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Excursus A. On the Pentecostal Miracle.
On the day of Pentecost, the first part of the work of the divine Founder of the Christian Church was completed when the Holy Ghost was given by the Father to the ‘hundred and twenty’ gathered together in the name of Jesus. A special grace and power was doubtless conferred on those on whom the Spirit had descended; but the special power then conferred was soon withdrawn from men, the grace then given remained for ever with the Church of Christ. The special grace included a certain power to work miracles a power, though (comparatively speaking), rarely used even in the earliest times, and which was gradually withdrawn. In the Fathers, very few authenticated instances are given of miracles worked by men on whom the Spirit was not specially poured at Pentecost. The first leaders of the followers of the Crucified, owed to ‘the Spirit’ that high wisdom which enabled them to lay, with such rare skill, such generous devotion and true love, the first stories of the Christian faith. The Spirit, too, we may affirm, teaching them all things, bringing, too, all things which the Master had said, into their remembrance, guided them when they wrote those holy memoirs and letters men call the New Testament Scriptures. We are tempted to forget the grander issues of the Pentecostal miracle in the special gift which seems to have been the first apparent result of the descent of the Spirit, the speaking with tongues; but this was merely the expression of deep thankfulness, the glorious utterance of grateful hearts conscious of the mighty change wrought in them by the Spirit sent from heaven. This gift of tongues was one of the special miraculous powers bestowed at Pentecost on the ‘hundred and twenty’ disciples then assembled together, and seems to have been an ecstatic expression of thanks and praise to God. The speaker, rapt, though not losing all command of himself, not always fully conscious of what he was uttering, poured out his ecstatic stream of praise, thanking God for His glorious mighty works, in words, in a language not usually comprehended by the bystanders.
These utterances often needed an interpreter. At times the speaker, we know, interpreted for himself, but generally the gift of interpretation of these ecstatic sayings was bestowed on another. We are told one spoke (in tongues), and another interpreted. The miracle of the ‘gift, of tongues,’ as described on that memorable Pentecost, really differed in few particulars from those strange manifestations of the Spirit St. Paul writes of in his First Corinthian Epistle. The ‘tongues’ in the Corinthian Church needed an interpreter, either the speaker himself or else some other inspired person, as the utterances were in a language not understood by the bystanders. At that ‘Pentecost,’ however, no such interpreter was needed. The inspired ones spoke then as the Spirit gave them utterance, in new languages certainly; but on that occasion each new language was addressed to groups of pilgrims and travellers familiar with the sounds. Then we read how the Greek-speaking Jew heard one inspired man proclaiming the glorious words of his Saviour God in his own Greek. The strangers of Rome and Italy listened to another uttering the same praises in their familiar Latin. The eastern pilgrim caught the same strange, beautiful words of praise and thanksgiving spoken by others of that inspired company in the different oriental dialects they knew so well. In this particular only differs the ‘gift of tongues’ we read of on that first Pentecost after the Lord had risen, from the ‘gift of tongues’ spoken of at such length by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 14:0). The first instance of this new and marvellous power needed no subsequent interpretation. The new language in which each utterance was conveyed on that occasion was comprehended by each group of listeners at once. We are led, then, to the conclusion that the gift of tongues was one of the special powers bestowed when the Spirit descended at Pentecost; that it was by no means a permanent and abiding power with any one, but was used in those days when the revelation of the power of Christ came for the first time in all its awful truth upon the disciples, to enable them better to pour out their new song of praise and thanksgiving. These glorious thoughts seem to have been uttered at times in dialects known and familiar to some among the bystanders, as at this Pentecost; at times the Spirit seems to have given them utterance in a language no one present understood: in that case needing an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:0). But it is utterly at variance with all early record to suppose this ‘gift of tongues’ was a power of speaking in various languages, to be used by the first believers when they preached the Gospel in distant lands; for neither in the Acts nor the Epistles, nor in early ecclesiastical history, is any intimation given that the ‘Twelve’ or the ‘hundred and twenty,’ or any of the converts to Christianity daring the first hundred years after the resurrection, were supernaturally endowed with power to preach the Gospel in different languages which they had never learned. On the contrary, the currently-received interpretation of Acts 14:11 points to St. Paul, ‘who spoke with tongues more than all,’ not understanding the dialect of Lycaonia. St. Jerome, too, tells us St. Paul was accompanied by Titus as an interpreter (Estius on 2 Corinthians 11:0); and Papias (Eusebius, H. E. iii. 39) writes of Peter as attended by Mark, who acted in a like capacity in the missionary journeys of that great apostle. In the early Fathers on the mysterious nature of the ‘gift of tongues,’ there is an almost total silence. To them evidently it was no mere power of speaking in various languages; it was something quite different, something they could not understand or explain, and which had evidently ceased when the first generation of believers had passed away. One famous inspired passage already quoted from the First Corinthian Epistle forbids any notion of this power being used for teaching purposes in their own congregation at home in Corinth, and totally excludes all idea of the ‘tongues’ as an instrument for missionary work among strange peoples abroad; for its chief characteristic is that it is unintelligible. The man speaks mysteries, prays, blesses, gives thanks in the Spirit, but no one understands him.
We have already called attention to the indisputable fact that the miraculous gifts of the first days, bestowed on the Church for a definite purpose, when the apostles and those who had learned Christ from their lips had passed away, were gradually but quickly withdrawn from men. And among these supernatural powers we can believe that the earliest withdrawn were those new tongues first heard in their strange sweetness, needing then no interpreter on that Pentecost morning those tongues which during the birth-throes of Christianity gave utterance to the rapturous joy and thankfulness of the first believers. They were a power though which, if misused, might lead men to confusion, to feverish dreamings, to morbid imaginings, to a condition of thought which would utterly unfit men and women for the stern and earnest duties of their several callings; in a word, would lead to a life unreal and unhealthy. And so that chapter of sacred history which tells of these communings of men with the unseen, which speaks of those thrilling moments of rapt joy, of those sweet, unearthly utterances which now and again beautified with a beauty not of earth the lives of those brave witnesses who first set the example of giving up all for the love of Christ that chapter was closed for ever, perhaps even before those ‘hundred and twenty’ and the generation who had listened to their words had fallen asleep in Jesus.
The latter part of this Excursus is mainly taken from a paper contributed by one of the editors of this Commentary on the ‘Acts ’ to the Bible Educator on the whole question of this miracle, and on some of its results. See also Professor Plumptre’s exhaustive article, in Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, on the Gift of Tongues; also for a different view from that advocated above, compare Bishop Wordsworth’s interesting comment on this passage of the ‘ Acts. ’ DeWette, Apostelgeschichte, pp. 23-36, ed. 1870, g ives an able summary of the views of that school, which assumes that all accounts of miraculous interference are simply mythic.
On the Question whether ‘Community of Goods’ was the Practice GENERALLY AMONG THE EARLY CHRISTIANS.
