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Imprisonment of Peter and John , 1-4.
The ever-increasing crowd (see Acts 4:4) seems to have called the attention of the temple authorities to the miracle and the subsequent teaching of Peter and John.
The Priests. The particular course on duty at the Temple during that week. The original division by King David of the priests into twenty-four orders or courses, each of which had charge of the Temple services for a week at a time, had probably been revived after the captivity; the particular duties from day to day were assigned to individuals by lot (see Leviticus 1:9).
Captain of the temple. Not, as some have supposed, the Roman officer in command at the tower of Antonia, but the Jewish priest in command of the Levite guard of the Temple. The Romans seldom appear in the Acts as hostile to followers of Jesus.
And the Sadducees. This is the first mention in the Acts of the bitterest enemies of the little Church of the first days. Everything which seemed to teach the doctrine of the future life was especially hateful to the Sadducee leaders. This sect rejected all that mass of oral tradition which entered at this period so largely into the teaching of the most popular Jewish schools. It professed to accept, however, the written word (not merely the books of Moses) as the rule of faith. It affirmed, as their foundation doctrine, that this life was the whole of man’s existence. The creed of the Sadducees seems to have been purely materialistic, denying the existence of angel and Spirit. Their importance and power at the time was clearly out of proportion to their real numbers, but they included in their ranks many of the most influential of the nation. The high priest’s family appears to have consisted mainly of Sadducees (see Acts 5:17). Josephus mentions another son of Annas, subsequently high priest, as a Sadducee. During the earthly ministry of Jesus, it is the Pharisees who constantly appear as His bitter unrelenting foes: it was with them and their formalism and hypocrisy that He constantly came into collision; but when once the fact of the resurrection of the Master was taught by His disciples, and believed by ever-increasing thousands, the Sadducees, alarmed at the ready reception by so many of this great truth, fearful lest their whole system, which it directly contradicted, should be undermined, and their influence destroyed, endeavoured with all their power to stamp out the teaching of the Apostles. On the other hand, hints seem to be given us in this book (Acts 5:34-44.5.35), that the Pharisees, after the resurrection, relaxed their hostility towards the disciples of Jesus, partly influenced by the hatred shown by the Sadducee party, partly persuaded by a teaching which in many points agreed with their own doctrine (see also John 19:39).
Acts 4:2. Being grieved that they taught the people. The anger of the priests and captain of the Temple, whose duty it was to preserve a reverential order among the crowds who worshipped in the great sanctuary of Israel, was easily aroused by the Sadducees against these unauthorized teachers who were making such a rapid progress in the affections of the people (see Acts 4:4).
And taught through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Here we have the real ground of the hostility of the powerful Sadducee party; they were troubled at this public announcement of the resurrection of the Crucified, well knowing that if this single instance of one being raised from the dead were substantiated before the people, their creed would be at once discredited.
Acts 4:3. It was now eventide. When Peter and John went up into the Temple to pray, it was three in the afternoon. It was about six o’clock when the captain of the Temple arrested them.
Acts 4:4. Many of thorn which heard the word believed. In sharp contrast to the arrest and persecution of the two leaders by the influential party in the state, the compiler of the ‘Acts’ notices, that though the rulers refused to hear, yet many of those who looked on the strange scene that afternoon in the Temple courts believed the message of Christ.
And the number of the men was about five thousand. The word translated ‘men’ no doubt included men and women. Some commentators would restrict the term to men only; Hackett, however, well observes: ‘An emphasized or conscious restriction of the term to men would be at variance with that religious equality of the sexes so distinctly affirmed in the New Testament’ (Galatians 3:28).
Arraignment before the Sanhedrim, 5-7.
Acts 4:5. Their rulers. ‘Their’ refers not to the apostles, but to the Jewish people; ‘rulers,’ to the Sanhedrists in general. The Sanhedrim is then further described as consisting of three orders:
(1.) Elders. Heads of families who had a seat in the great council.
(2.) Scribes. Recognised teachers and interpreters of the divine law. Certain representatives of this important class in the Jewish state had seats in the supreme council. Wordsworth, on Matthew 2:4, quotes a supposition of Lightfoot that the scribes were Levites, and masters of colleges and schools.
