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Bible Commentaries
Acts 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-31

1. External opposition 3:1-4:31

Opposition to the Christians’ message first came from external sources, particularly the leaders of Judaism.

Verse 1

Evidently John spoke to the people as did Peter ("they"). Three separate though related (Acts 5:17) individuals and groups objected to Peter and John addressing the people as they did. Jesus had also encountered opposition from leaders who questioned His authority when He taught in the temple (Mark 11:27-28; Luke 20:1-2). The captain (Gr. strategos) of the temple guard was the commanding officer of the temple police force. The Talmud referred to this officer as the Sagan. This individual was second in command under the high priest. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 20:6:1; 20:9:3; idem, The Wars . . ., 2:17:1; 6:5:3).] He apparently feared that this already excited throng of hearers might get out of control. The Sadducees were Levitical priests who claimed to represent ancient orthodoxy. They opposed any developments in biblical law, and they denied the doctrine of bodily resurrection (Acts 23:8) and so disagreed with Peter’s teaching on that subject (cf. John 12:10). They believed that the messianic age had begun with the Maccabean heroes (168-134 B.C.) and continued under the Sadducees’ supervision, so they rejected Peter’s identification of Jesus as the Messiah. [Note: See Steve Mason, "Chief Priests, Sadducees, Pharisees and Sanhedrin in Acts," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol. 4: The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, pp. 147-56.]

"For them the Messiah was an ideal, not a person, and the Messianic Age was a process, not a cataclysmic or even datable event. Furthermore, as political rulers and dominant landlords, to whom a grateful nation had turned over all political and economic powers during the time of the Maccabean supremacy, for entirely practical reasons they stressed cooperation with Rome and maintenance of the status quo. Most of the priests were of Sadducean persuasion; the temple police force was composed entirely of Levites; the captain of the temple guard was always a high-caste Sadducee, and so were each of the high priests." [Note: Longenecker, p. 301.]

Verses 1-4

The arrest of Peter and John 4:1-4

In chapters 4-7 there is a series of similar confrontations with each one building up to the crisis of Stephen’s death and the persecution that followed. The first four verses of chapter 4 conclude the incident recorded in chapter 3 ("as they were speaking," Acts 4:1), and they introduce what follows in Acts 4:5-31.

Verse 2

Two things disturbed these leaders. First, the apostles were teaching the people. This was the Sadducees’ function since they were the recognized leaders of the Jews. Second, they were teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead and that there was resurrection from the dead.

". . . a woman called and asked me to serve on a committee that was trying to clean up downtown Los Angeles. I agreed it needed cleaning up, but I told her that I could not serve on the committee. She was amazed. ’Aren’t you a minister?’ she asked. ’Aren’t you interested in cleaning up Los Angeles?’ I answered, ’I will not serve on your committee because I don’t think you are going about it in the right way.’ Then I told her what the late Dr. Bob Shuler had told me years ago. He said, ’We are called to fish in the fish pond, not to clean up the fish pond.’ This old world is a place to fish. Jesus said He would make us fishers of men, and the world is the place to fish. We are not called upon to clean up the fish pond. We need to catch the fish and get the fish cleaned up.

"I have found that the biggest enemies of the preaching of the gospel are not the liquor folk. The gangsters have never bothered me. Do you know where I had my trouble as a preacher? It was with the so-called religious leaders, the liberals, those who claimed to be born again. They actually became enemies of the preaching of the gospel. It was amazing to me to find out how many of them wanted to destroy my radio ministry." [Note: McGee, 4:526.]

Having worked with Dr. McGee in his church, I know that he sought to help people physically as well as spiritually. His point here was that spiritual help is more important than physical help.

Verse 3

It was too late in the day to begin a hearing to examine Peter and John formally, though this had not stopped the Sanhedrin from abusing Jesus (cf. Luke 22:63-66). Therefore the temple officials arrested them and put them in jail, probably the Antonia Fortress. Thus the Sadducees became the first opponents of Christianity (cf. Acts 2:47).

Verse 4

Belief was the key factor in many more becoming Christians (cf. Acts 3:19), not believing and being baptized (Acts 2:38). Note that Luke wrote that they "believed" the message they had heard. The total number of male converts in Jerusalem now reached 5,000 (cf. Acts 1:15; Acts 2:41) because of Peter’s message. The Greek word andron specifies males rather than people. Normally most of the people in the temple courtyard who would have witnessed these events would have been males. Estimates of Jerusalem’s total population range from 25,000 to 250,000, though the lower figure seems more probable. [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., pp. 98-99.] One writer argued for 60,000 or more inhabitants. [Note: Fiensy, p. 214.] Another believed 100,000 to 120,000 people inhabited the city in the forties. [Note: Wolfgang Reinhardt, "The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol. 4: The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, p. 263.] Obviously there is a wide range of speculation.

