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

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

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I. Saul's conversion and early preaching: 9:1-31

A. His encounter with Jesus: 9:1-6

B. The humbled persecutor: 9:7-9

C. The message to Ananias: 9:10-16

D. His baptism: 9:17-19

E. Early preaching in Damascus: 9:19-22

F. His deliverance and return to Jerusalem: 9:23-27

G. Preaching In Jerusalem and journey to Tarsus: 9:28-30

II. The condition of the congregations in Palestine: 9:31

III. Aeneas and Dorcas: 9:32-43

This chapter contains a tremendous amount of information. Of primary importance we find the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a zealous persecutor of the church. "Now that Stephen and Philip have contributed their pioneer preparations for the world mission of the church, Luke is ready to tell the story of two notable conversions which launched it. The first was of Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle to the Gentiles, and the second of Cornelius the centurion, who was the first Gentile to be converted" (Stott p. 165). Towards the end of the chapter we find Peter working among congregations that were the fruits of Philip's earlier preaching (9:31-43). To truly appreciate the conversion of this fiery opponent to the truth, we need to take some time and examine the life of this man from birth to the period of time just prior to his conversion.

A. Birth/Ancestry:

He was the son of a Pharisee ( Act_23:6 ). He was born to Jewish parents ( Php_3:5 ). Obviously, his parents were very concerned about his education, for he had been sent to study under the preeminent rabbi of the time ( Act_22:3 ). Reese notes, "Besides his religious instruction, every Jewish boy was taught a trade or a craft. Paul was taught the trade of tent-maker ( Act_18:3 ). The fact that Paul afterward received an expensive intellectual education proves that his father put him to this trade, not out of necessity, but in compliance with the Jewish concept that some form of manual labor was an important part in the education of every boy" (p. 346). Added to this was the fact that he was born of parents who were Roman citizens ( Act_22:28 ), we may safely assume that Saul came from an upper-middle class family that was very conservative. Saul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia ( Act_22:3 ), which was a center of Greek learning that even rivaled the cities of Athens and Alexandria.

B. His Religious Education:

We do not know when Paul came to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel ( Act_22:3 ). Jewish parents often put their sons in training at the age of twelve, and he did extremely well in school, passing up many of his contemporaries ( Gal_1:14 ). As he grew up, he voluntarily chose to align himself with the sect of the Jews known as the Pharisees ( Act_26:5 ). When we meet Saul in Act_8:1-40 ; Act_9:1-43 , he had probably been out of school for about 8-10 years.

C. Saul and Judaism:

Saul was not an unhappy Jewish male simply waiting for something better to come along in terms of religion, rather this man loved everything about Judaism ( Gal_1:14 ). There was no generation gap for him between what he loved and the traditions of his ancestors. He was absolutely convinced that he doing what God wanted him to do ( Act_26:9 -ff), and this young man wasn't looking to change religions.

D. The Explanation For His Conversion:

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is such a pivotal event, that the book of Acts contains three accounts (Chapters 9,22,26). Erdman notes, "The narrative is of deep significance in the present day. First, it affords one of the strongest evidences for the truth of the Christian faith; for how can one account for the career of Paul if he was not thus converted, and how do we account for his conversion if Jesus the crucified is not the divine and risen Christ? Secondly, the story is full of encouragement for Paul was brought into Christian life and service by an obscure disciple named Ananias, and the suggestion is evident that faithful effort may result in the conversion of one whose career may influence generations and races of men" (p. 88). In other words, if Jesus did not appear to this man, then how do we account for the radical change in the life of this Pharisee who was very happy and content with his religion? Wilbur Smith writes, "This appearance (of Jesus) was to the most active enemy the church had. Stephen saw the Risen One when he was filled with the Spirit. Saul had been filled with nothing but hate for this impostor and His cause. He was in no psychological condition for apocalyptical revelation. He was at the farthest remove from the possibility of an ecstatic vision. As someone has said, if there was ever a man in the first century who knew all the arguments against the Resurrection of Christ which the Sanhedrin could ever draw up, that man was the Apostle Paul, and yet, in spite of all this, he believed Christ had been raised from the dead."

E. Providentially Prepared:

Like Moses in the O.T., Saul's first decades of life were preparing him for a work to which God would call him. Erdman notes, "Saul had been providentially prepared for his task; by birth a Jew, but also possessing Roman citizenship, spending his early years under the influence of Greek culture in the university city of Tarsus, and later trained in the knowledge of the sacred Scriptures as a student in Jerusalem" (p. 88). This should remind us that the cause of Christ needs our talents. Many of the talents we developed prior to becoming a Christian, can be used to further the gospel message, for example, such things as communication skills, leadership abilities, and persuasiveness.