(3.) Annas the high priest . . . and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest. In the other passages where the Sanhedrim is alluded to, this third order consisting of priests is termed ‘the chief priests,’ and occupies the first place These chief priests included the reigning high priest, with others of his house who had borne the title (see note below), and possibly also the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests. Maimonides (quoted by Alford on Matthew 2:4) speaks of the Sanhedrim as consisting of seventy-one members made up of priests, Levites, and Israelites. Each of these three-orders is represented in the meeting of the Sanhedrim recounted in this passage the priests, in the persons of Annas, Caiaphas, etc.; the Levites, by the scribes, if we adopt the supposition of Lightfoot given above; and the Israelites, by the elders, who, being heads of families, would represent Israel generally.
Acts 4:6. And Annas the high priest. The Rabbis maintain that the Sanhedrim existed in the time of Moses, and refer to the incidents related in Numbers 11:0 for its origin. Seventy elders were appointed in the wilderness to assist Moses in his task of judging the people. Tradition relates how this council continued in power until the captivity. It was remodelled by Ezra on the return. Its name, however, derived as it is from the Greek, points to a far later date to some period in their history after the ‘Law’ came in contact with Greek thought and language.
The place of assembly for the Sanhedrim was a chamber in the temple, situated between the court of the Israelites and the court of the priests, and was called Gazith. Some forty years before the fall of the city, this sacred council ceased to sit in any of the courts of the temple, and removed to a building without the temple precincts. After the fall of the city, the Sanhedrim was allowed by the victorious Roman Government to hold its sittings at Japhneh. It was subsequently permanently removed to Tiberias. Some have supposed that when the power of life and death was taken from the Sanhedrists, they ceased to sit in the hall Gazith. The Sanhedrim was the supreme court in the Jewish nation. Its decrees apparently were respected beyond Palestine, for we read how Saul was provided with credentials from the Sanhedrim to the Jewish synagogues of Damascus, when he went to search out and imprison the Syrian followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Its powers embraced all matters, civil as well as religious. It tried accused persons, and its decisions admitted of no appeal. In the New Testament, the trials before the Sanhedrim of the Lord Jesus, Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul are related. Besides its criminal jurisdiction, this court was the supreme arbiter in all matters connected with religion.
The actual high priest at this time was Caiaphas; but Annas, his father-in-law, originally held this great dignity. The Idumean rulers, and after them the Roman Government, not un-frequently would arbitrarily depose the high priest, and could set up another in his room. But with the people the deposed functionary kept his title, and even still wore the high-priestly garments (see Bleek, who has a good note on this point in Matthew 2:4). In our Lord’s trial the accused was taken to Annas first (see also
Luke 3:2), where Caiaphas is mentioned as ‘high priest,’ but after Annas. He was perhaps the most influential person among the Jews at this time. Raised to the high-priestly dignity by Cyrenius, the governor of Syria, then deposed by Valerius Gratus, procurator of Judea, early in the reign of Tiberius, he still continued to exercise the chief power during the priesthood of his son-in-law Caiaphas a period of twelve years. Five of his sons were advanced to this high office during his lifetime.
And Caiaphas. He was nominally high priest, his father-in-law, Annas, exercising the real power from A.D. 24 to A.D. 36, and was deposed at the beginning of the reign of Caligula by Vitellius, then governer of Syria.
And John and Alexander. Nothing positively certain is known of these two. Lightfoot would identify John with Rabbi Johanan ben Zaccai, who is mentioned in the Talmud: after the fall of Jerusalem, he obtained permission from the Roman Government that the Sanhedrim might be settled at Japhneh. Alexander some consider identical with the brother of Philo the historian, and well known as alabarch or governor of the Egyptian Jews.
Acts 4:7. In the midst. Tradition relates how the Sanhedrim sat in a circle or semicircle.
By what power. The Sanhedrists ask first, By what physical power or influence was this miracle wrought?
By what name. They go on to inquire, In virtue of what uttered name have ye done this? The judges well knew the name, but they wanted to convict Peter and John of sorcery, by having worked a miracle not in the name of God, but of a crucified malefactor. They hoped to bring the apostles under the awful death-sentence pronounced in the law (Deuteronomy 13:0), which especially provides for the case when the sign or the wonder comes to pass. Maimonides, commenting on the words of Deuteronomy 13:0, speaks of one endeavouring to turn away the people from the Lord their God, and tells them that the sign such an one had performed was done by enchantment and witchcraft, and that, therefore, he must be strangled ( Yad-Hachasakah, chap. 9).
Acts 4:8. Being filled with the Holy Ghost. In accordance with the Saviour’s promise (see St. Luke 21:14-42.21.15).
