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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Acts 11

Verse 1

1. κατὰ τ . Ἰουδ . ] in Judæa , or perhaps more strictly, throughout Judæa . (See reff.)

ὅτι κ . τ . ἔθν . ] They seem to have heard the fact, without any circumstantial detail (but see on τὸν ἄγγελον below, Act 11:13 ); and, from the charge in Acts 11:3 , from some reporter who gave the objectionable part of it, as is not uncommon in such cases, all prominence.

Verses 1-18


Verse 2

2. ] οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς must have come into use later as designating the circumcised generally: in this case all those spoken of would belong to the circumcision. Luke uses it in the sense of the time when he wrote the account.

Verse 4

4 .] ‘Having begun, set forth to them:’ i.e. began and set forth : not for ἤρξατο ἐκτιθέναι . as Kuinoel.

Verse 5

5. ] ἦλθ . ἄχρι ἐμοῦ is a fresh detail.

Verse 12

12. οὗτοι ] They had accompanied him to Jerusalem, and were there to substantiate the facts, as far as they had witnessed them.

Verse 13

13. τὸν ἄγγελον ] The art. almost looks as if the history of Cornelius’s vision were known to the hearers. The difference between the vision of Cornelius and that of Peter is here again strikingly marked: while the latter is merely ‘praying in the city of Joppa,’ no place nor circumstance being named, the former sees the angel ‘ standing in his house .’

Notice also that Peter never names Cornelius in his speech because he, his character and person, was absorbed in the category to which he belonged, that of men uncircumcised.

Verse 14

14. ἐν οῖς σωθ . κ . τ . λ . ] This is implied in the angel’s speech: especially if the prayer of Cornelius had been for such a boon, of which there can be little doubt.

Verse 15

15. ἐν δὲ τῷ ἄρξασθαι …] See note on ch. Acts 10:44 , as also for the rest of the verse.

Verse 16

16 .] ch. Acts 1:5 . This prophecy of the Lord was spoken to his assembled followers, and promised to them that baptism which was the completion and aim of the inferior baptism by water administered to them by John. Now, God had Himself, by pouring out on the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, included them in the number of these ὑμεῖς , and pronounced them to be members of the church of believers in Christ, and partakers of the Holy Ghost, the end of baptism. This (in all its blessed consequences, = the gift of μετάνοια , εἰς ζωήν , see on Act 11:18 ) was ( Act 11:17 ) the ἴση δωρεά bestowed on them: and, this having been bestowed, to refuse the symbolic and subordinate ordinance, or to regard them any longer as strangers from the covenant of promise, would have been, so far as in him lay, κωλῦσαι τὸν θεόν .

Verse 17

17. ] πιστεύσασιν belongs to both αὐτοῖς and ἡμῖν ; setting forth the strict analogy between the cases, and the community of the faith to both.

[ δέ (omitted in some MSS., the transcribers perhaps not being aware of the construction) brings out the contrast after εἰ οὖν , as frequently after ἐπεί , e.g. Od. ξ . 178, τὸν ἐπεὶ θρέψαν θεοί , ἔρνεϊ ἶσοντοῦ δέ τις ἀθανάτων βλάψε φρένας ἔνδον ἐΐσας : Herod. iii. 68, εἰ μὴ αὐτὴ Σμέρδιν .… γινώσκεις , σὺ δὲ παρὰ Ἀτόσσης πύθου . See more examples in Hartung, Partikellehre, i. p. 184.]

τίς ἤμην δυν . ] A junction of two questions: (1) Who was I that I should .…, as ref. Exod., and (2) Was I able to .… We have a similar instance in τίς τί ἄρῃ , Mark 15:24 . See Winer, edn. 6, § 66. 5. 3.

Verse 18

18. ] [ ἄρα γε is more than ἄρα . γε has the effect of insulating the sentence, q.d. whatever may be the consequences, or however mysterious the proceeding to us, this at least is plain, that God &c. Compare Matthew 7:20 , ‘therefore, whatever they profess , from their fruits,’ &c.: and the other reff.: and see Hartung’s chap. on γε in his Partikellehre, vol. i. p. 344, ff.]

