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Bible Commentaries
Acts 9

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 8-31


In this next major section of Acts, Luke narrated three significant events in the life and ministry of the early church. These events were the martyrdom of Stephen, the ministry of Philip, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Luke’s presentation of these events was primarily biographical. In fact, he began his account of each event with the name of its major character (Acts 6:8; Acts 8:5; Acts 9:1). The time when these events took place was probably shortly after those reported in the preceding chapters of the book.

Verses 1-2

Since Stephen’s martyrdom (cf. Acts 8:3), Saul had been persecuting Jews who had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. [Note: See Appendix 1, "Sequence of Paul’s Activities," at the end of these notes.]

"The partitive genitive of apeiles [threats] and phonou [murder] means that threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed, like a warhorse who sniffed the smell of battle. He breathed on the remaining disciples the murder that he had already breathed in from the death of the others. He exhaled what he inhaled." [Note: Robertson, 3:113.]

The Jewish high priest’s Roman overseers gave the high priest authority to extradite Jews who were strictly religious offenders and had fled outside the Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction. [Note: Longenecker, p. 369; Kent, pp. 82-83.] Saul obtained letters from the high priest (evidently Caiaphas) giving him power to arrest Jesus’ Jewish disciples from Palestine who had fled to Damascus because of persecution in Jerusalem. This grand inquisitor undoubtedly believed that he was following in the train of other zealous Israelites who had purged idolatry from Israel (e.g., Moses in Numbers 25:1-5; Phinehas in Numbers 25:6-15; Elijah in 1 Kings 18; Mattathias in 1 Maccabees 2:23-28; 1 Maccabees 2:42-48).

"Saul never forgave himself for that. God forgave him; the Christians forgave him; but he never forgave himself . . . 1 Corinthians 15:9[;] Galatians 1:13." [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., pp. 203-4.]

The King of the Nabateans who governed Damascus at this time cooperated with Saul. He was Aretas IV (9 B.C.-A.D. 40). [Note: F. F. Bruce, "Chronological Questions in the Acts of the Apostles," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 18:2 (Spring 1986):275.] Damascus stood about 135 miles to the north-northeast of Jerusalem, about a week’s journey. It was within the Roman province of Syria and was one of the towns of the Decapolis, a league of 10 self-governing cities. "The Way" was one of the earliest designations of Christianity (cf. Acts 18:24-25; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22), and it appears only in Acts. It meant the path characterized by life and salvation. This title may go back to Jesus’ teaching that He was the way and that His way of salvation was a narrow way (John 14:6; Matthew 7:14).

Verses 1-9

Saul’s conversion on the Damascus road 9:1-9

"Without question, the story of Saul’s ’conversion’ is one of the most important events, if not the most important event, that Luke records in Acts." [Note: Timothy J. Ralston, "The Theological Significance of Paul’s Conversion," Bibliotheca Sacra 147:586 (April-June 1990):303.]

"In this passage we have the most famous conversion story in all history." [Note: Barclay, p. 71. Cf. Neil, p. 125.]

"The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch was in a chariot; the conversion of Saul of Tarsus was down in the dust." [Note: McGee, 4:548.]

Verses 1-19

1. Saul’s conversion and calling 9:1-19a

Luke recorded the conversion and calling of Saul of Tarsus to demonstrate the supernatural power and sovereign direction of God. Saul’s conversion was one of the most miraculous and significant instances of repentance that took place during the early expansion of the church. His calling to be God’s main missionary to the Gentiles was equally dramatic.

Verses 1-31

C. The mission of Saul 9:1-31

The writer focused our attention next on a key figure in the spread of the Christian mission and on significant events in the development of that mission to the Gentiles. Peter’s evangelization of Cornelius (ch. 10) will continue to advance this theme. Luke has given us three portraits of significant individuals in the evangelization of Gentiles: Stephen, Philip, and now, climactically, Saul. He stressed that Saul’s conversion and calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles came supernaturally and directly from God, and Saul himself played a passive role in these events. Saul retold the story of his conversion and calling twice in Acts 22, 26 and again in Galatians 1. Its importance in Acts is clear from its repetition. [Note: See Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 327.]

"It cannot be stressed enough that these accounts are summaries and Luke has written them up in his own style and way." [Note: Witherington, p. 309.]

Saul became God’s primary instrument in taking the gospel to the Gentile world.

Verses 3-4

Other passages throw more light on the details of Saul’s blinding vision. It took place about midday when the sun would usually have been shining its brightest (Acts 22:6; Acts 26:13). What blinded Saul was not the sun, however, but a revelation of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:17; Acts 9:27; Acts 22:14; Acts 26:16; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8). He saw the same person Stephen had seen as Saul witnessed Stephen dying (Acts 7:55). Jesus spoke to Saul from heaven addressing him by his Jewish name and in the language of the Jews (cf. Acts 26:14). After riveting his attention, Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting Himself-not His followers, but Himself. Saul would have understood the voice as God’s since in rabbinism a voice from heaven always connoted a rebuke or instruction from God. [Note: Longenecker, pp. 370-71.]

"Therefore when the voice went on to ask the question ’Why do you persecute me?’ Saul was without doubt thoroughly confused. He was not persecuting God! Rather, he was defending God and his laws!" [Note: Ibid., p. 371.]

Jesus’ question made Saul begin to appreciate the intimate union that Christians enjoy with Jesus, the Head of the body, the church. He was in His disciples, not just with them or ruling over them, by His Spirit (cf. John 14:17). What they suffered He suffered.

Verses 5-6

In what sense did Saul address Jesus as Lord (Gr. kyrios)? It seems from Saul’s reaction to this vision and his descriptions of it later that he realized the person addressing him was God. "Lord" therefore seems to be more than a respectful "Sir." Yet God was Saul’s master already, even before he became a Christian, so he probably addressed the voice as his personal master as well as God. The identity of the voice was not completely clear to Saul. When Stephen had a similar vision, he recognized Jesus (Acts 7:55-56), but Saul did not recognize Him. This may imply that Saul had never seen Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Or perhaps he asked "Who are you?" because, even though he believed God was speaking to him, he had never heard a voice from heaven before.

Jesus’ self-revelation totally shocked Saul who until then had regarded Jesus as a blasphemous pretender to Israel’s messianic throne. Saul now discovered that Jesus was God or at least with God in heaven, yet He was in some sense also present in His followers whom Saul was persecuting. Jesus again referred to Saul’s persecution of Himself, a doubly convicting reminder of Saul’s erroneous theology and sinful conduct. Jesus did not condemn him but graciously commanded him to enter Damascus and to wait for further directions from Himself. Saul learned that Jesus had a mission for him though he did not know what or how extensive it would be.

Verses 7-9

Evidently Saul’s traveling companions heard a voice-like sound, but only Saul understood Jesus’ words (cf. Acts 9:7; Acts 22:9; Acts 26:14; cf. John 12:29). They all fell to the ground when they saw the light (Acts 26:14), but now they stood speechless. The light of the vision he had seen had blinded Saul temporarily. His companions had to lead him off into Damascus where he waited for three days for further instructions, blind, fasting, and praying (cf. Acts 1:14; Luke 1:22). [Note: On the practice of fasting, see Kent D. Berghuis, "A Biblical Perspective on Fasting," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:629 (January-March 2001):86-103.]

"He who had intended to enter Damascus like an avenging fury was led by the hand into that city, blind and helpless as a child." [Note: Barclay, p. 73.]

"In the light of Paul’s subsequent career, his single-minded devotion to Christ, his tireless efforts to bring Jews and Gentiles alike face to face with the same Lord as he had encountered on the Damascus road, his remorse for his vindictive cruelty, his atonement for it in selfless service of the Church he had tried to crush, it is frivolous to attempt to explain away Paul’s conversion as a hallucination, an attack of sunstroke, or an epileptic fit [as some Bible critics have alleged]. It was as is every genuine conversion experience a miracle of the grace of God." [Note: Neil, p. 128.]

Verses 10-12

Evidently Ananias was not a refugee from Jerusalem (Acts 22:12) but a resident of Damascus. He, too, received a vision of the Lord Jesus (Acts 9:17) to whom he submitted willingly (cf. 1 Samuel 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:10). Jesus gave Ananias specific directions to another man’s house in Damascus where he would find Saul. Straight Street is still one of the main thoroughfares running through Damascus east and west. Saul had been preying on Christians, but now he was praying to Christ. Saul, like most Pharisees, was a man of prayer, and he continued to give prayer priority after his conversion (cf. Acts 16:25; Acts 20:36; Acts 22:17). Luke recorded that Jesus was also a man of prayer (Luke 3:21; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:18; Luke 9:28; Luke 11:1; Luke 22:41). The Lord sovereignly prepared both Ananias and Saul with revelations of Himself so when He brought them together they would have no doubt about His personal dealings with them (cf. Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40; Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10:1-23).

"The point of all the visions and the miracle is to make clear that God is in control of and directing all these events so that Saul will undertake certain tasks God has in mind." [Note: Witherington, p. 318.]

Verses 10-19

Saul’s calling from the Lord 9:10-19a

Verses 13-14

Ananias wanted to make sure he had heard the Lord correctly since Saul had become infamous for harming believers in Jesus. He had heard of Saul’s reason for visiting Damascus and the authority to extradite that he had received from the chief priests. Ananias referred to the believers in Jerusalem as "saints," set apart ones, the equivalent of those who call on the Lord’s name. This is the first time Luke used the name "saints" for Christians in Acts.

"The Lord’s work is revealed through events that overthrow human expectations. Humans calculate the future on the basis of their normal experience. These calculations leave them unprepared for the appearance of the Overruler, who negates human plans and works the unexpected. This is a problem not only for the rejectors of Jesus but also for the church, which, as our narrative indicates, is led by the Lord into situations beyond its fathoming. The narrator’s sharp sense of God (and the exalted Messiah) as one who surprises appears again in this episode, and the reaction of Ananias (and in Acts 9:26 the Jerusalem disciples) shows that the church, too, has difficulty keeping up with such a God." [Note: Tannehill, 2:117.]

Verses 15-16

God revealed His purpose for Saul to bolster Ananias’ courage. The inquisitor was to become Jesus’ chosen instrument, the proud Pharisee His apostle to Gentiles and kings, and the poster boy of Judaism a persecuted Christian. "To bear my name" means to bear witness of Jesus. In the Greek text of Acts 9:16 "I" is emphatic. Jesus meant that Ananias need not fear going to Saul because Jesus Himself would show Saul how much he would suffer; Ananias would not need to do that. This assurance would have encouraged Ananias further to go to Judas’ house in search of Saul.

"In highlighting these features of being a ’chosen instrument,’ sent to ’the Gentiles,’ and to ’suffer for my [Jesus’] name,’ Luke has, in effect, given a theological précis of all he will portray historically in chapters 13-28-a précis that also summarizes the self-consciousness of Paul himself as reflected in his own letters." [Note: Longenecker, p. 373.]

Verse 17

Ananias communicated his Christian love for his new Christian brother with a touch and a loving word of greeting: "Brother." He then explained his purpose for coming to Saul. It was to restore his sight and to enable Saul to experience the filling of the Spirit. Ananias’ purpose was not to commission Saul. Saul’s commission came directly from the Lord, though Ananias announced it (Acts 22:14-16).

"The choice of Ananias for this task made it clear that Saul of Tarsus was not dependent upon the Twelve, and also that an apostle was not required for bestowing the Spirit (as might have been concluded from the case in Samaria)." [Note: Kent, pp. 83-84.]

The Holy Spirit filled Saul as he responded to God’s Word appropriately. We may infer that Saul’s conversion happened on the Damascus road and that he received the baptism of the Spirit at the same time. [Note: Ibid., p. 85.] Notice again the importance of being filled with (under the control of) the Holy Spirit. This is the first time Luke wrote that the Spirit came on someone outside the land of Israel.

Verses 18-19

God then restored Saul’s sight. The impression given in the text is that the first thing he did was identify with Christ and the disciples of Christ by water baptism (cf. Acts 8:12; Acts 8:38). He did this even before breaking his fast of three days. Then he ate and received strength physically.

Verse 19

2. Saul’s initial conflicts 9:19-30

The changes that took place in Saul were important because of his subsequent activity. Luke wrote this pericope to note those changes so his readers would understand why Saul behaved as he did. Luke stressed the genuineness of Saul’s conversion by showing the radical change it made in him.

Verses 19-22

Saul’s preaching in Damascus 9:19-22

How Acts 9:19-20 fit into the chronology of events in Saul’s life is not perfectly clear. They could fit in any number of ways. We should probably understand "immediately" in a general sense. As soon as Saul became a Christian he began to contend that Jesus was the Messiah when he attended synagogue worship, which he did regularly (cf. Acts 13:5; Acts 13:14; Acts 14:1; Acts 17:2; Acts 17:10; Acts 17:17; Acts 18:4; Acts 18:19; Acts 19:8). This proclamation was the result and evidence of his being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17) as well as the result of his conversion.

Saul later wrote that immediately following his conversion he did not consult with others about the Scriptures but went into Arabia and later returned to Damascus (Galatians 1:15-17). "Arabia" describes the kingdom of the Nabateans that stretched south and east from Damascus beyond Petra. Damascus was in the northwest sector of Arabia. After Saul’s conversion and baptism he needed some time and space for quiet reflection and communion with God. He had to rethink the Scriptures, receive new understanding from the Lord, and revise his Pharisaic theology. So, like Moses, Elijah, and Jesus before him, he retired into the wilderness. These were Saul’s "Arabian nights." [Note: Witherington, p. 323.]

This is the only mention in Acts of someone proclaiming Jesus as the "Son of God" (but cf. Acts 13:33). This fact reflects the clear understanding of Jesus that Saul had even shortly after his conversion. As used in the Old Testament, this title referred to Israel (Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1), Israel’s anointed king (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 89:26), and Messiah (Psalms 2:7). Saul recognized that Jesus was the Son of God predicted there. He used this title of Jesus frequently in his epistles (Romans 1:3-4; Romans 1:9; Romans 5:10; Romans 8:3; Romans 8:29; Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 15:28; 2 Corinthians 1:19; Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 4:4; Galatians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Verses 21-22

Saul’s conduct understandably bewildered the Jews who lived in Damascus. Instead of persecuting the Christians he was proving that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. This is what people then and now need to believe to obtain salvation (cf. 1 John 5:1). Saul had made a 180-degree change in his thinking and in his conduct; he had truly repented. Saul’s understanding and commitment kept growing as he continually sought to convince the Damascus Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. Perhaps Saul’s sojourn in Arabia occurred between Acts 9:21-22 or between Acts 9:22-23.

Verses 23-24

It is hard to determine how "many days" had elapsed, but evidently Saul remained in Damascus several months. F. F. Bruce dated his return to Jerusalem about A.D. 35 and his conversion in 33. [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p. 205. Cf. Galatians 1:18.] This would mean that Saul was converted just a few months after Jesus’ ascension to heaven. [Note: Cf. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, p. 143.] I think it is more probable that Saul became a Christian a little later, perhaps in 34, and returned to Jerusalem in A.D. 37. Regardless of the dates, we know that he finally left Damascus for Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18).

"No one persecutes a man who is ineffective and who obviously does not matter. George Bernard Shaw once said that the biggest compliment you can pay an author is to burn his books. Someone has said, ’A wolf will never attack a painted sheep.’ Counterfeit Christianity is always safe. Real Christianity is always in peril. To suffer persecution is to be paid the greatest of compliments because it is the certain proof that men think we really matter." [Note: Barclay, p. 77.]

Verses 23-25

Saul’s escape from Damascus 9:23-25

Luke included this incident to prove the genuineness of Saul’s conversion. He who had been persecuting to the death believers in Jesus had now become the target of deadly persecution because of his changed view of Jesus.

Verses 24-25

It would have been natural for Saul’s enemies to watch the gates of Damascus since he would have had to pass out of one of them to leave the city under normal circumstances. "Disciples" everywhere but here in Acts refers to followers of Jesus. Here it describes followers of Saul probably to indicate that his preaching had resulted in some people coming to faith in Christ. Perhaps it was one of these disciples who owned the house on the wall from which Saul escaped the city.

Paul described his escape from Damascus in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, and it is there we learn that someone lowered him in a basket from a house built on the city wall. The fact that Paul did not minimize this ignominious exit in his writings says a lot for his humility and the transformation God effected in this once self-righteous Pharisee. The local Jews arranged this attempt on his life, and their Nabatean governor supported them.

"Saul’s plans for persecuting Christians in Damascus took a strange turn; he had entered the city blind and left in a basket! Ironically he became the object of persecution." [Note: Toussaint, "Acts," pp. 377-78.]

Verse 26

Perhaps the fact that Saul had not sought out the apostles and other Christians in Jerusalem for three years following his conversion made the believers there suspicious of him (cf. Galatians 1:18). They had not met him personally, and since they were being persecuted they may have wondered if Saul had adopted clandestine methods to oppose them.

Verses 26-30

Saul’s reception in Jerusalem 9:26-30

Luke concluded each of his narratives of the Samaritans’ conversion (Acts 8:4-25), Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-31), and Cornelius’ conversion (Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:18) with references to the mother church in Jerusalem. He evidently wanted to stress the fact that all these significant advances were part of one great plan that God orchestrated and not just independent occurrences (cf. Matthew 16:18; Acts 1:8).

Verse 27

Barnabas willingly reached out to the new convert in Jerusalem, as Ananias had done in Damascus. His behavior here is consistent with what we read of him elsewhere in Acts (cf. Acts 4:36-37; Acts 11:22-30; Acts 13:1 to Acts 14:28; Acts 15:2-4; Acts 15:12; Acts 15:22). Barnabas proved to be a true "Son of Encouragement" (Acts 4:36) for Saul.

"First, the Church owed Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Then the Church owed Paul to the forgiving spirit of Ananias. And now we see that the Church owed Paul to the large-hearted charity of Barnabas. . . . The world is largely divided into people who think the best of others and people who think the worst of others; and it is one of the curious facts of life that ordinarily we see our own reflection in others, and we make them what we believe them to be." [Note: Barclay, p. 78.]

The apostles whom Saul met were Peter and James, the Lord’s half brother (Galatians 1:17-19). Paul wrote later that he stayed with Peter for 15 days (Galatians 1:15), but he may have been in Jerusalem somewhat longer at this time. James was an apostle in the general sense of that term. He was not one of the Twelve. [Note: See my comments on 14:4.]

Barnabas pointed out three indications that Saul’s conversion was genuine for the benefit of the Christian skeptics. Saul had seen the Lord, he had talked with Him, and he had witnessed boldly in Damascus in Jesus’ name. Imagine how difficult it must have been for those Christians who had relatives whom Saul had persecuted to sit down with him in church meetings and share the Lord’s Supper.

Verses 28-29

While Saul was in Jerusalem he resumed Stephen’s work of debating the Hellenistic Jews. He was himself a Hellenist, as Stephen apparently was, having been born and reared in Tarsus. Paul described himself as a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:22) by which he meant that his training in Jerusalem and his sympathies were more in line with the Hebrews than with the Hellenists. At first he enjoyed freedom in the city, but soon the unbelieving Jews tried to silence him too. Evidently Saul continued evangelizing in Jerusalem until it became obvious to the other believers that he must leave immediately or suffer death as Stephen had. They probably envisioned a recurrence of the persecution of the disciples that followed Stephen’s martyrdom.

Verse 30

Saul’s concerned Christian brethren travelled with him to Caesarea. We do not know how long he stayed there, but Luke’s account gives the impression that it was not long. Saul then departed, apparently by ship, to Tarsus in Cilicia, his hometown (Acts 21:39; Galatians 1:21), probably to tell his family and others about Jesus. Saul traveled about 690 miles from Jersalem to Damascus, back to Jerusalem, and to Tarsus, excluding his trip into Arabia, which cannot be calculated (cf. Galatians 1:17-19). [Note: Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, p. 177.]

In Acts 22:17-21 Saul testified that during this visit to Jerusalem he received a vision of Jesus who told him to leave Jerusalem because God wanted to use him to evangelize the Gentiles. Thus his departure from Jerusalem was willing rather than forced.

Saul remained in the province of Cilicia until Barnabas sought him out and brought him to Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:19-26). This was some six years later. We have no record of Saul’s activities during this period (probably A.D. 37-43) except that many of his experiences that he described in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27; 2 Corinthians 12:1-9 seem to fit into these silent years. If they do, we know that Saul was active in ministry gaining experience that fitted him for what we read he did later in Acts.

There are some interesting similarities between the beginning of Saul’s ministry and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Acts 9:20-35 and Luke 4:16-30). Both men began their ministries by entering a synagogue and delivering a salvation message. The audiences in both cases reacted with shock and astonishment. In Jesus’ case the audience asked if He was not the son of Joseph, and in Saul’s case the audience asked if he was not the violent persecutor of Christians. Then both men escaped a violent response to their messages. [Note: Witherington, p. 320.]

Verse 31

3. The church at peace 9:31

Notice that "church" is in the singular here. This is probably a reference to the Christians throughout Palestine-in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria-not just in one local congregation, in Jerusalem, but in the body of Christ. Saul’s departure from Palestine brought greater peace to the churches there. He was an extremely controversial figure among the Jews because of his conversion. Peaceful conditions are conducive to effective evangelism and church growth (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-4). The church continued to experience four things: inward strengthening, a proper attitude and relationship to God (in contrast to Judaism), the comfort (encouragement, Gr. paraklesis) provided by the Holy Spirit, and numerical growth.

Beside this verse, there are few references to Galilee in Acts (cf. Acts 10:37; Acts 13:31). This has led some commentators to speculate that Galilee had been evangelized during Jesus’ ministry and was, by this time, fully Christian. The evidence from church history, however, indicates that there were few Christians in Galilee at this time and in later years. [Note: See Barrett, pp. 473-74.]

This statement is Luke’s third major progress report on the state of the church (cf. Acts 2:47; Acts 6:7; Acts 12:24; Acts 16:5; Acts 19:20; Acts 28:30-31). It closes this section dealing with the church’s expansion in Judea and Samaria (Acts 6:8 to Acts 9:31). The Lord had added about 3,000 who believed to the core group of disciples (Acts 2:41). Then He added more who became Christians day by day (Acts 2:47). Shortly He added multitudes of new believers (Acts 5:14). Then we read the number of disciples increased greatly (Acts 6:7). Now we read that the church ". . . continued to increase" (Acts 9:31).

"When the Spirit of God has His way in the hearts and lives of believers, then unsaved people are going to be reached and won for Christ." [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., p. 228.]

A. The extension of the church to Syrian Antioch 9:32-12:24

As Jerusalem had been the Palestinian center for the evangelization of Jews, Antioch of Syria became the Hellenistic center for Gentile evangelization in Asia Minor and Europe. The gospel spread increasingly to Gentiles, which Luke emphasized in this section of Acts. He recorded three episodes: Peter’s ministry in the maritime plain of Palestine (Acts 9:32-43), the conversion of Cornelius and his friends in Caesarea (Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:18), and the founding of the Antioch church (Acts 11:19-30). Luke then looked back to Jerusalem again to update us on what was happening there (Acts 12:1-23). He concluded this section with another summary statement of the church’s growth (Acts 12:24).


Luke next recorded the church’s expansion beyond Palestine to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Ethiopian eunuch took the gospel to Africa, but he became a Christian in Judea. Now we begin to read of people becoming Christians in places farther from Jerusalem and Judea.

Verse 32

Lydda (modern Lod, the site of Israel’s international airport) lay on the Mediterranean coastal plain about 10 miles from the sea. It was about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It stood at the junction of the roads from Joppa to Jerusalem and the highway from Egypt to Syria. [Note: See the map near my comments on 8:4-8 above.] There were already "saints" there (cf. Acts 9:13; Acts 9:41).

Verses 32-35

The healing of Aeneas at Lydda 9:32-35

Peter continued his itinerant ministry around Palestine (cf. Acts 8:25).

Verses 32-43

1. Peter’s ministry in Lydda and Joppa 9:32-43

Luke now returned to Peter’s continuing ministry in Judea. Luke apparently recorded the healing of Aeneas and the raising of Tabitha to show that the gospel was being preached effectively in a region of Palestine that both Jews and Gentiles occupied. Peter, the apostle to the Jews, was responsible for its advancing farther into Gentile territory. Luke thereby helped his readers see the equality of Gentiles and Jews in the church as it continued to expand (cf. Ephesians 2:11 to Ephesians 3:12).

Verse 33

Peter healed another lame man in Lydda (cf. Acts 3:6-8; Luke 5:17-26). [Note: See Joshua Schwartz, "Peter and Ben Stada in Lydda," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol. 4: The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, pp. 391-414.] Aeneas is a Greek name. He was probably a Hellenistic Jew. We do not know if he was a Christian. The fact that Luke called him a man, but referred to Tabitha as a disciple (Acts 9:36), may imply that he was not a believer.

Verse 34

Peter announced that the healing was Jesus Christ’s work (cf. Acts 1:1; Acts 3:6). Jesus had also told a paralytic in Capernaum to take up his pallet and walk (Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:11; Luke 5:24). He later told another paralytic who lay at the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem to do the same thing (John 5:8). The Greek clause stroson seauto literally means "spread for yourself" and can refer to making a bed or preparing a table. The power of Jesus was still at work through Peter. The formerly paralyzed man arose immediately. Later Paul healed Publius’ father (Acts 28:8).

"I think every one of the different diseases mentioned in Scripture was intended by God to illustrate in some way the effects of sin." [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., p. 231.]

Verse 35

Sharon was the name of the section of maritime plain that stretched from Joppa to Mt. Carmel. Lydda was near its southeastern edge, and Caesarea was at its center on the Mediterranean coast. As with the healing of the lame temple beggar, and Jesus’ healings of the paralytics at Capernaum and Jerusalem, the healing of Aeneas resulted in many people hearing the gospel and believing in Jesus.

One of the reasons Luke included this healing in his book seems to have been because the results of this healing affected the people living in this area of Palestine. One of these people was the Gentile Cornelius, who will figure significantly in the next chapter.

Verse 36

The site of Joppa (modern Yafo, a suburb of Tel Aviv) was on the Mediterranean coast 10 miles west and a little north of Lydda. It was the ancient seaport for Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chronicles 2:16; Jonah 1:3). Tabitha (lit. "Gazelle") was a Jewish Christian, and she was a "disciple" (Gr. mathetria). This is the only place in the New Testament where the feminine form of the Greek word translated "disciple" appears. Her name Tabitha is Aramaic, but Dorcas is Greek. She had a marvelous reputation for helping people in her community because she had a servant’s heart.

Verses 36-43

The raising of Tabitha at Joppa 9:36-43

Verses 37-38

When she died, the believers sent to Peter asking him to come. Apparently they expected him to raise her back to life as Jesus had done since they did not bury her but washed and laid her body in an upper room.

Verse 39

Luke told this story with much interesting detail. Peter accompanied the two men who came for him to Lydda (cf. Acts 10:7; Acts 10:23). The widows were evidently wearing the clothing Tabitha had made for them. The middle voice of the Greek verb translated "showing" in Acts 9:39 suggests this. She had made clothes for the poor widows. This was her ministry.

"She had the gift of sewing. Do you mean to tell me that sewing is a gift of the Holy Spirit? Yes, it was for this woman. May I suggest seeking a gift that is practical? [Note: McGee, 4:552.]

Verses 40-41

Peter’s procedure here was almost identical to Jesus’ when He raised Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:41; Luke 8:51-56). Peter’s praying shows that he was relying on Jesus for his power just as his saying, "Jesus Christ heals you," manifested that attitude when he healed Aeneas (Acts 9:34). There is only one letter difference in what Peter said (Tabitha qumi) and what Jesus had said (Talitha qumi, lit. "Little girl, get up"). This miracle is another evidence of Jesus’ working powerfully through His witnesses in word and deed (Acts 1:1-2; cf. John 14:12). Tannehill pointed out many similarities between this story and the stories of Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus raising dead people. [Note: Tannehill, 2:126-27.] Jesus had given the Twelve the power to raise the dead (Matthew 10:8).

Verse 42

Many people became believers because of the news of this miracle, too. The phrase "believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:42) is similar to "turned to the Lord" (Acts 9:35; cf. Acts 11:21; Acts 15:19). It is another way of saying "became Christians" and emphasizes that the Person they believed in was the Lord Jesus. Notice that turning is believing and that Luke mentioned no other conditions for salvation.

Verse 43

This verse provides a geographical and ideological transition to the account of Peter’s visit to Cornelius (Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:18). Evidently Peter remained in Joppa to confirm these new converts and to help the church in that town. His willingness to stay with a tanner shows that Peter was more broad-minded in his fellowship than many other Jews. Many Jews thought tanners practiced an unclean trade since they worked with the skins of dead animals, and they would have nothing to do with them. However, Peter was about to receive a challenge to his convictions similar to the one that Saul had received on the Damascus road.

Note how God used the invitation of the people of Joppa to bring Peter there. Likewise God often uses what appear initially to be incidental occurrences to open up great ministries. Luke illustrated this divine method repeatedly in Acts.

"It was important to demonstrate that Peter was in the full stream of his usefulness, and the agent of miracles curiously like those performed by his Master (Mt. ix. 23-26; Mk. Acts 9:38-43; Jn. Acts 9:6-9), when the call came to him to baptize a Gentile." [Note: Blaiklock, p. 94.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-9.html. 2012.
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