On first reading the little descriptive pictures of the Church of the first days by the writer of the Acts in chap. Acts 2:44-44.2.45, Acts 4:32-44.4.35, it would appear as though the first believers literally carried out such charges of the Master as, ‘Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not’ (Luke 12:33), and, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go thy way and sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow ME’ (Matthew 19:21). But, on careful examination of other early Christian records contained in these same ‘Acts,’ and in the Epistles of the New Testament, it will be quickly seen that this community of goods could not have been general, even in the little Jerusalem congregation, for ( a) the story of the death of Ananias and Sapphira an episode in the early Church which must have happened very soon after the Pentecost miracle shows most clearly that this giving up of possessions into a common stock was no necessary condition of Christian membership. No rule of this nature existed in the early Church; no such apostolic injunction was ever hinted at. ‘Whilst (thy possession) remained,’ said St. Peter to Ananias, ‘was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?’ Ananias might have retained any part of it he wished, and still have remained a member of the Jerusalem congregation. His sin, for which he was so terribly punished, consisted in his pretending to give more than he really had done. (b) Some fourteen years later (Acts 12:12) we find Mary, the mother of John and Mark evidently a person of consideration and authority in the Church possessing a house of her own in the city. The action of the Jerusalem Church in the days immediately succeeding the ascension of the Lord in this matter of community of goods was no attempt to engraft on the new society any rigid ascetic rule of life, such as was practised by the Essene sect among the Jews. It was simply a loving, longing wish to continue with as little difference as possible the simple, self-denying, unworldly life which Jesus lea with His disciples while on earth. It was an earnest striving to carry out to the letter such commands as we find in St. Luke 12:33 , of which commands the inspired wisdom of the apostles soon saw the necessity of teaching an enlarged interpretation. The community of goods among the early Christians, apparently exclusively confined to Jerusalem, was not universal even there, and with the fall and destruction of the city (A.D. 70), if not before, ceased to be a practice of any portion of the Christian Church.
The inspired teaching of the Epistles of the New Testament clearly shows us what was the view taken by men like St. James and St. Paul of this question of property. They evidently had no idea of a general sharing of possessions among Christians, and never publicly urged on their converts a renunciation of their rank or property; on the contrary, they pressed home to all poor and rich, bond and free the duty of doing their best for their Master and their brother in that state of life in which they were placed by the providence of God. It is true that they urged everywhere on all orders and degrees of men, on Gentile as well as Jew, the severe high view of life instead of the low and self-indulgent one; yet they everywhere acknowledge and accept orders and degrees among men as the wise arrangements of Almighty God. Paul even declines to interfere with the relation of master and slave (Epistle to Philemon), preferring to leave the correction of this terrible exaggeration of class privilege to the inevitable action of the religion of Jesus on the hearts of men.
Whether Paul addresses one particular church (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:5-47.9.7), or a group of churches (Galatians 2:10), or a prominent disciple (1 Timothy 6:17, and Philemon), his teaching ever proceeds from the assumption that rich and poor, nigh-born and low-born, in their several positions, were reckoned among the congregations who believed in Jesus. Even the austere and ascetic James, who certainly witnessed and most probably shared in the primitive community of goods in the Jerusalem Church, repeatedly rebukes the rich and powerful, not for possessing, but for misusing wealth and position (James 2:1-59.2.9; James 4:13-59.4.17; James 5:1-59.5.5).
It is no baseless theory which sees as the result of this community of goods, existing so generally in the Jerusalem Church, the extreme distress which, as early as the year A.D. 43, prevailed among the Jerusalem Christians. In spite of the most generous exertions of ‘the brethren’ in Rome, in Greece, in Asia Minor, in Syria, this deep poverty seems to have continued to the last (that is, till A.D. 70, when the city was destroyed) in the mother Church of Christendom. Constant reference to the extreme poverty among .the Jerusalem Christians occurs in the busy life of St. Paul (see Acts 11:29; Acts 24:17; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:26; 1Co 16:1 ; 2 Corinthians 8:4-47.8.14,
Acts 9:1-44.9.12). Nor is it improbable that the first great missionary leaders men like Paul, and Barnabas, and Luke, guided as they were by the Holy Ghost were deterred by the spectacle of helpless poverty presented by the Church of Jerusalem from sanctioning in other cities an enthusiasm which led men, through a desire of carrying out to the letter the self-denying commands of their Master, to throw up those grave and weighty responsibilities which accompany wealth and position, and thus to reduce themselves to a state of helpless dependence; for they saw in such a community all manly self-reliance, all generous effort, would, on the part of the individual, gradually cease to exist.
A deadly torpor, such as seems to have crept over and paralyzed the Jerusalem Christians, would by degrees have destroyed the energy of every Church whose members, by voluntarily renouncing rank and home and wealth, sought literally to fulfil their Lord’s commands. Other ages have witnessed attempts more or less noble, even though mistaken, to revive the Jerusalem dream of a life where should exist no distinctions of ‘order’ and class, and where literally all things should be possessed in common; but every such attempt has failed; sometimes ending in wild disorder, sometimes producing a society whose life and aims seemed utterly at variance with the teaching and the mind of Christ. I need scarcely allude here to the vows of poverty and self-renunciation of the famous Franciscan order, and to the hopes of its generous and devoted founder, Francis of Assisi vows, alas! too often broken; hopes, alas! cruelly deceived.
The estimate of Paul and his brother apostles was the true one; they judged rightly when they declined to interfere with the established order of things among civilised peoples, or to recognise in any way a state of society which, however beautiful in theory, in practice would effectually bar all progress, and which would only result in confusion and misery.
Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost, 1-4.
Acts 2:1. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come. The exact time when the great miracle took place is specified. The Holy Ghost fell on the apostles and their company in the course of the day of the feast of Pentecost. The word ‘Pentecost,’ literally ‘the Fiftieth,’ is a substantive, and was used by the Hellenistic Jews to denote the feast of Weeks and the feast of Harvest (Deuteronomy 16:10; Exodus 23:17). The assertion that the feast of Harvest was also considered in Israel as the anniversary of the giving of the law from Sinai, appears to be merely a late rabbinical tradition; it is never once noticed by Josephus or Philo. This feast lasted only one day, and was considered one of the three great annual festivals of Israel. Wordsworth gives the following calculation, according in all respects with the most ancient tradition, which speaks of the descent of the Holy Spirit as happening on a Sunday. This time was no doubt selected, as being the first opportunity after the resurrection, of appealing with power to a great concourse of the people assembled from far. Multitudes of the Jews from all parts of Palestine, and also from other countries, were in the habit of attending these great annual festivals:
Thursday, 14th day of the month Nisan, Christ institutes the Holy Eucharist.
Friday, 15th day of Nisan, He is crucified.
Saturday, 16th day of Nisan, He rests in the grave.
Sunday, 17th day of Nisan, He rises from the dead.
From the end of Saturday the 16th day of Nisan forty-nine days are counted, and fiftieth, or feast of Pentecost, falls on a Sunday.
They were all together. ‘ All’ here certainly includes more than the twelve apostles, as when Peter (Acts 2:14), standing up with the eleven, evidently speaks of many others on whom the Spirit had fallen. Very possibly ‘all’ refers to the ‘hundred and twenty mentioned in chap. Acts 1:15. Many modern commentators prefer to understand from this expression a still larger company, composed of all believers then assembled in Jerusalem. Augustine and Chrysostom assume that the assembly on whom the Spirit fell was composed of the ‘hundred and twenty’ only.
Together. ‘Perhaps because it was the Lord’s day’ (Lightfoot quoted by Wordsworth).
In one place. Certainly not in a chamber of the temple, as has been suggested, as such a gathering would not have been, under any circumstances, permitted by the Jewish priests or rulers, who were generally hostile to the cause of Jesus. If the number was limited to the ‘hundred and twenty,’ it was not improbably a private dwelling, and the same as that which previously afforded a place of meeting to the disciples on the solemn occasion of the election of Matthias into the number of the Twelve.
And suddenly. Although the disciples of Jesus believed that a crisis in their history was at hand, and that in some way or other the promise of their Master was very soon to be fulfilled, still the extraordinary event related in this and the following verses came upon them apparently without any previous intimation suddenly, unexpectedly.
