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Bible Commentaries
Acts 4

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verses 1-3


1-3. Here we find Peter is interrupted in the midst of this glorious sermon by the priests and the captain of the Levitical temple guards and the Sadducees, the most wealthy and consequently influential sect of the Jewish church, though quite heterodoxical in their theology, and even rationalistic in their teaching; so here, while the multitude are spell-bound and edified by the truth, Peter preached. The anti-holiness preachers and the carnal men of wealth and influence constituting the official board can stand it no longer. Consequently, with the acquiescence of the Romans, who are willing to purchase Jewish favor with the persecution of the poor Nazarenes, they break up this precious meeting by an open assault on the preachers, laying violent hands on them and incarcerating them in prison. A world-wide controversy has rolled down the ages ever since the Constantinian apostasy, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and many others disputing over the apostolical succession, each party claiming to have it to the exclusion of all the rest. Now, behold the scene! Platoons of theologians, with plug hats, pigeon-tail coats and toothpick shoes, cigars in their mouths, rings on their fingers and golden-headed canes in their hands, all disputing with each other over the apostolical succession, each party claiming to have it and ostracizing and anathematizing all the balance. The Bible is a plain book. Why will intelligent, educated men thus stultify themselves, becoming laughing-stocks for devils? Now with an open Bible you have nothing to do but read the plain record and here see the apostolical succession. The way the apostles went is open and free for all. You have nothing to do but walk in their footprints. They first received a clear conversion, the Savior Himself assuring them that their names were written in heaven. Then after a ten days’ prayer meeting they were gloriously baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire, and thus sanctified wholly; then beneath the burning sun [for there never was a Christian church built till A. D. 150] they preached all day amid roaring mobs, preachers mad because they preached holiness, stirring the rabble and interrupting them, and finally to spend the night in jail. So you see clearly the way of apostolical succession. Your experiences, your ministry and your life must be like those of the apostles; otherwise your claim to succession is farcical and false. Good Lord, help us to read our Bibles and learn some sense. Now, take all these clamorous and disputatious claimants to the apostolical succession who have racked the church with controversy the last fifteen hundred years. Do you not see the silly nonsense and the ridiculous falsity of the whole matter? The succession is free to all who will receive it. It leads through the crucible, regeneration, Pentecost of fiery baptism street-preaching all day amid rocks, mud, clubs, eggs, mad preachers and church officers, and a jail to sleep in at night. So these big preachers that have been quarreling over it these last fifteen hundred years can all have it. But there is the trouble they don’t want it. They will not have it. Then why not quit their nonsense?

Verse 4


4. This wonderful accession augments the Nazarenes to eight thousand. While doubtless many of them were born from above for the first time in life, you must remember that the great salient fact is conversion to the Christhood of Jesus. Among the thousands of “devout” Jews (remember, this word is not applied to sinners) come from every nation under heaven; it certainly follows as a legitimate sequence that many of them know experimentally the God of Abraham and Moses, and as they had never heard of Jesus the Nazarene, of course they were perfectly innocent of His crucifixion. That doubtless large element of the Pentecostal crowd needed only to be converted to the Christhood of Jesus; while all of the Jerusalemites who were guilty of His blood, had to be justified and regenerated, as well as converted to the Christhood of Jesus. I trow not a few of this number, who had formerly known the God of Israel by happy experience, were actually baptized with the Holy Ghost and sanctified wholly in that Pentecostal revival.

Verses 5-7


5-7. The judgment hall of the Sanhedrin stands on Mt. Zion, about a thousand rods from the city wall, on the brow of that mountain. I was in it three years ago, my guide certifying to its identity. Jesus was arraigned there. Here we see both Annas, the high priest, endorsed by the Romans, and Caiaphas the high priest, endorsed by the Jews, and all the magnates belonging to the family of the high priest, as well as the Scribes and the Elders, were assembled in this council. Why were two illiterate rustics more than a match for this grave assembly of learned preachers and doctors of divinity, having on their side of the controversy all the scholarship, official dignity, ecclesastical authority and money power of the age? There is but one answer: Peter and John were men “full of the Holy Ghost”; so, “fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give unto you the Kingdom.” If you are filled with the Holy Ghost you are more than a match for all the powers of earth and hell. God has never changed. Good Lord, help us to get back to the Acts of the Apostles.

Verses 11-12


11, 12. Can we not learn this truth? There is salvation in none but Jesus. If you differ from this you are an idolater. Our Jesus needs no help to save a soul. Some worship a water-god; others, a day-god, and still others worship gods of wood and stone in the form of a fine edifice, while many worship creeds and sects, Mammon and style. Jesus warns us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, i. e., modern orthodoxy;

the leaven of the Sadducees, which is rationalism, i. e., higher criticism; and the leaven of Herod (a royal dynasty), which is spread-eagleism, i. e., the worship of political gods. Oh, how few worship Jesus only! The true God is only revealed in Jesus by the Holy Ghost. Reader, be sure you adopt the creed Jesus only.

Verse 13


13. “Seeing the boldness of Peter and John, and observing that they are unlearned and ignorant men, they continue to be astonished and recognize that they were with Jesus.” No ingenuity of scholarship can evade the force of this statement of the Holy Ghost. The Greek for unlearned is agrammatoi, from a, “not,” and gramma, “a letter.” Hence, it literally means unlettered, i. e., without a knowledge of letters. They had no common schools in that day. The word translated “ignorant” is idiootai from which have we idiot. Hence, it means that they were idiots, so far as human learning was concerned. They were rude, illiterate rustics, and there is no reason whatever to believe they could read or write. After our Savior called them they may have learned a little about letters. Of this we have no information, as Peter dictated his two brief Epistles to an amanuensis. John outlived all of the other Apostles a whole generation, doing his writing doubtless by an amanuensis when nearly an hundred years old. Why did our Lord select unlearned and ignorant men to preach the gospel to a dying world? He could just as easily have put His hand on the learned rabbis and have commanded the highest culture of the world.

(a) It was safer to use blank paper on which to write the messages destined to save the world, and thus obviate the innate tendency of humanity to incorporate some of their own wisdom along with the precious truth revealed.

(b) The gospel heralds, exposed to all the rigors of polar snows and equatorial heat, ocean waves and sand storms, lodging beneath the stars for a cover, with a stone for a pillow, needed the physical constitution of a hippopotamus and the activity of a kangaroo, which can only be developed by the toils, privations, exposures and hardships of a rough-and-tumble life.

(c) Their example to all their successors is indispensable. God needs an army of evangelists this day like that of Xerxes to save the world. Do you not know if the Apostles had all been collegiate graduates, no others would have the courage to respond to the call, shoulder the responsibilities, brave the dangers, brook the contempt and go to the ends of the earth to save the lost? So fast as church-members grieve away the Holy Ghost and backslide, they confine the preaching of the gospel to the learned. So long as Methodist preachers “were unlearned and ignorant men,” depending on Brush College for their education, they had power to shake heaven, earth and hell and roll a tide of salvation like a sweeping cyclone wherever they went. We do not depreciate learning when sanctified by the Holy Ghost (for unsanctified, it is dangerous and has sent many to hell); but we need all to save a lost world. So we will take the unlearned and not excuse the learned.

Verses 15-22


15-22. Here we see the preachers in authority at Jerusalem determine to crush out the holiness movement started by Jesus of Nazareth and perpetuated by His Apostles. So they issue to Peter and John a positive prohibition to preach any more, augmenting that interdiction by terrible threats in case of persistence.

Verse 19

19. “Peter and John responding, said unto them, If it is righteous before God to hear you rather than God, judge ye.” Lord, help us all to follow the example of the Apostles, and in every case “obey God rather than men.” When ecclesiastical law is in harmony with God as revealed to us by His Word, Spirit and providence, then we are in harmony with the rulers of our church. When their decision is out of harmony with God’s truth and will thus revealed to us, if we do not follow the Apostolical example and “obey God rather than men,” we will have trouble at the judgment bar. I propose to take mine here, God helping me. This very ordeal is spurring on the holiness people this day from the Atlantic to the Pacific. God help us to be true. My disciplinary obligation administered to me in my ordination vows reads: “Following most gladly their godly judgments.” Suppose their judgments are not godly, i. e., contrary to the will of God as revealed to me by His Word, Spirit and providence, do you not see the legitimate force of my ordination vows? They simply require me to obey my rulers when in harmony with God, but with equal force am I obligated to disobey them when out of harmony with God. We are living in the last days, which try men’s souls. Every young preacher is brought face to face with the ordeal of Peter and John, “Will you obey God or man?” When you obey God, of course you obey all human authority which is in harmony with God. Here at Jerusalem we have the pastors and leading preachers in the popular church arrayed against the followers of our Savior and doing their best to prohibit them from preaching. We have parallel cases this day on all sides claiming to be the true ministers of God and doing their utmost to prohibit the spread of the gospel. What were the apostles preaching? The doctrines and experience which Jesus taught and they received at Pentecost; for they were, in fact, in the midst of Pentecost. You can not gainsay the identity of the cases; we have the inspired record of Pentecost. Preach it as we read it.

The people enter into the experiences. The clergymen in authority oppose us and forbid us to preach in what they call their territory, just like they forbade the apostles at Jerusalem. What shall we do? We here have the answer given by Peter and John, “Obey God rather than men.” I tell you, brethren, if you will be true to God, you can always know the divine guidance. It is three-fold, His Word, Spirit and providence. His Word is for your intellect, His Spirit for your spirit, and His providence for your body. If we give way to the ecclesiastical usurpation, now everywhere interdicting the full, free gospel, we will offend God and lose our souls. Good Lord, help us to be true and “obey God rather than men.” If we do not, God will cast us away and give the glory to others. God helping me, I will be true and “obey God rather than men.” There is no such a thing as ecclesiastical law per se. God is the only Law-giver and the Bible the only code of laws in all the world. As all the truth symbolized in the Old Testament is literalized in the New, and we are living under the New Testament dispensation, therefore we may consider the New Testament as our code of laws for church and state. It is bad enough for the wild beast governments [for such are all human governments, according to Daniel and John] to employ drunken legislators to enact laws instead of enjoying the benignant government of our Heavenly Father, who desires to rule all of His creatures in righteousness and love. This state of things we must endure till the Ancient of Days descends to execute righteous judgments against the wicked nations and fallen churches (Daniel 7:9). But it is simply preposterous for the Church of God to assume legislative power. All such assumption is usurpation and rebellion. No ecclesiastical court has a right to enact a law de novo. All they can do is to recognize and enforce the laws of God, plainly written in the New Testament. Modern ecclesiastical councils are bold to enact laws not only unknown in the New Testament, but positively antagonistical to the letter and spirit of the same. All such so- called ecclesiastical laws deserve only the contempt of God’s people.

Verses 23-31


23-31. During the imprisonment and trial of Peter and John the one hundred and eighteen, with quite a host of the Pentecostal converts, are pushing the battle for God and souls on the great temple campus on Mt. Moriah in the east end of the city, the judgment hall, where Peter and John and Jesus were tried, being on Mt. Zion, in the west end. When constrained by popular sentiment to release Peter and John they reluctantly discharged them through fear of an insurrection. Then the apostles go immediately to the great meetings on the temple campus and report the persecutions of the preachers and official board and the intervention of the Almighty through the people for their acquittal. Now they quote the prophecy in Psalms 2:0, which had actually been fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus, and is still being verified in the rage of the clergy and official board against the apostles. They allude to the union of Pilate and Herod in the crucifixion of Christ, despite their former and long-standing animosities either to other. How signally is the same prophecy fulfilled to-day in the reconciliation and co-operation of the hitherto warring sects, forgetting all their bitter hatred either to other, and uniting against the holiness movement! Amid the implacable animosities of church and state combined against the poor Nazarenes and determined to exterminate them and even obliterate the very memory of their leader from the memory of the world, there is much fear on the unsanctified young converts. Hence they need another Pentecost to bring down the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, consuming all their cowardice and filling them with the perfect love, casting out fear. Therefore they all fall on their knees, unite their hearts and cry to God for the sanctifying power. Behold! the place is shaken and another Pentecost comes down from heaven, gloriously filling and flooding them, sanctifying all the fear out of the young converts and weak believers, so that “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” This glorious second Pentecost gave a wonderful new impetus to the revival Niagara already shaking the metropolis with a spiritual earthquake. This second Pentecost gloriously sanctifies the converts of the first, raising up hundreds of new preachers to herald the living Word, thus broadening the revival into paradoxical dimensions, till it rolls its mighty inundating wave out from Jerusalem into all of the surrounding country, not only inundating all Palestine, but sweeping over Samaria like an avalanche and rolling out its irresistible tide into heathen Syria.

Verse 32


32. “Of the multitude of those who believed there was one heart and soul.” The power of God’s salvation to literally unify all its recipients, regardless of race, color, sect or nationality, has been the puzzle of wicked people and counterfeit professors in all ages. God made religion, which is the same in all hearts, in every land, beneath every sky, whether the sable children of Ham with unshod feet treading the burning sands of Africa, or the brown sons and daughters of Shem, populating the time-honored empires of the Orient, or the beautiful children of Japheth thronging the mighty cities of Europe and spreading over the virgin soils of America. While the grace of God is uniform in every nation, church and people, the devil’s counterfeit religion, which is sectarianism, is heterogeneous, contradictory and false, bringing to its votaries only disappointment, ruin and damnation. Man is a trinity, consisting of body, mind and spirit. False religions all recognize man as a duality consisting of but the two elements, thus eliminating the third story of humanity, depriving him of his immortal spirit, which is homogeneous to God, and the element on which the Holy Spirit operates, through the human spirit reaching the mind and body. False theologies identify mind and spirit, thus eliminating the latter and substituting mentalities for spiritualities, and thus ignoring the absolute necessity of supernatural intervention in the plan of salvation. Since man is a trinity, consisting of body, mind and spirit, and none but his spirit suffered total ruin in the Fall, a residuum of mentality and materiality survived the catastrophe of Satan’s victory in Eden. Therefore men and devils in all ages have been building up systems of counterfeit religion on this residuum of mind and body which survived the Fall; such religion being destitute of true spirituality, and of course independent of the Holy Ghost. Such are the great popular religions of the world today, whether Pagan, Moslem, Papal or Protestant. Their stock consists in fine edifices, pomp and ceremony, intellectual culture and eloquent sermons. All this is a superstructure built on the residuum of mind and matter which survived the Fall. Since it is destitute of true spirituality, it is independent of the Holy Ghost, and always ready to wage an exterminating war against the true religion, which comes only through the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is clear on total depravity, everywhere recognizing the sinner as “dead”

(Ephesians 2:1). The word for regenerate is zoo-opoieoo, which is a compound word and means to create life. Hence the conversion of a sinner is a de facto creation as real as the creation of a world. As there is but one Creator, therefore God alone can regenerate a soul. Popular religions in all ages have practically eliminated the supernatural, which alone has salvation. The true religion is not morality, philanthropy nor churchanity. It is all spirituality wrought by the personal Holy Ghost in the heart. Consequently, Holy Ghost religion is the only one in all the world characterized by true spiritual life. Between the living and the dead religions of the world there has always been an irrepressible conflict, an exterminating war, and always will be. Whenever a church dies spiritually, she is ready to fight Holy Ghost religion, from the simple fact that she is possessed of the devil, who is the uncompromising enemy of God. The “soul,” as used in the Bible, means the mind; the “heart” means the affections, and is really included in “spirit,” which is a much more comprehensive term, signifying the immortal being, the highest element of humanity homogeneous to God Himself. While the animals all have souls, i. e., minds, they are not immortal. The reason the human soul is immortal in contradistinction to the animals, is because the immortality is conferred by the human spirit. When God created man, he consisted of soul or mind and body, homogeneous to the animal creation. Subsequently “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” thus imparting to him His immortal Spirit, as the Hebrew word ruach not only means spirit, but breath, the symbol of the spirit. Of course man had animal life before this divine inbreathing imparted to him a living spirit, conferring life and immortality on his soul. The human spirit is constituted of three faculties, i. e., the conscience, which survived the Fall, and is the voice of God in the soul; the will, which is the king of the man and in the hands of Satan while a sinner, but in conversion wrested from the devil and turned over to God forever to rule; and the affections, which are the predilections, inclinations and incentives constituting the “heart.” These are only conquered in regeneration and retained, subordinated to the regenerated will, by grace, it being reserved for the wonderful efficacy of the cleansing blood in entire sanctification to radically expurgate them of all native evil and the refining fire of the Holy Ghost, in the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), to consume all the surviving debris of the Fall. The unpardonable sin and the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:31) supervene when the devil succeeds in blowing off this third story of the human superstructure by the tornadoes sent up from the bottomless pit. In these latter days of superabounding infidelity and abnormal wickedness, millions on all sides are actually permitting the devil to destroy this third story of their being by grieving away the Holy Spirit, thus crossing the dead line and sealing their doom in hell, while yet reveling amid the sunshine of temporal prosperity and sensual delectation. In this way the world is fast ripening for the awful tribulation. The mind consists of the intellect, the memory, the sensibilities, and the judgment. In case of salvation, the mind with its wonderful resources is attracted up to the spirit, identified with it and subordinated to it, with its mighty resources of both mind and spirit, all consecrated to God for time and eternity. In case of the wicked, in the awful ultimatum of the sad forfeiture of their spiritual susceptibilities, and the transcendent achievements and glories of gracious possibilities, this third story of humanity, which God built for His own occupancy, being blown off by the devil, the vast resources of mentality are dragged down and subordinated to the body, which in ipso is a mere animal. In that case man becomes a demonized brute, unfortunately immortal and capable only of misery to himself and others, all focalized in demonized self, in which is concentrated not only the ruin of the Fall, but the very virus of Satan and the torments of hell.

Verses 33-37


33-37. Here we have another allusion to the community of goods, practiced by the Apostolic church, necessitated by the suddenness and improvidence of the Pentecostal revival, and inspired by the hostility of their environments and the vivid anticipation of the Lord’s speedy return. Barnabas, which is but a cognomen, a Syriac word, meaning son of consolation, while his real name was Joseph, though a Levite, was a farmer off in the beautiful isle of Cyprus, in the Mediterranean Sea. He was a bright young man of liberal education, a friend and acquaintance of Saul, the celebrated Tarsian, doubtless having been his school-mate in the Greek colleges in the city of Tarsus, the Capital of Cilicia, a border-land of Asia, near his home in Cyprus. This bright and promising young Levite is an honored delegate of a Cyprian synagogue, sent to represent them in the great annual camp-meeting at Jerusalem, denominated Pentecost, without the vaguest dream of the heavenly cyclone destined to catch him in its inextricable whorls. Now that he is wonderfully converted to the Christhood of Jesus, I trow, having formerly known the God of Israel, he is a most joyful recipient of the Pentecostal baptism. Therefore he sells out his Cyprian farm, with all its appurtenances, brings the money and tumbles down every penny at the apostles’ feet, simultaneously importuning, “Will you not take Barnabas also?” Behold the contrast between primitive Christianity and the present age! I am constantly accosted by brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God, testifying to a call to preach and a burning enthusiasm to start at once if they only “had the money.” Behold the contrast! In the Apostolic age, the first thing they did after receiving a call was to sell out all they had and turn over every cent to the church, giving themselves, too. The monetary difficulties arise from the misapprehension that they actually need it in their humble efforts to glorify God in the salvation of souls. The apostles and their evangelistic comrades all walked everywhere they went, trusting the Lord to feed them like He feeds the birds. Therefore they needed no money except such as the Lord would supply in their peregrinations, as they had no fares to pay. Consequently, in order to disencumber themselves of all temporal care, that they might be perfectly free to go preaching, like Barnabas, they sold out everything they had, turning the proceeds over to the apostles. We would enjoy much better health, live longer and be more useful if we would let the railroads alone and all walk, as in the Apostolic age. We need multiplied thousands of walking itinerants, full of faith and the Holy Ghost, to preach the gospel from house to house, pursuant to the primitive economy.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 4". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/acts-4.html.
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