F. Without Christ - sincerely and zeal cannot save you:

One of the greatest lessons from the conversion of this very sincere and faithful Jewish man ( Act_22:3 ; Act_26:5 ), is that one cannot be saved outside of Jesus Christ, even though you may be the most devoted follower of Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. Here we are reminded that "intuition, feelings, and conscience" are not infallible guides ( Pro_16:25 = Act_23:1 ; Act_26:9 ), also that educated, professional and religious teachers can be dead wrong concerning what the Bible teaches about a subject. Saul, a highly educated "scholar", was completely wrong concerning the nature of the Messiah, and the predictions of the prophets. Thus we must be very careful about avoiding or assuming a neutral position on a topic because highly respected and sincere students of the Bible cannot agree. The example of Saul should teach us that respected and learned students of the Bible can be wrong, and they are not the final standard of authority.

G. What did Saul do to be saved?

Here is a man that actually saw the Lord Jesus Christ (9:4-5), the ultimate religious experience in this life, and yet he was not saved by having an experience. He then spent three days in humble repentance and prayer (9:9-11), yet neither was he saved at the moment of faith, repentance or prayer. It was not until Saul submitted to baptism that his sins could be forgiven ( Act_22:16 ). Thus, we must conclude that if a religious experience, mental assent (faith-only), or prayer could not bring this man to a point of salvation (apart from being baptized), then no one can be saved by these things prior to baptism either.

Verse 1

Act_9:1 "But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest"

"But Saul" "His attitude and conduct is put in contrast to that of Philip by the conjunction but" (Boles p. 140). "Yet breathing" "He had not changed since Stephen's death; he was still in the same mental condition of hatred and hostility" (Stott p. 168). Stephen's death and the heated persecution conducted in Jerusalem had not satisfied his wrath. Saul's anger against Christians came from deep-seated convictions. He was not persecuting Christians to "prove" to people that he was a faithful Jew, and he was not merely trying to "look good" in the eyes of the Sanhedrin. "Threatening and slaughter" "Still uttering murderous threats" (TCNT). "Threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed, like a warhorse who sniffed the smell of battle" (Robertson p. 113). "Every time he took a breath it seemed that new threats against the followers of Christ were uttered" (Reese p. 349). Act_26:11 "and being furiously enraged at them". "Went unto the High Priest" The word went seems to infer that Saul volunteered for this mission, or that the mission was his idea. Up until 36 A.D., Caiaphas was still the high priest. "The high priest, as president of the Sanhedrin, was head of the Jewish state so far as its internal affairs were concerned. His authority was upheld by the Roman power. The high priest's decrees, or the decrees of the Sanhedrin, and were binding not only in the Jewish communities of Palestine but also to a great extent in those outside Palestine" (Bruce p. 193).

Verse 2

Act_9:2 "and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem"

"Damascus" In 64 B.C., this city had become part of the Roman province of Syria. Reputed to be one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world ( Gen_15:12 ). "Located east of snow-capped Mount Hermon, Damascus is a garden spot of beauty and fertility. Caravans from East and West stopped at Damascus." "It was situated on the border of the desert at the intersection of some of the most important highways in the ancient Near Eastern world. Major roads extended from the city to the southwest to Palestine" (Nelsons p. 273). "Unto the Synagogues" Damascus contained a very large Jewish population, and some 10 to 20 thousand Jews would be killed in this city in the year 66 AD The Jewish population there at this time has been estimated at 40,000, with synagogues numbering 30 or 40" (Reese p. 351). "The Way" This is an expression often used in the book of Acts as another name for the church (19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22). Christianity is the only Way to God ( Joh_14:6 ; Act_4:12 ). This expression contradicts the idea that various "ways" lead to God, or that we are all just taking different roads to heaven. If one was not a Christian in the first century then they were not on "the Way". "Whether men or women" Saul did not spare and neither did he have any compassion upon female Christians, this indicates the ruthlessness of his efforts. "Bring them bound to Jerusalem" For the purpose of standing trial. According to Act_26:11 "I persecuted them even unto foreign cities (plural)." It appears that Damascus was not the first city on Saul's list to visit. The inference is that Saul had journeyed to other foreign cities before the one recorded in Act_9:1-43 . "When the church in Jerusalem had been scattered abroad, Saul doubtless thought that he had effectually destroyed the hated sect. But the news soon began to filter back from various quarters that the scattered disciples were establishing congregations in every direction" (Reese p. 348). Saul was not merely trying to keep this movement in check or slow it down, rather he was trying to remove it from the face of the earth. Nothing short of complete destruction would satisfy his convictions ( Act_26:9-11 ).