St. Peter’s Defence, 8-12.
‘Compare Peter a few days since in the palace of the high priest, thrice denying his Master from fear of prison and death, and now brought forth from prison, and confessing Christ before the same high priest and Sanhedrim which had delivered Christ up to Pilate for crucifixion, and charging them with His murder’ (Wordsworth). What had brought about this change? He had seen the risen Lord.
Acts 4:9-44.4.10. If we this day be examined, etc. Ironical surprise runs through St. Peter’s reply, which may be paraphrased thus: ‘If we really are arraigned, which seems hardly credible, on account of the good deed done to this poor man (pointing to the healed cripple), know all of you, the miracle you ask about was done in the name of that Jesus so terribly dishonoured by you, but by God so signally honoured.’
Jesus Christ of Nazareth, quoting the title nailed on the cross. ‘Think not that we desire to conceal His country, Nazareth, or His death on the cross. Ye crucified Him, but He was raised by God, and now works miracles from heaven’ (Chrysostom, quoted by Wordsworth).
Acts 4:11. This is the stone, etc. The accusation of awful mistake with which he charges the judges of Israel, of dishonouring what God had so highly honoured, St. Peter repeats by boldly applying to them the well-known words of Psalms 118:22. His meaning, which they quickly understood, was that the rulers of the Jews were the builders to whom the charge of the house of God was given. They should have been the first to acknowledge the long-looked-for Messiah, and to have worked for the glory of His kingdom, but they had rejected Him and cast Him aside; while God, by raising Him from the dead, had shown that He was the corner-stone on which the whole fabric of the spiritual temple of God on earth must rest.
Acts 4:12. None other name under heaven. The apostle has ceased altogether referring to the case of the lame man made whole, and is here proclaiming before the assembled Sanhedrim his Master’s name, not only as a name in the strength of which the diseases of the poor body might be healed, that was a small matter, but as the only name on which men might rest when they thought of eternity. This famous passage occupies a prominent position in the Smalcald Articles drawn up by Luther and adopted in A.D. 1537. It has been said, with some truth, that the adoption of these articles completed the Reformation, and was the definite declaration of the separation of the signataries from Rome.
Acts 4:13. Unlearned. Observing from the language and arguments used that Peter and John were untaught in the rabbinical learning of the Jewish schools.
And obscure, or common. Men of no mark.
They marvelled. The rulers were evidently astonished that one so unlearned and undistinguished should address them in such moving, powerful language.
They recognised that they had been with Jesus. ‘Their wonder sharpened their recollection’ (Meyer). Jesus had taught publicly on many occasions in Jerusalem and in the Temple courts, and we know some at least of the rulers at different times had been present. These now remembered the faces of peter and John, who, no doubt, as His most trusted followers, were ever in the vicinity of the Master.
Judgment of the Sanhedrim, 13-18.
Astonishment of Sanhedrists at the ability of Peter’s reply. They remember the two apostles were companions of Jesus, and then consult privately together. They see that any punishment they might inflict would be ill received by the people, so they determine to dismiss the accused, threatening them if they continued to preach the name of the Crucified.
Acts 4:14. Standing with them. The attitude of the healed one is mentioned with emphasis. No longer the cripple who had never walked or stood, and who by compassionate friends had been carried daily and laid as a suffering object to ask alms at the beautiful gate, he now stands near his deliverers.
Acts 4:15. They conferred among themselves.
It has been asked, How were these apparently private deliberations known to St. Luke? Several probable answers have been given. Some of the priests who afterwards joined the little church (see chap. Acts 6:7) were doubtless present at the council. St. Paul himself, who had much to do with the composition of these memoirs of the Church of the first days, not improbably was a Sanhedrist.
Acts 4:17. Let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. The council could find no pretext for punishing them. The people, with the memory of the words and works of the Master of Peter and John vividly recalled to them by the work of mercy just done to the poor lame man, were clearly on the side of the accused apostles; so, with mere threats and a stern charge to bring no more before the people the name of that One they had condemned and murdered, but whose look and words haunted them with a nameless terror, they dismissed their prisoners. The expectation that the apostles would have been convicted under the statutes of the law based on Deuteronomy 13:0 (see note on Acts 4:7), was frustrated by the strong feeling shown by the people in favour of the apostles. This the Sanhedrim fairly confessed by their dread lest the knowledge of the new miracle done by the followers of Jesus should spread any farther. The same charge in former days had been made against the Lord, when He was accused of performing miracles by the power of Beelzebub; but then, as now, it fell, owing to the good sense of the people generally, who never for a moment could really bear such a supposition either in the case of Christ or His disciples.
Acts 4:19. In the sight of God. The Eternal is appealed to as the ever-present Judge, as sitting invisible in that august council before whom they were then pleading.
Whether it be right to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye. Acts 4:20. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. The point of the apostle’s reply was, that they were not teaching the people as self-appointed Rabbis, but were only acting as witnesses of Jesus. Their words may be thus paraphrased: ‘The love of Christ constrains us; we cannot drown the voice we know to be God’s voice, which forbids us to suppress our message, as ye would have us do, which tells us to bear our public witness to those mighty works we saw and heard during our Master’s life on earth.’ The noble words of Socrates, perhaps the greatest of the Greek philosophers, when he was pleading before his judges, who condemned him to death, bear a striking resemblance to the bold, faithful utterance of these unlearned Galileans: ‘Athenians, I will obey God rather than you; and if you would let me go, and give me my life on condition that I should no more teach my fellow-citizens, sooner than agree to your proposal I would prefer to die a thousand times’ (Plato, Apol. p. 23 B).
The Answer of Peter and John to the Threats of the Sanhedrim, 19-22.
They say obedience must be shown to God rather than to men; as for them, they were only witnesses. After being again threatened, they are freed from custody.
Acts 4:21. Finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people. The evident good-will of the people no doubt procured the dismissal of the apostles this time without punishment.
For all glorified God for that which was done. No penalty, such as scourging or imprisonment, would then have been tolerated by popular sentiment. But besides this public feeling working in favour of the disciples of Jesus, it is more than probable that in the Sanhedrim itself several members secretly favoured the new sect. Some have supposed that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were members of this council. That the powerful R. Gamaliel, one certainly of the most influential of the Sanhedrim leaders, was disposed to favour them we know from Acts 5:34.
Acts 4:23. They went to their own people. The Greek word here translated ‘their own people’ has been understood by some to signify ‘their brother apostles,’ by others ‘the church in the apostles’ house, or ‘those with whom the apostles were accustomed to unite in prayer.’ The term, however, is a far more inclusive one, and comprehends a large number of the believers then in the city. These no doubt had come together on the threatening aspect of the affairs of the little community, as the arrest of the two leaders by the orders of the Sanhedrim was of course known throughout Jerusalem. Others, too, had doubtless hurried to the same house on hearing of the release of Peter and John. It would seem that the primitive Church in Jerusalem already possessed a common resort for prayer and meeting together.
And reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. To their own people then assembled in the house of the Nazarenes, the two relate all that the Sanhedrim judges had said to them. St. Chrysostom remarks here ‘that they told their tale not for their own glory. ... All that their adversaries had said, this they told; their own part it is likely they omitted.’ Nor did their story on the whole give fair promise for the future. Dark and stormy days evidently lay before the little community. The highest civil and religious authority in the nation had taken formal and public notice of their proceedings, and had condemned them; and though the Sanhedrim had been for the moment restrained from severe measures, it was only too clear that when the temporary pressure of public opinion, always so fluctuating, was removed, the majority of the council would at once proceed to harsher measures. Of the uncertain duration of popular favour, the followers of Jesus had had sad experience in the case of their Master, who was welcomed by the people as the promised King Messiah on the day of Palms, and amid the plaudits of the populace, within five days after, crucified by them as a malefactor. So they now prayed to the God of Israel a very earnest prayer for help and succour.
The Apostles with their own People after their Release, 23-31.
The prayer of the Church of Jerusalem to God to support and defend the threatened and persecuted followers of His Son, and the answer from heaven.
