiration; for the Jews accounted it as a monster that the Gentiles should be gathered unto them as if they should have heard that there had been men made of stones. Again, the immoderate love of their nation did hinder them from acknowledging the work of God. For we see that through this ambition and pride the Church was troubled; because the equality which did diminish their dignity was not tolerable. For which cause they did contend stoutly to bring the necks of the Gentiles under the yoke. But forasmuch as it was foretold by so many prophecies of the prophets, that the Church should be gathered of all people after the coming of the Messiah, and forasmuch as Christ had given commandment to his apostles touching the preaching of the gospel throughout the whole world, how can it be that the conversion of a few men should move some, as some strange thing, and should terrify other some, as if it were some monster? I answer, that whatsoever was foretold touching the calling of the Gentiles, it was so taken as if the Gentiles should be made subject to the law of Moses, that they might have a place in the Church. But the manner of the calling, the beginning whereof they saw then, was not only unknown, but it seemed to be quite contrary to reason. For they did dream that it was impossible that the Gentiles could be mixed with the sons of Abraham, and be made one body with them, (the ceremonies being taken away,) but that there should be great injury done to the covenant of God; for to what end served the law save only to be the mid wall to note out the disagreement? Secondly, because they were acquainted with that difference during their whole life, the unlooked-for newness of the thing doth so pierce them, that they did forget all that which ought to have quieted their minds. Finally, they do not straightway comprehend the mystery, which, as Paul teacheth, was unknown to the angels from the creation of the world.

Verse 2

2.They reasoned with him. Obstinacy doth for the most part accompany error. This was now a fault having in it too gross ignorance, in that they did not quietly receive the Gentiles into their bosom, united to them by the same Spirit of faith. But they do not only leap back, but also contend with Peter contentiously, and blame him for his fact, which deserved great praise. They hear that the Gentiles have embraced the Word of God; what letteth them then from embracing them, that they may be coupled together (724) under the government of one God? For what more holy bond can there be, than when all men, with one consent, are coupled and joined to God? And why should not those grow together into one body who make the Messiah of God their head? But because they saw the external form of the law broken, they thought that heaven and earth did go together. (725)

And note, that although Luke said before that the apostles and brethren had heard this fame, yet he spake nothing of offense; but he bringeth in now, as it were, a new sect of men, which did contend with Peter. The brethren, saith he,heard, and there an end; it followeth, When Peter was come to Jerusalem, those which were of the circumcision did contend with him, who were undoubtedly unlike to the first; again, these words περιτομης, do not simply signify the Jews, but those who were too much addicted to keeping the ceremonies of the law. For there were none of Jerusalem in Christ’s flock at that time, save only those which were circumcised. From whom, then, could he distinguish those men? Lastly, it seemeth to be a thing unlike to be true that the apostles, and those which were moderate being of the number of the faithful, did attempt this combat. For though they had been offended, yet they might have conferred with Peter privately, and have demanded some reason of his fact. By these reasons am I moved to think that those are said to be of the circumcision who did make so great account of circumcision, that they granted no man a place in the kingdom of God, unless he took upon him the profession of the law, and, being admitted into the Church by this holy rite, did put off uncleanness.

(724)Societam colant,” may cultivate communion.

(725)Misceri,” were confounded.

Verse 3

3.Unto men being uncircumcised. This was not forbidden by the law of God, but it was a tradition which came from the fathers. And yet, notwithstanding, Peter doth not object that they dealt too hardly (726) with him in this point, and that he was not bound by the necessity of man’s law. He omitteth all this defense, and doth only answer, that they came first unto him, and that they were offered unto him, as it were, by the hand of God. And here we see the rare modesty of Peter, because whereas, trusting to the goodness of the cause, he might have justly despised unskillful men, who did trouble him unjustly, yet doth he mildly excuse himself as it becometh brethren. This was no small trial in that he was unworthily accused, because he had obeyed God faithfully. But because he knew that this law was enjoined the whole Church, that every man be ready to give an account of his doctrine and life so often as the matter requireth, and he remembered that he was one of the flock, he doth not only suffer himself to be ruled, but submitteth himself willingly to the judgment of the Church. Doctrine, indeed, if it be of God, is placed above the chance and die of man’s judgment; but because the Lord will have prophecy judged, his servants must not refuse this condition, that they prove themselves to be such as they will be accounted. But we shall see anon how far the defense both of doctrine, as also of facts, ought to extend.