Verse 5

The "Council" (Acts 4:15) before which soldiers brought Peter and John the next day was the Sanhedrin, which was the senate and supreme court of Israel. It consisted of the high priest, who served as its presiding officer, and 70 other men. Its aristocratic members, the majority, were Sadducees, and its lay leaders were Pharisees. Most of the experts in the Jewish law were Pharisees who were also nationalistic, but the Sadducees supported Rome. The Sadducees were more conservative, though rationalistic theologically, and the Pharisees were more liberal since they accepted oral traditions as authoritative in addition to the Old Testament.

The Sanhedrin normally held its meetings, including the one described in this chapter, in a hall adjoining the southwest part of the temple courtyard, the Chamber of Hewn Stone. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 5:4:2.] "Rulers" were priests who represented the 24 priestly courses (cf. Acts 23:5; Matthew 16:21), "elders" were tribal and influential family heads of the people, and "scribes" were teachers of the law. Individuals from these three groups made up this body (cf. Luke 9:22). The rulers and elders were mainly Sadducees while most of the scribes were Pharisees.

"The Sanhedrin was acting within its jurisdiction when it convened to examine Peter and John. The Mosaic Law specified that whenever someone performed a miracle and used it as the basis for teaching, he was to be examined, and if the teaching were used to lead men away from the God of their fathers, the nation was responsible to stone him (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). On the other hand, if his message was doctrinally sound, the miracle-worker was to be accepted as coming with a message from God." [Note: Kent, pp. 45-46.]

This is the first of four times some of Jesus’ followers stood before the Sanhedrin according to Acts. The others were Peter and the apostles (Acts 5:27), Stephen (Acts 6:12), and Paul (Acts 22:30).

Verses 5-12

Peter’s explanation before the Sanhedrin 4:5-12

Verse 6

Annas, whom Luke called the high priest here (Acts 4:6), was technically not the high priest at this time. He had served as high priest from A.D. 6 to 15, but since A.D. 18 his son-in-law Caiaphas had been the high priest. However, Annas continued to exert great influence (cf. Luke 3:2; John 18:13-24). He was so powerful that Luke could refer to him as the high priest even though he was only the power behind the office (cf. Luke 3:2; John 18:13; Acts 7:1). During this time former high priests seem to have kept their titles and membership in the Sanhedrin. [Note: Jeremias, p. 157.] At this time in Israel’s history, the Roman governor of Palestine appointed the high priest. "John" may refer to Jonathan, a son of Annas who succeeded Caiaphas as high priest in A.D. 36. Luke did not mention Alexander elsewhere, and he is presently unknown.

The High Priests of Israel(ca. A.D. 6-66)
Annas (ca. A.D. 6-15): the co-high priest with Caiaphas during Jesus’ trial (Luke 3:2; John 18:13; John 18:24), and the high priest who, with Caiaphas, tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)
Eleazar (ca. A.D. 16-17): the son of Annas
Caiaphas (ca. A.D. 18-36): the son-in-law of Annas, the high priest during Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 3:2; Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:57; John 11:49-50), and the high priest who with Annas tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)
Jonathan (ca. A.D. 36-37): the son of Annas, and possibly the "John" of Acts 4:6
Theophilus (ca. A.D. 37-41): the son of Annas
Matthias (ca. A.D. 42): the son of Annas
Ananias (ca. A.D. 47-59): tried Paul in Jerusalem and Caesarea (Acts 23:1-10; Acts 24:1-23)
Annas (ca. A.D. 61): the son of Annas
Matthias (ca. A.D. 65-66): the son of Theophilus, grandson of Annas

Verse 7

The healed lame man was also present (Acts 4:14), though we do not know if he had been imprisoned with Peter and John or was simply brought in for the hearing. The Sanhedrin wanted to know by what authority or in whose name (under whose jurisdiction) Peter and John (plural "you") had behaved as they had.

Verse 8

Jesus had promised that when the disciples stood before hostile adversaries God would give them the words to speak (Luke 21:12-15). This special filling appears to be in view in this verse. Again, filling reflects control by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit filled (controlled) Peter as he served as a witness in obedience to Jesus (Acts 1:8). The aorist passive participle plestheis ("filled") indicates an act performed on Peter rather than a continuing state. Peter addressed all the Sanhedrin members as "rulers and elders" of the Jews.