Acts 4:24. They lifted up their voice to God with one accord. In what manner now are we to conclude that this primitive congregation of Christ’s followers poured forth their earnest supplications to the Most High? Some would prefer to understand the prayer to have been an utterance of one of the apostles or disciples, the thoughts suggested by the urgent need of the moment; and that while one uttered the words, the rest followed, some with their voice, others only with the heart. Another view suggested is, that the whole assembly sung together the 2d Psalm, and that Peter made it the basis of his prayer in their present perplexity. Another and, as it seems, a more thoughtful consideration of the passage, regards Acts 4:24-44.4.30 as part of a solemn form of prayer used by the Apostolic Church of Jerusalem a formula of prayer previously composed while the impression made by the sufferings of Christ was still recent. There is an objection made to this last view, namely, that the state of things pictured in Acts 4:29-44.4.30 limits the prayer to the present emergency; but surely the storm of danger and persecution which then was threatening shortly to break over the little church must have seemed ever imminent to a company of men whose life-work it was to preach the religion of a crucified malefactor. It is a beautiful thought which sees in these solemn words, where an unshaken, a deathless faith shines through the gloom of present and coming sorrow, a fragment of the oldest Christian liturgy. This formula of prayer was, as some have well termed it, a flower which grew up in its strange sweet beauty under the cross, and shows us how perfect was the confidence, how child-like the trust in the Almighty arm, of these first brave confessors of Jesus.
Lord, thou art the God which hast made heaven and earth. How feeble, after all, was the power of high priest and Sanhedrim compared with that of their Master, the Creator of all!
Acts 4:25. Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said. The quotation which follows is from Psalms 2:1-19.2.2. The words are taken verbatim from the Septuagint. There is no superscription either in the Hebrew or the Septuagint version; but the older interpreters, especially the Jewish, referred it to David.
Acts 4:26. The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his anointed. The 2d Psalm, the first two verses of which are woven into the earliest fragment we possess of Christian public worship, was interpreted originally by the Jews as referring to King Messiah. Only in later times, when the well-known circumstances of the history of Jesus of Nazareth seemed so exactly to correspond to what the Psalm relates of the ‘Anointed of Jehovah,’ Jewish learned men tried to do away with the received Messianic interpretation, which they were obliged at the same time to confess was originally admitted generally. Rabbi D. Kimchi, for instance, says: ‘According to the interpretation of some, “the Anointed” is King Messiah, and so our blessed Rabbis have expounded it.’ Raschi makes the same statement as to the ancient interpretation, and then adds how in his opinion it is better to keep to the literal sense, and to explain it of David himself, that we may be able to answer the heretics, i.e. Christians. In the mind of the writer of the Psalm at first an earthly king is present, and the circumstances of his own (David’s) chequered career supply the imagery; ‘but his words are too great to have all their meaning exhausted in David or any Jewish monarch. Or ever he is aware, the local and the temporal are swallowed up in the universal and eternal. The king who sits on David’s throne has become glorified and transfigured in the light of the promise. The picture is half ideal, half actual; it concerns itself with the present, but with that only so far as it is typical of greater things to come. The true king, who to the prophet’s mind is to fulfil all his largest hopes, has taken the place of the visible and earthly king. The nations are not merely those who are now mustering for the battle, but whatsoever opposeth and exalteth itself against Jehovah and against His Anointed’ (Dean Perowne, Introd. to Psalms 2:0).
There is an exact correspondence between the leading enemies mentioned in the Psalm, who arose against the Lord and His Anointed, and those who were present at the scenes of the condemnation and death of Jesus. The heathen (or Gentiles) were represented by the Roman soldiery and officials of the great Gentile empire; the people, by Israel. The kings of the earth, by king Herod; the rulers, by Pontius Pilate the governor. The Lord in the Psalm corresponds to the Maker of heaven and earth, to whom the prayer is addressed; and the Lord’s Anointed, to ‘Thy holy child Jesus.’ There is a very remarkable Jewish comment (see Perowne on this Psalm) on the words, against Jehovah and against His Anointed, in the Mechilta quoted in the Jalkut Schimoni: ‘ Like a robber who was standing and expressing his contempt behind the palace of the king, and saying, If I find the son of the king, I will seize him, and kill him, and crucify him, and put him to a terrible death; but the Holy Spirit mocks at it, and saith, He that dwelleth in the heavens laughs.’
Acts 4:27. In this city. These words answer to the statement of Psalms 2:6: ‘ Upon my holy hill of Zion, I have set my King.’
Acts 4:28. To do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. These important words must be connected closely with the foregoing clause, thus: ‘Herod and Pontius Pilate, etc., were gathered together to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done.’ Meyer well observes here: ‘The Lord’s death was not the chance work of arbitrary hate, but, on the contrary, the necessary result of the Divine purpose, which must use man’s free acts as its instrument. The words of Œcumenius are to the same purpose: ‘They came together as enemies; but they were doing what Thou didst plan.’ Leo I. writes on this difficult question: ‘The Lord did not direct the hands of those raging ones against Himself, but He allowed them to be so directed; nor did He, by His foreknowledge of what would be done, oblige it to be done; nor did He require them to will these things; but He gave them power (so to will) if they pleased.’ Wordsworth’s three great principles which he lays down as not to be lost sight of in discussions on this and similar texts, are admirable:
(1.) That God is the one great First Cause.
(2.) That He wills that all should act according to the law which He has given them.
(3.) That it is His will that man’s will should be free.
Acts 4:29. And now, Lord, grant that with all boldness they may speak thy word. It is well worthy of notice in this first great public prayer of the Church, how the Spirit of their Master had sunk into the disciples hearts. No fire from heaven is called down on the guilty heads of the enemies of Christ, who would stamp out His struggling Church; only for themselves they pray for bravery and constancy.
Acts 4:30-44.4.31. By stretching forth thine hand to heal. And the solitary special sign of almighty power which they pray for, is to be able to relieve such suffering among men as they had often seen their Master remove, the power to be able to work such works as Peter and John had performed the afternoon before at the ‘Beautiful Gate’ of the Temple, when to the hopeless cripple they gave health and strength in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth; and with this name, the earnest pleading of the Church of the first days ceased, and as the murmur of these last words, ‘Thy holy child Jesus,’ was dying away, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, as though the wings of the descending Spirit had touched the walls and caused the house of prayer to rock, giving this outward sign of His blessed presence.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. As on the first Pentecost morning, the inward sign was given to these brave confessors too; and they spake the word of God with boldness, and once more the voice of apostles and believers rose from within those holy walls to the sanctuary of the Eternal, but no more in tones of anxious pleading, but exultant and joyous in their new-born hope and confidence, for the first great prayer of the Church of Christ was answered.
Acts 4:32. And the multitude of them that believed. From the personal details connected with the leading followers of Jesus of Nazareth, related in the third and fourth chapters, from recounting their words, their great miracle, and the persecution which followed, the historian of the first days of the Church passes to the inner life of the new society, and shows how the same quiet peace, the same spirit of self-sacrifice which at first (see chap. Acts 2:44-44.2.47) prevailed, still reigned in the now greatly enlarged community, which now numbered, we are told (chap. Acts 4:7), 5000 men; and of the inner life of the Church in those early days, the writer of the history dwells on two particulars (1) the relations of believers one with another; (2) the relation of believers towards the outer world.
Of one heart and one soul. This expression was one significant of a close and intimate friendship. A harmony complete and unbroken reigned at first in the Church of Jesus: greed, jealousy, and selfish ambition were unknown as yet in the community, and this enthusiasm of love found its first expression in a voluntary cession of all possessions on the part of each individual believer in favour of the common funds of the society.
Neither said any of them that ought of the things that they possessed was his own, but they had all things common. The various points connected with the community of goods in the early Church, the confined area over which the practice extended, the many exceptions to the rule which existed even in the first few years of the Church’s history, etc., are discussed in Excursus B of Chapter 2. This voluntary poverty was no doubt an attempt on the part of the loving followers of Jesus to imitate as closely as possible the old life they had led while the Master yet walked with them on earth, when they had one purse and all things common. The changed conditions after the ascension, at first they failed to see; the great and varied interests with which they soon became mixed up, the vastly enlarged society, and above all, the absence of the Master, soon rendered impracticable the continuance of a way of life to which they were attached by such sweet and never-to-be-forgotten memories. It is clear, then, that this was an attempt to graft the principle of a community of goods on the Church of Christ an attempt which utterly failed in practice, and which was given up altogether after a very short experience. This is indisputable, for we find all the epistles written upon the supposition that the varied orders of master and slave, of rich and poor, continued to exist side by side in the Christian community.
The rigid and unswerving truthfulness of the author of the ‘Acts,’ in dwelling upon this grave mistake of the first years, seems to have escaped general notice. Long before the ‘Acts’ were edited, the error was acknowledged and corrected; yet St. Luke makes no attempt to conceal or even to gloss over the mistaken zeal of those brave apostles and martyrs who laid so well and so faithfully the early stories of the great Christian Temple.
And this uncompromising truthfulness runs through the entire history; the early chapters tell us of the short-sighted policy which loved to dream of equality among men; the memoirs, as they proceed, conceal nothing: they tell us of the jealous disputes among the poor converts, the Greek and Hebrew Jews, the persecuting rage, the youthful ambition of Paul of Tarsus, the favouritism of Barnabas, the weakness and timidity of Mark, the narrow sectarian spirit of Peter. Nothing is veiled; the same calm unimpassioned hand writes in the same section of the glories and the shame of the early Church; then, as now, we see darkness alternating with light; we feel we are indeed reading a true history.