For this present we must know this, that Peter doth willingly answer for himself when his fact is reproved. (727) And if the Pope of Rome be Peter’s successor, why is not he bound by the same law? Admit we grant that this submission was voluntary, yet why doth not the successor imitate such an example of modesty showed unto him? Although we need no long circumstance (728) here; for if that be true which the Popes spew out in their sacrilegious decrees, Peter did treacherously betray and forsake the privileges of their seat, [See,] and so he betrayed the See of Rome. For, after that they have made the Pope the judge of all the whole world, affirming that he is not subject to man’s judgment; after that they have lifted him up above the clouds, that, being free from giving an account, his will and pleasure may stand for a reason, [law,] they make him forthwith patron of the apostolic seat, [See,] stoutly to defend the privileges thereof. Of what great sluggishness shall Peter then be condemned, if he did lose his right given him of God, by yielding so cowardly? [easily.] Why did not he at least object that he was free from the laws, and exempt from the common sort? But he useth no such preface, but entereth [on] the cause without making any delay. And let us remember, that there is nothing which hindereth us from contemning that idol safely, seeing that usurping such unbridled tyranny, he hath blotted himself out of the number of the bishops.

And Peter beginning. Because this narration is all one with [that] which we had in the chapter next (going before,) and because it is repeated almost in the very same words, if any thing need to be expounded let the readers repair thither. The purpose of Peter, and all the whole sum of his speech, shall appear by the conclusion. Yet, before I come thither, we must briefly mark that he maketh the preaching of the gospel the cause of salvation. Thou shalt hear (saith he) words wherein thou mayest have salvation, not because salvation is included in man’s voice, but because God, offering his Son there unto eternal life, doth also cause us to enjoy him by faith. This is assuredly wonderful goodness of God, who maketh men ministers of life, who have nothing but matter of death in themselves, and which are not only subject to death in themselves, but are also deadly to others. Nevertheless, the filthy unthankfulness of the world betrayeth itself in this point, which, loathing true and certain salvation offered unto it, and forsaking it when it lieth at the feet, doth imagine divers and vain salvations, in seeking which, it had rather gape being hungry, (729) than to be filled with the grace of God which meeteth it and is present.

(726)Praecise,” strictly.

(727)Petrum ad causam dicendam libenter descendere quum ejus factum improbatur,” that Peter readily condescends to plead his cause when his act is impugned.

(728)Circuitu,” circumlocution.

(729)Famelicus inhiare mavult,” it prefers gaping famished.

Verse 16

16.I remembered the word of the Lord. We have sufficiently declared in the first chapter, that when Christ uttered that sentence, he did not make a comparison between two baptisms; but that he intended to declare what difference there was between him and John, (Acts 1:5.) For, as we distinguish the sign from his [its] truth, so it is good to distinguish the minister from the author, lest mortal man challenge (730) that which is proper to God. Man hath the sign in his hand; it is Christ alone which watereth and regenerateth. For it skilleth much whither men’s minds be directed in seeking the graces of God, because they shall not receive one drop without Christ. Therefore, there is this general difference between Christ and all the ministers of the Church, because they give the external sign of water, but he fulfilleth and performeth the effect of the sign by the power of his Spirit. The readers were to be admonished of this thing again in this place, because many do falsely infer that John’s baptism and ours are not all one, whilst that Christ, challenging to himself the Spirit, doth leave nothing for John save water alone.