Verses 9-10

Peter referred to the "trial" as a preliminary hearing (Gr. anakrinomai), which it was. Jewish law required that people had to be informed of the consequences of their crime before being punished for it. [Note: Joachim Jeremias, "Untersuchungen zum Quellenproblem der Apostelgeschichte," Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschrift 36 (1937):208-13.] Peter’s answer was straightforward and plain: the power of Jesus had benefited a sick man by healing him. This was good news not only for the Sanhedrin but for all the people of Israel. Peter used a Greek word that means saved (sothenai), which some English translators have rendered "made well." His use of this word prepares for the use of the same word in Acts 4:12 where it has a broader meaning. Peter’s intent was obviously to prick the consciences of these men too (cf. Acts 2:23; Acts 2:36; Acts 3:13-15). He laid the guilt for Jesus’ death at their feet and gave witness that God raised Him from the dead. The Sanhedrin did not now or at any later time attempt to deny the fact that Jesus had arisen.

Verse 11

Peter showed that this teaching did not lead the people away from God but rather fulfilled something that God had predicted. In quoting Psalms 118:22 Peter applied to Jesus Christ what David had said about the nation Israel (cf. Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). Israel’s leaders had rejected Jesus as an unacceptable Messiah, but He would prove to be the most important part of what God was building.

Some scholars believe Peter meant that Jesus was the cornerstone, the foundation of what God was building (cf. Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:7). Others believe he meant the capstone, the final piece of what God was building (cf. Daniel 2:34-35). [Note: E.g., Longenecker, pp. 304-5.] If the former interpretation is correct, Peter was probably anticipating the church as a new creation of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-8). In the latter view, he was viewing the Messiah as the long-expected completion of the house of David. Since Peter was addressing Israel’s rulers, I think he probably meant that Jesus was the capstone, their Messiah. These rulers, the builders of Israel, had rejected their Messiah.

Verse 12

The verses immediately following Psalms 118:22 in the Book of Psalms refer to Messiah’s national deliverance of Israel. It seems that Peter was referring to both national deliverance and personal salvation in this address, as he had in the previous one. The former application would have been especially appropriate in view of his audience here. The messianic age to which the Jews looked forward could only come if Israel’s leaders repented and accepted Jesus as their Messiah.

Peter boldly declared that salvation comes through no one but Jesus, not the Maccabean heroes or the Sadducees or anyone else. Zechariah (Luke 1:69), Simeon (Luke 2:30), and John the Baptist (Luke 3:6) had previously connected God’s salvation with Jesus. Peter stressed that Jesus was a man: He lived "under heaven" and "among men." Jesus, the Messiah, the Nazarene (Acts 4:10), is God’s only authorized savior. Apart from Him there is no salvation for anyone (cf. John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5).

"Peter (and/or Luke) is no advocate of modern notions of religious pluralism." [Note: Witherington, p. 194.]

". . . when we read the speech of Peter, we must remember to whom it was spoken, and when we do remember that it becomes one of the world’s great demonstrations of courage. It was spoken to an audience of the wealthiest, the most intellectual and the most powerful in the land, and yet Peter, the Galilaean fisherman, stands before them rather as their judge than as their victim. But further, this was the very court which had condemned Jesus to death. Peter knew it, and he knew that at this moment he was taking his life in his hands." [Note: Barclay, p. 36.]

Verses 13-14

The Sanhedrin observed in Peter and John what they had seen in Jesus, namely, courage to speak boldly and authoritatively without formal training (cf. Matthew 7:28-29; Mark 1:22; Luke 20:19-26; John 7:15). They may also have remembered seeing them with Jesus (John 18:15-16), but that does not seem to be Luke’s point here.

"They spoke of the men as having been with Jesus, in a past tense. What was the truth? Christ was in the men, and speaking through the men; and the similarity which they detected was not that lingering from contact with a lost teacher, but that created by the presence of the living Christ." [Note: Morgan, p. 96.]

These powerful educated rulers looked on the former fishermen with contempt. What a change had taken place in the apostles since Peter had denied that he knew Jesus (Luke 22:56-60)! The rulers also observed facility in handling the Scriptures that was extraordinary in men who had not attended the priests’ schools. This examining board could not dispute the apostles’ claim that Jesus’ power had healed the former beggar. The obvious change in the man made that impossible. They had no other answer. Unwilling to accept the obvious, the Sanhedrin could offer no other explanation.

