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Bible Commentaries
Acts 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4037. A.D. 33.

Here begins the history of the apostles’ persecution;

(1,) Peter and John are taken up and imprisoned by the Jewish rulers; but about five thousand are converted to Christ, Acts 4:1-4 .

(2,) Being examined touching the cure of the lame man, they boldly avow that it had been effected by the authority and power of the lately crucified, but now exalted, Jesus, whom they preached to their persecutors, as the only Saviour of mankind, Acts 4:5-12 .

(3,) Their persecutors, being unable to answer them, command them to be silent, threatening to punish them if they persisted to preach any more in the name of Jesus, Acts 4:13-22 .

(4,) The two apostles, being returned to their brethren, unite with them in solemn prayer to God, for the continued operations of that grace which they had already experienced, and God owns them with manifest tokens of his presence, and a further effusion of the Holy Spirit, Acts 4:23-31 .

(5,) Hereby the believers are knit together in love and abound in piety and charity, Acts 4:32-37 .

Verses 1-3

Acts 4:1-3. And as they Namely, Peter and John; spake unto the people The multitude, who had assembled in the temple, upon occasion of the miraculous cure of the lame man, as related in the preceding chapter; the priests, &c., came upon them So wisely did God order, that they should first bear a full testimony to the truth in the temple, and then in the great council: to which they could have had no access, had they not been brought before it as criminals. Being grieved That the name of Jesus was preached to the people: especially they were offended at the doctrine of his resurrection; for, as they had put him to death, his rising again proved him to be the Just One, and so brought his blood upon their heads. The priests were grieved, also, lest their office and temple services should decline, and Christianity take root through the preaching of the apostles, and their power of working miracles. The captain of the temple was concerned to prevent all sedition and disorder; and the Sadducees were displeased at the overturning of all their doctrines, particularly with regard to the resurrection of the dead, as exemplified and demonstrated in the person of Jesus; and therefore, that they might prevent their preaching any more, they laid hands on them Under pretence that they were seditious persons, who were labouring to incense the populace against the conduct of their governors; and put them in hold Committed them into custody, that when the sanhedrim met at the usual hour the next day, they might consult what it was proper to do with them: for it was now even-tide And therefore not a fit season to have them examined. As Peter and John went up to the temple at three in the afternoon, the expression, it was now even-tide, makes it probable that some considerable time was spent in preaching to the people, and, consequently, that what we have in the former chapter is only an abstract, or specimen of the discourses they delivered on this occasion, which probably is generally the case as to the speeches recorded by the sacred historians, as well as others.

Verse 4

Acts 4:4. Howbeit, many of them which heard the word believed For though the preachers were persecuted, the word prevailed. Thus the suffering days of the church have often been her growing days. And the number of the men, besides women and children, was about five thousand “The assembly that owned Christianity was increased to above five thousand, and that success grieved the malignants.” Baxter. Dr. Benson supposes that five thousand were converted on this occasion, besides the three thousand mentioned before, Acts 2:41. Had it been said, as there, that so many were added to the church, it would have determined the sense to be as he and some others understand it; but the use of the word

εγενηθη , became, favours the interpretation, that the whole number, including those who had been converted before, now became about five thousand. It is hardly to be thought (unless it were expressly asserted) that another day should be so much more remarkable for its number of converts than that on which the Spirit descended. However, supposing only two thousand were now converted, it is a glorious proof of the truth of Christianity, and no example can be given of the philosophers, or any other teachers, succeeding so gloriously in making converts to such holy and self-denying doctrines.