εἰς ζωήν ] to be taken with τὴν μετάνοιαν ἔδωκεν , not with τὴν μετάνοιαν alone, which would be more probably τὴν εἰς ζωήν , hath given unto the G. also repentance, that they may attain unto life . The involved position of the words in the present text is quite in St. Luke’s manner.

Verse 19

19. μὲν οὖν ] A resumption of what had been dropt before, see ch. Acts 8:4 , continued from Acts 11:2 ; not however without reference to some narrative about to follow which is brought out by a δέ , answering to the μέν , see ch. Acts 8:5 , also ch. Acts 9:31-32 ; Acts 28:5-6 , and implying, whether by way of distinction or exception , a contrast to that μέν .

ἐπὶ Στ . ] on account of Stephen ; see reff. Wolf, Kuin., Olsh., &c. render it ‘ after St. :’ the Vulg. sub Stephano , reading ἐπὶ Στεφάνου .

διῆλθον ] so ch. Acts 8:4 ; Acts 8:40 ; Acts 9:32 .

Φοινίκης ] properly, the strip of coast, about 120 miles long, extending from the river Eleutherus (near Aradus), to a little south of Tyre, and belonging at this time to the province of Syria: see ch. Acts 15:3 ; Acts 21:2 . Its principal cities were Tripolis, Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, and Berytos. It is a fertile territory, beginning with the uplands at the foot of Lebanon, and sloping to the sea, and held a distinguished position for commerce from the very earliest times. See Winer, Realw.

Κύπρου ] Cyprus was intimately connected by commerce with Phœnice, and contained many Jews ( οὐ μόνον αἱ ἤπειροι μεσταὶ τῶν Ἰουδαϊκῶν ἀποικιῶν εἰσιν , ἀλλὰ καὶ νήσων αἱ δοκιμώταται , Εὔβοια , Κύπρος , Κρήτη . Philo, Leg. ad Caium, § 36, vol. ii. p. 587. See also Jos. Antt. xiii. 10. 4). See on its state at this time, note on ch. Acts 13:7 .

Ἀντιοχείας ] A city in the history of Christianity only second in importance to Jerusalem. It was situated on the river Orontes, in a large, fruitful, and well-watered plain, 120 stadia from the sea and its port Seleucia. It was founded by Seleucus Nicator, who called it after his father Antiochus. It soon became a great and populous city ( Ἀντ . ἡ μεγάλη , Philostr. Apoll. i. 16), and was the residence of the Seleucid kings of Syria ( 1Ma 3:37 ; 1Ma 7:2 ; 1Ma 11:13 ; 1Ma 11:44 ; 2Ma 5:21 ), and (as an ‘urbs libera,’ Pliny, Act 11:18 ) of the Roman proconsuls of Syria. Josephus (B. J. iii. 2. 4) calls it μεγέθους τε ἑνεκα καὶ τῆς ἄλλης εὐδαιμονίας τρίτον ἀδηρίτως ἐπὶ τῆν ὑπὸ Ῥωμαίοις οἰκουμένης ἔχουσα τόπον . Seleucus the founder had settled there many Jews (Jos. Antt. xii. 3. 1. See also xiv. 12. 6; B.J. ii. 18. 5; vii. 3. 3 and contra Apion. ii. 4, αὐτῶν γὰρ ἡμῶν οἱ τὴν Ἀντιόχειαν κατοικοῦντες , Ἀντιοχεῖς ὀνομάζονται · τὴν γὰρ πολιτείαν αὐτοῖς ἔδωκενκτίστης Σέλευκος ), who had their own Ethnarch. The intimate connexion of Antioch with the history of the church will be seen as we proceed. A reference to the principal passages will here be enough: see Acts 11:22 ; Acts 11:26-27 ; ch. Acts 13:1 ; Acts 15:23 ; Acts 15:35 ff.; Acts 18:22 . It became afterwards one of the five great centres of the Christian church, with Jerusalem, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Of its present state (Antakia, a town not one-third of its ancient size) a view is given in C. and H., where also, edn. 2, vol. i. pp. 149 ff., is a minute and interesting description of the city and its history, ancient and modern. See also Mr. Lewin’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul, vol. i. p. 108 ff. (Principally from Winer, Realw.)

