Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Acts 5

Verse 1

1. Ἀνανίας. The name was common. See Acts 9:10-17; Acts 23:2; Acts 24:1. It is the same as Hananiah, Jeremiah 28:1; Daniel 1:6-7, &c., where it is the Hebrew name of Shadrach, which is spelt Ananias in the Benedicite, and that form of the name is found Tobit 5:12. It signifies ‘one to whom Jehovah has been gracious.’

Σαπφείρῃ. The name is probably derived from σάπφειρος, sapphire, the precious stone so called. Similar derivations may be found in Beryllus (βήρυλλος), and the more common name Margaret (μαργαρίτης), though the latter may have gone through more than one stage in its passage from a common noun to a proper name.

κτῆμα. In Acts 5:3 it is called χωρίον, a piece of land, but the word may be applied to any kind of property. It is used (Matthew 19:22) of the young man who had ‘great possessions.’ The LXX. use it (Hosea 2:15) of vineyards.

Verses 1-11


The narrative with which this chapter commences is one which none but a veracious narrator would have inserted where it stands. The last chapter concludes with a description of the unity of heart and soul which prevailed among the brethren, and expressly notices that all were filled with the Holy Ghost. But as among the twelve Apostles there was a Judas, so into the infant Church there had intruded two at least whose professions were not sincere, and who were unworthy of the gifts of grace which, with the rest, they had received.

We cannot but be surprised that persons like Ananias and Sapphira should have thought it worth while to act as they did. Why join the Christian community at all? Or why not leave it when they found what was required of them? But there is in some characters an innate and incorrigible duplicity. It is clear that there must have been a strong conviction of the truth of Christianity.

The offence of Ananias and Sapphira shewed contempt for God, vanity and ambition in the offenders, and utter disregard of the corruption which they were bringing into the society. Such sin, committed in despite of the light which they possessed, called for a special mark of divine indignation, and to those who, likewise filled with the Spirit, knew all that had been done and why it was done, there is no shock produced by the terrible doom of the sinners. Nor is any language employed in the narration but the simplest and plainest. A late compiled story would have enlarged and spoken apologetically on the reasons for such a judgment, and would not have presented us with a bare recital of facts without comment.

Verse 2

2. ἐνοσφίσατο, kept back, withheld, bringing only a part and pretending it was the whole. The portion withheld can hardly have been large, or the disproportion between what was offered and the value of the property sold and represented as sacrificed to the common cause would have been too apparent. νοσφίζομαι is rendered (Titus 2:10) to purloin, and is used 2 Maccabees 4:32 of the golden vessels which Menelaus stole. It has the stronger sense constantly in classical Greek.

συνειδυίης, being privy to it. This is mentioned to shew that the offence was an aggravated one, and had not been committed without deliberation and set purpose. She was a willing accomplice in the intended fraud.

παρὰ τοὺς πόδαςἔθηκεν. Thus professing equal devotion with all the others who were making sacrifices for the cause of the faith. We are not told what Ananias and his wife hoped to gain by their act, whether in reputation among the people (Acts 2:47), or, by giving what was supposed to be their whole estate (which may be implied in the vague word possession), to procure for themselves in perpetuity a maintenance from the common funds. The former ambition was most probably what led to their offence. They thought more of the display made at the Apostles’ feet than of the offence before God’s eyes. And we know from St Peter’s Epistle (2 Peter 2:3) that it was soon foretold that men would arise in the Christian community who ‘through covetousness would with feigned words make merchandise of’ the society, and at a later date (Judges 1:11) these men are described as those who run ‘greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.’ We may therefore be convinced that in the example of Ananias we have a typical instance of the kind of offence into which at this time the Christian community was in danger of being tempted.

Verse 3

3. διατί. Stronger probably than the simple τί. ‘On what account? to what temptation have you listened?’ It may be an indication that it would have been possible to resist the evil influence, had Ananias desired to do so.

ἐπλήρωσεν, filled. The idea seems to be that of complete occupation. The heart is so charged and possessed with one purpose, that there is no room left for any other influence. Cf. LXX. Ecclesiastes 8:11, ἐπληροφορήθη καρδία νἱῶν τοῦ ἀνθρώπον ἐν αὐτοῖς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τὸ πονηρόν.

σατανᾶς. The word, which is Hebrew, signifies ‘an adversary,’ and is especially applied to the prince of evil spirits, as the great adversary of all good. It is used in LXX. of 1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23; 1 Kings 11:25 in its primary sense of an ‘adversary’ raised up against king Solomon, but in the sense of ‘Satan’ Sirach 21:27.

τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, the Holy Ghost, for it was the power of the Holy Ghost that was manifested in the Apostles. It is much to be noticed how from the first the Apostles disclaim any power in themselves. It is Christ who works the miracles, the God of Abraham who gives the power of healing, and the Holy Ghost who is grieved by sins like that of Ananias. There is no trace of any seeking after consideration for themselves and their deeds among the records of these Acts of Apostles, and no sign could be more indicative of the earliest age of the Christian Church.

Verse 4

4. οὐχὶ μένον σοὶ ἔμενεν. To bring out the force of the repeated verb render, whiles it remained, did it not remain thine own? that is, there was no compulsion on Ananias to sell it, the only thing expected from him being that, if he were moved to sell, he should honestly set forth what he had done. There seems to have been no necessity to give at all to the common fund unless a man felt that he could well afford to do so, nor to give all that he either had, or had realized by any sale, provided only he made honest declaration of what his gift really was. This is implied in the words which follow, which declare that the sum produced by any sale was at the seller’s disposal until he made it over to the common fund.

ἔθον ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ. The precise phrase occurs in LXX. of Daniel 1:8, and is rendered ‘Daniel purposed in his heart’; cf. also Haggai 2:19. The force of the expression is ‘to lay anything (as a plan or a precept) deep in the heart,’ and it implies long and stedfast deliberation on the part of this offender. The offence of Ananias was not a case of yielding to a sudden temptation, but the plan had been accepted into the heart, and fostered there till there seemed to be a way of carrying it out. Satan had filled his heart, and he had made no effort to cast out the intruder.

οὐκ ἐψεύσω ἀνθρώποις, thou hast not lied unto men. That is, the grave portion of the offence is not the lie to men, but the lie to God. In Acts 5:3 the Apostle said that the deception had been practised towards the Holy Ghost, and so is expressed the Divinity of the third Person of the Trinity.

Verse 5

5. ἀκούων. The present tense seems to indicate the immediate result of the Apostle’s words, spoken in the power of the Spirit with which he was filled. Here is no description of a death from apoplexy or mental excitement under the rebuke of the Apostle, but a direct intervention of the divine power.

Terrible as this divine judgment was, we cannot wonder that it should be inflicted, for it was so done to check that kind of offence which brought in all the troubles of the early Church, and which though they be not so punished now, when Christ’s Church has attained more firm hold on the world, yet would, if not terribly visited in these earlier days, have overthrown the whole work of the Apostles. Of a like character is the apparent severity of the penalty inflicted on Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, at the commencement of the Jewish priesthood (Leviticus 10:2); and the way in which Aaron and his family are forbidden to mourn for those whom God so punished may teach us what interpretation to put upon the judgment inflicted on Ananias and Sapphira. For they were of the members of the infant Church; they had presumed to come nigh unto God and in a wrong spirit. On them, we may conclude, some gifts had been bestowed, and in this they differed from Simon Magus (Acts 8:20) and Elymas (Acts 13:11), with whom they are sometimes compared. So that the words which God spake of Nadab and Abihu may be used of these offenders, ‘I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me.’ We see what evils the spirit of greed and hypocrisy wrought in the Corinthian Church, even to the profanation of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-21). Every good institution would have been thus perverted and, as is said of some in later times (Judges 1:4), they would have ‘turned the grace of God into lasciviousness.’ The very community of goods which here was instituted for a time, was in this way perverted and turned into an argument for a community of all things, which resulted in the vices for which the Nicolaitans are so severely censured (Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15). The death of Ananias and his wife is the finger of God interposed to save His Church from danger, just as He interposed to build it up by stretching forth His hand to heal, and that through the name of His Servant Jesus mighty works might be wrought by the first preachers.

ἐξέψυξεν, gave up the ghost, ἐκψύχω is not classical, but is found in LXX. (of some MSS.) in Judges 4:21 and in Ezekiel 21:7. It is only used in the N.T. concerning the death of this husband and wife, and of the end of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:23), but is found Acta Andr. et Matth. Apocr. 19 used of men suddenly falling down dead.

φόβος μέγας. A great fear, which would deter those who were not sincere from making a profession of Christianity. This result would help the stability of the young community, which would have been sorely hindered by hypocritical members.

Verse 6

6. οἱ νεώτεροι, the younger men. Some have thought that already an organized body had been formed whose business it was to take charge of funerals. But it seems unlikely that, at a time when assistance had not been provided to relieve the Apostles from ‘serving tables’ and distributing the funds to those who needed (Acts 6:1-4), there should already have been an organization for this less pressing necessity. The use of another word, νεανίσκοι, for these same persons in Acts 5:10 seems to shew that οἱ νεώτεροι was not an official designation, but that those who are meant are those most able physically to perform such an office as is here described. On the way in which the Jews regarded attention to funeral rites see note on Acts 8:2.

συνέστειλαν, wound him up, i.e. in the robe which he was at the moment wearing. The middle voice is used in classical Greek in the sense of ‘gathering one’s robe about one.’

ἔθαψαν. We know from what took place after the Crucifixion that graves were made ready beforehand; and in the caves where the dead were deposited, as we can see from the account of the raising of Lazarus, there (John 11:43) needed little preparation, for they were closed by the simple means of a stone placed at the cave’s mouth. It would not therefore need much time to complete the whole work of burial. In hot climates burial must needs follow quickly after death. Cf. the brief time which Jehu allowed to pass after Jezebel’s death (2 Kings 9:34) before he gave orders for her burial.

Verse 7

7. ὡρῶν τριῶν διάστημα, the space of three hours. This was time enough for the bestowal of the dead body, but yet so short that news of the death of her husband had not reached Sapphira. It may have been that their home was in the country at a distance from Jerusalem, and that the husband alone came in to offer the money by reason of the distance.

διάστημα is found of a distance in space in LXX. of Genesis 32:16; Ezekiel 41:8; Ezekiel 45:2; 2 Maccabees 14:44, but not of an interval of time. διάστημα τετραετές occurs Polyb. IX. 1. 1; and ἡμιωρίου διάστημα, the space of half an hour, Apocryph. Act. Andreæ 14.

καὶ ἡ γυνή. The construction is broken here. We should have expected an accusative and infinitive in dependence on ἐγένετο. But such interruptions are not uncommon after a clause beginning with ἐγένετο. Cf. Luke 8:1; Luke 8:22; Luke 9:28, &c. The construction is due to the Hebrew form ויהי followed by ו.

μὴ εἰδυῖα. μὴ here cannot be held to differ from οὐ. There is a direct statement of a fact, present, and nothing which can convert the words in any sense into a mere thought or conception.

Verse 8

8. ἀπεκρίθη, answered. This verb is not unfrequently used both in LXX. and N.T. where no question has preceded, and often where no remark has gone before (see Deuteronomy 26:5; Deuteronomy 27:14; Daniel 2:14; Daniel 2:26; Matthew 11:25; Luke 3:16). The peculiarity here is that St Peter’s words are not an answer but a question.

The word is similarly used before a question Act. Andr. et Matth. Apocr. 26.

τοσούτου, for so much. St Peter mentioned the sum which Ananias had brought in, or perhaps it was still lying on the ground where he had first put it down.

Verse 9

9. τί ὅτι. This form, which occurs also in Acts 5:4, is to be explained by the ellipsis of ἐστὶ. ‘Why is it that …’

πειράσαι, to tempt. They would make trial whether the Spirit of the Lord would make their deception known. Nothing could render more manifest their want of faith, their unfitness to be members of the society, than such an attempt.

οἱ πόδες. The footsteps of the young men as they returned were probably now audible without.

καὶ ἐξοίσουσίν σε, and they shall carry thee out, i.e. to burial likewise. St Peter, as before, was prompted by the Holy Ghost in what he said, and was enabled to predict the punishment of Sapphira for her persistent dissembling. We are not told that he knew beforehand what would befal Ananias, but as the Spirit shewed him what was to come on the wife we may perhaps conclude that he knew what the fate of the husband would be also.

Verse 10

10. πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ, at his feet. Close to the place where the money, for which they had sinned, had been laid, and where perhaps it was still lying. For we cannot think that St Peter would be willing to mix an offering given in such a hypocritical spirit with the more pure offerings of the other brethren. It may be that as he spake, in Acts 5:8, he pointed to the money still lying there unaccepted, ‘Did ye sell the land for so much?

εἰσελθόντες. The young men came to join the congregation again, for the worship appears not to have ceased during the time between the death of Ananias and the arrival of Sapphira. And this may be the explanation of the wife’s ignorance of her husband’s fate. None had gone forth but the younger men to bury the dead body.

πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς, beside her husband.

Verse 11

11. καὶ ἐγένετο κ.τ.λ., and great fear came upon the whole Church, and upon all that heard these things.

To produce such a fear as should deter others from a like offence was God’s intention in this miracle of punishment. And St Luke seems to have pointed to the reason by making here for the first time any mention of ‘the Church’ (see note on Acts 2:47). The true ἐκκλησία must be free from such hypocritical professors, or its work could not advance. The lesson was to be stamped into the hearts of all who were fit to be of ‘the Church,’ though at the same time it would strike deep into the minds of all others who learnt how the Spirit of God had punished the lying lips of those who sought the praise of men rather than that of God.

Verse 12

12. διὰ δὲ τῶν χειρῶν, and by the hands. This may be only a Hebrew mode of expressing by, and need not necessarily be pressed to imply imposition of hands. Cf. (Joshua 14:2) ‘By lot was their inheritance, as the Lord commanded by the hand (ἐν χειρὶ) of Moses.’ But as in the description of our Lord’s miracles we very often read ‘He laid His hands upon a few sick folk’ (Mark 6:5, &c.), and as it is said of the Apostles (Mark 16:18) ‘they shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover,’ it seems better to understand the words here of such acts of imposition of hands, though we presently find (Acts 5:15) that the multitudes believed that a cure could be wrought without such an act.

ἐγίνετο. The imperfect tense, probably to indicate that such occurrences were numerous at the first.

ἅπαντες. The reference in this sentence must be to such assemblies as were held by the Apostles for conference and instruction when they went up at the usual times of prayer. Thus ἄπαντες will signify the whole company assembled on some such occasions, and not embrace every person who had joined the new teaching.

ἐν τῇ στοᾷ Σολομῶντος, in Solomon’s porch. Probably this became a recognized meeting-place of those who wished to tell and to hear more of the new teaching.

Verses 12-16


Verse 13

13. τῶν δὲ λοιπῶν, but of the rest, &c., i.e. of those not yet interested in the movement. The sense is that the assemblies of Christians made the porch of Solomon their special rendezvous when they went up to the Temple, seeing that it was there that the first addresses in the Temple-precincts had been given by St Peter. And while they were so assembled none of the other people who had not yet joined the new community ventured to attach themselves intrusively to the Christian body. The verb κολλᾶσθαι is used of Philip (Acts 8:29) when he is commanded ‘Go near and join thyself to this chariot,’ where the action meant by it is one that was to press some notice of Philip upon the eunuch. From such intrusion all who were not Christians held back, and left the worshippers in Solomon’s porch alone.

ἀλλ' ἐμεγάλυνεν κ.τ.λ., howbeit the people magnified them. The fear inspired by what had happened, though it deterred those who might have tried to join the community from other than sincere motives, did not produce an unfavourable feeling among the people, but quite the contrary.

For the English ‘magnify’ in the sense of praise cf. the opening of the Magnificat, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord.’

Verse 14

14. προσετίθεντο, were added. And the tense implies the continuous growth of the Church. The addition of this verse makes clear what has just been said about the sense of κολλᾶσθαι, that it implied insincere intrusion into the Christian assemblies. For the number of the faithful went on increasing.

Verse 15

15. ὤστε καὶ εἰς τὰς πλατείας, so that even into the streets. These words are a description of one way in which the new believers gave evidence of their faith. To bring a sick person on a couch to the presence of Jesus was accepted by Him (Mark 2:5) as a sign of true faith, and for the sake of the faith shewn by those who brought him the paralytic was made whole. So here, though we are not told of any cures, we may conclude that to the like faith God would give a like blessing.

ἐπὶ κλιναρίων, on beds. In the east the warm climate made it possible to bring the sick into the open air, as we read more than once in the Gospels.

ἵνα ἐρχομένου Πέτρου κ.τ.λ., that, as Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some one of them. Peter is alone mentioned here because he was the most prominent figure, but we are not to conclude that no mighty works were done by the rest. These men who gave such an exhibition of faith have been described (Acts 5:14) as believers in the Lord. There can therefore be no question as to what they regarded as the power which was to heal their sick. They did not believe on Peter, though they magnified him as the Lord’s instrument; they did not ascribe healing power to Peter’s shadow, though it might please God to make that a sacrament of healing, as to Israel in old times He had made the brazen serpent. They had seen health bestowed through the Apostle by the name of Christ, and to demonstrate their faith in that name, they bring their afflicted friends into the way of salvation.

κἄν. The explanation of the καί here is that in the first clause there is some word or two suppressed. The full idea is ‘that as Peter came by they might be in the way and so his shadow,’ &c.

Verse 16

16. τὸ πλῆθος κ.τ.λ., the multitude of the cities round about. The word πόλις is not unfrequently used of places which are comparatively small. So of Nazareth (Matthew 2:23), Nain (Luke 7:11) and Arimathea (Luke 23:51). With τῶν πέριξ πόλεων cf. Acta Andr. et Matth. Apocr. 26, οὓς ὁ μακάριος ἐξέβαλεν ἐκ τῶν πέριξ χωρῶν.

The preposition being omitted before Ἱερουσαλήμ, it becomes the accusative under the government of συνήρχετο, a verb with the sense of motion to a place.

ὀχλουμένους, troubled, vexed. The word is found also Luke 6:18, and nowhere else in N.T. As it occurs often in the works of Greek medical writers, it points to Luke as having been a physician. Cf. for its use concerning evil spirits, Tobit 6:7, ἐάν τινα ὀχλῇ δαιμόνιον ἢ πνεῦμα πονηρόν, ταῦτα δεῖ καπνίσαι ἐνώπιον ἀνθρώπου ἢ γυναικὸς καὶ μηκέτι ὀχληθῇ.

ὑπὸ πνευμάτων ἀκαθάρτων, by unclean spirits. It was recognized that the power of the Apostles extended not only to physical, but also to spiritual maladies. Indeed the whole history being of a supernatural character, the cures wrought on ordinary maladies were of the nature of signs and wonders, and spake of a power which was not human. The power here displayed is that which in Christ’s own life was confessed to be that of the Son of God (Luke 4:40-41).

Unclean spirits are those which are called wicked (πονηρά) in other parts of the New Testament (Matthew 12:45, &c.); and the former epithet is probably applied to them because an unclean life had made the afflicted man the subject of this possession, or because in his state of frenzy he wandered into places where he would incur ceremonial defilement, as the demoniac who had his dwelling among the tombs (Mark 5:3); the latter adjective indicates the evil effects so often patent in the condition of the afflicted person, as loss of speech, hearing and other senses, the belief of the Jews being that spirits afflicted with such maladies were the cause of the like affliction in human beings.

ἅπαντες, all of them. For it was only a complete faith which had prompted the bringing them unto the Apostles, and to such faith all things had been promised by Christ (Mark 9:23).

Verse 17

17. ἀναστὰς δέ. The ‘rising up’ is due to the indignation caused by the spread of the Christian teaching. The word ἀναστάς has this sense of movement in opposition. See below, of the insurrections of Theudas and Judas (Acts 5:36-37) and in Acts 6:9 of the disputants with Stephen.

The rendering should be, but the high-priest rose up. While the multitudes thronged to be healed, the effect on the authorities was to rouse them to opposition.

πάντες οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ. A phrase more comprehensive than that used in Acts 4:6, ‘as many as were of the kindred of the high-priest.’ The opposition has had time to gather its forces, and now represents not only the family of Annas, but the heads of the party of the Sadducees.

αἵρεσις, the sect. It is the word from which our English heresy comes. But St Paul uses it of his own mode of worship (though there shewing that the Jews attached an ill meaning to it), in his defence (Acts 24:14) before Felix, ‘after the way which they call a sect.’ But he employs it without any sense of blame (Acts 26:5) about the Pharisees, and it is used of them also Acts 15:5. With a bad sense it is applied to the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5), and similarly Acts 28:22.

It is used disparagingly in Apocr. Act. Phil. in Hellad. 10, Ἰησοῦςὃς ἐδίδαξεν τὴν αἵρεσιν ταύτην. The words are in the mouth of the Jewish high-priest.

τῶν Σαδδουκαίων. From Acts 5:21 it will be seen that the statement of Josephus concerning the influence of this sect is fully borne out (Ant. XIII. 11.6), that they had the rich on their side. We have no certain evidence in Scripture that Annas was a Sadducee, but Josephus (Ant. xx. 9. 1) tells us that his son Ananus [or Annas] was of this sect.

ζήλου, jealousy. This is rather the sense of the word than ‘indignation’ as A.V. Of course the one was bred of the other. But what is here described is an outbreak of party feeling in a body who were jealous of the spread of this teaching about a resurrection.

Verses 17-32


Verse 18

18. ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀποστόλους. The whole twelve are now arrested. The new teachers must be put down. It is clear from this, though St Luke has only mentioned the speeches of Peter, with some slight notice that John also was a speaker, that all the Apostles were busy, and could have been quoted as preachers and teachers had it been any part of the compiler’s purpose to write a history of all the Apostles.

ἐν τηρήσει δημοσίᾳ, in public ward. See note on Acts 4:3. This was meant to be a temporary imprisonment, till next day when the council could be gathered.

Verse 19

19. ἄγγελος δὲ κ.τ.λ., but an angel of the Lord by night, &c. As if for a protest against the actions of those who taught that ‘there was neither angel nor spirit.’ There is no possibility of explaining St Luke’s words into anything but a miraculous deliverance. He gives no word that can be twisted into any other meaning. It was not an earthquake, it was not a friendly human being who interposed to procure the release of the Apostles. The writer readily acknowledges in this very chapter the effect of such intervention on the part of Gamaliel, but he is here speaking of supernatural aid. If it be remarked that the Apostles make no mention of their miraculous deliverance when they are called upon for their defence, it may be answered that they in no case dwell on the miracles either wrought by or for them, except where they have been wrought under the eyes of men and are to be used as signs of the divine power which was working in and for the Church. To enter on a description of a miracle which had been wrought in the lonely night, as this deliverance had been, and to ground their claims to be heard upon circumstances of which the eyes of those to whom they speak could not bear testimony, is foreign to the whole character of the Apostolic ministry.

διὰ νυκτός. διά cannot have here the sense throughout which is most usual when it is constructed with a genitive. Here the expression means no more than at night, for the release took place at one point of time only. It is found in this sense in Acts 16:9.

Verse 20

20. πορεύεσθε καὶ σταθέντες κ.τ.λ., go ye and stand and speak. There was to be no attempt made to conceal their escape. They were to go back to the same place where their most frequent teachings had been given before, and were to continue the same teaching. They are not directed to appeal to the multitude for sympathy, nor to try and excite any feeling against those who had arrested them.

τὰ ῥήματα τῆς ζωῆς ταύτης. This has been explained as if it meant no more than ‘these words of life’ (see Winer-Moulton, pp. 297, 298). But this weakens the sense immensely. The Apostles were to preach this new life through the resurrection. It was Christ’s own message (John 11:25) ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life.’ It was the words of this life which the Sadducees could not away with. But spite of all opposition the same teaching about the life to come is to be persisted in.

Verse 21

21. ὑπὸ τὸν ὄρθρον, at break of day. The words indicate a time as soon as possible after day dawn. They lost no time in obeying the command. How early it was possible for them to come to the Temple we find from the directions in the Talmud concerning the morning sacrifice. It is said (Mishna Joma III. 1) ‘The Memunneh (see note on Acts 4:1) said to them: Go ye out (on to the Temple wall or roof) and see whether the time for killing the sacrifice has arrived. If it had arrived, the outlooker said, “It has flashed forth” (i.e. day has dawned). Matthia ben Shemuel said [that the form of question was], “Has the whole face of the east become lit up as far as to Hebron? And the man answered, Yes.” So that the first sacrifice took place at the very peep of day.’ A like explanation is found Mishna Tamid III. 2.

παραγενόμενος, having come, i.e. into the council-chamber, to consider what steps to take about their prisoners.

συνεκάλεσαν τὸ συνέδριον, they called together the council; i.e. the Sanhedrin proper. This was evidently deemed to be a matter of the gravest character, for, as we see from Gamaliel’s presence, it was not the Sadducees alone who were summoned to the council.

τὴν γερουσίαν. The word occurs many times in LXX. of the Pentateuch, and in the Apocryphal books, and is variously rendered clders, council, or senate (see 1 Maccabees 12:6; 2 Maccabees 1:10; 2 Maccabees 4:44; 2 Maccabees 11:27). The name indicates that they were older men, who probably were invited as assessors to join the council by reason of their age and consequent weight of character. We can find from the Jewish literature that such assessors were often appointed. In the extract Mishna Joma I. 1, quoted on iv. 6, the word for ‘assessors’ is parhedrin, i.e. the Greek πάρεδροι, and the adoption of such a word into the Jewish vocabulary shews that the institution which it describes was of so permanent a nature as to justify the adoption of a foreign expression to describe it.

Verse 22

22. οἱ δὲ παραγενόμενοι ὑπηρέται, but the officers that came. The word may refer to some military body, or it may have been only some of the Levitical guard who were sent. The same word is used (Luke 4:20) for the ‘minister’ of the synagogue.

Verse 23

23. τοὺς φύλακας, the guards, who were of course unconscious that their prisoners were gone.

ἐπὶ τῶν θυρῶν. This, the oldest reading, is not the usual mode of expressing by, at, beside, ἐπὶ with the genitive usually means upon or over, which can hardly be meant here. We find however ἐπὶ τῶν θυρῶν = at the doors, 1 Maccabees 1:55, and the singular ἐπὶ τῆς θύρας, in a like sense, LXX. Numbers 11:10; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 27:2.

Verse 24

24. ἤκουσαν τοῦς λόγους τούτους, heard these words, i.e. the report of the officers who had been to the prison. ὁ στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ. On this officer see on Acts 4:1, and on ἀρχιερεῖς, Acts 4:23.

διηπόρουν, they doubted of them, i.e. they were at a loss about what was said, and did not know what step to take next. It is worthy of notice that when the Apostles are brought before them in the end, the magistrates avoid all questions about how they had been released. They clearly wished to have no more testimony to the supernatural powers which had been so often manifested in connexion with Jesus and His followers. Caiaphas and his party could not be ignorant how Jesus Himself had risen out of His grave to the great terror of the Jewish guard set over it. Holding the opinions which they did, we can quite understand their perplexity and their silence on the subject, at all events before the disciples and the multitude.

Verse 25

25. παραγενόμενος δέ τις, and there came one, &c. The Apostles made no attempt at concealment, and the judgment-hall was at no great distance from the place in which they were teaching.

εἰσὶν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ κ.τ.λ. Render, are in the Temple, standing and teaching, &c. The words look back to the command of the angel in Acts 5:20, and shew that Peter and his fellows were obedient thereto. This standing implies the prominent and undaunted position which the Apostles had taken up. They were not like prisoners who had escaped, and so were seeking a place to hide themselves; but like men whose work had been interfered with, and who, as soon as they were able, had come back to it again.

Verse 26

26. οὐ μετὰ βίας, without violence. Nor can we suppose that the Apostles were at all likely to offer resistance, for their examination before the council would afford them an opportunity of proclaiming the message of the Gospel.

On this verse Chrysostom says ὦ τῆς ἀνοίας· ἐφοβοῦντό, φησι, τὸν ὄχλον. τί γὰρ αὐτοὺς ὁ ὄχλος ὠφέλει; δέον τὸν θεὸν φοβηθῆναι τὸν καθάπερ πτηνοὺς ἀεὶ τῶν χειρῶν αὐτοὺς ἐξαρπάζοντα τε͂ν ἐκείνων, οἱ δὲ μᾶλλον τὸν ἄχλον φοβοῦνται.

μὴ λιθασθῶσιν. After a past tense, as ἐφοβοῦντο, the verb would be expected to be in the optative not in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive is explained as implying more certainty of a result. Here = ‘lest they should be stoned,’ as surely they would have been. We have already had evidence of the favour with which the disciples were looked upon by the people, and we can see from the account of the death of Stephen that a sudden outbreak of popular rage might result in the death of him against whom this feeling was displayed. And that the Jewish people were ready enough thus to take the law into their own hands, we can see from the Gospel history (John 10:31-33), and the parables of Jesus speak of such proceedings as though they were of no very rare occurrence (Matthew 21:35).

Verse 28

28. παραγγελίᾳ κ.τ.λ., we strictly charged you. The charge had been given (Acts 4:18) only to Peter and John, but the magistrates assume that it has been conveyed by them to their companions.

For this manner of expressing intensity, by the dative case of a cognate noun joined to the verb, cf. Luke 22:15 ἐπιθυμίᾳ ἐπεθύμησα = ‘I have earnestly desired.’ Other examples are in John 3:29; Acts 23:14.

ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ, i.e. resting all your teaching upon this name. They go at once to that which is the great offence in their eyes. The name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they knew to have been crucified, but who was proclaimed to be alive again, and whose followers manifested such mighty works, was the object against which their power was directed.

πεπληρώκατε τὴν Ἱερουσαλήμ, ye have filled Jerusalem. The best of evidence, coming from the mouths of adversaries, that the Apostles had actively fulfilled the first part of Christ’s directions (Acts 1:8).

καὶ βούλεσθε κ.τ.λ., and ye wish to bring this man’s blood upon us. It is a marvellous spectacle to see judges take the place of culprits, and deprecate accusation where they would naturally be dealing out penalties. But the invocation of the people before Christ’s crucifixion, ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children’ (Matthew 27:25), was felt by the council to be likely to be brought to fulfilment.

Verse 29

29. καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι, and the Apostles. It is quite like the style of the New Testament to say ‘Peter and the Apostles’ (cf. Mark 16:7). It is not implied hereby that Peter was excluded from the number of the Apostles, but, as he probably was the chief speaker, his name is singled out for prominence in the narrative (see note on Acts 4:6). Here again we have evidence that St Luke has made no attempt to do more than produce for us the substance of such speeches as he notices.

πειθαρχεῖν δεῖ. Render, we must obey. The argument is that of Peter and John (John 4:19) on a former occasion, though here there is more stress laid on the impossibility of doing otherwise.

Verse 30

30. ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν. The Apostles point out, just as Peter did (Acts 3:13), that there is no severance of themselves from the worship of the Covenant God of Israel. On the contrary they were teaching that His promise through Moses had now been fulfilled, since in Jesus the promised prophet had appeared. Cf. Deuteronomy 18:15, and St Peter’s speech, Acts 3:22.

ὃν ὑμεῖς κ.τ.λ. Render, whom ye hanged on a tree and slew. This sentence describes the Roman, and not the Jewish mode of execution. By the Jewish law only those who were already dead were to be hanged (Deuteronomy 21:22; Joshua 10:26).

In the word διεχειρίσασθε the Apostles point out that the guilt of the Crucifixion was as truly upon the Jews as if they had slain Jesus with their own hands. The phrase κρεμάσαντες ἐπὶ ξύλου is used again (Acts 10:39) by St Peter, and by nobody else in the N.T. He also has ξύλον = tree, for σταυρός, a cross, in 1 Peter 2:24, ‘He bare our sins in His own body on the tree.’

Verse 31

31. ἀρχηγὸν καὶ σωτῆρα, a prince and a Saviour. If Christ seeks to rule it is that He may save those who take His yoke upon them.

τῇ δεξιᾷ, by His right hand, as in Acts 2:33. The right hand is the symbol of might. Cf. ‘His right hand, and His holy arm, hath gotten Him the victory’ (Psalms 98:1).

δοῦναι μετάνοιαν, for to give repentance, thus offering the way of salvation to all those who were ready to accept it. These words to a Jew would have great significance, for they had a saying (T. B. Sanhedrin 113 a) that salvation was one of the things which God kept in His own power. If Christ then was to bestow this gift on Israel He must be owned by them as God.

Verse 32

32. καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐσμὲν μάρτυρες τῶν ῥ. τ., and we are witnesses of these things, i.e. of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension.

καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἄγιον, and so is the Holy Ghost. Christ had said, while alive, concerning the Holy Ghost, ‘He shall testify of Me’ (John 15:26). And this He now did in the minds of the Apostles by ‘bringing all things to their remembrance,’ and by enlightening them to see how Christ’s life had fulfilled the prophecies, and also in the mighty powers which through the outpouring of the Spirit they now possessed.

τοῖς πειθαρχοῦσιν, to them that obey Him. Thus the disciples declare that the obedience to God, which at the outset (Acts 5:29) they had proclaimed as their bounden duty, was also the reason why the Holy Ghost had been bestowed upon them. They leave it to be gathered that what God has done He will do again, and bestow like gifts of grace on others who are willing to obey Him.

Verse 33

33. διεπρίοντο. The active voice of this verb is used (LXX. 1 Chronicles 20:3) in its literal sense of ‘to saw asunder,’ the passive generally in the figurative sense of the rending of the heart. In Acts 7:54, where the word occurs again, ταῖς καρδίαις is added, and it is necessary to supply those words here to complete the sense. The effect described is not the compunction which leads to repentance, but the irritation that results in more furious anger.

ἐβουλεύοντο, they took counsel. Some good MSS. read ἐβούλοντο, they wished. The Vulgate has cogitabant.

Verses 33-42


Verse 34

34. ἀναστὰς δέ τις, but there stood up one, &c. See note on Acts 5:25. Gamaliel rose to oppose the plan or wish.

Φαρισαῖος. It may very well be believed that some small sympathy towards the Christian teachers would be roused in the breast of a Pharisee, because they maintained, as he did, the doctrine of a resurrection, but there is nothing in the speech of this Pharisee beyond a policy of inactivity, bred perhaps of despair.

Γαμαλιήλ. This Gamaliel, called here νομοδιδάσκαλος, is no doubt the same person who is mentioned (Acts 22:3) as the teacher of St Paul. He is known in Jewish writings as Gamaliel ha-Zaken (i.e. the old), and was the grandson of Hillel. He was alive during the time when Herod was beautifying the Temple. For in Tosephta Shabbath xiv. we read, ‘Rabbi Jose said, It happened that Rabbi Khalaphta went to Rabban Gamaliel (the younger, and grandson of the Gamaliel in our text) to Tiberias, and found him sitting at the table of Rabbi Jochanan ben-Nozâph, and in his (Gamaliel’s) hand was the book of Job in Targum (i.e. in the Chaldee paraphrase), and he (Gamaliel) was reading in it. Rabbi Khalaphta said to him, I remember concerning Rabban Gamaliel the elder, the father of thy father, that he was sitting on a step in the Temple mount, and they brought before him the book of Job, in Targum, and he said to the builder, “Sink it (bury it) under this course of the wall.”’ This could only have been when the walls were in building.

Gamaliel is said to have died 18 years before the Temple was destroyed.

In T. B. Abodah Zarah 11 a, in allusion to the custom of burning beds, clothes, and other things, at the funerals of great men (see Jeremiah 34:5), it is said, ‘When Rabban Gamaliel the elder died, Onkelos the proselyte burned in his honour the worth of 70 minæ of Tyrian money.’

So great was Gamaliel’s fame that we read (Mishna Sotah IX. 15) when he died ‘the glory of the Torah ceased, and purity and sanctity died out also.’ We can therefore understand that he was ‘had in reputation among all the people.’

βραχύ τι, a little space, i.e. for a short time. He could then say more unrestrainedly what he wished to say to his colleagues.

τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, the men. In Gamaliel’s mouth they would not be styled apostles.

Verse 35

35. προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς. The phrase implies the need of thought. Attendite vobis (Vulg.). It is not a warning against some danger that might result. ‘Think well over what ye mean to do.’

ἐπί. The preposition seems to go better with προσέχετε than with πράσσειν. ‘Think well upon these men,’ rather than, ‘what ye mean to do with these men.’

Verse 36

36. Θευδᾶς, Theudas. Gamaliel proceeds to give illustrations that mere pretenders will come to nought. But about the mention of Theudas much discussion has been raised, because it is declared that the statements of Gamaliel contradict the facts recorded by Josephus, and therefore cannot be received as historic. In this way discredit would be thrown on all the rest of his speech.

It is true that Josephus mentions a Theudas (Ant. xx. 5. 1) who rose up and professed himself a prophet, in the time when Fadus was procurator of Judæa, about A.D. 45 or 46, and persuaded a great part of the people to take their goods and follow him to the river Jordan, through which he promised he would afford them a miraculous passage. This man, who, with many of his followers, was destroyed, could clearly not be the leader of the revolt which took place before that raised by Judas of Galilee in the time of the taxing which took place some few years after our Lord was born. But when we turn to the history which Josephus gives of the events which preceded this rebellion of Judas we find him saying (Ant. XVII. 10. 4), ‘At this time [i.e. in the days when Varus was president of Syria] there were ten thousand other disorders in Judæa, which were like tumults.’ Of these innumerable disturbances he gives account of no more than four, but presently in the same chapter says: ‘Judæa was full of robberies, and whenever the several companies of the rebels could light upon any one to head them, he was created a king immediately.’ Then in a brief space after (Ant. XVIII. 1. 1) Josephus proceeds to mention Judas of Galilee, though he calls him sometimes (Ant. XVIII. 1. 6, xx. 5. 2; B. J. II. 8. 1, and 17. 8) a Galilean and sometimes a Gaulonite (XVIII. 1. 1.), and his rebellion in the days of the taxing. Now amid so many outbreaks, spoken of but not described, there is no violence in supposing that one may have been led by a Theudas, a name not very uncommon, and thus the order of events as stated by Gamaliel would be perfectly correct. The great multitude of the followers of the later Theudas indicates a far larger number than the four hundred of whom Gamaliel speaks. Moreover while Gamaliel’s Theudas was killed and his followers dispersed, Josephus says that many of the adherents of his Theudas were slain, and many taken prisoners. There seems, therefore, more reason to identify this Theudas of whom mention is made by Gamaliel with some of the ten thousand rebels whom Josephus speaks of before the time of the census, than to suppose that Gamaliel, who is correct in his account of Judas, has mentioned in the other case a rebel who did not rise till long after the time of which he is speaking.

That such false leaders were numerous and had caused a terror in the minds of the more thoughtful among the Jews we can see from the Jewish literature which has come down to us. Thus (T. B. Sanhedrin 97 b) Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachmani on the authority of Rabbi Jonathan, expounding Habakkuk 2:3, says, ‘It means, may his spirit be blown away (perish) whosoever over-anxiously calculates about the ends. For people have said [in consequence of such calculations] when the end [so calculated] came, and he [Messiah] did not come, that He would never come at all. Yet wait anxiously for Him, for it says, if He tarry wait anxiously for Him.’ We have here the despairing echo of Gamaliel’s words, ‘Let them alone.’

λέγων εἶναί τινα, saying that he was somebody. Of course each one of these leaders professed himself to be the Messiah, for that was what the people in their distress were ever looking for.

προσεκλίθη. This reading is better supported than προσεκολλήθη. It is not easy to decide which the Vulgate represents by consensit. There is some little degree more of attachment implied in προσεκλίθη. Cf. its use 2 Maccabees 14:24 ψυχικῶς τῷ ἀνδρὶ προσεκέκλιτο, ‘he loved the man from his heart.’

The passive voice is here used in the sense of the middle, ‘joined themselves.’

Verse 37

37. Ἰούδας ὁ Γαλιλαῖος. With this account agrees the history of Josephus (Ant. XVIII. 1. 1), except, as has been already noticed, he calls Judas Γαυλανίτης, but as when speaking of the same man again (xx. 5. 2) he calls him Γαλιλαῖος, and in the same sentence alludes to the history before narrated, ‘as we have shewn in a foregoing book,’ we can have no hesitation in accepting Gamaliel’s story as the correct one, while at the same time we may learn from this example what value we ought to place on the accuracy of Josephus when we have to weigh his statements against those of the New Testament.

τῆς ἀπογραφῆς, of the taxing. Not the same which is mentioned Luke 2:2. That was rather an enrolment or census-taking preliminary to taxation. The revolt of Judas, about seven years later, was caused by the actual imposition of a tax. Josephus says of it (XVIII. 1. 1): ‘Cyrenius came into Judæa to take an account of their substance,’ and afterwards: ‘Judas said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty.’

ἀπέστησεν λαὸν ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ, drew away people (i.e. some of the people) after him.

ἀπώλετο, he perished. Josephus gives no notice of the fate of Judas and his party, though he mentions the revolt several times and says (B. J. II. 8. 1) that this ‘Judas was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own.’

Verse 38

38. ἐὰν ᾖ. This construction, = ‘if it should be (and we do not yet know whether it may be) of men’ is followed by εἰ with the indicative ἐστί in the next verse. The latter form is often used to mean ‘if it is (as indeed it is)’; but we can hardly suppose this to be Gamaliel’s meaning, yet he may have employed this form to indicate that he felt there was more to be said in favour of the Apostles, backed as they were by such mighty signs, than could be alleged for previous movements.

καταλυθήσεται, it will be overthrown.

Verse 39

39. οὐ δυνήσεσθε καταλῦσαι αὐτούς, ye will not be able to overthrow them.

μήποτε, lest haply. The construction looks back to Acts 5:35, προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς.

Verse 40

40. προσκαλεσάμενοι κ.τ.λ., having called the Apostles, i.e. to return again into the judgment-hall.

δείραντες, having beaten them, as being the guilty parties. (See Deuteronomy 25:1-3.)

Verse 41

41. κατηξιώθησαν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος ἀτιμασθῆναι. The Apostles count as glory what the world would count as shame. Cf. Galatians 6:14, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This figure of speech (called oxymoron, and consisting in the effective contrast of words opposite in meaning) is common in the New Testament. Cp. 2 Corinthians 6:8-10.

λὑπὲρ τ. . Render, for the Name. That name of which St Peter had said (Acts 4:12), ‘There is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.’

Verse 42

42. ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ καὶ κατ' οἶκον. Render, in the Temple and at home, as in Acts 2:46. These are the two fields of labour; in the Temple, where they had apparently come to be expected by the converts, and after that public teaching there were other meetings in private houses, whither those might come who could not go to the Temple.

τὸν Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Anointed. This is the Name of the previous verse.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 5". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.