Several details in the stories of the apostles’ arrests recall Jesus’ teaching concerning the persecution that the disciples would experience (cf. Luke 12:12 and Acts 4:8; Luke 21:12 and Acts 4:3; Acts 5:18; Luke 21:13 and Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32; Luke 21:15 and Acts 4:13).

Verses 13-22

The Sanhedrin’s response 4:13-22

Verses 15-17

Evidently someone in the Sanhedrin, or someone else present in the room who was then or later became a Christian, reported the information in these verses to Luke. Perhaps Gamaliel told Paul, and Paul told Luke. Perhaps Nicodemus or some other believing member of the Sanhedrin was the source of this information. The most the Sanhedrin felt it could do was to warn and try to intimidate the apostles. The Sanhedrin members acknowledged that a miracle had taken place.

It seems clear that the Jewish leaders could not disprove the miracle. They were completely silent about the apostles’ claims that Jesus was alive. After all, the simplest way to discredit the apostles would have been to produce Jesus’ body or in some other way prove to the people that Jesus had not risen.

Verses 18-20

The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles not to speak or teach at all as Jesus’ spokesmen. This order provided a legal basis for further action should that be necessary (cf. Acts 5:28). Peter and John saw the command of the Sanhedrin as contradicting the command that Christ had given them (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20). They could not obey both, so they had to obey God (cf. Jeremiah 20:9). This is the only basis for civil disobedience that Scripture permits. In all other matters we must obey those in authority over us (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). [Note: See Charles C. Ryrie, "The Christian and Civil Disobedience," Bibliotheca Sacra 127:506 (April-June 1970):153-62. This article was reprinted with minor changes in idem, You Mean the Bible Teaches That . . ., pp. 11-22.] Speaking what one has seen and heard (Acts 4:20) is the essence of witnessing (Acts 1:8). Contempt and threats have silenced many witnesses, but these tactics did not stop the Spirit-filled apostles. [Note: See Barrett, p. 238.]

Verses 21-22

Even in the face of open defiance the Sanhedrin could do no more than threaten the apostles again. Peter and John had done nothing wrong. Furthermore they had become popular heroes by this healing. By punishing them the rulers would have antagonized the people.

"Yet a legal precedent had been set that would enable the council to take, if necessary, more drastic action in the future." [Note: Longenecker, p. 307.]

Verses 23-28

After hearing the apostles’ report, the Christians sought the Lord (Gr. Despota, sovereign ruler) in prayer.

"Three movements may be discerned in this prayer of the early church: (1) God is sovereign (Acts 4:24). (2) God’s plan includes believers’ facing opposition against the Messiah (Acts 4:25-28). (3) Because of these things they petitioned God to grant them boldness to preach (Acts 4:29-30)." [Note: Toussaint, "Acts," p. 364.]

The believers contrasted God’s position with that of His servants David (Acts 4:25), Jesus (Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30), and themselves (Acts 4:29). The word translated "servant" (pais), used of David and Jesus, contrasts appropriately with the word rendered "bond-servants" (doulos), used of the disciples.

The opening reference to God’s creative power in the disciples’ prayer (Acts 4:24) has many parallels in other Old Testament prayers (e.g., Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalms 146:6; Isaiah 42:5; cf. Acts 14:15; Acts 17:24). This was a common and appropriate way to approach God in prayer, especially when a request for the exercise of that power followed, as it did here (cf. 2 Kings 19:15-19; Isaiah 37:15-20).

Note the testimony to the divine inspiration of Psalms 2 contained in Acts 4:25. God is the author of Scripture who has worked through human instruments to announce and record His revelations (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The believers saw a parallel to Jesus’ crucifixion in the psalmist’s prophecy that Messiah would experience opposition from Gentiles and leaders. This prophecy will find its fullest fulfillment in events still future from our time in history. God anointed Jesus at His baptism (cf. Acts 10:38). David’s references to Gentiles, the peoples, kings, and rulers (Acts 4:25-26) applied to the Roman Gentiles, the Israelites, Herod, and Pontius Pilate (Acts 4:27). However the believers saw God’s sovereign hand (the ultimate effective cause) behind human actions again (the secondary instrumental cause, Acts 4:28; cf. Acts 2:23 a; Acts 3:18).

"They see in this beginning of persecution the continued fulfilment [sic] of Scripture which had been evident in the Passion of Jesus." [Note: Neil, p. 91.]