Verses 5-7

Acts 4:5-7. And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, &c., were gathered together There was a general assembly held of those who constituted the sanhedrim, and a court formed at Jerusalem. And Annas the high-priest, and Caiaphas The meaning seems to be, Annas, who had been high-priest, and Caiaphas, who was so then; and John, and Alexander It is very evident that these were persons of great note among the Jews at that time, but who they were, is to us quite uncertain. And as many as were of the kindred of the high-priest Or, as others render it, of the pontifical family. Dr. Hammond explains this of the twenty-four members of the Aaronic family, who presided over the twenty-four courses. Others refer it to those who were nearly related to Annas and Caiaphas: but Grotius thinks it includes the kindred of those who had lately been in the office of high-priest, which, he says, made them members of the sanhedrim. And when they had set them in the midst Had ordered them to be brought before them, and set in the midst of the assembly; (it being the custom of the sanhedrim to sit almost in a circle;) they asked, By what power “Human or diabolical, angelic or divine, have you cured this man? Whose name have you invoked to the working of this miracle? Or, from whom had you your authority to preach so publicly unto the people? From us you had it not, though we alone have the authority to give a commission to any man to do so.” It will cast light on this inquiry of the rulers to observe, that Josephus speaks of some of the Jews working cures by invoking the name of Solomon. And the Talmud relates some ridiculous stories of working miracles by the tetragrammaton, or the unutterable name; that is, by mentioning the word Jehovah. The seven sons of Sheva, mentioned Acts 19:13-17, had the same opinion of working miracles by the mention of a name, when they pretended to cure a possessed person by invoking the name of Jesus, whom Paul preached.

Verses 8-12

Acts 4:8-12. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost That moment, according to the promise of his now glorified Master, (Matthew 10:20; Mark 13:11,) which was upon this occasion remarkably verified; said unto them With the utmost freedom; Ye rulers of the people, &c. He gives them the honour due to their office. If we this day be examined And called to an account as criminals, about the good deed Greek, ευεργεσια , the good work, or benefit, done to the impotent man, and you want us to declare by what means he is delivered from his calamitous state, and made whole Σεσωσται , is cured or saved: be it known unto you Probably the herald of God proclaimed this with a loud voice: that by the name of Jesus, whom ye lately crucified With all the marks of detestation and contempt, as a criminal worthy of the most infamous death, but whom God raised from the dead These rulers and elders knew in their own consciences that it was so. And, though they had hired the soldiers to tell a most senseless and incredible tale to the contrary, (Matthew 28:12-15,) yet it is observable, they did not, so far as we can know, dare to plead it before Peter and John. Even by him By his power and goodness; doth this man Cripple though he was from his mother’s womb, as you well know; stand here before you whole Perfectly sound and well. This is the stone set at naught of you builders That is, of you, who by your office should have been, and who professed to be, builders of God’s church, which, through the power of God, is become the head of the corner To which the whole building owes its strength, its union, and its beauty. See notes on Psalms 118:22. Neither is there salvation Temporal or spiritual; in any other: for there is no other name, &c., whereby we must be saved The apostle, in this passage, uses a beautiful gradation from the temporal deliverance which had been wrought for the poor cripple, by the power of Christ, to that of a nobler and more important kind, which is wrought by Christ for impotent and sinful souls. He therein follows the admirable custom of his great Lord and Master, who continually took occasion from earthly to speak of heavenly things.

Verses 13-14

Acts 4:13-14. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John Observed with what courage and freedom they spoke, and pleaded their Master’s cause, and to what a high degree they extolled him in the very presence of those magistrates who had so lately condemned him to the most shameful death; and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant Or rather, illiterate and uneducated men, or men in private stations in life, as Dr. Doddridge renders the latter word, ιδιωται , observing, that the expressions literally signify, “that they were not scholars, nor in any public rank of life, as the priests and magistrates were; but that they import no want of natural good sense, or any ignorance of what was then the subject of debate: so that our translation seems very unhappy here.” They marvelled Were greatly astonished; and took knowledge of them Greek, επεγινωσκον , they knew, or were persuaded, namely, upon further recollection or consideration; that they had been with Jesus Had been his disciples, and from him had received their knowledge and their courage. They themselves, it is probable, had seen these two disciples with him in the temple, or on the night when he was taken, led to the house of Caiaphas, and examined: and they now recollected that they had seen them with him. Or some of the servants of these rulers, or those about them, informed them of it. And when they understood that they had been with Jesus, had been conversant with him, attendant on him, and trained up under him, they knew what to impute their boldness to; nay, their boldness in divine things was enough to show with whom they had associated, and from whom they had had their education. Observe, reader, those that have been with Jesus, that have had converse and communion with him, should conduct themselves in every thing so that those who converse with them may take knowledge of them that they have been with him; and, therefore, are made so holy and heavenly, spiritual and cheerful; so raised above this world, and inspired with hopes of, and desires after, another. And, beholding the man who was healed As they were obliged to acknowledge he was; standing with them With Peter and John, perfectly recovered; they could say nothing against it Against the fact, though they were unwilling to own the doctrine which it tended so strongly to prove.