Acts 2:2-44.2.3. There came from heaven a sound as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. The external signs which attended the outpouring of the Spirit on the chosen band were but a sound and a light, nothing more, for neither wind nor flames were natural they were both from heaven. The wind was unfelt, the fire neither burnt nor singed; and yet the whirr of the rushing mighty blast filled all the house where they were sitting, and the flames, like tongues of fire, settled as a burning crown on the head of each one present. All attempts that have been made to show that these signs of the unfelt wind and of the fire which never burnt were merely natural phenomena (see Paul us, This, and others), have signally failed. An earthquake and the wind storm which often accompanies it has been suggested as having happened on that first Pentecost morning; but the story of the ‘Acts’ only speaks of a mighty wind which no one man felt but only heard; while electrical phenomena, such as the gleaming lights sometimes seen on the highest points of steeples or on the masts of vessels, and which have been known to alight even on men, bear a very faint resemblance, if any, to those wondrous tongues like as of fire which crowned each head in that little company of believers in the Crucified, on that never-to-be-forgotten morning; in addition to which, as Lange well observes, such electrical phenomena belong to the open air, not to the interior of a house where the followers of Jesus were then assembled.
The account of the stupendous miracle, in common with nearly all the Bible recitals of supernatural events, is studiedly short, and dwells on no details; it simply relates how and when it took place, without comment or remark, evidently assuming that the circumstances were too generally known and believed to require more than the bare recapitulation of the simple fact.
Three distinct events seem to have taken place
(1.) There came from heaven a murmuring sound, like the sighing of a strong rushing wind. It seemed to pervade the whole house. Those assembled there all heard this strange weird sound, but none could feel that strong blast they heard so distinctly rushing round them.
(2.) And apparently almost simultaneously with the murmuring of that unseen rushing wind, forked flames shaped like tongues of fire filled the chamber, and a tongue of flame settled on the head of each one present.
(3.) And as the flame touched each head, every man received a consciousness of a new and mighty power, each one felt as man had never felt before the presence and love of God. The ecstatic utterance of praise which followed was merely an outward sign of the grace and power which at once followed the descent of the Holy Ghost on these favoured men. The new gift [of tongues] was the outward sign from heaven (a) to encourage these first brave witnesses for Jesus; (b) to assure the Church that the Master’s promise was in part fulfilled, and power was in very truth sent from on high.
Acts 2:4. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, etc. And then those fire-tongues they saw flaming round their heads a bright and glorious aureole seemed to speak from each man’s heart, and to give utterance in a new strange language to the thoughts of awful joy and thankfulness which the new possession of the Spirit woke up within them; for they were joined now, as never man had been joined before, with the Spirit of the Eternal. It was the Spirit with all the fulness of Christ and His redeeming work. Under the old covenant, when the tabernacle was building, skilful artists like Bezaleel, leaders and judges like Joshua, were
filled now and again with the Spirit of God ‘and the Spirit of wisdom’ (Exodus 31:3; Deuteronomy 34:9). Solitary instances among the prophets of Israel may be cited where the Spirit of the Lord dwelt for a time in this or that servant of the Most High, but now for the first time began that intimate union which should endure through time and eternity between man and his God. Then was fulfilled the words of the Master’s dying prayer: ‘As Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us’ (St. John 17:12); and from that hour the Spirit has never departed from His Church in spite of all her divisions, her errors, her short-sighted policy has never left her, never deserted her; but in all lands, through all ages among those many varied sects which follow Him, though often afar off, His blessed Spirit has ever dwelt with those who strive to do His will, to carry out His work.
With other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. On the question what these ‘tongues’ were, see the general Excursus on the Miracle of Pentecost at the end of the chapter, and Schaff’s History of the Apostolic Church.
How the Multitude were moved by the Miracle, 5-13.
Acts 2:5. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
Dwelling. The Greek word used here ( ϰατοιϰοῡτες ) , according to classical usage, would convey the notion that the foreign Jews here alluded to were ‘residents’ in the city; but the context of the passage, while fully allowing this sense, forbids us to limit it to residents merely; for the words in Acts 2:9, ‘dwellers in Mesopotamia,’ etc., and in Acts 2:10, ‘strangers of (or better rendered ‘from’) Rome,’ clearly imply that these persons still had their homes in these distant lands, and were only present for a time in Jerusalem, most probably most of them on the occasion of the festival. It includes, then, those who dwelt there permanently, and strangers on a visit to the city.
Jews, devout men. ‘Devout men’( εὐλαβεῖς ). The fact of their having left their country to dwell in the old centre of the theocracy, in the neighbourhood of the Temple, showed they were ‘devout men’ in the Old Testament sense of the word (see Chrysostom in Meyer). Some of these men, influenced by strong religious sentiment, desirous probably of being near the Temple and passing the evening of their life in the Holy City, had permanently fixed their home in Jerusalem. The general and widespread belief, that the time had now come when Messiah should appear, no doubt had influenced many of these ‘devout men.’
Out of every nation under heaven. The Jews at this time were literally scattered over the whole world. Philo tells us how the Jews were dwelling in the greater number and in the more prosperous of the cities throughout the world. Agrippa, in Josephus, says: ‘There was no nation upon earth which had not Jews dwelling among them.’
Acts 2:6. Now when this was noised abroad; or better rendered, ‘And when this sound was heard.’ Calvin, Beza, and the translators of the English Version have understood these words in the sense of ‘Now when this report arose;’ the meaning of the Greek word, however, leads us to the right sense of the passage. ‘When this sound, i.e. of the rushing mighty wind, was heard, no doubt, over all the neighbourhood, probably, as Alford well suggests, over all Jerusalem (Meyer, De Wette, Lange, Alford, Hackett, Gloag, adopt this sense of the words).
The multitude came together. ‘The house (Acts 2:2) may have been on one of the avenues to the temple, thronged at this time by a crowd of early worshippers’ (Hackett).
Acts 2:7. Behold, are not all these which speak, Galileans? The frequenters of that house, where the ‘hundred and twenty’ were gathered together, were no doubt well known to the ‘devout men,’ who had made the Holy City their home, to be at least for the most part from Galilee. Provincials, notoriously rough and usually of little culture, were men most unlikely to be acquainted with foreign idioms. The name ‘Galilean’ is used here strictly in a geographical sense. It was not until a later period that the followers of Jesus of Nazareth were styled reproachfully, Galileans.
Acts 2:8. In our own tongue, wherein we were born. Foreign Jews had long lost their acquaintance with Hebrew and its various dialects. The translation of the LXX. bore witness to the wide diffusion of the ‘Greek’ language among the chosen people, who, born and brought up in distant lands, were utterly ignorant of Hebrew. At Jerusalem at this time there were separate synagogues where various languages were used in the services, and to these the foreign Jews resident in the city used to resort (see chap. Acts 6:9).
List of Nations to whom the Strangers belonged, who heard the Disciples speak in their own Languages.
The catalogue contains the names of fifteen nations, in each of which a different language was spoken. In some few instances (as in Parthia, Media, Elam), different dialects, for all practical purposes, ranked as distinct languages. These countries, from various causes, had become the principal residences of the dispersed Jewish nation. The list seems roughly to follow a certain geographical plan, which proceeds from the northeast to north-west, then to the south, and lastly, to the west. But this plan is not adhered to in all cases, for the last two names are independent of any such arrangement. The names, of course, never formed part of the words uttered by the astonished crowd gathered round the house where the miracle had taken place, but were added by St. Luke when he finally revised the ‘Acts.’
Acts 2:9. Parthians, Medes, Elamites. In the Persian kingdom. It was among these peoples that Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, settled the captive ten tribes.
Mesopotamia. The country lying between the river Tigris and the river Euphrates. Here the Jewish captives were left by Nebuchadnezzar.
Judea. The occurrence of this name has occasioned some difficulty. Various emendations have been suggested, but they are purely conjectural, the MS. authority for ‘Judea’ being decisive. Idumæa, India, Bithynia, have been proposed. Tertullian and Augustine read ‘Armenia.’ But after all, there is no real difficulty. ‘Judea’ appears in the catalogue of nations as the representative of ‘Aramaic,’ because St. Luke desired to enumerate all the languages spoken that day by the disciples on whom the Spirit had fallen.
Cappadocia. Then a Roman province.
Pontus, on the Euxine, became a Roman province soon afterwards, in the reign of Nero. It was, when Luke wrote, governed by chiefs dependent on the empire.
Asia ‘includes the whole west coast provinces of Asia Minor, Curia, Lydia, Mysia’ (Meyer). It was one of the richest of the Roman provinces; its capital was Ephesus.
Acts 2:10. Phrygia lay on the east of ‘Asia,’ but the greater part of it was then reckoned in that great province.
Pamphylia, a small division extending along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, was a tributary district. From these five provinces of Asia Minor St. Luke passes to the south.
Egypt. The vast numbers of Jewish residents in Egypt had necessitated the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into a language they could understand. The Greek Version prepared for them was known as the Septuagint. Owing to the numbers who used it, it acquired a peculiar authority, and was reverenced as almost an inspired translation. Two-fifths of the population of the great city Alexandria were said to have been Jews. They had an ethnarch of their own.
The prate of Libya about Cyrene. Libya lay to the west of Egypt. Cyrene was a large city of Libya, where the Jews, says Strabo (in Josephus), amounted to a fourth part of the whole population. The Jews of Cyrene were so numerous in Jerusalem that they had a special synagogue of their own (Acts 6:9). Simon, who bore the Saviour’s cross at Golgotha, was a Cyrenian.
Strangers from Borne. Roman Jews who had made their home at Jerusalem, some as pilgrims, some as permanent residents. These were, no doubt, a Latin-speaking people. Tacit us speaks of the great number of Jews dwelling in Rome as exciting the jealousy of the government.
Jews and proselytes. This has reference not merely to the Romans last named, but to all the countries contained in the catalogue. It divides the various foreign hearers of the disciples inspired words into two classes Jews by birth, and proselyte converts from heathenism.
Acts 2:11. Cretes and Arabians. In Crete the Jews were very numerous. Arabia, bordering on the Holy Land, of course counted among its inhabitants many Israelites. No sufficient reason, however, can be assigned for these two names occurring at the end of the list. Hackett considers them ‘an after-thought’ of the apostle. Some reason, doubtless, of which we are ignorant, moved St. Luke to place them in their present position in the catalogue. No various readings here give us any clue to the solution of the difficulty. Ewald calls attention to the omission of ‘Syria from the catalogue. Jerome reads ‘Syria’ instead of ‘Judea’ (Acts 2:9). The apparent omission can be explained by concluding that the Syrian strangers spoke and understood ‘Aramaic’ or Greek, in both of which tongues some of the inspired ones addressed the bystanders.
The wonderful works of God. We can imagine the glorious exposition of the Spirit to these children of Israel, to these converts to Judaism from many lands and strange peoples, which, in words sweeter and wiser than man had ever listened to before, described the grand mission of Israel, which was, to keep the torch of the knowledge of God ever burning through long centuries in a great heathen world; and this, in spite of sin and error, bitterly punished, had been done. And from the mission of Israel, now ended, we can conceive the Spirit passing and telling out to the awe-struck, entranced listeners the story of ‘the wonderful works of God’ done and purposed to be done in Christ the Messiah, speaking of the blood of Jesus which shall wash away all sin of Jew and Gentile. Surely we may assume that in some of these Pentecostal utterances, at least, the outlines of the arguments of the great epistles (to the Romans and Hebrews, for instance) were first sketched out.
Acts 2:12-44.2.13. And they were all amazed . . . Others mocking, said, These men are full of new wine. The effect of the Pentecost miracle was twofold. Some were convinced, some became inquirers. We read later, that three thousand were baptized (first - fruits of the Pentecostal miracle) that very day; while others, without pausing to consider whence these comparatively illiterate Galileans had drawn their strange new powers of language and of thought, in their blind hatred of Jesus of Nazareth, His doctrine and His disciples, at once ascribed the passionate earnestness of the ‘inspired’ to drunkenness. These hostile men, who so bitterly refused to hear, no doubt belonged to the priestly party in Jerusalem, which had compassed the murder of the Holy One and Just.
Sweet wine. This wine was probably that produced from dried grapes, by soaking them in old wine and then pressing them a second time (comp. John, quoted by Hackett). This wine was very intoxicating.
First Division of the Discourse, 14-21.
What they heard was no effect of drunkenness, but the long prophesied outpouring of the Spirit.
Acts 2:14. But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice. St. Augustine well calls attention to the marked change in St. Peter now that the Holy Ghost had been poured into his heart in so copious a stream of grace. ‘More eagerly than the rest, he rushes forth to bear witness of Christ, and to confound his adversaries with the doctrine of the resurrection. . . . The same Peter, for whom we had wept when denying Christ, is seen and admired preaching Him. . . . That tongue, which at the sound of one was driven to denial, now inspires many thousand enemies to confess Christ. This was the work of the Holy Spirit’ (St. Augustine in Psalms 92:0).
With the eleven. ‘It is probable that the eleven spoke also to several companies of persons in various languages, and that St. Peter’s speech was recorded as a specimen of what was spoken by the apostles(Wordsworth).
St. Peter’s First Discourse, 14-36.
No doubt the few discourses St. Luke has given us in the ‘Acts,’ represent faithfully the various characteristic features of early apostolic preaching. They are studiedly simple: the arguments brought forward are carefully chosen with due regard to the audiences the preacher was addressing. They usually contain several guiding thoughts connected with the sacrifice and death of Christ. In most cases, whatever is advanced is supported by reference to Old Testament prophecies and statements; we use the word ‘support’ advisedly, for in these famous sermons the Christian leaders of the first days never base their assertions merely on prophetic utterances. These are used constantly, however, as powerful and weighty collateral evidence to the truth of the preacher’s words. The discourse of St. Peter here falls most naturally into three portions:
(a) Acts 2:14-44.2.21. The inspired ones whose strange, beautiful words they had been listening to, were not drunken, as some of them were exclaiming. Had not one of their own prophets (Joel) prophesied such an outpouring of the Spirit in the last days as this they had just witnessed? Did he not conclude his prophecy by bidding whosoever would be saved to call on the name of the Lord?
(b) Acts 2:22-44.2.28. And the Lord, the prophet referred to, was Jesus, who, approved by God as Messiah by His works, was yet murdered by the very people He came to save, who was now risen from the dead. Of this very death, and of the impossibility of death being able to hold such a holy Being, David in well-known words has written in his Psalms.
(c) Acts 2:29-44.2.36. They were not to think David was referring to himself when he wrote these things. He was dead, and they all knew his tomb. The One of whom he wrote, that no death could hold, was Jesus, who, having burst the bands of the grave, and having been exalted to the right hand of God, poured out this which they then saw and heard. No, they must not think David was referring to himself, for he wrote of One whom he called his (David’s) Lord. Assuredly the ‘Exalted One’ of the Psalms of David was no other than Jesus the crucified.