Verses 23-31

The church’s reaction 4:23-31

Verse 24

The effect of opposition during Cyrus’ reign 4:24

The reference in this verse to the work stopping indicates that at this point, the writer returned to the opposition he had been describing earlier (Acts 4:1-5). Acts 4:6-23 are parenthetical. They record later events and simply illustrate the continuing antagonism of Israel’s enemies in the years that followed the main event in view in this chapter. [Note: H. H. Rowley, "Nehemiah’s Mission and Its Background," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester 37:2 (March 1955):540-43.]

Work on the temple ceased in 536 B.C., as the writer noted here. The workers had only completed the foundation. Construction did not recommence until 520 B.C., 16 years later.

"Even when they [the restoration Jews] strove to again lay the foundations of that most important symbol of the presence of God, their sanctuary, discouragement took its toll; and the whole project came to a complete stop for sixteen long years (Ezra 4:24). Everything was wrong: they lacked the means, then the inclination, and finally even the will to build the temple; for their every attempt met with constant opposition both from within the small group and from the outside (Ezra 3:12-13; Ezra 4:1-22). So it would have remained had not God graciously sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1)." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 250.]

Verses 29-30

The disciples called on God to note the threats of the Sanhedrin. They may have done so to stress their need for more of His grace rather than to call down His wrath on those rulers. The will of God was clear. The disciples were to witness for Christ (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20). Consequently they only needed enablement to carry out their task. They did not assume that God would automatically give them the courage to witness boldly, as He had done in the past. They voiced a fresh appeal for this grace since additional opposition and temptations lay ahead of them (cf. Mark 9:29). They also acknowledged that God, not they, was doing a spiritual work. In these respects their prayer is a helpful model for us.

"Prayer is not an escape from responsibility; it is our response to God’s ability. True prayer energizes us for service and battle." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:416.]

"It might have been thought that when Peter and John returned with their story a deep depression would have fallen on the Church, as they looked ahead to the troubles which were now bound to descend upon them. The one thing that never even struck them was to obey the Sanhedrin’s command to speak no more. Into their minds at that moment there came certain great convictions and into their lives there came a tide of strength." [Note: Barclay, p. 39.]

It is noteworthy that these Christians did not pray for judgment on their persecutors, nor freedom from persecution, but for strength and enablement in their persecution (cf. Isaiah 37:16-20). They rightly saw that their number one priority was preaching Jesus to a needy world. [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 202.]

Verse 31

It is not clear whether we should understand the shaking of the place where the disciples had assembled literally or metaphorically (cf. Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 19:11-12; Isaiah 6:4; Acts 16:26). In either case those assembled received assurance from this phenomenon that God was among them and would grant their petition.

"This was one of the signs which indicated a theophany in the Old Testament (Exodus 19:18; Isaiah 6:4), and it would have been regarded as indicating a divine response to prayer." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 107.]

The same control by the Spirit that had characterized Peter (Acts 4:8) and the disciples earlier (Acts 2:4) also marked these Christians. They now spoke boldly (Gr. parresias, with confidence, forthrightly; cf. Acts 4:13; Acts 4:29) as witnesses, as Peter had done. Note that tongues speaking did not occur here. This was not another baptism with the Spirit but simply a fresh filling.

"In Luke 22:39-46, just before Jesus’ arrest and just after Peter’s assertion of readiness to suffer, Jesus urged the disciples to pray in order that they might not enter into temptation. Instead, the disciples fell asleep and were unprepared for the following crisis. In Acts 4:23-31 Jesus’ followers are again confronted with the dangerous opposition of the Sanhedrin. Now they pray as they had previously been told to do. As a result they receive power from God to continue the mission despite the opposition. We have already noted that Peter’s boldness before the Sanhedrin in Acts contrasts with his denial of Jesus in Luke. The church in Acts, finding power for witness in prayer, also contrasts with the disciples who slept instead of praying in Luke. These contrasts contribute to the narrator’s picture of a dramatic transformation in Jesus’ followers." [Note: Tannehill, 2:71-72.]

2. Internal compromise 4:32-5:11

As was true of Israel when she entered Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, failure followed initial success in the early church. The source of that failure lay within the company of believers, not their enemies.

"The greater length of the story of Ananias and Sapphira should not lead to the conclusion that it is the important incident, the preceding section being merely an introduction to give it a setting; on the contrary, it is more likely that Acts 4:32-35 describes the pattern of life, and is then followed by two illustrations, positive and negative, of what happened in practice." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 108.]