Verses 15-18

Acts 4:15-18. But when they had commanded them to go aside To withdraw, not being willing they should hear the acknowledgments that were extorted from them; they conferred among themselves Privately. Now the scripture was fulfilled which foretold that the rulers would take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, Psalms 2:2; saying, What shall we do to these men? If they would have yielded to the convincing, commanding power of truth, it would have been easy to say what they should do to them. They should have placed them at the head of their council, received their doctrine, been baptized by them, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and joined in fellowship with them. But, when men will not be persuaded to do what they ought to do, it is no marvel that they are continually at a loss what to do. The truths of Christ, if men would but entertain them as they should, would give them no manner of trouble and uneasiness; but if they hold, or imprison them in unrighteousness, (Romans 1:18,) they will find them a burdensome stone, that they will not know what to do with, Zechariah 12:4. For that a notable miracle, Γνωστον , a signal and well-known miracle: it was known that they had done it in Christ’s name, and that Christ himself had often done similar miracles: this was a known instance of the power of Christ, and a proof of his doctrine. That it was a great miracle, and wrought for the confirmation of the doctrine they preached, being σημειον , a sign, was manifest to all that dwelt in Jerusalem The miracle being wrought at the gate of the temple, universal notice was taken of it; and they themselves, with all the craft, and all the effrontery they had, could not deny it to be a true miracle. Hence they concluded that it would be neither reasonable nor safe to punish these men now. Nevertheless, on the other hand, they judged that both their credit and their interest required them to suppress the rumour of it as far as they could, and therefore, said they, that it spread no further among the people And be a means of raising discontent, and, perhaps, of occasioning some dangerous insurrection among them; let us straitly threaten them Απειλη απειλησωμεθα αυτοις , Let us threaten them with threatening: the expression is a Hebraism, being, it seems, St. Luke’s translation of the very words of the council into Greek; that they speak henceforth to no man To no individual whatever; in this obnoxious name They could not prove that they had said or done any thing amiss, any thing but what was proper, yea, necessary to be said and done; and yet they must no more say or do the like! All the care of these rulers, &c., is, that the doctrine of Christ should spread no further among the people; as if the healing and saving institutions of the gospel were a plague begun, the contagion of which must be stopped immediately. See how the malice of hell fights against the counsels of heaven! God will have the knowledge of Christ to spread all over the world; but the chief priests would have it spread no farther: at which He that sits in heaven laughs. And they called them The whole council having agreed to this proposal, as the most proper they could now think of, they called in Peter and John, and, telling them how much they were offended at the liberty they took; commanded them In a very strict and severe manner; not to speak at all, privately, nor teach, publicly, in the name o f Jesus We do not find that they gave them any reason why the doctrine of Christ must be suppressed; they did not say it was either false or dangerous, or of any ill tendency; and they were ashamed to own the true reason, namely, that it testified against their hypocrisy and wickedness, and shook their tyranny.

Verses 19-20

Acts 4:19-20. Peter and John Feeling themselves animated in this arduous circumstance with a courageous zeal, which would not permit them to be silent, lest that silence should be interpreted as a promise to quit the ministry; answered, Whether it be right A righteous thing; in the sight of God To whom we are all accountable; to hearken unto you That is, to obey you; more than God, judge ye Ye cannot but know in your own consciences on which side the superior obligation lies; and you must therefore expect that we shall act accordingly. As these rulers professed to believe the being and infinite perfections of God, they must, on their own principles, easily see the absurdity of expecting obedience to their commands from good men, who believed themselves divinely commissioned. Was it not by the same spirit that Socrates, when they were condemning him to death for teaching the people, said, “O ye Athenians, I embrace and love you, but I will obey God rather than you; and if you would spare my life on condition I should cease to teach my fellow- citizens, I would die a thousand times rather than accept the proposal.” For we cannot but speak, &c. For though we respect you as our civil rulers, and are heartily willing to obey you, as far as we lawfully can, yet, since God hath charged us with the publication of this important message, on which the eternal salvation of men depends, we dare not be silent; and therefore are free to tell you, that we must speak the things which we have seen and heard Which God hath manifested in so miraculous a manner, and which he hath commissioned us to declare.