Acts 2:15. These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. The division of the day into twelve hours seems to have come into general use among the Jews during the captivity at Babylon. It is first mentioned by Daniel. The third hour here alluded to was about nine in the morning. It was the first of the three stated hours of prayer, the other two being noon, the sixth hour, and the ninth hour, when the evening sacrifice was offered. On Sabbath days and festivals, it was unusual for the Jews to eat or drink until the hour of morning prayer had expired; hence the extreme improbability of these many persons being already drunk at such an early hour of the day, and that day, too, a high festival, when it was not the custom even to touch food or drink till later.
Acts 2:16. This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel. This, namely, the wonderful utterances of praise, the crowds from so many nations had been just listening to. The quotation, with a few unimportant variations (which will be noticed in their places), is from the LXX., Joel 3:1-29.3.5, Hebrew, Acts 2:28-44.2.30. The passage from Joel is describing the signs which were to herald the beginning of the Messianic period, ‘the last days of the world’s history.’
Acts 2:17. In the last days. The LXX. here reads μετὰ ταῡτα , after these things. The great Jewish commentator Rabbi D. Kim chi says these two expressions mean the same thing. ‘And it shall be after these things,’ is the same as, ‘And it shall be in the last days’ (R. D. Kimchi in Lightfoot, Horae Heb., quoted by Gloag). The expression, ‘The last days,’ was used by the Rabbis for that period of time which extends from the coming of the Messiah to the end of the world. (Thus it signifies, This age or period we live in now.) The age of Messiah is so termed in 1 John 2:18: ‘Little children, it is the last time.’ St. Paul also uses the same term, 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2.
I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and they shall prophesy. This prophecy received a partial and perhaps a special fulfilment on that Pentecost morning; but the reference extends far beyond that solemn time over a multitude, too, widely different from those few inspired ones. Joel, when he first uttered the wondrous words, grasped a part, but only a part of their meaning, for his vision was bounded by the chosen race. He conceived a time when the Spirit of the Lord should descend on no priestly or prophet caste merely, but on every faithful and true Israelite. St. Peter, taught by the Spirit, saw the grand prophecy was being then fulfilled, and dimly caught sight of something of the true meaning of ‘the Spirit being poured out on all flesh.’ It was his first preparation for the great work of his noble life the admission of the vast Gentile world to an equal share in the covenant promises. At no distant date, St. Peter was to declare how Jew and Gentile were to be alike heirs of the kingdom.
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. This part of the famous prediction of Joel was amply fulfilled by the extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit in the age of the apostles. Compare such passages as Acts 21:9, which speaks of the four virgin daughters of Philip which did prophesy, and Acts 21:10, where Agabus, a certain prophet, came to Paul; and see especially, 1 Corinthians 14:0, which discusses spiritual gifts in such terms as plainly show how widely diffused was this gift of prophecy at that eventful epoch; and compare also 1 Timothy 1:18.
Your young men shall see visions. Such as Stephen saw in the judgment-hall at Jerusalem (Acts 7:55), and St. Peter on the house-top by the seaside at Joppa (Acts 10:10), and St. Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3) and in the Temple (Acts 22:17).
Your old men shall dream dreams. As perhaps John when in the Spirit on the Lord’s day at Patmos (Revelation 1:10).
Acts 2:18. And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit. This has been understood as a reference to the number of slaves and persons of the lowest rank who became Christians, and suffered and endured such great things for the sake of Jesus during the first age of the Church. Upon even these poor suffering outcasts of society would He pour His Spirit and confer His wondrous gifts.
The Hebrew original, taken by itself, would bear out this interpretation; but the LXX., from which St. Peter quotes, shows the real meaning of the passage when it inserts μου (my) before the words servants and handmaidens. It is no mere slave class which is spoken of here; it is but a solemn repetition of Acts 2:17. The Spirit was indeed to be poured on men and women, but on men and women who were true servants and handmaidens of the great Master.
Acts 2:19-44.2.20. And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, fire, and vapour of smoke . . . before that great and notable day of the Lord come. The Messianic dispensation, however, has two aspects the one characterized by grace and mercy, the other by judgment and punishment. Now Acts 2:17-44.2.18 dwelt, as we have seen, on the glorious blessings which should be poured on
those who should acknowledge Christ; Acts 2:19-44.2.20 in plain terms tell of the awful punishment which awaits those who should deliberately reject Him. Pentecost and its great miracle the signal outpouring of grace and power on the early Christian Church was a partial fulfilment of Acts 2:17-44.2.18 the prophecy of the blessing; while the fall of the city, the unsurpassed misery and horror which attended the siege of Jerusalem, and the concluding period of the last Jewish war with Rome, and its crushing result, was equally a partial fulfilment of Acts 2:19-44.2.20 the prophecy of the curse .
But neither Pentecost and the miraculous powers bestowed on the early Church on the one hand, nor the fetal siege and deadly war on the other hand, has exhausted the great prophecy of Joel which St. Peter took up and repeated. The fulfilment began surely on the Pentecost morning. It was strangely carried out during those years of the Church’s early powers. Its words, which tell of suffering and of woe, were lit up with the lurid light of the burning city and temple. But though both the blessing and the curse have received each of them a marked fulfilment, they were but partial ones; the full accomplishment still tarries and will assuredly precede that awful day of the Lord, the time of which is known to the Father only.
Acts 2:21. And it shall come to pass, that who-so ever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. St. Peter here winds up the first division of his discourse, turning from theology to life, telling men and women of all races and ages the name of Him who could save them in all and through all, if they would only call upon Him.
Second Division of St. Peter’s Discourse, 22-28.
St. Peter declares the name of that Lord who will save all the children of men who choose to call upon Him.
Acts 2:22. Jesus of Nazareth. The words ‘of Nazareth’ are added as His usual designation among the Jews, the name ‘Jesus’ not being an uncommon one. It was the title affixed to the cross.
A man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs. That is, a man divinely accredited as Messiah by His wonderful works. Gloag well quotes Nicodemus’ argument from John 3:2: ‘We know that Thou art a Teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him.’
Acts 2:23. Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. This was not man’s work, St. Peter says; but all this was done strictly in accordance with God’s own design all had been settled, had been foreseen by Him.
Foreknowledge of God. This indirectly appeals for support to the Old Testament prophecies which, with an awful minuteness, had described the very details of the tragedy of Calvary (see such passages as Isaiah 52:13-23.52.15, and Isaiah 53:0, and Zechariah 11:12-38.11.13; Zechariah 12:10, Acts 13:7).
Ye have taken. There could have been no public condemnation and crucifixion of Christ, had not the PEOPLE acquiesced, some passively, some even with noisy approval, in their rulers stern decision to get rid at all hazards of the hated reformer whom they feared with a strange and nameless terror. The Roman magistrate was quite indifferent, rather indisposed to proceed to extremities with this poor winning Jewish Teacher. He would, no doubt, gladly have dismissed the accusation of the priestly party, had not the PEOPLE shown by their behaviour, that in this case condemnation would be a popular act; and doubtless some of the very men who, perhaps without much thought, had joined in swelling the cruel shout, ‘ Crucify Him,’ were among that Pentecost crowd listening to Peter (see Ewald, who has a good note here).
By wicked hands have crucified and slain. More accurately rendered, ‘By lawless hands,’ that is, through the instrumentality of Pilate and the Roman soldiers employed in the crucifixion. But these lawless hands were only instruments, almost unconscious ones, by means of which the deed was done. The guilt of it is yours.
Acts 2:24. Whom God hath raised up. ‘Resurrection.’ Peter had been leading up all the time to this great fact the resurrection of Jesus; the remainder of his discourse (thirteen verses) dwells exclusively on this theme. So much hung on it. (1) It was the centre of that grand redemption scheme Peter and others were beginning to catch faint dim glimpses of. The Lord whom they had known on earth, was indeed risen from the dead and was ruling from His throne. (2) It was this pledge of man’s immortality. Dimly, as through a glass darkly, the leading spirits of Israel, as we shall see in David’s Psalm, looked on to an endless life with that God who loved them and held with them such intimate sweet communion; but the resurrection of Jesus, in the eyes of His first preacher, chased away all the mist and darkness which hung over the future, for they had seen one like themselves die, had seen him again, risen from the dead .
Having loosed the pains of death. A good deal of difficulty has been raised here on the question of the apparent inaccuracy of the LXX. rendering of an expression in Psalms 116:3. The Hebrew words, which probably St. Peter used on this occasion, חֶבְלֵי מָוֶח would signify cords (or bands) of death. St. Luke, in his report of the speech, gives the LXX. equivalent, τὰς ώδῑνυς τοῡ θανάτου , pains of death. Though the figure used would be somewhat altered if the original sense of the Hebrew had been preserved, yet the real meaning of the passage would remain the same. The meaning of the expression ‘pains of death,’ here spoken of as endured by Jesus, would seem to be, that death was regarded as a painful condition, because the body was threatened with corruption, and that consequently these pains were loosed when the body was raised and delivered from corruption (comp. Lechler); or in other words, ‘the pains of death’ do not cease when life departs: they follow the body into the grave; but in the case of Jesus, these pains of death corruption were loosed, for God raised Him up.
Because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. Death could have no real power over the Holy One, who is deathless, as the voice of God has plainly shown in the words of the following Psalm (Psalms 16:0) quoted verbatim from the LXX.
Acts 2:25. For David speaketh concerning him. To show it was no new idea of his, that death could not hold the ‘Holy One of God,’ St. Peter quotes the words of Psalms 16:0, where David writes of the sure hope of a joyous future life with God. This sure hope of immortality is the spirit of the Psalm; but as St. Peter shows (and also St. Paul, Acts 13:36), the first and primary instance of one entering into eternal life must be sought in the person of one so raised from the dead before corruption could seize upon the dead one’s body. This is what happened to Peter’s crucified Master: therefore it was of Him that the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David wrote. I foresaw the Lord always before my face. ‘I foresaw’ signifies simply, ‘I saw the Lord always before me.’
Acts 2:26. Therefore did my heart rejoice. These words describe Messiah’s glad consciousness on earth of His oneness with the Father; for an expression of this, compare the words of Jesus on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus (St. John, John 11:42), ‘I know that Thou hearest me always.’
And my tongue was glad, η ̔ γλω ͂ σσα ́ μου , LXX. The Hebrew has בּ ְב וֹ רִי glory (that is, my soul), whose pre-eminent dignity in man the Hebrews recognised by this paraphrase. Wordsworth remarks that this paraphrase of the LXX. of ‘my glory’ by ‘my tongue,’ was very appropriate on that day of Pentecost, when, in a special manner, the tongues of the apostles were made instruments for declaring God’s glory in the world.
Moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope. Christ expresses His confidence that His very flesh would rest in the grave in sure and confident hope. The ground of this hope appears in the next verse.
Acts 2:27. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell. This was the Redeemer’s sure confidence during the days of His earthly life. It may, if we will, be ours too; for after a little while the joyful resurrection of the Lord, of body as well as soul, will be the inheritance of all holy and humble men of heart. His soul was not to remain in the realm of the dead. Hell, the well-known English translation of ᾃδή ;, the Hebrew שׁ ְאול , is singularly unfortunate, as the word (Greek and Hebrew) simply means ‘the abode where the souls of the dead dwell’ after body and soul are separated by death. In this realm will remain until the resurrection morning, the souls both of the righteous and the wicked though widely separate the one, however, dwelling in the regions of the blessed; the other, in those of the unhappy lost ones, waiting in fear for judgment.
Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. The Beloved One of God was not to moulder in the grave, was not to share in that part of the curse of Adam which told man he should return to dust.
Acts 2:28. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life. The thoughts of the Redeemer on earth are still being expressed. To Him in His deep humiliation were made known by the Father those mysterious ways which lead through death to life. He knew when He had endured the pain and agony of the cross, when He had tasted the bitterness of death in all its fulness, death would be powerless to hold Him. The ways of life to Him meant the resurrection and the ascension.
Thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. The heart of man cannot realise that joy in all its depth and fulness, when to the glory which the Only-begotten had with the Father before the world was, was added the glory of the world’s redemption. It was for that ‘joy which was set before Him, that He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God ’ (Hebrews 12:2).
Acts 2:29. Let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David. Freely (‘frei und offen,’ Meyer and Ewald), without fear of being thought unjust to the great memory of the royal patriarch, the founder of the kingly house of Judah.
That he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us. This was a notorious fact. No one ever pretended that King David had risen; his tomb all knew. We have a mention of the sepulchre of David on the return of Judah from Babylon (Nehemiah 3:16). His resting-place was violated by the high priest, John Hyrcanus, and also by Herod the Great. The first found a treasure of money, the second some gold furniture in it. Jerome (end of 4th century) tells us that the tomb was visited in his day.
Third Division of St. Peter’s Discourse, 29-36.
The preacher shows that that great Psalm which he has used as a bulwark of his argument respecting Messiah, could not by any possibility refer to David, or in fact to any one but Jesus.
Acts 2:30. Therefore being a prophet. ‘In the stricter sense, a foreteller of future events by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit’ (Alford). Jesus Himself expressly speaks of David writing ‘in the Spirit’ (Matthew 22:43).
And knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne. The words of the prophet Nathan to King David are here referred to (2 Samuel 7:12-10.7.13). In Psalms 132:11-19.132.12, this solemn promise of the Most High is expressly referred to. It is, of course, impossible to say what was David’s exact idea of this great One who was to descend from him. From the words of Nathan’s prophecy, he must have gathered that no mere man among his descendants could ever establish the throne of his kingdom for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), or sit upon his throne for evermore (Psalms 132:12). We may conclude with certainty that the psalmist king did connect that descendant of his, of whom he spoke ‘in the Spirit’ in such strange grand terms, with the idea of the Messiah.
Acts 2:31. He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption. David as a seer looking ( παίδων ) into the far future, wrote of this great Descendant of his of whom the prophet Nathan had spoken as establishing the throne of his kingdom for ever as One who should die and yet should not see corruption, for He should be raised from the dead.
Acts 2:32. This Jesus hath God raised up. Looking back to Acts 2:24, this Jesus whom you all knew about so well as David’s descendant has fulfilled all the varied details of this marvellous prophecy; for as you know He was dead, He is risen again.
Whereof we are all witnesses. No doubt here pointing to the ‘hundred and twenty’ on whom the gift of the Spirit had fallen, who, to the astonishment of the crowds, had been speaking in the many tongues, and who all had seen the Lord after the resurrection.
Acts 2:33. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted. Render instead, Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God. The quotation from the prophecy of Psalms 16:0, which related in so strangely an accurate way Messiah’s calm, joyful confidence that death should have no abiding power over either flesh or soul, broke short off, it will be remembered, in the middle of the nth verse of the Psalm, with a general expression of joy in the presence of the Father. St. Peter now having spoken of his Master’s resurrection and of the literal fulfilment of the prophecy respecting death being powerless to hold Him, takes up as it were the interrupted thread in the Psalm, and proceeds to speak of the exaltation of Messiah at the right hand of God where the Psalm leaves the ‘Holy One’ enthroned.
And having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. From His mediatorial throne at the right hand of God, Christ poured out the Spirit, said St. Peter, on these, as ye now see, just as He promised His own when He was with them on earth (comp. John 14:16-43.14.17; John 15:26; John 16:7, and Acts 1:4).
On the question of the translation ‘to the right hand,’ this construction of a verb of motion with the dative τῇ δεξιῇ . . . . ύψωθςίς is found in classical writers only among the poets, though such a usage occurs in later writers. The undoubted connection with the concluding words of the great prophecy of Psalms 16:0 (see Ewald’s masterly paraphrase of the whole passage), leads us without hesitation to adopt this rendering in preference to the usual translation ‘by the right hand,’ with many of the best of the modern commentators, Neander, Olshausen, De Wette, Hackett, Wordsworth, etc.
Acts 2:34-44.2.35. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool. The preacher, here fearful lest any should still suspect that King David was the One spoken of throughout the great passage he had been quoting, as a climax to his argument quotes King David’s own words from the 110th Psalm, where the psalmist king speaks more clearly and fully (than in Psalms 16:0) about the throne at God’s right hand, and by his plain unmistakeable words for ever sets aside all idea that in the famous passage of the 16th Psalm he was writing of himself, for he identifies the One who should sit at the right hand of the Eternal as his Lord (Acts 2:1), as the looked for Messiah (Acts 2:1-44.2.7).
The 110th Psalm is quoted by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36). ‘The Saviour recognizes David as the author of the Psalm, and attributes to him a divine inspiration in speaking thus of the Messiah’ (Hackett). On the question of Christ sitting at the right hand of God, Dr. Hackett quotes from Prof. Stuart, who remarks: In the New Testament where Christ is represented as sitting on the right hand of Divine Majesty (Hebrews 1:3), or at the right hand of God (Acts 2:23, and Hebrews 10:12), or at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2), participation in supreme dominion is most clearly meant (comp. 1 Peter 3:22; Romans 8:34; Mark 16:19; Philippians 2:6-50.2.11; Ephesians 1:20-49.1.23).
Acts 2:36. Let all the house of Israel know assuredly. Conclusion of the discourse. The whole of this first apostolic sermon was addressed to f etus. St. Peter in his argument lays little stress on the miracles of the Lord. He only alludes to them in passing, and argues alone from fulfilled prophecy, with which a Jew would be familiar. He showed from a passage in Joel, well known to his listeners, that the outpouring of the Spirit and its results, which they had just witnessed, was exactly what was foretold for the days of the Messiah. He then proceeded to point out that his Master, who had died and risen again, had fulfilled in every particular the strange prophecies contained in two famous Messianic Psalms. God hath made that same Jesus . . . Lord and Christ God hath made Him ‘Lord of all’ (Acts 10:36) by exalting Him to His right hand, and ‘Christ’ (the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew ‘Messiah,’ the ‘Anointed’) the One whom Israel looked forward to as their Deliverer and Redeemer for time and eternity. Meyer and also Gloag well remark here, that whilst on earth Jesus was equally ‘Lord and Christ,’ but that then He was in the form of a servant, having emptied Himself of His power and glory, but by the resurrection and ascension was He openly declared to be so.
Whom ye have crucified. These words in the original Greek close the discourse. This glorious One, now reigning with all power from His throne at the right hand of God, Messiah and King, is no other than that Jesus whom ye crucified.
Effect of the First Discourse of St. Peter, 37-41.
‘St. Luke here relates what was the fruit of the sermons, that we may know that the Holy Spirit was displayed not merely in the variety of tongues, but in the hearts too of those who heard’ (Calvin).
Acts 2:37. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart. ‘They’ does not of necessity mean all who heard; but the sequel, which speaks of three thousand baptized, implies that a vast number of the hearers were affected. For the first time since the crucifixion, when they shouted applause or stood passively by, the people repented them of their cruel deed. Then after all they had crucified the Messiah: would He from His throne in heaven take vengeance on His murderers?
And said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? In the bitter sorrow and deep regret of these men for what they had done or allowed to be done, the words of Zechariah 12:10 seem to have received a partial fulfilment: ‘And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.’
Men and brethren. This friendly, courteous address showed how already the people’s hearts were moved. It was not so they had addressed them before St. Peter’s sermon, when they contemptuously mocked them, and said, ‘These men are full of new wine’ (Acts 2:13).
Acts 2:38. Be baptized. The rite of baptism was well known to the Jews: they used to baptize proselytes and their children.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Their belief in Jesus was the ground on which they were to be baptized (Meyer). Here only do we find the expression ‘to be baptized in the name’ ( ε ̓ πι ̀); in all other places it is ‘ into the name’ ( ει ̓ ς ), chap, Acts 8:16; Matthew 28:19, etc.; and ‘ in the name’ ( ε ̓ ν ), chap. Acts 10:48. It has been suggested (by De Wette and also Hackett) that the usual formula into ( ει ̓ ς ) has been avoided here for the sake of euphony, as ει ̓ ς ; occurs in the next clause ( ει ̓ ς ἄφεσιν ), ‘for the remission.’
Acts 2:38-44.2.40. The exquisite tact and courtesy so marked in all the early Christian writings, and especially in the apostolic letters and sermons we possess, is very remarkable in this little resume of the first great Christian address. St. Peter forbears all reproach, for they were fully conscious now of what they had done. He only now invited them to join the company of believers, for the glorious promises he had been telling them of were expressly made to them and their children. Repent. The Greek word μετανοη ́ σατε does not signify mere sorrow for sin, but it imports change of mind. Alford well puts it: ‘Here the change (was to be) from thinking Jesus an impostor and scorning Him as one crucified, to being baptized in His name and looking to Him for remission of sins and the gift of the Spirit.’
Acts 2:39. For the promise is unto you. The promise contained in the prophecy of Joel, viz. the miraculous gifts and influences of the Spirit a characteristic, as far as regards the miraculous gifts, of the first days of the age of Messiah.
And to your children. Hackett explains ‘your children’ as signifying ‘your posterity;’ better, however, with Alford to limit it ‘to your little ones.’
And to all that are afar off. Three explanations of this are given (a) Reference to place, to all the Jews who do not dwell in Jerusalem or the Holy Land Hebrews and Hellenists. (b) Reference in point of time. The promise is not only to you but to your descendants far down the stream of time, ( c) To the Gentiles. Of these, (c) is undoubtedly the one to be preferred, as the expression, an Old Testament one (Zechariah 6:15; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 57:19), is constantly used to describe the Gentiles. The rabbinic writers also employ it as synonymous with the heathen (Schottgen quoted by Hackett); see also St. Paul, Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:17. The admission of the Gentiles into the Church of the future, although as a fact never contemplated with gratification by the exclusive Hebrew nation, was yet constantly taught with more or less distinctness by these prophets (see Micah 4:1; Amos 9:12; Isaiah 2:2-23.2.3, etc.; comp. also the note on Acts 2:17).