Verse 32

The unity of the believers extended beyond spiritual matters to physical, material matters (cf. Matthew 22:37-39). They owned personal possessions, but they did not consider them private possessions. Rather they viewed their belongings as common (Gr. koina, cf. koinonia, "fellowship") property. Customarily they shared what they had with one another (cf. Acts 2:44; Acts 2:46; Deuteronomy 15:4). Their unity manifested itself in a sense of responsibility for one another. Love, not law, compelled them to share (cf. 1 John 3:17-18).

"Their generosity sprang not from coercive legislation (as modern Socialists and Marxists demand) but from a true union of hearts made possible by regeneration." [Note: Kent, p. 50. Cf. Witherington, p. 206.]

The economic situation in Jerusalem was deteriorating at this time due to famine and political unrest. [Note: Jeremias, Jerusalem in . . ., pp. 121-22.] Employment opportunities were declining, and unsaved Jews were beginning to put economic and social pressure on the Christians.

Verses 32-35

The unity of the church 4:32-35

This brief pericope illustrates what Luke wrote earlier in Acts 2:44-46 about the early Christians sharing and selling their possessions as well as giving verbal witness. Luke recorded this description to emphasize the purity and unity in the church that resulted from the Spirit’s filling (Acts 4:31).

Verse 33

The power in the witness of the believers was their love for one another (cf. John 13:35), not just their rhetorical (homiletical) and miraculous power. Notice the central place the resurrection of Jesus occupied in their witness. His resurrection fulfilled prophecy and identified Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Acts 2:29-32). The abundant grace that rested upon these Christians was the divine enablement that God granted them to speak and to live as they did. This grace was on the young church as it had been on the young Jesus (cf. Luke 2:40).

Verses 34-35

The voluntary sharing described in Acts 4:32 seems to have been customary, but the occasional selling mentioned here was evidently exceptional (cf. Acts 2:45). The imperfect tense verbs here imply "from time to time" (NIV). The apostles were in charge of distributing help to those in need (cf. Acts 6:1-4). The Christians were witnessing with their works (Acts 4:32; Acts 4:34-35) as well as with their words (Acts 4:33).

Sincerity or insincerity could motivate these magnanimous deeds. An example of each type of motivation follows.

Verse 36

His given Jewish name was Joseph, but people called him by his Jewish nickname (cognomen), Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement" (Gr. huios parakleseos). The Jews often called a person "son of ___" to denote his or her characteristics (e.g., "son of Beliel"). They probably did so because Barnabas was a constant positive influence on those around him, as further references to him in Acts will demonstrate (cf. Acts 9:27; Acts 11:22-30; Acts 13:1 to Acts 14:28; Acts 15:2-4; Acts 15:12; Acts 15:22; Acts 15:36-41; 1 Corinthians 9:6). [Note: See Michael Pocock, "The Role of Encouragement in Leadership," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp. 301-7.] Luke probably mentioned that he was a Levite just to identify him more specifically, not to throw a cloud of suspicion over him. The Mosaic Law forbade Levites from owning property in the Promised Land (Numbers 18:24).

". . . the rule was no longer rigidly adhered to, and would not have applied to those living overseas." [Note: Neil, p. 94. Cf. Jeremiah 1:1; 32:6-15.]

Levites had connections to the temple, but not everyone with temple connections opposed the apostles (cf. Acts 4:1). Barnabas had lived on the island of Cyprus at some time, though he had relatives in Jerusalem, namely, John Mark, Mark’s mother, and perhaps others (cf. Acts 12:12; Colossians 4:10).

Verses 36-37

The generosity of Barnabas 4:36-37

Luke now gave a specific instance of what he had just described in Acts 4:34-35. This reference to Barnabas is significant because it introduces him to the reader. Barnabas becomes an important character in Acts later, mainly as a missionary (apostle) and preacher. [Note: See S. Jonathan Murphy, "The Role of Barnabas in the Book of Acts," Biblitheca Sacra 167:667 (July-September 2010):319-41.] Furthermore Barnabas provides a vivid contrast to Ananias in chapter 5.

Verse 37

Barnabas evidently sold some of his land-where it was we do not know-to provide cash for the needs of the church members. He humbly presented the proceeds of the sale to the apostles for their distribution.

"Barnabas is a first example in Acts of the tendency to introduce an important new character first as a minor character, one who appears and quickly disappears. Philip (Acts 6:5) and Saul (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1; Acts 8:3) are similarly introduced before they assume important roles in the narrative. This procedure ties the narrative together, and in each case the introductory scene contributes something significant to the portrait of the person." [Note: Tannehill, 2:78.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-4.html. 2012.
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