But if any man trusting to this testimony do make baptism a cold spectacle, and void of all grace of the Spirit, he shall be also greatly deceived. For the Holy Scripture useth to speak two manner of ways of the sacraments. For because Christ is not unfaithful in his promises, he doth not suffer that to be vain which he doth institute; but when as the Scripture doth attribute to baptism strength to wash and regenerate, it ascribeth all this to Christ, and doth only teach what he worketh by his Spirit by the hand of man and the visible sign. Where Christ is thus joined with the minister, and the efficacy of the Spirit with the sign, there is so much attributed to the sacraments as is needful, (Titus 3:5;) but that conjunction must not be so confused, but that men’s minds, being drawn from mortal and frail things, and things like to themselves, and from the elements of the world, they must learn to seek for salvation at Christ’s hand, and to look unto the power of his Spirit alone; because he misseth the mark of faith, whosoever turneth aside even but a little from the Spirit unto the signs; and he is a sacrilegious person who taketh even but an inch of Christ’s praise, that be may deck man therewith. And we must also remember that Christ did comprehend under the word Spirit, not only the gift of tongues, and such like things, but all the whole grace of our renewing; but because these gifts were an excellent argument of Christ’s power, this sentence may well be applied unto them. I will make this more plain; seeing that Christ did bestow upon the apostles the visible graces of the Spirit, he did plainly declare that the Spirit was in his hand; so that by this means he did testify, that he is the alone author of cleanness, righteousness, and of the whole regeneration. And Peter applieth it unto his purpose thus, that forasmuch as Christ did go before, carrying with him the force of baptism, it became him to follow with the addition, (731) that is, the outward sign of water.

(730)Ad se trahat,” arrogate to himself.

(731)Cum accessione,” with the accessary.

Verse 17

17.Who was I? Now do we see to what end Peter made that narration; to wit, that he might declare that God was the author and governor of all the whole matter; therefore, the state of the question consisteth in [turneth upon] the authority of God, whether meat be not of more weight than men’s counsels. (732) Peter affirmeth that he did nothing but that which was rightly and orderly done, because he obeyed God; he showeth that he preached the doctrine of the gospel, neither amiss, neither rashly, where Christ bestowed the graces of his Spirit. The approbation of our doctrine, and also our deeds, must be brought to this rule so often as men call us to an account; for whosoever stayeth himself upon the commandment of God, he hath defense enough. If men be not content, there is no cause why he should pass for their judgments any more. (733) And hereby we gather that the faithful ministers of God’s word may in such sort give an account of their doctrine, that they may no whit impair the credit and certainty thereof; to wit, if they show that it was given them by God: but if they shall deal with unjust men, who will not be enforced with the reverence of God to yield, let us let them alone with their obstinacy, appealing unto the day of the Lord.

And we must also note, that we do not only resist God by striving against him, but also by lingering, if we do not that which our calling requireth, and which is proper to it. For Peter saith that he cannot deny baptism and brotherly fellowship to the Gentiles, but that he should be [without being] an enemy to God. But he should have essayed nothing which was manifestly contrary to the grace of God. That is true indeed; but he which doth not receive those whom God offereth, and shutteth the gate which God openeth, he hindereth the work of God so much as in him lieth; as we say at this day, that those men make war against God who are set against the baptizing of infants; because they most cruelly exclude those out of the Church whom God hath adopted into the Church, and they deprive those of the outward sign whom God vouchsafeth to call his children. Like unto this is that kind of resisting, in that many dissemblers, who, whilst they be magistrates, ought to assist, according to their office, the martyrs of Christ, go about to stop their mouths, and to take from them their liberty. For because they hate the truth, they would have it suppressed.

(732)Annon praeponderet cibus humanis consiliis,” whether meat do not preponderate in man’s counsels.

(733)Non est quod perversa eorum judicia amplius moretur,” there is no reason why he should any longer regard their perverse judgments.

Verse 18

18.When they heard these things they were quieted. The end doth show that those were not moved with malice which did contend with Peter; for this is an evident sign of godliness, in that being thoroughly instructed touching the will of God, they cease forthwith to contend. By which example we are taught, that those are not to be despised who, being offended through unadvised zeal, reprove any thing wrongfully; but that their consciences must be appeased by the Word of God, which are troubled by error, and that their docility is tried at least thus far forth. As touching us, we do hereby, in like sort, learn whereupon our judgment must depend, namely, upon the sole and simple beck of God. For this honor is due to him, that his will be to us the certain and principal rule of truth and justice. So often as it is requisite for us to know the cause of any thing, the Lord doth not conceal the same from us; but to the end he may accustom our faith unto just obedience, he telleth us sometimes simply and plainly that this or that thing pleaseth him. He which granteth liberty to himself to inquire farther, and taketh a delight in his curiosity, doth nothing else but throw himself headlong with devilish boldness. And Luke doth not only declare that these men held their peace, but that they gave glory also to God. Some are enforced by shame to hold their peace, who, notwithstanding, keep in that in their minds which they dare not utter. That is rather a dissemblance of modesty than docility. But these men do so thoroughly submit themselves to God, that they are not afraid nor ashamed to recant by and by, [forthwith.]

Then hath God. Luke doth briefly declare in these words what the gospel containeth, and to what end it tendeth, to wit, that God may reconcile men to himself, being renewed by his Spirit. The word repentance alone is expressed in this place, but when he addeth unto life, it appeareth plainly that it is not separated from faith. Therefore, whosoever will rightly profit in the gospel, let him put off the old man, and think upon newness of life, (Ephesians 4:22;) that done, let him know for a certainty that he is not called in vain unto repentance, but that there is salvation prepared for him in Christ. So shall it come to pass, that the hope and assurance of salvation shall rest upon the free mercy of God alone, and that the forgiveness of sins shall, notwithstanding, be no cause of sluggish security. This member, to give repentance, may be expounded two manner of ways; either that God granted to the Gentiles place for repentance, when as he would have his gospel preached to them; or that he circumcised their hearts by his Spirit, as Moses saith, (Deuteronomy 30:6,) and made them fleshy hearts of stony hearts, as saith Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 11:19.) For it is a work proper to God alone to fashion and to beget men again, that they may begin to be new creatures; and it agreeth better with this second sense; it is not so much racked, and it agreeth better with the phrase [phraseology] of Scripture.

Verse 19

19.Those which were scattered abroad. Luke returneth now unto the former history, (and unto that which followed in the same.) For he had said before that after that Stephen was slain the cruelty of the wicked increased; and many fled hither and thither for fear, so that the apostles were almost left alone at Jerusalem. Whereas the Church was thus torn in pieces, and fear did cause those which were fled to keep silence or else contempt of strangers, (734) he declareth that that event did follow which no man would have hoped for; for as the seed is sown that it may bring forth fruit, so it came to pass through their flight and scattering abroad, that the gospel was spread abroad in nations which were far off, which was included before within the walls of one city, as in a barn. (735) In like sort it came to pass, that the name of Christ, passing over mountains and seas, did flow even unto the farthest parts of the world; and by this means, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, the consumption did abound (736) in righteousness. If so many godly men had not been expelled out of Jerusalem, Cyprus had heard nothing, Phenice had heard nothing of Christ; yea, Italy and Spain, which were farther off, had heard nothing. But the Lord brought to pass, that of many torn members did arise more bodies. For how came it to pass that there were Churches gathered at Rome and at Puteoli, save only because a few exiled men, and such as fled away, (737) had brought the gospel thither with them? And as God did at that time make the endeavors of Satan frustrate after a wonderful sort, so we need not doubt but that even at this day he will make to himself triumphs of the cross and persecution, that the Church may better grow together, though it be scattered abroad. Phenice joineth to Syria, and is nigh to Galilee. Antioch is a most famous city of Syria, at which part it is joined to Cilicia.

Speaking to none. Peradventure they were letted not only with fear of persecution, that they durst not speak to the Gentiles, but also with that foolish religion, in that they thought that the children’s bread was thrown to the dogs, (Mark 16:15;) whereas, notwithstanding, Christ had commanded that the gospel should be preached to all the world after his resurrection.

(734) Transpose thus: “And fear, or else contempt of strangers, did cause those who had fled to keep silence.”

(735) Transpose thus: “The gospel which was before included, etc., was spread abroad,” etc.

(736)Consumptio exundavit,” the devastation overflowed.

(737)Pauci exules ac profugi,” a few exiles and fugitives.