Verses 19-30

19 30 .] THE GOSPEL PREACHED ALSO IN ANTIOCH TO GENTILES. BARNABAS, BEING THEREUPON SENT BY THE APOSTLES FROM JERUSALEM, FETCHES SAUL FROM TARSUS TO ANTIOCH. THEY CONTINUE THERE A YEAR, AND, ON OCCASION OF A FAMINE, CARRY UP ALMS TO THE BRETHREN AT JERUSALEM. Our present section takes up the narrative at ch. Acts 8:2 ; Acts 8:4 . In Act 11:19-21 it traverses rapidly the time occupied by ch. Acts 9:1-30 , and that (undefined) of Saul’s stay at Tarsus, and brings it down to the famine under Claudius.

Verse 20

20. ἐξ αὐτῶν ] not, of these, last mentioned Jews : but, of the διασπαρέντες . This both the sense and the form of the sentence ( μὲν οὖν .… δέ ) require.

Κυρηναῖοι ] of whom Lucius mentioned ch. Acts 13:1 , as being in the church at Antioch, must have been one. Symeon called Niger , also mentioned there, may have been a Cyrenean proselyte.

Ἕλληνας ] The retaining and advocacy of the reading Ἑλληνιστάς has mainly arisen from a mistaken view that the baptism of Cornelius must necessarily have preceded the conversion of all other Gentiles. But that reading gives, in this place, no assignable sense whatever: for (1) the Hellenists were long ago a recognized part of the Christian church, (2) among these διασπαρέντες themselves in all probability there were many Hellenists, and (3) the term Ἰουδαῖοι includes the Hellenists, the distinctive appellation of pure Jews being not Ἰουδαῖοι , but Ἑβραῖοι , ch. Acts 6:1 . Nothing to my mind can be plainer, from what follows respecting Barnabas, than that these Ἕλληνες were GENTILES, uncircumcised ; and that their conversion took place before any tidings had reached Jerusalem of the divine sanction given in the case of Cornelius . See below: and Excursus ii. at the end of Prolegg. to Acts.

Verse 21

21. ἦν χεὶρ κυρ . μ . α . ] By visible manifestations not to be doubted , the Lord shewed it to be His pleasure that they should go on with such preaching; αὐτῶν being, the preachers to the Gentiles , whose work the narrative now follows.

Verse 22

22. ] ἠκ . εἰς τὰ ὦτα , a Hebraism, see reff.

Βαρνάβαν ] himself a Cyprian, ch. Acts 4:36 .

His mission does not seem exactly to have been correspondent to that of Peter and John to Samaria (nor can he in any distinctive sense, be said to have been an Apostle, as they were : see ch. Acts 14:4 , and note): but more probably, from what follows, the intention was to ascertain the fact , and to deter these persons from the admission of the uncircumcised into the church: or, at all events, to use his discretion in a matter on which they were as yet doubtful. The choice of such a man, one by birth with the agents , and of a liberal spirit , shews sufficiently that they wished to deal, not harshly, but gently and cautiously, whatever their reason was.

Verse 23

23. παρεκάλει ] in accordance with his name, which (ch. Act 4:36 ) was interpreted υἱὸς παρακλήσεως .

Verses 23-24

23, 24 .] It is on these verses principally that I depend as determining the character of the whole narrative. It certainly is implied in them that the effect produced on Barnabas was something different from what might have been expected : that to sympathize with the work was not the intent of his mission, but a result brought about in the heart of a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, by witnessing the effects of Divine grace ( τ . χάρ . τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ , not merely, ‘ the grace of God ,’ but the grace which (evidently) was that of God [which he recognized as that of God]: the expression is deliberately used). And this is further confirmed to my mind by finding that he immediately went and sought Saul . He had been Saul’s friend at Jerusalem: he had doubtless heard of the commission which had been given to him to preach to the Gentiles : but the church was waiting the will of God, to know how this was to be accomplished. Here was an evident door open for the ministry of Saul, and, in consequence, as soon as Barnabas perceives it, he goes to fetch him to begin his work in Antioch. And it was here , more properly, and not in Cæsarea, that the real commencement of the Gentile church took place, although simultaneously, for the convincing of the Jewish believers at Jerusalem, and of Peter, and for the more solemn and authorized standing of the Gentile church, the important events at Cæsarea and Joppa were brought about. Wordsw.’s argument, that, as even Ἕλληνας may include Jews, we need not suppose this to have been a preaching to Gentiles, is best answered by the context, in which the μηδενὶ εἰ μὴ μόνον Ἰουδαίοις is clearly contrasted with ἦσαν δὲ .… καὶ πρὸς τοὺς Ἕλληνας , which contrast cannot be maintained without excluding Jews from this latter term.