Verse 3

Act_9:3 "And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven"

"And as he journeyed" The distance from Jerusalem to Damascus was about 150 miles and would have probably taken a week. "We are not told the method of travel Paul used in making this journey. Artists have pictured him on horseback, camelback, or in a chariot, but the fact that after the Lord appeared to him and they led him by the hand on into Damascus, indicates that they probably were on foot" (Reese p. 351). "Drew nigh unto Damascus" This was an oasis surrounded by desert. Paul later says that this happened around noon ( Act_22:6 ). "Shone about him a light out of heaven" Which was brighter than the sun ( Act_26:13 ).

Various critics of the Bible and those who seek to eliminate and explain away all the miraculous elements of the Biblical account, argue that the light was a flash of lightning, or in the heat of his anger and the heat of the desert he was overcome by sunstroke, but these explanations must be rejected. It was not a natural event, for the light was brighter than the sun at noon in the Syrian desert. It was not sunstroke because those traveling with him were driven to their knees ( Act_26:14 "we had all fallen to the ground"). "Here is another indication that Paul did not suffer sunstroke. If he only had that, how is the fact that all fell to be explained?" (Reese p. 352).

Verse 4

Act_9:4 "and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"

"He fell upon the earth" The text does not say that he fell off his horse, a popular corruption of this account found among some denominational writers. "Heard a voice" In the Hebrew dialect (26:14). Those traveling with Paul heard the noise associated with the voice (9:7), but they did not understand the specific content of what was said to Saul (22:9). "Why" "Why implies 'for what reason?' The Lord had done him no injury, had given him no provocation" (Reese p. 352). What a wonderful question! It is the same question Jesus would ask to all who refuse to believe in Him in our own time, and especially those who try to undermine and hinder the spread of the gospel. "Why are you standing against one who loves you so much?" "Me" Here we should be impressed with the truth that Jesus takes personally the wrongs that are done to Christians. Jesus and His faithful people are a package deal ( Joh_15:1-6 ; Mat_25:40 ; Mat_25:45 ; 1Jn_4:20-21 ). This statement should be a great encouragement to any faithful Christian. Jesus is aware of all that happens to you. It should also serve as a warning to professed Christians who mistreat their brethren and unbelievers who try to hinder the spread of the gospel.

Verse 5

Act_9:5 "And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest"

"Who art thou, Lord?" At this point the word Lord probably means "sir", because Jesus has not yet fully revealed Himself. "Paul seems to be saying, 'Whose voice do I hear?' 'Who is speaking to me?'" (Reese p. 353). "I am Jesus" Imagine the flood of thoughts that now pour into Saul's mind. "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 there stands Jesus, with the light of heaven and the glory of God around Him. Stephen was right then, and I have shed innocent blood" (McGarvey p. 171). "At once Saul must have grasped, from the extraordinary way in which Jesus identified with His followers, so that to persecute them was to persecute Him, that Jesus was alive and His claims were true" (Stott p. 170). This appearance of Jesus to Saul, will form the basis of Paul's apostolic qualifications ( Act_22:14-15 ; Act_26:16-18 ; 1Co_9:1 ; 1Co_15:8-9 ).

Verse 6

Act_9:6 "but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do"

"But rise" Saul had asked the question, "What shall I do, Lord?" (22:10). Notice that Jesus does not endorse the doctrine of faith only. He does not respond, "There is nothing you can do, salvation is solely of grace". "It shall be told thee" Jesus did not tell Saul what to do be saved. This would be left up to a human instrument. "What thou must do" Hence whatever Saul will be told in Damascus, is what he must do to be saved. He is told to be baptized ( Act_22:16 ). Therefore, baptism is something that a person must do to be saved.

Verse 7

Act_9:7 "And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man"

"The men" Possibly Jewish or Roman soldiers. "Stood speechless" "Denotes those who are so astonished or stupefied as to be unable to speak" (Reese p. 354). These men had also been knocked to the ground by the intense light ( Act_26:14 ). "But beholding no man" McGarvey notes, "This is not the statement of a writer who is conscious of inventing a story, and taking care to bolster it up with fictitious evidence: otherwise he would have admitted that the only persons who could have been joint witnesses with Saul of the presence of Jesus did not see Him. In the meantime these companions, though not able to say who spoke to Saul, were competent witnesses to the facts that the light appeared, that a voice was heard" (p. 172).

Verse 8

Act_9:8 "And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus"

"He saw nothing" He found himself blinded (22:11). "Led him by the hand" "He who had expected to enter Damascus in the fullness of his pride and prowess, as a self-confident opponent of Christ, was actually led into it, humbled and blinded" (Stott p. 170). Let us always be thankful for situations that humble us and those which expose our finiteness, limited resources, and power. It is good to be humbled, because the humble heart is a heart ready to listen and receive instruction ( Jam_1:21 ). In addition, we must remember that Saul could have rebelled against this message ( Act_26:19 "I did not prove disobedient to the vision"). He could have acted like Pharaoh or the many other Pharisees who had remained in unbelief, despite seeing the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles.

Verse 9

Act_9:9 "And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink"

"Three days without sight" Evidently his companions had brought him to the place where arrangements had been made for him to stay. "Did neither eat nor drink" Imagine all the thoughts racing through Saul's mind at this time, and all the faces of those innocent people that he had persecuted and put to death ( Act_26:10-11 ). In addition, the realization that all his family members and friends were also in the wrong and thus lost!

"The student should notice here the perplexity of the denominational commentators who believe Paul was converted on the Damascus road. If Paul was converted on the road, why is he thus still overwhelmed? The only conclusion we can draw from Paul's actions is that he is not yet a Christian. He is still in his sins" (Reese p. 357). See Act_22:16 . "He neither ate nor drank, probably because he was overwhelmed because of his sins, and thus gives no thought to any physical needs" (Reese p. 357). The reader should note that Saul's sincere repentance and prayers (9:11) will fail to remove his sins ( Act_22:16 ). Thus we must reject any doctrine will places salvation prior to baptism, for if there was ever a man who might have been saved before baptism it was Saul, but he was not! "The Lord purposely left Saul three days in the throes of agony with his new convictions. This delay fixed the attention of all the unbelieving Jews who surrounded him, and tried in vain to comfort him" (McGarvey p. 173).

Verse 10

Act_9:10 "Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord" From the text it appears that Ananias had come to Damascus before persecution had hit the church in Jerusalem (9:13). The name Ananias means "God is gracious".

Verse 11

Act_9:11 "And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth" "So called from its running in a direct line from the eastern to the western gate of the city" (Vincent p. 492). At this point we should note that a very popular response from the denominational world in reference to the question, "What must I do to be saved", is "pray the sinners prayer", but sincere praying did not bring Saul to salvation. He still had his sins, even after much praying ( Act_22:16 ).

Verse 12

Act_9:12 "and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight" God has given some comfort to Saul--showing him that an end to his blindness is in sight. Evidently, the apostles at some point in the past had laid their hands on Ananias ( Act_8:18 ). This would seem to suggest that the Apostles imparted spiritual gifts to those Christians who left Jerusalem and headed back home following Pentecost, because without the guidance of the Apostles, such gifts would be needed in the congregations established when such converts returned home.

Verse 13

Act_9:13 "But Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem" This indicates that Ananias had never met Saul, and that he had been in Damascus when the persecution erupted in Act_8:1-40 . This also infers that Saul had gained for himself quite a reputation, even among Christians in foreign cities. His persecution had been very severe ( Act_22:4 ).

Verse 14

Act_9:14 "and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name" Evidently news had quickly spread to Damascus that Saul was on his way to persecute Christians in that city. Possibly the apostles had sent Christians ahead of Saul to warn the brethren in Damascus of the coming danger. "His hesitation was understandable. To go to Saul would be tantamount to giving himself up to the police. It would be suicidal" (Stott p. 175).

Verse 15

Act_9:15 "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"

"Go thy way" McGarvey notes, "Ananias found, as all others have who have ventured to argue against a command of the Lord, that he listens to no such argument" (p. 175). There needs to be a lesson here for those people who think that God will listen to their excuses on the last day, those who think that they have found an "out", and those who consider themselves fully justified in not obeying the Lord's instructions. Notice that Ananias did not have all the information that he needed---people who think they have a good reason why they do not have to obey God--are ignorant of the facts. "He is a chosen vessel unto Me" "My chosen instrument' (TCNT). "Lit., an instrument of choice" (Vincent p. 492). What a surprise this statement must have been to Ananias. 'He was a chosen instrument in the Lord's hand, a messenger who would proclaim the good news in Jesus' name more widely than anyone else. The Gentile nations and their rulers, as well as the people of Israel, would hear the message of salvation from his lips'" (Bruce p. 1990). "Vessel" ( 2Co_4:7 ). "Before the Gentiles" Which would be the main focus of his work ( Gal_2:7-8 ; Eph_3:6-12 ). "And kings" He preached before Roman governors (Sergius Paulus, Felix and Festus), kings (King Agrippa), and even the Roman emperor ( 2Ti_4:16-17 ).

Verse 16

Act_9:16 "for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake" "As if Christ were assuring Ananias that Saul would not inflict suffering upon others, but I will show him how much he must suffer" (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 237). And Paul did suffer ( 2Co_6:4-10 ; 2Co_11:23-27 ).

Verse 17

Act_9:17 "And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit"

"Brother Saul" Seeing that Saul was not a Christian until he was baptized, the word brother "must then be no more than a term of endearment intended to allay Paul's fears" (Reese p. 360). In addition, Ananias and Saul were already brothers in the sense that both were of the Jewish race ( Rom_9:3 ). "Filled with the Holy Spirit" We have already seen that the Holy Spirit was imparted through the laying on of the hands of the apostles ( Act_8:18 ), and Ananias was not an apostle. Some say the above expression refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Act_2:38 . We know that the expression "full or filled with the Holy Spirit" can refer to a non-miraculous influence, such as being spiritually minded or full of the fruit of the Spirit ( Act_6:5 ). We are not told exactly when Paul was filled or baptized with the Holy Spirit in the miraculous sense, but he does insist that he did not learn the gospel message from men ( Gal_1:11-12 ). In view of Act_8:18 , I must shy away from the view that Saul received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of Ananias' hands. It appears to me that the Holy Spirit came upon him sometime shortly after his baptism--for He is preaching by inspiration soon afterwards (9:20).

Verse 18

Act_9:18 "And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized"

"As it were scales" "Luke does not say that actual scales came off his eyes, but that it felt to Paul like something was peeled off his eyes" (Reese p. 361). "Medical writers use the word (scales) for pieces of skin that fall off" (Robertson p. 121). "He arose" The only mode of baptism that requires the personal being baptized to move to the water is immersion. Of course, that is the meaning of the Greek word rendered "baptized". In addition, this word "arose" infers that the baptism being commanded of Saul, is baptism in water, because one does not have to arise to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. "Was baptized" Because up to this point he still had all his sins ( Act_22:16 ), and baptism is for the remission of sin ( Act_2:38 ). The essential nature of baptism is also seen in the command to stop delaying ( Act_22:16 ), even though Saul had only understood that Jesus was the Son of God for three days. This is not something that a person is to put off, for it is the line between being lost or saved ( 1Pe_3:21 ). In view of the fact that Paul submitted to baptism as necessary for salvation, (because that is the language that Ananias used Act_22:16 ), we can never interpret any of Paul's later writings as implying baptism is not necessary or that one is saved prior to being baptized.

Verse 19

Act_9:19 "and he took food and was strengthened. And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus" God understands the importance of both our physical and spiritual well-being ( 3Jn_1:2 ). This infers that not until after he was baptized did Saul understand that his sins would be removed. "That he now eats following his baptism implies that the sense of burden is gone" (Reese pp. 362-363). The Christians in Damascus fully accepted this former persecutor.

Verse 20

Act_9:20 "And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that He is the Son of God" Note the plural, many synagogues existed in Damascus.

It is easy to overlook all that is taking place in the above verse. The great opponent of Christianity, who had come to Damascus with authoritative letters from the high priest in Jerusalem, was now defending Christianity in the very synagogues in which he had planned to support his oppression of Christians, Boy, did they hear a different sermon than they had planned on hearing. It takes a big man to stand up in public and admit that you were dead wrong about something. Some might call him a hypocrite, a traitor, one who had sold out, but that did not stop Paul from preaching. Notice that becoming a Christian is not about finding a life of ease and comfort. In certain respects, Saul's life now became more complicated and filled with even greater hardship. Bruce notes, "But instead of presenting his letters of credence and demanding the extradition of the disciples of Jesus, here was the man whose arrival they had expected, but instead of arresting Christians he was confounding the Jews of Damascus by his powerful demonstration that the Christian's claim was true" (p. 203).

Verse 21

Act_9:21-22 "And all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of them that called on this name? and he had come hither for this intent, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests. But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews that dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ"

"Increased more in strength" McGarvey feels that this increase refers to the physical strength mentioned in 9:19, but it seems that it refers to strength in knowledge. When Saul first preached, he encountered amazement, but as he continued to preach much of that amazement turned to opposition. This would infer that as he met various arguments, the guidance from the Holy Spirit enabled him to better his opponents. As opposition increased, so did his responses. "Confounded" His opponents were unable to answer his arguments (6:10). "Proving" "The verb means to bring or put together: hence to compare and examine, as evidence, and so to prove" (Vincent p. 493). He could do this by comparing the messages of the prophets with the life of Jesus ( Act_17:1-3 ). Note: God knows that it can be "proven" that Jesus is the Son of God. One does not have to cross their fingers to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, therefore definite evidence must exist which will convince the common man who is honest.

Verse 23

Act_9:23 "And when many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel together to kill him"

"When many days were fulfilled" "A considerable number of days were being fulfilled" (Rhm). This expression can also refer to a number of years ( 1Ki_2:38-39 ). The above expression seems to be the most logical place to fit Paul's three-year stay which included time in both Arabia and Damascus ( Gal_1:17-18 ). Thus the order of events would be: 1. Several days of initial preaching in Damascus (9:19-20). 2. A journey into Arabia (Damascus was on the edge of Arabian territory). 3. Return to Damascus ( Gal_1:17 "once more to Damascus"; Act_9:23 ). 4. Plot to put him to death ( Act_9:23-24 ). 5. Escape from Damascus ( 2Co_11:32-33 ). 6. Back at Jerusalem ( Act_9:26 ; Gal_1:18 ). 7. Off to Tarsus ( Gal_1:21 ; Act_9:30 ). Some people think that this journey into Arabia was for the purpose of thinking through what his new theology will be, but we must reject this idea. "We are not to picture Paul as forging and hammering out his own theology by sheer mind power" (Reese p. 365). Paul received the gospel that he preached directly from God ( Gal_1:11 ff). Hence this period of time probably included many revelations from God. In addition, Paul probably also used this time to preach to those in this region. "He need not have traveled far, because at that time the north-west tip of Arabia reached nearly to Damascus" (Stott p. 176). "Took counsel together to kill him" This plan included the non-Jewish authorities in Damascus ( 2Co_11:32-33 ), and implies that his enemies were unable to beat Saul in argument or contradict his application of Scripture.

Verse 24

Act_9:24 "but their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates also day and night that they might kill him" "His enemies suspected that one day Paul would attempt to leave the city through one of these gates; so they stationed guards at the gates to intercept him" (Reese p. 365). The former "hunter" now becomes the hunted.

Verse 25

Act_9:25 "but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket"

"His disciples" Not in the sense of his own personal followers, an idea that Paul clearly opposed ( 1Co_1:12-13 ), but rather those he had taught. Houses were built on the city wall and the windows were literally cut in the city wall.

Verse 26

Act_9:26 "And when he was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple"

"He assayed to join himself to the disciples" "Was trying to associate with the disciples" (NASV). "Made several attempts to associate with the disciples" (Wey).

Notice how Saul quickly attached himself to the Christians in whatever community he found himself (9:19; 11:26). In Saul we do not find a man who believed that he could serve God faithfully without being a member of a local congregation. Saul believed in "placing membership" and working and worshipping with a local congregation. Notice that Saul did not give up. This man was getting the cold shoulder from Christians (including the apostles), and yet he did not become a disgruntled member whose favorite topic was how a certain congregation had once slighted or wronged him. The example of Saul puts many of us to shame. He was trying to associate with Christians, even though such an association would bring up many painful memories for them and him (remember he had persecuted them or their family members). Instead of running away from the past he was willing to face up to it. Too many of us think that whatever wrong decisions we made in the past prevents us from being the Christian we could be--not Saul. How many are slack in attendance because they feel that people do not care what happens to them? Here is a man trying to attend even though the Church is avoiding him. It takes a big man to face the people that he had formerly persecuted. He had been responsible for the death of their brethren, friends, and family members. How many families had he destroyed? How many children had been deprived of mothers and fathers? Saul is not waiting for the Church to come and beg him to attend. Saul was a Christian who would serve God, and worship and work with a local congregation, regardless if everyone in that congregation would forgive him or not. Saul was not about to allow anything, including the feelings of his brethren, separate him from his Lord.

"And they were afraid of him" "When Saul returned to Jerusalem, he was in a difficult position. His old associates knew all about his defection, and he could expect no friendly welcome from them. On the other hand, the disciples of Jesus, with whom he now wished to associate, had not forgotten his campaign of persecution" (Bruce p. 205). Boles notes, "Communication with Damascus was slow and difficult; this was especially true on account of the hostility which had risen between Aretas, the ruler of Damascus, and Herod the ruler of Judea" (p. 151). Note that the congregation in Jerusalem is not rebuked for this suspicion, because God doesn't want His people to be gullible ( 1Th_5:21-22 ; 1Jn_4:1 ).

Verse 27

Act_9:27 "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 at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus"

"But Barnabas took him" "He may have sought an interview with Saul, or the latter, having some knowledge of Barnabas, may have approached him as the one most likely to grant him a candid hearing" (McGarvey p. 188). "When Saul desperately needed a true friend in Damascus, Ananias played that part to him; now, when he stood in equal need of one in Jerusalem, he found a friend in Barnabas" (Bruce pp. 205-206). Some speculate that Barnabas may have known Saul, prior to his (Barnabas) conversion. "It seems likely that Barnabas was already acquainted with Saul, knew his integrity of character, and was convinced of the genuineness of his conversion" (Bruce p. 205). Consider how one man made a great difference. One act of courage on the part of Barnabas will give the church one of its greatest personal workers and preachers. Barclay notes, "The world is largely divided into people who think of the best of others and people who think the worst. 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" (p. 78).

"Brought him to the apostles" According to Gal_1:18-19 , Saul only saw Peter and James the Lord's brother during this stay. Grammarians call this a generalizing plural. Evidently the rest of the Apostles were out preaching. "Declared" This Greek word indicates that Barnabas gave a very thorough and detailed account of Saul's conversion and his early preaching. This infers that Barnabas had thoroughly examined Saul's story as well as the evidence. What could have destroyed the church in Jerusalem (division caused by the acceptance of Saul), turned out to be a great shot in the arm for the cause of Christ. "It would take no little amount of forgiveness on the part of many who had lost loved ones to his persecutions to welcome this one into their fellowship" (Reese p. 367). Notice how the early church overcame one obstacle after another---because of their determination to think and act in harmony with the will of God.

Verse 28

Act_9:28 "And he was with them going in and going out at Jerusalem"

For 15 days he was with them ( Gal_1:18-19 ). "He moved about freely and fearlessly in and out of houses in the city" (Bruce p. 207).

Verse 29

Act_9:29 "preaching boldly in the name of the Lord: and he spake and disputed against the Grecian Jews; but they were seeking to kill him" "Paul appears to be right in the same synagogue where he before had debated with Stephen" (Reese p. 367) ( Act_6:9 ). "It appears then that Saul took up the work which Stephen had laid down at his death. Their reaction was swift and violent. Saul was worse than Stephen; he was in their eyes a traitor to the true cause" (Bruce p. 207) ( Act_22:17-21 ).

Verse 30

Act_9:30 "And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus"

"Caesarea" (sees uh REE uh). Located 65 miles from Jerusalem on the Mediterranean, this was the major seaport in the region, from this point Paul could journey to Tarsus by land or sea. In addition, it was the headquarters for the Roman occupational forces in Palestine and the primary residence for the Roman governor of Judea. Hence, it afforded some measure of safety for Saul, who was a Roman citizen. "Sent him forth to Tarsus" His home town ( Act_22:3 ; Gal_1:21 ).Much is left unsaid in the above verse. Paul is returning home, having abandoned the traditions of his family and ancestors, and a fugitive from two cities. Were his parents still alive? Did he see his family? Did they accept or reject him? During this time Saul will preach in this region, because churches already existed in this area as he embarked on his second journey ( Act_15:41 ). At this point Luke will leave Saul. We will not run into him again until Act_11:25 . Thus we have a period of silence over his life from about 37 AD to 40-42 AD, and during this time some of the sufferings of 2Co_11:24-32 took place. We tend to forget that long before Paul starts his first journey, he has already suffered much for the cause of Christ, in fact he has been preaching for over 10 years before his first journey ( Act_13:1-52 ; Act_14:1-28 ). Stott reminds us, "As for the unconverted, there are many Sauls of Tarsus in the world today. Like him they are richly endowed with natural gifts of intellect and character; men and women of personality, energy, initiative and drive; having the courage of their non-Christian convictions; utterly sincere, but sincerely mistaken, hard, stubborn, even fanatical, in their rejection of Jesus Christ, but they are not beyond His grace (if they repent)" (pp. 179-180). This example should tell us that we must never assume that even the most vocal opponent of Christianity would never accept the gospel message.

Verse 31

Act_9:31 "So the church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, was multiplied"

"Had peace" The church enjoyed peace for the first time since the death of Stephen. At least two things contributed to this peace. Their chief opponent had been converted. Caligula became emperor in 37 AD, and in 39 or 40 AD he ordered that a statue of himself be erected in the temple of Jerusalem. "The Jews had to use all their energies to prevent this form of idolatry, and so had little time to give any attention to the church. It was not until emperor Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD that they were delivered from this threat. And then the persecution of the church will begin again ( Act_12:1 )" (Reese p. 370). "Walking in the fear of the Lord" "Reverence for Him and scrupulous obedience to His commandments" (Reese p. 371). "Comfort of the Holy Spirit" The comfort, encouragement, and counsel which was being delivered through inspired individuals. "Multiplied" Despite the obstacles, the church continued to grow. Thus far we should have learned that the church does not need ideal circumstances in which to flourish, but to grow, the church does need dedicated members who are determined to think and act in a godly manner, regardless of the situation.


Verse 32

Act_9:32 "And it came to pass, as Peter went throughout all parts, he came down also to the saints that dwelt at Lydda"

"Peter" Who was last mentioned in 8:25. "Went throughout all parts" The territory mentioned in 9:31, that being Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. Evidently Peter has been visiting and strengthening the congregations in these regions. With persecution subsiding for a while, this gave the apostles the chance to strengthen those congregations which had formed as the result of the previous persecution (8:4). It seems likely that the apostles would see to it that each congregation was strengthened in the faith and that if qualified men were present, that elders were appointed ( Act_14:22-23 ). "Lydda" (LID uh). This is Greek name for the OT city of Lod. This congregation may have been the result of Philip's earlier preaching ( Act_8:40 ). Lydda was situated on the road that led from Jerusalem to Caesarea, about 20 miles NW of Jerusalem and 10 or 12 miles SE of Joppa.

Verse 33

Act_9:33 "And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had kept his bed eight years; for he was palsied"

"A certain man" A real person. "Aeneas" (ee NEE us). "Kept his bed" "Bed-ridden for eight years with paralysis" (TCNT).

Verse 34

Act_9:34 "And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ healeth thee: arise and make thy bed. And straightway he arose" "Peter knew that he could not overcome disease and death by his own authority and power" (Stott p. 183). "He was commanded to get up from the pallet, and take care of it in the manner in which beds were arranged when they were not in use during the daytime" (Reese p. 372). Compare with Mar_2:9 ; Mar_2:11-12 ). The cure was immediate.

Verse 35

Act_9:35 "And all that dwelt at Lydda and in Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord"

"Sharon" "Was the coastal plain, about 30 miles long extending from Mt. Carmel on the North to Joppa on the South" (Reese pp. 372-373). "Turned to the Lord" Inferring this man who was healed was well-known to the inhabitants of this area. Many people were converted and the expression "turn to the Lord" involves being baptized (Compare Act_2:38 with 3:19).

Verse 36

Act_9:36 "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"

"Joppa" Located on the Mediterranean, about 30 miles south of Caesarea, and about 35 miles NW of Jerusalem. Prior to the building of Caesarea by Herod the Great, Joppa had served as Israel's only port in OT times. "Tabitha" Which is her Aramaic name. "Dorcas" The Greek translation of her name. Both names mean "antelope or gazelle". "It is not unusual in the East to give daughters the names of beautiful animals" (Reese p. 373). "The beauty and grace of the gazelle made it an appropriate name for a woman" (P.P. Comm. p. 287). "Full of good and charitable actions" (Wey). "She had devoted herself to doing good and to acts of charity" (Gspd). "Which she did" That is, did continually.

Verse 37

Act_9:37 "And it came to pass in those days, that she fell sick, and died: and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper chamber" It was customary to wash the body before burial, and the upper chamber was much more quiet and private than a room on the ground floor.

Verse 38

Act_9:38 "And as Lydda was nigh unto Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men unto him, entreating him, Delay not to come on unto us" The towns were about 10-12 miles apart. 'A walk of three hours brought the two men with their sad message to Peter.' (McGarvey p. 194)

Verse 39

Act_9:39 "And Peter arose and went with them. And when he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them" Nothing in the text reveals whether Dorcas was also a widow. McGarvey notes, "Here is the same tender care for the lifeless body, the same distress felt by all, the same desire for the presence of him who has been our religious counselor; the same company of weeping women and, beyond all this to which we are accustomed, a group of poor widows holding up before Peter as he comes in the tunics and mantles which Dorcas had made for them. What a memorial! How much richer and more to be desired than monuments of marble and bronze covered with flattering inscriptions!" (p. 196).

Verse 40

Act_9:40 "But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed; and turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up" As Jesus had done years previously at the house of Jarius ( Luk_8:54 ), Peter removed all the bystanders. "Tabitha, arise" Note the "ease" at which the miraculous is performed--if one really does have the power of God.

Verse 41

Act_9:41 "And he gave her his hand, and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive" Consider the restraint of the Biblical writers. How much more could have been written!

Verse 42

Act_9:42 "And it became known throughout all Joppa: and many believed on the Lord" Again, the purpose for the miracles was to confirm the truthfulness of the gospel message.

Verse 43

Therefore Stand. pp. 413,414.

Bakers Bible Atlas p. 202

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Acts 9". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/acts-9.html. 1999-2014.
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