Verses 21-22

Acts 4:21-22. So when they had further threatened them Namely, in severer terms than before; they let them go Not thinking it proper, all circumstances considered, to proceed to any further extremities at that time; since they could find nothing in their conduct for which they could punish them with any show of reason; because of the people Whose resentment they feared. For all men glorified God for that which was done So much wiser were they than those who ruled over them. For the man Who had been a cripple from his birth; was above forty years old So that hardly any thing could have appeared to human judgment to be a more desperate case, than so inveterate and confirmed a lameness.

Verses 23-28

Acts 4:23-28. And being let go Being dismissed from their examination by the rulers; they went to their own company Who, probably, were at this time met together, praying for them; and reported all that the chief priests had said Adding, no doubt, what they were enabled by the grace of God to reply to them, and how their trial issued. And when they heard that A divine inspiration coming upon all that were present in an extraordinary manner; they lifted up their voice to God with one accord All unanimously joining in the following petition, as being all influenced by the same spirit, though, perhaps, only one speaking in the name of the rest: or, as Dr. Doddridge supposes, all their voices joining by immediate inspiration, a circumstance which he thinks was graciously adapted to encourage them to suffer the greatest extremities in this cause. And said, Lord, thou art God, &c. The sense is, Lord, thou hast all power, and thy word is fulfilled: men rage against thee, but it is in vain. See notes on Psalms 2:1-5. For of a truth, &c. For we now see the prediction of thy servant David truly and literally accomplished; since against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed With the Holy Ghost and with power, to accomplish the glorious work of erecting thy kingdom among men; both Herod, &c., with the Gentiles The idolatrous heathen; and the people of Israel Professing to worship thee, the true God; were gathered together Combined in the impious attempt of opposing thy designs. For to do whatsoever thy hand, &c., determined before to be done That is, says Dr. Hammond, “the Roman governors and Jewish sanhedrim have joined their malicious counsels against thy holy Son; to act in the crucifying of him, and so (though little meaning it) to be the instruments of thy gracious providence and disposal, who didst determine to give thy only Son to die for us.” The sense evidently is, But they (the enemies of God and Christ) could do no more than thou wast pleased to permit, according to thy determinate counsel, to save mankind by the sufferings of thy Son. And what was needful for this end, thou didst before determine to permit to be done. Limborch, and some others, contend for a transposition of the words thus: They have combined against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed to do what thy hand and thy counsel had determined, &c.; but it is so expressly said elsewhere, (see Matthew 26:24; Luke 22:22,) that the Son of man went (to suffer and die) as it was determined; and it so plainly appears, in fact, that these circumstances were foretold, or marked out, in the prophecies of the Old Testament, that I see not, says Dr. Doddridge, “what end the admission of such a transposition would answer. It is much more rational to explain this determination in such a manner as to make it consistent with the free agency of the persons concerned. When God’s hand and his counsel are said to have determined these things, it may signify his having pointed out this great event, so wisely concerted in his eternal counsels, and marked beforehand, as it were, all the boundaries of it, (as the word προωρισε may well signify,) in the prophetic writings.” Certainly the word properly and literally signifies, to define, describe, or mark out beforehand, rather than to decree, or predestinate. “The hand of God,” says Dr. Whitby, “most frequently, in the Old Testament, relates not so much to his power, as to his wisdom, and providential dispensations; and being here joined with his counsel, and applied to what was done by Pontius Pilate and the Jews toward the crucifixion of the holy Jesus, to which actions, so highly displeasing to God, his power could not actually concur or effectively incline them, the import of these words will be no more than this, that Jews and Gentiles were assembled to accomplish those sufferings of our Saviour for mankind which God had foretold, and by foretelling had determined should come to pass: according to those words of St. Paul, Acts 13:27, They who dwelt at Jerusalem, &c., not knowing the voices of the prophets, have fulfilled them by condemning him, doing all things which were written of him. As therefore St. Peter and Paul, by calling the Jews to repentance for crucifying the Lord of life, do evidence that their sin was not the less, because they did by it fulfil the counsel of God’s holy will, and kind intentions to mankind, so do they consequently evidence, that God’s foreknowledge of a thing future, does not impair the liberty of men’s wills in the accomplishment of it; as all the ancient fathers have declared in this particular.” See this further explained in the note on Acts 2:23.

Verses 29-31

Acts 4:29-31. And now, Lord As to what remains to accomplish this important scheme, of raising thy church on the sure foundation of thy Son’s cross; behold their threatenings With which they are endeavouring to discourage the chosen witnesses of his resurrection; and grant to thy servants, that with all boldness Παρρησιας πασης , all freedom of speech; they may speak thy word In the midst of the most violent opposition that can arise; by stretching forth thy hand Exerting thy power; to heal The most incurable distempers. And when they had prayed Or, while they were praying, as δεηθεντων αυτων may be rendered; the place was shaken Thus miraculously was God pleased to declare his gracious acceptance of their petitions; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost Were filled afresh with his sacred, especially his sanctifying and comforting influences; and spake the word with boldness Wherever they came, renewing their public testimony without any appearance of fear, on the very day on which they had been so solemnly forbidden by the sanhedrim to preach any more in the name of Jesus.

Verses 32-35

Acts 4:32-35. And the multitude of them that believed All the individuals, male and female, that, having believed on Jesus, had joined themselves to the Christian Church, numerous as they were; were of one heart and one soul Were perfectly united in love to God and one another, according to the full meaning of Christ’s prayer, John 17:20-23. Their desires and designs, their hopes and joys, were the same; neither said any of them Ουδε ’ εις ελεγεν , not so much as one of them, in so great a multitude, said, that aught of the things which he possessed was his own A natural consequence this of that union of heart which they had with each other; but they had all things in common Each was as welcome to participate of them as the original proprietor could be, being, in those new bonds of Christian fellowship, as dear to him as himself. And with great power That is, with a divine force of eloquence and of miracles; gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus That main pillar and chief corner-stone of Christianity, supporting and connecting the whole fabric of it in all its parts. And great grace was upon them all A large measure of the inward power of the Holy Ghost, directing and influencing all their tempers, words, and works. Neither was there any among them that lacked Though many of them were far from their habitations, and many others in low circumstances of life. We may observe, this is added as a proof that great grace was upon them all; and it was the immediate, necessary consequence of it; yea, and must be to the end of the world. In all ages and nations the same cause, the same degree of grace, could not but, in like circumstances, produce the same effect. For as many as were possessors of lands, &c., sold them Not that there was any particular command for this; but there was great grace and great love, of which this was the natural fruit. And brought the prices, and laid them at the apostles’ feet To be disposed of as they should direct; and distribution was made First by the apostles themselves; afterward by them whom they appointed, with the strictest fidelity; unto every man according as he had need For his present relief; the apostles deeming themselves sufficiently happy, while living in the same plain manner with their brethren, in the opportunity which the divine goodness gave them, of being so helpful to others, both in things temporal and spiritual.

Verses 36-37

Acts 4:36-37. And Joses Among the rest of those primitive converts who so generously contributed of their substance for the relief and subsistence of the poor believers, in these extraordinary circumstances, there was one Joses, by the apostles surnamed Barnabas, The son of consolation Not only on account of his so largely assisting the poor with his fortune, but also of those peculiar gifts of the Spirit whereby he was so well qualified both to comfort and exhort. A Levite And yet so far from being prejudiced against this new religion, which might seem to oppose his temporal interest, that he gladly devoted himself to its service; of the country of Cyprus Where, it seems, he was born and brought up. Having land, sold it As he was a Levite, he could not have sold, or alienated, his paternal inheritance; (see Leviticus 25:34;) but the land or estate here spoken of, might either have been some legacy, or purchased land, in Judea, to which he might have a title till the next jubilee, or, perhaps, some land in Cyprus. And we may suppose it mentioned, either as the first foreign estate sold, or as of some extraordinary value.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 4". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/acts-4.html. 1857.
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