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Friday, July 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 23

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

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Verse 1

1.Looking earnestly. Paul beginneth with the testimony of a good conscience, that all the whole multitude may understand that he is unjustly charged with such an heinous offense, as if he had gone about to overthrow the worship of God. It may be, indeed, that a man may offend of ignorance, who will not otherwise be a contemner either of God or of religion; but Paul meant at the first, only with this excuse, to mollify their nettled minds, that he might the better be heard; for it had been in vain for him to have defended himself, so long as that opinion did stick in the minds of the priests, that he was a wicked revolt, [apostate]. Therefore, before he enter the cause, he excuseth himself of that crime, not only that he may purchase favor by that desire which he had to live godlily, but also that he may prevent false accusations, or at least that he may refute unjust prejudices which might have made against him, wherewith he saw the whole multitude infected and corrupted. We know not what he meant to say besides. Notwithstanding, this preface teacheth that no man can rightly handle the doctrine of godliness, unless the fear of God reign and bear the chief sway in him. And now, though he give not the priests so honorable a title here as he did a little before, when he stood upon the steps of the fortress, yet he calleth them brethren, giving them that honor, not because they deserve it, but that he may testify that he is not the cause of the breach of friendship. −

Verse 2

2.And the chief priest. Luke’s narration seemeth not to agree with the usual history; for Josephus writeth thus concerning the high priests of that time, that Quadratus, deputy [proconsul] of Syria, deposing Cumanus from the government of Judea, commanded him to answer for himself before Caesar, and sent Ananias, the highest priest, bound with him, into whose place who was chosen he maketh no mention, saving that it is likely that Jonathas had the honor given him, who, as he reporteth, was afterward slain by the subtilty and treachery of Felix, deputy [prefect] of Judea, who succeeded Cumanus; for when he had oftentimes told Felix part of his mind, and he could not away with the constancy of the man, he made a compact with one Doras, that he should privily convey in murderers to slay him. Then, as the same Josephus doth witness, king Agrippa made Ismael, the son of Phebeus, priest. But when he was sent by the people to Rome about a certain suit, and was kept there by Popea, wife to Nero, Agrippa putteth in his place one Josephus, whose name was Chabus, the son of Simon. But immediately being also weary of him, he appointeth Ananus, the son of Ananus, to be high priest. −

Furthermore, he saith that this last thing happened at such time as, after the death of Festus, Albinus did succeed him. And I see not why some call this Ananus Ananias. That hath indeed some color, in that he is called a Pharisee; also in that it is said that he was bold and stout, who, without any lawful authority, caused James, the Lord’s brother, to be stoned. But if we give credence to Josephus, he could not be that Ananias of whom mention is made in this place by Luke, who was then made priest, when many years were past and gone, after that Felix departed out of the province. −

I have another conjecture in my head. For there flourished during all that time one Ananias, an high priest, who, excepting the title of honor, was almost chief in the order. And because Josephus leaveth some void time between Ananias and Ismael, it may be that this man had the room of the highest priest in the meantime. − (522) But though this were not so, it appeareth out of Josephus, that Ananias, who died when the city was besieged, was, in the reign of Claudius Caesar and Nero, equal in dignity with the chief priests which were then. −

Yea, his authority is so highly extolled, as if he had the chief government, howsoever other men did bear the ensigns of honor. Again, he is called αρχιερευς confusedly, − (523) as those who were the highest priests. Now, let the readers ponder and consider, whether the word αρχιερευς doth not rather signify in this place chief than highest, as it doth in many other places. For the Evangelists do everywhere call the priests who were of the course of Aaron αρχιερεις, that they may distinguish them from the Levites, who had a more inferior degree of priesthood. Moreover, it may be that that Ananias, who was counted stout and courageous, did supply the high priest’s room in his absence. Those things which we have recited out of Josephus are recorded partly in the Twentieth Book of Antiquities, from the third chapter until the eight; partly in the Second Book of the Wars of the Jews. −

He commanded him to be smitten. We see that there was in this assembly great distemperature. For whereas the high priest was in such rage, that he commanded Paul to be smitten for nothing, he did it undoubtedly with the consent of all the rest; yea, to the end he might win the favor of mad men. The Lord doth suffer the wicked to be so carried away by Satan, that they fall from all show of equity and temperance. For hypocrites would fain bear some show of moderation; and undoubtedly this high priest went about to pretend such gravity as did beseem his person. But the Lord did pluck this visure [mask] from his face, so that there was not found in him so much as the modesty of a mean man, but he poured out his furious force like a beast. −

In the mean season, we see what horrible and filthy disorder there was at that day in the Church. Ananias, who was the chief of the council, whereas he ought to have stayed others by his gravity, forgetting all modesty, he enforceth them unto violence and savageness. Therefore they had at that day no regard of discipline, but there remained among them confused barbarism. And no marvel, for they had estranged themselves from God; they had most reproachfully rejected Christ; all their religion was set to sale. Therefore it was meet that they should run headlong into furious madness, which might be loathsome even among profane men, that they might be punished in their own shame for their ungodliness. −


Intermedio illo tempore,” during the intermediate time.


Promiscue,” indiscriminately.

Verse 3

3.God shall smite thee. Paul cannot put up that injury, but he must, at least, with sharp words reprehend the high priest, − (524) and denounce God’s vengeance unto him. For it is no curse, as appeareth sufficiently by the Greek text, but rather a reprehension, joined with the denouncing of a punishment. If any man object, that Paul did not use that modesty which Christ commandeth his to use, when he commandeth them after they have received a blow on the left cheek to turn the right cheek also, ( Matthew 5:39) we may readily answer, that Christ doth not in these words require silence, whereby the wickedness and frowardness of the wicked may be nourished; but he doth only bridle their minds, that they may not take that injury, which they have already received, impatiently. Christ will have those that be his to be ready to suffer another injury after that they have already received one; and by this means he represseth all desire of revenge. This is a brief and true definition of patience which beseemeth all the faithful, that they break not out into wrathfulness, that they do not one evil turn for another; but that they overcome evil with goodness. But this is no let but that they may complain of those injuries which they have suffered, but that they may reprove the wicked, and cite them to the judgment-seat of God; so they do this with quiet and calm minds; and, secondly, without evil will and hatred; as Paul appealeth, in this place, unto God’s judgment-seat, that the high priest may not flatter himself in his tyranny. Therefore he accuseth him, because he breaketh the law, from which (as he pretendeth) he hath his authority; whence he gathereth, that he shall not escape unpunished. −

If any man, being overcome with impatience, do but murmur, he shall not be blameless. But a manifest and sharp accusation, if it proceed from a quiet mind, doth not pass the bounds set down by Christ. If any man say that it is mixed with railing, I answer, that we must always mark with what affection the words be uttered. Christ pronounceth that man to be worthy to be punished by the council who shall only say to his brother raca; and as for him who shall say thou fool, he maketh him subject to a more heavy judgment ( Matthew 5:22). But if opportunity be offered to reprove, we must oftentimes reprehend sharply. Whereby it appeareth, that this only was Christ’s drift to keep back his, first, from all indignation, secondly, from speaking anything in despite − (525) of any man. Therefore, let us beware of railing, and then we may not only note in our brethren foolishness, but also it shall be lawful for us to express their offenses by their names when need shall be. So Paul did not speak for his own sake, that he might, with sharp words, requite the injury done to him by the high priest; but because he was a minister of the word of God, he would not wink at an offense which did deserve sharp and serious reprehension; especially seeing it was profitable to bring to light the gross hypocrisy of Ananias. Therefore, so often as we have any dealings with the wicked, if we be desirous to handle a good cause well, we must beware that there break out in us no motion of anger, that no desire of revenge provoke us to break out into railing. But if the spirit of meekness reign in us, we may handle the wicked according to their deserts, as it were out of the mouth of God; yet so that it may appear that we be rather prophets, than that we blunder out anything rashly through immoderate heat. −


“ − Silentio... quin saltem expostulet graviter verbis cum pontifice ,” in silence, without at least sharply expostulating with the high priest.


Contumelia,” with contumely.

Verse 4

4.Those which stood by said By this it appeareth that they were all sick of one disease. − (526) For why do they not rather blame Ananias, when they saw that he had quite forgotten all modesty, and that he brake out into violence and stripes after a barbarous manner? for even this did turn to the reproach of them all. − (527) But this is a solemn [marked] thing among hypocrites, they look narrowly into other men’s faults and wink at their own. Again, this pride is coupled with tyranny, so that their subjects, and those who are under them, may do nothing, but as for themselves, they may do whatsoever they will. So fareth it at this day in Popery, the more liberty that impure clergy doth grant to itself, and the more carelessly it waxeth wanton, and polluteth the whole world with the sins which flow thence, the more straitly do they rule and stay the tongues of the people. Therefore, if any man dare be so bold as once to whisper, a little liberty doth cause them to make outrageous outcries as it were heinous sacrilege. −


Eadem omnes intemperie laborasse,” that they all laboured under the same intemperance,


In commune illorum dedecus,” to their common disgrace.

Verse 5

5.I knew not, brethren. Those who think that this excuse of Paul hath in it no figure, do not well mark the contrary objections wherewith their error is refuted. They say that Paul knew not the high priest, because he had been absent long time; as if he were ignorant that he was chief priest, who is the chief in the council, and hath the uppermost room. Neither was Ananias so base and obscure that Paul was ignorant of his degree. But his words cut off all occasion of disputation, when as he chideth him, because, occupying the place of a judge, under color of the law, he doth, in his rage, that which is contrary to law. Therefore Paul knew what place he had, when he said that he abused his power. Other some invent a more subtle answer, that he spake not here of the mail, but of the office and public person. But, first, the exposition is far fet, [fetched] because, if Paul did reverence the priesthood, he must needs have given some honor to the man which had the same. And now it is not to be thought (forasmuch as the majesty of the priesthood was abolished by the coming of Christ, and that there followed such filthy profanation) that Paul did honor those as he was wont, (as if their perfect and lawful authority did continue) who, under the title of the high priests, did reign as lords without any law or right. −

Therefore, subscribing to Augustine, I do not doubt but that this is a taunting excuse. Neither doth that any whit hinder, because plain speech becometh the ministers of the word. For seeing there be two sorts of ironies, one which is covered with subtilty and means to deceive, another which doth so figuratively note out the thing which is in hand, that it doth prick sorer; in this second, there is nothing which doth not well beseem the servants of Christ. Therefore, this is the meaning of the words, Brethren, I acknowledge nothing in this man which belongeth to the priest. Also, he added a testimony of the 22nd chapter of Exodus, ( Exodus 22:28) in which place, though Moses speak of judges, yet the sentence is extended properly unto any lawful order. Therefore all dignity, which is appointed for maintenance of civil government, ought to be reverenced and had in honor. For whosoever he be that rebelleth against or resisteth the magistrate, or those who are appointed to rule, and are promoted unto honor, he would have no government. − (528) And such desire tendeth to the disturbing of order. Yea, it shaketh and overthroweth all humanity. Therefore Paul purgeth himself of this crime; yet so, that he denieth that Ananias is to be counted a priest of God, who hath corrupted and perverted all the order of the Church. −

But here riseth a question, whether we ought not to obey a ruler, though he exercise tyranny? For if that man be not to be deprived of honor which executeth his office amiss, Paul offended in robbing the high priest of his honor. Therefore I answer, that there is some difference between civil magistrates and the prelates of the Church. For though the exploiting [administration] of earthly or civil rule be confused or perverse, yet the Lord will have men to continue still in subjection. But when the spiritual government doth degenerate, the consciences of the godly are at liberty, and set free from obeying unjust authority; especially if the wicked and profane enemies of holiness do falsely pretend the title of priesthood to overthrow the doctrine of salvation, and challenge to themselves such authority, as that they will be thereby equal with God. So it is not only lawful for the faithful at this day to shake off from their shoulders the Pope’s yoke, but they must do it of necessity, seeing they cannot obey his laws unless they forsake God.


Anarchiam appetit,” he longs for anarchy.

Verse 6

6.And when Paul knew. The policy − (529) of Paul, whereof Luke maketh mention, doth seem not to beseem the servant of Christ. For the subtilty which he used was inwrapped in dissimulation, which was not far from a lie. He saith that the state of his cause did consist in the resurrection of the dead: but we know that the strife arose about other matters: because he disannulled the ceremonies, because he admitted the Gentiles into the covenant of salvation. I answer, that though these things be true, yet did not he lie. For he doth neither deny that he was accused of other matters, neither doth this make the whole controversy to consist in one point; but he saith truly that the Sadducees were therefore offended with him, because he did hold the resurrection of the dead. He knew that those who had conspired together against him were enemies also one to another. − (530) He knew that his own conscience was clear; and it had been an easy matter for him to prove his cause good before just judges. Yet because he seeth them cry out on him clamorously, and that he had no place granted to defend himself, he setteth his enemies together by the ears. Whereby it doth also appear, that they were carried away through ignorance and blind zeal. Therefore we must note that Paul did so begin, as that he was desirous truly and plainly to unfold the whole matter; and that he did not craftily refuse to make a pure and sound confession, such as, the servants of Christ ought to make; but because the way was stopt before him, neither could he be heard, he used the last remedy, − (531) to declare that his adversaries were carried headlong with blind hatred. For the end doth show, that those are not guided with reason or judgment, who are carried out of the way by mutual discord. −

Now, if any man, which darkeneth the light of doctrine, excuse his craft, by the example of Paul, he is easily refuted. For it is one thing for a man to provide for himself alone with the loss of truth, and another to lead the professed enemies of Christ from resisting him, that they may strive among themselves. −

Furthermore, we see the nature of the wicked, though they disagree among themselves like enemies, yet when they are to make war against the gospel, they forget their own garboils [strifes]. For Satan, the father of discord, doth procure this one consent only among his, that they may be of one mind and of one affection, to extinguish godliness. So we see that the factions which are in Popery hot, − (532) are quiet only so long as they join hand in hand to oppress the gospel. For which cause, the disciples of Christ must be more courageous to foster and nourish truth, that, being joined together, they may the better resist. Also, we gather by this what manner of peace the Scripture commendeth unto us. Christ saith that the peace-makers are the children of God, ( Matthew 5:9) and this is true, that they must do what they can to bring all men that they may grow together − (533) under the Lord. Yet this doth not hinder but that we may, (fighting under the banner of the same Lord) as it were, with the sound of the trumpet, stir up the wicked, that they may, like Midianites, one slay another, ( Judges 7:22) so that both simplicity of zeal, and the wisdom of the Spirit, direct us hither. −