The Inner Life of the Church, Acts 4:32 to Acts 5:11.
The characteristic feature is concord among the believers. The great topic of preaching among them is the Lord’s resurrection. The favour they were held in among the people. Their community of goods. Two notable examples of this generosity in giving up all earthly goods are given (a) that of Barnabas, who became subsequently a famous leader in the Church; (b) that of Ananias and Sapphira, who were punished by death for hypocrisy in this matter, daring to claim from men a reputation for self-denial which the Holy Ghost knew was undeserved.
Acts 4:33. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. These words speak of the relations of the Church with the outer world; the powerful and effective eloquence of the apostolic preaching was not, as some have suggested, merely working within the comparatively narrow pale of the believers: the writer of these brief early memoirs would hardly dwell on the power of the preaching within the Church. It was doubtless the solemn answer to the congregation’s solemn (and, we believe, often repeated) prayer (see Acts 4:29); and we may think of these devoted men, day after day in the thronged Temple courts, the popular favour supporting them, speaking their blessed message for a time unhindered. ‘The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is again and again mentioned as the groundwork of the apostolic teaching; it was the column upon which their strong patient faith rested; they knew they had seen their Master after He had risen; they told it out to others that men might grasp the mighty issues which this victory of Jesus over death involved for every man and woman.’
And great grace was upon them all. Expositors have differed respecting the meaning of the ‘great grace’ here alluded to. Is it (a) the ‘grace of God’? does it mean that the Divine favour was abundantly shown to the apostles? Or (b) does it signify that these devoted teachers found favour among the people? (b) seems decidedly the better interpretation; for, first, the word grace distinctly bears this meaning in chap. Acts 2:4; and second, it is obvious that the ‘grace of God’ was upon the apostles and brethren: they were filled, we read, with the Holy Ghost (Acts 4:31). Acts 4:33 speaks of the great power of the apostolic preaching. There was scarcely any need for the writer of the ‘Acts’ specially to mention, further, how God’s favour was resting upon them; but the fact of their standing high in popular estimation was an important one: it showed under whose protection and by whose favour their public preaching and work went on after the threats of the supreme council (see Acts 4:18; Acts 4:21; Acts 4:29; comp. also chap. Acts 5:12-44.5.14).
Acts 4:34-44.4.35. And brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them at the apostles’ feet. We have here one of the few expressions in the New Testament where the personal dignity and rank which the apostles held in the community of the believers is directly mentioned (comp. Cicero, Pro Flacco, c. 28, where we read how a sum of money was laid at the Praetor’s feet in the Forum). The apostles, like the Roman magistrates, probably sat amongst their own people on a raised seat, on the steps of which, at their feet, the money thus devoted for the service of the Lord’s people was laid in token of respect. This seems to have been the customary way of the solemn dedication of property to the use of the Church, as it is mentioned again in the case of Barnabas (Acts 4:37).
Acts 4:36-44.4.37. And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas. This is given as one of the more famous instances of this giving up houses and lands for the Lord’s sake. Clement of Alexandria tells us this Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus, was one of the Lord’s seventy disciples. This eloquent and devoted man subsequently became one of the foremost missionaries of Christ. In the vexed question of the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Barnabas has been by some scholars supposed to have been the writer. The well-known epistle bearing his name, quoted some seven times by Clement of Alexandria, and also by Origen, Jerome, etc., although undoubtedly a monument of the first Christian age, was probably written some time after Barnabas’ martyrdom, which took place not later than A.D. 57 (see Hefele, Prolegomena Patrum Apost. Opera).
Which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation. The name Barnabas is compounded of two Hebrew words, בּ ַך נְבואה , which mean literally, ‘the son of prophecy.’ The writer of the ‘Acts’ translates it ‘son of consolation’ (or exhortation). This name was given him by the apostles, no doubt on account of his rare gifts of speech and powers of exhortation.
A Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, (37) Having land, sold it. The land sold might have been situated in Cyprus; but this supposition is hardly necessary, for we know that even priests might hold land in the later days of the kingdom of Israel (see Jeremiah 32:7). On the return from the captivity, it was still more unlikely that the old restrictions of the Mosaic Law regarding heritages could be observed.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany