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Thursday, May 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 9

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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With this chapter we have a very important transition in the book of Acts. This chapter chronicles the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a vicious enemy of the Lord’s church, who becomes the great Apostle Paul. The remainder of the book is primarily occupied with an account of Paul’s labors and trials in establishing churches and preaching the gospel throughout the Gentile world.

Verse 1

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,

And Saul: Luke does not begin by telling us much about Saul; he will give more information as the narrative progresses. It will be of beneficial to have a brief background on Saul, a person who is to have a great impact on the spread of the gospel. The following facts of Saul’s heritage, birth, and early training serve him well as a preacher of "the good news."

1. Saul is a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. As he describes himself in Philippians 3:5, he is a Hebrew of Hebrews. Saul is as "Jewish" as you can get, being from a long line of pure Hebrews. Saul’s parents are Pharisees; therefore, Saul is raised under the strictest of Biblical interpretations, being taught the traditions of the Pharisees (23:6; 26:5).

2. Saul is born in Tarsus of Cilicia (22:3)."Tarsus was a seat of Greek learning, almost rivaling Athens and Alexandria" (Reese 276). It is in this environment of appreciation for higher education that Saul is raised.

3. Saul is highly educated. As a youth, he is instructed in the highest arts of Greek culture as well as the finest points of Jewish education. In his higher education, he "sat at the feet" of the most noted teacher of his day, an educator named Gamaliel (22:3). Saul’s aptitude for formal instruction is best described by himself, "I advanced in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:14).

4. Saul is trained in a trade. Not only does he have the benefits of formal education; but as customary with every Jewish boy, he is taught a trade. Saul learns the craft of tent making (18:3)."The fact that he afterward received an expensive intellectual education proves that his father put him to this humble trade, not through necessity, but in compliance with the Jewish conception, that some form of manual labor was an important part of the education of every boy" (McGarvey, Vol. I 166). The wisdom of this training serves Saul well in his subsequent life.

5. Saul is a Roman citizen. Saul declares he is born a Roman citizen (22:27-28). To be a citizen of the Roman Empire carried with it certain rights and privileges that prove to be a very important asset to Saul.

yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord: The emotions expressed in "breathing out threatenings and slaughter" give us some idea of the murderous fervor in which Saul pursues his attempts to exterminate Christianity. It seems he is no longer satisfied with the havoc he has caused among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem; he is ready to capture, charge, and execute Christians in any city where they may be found (see notes on 8:3).

For Saul, the attempt to purge the world of this religious "sect" that has dared to challenge the Jewish world becomes a personal vendetta. One can see that Saul’s zeal can be a driving force for good if only that zeal can be pointed in the right direction; amazingly, that is exactly what is soon to happen.

went unto the high priest: Saul goes to the high priest for the necessary authority to carry out his mission. Under ordinary circumstances, the letters carried by Saul would have no authority in a foreign city such as Damascus, but it seems apparent the authorities in Damascus are in sympathy with the Jews. This sympathy becomes even more obvious when the governor of Damascus aids the Jews in an attempt to apprehend Saul after his conversion (2 Corinthians 11:32).

Verse 2

And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

And desired of him letters: All Saul lacks, before he begins this mission of mayhem, is official sanction from the high priest.

The high priest of Jerusalem would, by virtue of his office, have jurisdiction over the Jews of all synagogues. Hence, Saul went to the high priest that he might secure letters that would grant him authority to go into the synagogues of Damascus and ferret out all the disciples of the Way, whether men or women. Saul intended to treat those of Damascus as criminals. He hoped to bring them bound in chains to Jerusalem. Such arrests were not ordinarily permitted in a foreign city. They could be carried out here because the governor of the district was in sympathy with such action (De Welt 120)

to Damascus to the synagogues: Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world, perhaps the oldest. The history of this ancient city dates all the way back to Abraham (Genesis 15:2). Barnes describes Damascus as follows:

This was a celebrated city of Syria, and long the capital of a kingdom of that name. It is situated in a delightful region about one hundred and twenty miles north-east of Jerusalem, and about one hundred and ninety miles south-east of Antioch. It is in the midst of an extensive plain, abounding with cypress and palm-trees, and extremely fertile... The city, situated in a delightful climate, in a fertile country, is perhaps among the most pleasant in the world. It is called by the Orientals themselves the paradise on earth... The road from Jerusalem to Damascus lies between two mountains, not above one hundred paces distant from each other; both are round at the bottom and terminate in a point. That nearest the great road is called Cocab, the star, in memory of the dazzling light which is here said to have appeared to Saul (436).

It is from this beautiful city that Saul of Tarsus is soon to experience a reversal in his life that will change him from being the vicious adversary of Christianity into a zealous advocate of the very cause that he once persecuted.

that if he found any of this way: Luke frequently uses the term "the Way" to describe the Christian life (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14-22). He also speaks of "the way of salvation" (16:17) and "the way of the Lord" (18:25). This designation is taken from the words of Jesus in John 14:6. It should be noted this is a singular "Way": there are not thousands of "ways" to be saved, neither is it true we are "all going to heaven just by different ways."There is "the Way" as prescribed by Jesus in His word. This is the only "Way."

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber (John 10:1).

Everyone should check the way he is following on a regular basis to be very certain he is truly in "the Way" that leads to everlasting life. The destiny of his eternal soul is at risk. The wise man says, "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 16:25). Every person is responsible to check the way he is in, be certain to have a "thus saith the Lord" for the things he believes and practices.

Whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem: The rage mounted against the church has succeeded only in scattering Christianity throughout the world. Damascus is no exception; "the Way" has also taken root in this historic city. The exasperation of Saul and his fellow persecutors is fueled to new heights; it now becomes the all-consuming quest of Saul to quench this outbreak of Christian fire in Damascus.

Verse 3

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: This mad mission of murder that Saul has embarked on is ordinarily a journey of five to seven days. It is about noon (midday) as Saul and his entourage draws near the city of Damascus (22:6; 26:13).

and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: Saul’s expedition is halted in mid-stride by a blinding light that is so intensely brilliant it outshines the brightness of the midday sun in the Syrian desert. As always, the skeptics and naysayers who would deny the resurrection of Jesus have tried to explain away this miraculous event as an attack of epilepsy, a sunstroke, a hallucination, or a sudden lightning storm. All doubts may be laid to rest. This brilliance is nothing short of the appearance of the risen Christ!

Verse 4

And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And he fell to the earth: The bright light that flashes from heaven literally strikes Saul to the ground. We learn later, from additional facts provided in Acts 26:14, the entire company with Saul falls to the ground. Thus, the explanation that this is some natural happening that befalls Saul, i.e. sunstroke, epilepsy, etc., is laid to rest.

and heard a voice saying unto him: This mystery voice that speaks to Saul addresses him in the"Hebrew tongue" (26:14).

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me: The mystery speaker will soon be revealed as Jesus. Deductions made from the question here asked by Jesus have extensive implications. Saul has been engaged in the persecution of the disciples of Christ; yet Jesus asks, "why persecutest thou me?"The conclusion can be drawn:

  • When one persecutes the church, he persecutes Christ.

  • When one opposes the church, he opposes Christ.

  • When one loves the church, he loves Christ.

  • When one works for the church, he works for Christ.

The church is the spiritual body of Christ. Whatever is done to Christ’s church is done to Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). Woe be unto the man who would despise the Lord’s church!

Verse 5

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

And he said, Who art thou, Lord: The voice, just as the light, comes out of heaven, but who is speaking? Saul wastes no time in an attempt to determine who has spoken to him."The word ’Lord’ here, as is frequently the case in the New Testament, means no more than ’sir’ Jn. iv. 19. It is evident that Saul did not as yet know that this was the Lord Jesus" (Barnes 437).

And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: The thoughts that must have raced through the mind of Saul can only be guessed at.

Up to this moment he had held Jesus to be an impostor cursed of God and man, and his followers blasphemers worthy of death; but now this hated being is suddenly revealed to him in a blaze of divine glory. The evidence of eyes and ears can not be doubted. There he stands, with the light of heaven and the glory of God around him, and he says, "I am Jesus’" (McGarvey, Vol. I 171).

"I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9).

In this visible perception of Jesus, Saul has satisfied another much-needed prerequisite for his new calling. To qualify as an apostle, one must have been an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus. Although Paul describes himself as "one born out of due time" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), he is no less qualified than the original Twelve. Paul declares, "I have seen Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:1). Ananias says, "Jesus appeared unto thee [Paul] in the way" (9:17) (see notes on 1:22).

it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks: The "pricks" is perhaps better described as a goad that was made by binding a sharp piece of iron to the end of a heavy stick. This created a rather imposing tool. Shamgar, an Old Testament hero, slew six hundred Philistines with an ox goad (Judges 3:31). This goad was used to encourage a slow and balky ox to move along at a quicker pace. The expression "to kick against the goad" describes the action of an untrained or stubborn ox that kicked the goad and in the process only hurt himself. This was the description of Saul in his rebellion against Jesus; in reality, he hurt no one but himself.

Verse 6

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do: In spite of the trepidation Saul is feeling, his honest heart comes to the front, his own pride is subdued, he realizes his guilt, and he is ready to submit to the will of Jesus. STEPHEN WAS RIGHT (see notes on 7:60)!

And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do: Jesus instructs Saul to go into Damascus, and there he would be told "what thou must do." The question is, "Must do" to accomplish what? The answer is what he "must do" to be saved!

The instructions Saul receives will be neither unessential nor optional, but mandatory. In the retelling of this event (Acts 22:16), Luke records the commandment given to Saul. It reads:

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord 22:16).

In the light of these facts, what an incredible folly is the theological nonsense that would make baptism into Christ either optional or unessential for those who would be saved!

"Must..." This is a big word in the NT; ... In the passage before us it reveals baptism as one of the ’musts’ regarding salvation. The familiar heresies setting aside this divine ’must’ should be rejected (Coffman 182).

Many in the denominational world would tell us that Saul is saved at the very moment of this miraculous event on the Damascus road. No one will dispute that Saul has had what denominationalism has coined a "Damascus road experience." This is the original "Damascus road experience!" Saul has seen a light from heaven. He has heard a voice, the voice of Jesus. But if Saul is saved, he does not know it. He asks "What would you have me do?" If Saul is saved, Jesus does not know it because Jesus tells Saul to go into the city where he will be "told what he must do." Saul will spend three days in fasting and prayer, but he will remain in an unsaved condition until he obeys "what he must do" as instructed by a preacher named Ananias. What Saul "must do" is to obey the gospel, being baptized in water to "wash away his sins" (22:16; Romans 1:16). Again, the means of salvation becomes clear: if one desires to be saved, he "must" hear the gospel, believe it, repent of past sins, confess Jesus, and be baptized for the remission of sins. This is what Saul does; we "must" do the same thing.

Verse 7

And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

And the men which journeyed with him: It is not revealed who the men are who accompany Saul to Damascus. It has been suggested they are Jewish soldiers or a detachment of the temple guard or even chance travelers who also traveled the Damascus road.

stood speechless: As might be expected, would-be Bible critics claim a contradiction here. In Paul’s recollection of the events in Acts 26:14, he says, "we were all fallen to the earth, " yet here Luke says they "stood" speechless. Again, as always, the critics fall short. Dehoff explains the alleged contradiction:

The expression "stood speechless" has no reference to posture. One may stand in doubt, stand firm, stand in fear, stand speechless, or stand in awe while in any position of the body. These "stood speechless" while flat on the earth (230).

hearing a voice: In Paul’s account in Acts 22:9 he says, "they heard not the voice of him that spake to me." Have we uncovered another contradiction? The answer is not at all. The Greek word (phone) translated here as "voice" may also be translated as "sound." (Vine, Vol. IV 55 190). This passage is not difficult to understand. Luke is saying the men with Saul hear a "sound" while Paul says they do not understand the "voice." The intention is to clarify what happened: the men hear a sound, but they do not understand what is said; it is only a noise to them. This exact phenomenon occurrs in John 12:28-29. The people hear the "voice from heaven, " yet they perceive only a noise as "it thundered." We often use the expression "I did not hear you" when we really mean, "I did not understand you."

but seeing no man: Luke makes it plain that those traveling with Saul do not see Jesus. For an Old Testament account similar to this one, see Daniel 10:4-7.

Verse 8

And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

The "mad mission of murder" has been aborted. The letters of destruction carried by Saul will not be delivered. This once passionate leader in persecution is now a pathetic blind man being led by his companions. Saul’s rage is extinguished. He has submitted himself to the will of God, and now the passion will soon be rekindled in Saul’s heart with the burning need to preach the very one he persecuted, Jesus Christ.

Verse 9

And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

Saul’s spirit is devastated. He is blind. He is lost. He has been fasting and praying (v.11) for three days, waiting for the messenger of God to bring the instructions telling him "what he must do."

The denominational commentators have a real problem with this verse. If Saul is saved on the Damascus road, as they teach, why is he not rejoicing as Samaria did (8:8) or as the Ethiopian eunuch did when he was saved (8:39)? The answer is obvious: Saul is not yet saved! He is not yet a Christian. He is still a sinner. The enormity of Saul’s sins is still bearing down on him, so he has no reason to rejoice.

Verse 10

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias: Not much is known about Ananias, but we have enough evidence to draw some conclusions concerning the man. It is obvious he is a strong Christian who has been a resident of Damascus for some time. He speaks of the persecutions orchestrated by Saul as hearsay (v. 13), thus indicating that he was not one of those disciples dispersed from Jerusalem by the persecution (8:1). It is most likely Ananias is one of those visiting Jews converted on the day of Pentecost. It is a chilling thought; but, because of the prominence of Ananias in the Christian community in Damascus, he may very well have been one of the names on Saul’s list for extermination!

and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord: Jesus speaks to Ananias (verses 10-17) in a vision and discovers him to be a rather reluctant but nonetheless obedient servant.

Verse 11

And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,

And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight: Jesus gives explicit instructions to Ananias: go to the street named Straight. McGarvey gives the following description of Straight street:

The street called Straight is still unmistakably identified in Damascus by its contrast with all the other streets of the city; for while all the others are crooked, making curves or abrupt angles at intervals of from fifty to one hundred yards, this runs nearly a mile with only five slight angles. The mention of this street by name, together with the name of Judas, in whose house Saul was staying, affords no mean evidence of the authenticity of this narrative (Vol. I 174).

and inquire in the house of Judas: This is all of the information that we have on the house of Judas. To further comment on who this man might have been would be pure conjecture.

for one called Saul, of Tarsus: Just to hear the name "Saul of Tarsus" produces fear in the heart of Ananias (see notes on 9:1).

for, behold, he prayeth: The venomous drive, once fueled by rage, has now left Saul; his now contrite spirit desires to speak to God.

Verse 12

And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in: Jesus explains to Ananais that Saul will be expecting him because Saul has already seen a vision portraying the event.

and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight: This information leaves no doubt that Ananias was one who had had the hands of the apostles laid upon him so he might be able to perform miracles. With this power, Ananais could restore Saul’s sight (see notes on 6:6 and 8:17).

Verses 13-14

Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

Ananias explains that the reputation of Saul has preceded him. Ananias knows of the havoc caused by Saul in Jerusalem, and he also knows Saul is coming to Damascus to continue his relentless pursuit of Christians. The hesitancy of Ananias to face Saul is certainly understandable.

It is notable that Ananias uses the word "saints" in reference to Christians. This is the first time this term is used in the New Testament to indicate Christians; but because Ananias uses the word, it must have already acquired this general usage. Thayer defines a "saint" as one "set apart for God, to be, as it were exclusively his" (7-1-40).

The expression "all that call on thy name" refers to the faithful followers of Jesus. These followers, through their obedience to the gospel, have acknowledged the authority of Jesus in their lives. Bruce says, "... in practice it denotes Christians, as those who address Jesus as Lord" (199)(see notes on 2:21).

Verse 15

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: The doubts and hesitations of Ananias are overridden by the command of Jesus. No excuse is acceptable when Christian duties call.

for he is a chosen vessel unto me: Saul is to serve a special purpose in the divine plan for spreading the Good News. Jesus chooses Saul to be this "chosen vessel" even before Saul chooses Jesus as his Lord. Vine says the word rendered "chosen" means, "... he is a vessel of choice unto Me. In the six other places where this word is found it is translated ’election’" (Vol. I 190).

In the figure of a "chosen vessel" to bear the name of Jesus..., he compares Saul to a carefully selected casket, in which a jewel rich enough for a present to a king is to be deposited, that jewel being his own precious name. Jewelers always keep costly gems in caskets of corresponding value; and so, when Jesus is about to send his name to kings and the great ones of earth, he chooses this persecuting Saul as the fittest vessel in which to enclose it. The selection was a most surprising one to Ananias; but subsequent events proved its wisdom. Long afterward Saul himself employed the same figure of speech, ... but he changes it materially, saying, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not of us" (II Cor. iv. 6, 7). While to Christ he was a choice vessel, in his own eyes he was but a vessel of pottery (McGarvey, Vol. I 176).

to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: Saul is to be the moving force in the fulfillment of the words of the great prophet Isaiah. Saul is to become the bearer of this "new name" predicted by Isaiah (see notes on 11:26).

And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name (Isaiah 62:2).

Saul, in his own words, declares himself to be "the apostle of the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11). Saul preaches to kings: Agrippa in Acts 26:1 and perhaps to Caesar during his incarceration in Rome. Saul never forgets about his fellow Jews; he tries diligently to bring them to Jesus, although the majority, much to Saul’s sorrow, reject the Savior (Romans 10:1-3).

Verse 16

For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

Here is truly a grim prediction from the One who knows the future of Saul. Saul has caused others to suffer for being Christians; now he also, from this time forward, will be hated and harassed literally to his grave for the very cause that he once persecuted (see notes on Acts 20:23) (see also 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). It is truly amazing to consider the reversal in Saul’s life, a life that begins in a fury against the very Cause that will finally provide him with "the peace ... which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

Verse 17

And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Ananias discharges his duties as he has been directed by Jesus. The mission of Ananias is twofold: to restore Saul’s sight and to assist in his being "filled with the Holy Ghost." Why does Ananias lay hands on him? We have a specific statement that tells us why. In a vision Saul sees "a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight" (9:12). Thus, we know that the laying on of the hands of Ananias is not to confer the Spirit but that Paul might receive his sight. Through the laying on of Ananias’s hands, Saul is healed from his blindness; but we cannot assume that through the laying on of Ananias’s hands Saul receives the Holy Spirit. We have already learned in chapter eight when the converts in Samaria receive the miraculous "gift of the Holy Spirit" it is necessary to call the apostles from Jerusalem to impart this gift. It is only through the laying on of the apostles’ hands that the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit may be given (8:18). Therefore, we must conclude that since Ananias is not an apostle, Saul does not receive the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of Ananias. Saul receives the Holy Spirit in the only way he can with the help of Ananias: upon his obedience in baptism, administered by Anania, Saul receives the "gift of the Holy Spirit" as promised to "everyone" who will "repent and be baptized" (see notes on 2:38).

The statement of Ananias, that he had been sent that Saul might "be filled with the Holy Spirit, " is commonly interpreted as implying that the Holy Spirit was to be imparted by imposition of hands. But we have seen already that when the Samaritan converts of Philip were to receive the miraculous gift of the Spirit, two apostles were sent to them for the purpose of imparting it, from which we inferred that Philip had not this power. This makes us slow to believe that the power was given to Ananias; yet we would be shut up to this conclusion if there were no alternative. There is, however, an alternative which makes this conclusion not only unnecessary, but highly improbable. We have learned, from Peter’s first discourse, that all who repented and were baptized received the Holy Spirit; and it follows that Saul received the Spirit when Ananias baptized him. This made his reception of the Holy Spirit dependent on the coming of Ananias, and it sufficiently accounts for the words of the latter without resorting to the improbable supposition that he was empowered to do that which none but apostles could ordinarily do (McGarvey, Vol. I 178).

We must not forget that Saul also needs the miraculous abilities afforded by the Holy Spirit in order to perform the duties of an apostle. This miraculous gift is given to the original apostles on the day of Pentecost (see notes on 2:1-4). It is the understanding of this writer that Saul receives this miraculous ability during his sojourn in Arabia (see notes on 9:23.)

Much discussion is made over the fact that Ananias calls Saul "brother."This discussion is caused from a misunderstanding as to when Saul is converted. The reference to Saul as"brother"cannot indicate Saul is already a brother in Christ because Saul is not yet"in Christ."To be"in Christ, "one must be baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27). Saul is not a"brother"in Christ because he is still an alien sinner; he must be baptized to"wash away"his sins (22:16). Ananias, by calling Saul "brother, " is simply recognizing him as a fellow member of the Jewish family.

Verse 18

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

With the laying on of Ananias’ hands, the blindness Saul has experienced falls from his eyes like "scales." He is now physically made whole. His spiritual healing is soon to follow.

Luke says, he "arose, and was baptized." Baptized? Why in the world would a man who has had all of these religious experiences need to be baptized? Here is a man who has:

1. Seen a light from heaven.

2. Heard the voice of Jesus.

3. Believed in Jesus.

4. Repented and confessed Jesus as Lord.

5. Fasted for three days.

6. Prayed for three days.

7. Had hands laid upon him.

Yet he needs to be baptized because none of the above have accomplished the forgiveness of Saul’s sins! In Saul’s own account of these events, he records the instructions of Ananias thusly: "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins ..." (22:16).

Although Jesus has spoken to Saul, it should be noted that the conversion of Saul is accomplished by a human messenger. This is similar to the case of the eunuch in chapter eight; but instead of sending an angel to speak to the preacher, Jesus Himself speaks to Ananias. The conclusion, on both occasions, is that the gospel must be preached by a man to achieve the salvation of a sinner (Mark 16:15-16; Romans 1:16).

Also when Saul was baptized he received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38). "The significance of two clauses here is vital. This verse does not say that Saul received his sight and received the Holy Spirit, but that he received his sight and arose and was baptized, indicating that the gift of the Holy Spirit followed his baptism (Coffman 187).

The mission of Ananias is completed. Saul is now ready to begin his monumental work in service to Jesus, his newly recognized Lord.

Verse 19

And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

When Saul is converted and receives the forgiveness for his sins, his time of grief and fasting comes to an end. He is refreshed spiritually; now it is time to refresh himself physically.

Luke uses the term, "certain days, "to indicate a short period of time (10:48; 16:12; 24:24; 25:13). This new fellowship of which Saul is now a part must have been strange indeed in the beginning. Here we have the once persecuted and the one time persecutor brought together as brothers in Christ. The conversion of Saul, a milestone in Christianity, is now complete. This man of talent, education, and burning zeal, this "Hebrew of Hebrews" will spend the rest of his life with but one focus: THE PREACHING OF JESUS THE SON OF GOD.

Verse 20

And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

The word "straightway" literally means, "at once or soon" Strong 33). At once, whether this was one day or six days, Saul begins to preach Jesus in the synagogues. The same Jesus who used to infuriate Saul, at the very mention of His name, is now the central theme of his preaching.

Verse 21

But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?

The amazing transformation in the man Saul is noted by all. They have not forgotten his reputation in Jerusalem where he "made havoc of them" who believed in Jesus, nor have they forgotten the murderous motive for Saul’s trip to Damascus. But now, much to the consternation of the Jews, Saul has aligned himself with the very ones to whom he originally came to lay waste.

Verse 22

But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.

Saul’s convictions in the truth rapidly increase along with his efforts to prove Jesus. All of this change happens so suddenly that the Jews are "confounded" (stirred up). They expected a champion from Jerusalem who would marshal their forces against those of "the way." Instead, their champion is not theirs at all but rather has turned out to be a leader of the opposition. Saul is proving that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. Boles says, "Proving is from the Greek word (sunbibazon), and means that Saul put things side by side, and so making a comparison and forming a conclusion that Jesus was the Christ" (149).

Verse 23

And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:

It is at this point that we need to consider the sojourn of Saul in Arabia. The words, "after that many days were fulfilled" seem to be the only reference that Luke gives to this event. In order to establish some reasonable chronology of these events in Saul’s conversion and earliest efforts to preach the gospel, we want to include Saul’s own account as given in Galatians 1:15-18. The following seems to meet the scriptural requirements for these events:

1. Saul begins his journey to Damascus (9:1-3).

2. Jesus appears to Saul in the road (9:3-5).

3. Saul spends three days in fasting and prayer (9:9).

4. Ananias comes to Saul, his sight is restored, and he is baptized and receives the gift of the Holy Spirit (9:17-18).

5. Straightway Saul preaches Christ in the synagogues (9:20).

6. The Jews are stirred up by the preaching of Saul (9:22).

7. Saul departs Damascus and goes into Arabia for "many days" (an indefinite part of three years)(9:23; Galatians 1:17-18).

8. After "many days were fulfilled," Saul returns to Damascus (9:23; Galatians 1:17-18).

9. The Jews plot to kill Saul (9:23-24).

10. It has now been about three years since Saul was converted. He escapes from Damascus and travels to Jerusalem where he stays with Peter for fifteen days (9:25-26; Galatians 1:18).

Arabia may be generally described as the region to the east and south of Damascus, although the boundaries changed according to the nationalistic zeal of the king of Syria or the tribes of Arabia. Dr. J. S. Howson makes the following comment:

For though the strong powers of Syria and Mesopotamia might check the Arabian tribes, and retrench the Arabian name in this direction, yet the Gardens of Damascus were on the verge of the desert, and Damascus was almost as much an Arabian as a Syrian town (Conybeare and Howson 90).

Saul does not have far to go to be in Arabia. There is much conjecture as to his excursion into the region of Arabia. Exactly how long Saul stays in Arabia, we have no sure way of knowing. It is a portion of three years. Some commentators would have us believe Saul spends several years in the desert of Arabia in meditation. Knowing the restless character of Saul, this is highly unlikely. It is more probable that Saul spends no more time in Arabia than it takes to equip him with the necessities for his new mission in life, that being an apostle of Jesus Christ.

The reason for Saul’s trip also leaves us with questions. Is it for the purpose of preaching or to prepare himself to meet the necessary requirements to be an apostle? Perhaps it is some of both; but Saul seems to tell us that the latter is the main purpose of his trip (Galatians 1:16-17). He explains that the knowledge and revelations given to him were not from men (Galatians 1:11). In Saul’s words he states he"did not go up to Jerusalem to the apostles" (Galatians 1:17); rather he receives everything that he needs from God; he "conferred not with flesh and blood" (Galatians 1:16).

It is the opinion of this writer that Saul receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit while in Arabia. The original apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4); but Saul, being "one born out of due time, "has to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit with its accompanying miraculous power at some later time. It is very likely that it is in Arabia that God gives Saul everything he needs to be a full-fledged apostle.

After this period of "many days," a part of which are spent in Arabia and the rest in preaching in and about Damascus, the Jews, being no longer able to meet him in controversy, resort to that which is the last argument of a desperate cause: they resolve to assassinate him. This is the first of many murderous plots against Saul. Some of these same Jews will pursue Saul to his grave!

Verses 24-25

But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.

Like the spies from the house of Rahab (Joshua 2:15) and David from his own house (1 Samuel 19:12), Saul escapes over the walls of Damascus in a basket. In Saul’s account in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, he states it is the governor under King Aretas who leads the effort to capture him.

Verse 26

And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.

By the best estimates, Saul has been gone from Jerusalem for slightly more than three years. His return puts him in a difficult position. His old associates know full well of his defection, so he can expect no friendly reception from them. On the other hand, we are not surprised at the cold and suspicious reception given him by the Christian community. They remember him best as the persecutor who invaded the ranks of Christians bringing terror, pain, and death. It is with this suspicious and skeptical body of disciples that Saul "assayed," that is he tried or attempted, to "join himself."

Verse 27

But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles: Saul needs a friend, someone to plead his case. That friend appears in the form of Barnabas, the "son of consolation" (4:36). What causes Barnabas to step up in defense of Saul? E. H. Plumptre speculates that"... the Levite of Cyprus and the tent-maker had been friends in earlier years. The culture of which Tarsus was a seat, would naturally attract a student from the neighbouring island..." (63). It very well could have been the case that Saul and Barnabas are old school friends. But it is much easier to see the friendly actions of Barnabas as resulting from his kindly disposition.

All that is revealed of Barnabas in the New Testament justifies the affirmation that he is a good man full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. In his espousal of Paul’s sincerity in this episode, there is an illustration of the truth that it is better to trust than to distrust; it is better to believe the best of men than it is to believe the worst of them (Coffman 190).

This gentleman from Cyprus will be heard from many times in this chronicle of the spread of the gospel (4:36).

and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus: Barnabas uses the following evidence in defense of Saul:

1. Saul is an eyewitness to the risen Jesus. It is necessary for Saul, like the other apostles, to be a witness of the resurrection of Jesus.

2. Jesus speaks to Saul on the Damascus road, further affirmation that Saul is a"chosen vessel"of the Lord.

3. Saul confirms and declares his faith in Jesus by"boldly"preaching Him before the Jews.

The defense, made by Barnabas, seems to have been sufficient to convince Peter and James, along with the other disciples, that Saul is truly a convert to Christianity.

Verse 28

And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.

Saul remains a constant companion of Peter and James for a period of fifteen days (Galatians 1:18-19). During this time he is involved on a daily basis with the work of preaching the gospel in Jerusalem.

Verse 29

And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.

The sheer bravery of Saul is seen in his dauntless courage to preach the gospel to these bitter enemies of the cross. Saul picks up the sword of the fallen Stephen and wields it with telling effect against his own former friends and allies. But these implacable foes of Christianity have no more patience with Saul than they had with Stephen."They went about to slay him."Such is to become the legacy of Saul. Twice within two weeks, first at Damascus and now at Jerusalem, Saul literally runs for his life.

Verse 30

Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.

Which when the brethren knew: When the brethren learn of the plot to kill Saul, they demonstrate that Saul has been accepted into their fellowship by their concern for his safety. They assist him in escaping the danger.

they brought him down to Caesarea: The disciples assist Saul in escaping to the city of Caesarea. Coffman makes a most informative statement about Caesarea:

This magnificent city was built by Herod the Great on the site of Strato’s Tower, and was located on the Mediterranean shore, some 23 miles south of Mt. Carmel and 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Lodlow pointed out that Palestine had no adequate seaport till this city was built. God’s purpose of containment for the chosen people in Palestine was served by the fact that no seaport existed during the greater part of Israel’s history. But when, in the fullness of time, God had at last brought into the world his glorious Son, and at a time following the conquest of the whole world by Alexander, and the establishment of a single language, known and understood all over the world; after those events, and after the Christ had suffered on Calvary and the gospel was ready to be preached to all men, God had but lately made ready the marvelous harbor of Caesarea as a portal by which the word would travel to the ends of the earth (191).

This important seaport city has an influence on many New Testament events. Caesarea is the home of Cornelius (10:1). It is here that Philip the evangelist makes his home (21:8). Next to Jerusalem, Caesarea is perhaps the most important city in the New Testament.

and sent him forth to Tarsus: In his flight from Jerusalem, Saul returns home to Tarsus (see notes on 9:1). One can only guess at the reception Saul receives from his family and old friends. Things have certainly changed for him. He returns home a fugitive from two great cities and a deserter from the "strictest of the Jewish sects" in which he was educated, but he brings "glad tidings of great joy."There are those who speculate Saul is disinherited by his family when they learn that he has become a Christian. Later, in Saul’s own words he says, "... I have suffered the loss of all things" (Philippians 3:8). Whether it is true or not that Saul’s family disowns him, evidently Saul has a sister whose son is his friend (see 23:16.)

The expense of Christianity is becoming abundantly clear to Saul. He has already experienced "perils by his own countrymen, and perils in the city."The apostle has been "in journeyings often, in weariness and painfulness." He is beginning to realize "how great things he was to suffer" for the name of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:26-27; Acts 9:16).

It is at this point that Saul temporarily leaves the pages of Luke’s narrative. We will next encounter this great apostle in the city of Antioch (11:25-26). Saul has established himself as a bona fide apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, having received his commission, not from men, but from God (Galatians 1:11-12).

Verse 31

Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.

Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria: As Luke is prone to do, he hesitates between major events to chronicle the growth of the church (see notes on 6:7). The churches are enjoying a temporary respite in persecution; they are at "rest."This persecution, which begins shortly after the stoning of Stephen (8:1), has most likely burned itself out during the three-year absence of the chief ringleader in havoc, Saul. With the return of Saul, whom the Jews now count as a traitor, the peace is momentarily disturbed and the Jews are upset again. Peace is again restored when Saul departs from Jerusalem. It is for certain Saul’s defection from Judaism will never be forgotten by the Jewish community. Their bitterness will fester and canker until it has the opportunity to break out again.

and were edified: The church is being built up and is growing on a daily basis."The term ’edified’ comes from the Greek word oikodoumene, and means ’to build up a house; ’ this term or figure is used frequently by Paul and Peter" (Reese 298).

and walking in the fear of the Lord: The term "walking" is often used to indicate Christian conduct or manner of life. These Christians are living a life of respect and adoration for God, the type of life that will eventually bring them to the sought-after eternal abode in heaven (Luke 1:6; Colossians 1:10; 1 John 2:6).

and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost: This body of believers is enjoying the benefits of "walking in the Lord" and the encouragement and consolation given by God’s word as delivered by the Holy Spirit. Luke reveals the source of power for the church. "When the members walk with the fear of the Lord before their eyes and with The Spirit’s encouraging voice in their hearts, the church will be strong and will also surely multiply " (Lenski 381).

"These early disciples are enjoying the benefits of living (’walking’) in the exhortation of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word rendered ’comfort’ (paraklesis) means a calling to one’s side..." (Vine, Vol. I 207). This"calling to one’s side"can be either for consolation or for exhortation and the word is rendered both ways in the New Testament (compare 13:15; Romans 12:8 with 15:31; Romans 15:5)."Here exhortation is the rendering approved by the best authorities, to be construed with ’was multiplied’: was multiplied by the exhortations of the Holy Ghost; ’ i.e., by the Holy Spirit inspiring the preachers, and moving the hearts of the hearers" (Vincent 495).

were multiplied: As noted above, the Lord’s church will always grow in every way when its members walk in the fear of God and the exhortations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Verse 32

And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.

And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters: It seems to be the purpose of Luke to show how the apostles continue to preach the gospel throughout the regions of Palestine. Peter is here mentioned as passing "throughout all quarters" (all parts).

he came down also to the saints: As has been previously noted, "saints" are Christians (9:13). How there came to be Christians in Lydda is a matter of speculation. Perhaps they became Christians because of the efforts of Philip (8:40) or they were dispersed from Jerusalem to avoid the persecutions (8:1-4).

which dwelt at Lydda: The town of Lydda is situated twenty miles northwest from Jerusalem, which amounted to about one day’s journey. It is ten or twelve miles southeast of Joppa. Lydda is the same as Lod in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 8:12; Ezra 2:33).

Verse 33

And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.

And there he found a certain man named Aeneas: The name "Aeneas" indicates the man is a Greek.

which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy: In the exactness of this statement, Luke lets his professionalism as a physician show through. This man has been bedfast for eight years with palsy.

Luke being a physician tells us the specific disease with which he was afflicted; he was "palsied", "palsy" is a contraction of the word "paralysis." The term is used by the ancient physicians in a much wider sense than by our modern men of science; it included not only what we call paralysis, but also catalepsy and tetanus; that is, cramps and lockjaw (Boles 155).

The fact that Aeneas has been in this distress for eight years makes this miracle even more famous. Surely after eight years there can be no doubt as to the severity of his ailment, and also many people know of his circumstances. When the apostles heal someone, it is not one of these ambiguous, power of suggestion stunts that requires a testimony to let us know what happens, as used by modern "faith healers." To the contrary, to these men of God, the more obvious the ailment the better it is to demonstrate the power of God.

Verse 34

And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.

And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed: Peter demonstrates the power to heal is not by his own authority, but rather the power is in Jesus Christ (3:6).

And he arose immediately: The instantaneous nature of this healing should be noticed. Here is a man who has "kept his bed eight years"; yet in the time it takes for Peter to say the words, he is healed. Jesus has certainly kept his promise that he would confirm the preaching of the apostles with mighty signs and wonders (Mark 16:17). The impact of this miracle is soon to be felt in the regions round about.

Verse 35

And all that dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and turned to the Lord.

The majority of the population of Lydda and the surrounding plain of Sharon turn in mass to the Lord as a result of this miracle. To "turn to the Lord" means these people hear the gospel, repent of their sins, confess Jesus as the Son of God, and are baptized in water for the remission of their sins. Then, their being "such as should be saved," the Lord adds them to His church. (For additional commentary on "turned," see notes on 3:19.) These people were truly ripe for the gospel. McGarvey says concerning these people, "like ripe fruit on a tree, which needs only a little shaking to bring it down, were already most favorably inclined to the truth" (Vol. I 193).

Verse 36

Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.

Now there was at Joppa: Joppa is one of several of the cities on the plains of Sharon on the Mediterranean Sea coast. Joppa served for many years as the principal seaport to Judea. Joppa is the modern city of Jaffa, which still serves as a seaport to Israel. The city lies northwest of Jerusalem a distance of about thirty-eight miles. Joppa is a noteworthy city in Bible history."It is the port at which the rafts of cedar from Lebanon for Solomon’s temple were landed (II Chron. ii.16); and also those for the second temple (Ezra iii.7); and it is the one from which Jonah set sail, that he might flee to Tarshish (Jonah i.3)" (McGarvey, Vol. I 194).

a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: Luke explains the name Tabitha when translated into the Greek is the name Dorcas. Her name in English would be translated "gazelle." This animal is known for its grace and beauty.

this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did: Dorcas is only the second woman mentioned by name since Pentecost, and what a contrast she is to the first woman mentioned. Sapphira is the first woman named, and it could be said of her that she was full of lies and deceit while Dorcas is "full of good works." To be "full of good works" is a wonderful epitaph for any Christian!

Verse 37

And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber:

This is the first record that we have of a Christian’s dying a natural death. The passing of this one, who is so highly esteemed by the Christian community, is given a special place on the pages of God’s history. The body of the beloved Dorcas, washed and prepared for burial, is laid out in the upper room as is the custom of the Jews.

Verse 38

And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.

It is twelve miles from Joppa to Lydda, a sad trip of about three hours for the two men sent to bear the message of the death of Dorcas to Peter. It is not clear as to what the disciples expect Peter to do. The urgency of their desire for Peter to come is made known in their message for him to come without delay. It is obviously too late to call a physician, but perhaps these faithful brethren trust in Peter to invoke the mercies of the "Great Physician" on behalf of their dear departed sister.

Verse 39

Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.

Peter finds a pitiful little scene when he arrives at the resting place of Dorcas. All of the widows are standing about with big tears streaming down their faces, weeping over the loss of their friend and benefactor. Each is showing the clothing the nimble fingers of the good sister Dorcas made for them, clothing they probably would not have had were it not for Dorcas. What a wonderful memorial to this great woman! It seems to be the nature of mankind to want to leave a mark on this earth after one is gone. Some would leave monuments of metal or stone, others inscriptions declaring their accomplishments in glowing tones how much more could one ask than to be remembered by both God and man for good deeds done? Such is the legacy of Dorcas.

Here is a great lesson for any Christian. Dorcas uses the talents she has to accomplish a great work. What she did is not showy and most likely did not draw a lot of attention from the society of her day. To give this event a modern twist and perhaps put it more in our perspective, the death of Dorcas probably did not make the headlines of the Joppa Gazzette or the six o’clock news, but through her good deeds the name of Dorcas is immortalized. Her name will be read and appreciated in God’s word literally forever! Even the world in general understands the good connotation of the name Dorcas. There are societies that sew to make clothing for the poor. These societies are called "Dorcas Societies."

Verse 40

But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.

What a scene this would have been to witness! Peter clears the room; and then, perhaps remembering the time when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, he prays the prayer of faith that ends with the same confident command used by Jesus; Peter says, "Tabitha, arise" (Mark 5:40-42). Without hesitation this good servant of the Lord breathes again the breath of mortal life. She "opened her eyes" and "sat up" in response to Peter’s command.

Verse 41

And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive:

Peter extends his hand to assist Dorcas to stand. He calls to the grieving disciples and presents to them Tabitha, alive!

"Here the narration closes, as well it might; for not even Luke’s graphic pen could describe the scene that followed. And if the restoration of one saint to the little band which she has left is indescribable, what shall we say or think of that hour when all the sainted dead shall rise in glory and greet one another on the shores of life (McGarvey, Vol. I 197)?

Verse 42

And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord:

Jesus continues to confirm the preaching of the gospel with "signs following." This is the first example that we have of the apostles’ raising the dead. The news of this notable miracle is spread throughout Joppa with the desired results, "many believed in the Lord."

Verse 43

And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.

Joppa is now a field white unto harvest; thus, Peter tarries to reap the harvest of souls for the Lord. Just how long Peter remains in Joppa is unknown. Some believe this "many days" may have been as long as three years (9:23).

The fact that Peter takes his abode with Simon the tanner may appear to be insignificant on the surface; yet on closer study it reveals a valuable point. The Jews consider the job of a tanner as an abomination because the work involves handling the carcasses of unclean animals. Perhaps this situation shows that an ordinarily very "kosher" Peter is gradually getting away from his Jewish prejudices and is being made ready for the events that will transpire in chapter ten. Living with one who earns his living by handling dead animals is a radical step for a rigid observer of the laws of purity.

The stage is now set and the participants are now ready for the bringing in of the Gentiles into Christianity. Little does Peter know that living with a tanner is a mild experience compared to what he would be called upon to do next!

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 9". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-9.html. 1993-2022.
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