Verse 20

20.Luke doth at length declare that certain of them brought this treasure even unto the Gentiles. And Luke calleth these Grecians not Ελληνες, but Ελληνισται. Therefore, some say that those came of the Jews, yet did they inhabit Greece; which I do not allow. For seeing the Jews, whom he mentioned a little before, were partly of Cyprus, they must needs be reckoned in that number, because the Jews count Cyprus a part of Greece. But Luke distinguisheth them from those, whom he calleth afterward Ελληνιστας. Furthermore, forasmuch as he had said that the word was preached at the beginning only to the Jews, and he meant those who, being banished out of their own country, did live in Cyprus and Phenice, correcting as it were this exception, he saith that some of them did teach the Grecians. This contrariety doth cause me to expound it of the Gentiles. For Luke’s meaning is, that a few did more freely preach the gospel, (738) because the calling of the Gentiles was not unknown to them. But the constancy of them all deserveth no small praise; because, being delivered, as it were, out of the midst of death, they are not afraid to do their duty toward God even with danger. Whence we gather to what end, and how far forth Christians may fly persecution; to wit, that they may spend (739) the residue of their life in spreading abroad the glory of God. If any man demand how it came to pass that strangers lately coming, and such as might have been suspected among all the Jews, and hated of them, because they were banished out of Jerusalem, were so bold, I answer, that this came to pass through the singular motion of God, and that they consulted suddenly according to the occasion offered them. For this deliberation is not of flesh and blood.

(738)Evangelii doctrinam sparsisse,” did spread the doctrine of the gospel.

(739)Strenue impendant,” may strenously spend.

Verse 21

21.The hand of the Lord was. Luke proveth by the success that the gospel was offered unto the Gentiles also by the brethren of Cyprus and Cyrene not rashly nor unadvisedly, because their labor was fruitful and profitable. But such increase should never have followed, unless God had commanded and favored. Therefore, it followeth that it pleased God that the Gentiles should be called. The hand, as it is well known, doth signify power and strength. Therefore, this is Luke’s meaning, that God did testify by his present aid that the Gentiles were called together with the Jews, through his direction, to be made partakers of the grace of Christ. And this blessing of God served not a little to confirm the minds of all men. This place did also teach us, that what pains soever the ministers of God take in teaching, it shall be all vain and void, unless God bless their labors from heaven. For we may plant and water, as Paul teacheth, but the increase cometh from God alone, (1 Corinthians 3:0,) in whose hand the hearts of men are, that he may bend and frame the same at his pleasure. Therefore, as often as we are to intreat of faith, let us always remember this speech, that God wrought by his ministers, and that he made their doctrine effectual by his hand, that is, by the secret inspiration of the Spirit. Therefore, let the minister attempt nothing trusting to his own wit and industry, but let him commit his labor to the Lord, upon whose grace the whole success dependeth; and where doctrine shall work effectually, let those which shall believe thank God for their faith. Furthermore, we must note that which Luke saith, that many were turned unto God by faith, because he doth very well express the force and nature of faith; that it is not idle and cold, (740) but such as restoreth men (who were before turned away from God) unto his government, and bindeth them unto his righteousness.

(740)Otiosa frigidaque notitia,” an idle and frigid knowledge.

Verse 22

22.And the tidings. If this report had been brought before Peter did excuse himself, those good men should have been reproved of many whose ministry notwithstanding God had sealed with the grace of his Spirit; but that superstition was now wiped away out of their minds, forasmuch as God had by evident signs declared that no nation ought to be counted profane. Therefore, they contend no longer, neither do they count it a point of rashness, that some durst preach Christ unto the Gentiles; but by sending help, they testify that they allow that which they had done. Furthermore, this was the cause why they sent Barnabas. The apostles did at that time bear all the burden of the kingdom of Christ; therefore, it was their duty to frame and set in order Churches every where; to keep all the faithful, wheresoever dispersed, in the pure consent of faith; to appoint ministers and pastors wheresoever there was any number of the faithful. The crafty wiliness of Satan is well known. So soon as he seeth a gate set open for the gospel, he endeavoreth by all means to corrupt that which is sincere, [pure;] whereby it came to pass that divers heresies brake out together with Christ’s doctrine. Therefore, the greater gifts every Church hath, the more careful ought it to be, lest Satan mix or trouble any thing amongst the ignorant, and those who are not as yet established in the right faith; because it is the easiest matter in the world to corrupt corn in the blade. To conclude, Barnabas was sent to bring them farther forward in the principles of faith; to set things in some certain order; to give the building which was begun some form, that there might be a lawful state of the Church.