Verse 25

25. ] This therefore took place after ch. Acts 9:30 ; how long after , we have no hint in the narrative, and the question will be determined by various persons according to the requirements of their chronological system. Wieseler and Schrader make it not more than from half a year to a year: Dr. Burton, who places the conversion of Saul in A.D. 31, nine years. Speaking à priori , it seems very improbable that any considerable portion of time should have been spent by him before the great work of his ministry began. Even supposing him during this retirement to have preached in Syria and Cilicia, judging by the analogy of his subsequent journeys, a few months at the most would have sufficed for this. For my own view, see Prolegg. to Acts, § vi.

Verse 26

26. ] The unusual word πρώτως seems to imply priority not only in time, but also in usage: at Antioch first and principally. So we have in Aristot. Eth. Nic. viii. 5, πρώτως καὶ κυρίως .

Χριστιανούς ] This name is never used by Christians of themselves in the N. T. (but οἱ μαθηταί , οἱ πιστοί , or οἱ πιστεύοντες , οἱ ἀδελφοί , οἱ ἅγιοι , οἱ τῆς ὁδοῦ ), only (see reff.) as spoken by , or coming from , those without the church. And of those, it cannot have arisen with the Jews, who would never have given a name derived from the Messiah to a hated and despised sect. By the Jews they were called Ναζωραῖοι , ch. Acts 24:5 , and Galilæans : and Julian, who wished to deprive them of a name in which they gloried (see below), and to favour the Jews, ordered that they should not be called Christiani; but Galilæi, Greg. Naz [58] Orat. iv. (in Jul. i.) 86, vol. i. p. 114. That it has a Latin form is no decided proof of a Latin origin: Latin forms had become naturalized among the Greeks, and in this case there would be no Greek adjective so ready to hand as the Latin possessive, sanctioned as it was by such forms as Pompeiani, Cæsariani, Herodiani (Christus being regarded as a proper name, see Tacit. Ann. xv. 44, ‘… quos vulgus … Christianos appellabat. Auctor ejus nominis Christus, Tiberio imperitante, per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat’). The name soon became matter of glorying among its bearers: ref. 1 Pet., Eus [59] H. E. Acts 11:1 , in the epistle of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, τοῦ ἡγεμόνος .… μόνον τοῦτο πυθομένου εἰ καὶ αὐτὸς εἴη Χριστιανός , τοῦ δὲ (Epagathus) λαμπροτάτφωνῇ ὁμολογήσαντος , … and again, πρὸς πάντα τὰ ἐπηρωτημένα ἀπεκρίνατο (Sanctus) τῇ Ῥωμαικῇ φωνῇ , Χριστιανός εἰμι . And in the Clementine Liturgy (Humphry, Comm. on Acts, p. 84), εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι , ὅτι τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ χριστοῦ σου ἐπικέκληται ἐφ ʼ ἡμᾶς , καὶ σοὶ προσῳκειώμεθα .

[58] Nazianzenus, Gregory, fl. 370 389

[59] Eusebius, Bp. of Cæsarea, 315 320

Before this, while the believers had been included among Jews , no distinctive name for them was needed: but now that a body of men, compounded of Jews and Gentiles , arose, distinct in belief and habits from both, some new appellation was required.

It may be observed, that the inhabitants of Antioch were famous for their propensity to jeer and call names; see instances in C. and H. i. p. 148, note 2. See several interesting particulars respecting the name collected in Wordsw.’s note: who however maintains that it was given by the Church herself.

Verse 27

27. ἐν τ . τ . ἡμ . ] It was during this year , Acts 11:26 .