One part were Sadducees. We see here again, as in a glass, how deformed and confused the ruin of the Church was at that day. Faith is the soul of the Church; nothing is more proper to faith than agreement, nothing more contrary than sects. And this thing must needs follow, when every man (setting aside the word of God) did draw his disciples unto his own inventions. For there is no other holy bond of unity than the natural and plain − (534) truth of God. So soon as men depart from that, no marvel if they be dispersed and drawn hither and thither like members pulled asunder. −

Therefore, the beginning of sects among the Jews was the corruption of the law; like as the Lord did revenge the profanation of his word, which was corrupt with diverse inventions of men, with like punishment in Popery. Wherefore, we must the more fear, lest horrible and more lamentable scatterings hang over our heads than was that which was in time of Popery, whereof there appear some tokens. And no marvel, seeing we provoke the Lord to wrath so many ways with our unthankfulness. But though the face of the Church be blotted and blurred with many spots and blots; and what manner of deformity soever fall out hereafter, let us comfort ourselves with this, that as God was careful then to deliver the Church wonderfully from destruction, so through his grace there shall always some seed continue. It cannot be, indeed, but that godly minds will somewhat despair, when they see things so far out of order; but let us learn straightway to hold up that buckler, that the Lord, who, in such a thick mist of errors, in such a heap of superstitions, in the unbridled licentiousness of sects, did preserve his Church among the Jews, will never suffer the same to be quite put out wholly in the world. −

The same thing did likewise happen in Popery. For when as the worship of God was overthrown there, the doctrine of salvation was oppressed, the kingdom of Christ was thrown down, and ungodliness did openly reign, yet God did save certain hidden remnants, and there was always some wheat in the chaff. It is very profitable to confer these examples together. When as we inveigh at this day against Popery, the hired patrons thereof cry out on the other side, that nothing is more absurd than that we should imagine that the Church of God was extinguished during many ages, as if we did imagine that God had no people left, when those had forsaken him who ought to have maintained his pure worship. Yea, we complain that those tyrants did corrupt the Church, that the temple was by them profaned, so that it did not greatly differ from an hog’s-sty, that the flock of Christ was scattered abroad, and his sheepfold broken down. Finally, that the Church was hidden from the eyes of men, yet so that the Lord knew his elect, though they were dispersed, and did brood them under his wings. And by this it appeareth how foolishly the Papists brag and boast of the titles of honor, in that not the common sort, or any private men, but the priests themselves did in times past divide the Jewish church by deadly dissension. −

Wherefore, there is no cause why we should be afraid stoutly to resist the pride of the Pope and of all his adherents, with whom we have the same combat which the prophets and apostles had with the priests of their time. And as the reverence of the Church did not keep back holy men, but that they did molest the tyranny of the wicked priests, so we must not be terrified with vain visures, [masks] under which the Papists do vainly boast, seeing they have, notwithstanding, cast from them the doctrine of godliness. It is certain that the people were then divided into three sects; but Luke doth only make mention of the Pharisees and Sadducees, omitting the Essenes, because it was most fit for his purpose thus to do. And though this be the common opinion concerning their names, that the former took their name of separating, because they withdrew themselves from the company of other men, by reason of their reigned holiness; and that the second sort took their name of righteousness, as if they were called zeduchim; notwithstanding, for mine own part, as I have said elsewhere, I am rather of their mind who say that the Pharisees took their name of interpreting. For phrus signifieth exposition, whereupon also interpreters are called phruschim; and we know that the Pharisees, being not content with the natural doctrine of the law and prophets, did put in many inventions which they said they received − (535) of the fathers. −


Stratagema,” stratagem.


Intestinis dissidiis laborare,” were involved in intestine dissensions.


Extremo remedio,” an extreme remedy.


Fervent,” prevail.


Fraterne,” like brothers, omitted.


Simplex et genuina,” simple and genuine.


Per marius tradita jactabant,” boasted, bad been handed down.

Verse 8

8.The Sadducees say. Though Luke maketh mention of three points wherein these sects did dissent, yet shortly after he bringeth − (536) them to two, because there is like respect to be had of spirits and of angels. Therefore, he saith that the Pharisees did confess both; to wit, that the dead shall rise again, and that human and angelical spirits are immortal. And here Luke declareth in what sense the apostle professed himself to be a Pharisee, not because he did subscribe to all their inventions, but only in the resurrection of the dead. We know how sharply Christ reproveth their errors, ( Matthew 22:29) therefore, it had been good that some exception had been added, − (537) lest any man might think that Paul was one with them in all things. Now, though the Sadducees did deny the resurrection, yet may we not think that they were altogether like to the Epicures, [Epicureans]. For they did confess that the world is governed by the providence of God, and that every man is rewarded for his works. In this point they were sounder than the Epicures, [Epicureans]. But they did dote too grossly, when they included the rewards of righteousness and the punishments of wickedness in this life. For that I may omit the Scripture, experience doth teach, that as well the godly as the ungodly are either punished with many miseries, or else gently − (538) dealt withal; and that the wicked do oftentimes live in wealth and pleasures, when as the worshippers of God are oftentimes miserably tormented; as it is Psalms 73:4. Therefore, whosoever esteemeth the judgment of God by the present estate of men, whether it be good or bad, he must needs fall away from faith at length unto Epicurish contempt of God. −

Now, this is beastly blockishness to rest in an uncertain and transitory life, and not to be wise above − (539) the earth. For which cause we must flee from that error as from a detestable monster. For though godliness have the promises of the earthly life also, yet because we be most miserable if our hope stay still in this world, the children of God must begin with this, that they may lift up their eyes toward heaven, and think continually upon the glory of the last resurrection. −

Neither angel nor spirit. This place is expounded two manner of ways. − (540) Many refer it unto the Holy Ghost, which seemeth to be unlikely. For howsoever the Sadducees be to be holden excused in other errors, yet because the Scripture doth so often repeat the name of the Spirit, I will scarce believe that they denied that which the Pharisees believed only lightly and obscurely. For even these men had no distinct faith concerning the Holy Spirit, that they did acknowledge the proper person of the Spirit in the substance of God. − (541) Some will have angel and spirit to signify one thing, − (542) as if one thing were spoken twice. But to what end was it to repeat a thing which was plain enough? I warrant you, that member which followeth did deceive them, where Luke seemeth to make no distinction. But we showed the reason before; because, seeing the souls of men and angels are of one and the same nature and substance, they be both placed in one order. Therefore, I do not doubt but that this is Luke’s true meaning, that the Sadducees did deny angels, and also all manner of spirits. −

Now, forasmuch as Paul crieth that he is a Pharisee in this point of doctrine, he doth flatly condemn all brain-sick fellows, who at this day are in the same error. For there be certain profane and unlearned men who dream that angels and devils are nothing else but good and evil inspirations; and lest they want some color, they say that all that came from the heathen which the Scripture hath concerning good and evil angels, whereas that opinion which was common in the world had his [its] beginning from the heavenly doctrine. But the heathen did with their lies pollute that doctrine which they had from the Fathers. As touching men’s souls, because even at this day certain miscreants do feign that the souls do vanish away in death until the day of the resurrection, their madness is likewise refuted by the testimony of Luke. −


Restringit, it,” restricts.


Itaque addenda fuit exceptio,” therefore, it was necessary to add the exception.


Benigne et indulgenter,” kindly and indulgent1y.


Nec sapere,” and not have a feeling or relish.


Tribus modis,” in three ways.


Propriam Spiritus hypostasin... in Dei essentia,” the proper personality of the Spirit in the divine essence.


Synonnyma esse,” to be synonymous.

Verse 9

9.There was a great cry. That sedition whereof Luke spake a little before is more plainly expressed in this place; to wit, that they were not only of diverse opinions, but did strive clamorously with outcries. Wherefore, ςασις doth signify somewhat more than dissension. Furthermore, this place doth teach what mischief disagreements bring with them. For because they take their beginning for the most part of ambition, men proceed thence unto contention, and straightway stubbornness breaketh out. When they be come thither, because there is no place left either for judgment or moderation, they can no longer judge of the cause. Those who did detest Paul begin at a sudden to defend him. It was well done, if they had done it with judgment. But because they inveigh against the Sadducees, they are so inflamed with hatred against them, that they be blind in Paul’s matter. For which cause we must beware of heat of contention, which disturbeth all things. −

If the Spirit. This ought undoubtedly to be expounded of the Holy Ghost. And nothing could be spoken either more godly or modestly. For so soon as it is apparent that any doctrine is revealed from heaven, those do wickedly resist God who do not receive the same. But how is it that the scribes do so suddenly count Paul a prophet of God whom they were once ready to have murdered — whom they had condemned with their prejudice until the contention arose? − (543) Furthermore, as they did cut their own throats with these words as with a sword, so God would have them to be to us teachers to instruct us, that we despise not the oracles which come from heaven. Notwithstanding, we see again that those stand in doubt who take not good heed, and are not careful to mark the word of God; and that they waver so often as any thing is brought to light, because they be unworthy to understand the certain truth. Wherefore, if we be desirous to have our studies governed by the spirit of discretion, let us apply ourselves to learn.


Cum Pharisaeis,” with the Pharisees.

Verse 10

10.We see again what a cruel mischief contention is, which so soon as it doth once wax hot, hath such violent motions, that even most wise men are not well in their wits. Therefore, so soon as any beginning shall show itself, let us study to prevent it in time, lest the remedy be too late in bridling it when it is in the middle, because no fire is so swift as it. As for the chief captain, as he was appointed to be the minister of God’s providence to save Paul’s life, so he delivereth him now the second time by his soldiers from death. For though the chief captain defend − (544) him so diligently, for no other purpose save only that he may prevent uproars and murder; yet the Lord, who from heaven provided and appointed help for his servant, doth direct his blind hands thither. −


Succurrit,” succour.

Verse 11

11.And the night following. Luke declareth that Paul was strengthened with an oracle, that he might stand courageously against terrible assaults when things were so far out of order. Surely it could not be but that he was sore afraid, and that he was sore troubled with the remembrance of things to come. Wherefore, the oracle was not superfluous. Those former things whereby he was taught that God cared for him, ought to have sufficed to nourish his hope, and to have kept him from fainting; but because in great dangers Satan doth oftentimes procure new fears, that he may thereby (if he cannot altogether overwhelm God’s promises in the hearts of the godly) at least darken the same with clouds, it is needful that the remembrance of them be renewed, that faith, being holpen with new props and stays, may stand more steadfastly. But the sum is, that Paul may behave himself boldly, because he must be Christ’s witness at Rome also. But this seemeth to be but a cold and vain consolation, as if he should say, Fear not, because thou must abide a sorer brunt; for it had been better, according to the flesh, once to die, and with speed to end his days, than to pine away in bands, and long time to lie in prison. The Lord doth not promise to deliver him; no, he saith not so much as that he shall have a joyful end; only he saith, that those troubles and afflictions, wherewith he was too sore oppressed already, shall continue long. But by this we gather better of what great importance this confidence is, that the Lord hath respect unto us in our miseries, though he stretch not forth his hand by and by to help us. −

Therefore, let us learn, even in most extreme afflictions, to stay ourselves upon the word of God alone; and let us never faint so long as he quickeneth us with the testimony of his fatherly love. And because oracles are not now sent from heaven, neither doth the Lord himself appear by visions, we must meditate upon his innumerable promises, whereby he doth testify that he will be nigh unto us continually. If it be expedient that an angel come down unto us, the Lord will not deny even this kind of confirmation. Nevertheless, we must give this honor to the word, that being content with it alone we wait patiently for that help which it promiseth us. −

Moreover, it did profit some nothing to hear angels which were sent down from heaven; but the Lord doth not in vain seal up in the hearts of the faithful by his Spirit those promises which are made by him. And as he doth not in vain beat them in and often repeat them, − (545) so let our faith exercise itself diligently in the continual remembrance of them. For if it were necessary that Paul’s faith should be oftentimes set and stored up with a new help, there is none of us which needeth not many more helps. Also, our minds must be armed with patience, that they may pass through the long and troublesome circuits of troubles and afflictions. −


Inculcat,” inculcates.

Verse 12

12.And when it was day. By this circumstance, Luke showeth how necessary it was for Paul to gather new and fresh strength of faith, that he might not quake in most great and sudden danger. For being told of this so desperate madness of his enemies, he could not otherwise think but that he should lose his life. This vow whereof Luke speaketh was a kind of curse. The cause of the vow was, that it might not be lawful for them to change their purpose, nor to call back that which they had promised. There is always, indeed, in an oath a secret curse, − (546) if any man deceive or forswear, but sometimes to the end men may the more bind themselves, they use certain forms of cursing; − (547) and they make themselves subject to cruel torments, to the end they may be the more afraid. This history doth teach that zeal is so bloody in hypocrites, that they weigh not what is lawful for them, but they run carelessly whithersoever their lust doth carry them. Admit we grant that Paul was a wicked man, and worthy to die, yet who had given private men leave to put him to death? Now, if any man had asked why they did so hate Paul, they would quickly have answered, because he was a revolt [apostate] and schismatic; but it was but a foolish opinion, and an opinion conceived of an uncertain report concerning this matter which had rashly possessed their minds. −

The same blindness and blockishness doth at this day prick forward the Papists, so that they think nothing unlawful for them in destroying us. Hypocrisy doth so blind their ears, that as men freed from the laws of God and merit they are carried by their zeal sometimes unto treachery, sometimes unto guile, sometimes unto intolerable cruelty, and, finally, to attempt whatsoever they will. Moreover, we see in this history how great the rashness of the wicked is. They bind themselves with a curse that they will eat no meat till they have slain Paul, as if his life were in their hands. Therefore, these brain-sick men take to themselves that which the Lord doth so often in Scripture say is his, to wit, −

“To have the life and death of those men whom he hath created in his hand,”
( Deuteronomy 32:39). −

Moreover, there be not only two or three who are partners in this madness, but more than forty. Whence we do also gather how willing and bent men are to do mischief, seeing they run together thus on heaps. − (548)

Furthermore, seeing Satan doth drive them headlong into their own destruction, how shameful is then our sluggishness, when as we scarce move one finger in maintaining the glory of God? We must use moderation, that we attempt nothing without the commandment of God; but when God calleth us expressly, our loitering is without excuse. −


Tacita execratio,” a tacit execration.


Anathematis,” of anathema.


Turmatim,” in crowds.

Verse 14

14.They came to the chief priests. Seeing that the priests agree to such a wicked and ungodly conspiracy, by this they prove that there was in them neither any fear of God, neither yet any humanity. They do not only allow [approve] that which is brought before them concerning the murdering of the man by laying wait, but also they are ready to be partners in the murder, that they may deliver him into the hands of the murderers, whom they would have made away some way, they pass not how. For what other thing was it to take a man out of the hands of the judge and to slay him, than like murderers to rage even in the very place of judgment? The priests surely would never have allowed [approved] such a wicked purpose if there had been in them any drop of godly and right affection, or of humane feeling. Moreover, they did what they could to bring destruction upon all the people and themselves also. But the Lord did by this means disclose their wicked impiety, which lay hid under a color of honor. −

Verse 16

16.Paul’s sister’s son. We see in this place how the Lord doth cross the purposes of the ungodly. He permitteth them to attempt many things, and he suffereth their wicked endeavors, but at length he showeth even in the twinkling of an eye − (549) that he doth from heaven deride whatsoever men go about upon earth. −

“There is no wisdom,” saith Solomon, “there is no counsel against the Lord,”
( Proverbs 21:30).

Whereto that of Isaiah doth answer, −

“Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought: speak the word, and it shall not stand,”
( Isaiah 8:10). −

This is set before our eyes to be considered, in this present history, as in a glass. The matter was almost dispatched, that Paul should come out on the morrow to be slain as an avowed sacrificed. − (550) But the Lord doth show that his life is most safely kept, so that whatsoever men go about all is in vain. As for us, let us not fear but that his providence, whereof he showed some token then, reacheth even unto the defending of us, because this promise continueth sure, −

“There shall not an hair fall from your heads,” etc.
( Luke 21:18). −

Moreover, it is worth the noting, that he worketh sometimes by means unlooked for to save those that be his, that he may the better exercise our faith. Who would have thought that a boy would have disclosed their lying in wait, which those who were partners in the conspiracy thought was known to none but to themselves? Therefore, let us learn to lean unto and stay ourselves upon the Lord, though we see no ordinary way to save ourselves, who shall find a way even through places where nothing can pass.


Ipso articulo,” at the very nick of time


Devota victima,” a devoted victim.

Verse 17

17.Calling unto him. Paul was not so desirous of life, but he would have made haste to die, if the Lord had thought it good so to be; but because he knoweth that he serveth Christ upon that condition, that he may no less live than die to him, he doth not neglect to avoid the danger which was revealed to him. And though he be fully persuaded that God is the keeper of his life, yet he doth not wait until God put forth his hand out of heaven to work a miracle, but doth rather use the remedy which is offered him; nothing doubting but that it is appointed by God. −

Thus must all the ministers of Christ deal, that being furnished with invincible constancy, so far as their calling requireth, they fear not danger, and yet that they cast not away themselves through rashness. Let them call upon the name of the Lord cheerfully, even amidst the pikes; − (553) and yet let them not contemn those helps which are offered; otherwise they shall be injurious to God, in that they are not only not moved with his promises, − (554) but also despise the means which he hath appointed for their deliverance. −


In mediis augustiis,” in the midst of straits.


Ad ejus promissiones surdi,” deaf to his promises

Verse 19

19.Taking him by the hand. In that the chief captain did show himself so courteous to the young man, in that he led him by the hand into a secret place, in that he vouchsafeth to hear him so gently, all this must be attributed to the grace of God, who promised to give his people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, ( Exodus 3:21) who useth to mollify hard hearts, to tame fierce spirits, and to fashion those unto all humanity, whom he hath determined to use as means to help those that be his. A man trained up in the wars might no less have given this young man the repulse, whom he knew not, than have despised Paul’s suit. Therefore, the Lord, who hath in his hand the hearts of men, did frame the profane man to give ear unto him. Also, it was well that he knew before how furiously they raged against Paul, that he might the more willingly succor a miserable and forsaken man. Those who are in authority are taught by this example what a great virtue courtesy is. If it had been a hard matter to come to him, − (555) he might, through ignorance, have delivered Paul to the Jews to be put to death. So oftentimes magistrates do fall into many and great offenses through their own pride, because they will not admit those who would give them good counsel. −

CalIing unto him. And here we see the providence of God yet more manifestly; for though this be the drift of the chief captain: to prevent a public uproar, whereof he should have given an account before the governor, yet he executeth the counsel of God in delivering Paul. For he was to gather soldiers together; also, the city must needs be stripped of the garrison, and the voyage required some cost. Therefore: we must so consider the wisdom of the chief captain, that our faith lift up her eyes into heaven: and understand that God doth guide the heart of a profane man by a secret instinct, and that he is at length a guide to Paul and the soldiers, that he may come safe to Cesarea. The third hour of the night was the end of the first watch. Therefore, it is all one as if the chief captain did command that the soldiers be in readiness at the second watch. Luke calleth those who carried darts lancearios, who being more lightly weaponed, were placed in the wings, when as the soldiers which pertained unto the legions were more fit for set war. − (556)


Si difficilis ad eum fuisset accessus,” if he had been of difficult access.


Statariae militia ?,” stationary warfare.

Verse 25

25.And he wrote a letter. First, we must briefly admonish the readers who have not been conversant in histories, that this Felix was brother to Pallas, who being Caesar’s freeman, became equal with the chief of the city in wealth and power. Yea, moreover, the senate gave him the ornaments of the praetor, not without titles of filthy and shameful flattery. Therefore, seeing the servants of Claudius abusing his folly, did rule the Roman empire at their pleasure, and chiefly Narcissus and Pallas, no marvel if this latter did appoint his brother to be governor of Judea. The sum of the epistle tendeth to this end, that the chief captain may help Paul with his prejudice; − (557) and may admonish Felix of the injuries of his adversaries, and may so discredit them, that they may not be able to do him any hurt. −


Suo praejudicio,” by bearing previous testimony in his favour.

Verse 27

27.This man being taken. This was spoken odiously concerning the Jews, that he might purchase more favor for Paul, that a man, being a Roman, was by them sore beaten, and almost slain; also, he commendeth him for the right and privilege of his freedom, that he may be the more courteously handled. Furthermore, this commendation was not purchased by prayer or flattery, neither was it bought with money. How came it to pass, then, that the chief captain did show himself so courteous freely to an obscure man, and whom all men did hate, save only because the Lord had appointed him to be his servant’s patron? Therefore, we see how he governeth the tongues and hands of the infidels to the profit of those that be his. −

Verse 29

29.Whom I perceived In this place he acquitteth Paul, so far as his judgment could reach. But let us note that a profane man speaketh. For among the people of God it is an offense worthy of no less punishment, to corrupt the doctrine of godliness with wicked, and false opinions, than to do injury to, or commit wickedness among men. The Romans would not have suffered their superstitions, or reigned worshippings of their gods, to be freedom; − (558) but forasmuch as they made no account of the law of God, yea, seeing they were desirous to have the same quite put out, it was among them no fault to believe Moses and the prophets no more, or to trouble the Church with false opinions. Therefore, there was a law, that the governors should not meddle with such matters; but that those who were abiding in the provinces should so retain their religion, that if anything were done contrary to the same, the Roman magistrates should not meddle with the punishing thereof. This is the reason why the chief captain thinketh it no offense to have moved questions concerning the law. And under color hereof, unlearned men will have leave granted to themselves and others amiss to cause trouble. The Lord saith far otherwise, who doth more sharply punish the violating of his worship, than any injuries done to men. And surely nothing is more absurd than to let those who rob God of his honor escape scot free, − (559) seeing theft is punished. But as the chief captain careth not for the Jewish religion, so the false accusations and slanders of the Jews are refuted, wherewith they would gladly have burdened Paul. −


Convelli,” to be plucked up, eradicated.


Quam sacrilegiis impunitatem dare,” than to let blasphemers escape without punishment.

Verse 30

30.When it was showed to me. The second part of the epistle where the chief captain doth bring the adversaries into contempt, − (560) because they went about to kill Paul treacherously. Whence it is also gathered, that they trouble Paul unjustly, and that they sought so sore against his life without any cause. For if they had persecuted him lawfully, they would have trusted to the goodness of their cause, and not have suffered him to be judged according to law. Now, when as they seek to kill him, it appeareth that they have no reason. −


Odium in adversarios retorquet,” retorts upon his adversaries their hatred.

Verse 32

32.And the next day. Though Luke did not express before that the soldiers were commanded to return before they came at their way’s end, yet it is certain, that they were appointed to accompany him only unto that place where the chief captain thought Paul would be safe; for he went out privily in the night. And the chief captain knew that so soon as they had finished some part of their journey, there was no farther danger, because the adversaries could have no hope to overtake him; and that it was no point of wisdom − (561) to send part of the garrison far away.


Tutum... non esse,” it was not safe.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 23". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/acts-23.html. 1840-57.
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