Verse 23

23.When he had seen the grace of God. By these words Luke teacheth, first, that the gospel which they had received was true; secondly, that Barnabas sought nothing else but the glory of Christ. For, when he saith that he saw the grace of God, and that he exhorted them to go forward, hereby we gather that they were well taught. And the joy is a testimony of sincere godliness. Ambition is evermore envious and malicious; so that we see many seek for praise by reproving other men, because they are more desirous of their own glory than of the glory of Christ. But the faithful servants of Christ must rejoice (as did Barnabas) when they see the gospel increase, by whomsoever God shall make his name known. And assuredly those which help one another, so that they acknowledge that all the effect which springeth thence is the work of God, will never envy one another, neither will they seek to carp [at] one another, but will, with one mouth and mind, praise the power of God.

Again, this is worth the noting, that Luke doth attribute the faith of the men of Antioch, and whatsoever was worthy [of] praise there, to the grace of God. He might have reckoned up all those virtues which might make for the commendation of men; but he comprehendeth what excellence soever was in that Church under this word grace. Lastly, we must note Barnabas’ exhortation. We have already said that Barnabas did subscribe to the former doctrine which they had embraced; but lest doctrine fall away, it is most requisite that it be thoroughly imprinted in the minds of the faithful by continual exhortations. For seeing that we have to encounter continually with so many and such strong adversaries, and our minds are so slippery, unless every man arm himself diligently, it will by and by fall away, which thing infinite numbers do show to be true by their falling away. Whereas he setteth down this manner of perseverance, that they continue with purpose of heart we are hereby taught that faith hath taken deep root then when it hath a place in the heart. Wherefore it is no marvel, if scarce one of ten of those who profess faith do stand unto the end, seeing that very few know what the affection and purpose of heart meaneth.

Verse 24

24.For he was a good man. Barnabas is commended with the commendation of the Holy Ghost; yet we must know that there was respect had not so much of him as of us. For all those are condemned of ungodliness and malice who envy other men’s labors, and are grieved when they see the same have good success.

Also we must note the epithet used in the description of a good man, full of the Holy Ghost, full of faith. For after that he had said that he was an upright and good man, he showed from what fountain this goodness did flow; that, abandoning the affections of the flesh, he did, with all his heart, embrace godliness, having the Spirit to be his guide. But why doth he separate faith from the Spirit, whose gift it is? I answer, that it is not named severally, as if it were a diverse thing, but it is rather set forth as a principal token, whereby it might appear that Barnabas was full of the Holy Ghost.

There was a great multitude added. Though the number of the godly was already great, yet Luke saith that it was increased by Barnabas’ coming. Thus doth the building of the Church go forward when one doth help another with mutual consent, and one doth gently allow (741) that which another hath begun.

(741)Candide... probat,” candidly approves.

Verse 25

25.Barnabas’ simplicity is commended to us now the second time, that whereas he might have borne the chiefest swing at Antioch, yet went he into Cilicia that he might fet [fetch] Paul thence, who he knew should be preferred before him. Therefore we see how, forgetting himself, he respecteth nothing but that Christ may be chief; how he setteth before his eyes the edifying of the Church alone; how he is content with the prosperous success of the gospel. Therefore, Barnabas is no whit afraid lest Paul do any whit debase him by his coming, so he glorify Christ.

Verse 26

26.He addeth afterward, that such a holy concord was blessed from heaven; for this was no small honor that the holy name of Christians began there for all the whole world. Though the apostles had been long time at Jerusalem, yet God had not vouchsafed to bestow upon his Church, which was there, this excellent title of his Son. Whether it were because at Antioch much people was grown together into one body, as well of Jews as of Gentiles, or whether it were because the Church might be better ordered in time of peace; or because they were more bold to confess their faith, there were in very deed Christians both at Jerusalem and also in Samaria before that time; and we know that Jerusalem was the first fountain from which Christianity did flow. (742) And what is it else to be a disciple of Christ but to be a Christian? But when they began plainly to be called that which they were the use of the name served greatly to set forth the glory of Christ, because by this means they referred all their religion unto Christ alone. This was, therefore, a most excellent worship for the city of Antioch. that Christ brought forth his name thence like a standard, whereby it might be made known to all the world that there was some people whose captain was Christ, and which did glory in his name.

But and if Rome had such a color of [pretext for] pride, who were able to suffer the proud boastings of the Pope and his adherents? They would then, not without cause, thunder out that Rome is the mother and head of all Churches; but it is well, that seeing they challenge to themselves whatsoever, when they come to the matter, they are found altogether vain; yea, Antioch itself doth plainly prove that the estate of one place is not continual. Admit we grant the Romans these plausible titles, we have been sometimes, [we once were,] shall they yet be so bold as to take one-half of that which belongeth to Antioch? And is the dignity of Antioch the greater now, because the Christians had their name thence? Yea, it is rather a manifest mirror of the horrible vengeance of God. For, seeing there is nothing to be seen there but evil favored wastiness, (743) it remaineth that we learn to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and that we know that unthankful men have not so much liberty granted them that they may freely mock God.

(742)Verum fuisse fontem ex quo primum fluxit Christanismus,” was the true fountain from which Christianity did first flow.

(743)Deformen vasitatem,” hideous devastation.

Verse 27

27.Luke commendeth in this place the faith of the men of Antioch by the fruit, because they endeavored to relieve the poverty of that church, from whence they received the gospel, with their abundance; and that did they unrequested. Such earnest care for the brethren doth sufficiently declare how seriously they worshipped Christ, the head of all. Luke doth signify that the fame of that church was spread abroad, when he saith that there came excellent men thither from Jerusalem. But forasmuch as the word prophet is taken divers ways in the New Testament as we may learn by the former Epistle to the Corinthians, those are called prophets in this place who were endued with the gift of prophesying, as the four daughters of Philip shall have the same title given them hereafter. And forasmuch as the foretelling of the famine is attributed to Agabus alone, we may hereby gather that this was granted to every one by a certain measure to know things to come.

Verse 28

28.He signified by the Spirit. Luke doth plainly express that the Spirit of God was the author of this prophecy, that we may know that it was not a conjecture taken by the stars, or some other natural causes; again, that Agabus did not play the philosopher after the manner of men, but he uttered that which God had appointed by the secret inspiration of the Spirit. Barrenness may indeed be sometimes foretold by the disposition of the stars, but there is no certainty in such foretellings, both because of the opposite concourses, and also, especially, because God doth govern earthly things at his pleasure, far otherwise than can be gathered by the stars, that he may lead men away from the perverse beholding of stars. And although these foretellings have their degree, yet the prophecies of the Spirit do far exceed them. But it seemeth that the foretelling of the famine was unlucky, [of evil omen,] and not to be wished for; for to what end was it for men to be made miserable before their time, by having the unhappy event foretold? I answer, that there be many causes for which it is expedient that men should be warned before in time when the judgments of God hang over their heads, and punishments [are] due to their sins. I omit others which are usual (744) in the prophets, because [viz. that] they have a space granted wherein to repent, that they may prevent God’s judgment, who have provoked his wrath against themselves; because [that] the faithful are instructed in time to arm themselves with patience; because [that] the obstinate wickedness of wicked men is convict; because [that] both good and evil learn that miseries do not come by chance, but that they are punishments wherewith God doth punish the sins of the world; because [that] those are awakened out of their sleep and sluggishness by this means, who took great delight in their vices. The profit of this present prophecy appeareth by the text, because the men of Antioch were thereby pricked forward to relieve their brethren which were in misery.

Which happened under Claudius. Suetonius also maketh mention of this famine, who saith that there were crusts or shards thrown at Claudius’ head in the midst of the market and that he was so sore afraid of stoning, that he had a singular care afterward, during his whole life, to make provision for victual. And Josephus, in his Fifteenth Book of Antiquity, saith, that Judea was sore oppressed with scarcity, by reason of continual drought.

(744)Passim occurrunt,” everywhere occur, are everywhere mentioned.

Verse 29

29.But here ariseth a question, seeing that the misery was common to all, why ought they rather to have succored one people than all the rest? I answer, that forasmuch as Judea was impoverished with great destructions of wars and other miseries, the men of Antioch were not without cause more moved with the miseries of the brethren which were there; secondly, the greater the rage of the enemies was, the more wretched was the estate of the brethren. Finally, Paul doth sufficiently declare, in the Epistle to the Galatians, that Judea had certain especial necessities, whereof all other had regard, not without cause, (Galatians 3:0) And this thankfulness deserved no small commendations, in that the men of Antioch thought that they ought to help the needy brethren, from whom they had received the gospel. For there is nothing more just than that those should reap earthly things who have sown spiritual things. As every man is too much bent to provide for himself, every man might readily have excepted and objected: Why shall not I rather provide for myself? But when they call to mind how greatly they are indebted to the brethren, omitting that carefulness, (745) they turn themselves to help them. In sum, this alms had a double end; for the men of Antioch did the duty of charity toward their needy brethren and they did also testify by this sign, what great account they made of the gospel, whilst that they honored the place whence it came.

As every man was able. We see the men of Antioch observe in this place that mean which Paul prescribeth to the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians 8:6,) whether they did this of themselves, or being instructed by him; and it is not to be doubted, but that he continued like to himself (746) in both places. Therefore we must follow this rule, that every one, considering how much is granted him, impart the same courteously with his brethren, as one that must give an account; so shall it come to pass, that he which is but poor shall have a liberal mind, and that a small reward (747) shall be counted a fat and gorgeous sacrifice. By this word determined, Luke giveth us to understand that their oblation was voluntary. Which thing ought so to be, as Paul teacheth, that we reach out our hand unto the needy not as constrained, but cheerfully, (2 Corinthians 9:7.) When as he nameth every one, it is all one as if he should say, that one did not prescribe another a law, neither did they burthen one another with their prejudice, but that every man did bestow his liberality as seemed good to himself; and we must note the word διακονιας, whereby we are taught that rich men have greater abundance given them upon that condition, that they may be the ministers of the poor in the dispensation committed to them by God. Lastly, Luke teacheth that the blessing was sent not to all the whole nation, but only to those that were of the household of faith, not because we ought never to use any bountifulness, or courtesy towards the unbelievers, seeing love ought to extend itself unto all mankind, but because those ought to be preferred whom God hath joined and linked to us move near, and with a more holy band.

(745)Immodica illa anxietate,” that excessive anxiety.

(746)Sibi constiterit,” is consistent with himself.

(747)Munus,” gift.

Verse 30

30.Sending it unto the elders, [presbyters.] We must note two things in this place, that the men of Antioch did choose faithful men, and of known honesty, to carry their blessing; secondly, that they sent it unto the elders, that they might wisely bestow the same. For if alms be thrown into the midst of the common people, or be set in the midst where every one may take what he will, every man will by and by take it to himself as if it were some common prey; and so he that is most bold will defraud the needy; yea, through his greediness he will cut the throats of the hungry. Therefore, let us mark these places, which teach that we must not only deal uprightly and faithfully, but that there is also an order and wisdom required as well in making choice as in all our administration. Those are called elders in whose hands the government of the Church was, among whom the apostles were chief; the men of Antioch refer the holy money (which they had appointed for the poor) to their discretion. If any man object that this was the office of the deacons, forasmuch as the apostles did deny that they could both serve tables and attend upon doctrine, answer is easy, that the deacons were appointed over tables, in such sort, that yet, notwithstanding, they were under the elders, [presbyters,] neither did they any thing but at their appointment.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/acts-11.html. 1840-57.
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