προφῆται ] Inspired teachers in the early Christian church, referred to in the Acts, and in the Epistles of Paul (see reff. and ch. Acts 19:6 ; Acts 21:9 ; Rom 12:6 ; 1 Corinthians 12:10 ; 1 Corinthians 13:2 ; 1Co 13:8 ; 1 Corinthians 14:6 ; 1Th 5:20 ). They might be of either sex (ch. Act 21:9 ). The foretelling of future events was not the usual form which their inspiration took, but that of an exalted and superhuman teaching , ranked by St. Paul above ‘speaking with tongues,’ in being the utterance of their own conscious intelligence informed by the Holy Spirit . This inspiration was however, occasionally, as here, and ch. Acts 21:10 , made the vehicle of prophecy , properly so called.

Verse 28

28. Ἄγαβος ] The same who prophesied Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem, ch. Acts 21:10 , ff. From the form of his announcement there , we may infer the manner in which he ἐσήμανεν διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος here . It was τάδε λὲγει τὸ πν . τὸ ἅγιον .

The fem. usage of λιμός prevailed among the Dorians (cf. Aristoph. Acharn. 708) and later Greeks: see Meyer, edn. 2, and Lobeck on Phryn. p. 188. We find it sometimes also in Ionic poets, e.g. in Hom. Hymn to Demeter, 311, λιμοῦ ὑπ ʼ ἀργαλέης : see other examples in Palm and Rost, sub voce.

ὅλην τ . οἰκουμένην ] not, ‘ all Judæa ,’ though in fact it was so: the expression is a hyperbolical one in ordinary use, and not to be pressed as strictly implying that to which its literal meaning would extend. That it occurs in a prophecy (Meyer) is no objection to this: the scope and not the wording of the prophecy is given. But see below.

ἐπὶ Κλαυδίου ] In the fourth year of Claudius, A.D. 44, there was a famine in Judæa and the neighbouring countries (Jos. Antt. xx. 2. 5). And three others are mentioned during his reign: one in Greece (Eus [60] Chron. i. 79), and two in Rome (Dio Cassius, lx. 11. Tacitus, Ann. xii. 43), so that scarcity ἐπὶ Κλαυδίου did extend through the greater part of the ‘orbis terrarum ,’ if it be thought necessary to press the words of the prophecy. The queen Helena of Adiabene and her son Izates helped the Jews with subsidies on the occasion (Jos. ibid., see also xx. 5. 2, where he calls it τὸν μέγαν λιμόν ), both of corn and money.

[60] Eusebius, Bp. of Cæsarea, 315 320

I do not believe that the words ἐπὶ Κλ . imply that the events just related were not also in the reign of Claudius : but they are inserted to particularize the famine as being that well-known one, and only imply that the author was not writing under Claudius.

Verse 29

29. ] There is no need to suppose that the prophecy of Agabus preceded by any long time the outbreak of the famine: nor would it be any derogation from its prophetic character to suppose it even coincident with its first beginnings; it was the greatness and extent of the famine which was particularly revealed, and which determined the Christians of Antioch to send the relief. Baumgarten (vol. ii. p. 5), in tracing the gradual transition of the apostolic narrative from Jewish to Gentile Christianity, calls this contribution, sent from Antioch to Jerusalem, the first stretching out of the hand by the Gentile world across the ancient gulf which separated it from Israel.

τῶν δὲ μαθ . κ . τ . λ . is a mixture of two constructions, οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ καθὼς εὐπορεῖτό τις αὐτῶν .

The church at Jerusalem was poor, probably in connexion with the community of goods, which would soon have this effect; see ch. Acts 2:44 , note.

Verse 30

30. πρεσβυτέρους ] These were the overseers or presidents of the congregation, an office borrowed from the synagogues, and established by the Apostles in the churches generally, see ch. Acts 14:23 . They are in the N. T. identical with ἐπίσκοποι , see ch. Acts 20:17 ; Acts 20:28 ; Titus 1:5 ; Titus 1:7 ; 1 Peter 5:1-2 . So Theodoret on Philippians 1:1 , ἐπισκόπους τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους καλεῖ · ἀμφότερα γὰρ εἶχον κατ ʼ ἐκεῖνον τὸν καιρὸν τὰ ὀνόματα . The title ἐπίσκοπος , as applied to one person superior to the πρεσβύτεροι , and answering to our ‘bishop,’ appears to have been unknown in the apostolic times. Respecting the chronology of this journey to Jerusalem, see note on ch. Acts 12:25 , and the table in the Prolegomena.

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Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Acts 11". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.