Even as many as the Lord our God shall call. An expression like this, a recorded saying of an inspired apostle, leads to the certain conclusion that in the wise counsels of God some are called, while others are left out of the divine invitation. It is not for us to argue on the justice or wisdom of Him whose ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts, when He deals as He pleases with His creatures. That such a course of action is strictly analogous to what we see of the distribution of health and life, power and means, among men, is too plain. One solemn lesson, however, lies on the surface. Awful is the responsibility which attaches itself to those whom the Lord our God shall call. Woe be to them if they neglect the blessed invitation. With the fate of those who are not called, we have nothing to do. Only we may rest assured that our God, who in His eternal wisdom has placed no choice before them, is a Master ever tender and loving.
Acts 2:40. With many other words. ‘The words cited appear to be the concluding and inclusive summary of St. Peter’s many exhortations’ (Alford). Save yourselves from this untoward generation. This should be rendered (as σώθητε is passive): Be ye saved (by God), Lasset each rotten (De Wette).
From this untoward generation that is, from that wicked Jewish people who had filled up the cup of their iniquity by the murder of the Holy One and Just, and who were doomed to destruction. The siege and utter ruin of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the whole Jewish polity, took place about thirty-seven years after the day on which these words were spoken. Compare our Lord’s words, Luke 9:41; Luke 2:29-42.2.32.
Acts 2:41. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls. Several commentators remark here, that as during the course at least of that day three thousand persons received baptism, this great multitude could not have been immersed, especially in a city like Jerusalem, where the supply of water was not abundant. This first baptism probably was administered by sprinkling or pouring. It is noteworthy that on this occasion ‘the baptized’ could have received little or no instruction in the faith. In this case instruction must have followed baptism. Olshausen, quoted by Gloag, remarks, ‘We may see it was not dogmas (as a preparation for baptism) upon which the apostles laid stress, but the disposition and bent of the mind.’
Acts 2:42. And they continued stedfastly. The three thousand souls converted after the Pentecost feast. The whole church is not especially mentioned in Acts 2:44.
In the apostles’ doctrine. Those who had just joined the little company of believers in Jesus naturally sought to know more and more of that Master they had learned to love. The teaching of the apostles would especially consist in rehearsing the sayings of Jesus and explaining the doctrines of the faith so far as they were at that time revealed to them.
And fellowship. This word should not be coupled with the apostles’ doctrine, as in the Authorized Version; the rendering should be, ‘ and in fellowship ’ ( ϰαὶ τή ϰοινωνία ) .
Three significations have been proposed for this difficult word ( a) oneness of spirit, brotherhood one with the other; ( b) distribution of money and food among the society; ( c) communion in the sense of our communion, the Lord’s Supper. Of these, (c) would seem excluded, as this sense of the word does not appear to have prevailed before the fourth century; (a) and (b) are both admissible, but the use of the term in the sense of distribution of money or necessaries among the poor in such passages as Rom 15:26 , 2 Corinthians 8:4, and also Hebrews 13:16, seems decisive for ( b).
And in breaking of bread. Common consent refers this expression to the breaking of the bread in the Lord’s Supper. At this time the Eucharist was preceded by an ordinary repast. There is no doubt these words refer to a meal taken in common by the brethren, accompanied by the celebration of the Eucharist, following here the example of the last supper of the Lord.
And in prayers. These would include the beautiful prayers and Psalms of the old Jewish ritual, together with new supplications adapted to the new dispensation, in which Jesus was invoked as King and God. See Acts 7:60, Acts 9:6; Acts 22:10.
The Church of the First Days in Jerusalem, 42-47.
St. Luke gives us in these few verses a vivid and a beautiful picture of the beginnings of the faith. The believers were no mere handful of men and women now. A large proportion of the three thousand who had been baptized at Pentecost doubtless were dwellers in the city, and these now were constantly with the apostles, hearing from them what the Master had taught His own during His life on earth. Daily in the Temple observing carefully the old Jewish ritual, and then meeting together in the eventide, they would eat in common the evening meal, and would at its close repeat the solemn act of breaking bread He had instituted in memory of His death. And thus the fame of the new society spread abroad. Their simple, generous, God-fearing life; the wonders and signs worked by the apostles; the strange, touching revelations in the many languages at the Pentecost feast; and above all, the memories of that loving Teacher, so well known in Jerusalem, His mysterious powers, His death, His resurrection, which was the central point of the teaching of the apostles, worked on the minds of men, and daily fresh converts were added to the rapidly-growing church.
Acts 2:43. And fear came upon every soul. The general impression on the public mind. A feeling of awe was excited even among those who did not join the company of believers. And many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. The healing of the lame man by Peter and John, related in the 3d chapter, is an instance of one of these.
Acts 2:44-44.2.45. The question of ‘community of goods in the early Church’ is discussed in Excursus (B) at the end of this chapter.
And all that believed were together. This means that they assembled together. There were probably, even at this early period, several places of assembly for the followers of Jesus at Jerusalem.
And had all things common, etc. There is no doubt but that this was an attempt to live as nearly as possible the life lived by Jesus and His disciples during the days of His ministry on earth, when literally they had all things common. In the Excursus (B) the limitations of this community of goods are fully considered. We must, however, bear in mind that this communism among the early Christians only existed at Jerusalem, and then was certainly not compulsory or universal even in the first days.
Acts 2:46. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple. The wisdom of the Church of the first days was conspicuously shown in their reverent love for the temple of their fathers. This no doubt, in no small degree contributed to their having (as we read in the next (Acts 2:47) verse) favour with all the people. They seemed from the first to have grasped the idea that Christianity as taught by Jesus was only the completion of true Judaism. They were therefore no separatists; they practised rigidly the rites and observances of the old national religion, only supplementing these in private with new prayers and hymns, and with a constant repetition of the sayings of their Master, daily breaking bread together in remembrance of His death and Passion. In distant lands, among great and splendid idol temples, in the midst of dissolute and careless peoples, the religion of the Crucified, unfettered by sacred or patriotic memories, rapidly developed, throwing off gradually but quickly the many restrictions which Judaism in its exclusive spirit presented to any wide and rapid development. Men like Paul and Apollos laid their rites and ordinances tenderly aside, never irreverently perhaps even sorrowfully: but the Spirit led them at last to feel these things had done their work.
And breaking bread from house to house. The remark of Neander admirably explains these words. A single room would no longer contain the present number of converts (in Jerusalem). In addition to their daily resort to the Temple, they met in smaller companies at different places, where they received instruction from their different teachers, and prayed and sang together, and as members of a common family closed their meeting with a meal, at which bread and wine were distributed in memory of the Saviour’s last supper with His disciples.
With gladness. The calm, serene cheerfulness of the early Christian, even in times of bitter persecution, was ever a subject of much remark. The intense fervour of the faith of these early converts caused them to regard with comparative indifference everything connected with this life; indeed, the desire ‘to depart and be with Christ’ at times led these devoted confessors so recklessly to court death and agony as to call forth remonstrances from their more famous teachers.
Acts 2:47. Added to the church. The balance of authorities is rather against admitting ‘to the church’ in the text. The sense of the passage, if the word be omitted, would remain unaltered. The word ἰϰϰλησία , church, is a favourite one with the author of the Acts. It occurs in this book (says Wordsworth) about twenty times.
Such as should be saved. The Greek word here, τοὺς σωζομένους , should be rendered simply the saved that is, those who were escaping day by day from the evil around them, and taking refuge in the Ark of the Church (Wordsworth). The English Version has been charged here with a strong Calvinistic bias, implying that those who were predestined to be saved were being brought gradually into the pale of salvation. It is, however, clear that no doctrinal prejudice was the source of the error here as all the early English versions except that of Wickliffe have it.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 2". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent