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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Acts 11

 

 

Verse 1

And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

And the apostles and brethren that were in Judea [ kata (Greek #2596) teen (Greek #3588) Ioudaian (Greek #2449)] - rather, 'throughout Judea' (see the note at Acts 15:23),

Heard that the Gentiles had also received the word or God - and heard it, doubtless, with unmingled satisfaction. The only thing which some heard with displeasure was Peter's recognition of them, as on a perfect equality with the Jewish brethren, without circumcision. This novelty, and the sensation which it produced, would cause the news to fly swiftly through the country.


Verse 2

And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,

And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem - probably hastening his return there, in order to report the great revolution which God had worked in his views about the Gentiles, and to meet any difficulties which might be felt on the subject.

They that were of the circumcision - the circumcised believers; but here probably referring to the zealots for circumcision including, not improbably, apostles as well as others.


Verse 3

Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.

Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them - (see the note at Acts 10:28.) These objectors, it will be observed, scruple not to demand of Peter-though the first among the apostles, and up to this time the prime mover in the Church-an explanation of his conduct; nor does Peter, in his reply, insinuate that in this they had been wanting in proper deference to his authority-a manifest proof that such authority was unknown alike to them and to him.


Verse 4

But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,

But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order , arxamenos (Greek #756), exetitheto (Greek #1620)] - rather, 'But Peter, beginning, laid it out,' or 'set it forth order' unto them, saying,


Verses 5-11

I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:

I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me. The historian himself only says it was "let down to the earth" (Acts 10:11). This additional particular from the apostle's own lips gives vividness to the scene.

Verse 6. Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered. This emphatic language (also not in the historian's narrative, Acts 10:12) is designed to express the eager gaze with which he looked upon it.

And saw four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. Here the narratives are for several verses almost identical [In Acts 11:8 - "nothing common," etc. - pan (Greek #3956) is clearly not genuine; it should therefore be, 'for a common or unclean thing' (or 'anything common or unclean') 'hath never entered into my mouth'].


Verse 12

And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:

And the Spirit bade me go with them, [nothing doubting]. We have bracketed the last two words, as of doubtful authority: they may have been copied from Acts 10:23; but internal evidence is rather favourable to them here also.

Moreover these six brethren accompanied me. This important specification we have only from Peter himself, the historian being more general (Acts 10:23). It is doubtless mentioned to show how careful he had been to provide a sufficiency of competent witnesses of so great a transaction.

And we entered into the man's house. No mention is here made of the name of Cornelius, much less of his high position, as if that were of any weight in deciding the question. To the charge, "Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised," he simply says, he entered into the uncircumcised man's house, to whom he had been divinely directed.


Verse 13

And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

And he showed us how he had seen an angel , [ ton (Greek #3588) angelon (Greek #32)] - rather, 'the angel,' of whom the rumour may have spoken, or (if not so definite as this) to whom the historian himself had several times referred (Acts 10:3; Acts 10:22; Acts 10:30).

In his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa - better, 'Send to Joppa' [ andras (Greek #435) being probably not genuine], "and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;"


Verse 14

Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

Who shall tell thee words, whereby , [ en (Greek #1722) hois (Greek #3739)] - or 'wherein.' i:e., in the 'reception of which,'

Thou and all thy house shall be saved. The historian's own statement of this (Acts 10:6) is much more general than what he here puts into the mouth of Peter. So also the report of it by the deputies of Cornelius (Acts 10:22), and by Cornelius himself (Acts 10:32). But as Peter tarried with Cornelius certain days, during which they doubtless talked over this wonderful scene, perhaps this fuller and richer form of what the angel said to Cornelius was communicated to Peter; or Peter may have expressed what certainly the angel designed in bidding him send for Peter. Let the reader observe here, that 'salvation' is made to hang upon 'words'-that is, the Gospel message concerning Christ. The "house" or 'household' of Cornelius is here associated with himself in the promised salvation, because he feared God "with all his house" (Acts 11:2). But see the note at Luke 19:9, and Remark 4 at the end of that section.


Verse 15

And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.

And as I began to speak - in point of fact, it was not until he was closing his address; but the apostle's design was to intimate how quickly, as cause and effect, the one was followed by the other.

The Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning - meaning the day of Pentecost; the attestation of this effusion of the Spirit, as well as the effusion itself, being the same as then.


Verse 16

Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

Then remembered I the word of the Lord (Acts 1:5), how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The contrast between water-baptism and that of the Spirit-as the special gift of the glorified Christ, and the highest object of believing aspiration-rushed upon his mind and decided the question with him.


Verse 17

Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The sense would be more clear thus: 'Forasmuch, then, as God gave to them who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ (that is, upon their believing in Him) the like gift as He did unto us,' and that the highest gift which the ascended Lord of all has to bestow even upon us-the baptism of the Holy Spirit,

What was I, that I could withstand God? - `Was I to be found withstanding God by refusing them the outward rite of entrance into the visible fellowship of the saints, and so standing apart from them as if they were still unclean?'


Verse 18

When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God , [ edoxazon (Greek #1392)] - the imperfect tense, implying more than a momentary burst of praise: their mouths, shut to find fault, were immediately opened to glorify God,

Saying, Then [ ara (G686) ge (G1065)] ... granted (rather, 'So, thee, God hath granted to the Gentiles also') repentance unto life - a very different spirit this from what the same party afterward showed when Paul adduced equally resistless evidence in favour of the same line of procedure followed by him. The expression "repentance unto life," means 'repentance, whose proper issue is life.' Compare 2 Corinthians 7:10, "repentance unto salvation." To 'grant' this is something more than what Grotius makes it, to be willing to grant pardon upon repentance. The case of Cornelius was so manifestly one of grace reigning in every stage of his religious history, that we can hardly doubt that this very thing was meant to be conveyed here; and this is just the grace that reigns in every real conversion.

For Remarks on this section, see those at Acts 10:19-30.

RISE OF GENTILE CHRISTIANITY AT ANTIOCH-THE LABOURS THERE OF BARNABAS AND SAUL-THEIR MISSION TO JERUSALEM WITH A CONTRIBUTION FROM ANTIOCH FOR THE FAMINE-STRICKEN DISCIPLES THERE

Immediately after the martyrdom of Stephen, we were told that there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; "that the disciples were all scattered abroad except the apostles;" and that "they that were scattered abroad went," not only "throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria," but "everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4). To what distant localities some of these dispersed disciples carried the word, our historian would seem to a cursory reader not to state. But he only reserves it until he has recorded the triumphs of the Gospel in Samaria, and the accession of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:1-40); the conversion, and first evangelistic labours and perils of Saul of Tarsus, followed by some notices of the progress of the Gospel in Palestine (Acts 9:1-43); the introduction of Cornelius and his Gentile friends into the Christian Church through the instrumentality of Peter (Acts 10:1-48); and the happy meeting on this subject which took place at Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18). These matters disposed of, our historian returns back to the point from which he started-the travels and labours of the dispersed disciples immediately after the martyrdom of Stephen.

Evangelistic Travels of the Scattered Disciples-At Antioch the Gospel is Preached for the First Time to the Gentiles, and with Signal Success ()


Verse 19

Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.

Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen , [ epi (Greek #1909) Stefanoo (Greek #4736)] - not "about Stephen" in the sense of 'concerning' [ peri (Greek #4012)], nor about (the time of) Stephen (which would require the genitive), but 'over,' 'after,' or 'resulting from (what happened to) Stephen,'

Travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. Phoenicia was that strip of Mediterranean coast which, commencing a little to the north of Caesarea, stretches northward for upwards of 100 miles, half way to Antioch. Cyprus is that rich and productive island of the Mediterranean lying to the southwest of Seleucia, from whose eastern promontory it may be seen on a clear day. Between Phoenicia and Cyprus an active commercial contact subsisted. That the preaching of these scattered disciples bore fruit in Phenicia, we may safely conclude from the incidental mention of "disciples" at Tyre, at Ptolemais (now Jean d'Acre), and at Sidon-all in Phoenicia-whom Paul visited long after this (Acts 21:3-7; Acts 27:3). Nor is it likely that their labours were fruitless in Cyprus, into which the Gospel had penetrated before-for Barnabas was a Cypriot (Acts 4:36), and Mnason (Acts 21:16), and even some of the dispersed themselves (Acts 11:20). As for Antioch-which stands out as prominently in the history of the earliest GENTILE Christianity as Jerusalem of its JEWISH division-some account of it may fitly be given here.

A little to the north of Damascus there rises from the mountain range of Anti-Libanus the ancient river Orontes, which, after flowing due north for more than 200 miles, has its course bent westward by the mountain-chain of Amanus, whence, after a southwesterly course of less than 20 miles, it empties itself into the Mediterranean. At the bend of this noble river, on its left bank, and at the foot of an abrupt hill called Silphius, Seleucus Nicator-one of Alexander's greatest generals and successors, and the founder of the Seleucidae, or Greek kings of Syria-built the city of ANTIOCH in the year 300 BC, as the capital of his Syrian kingdom. Following out the policy of his illustrious master, to Hellenize his Asiatic dominions, he founded Greek colonies in most of his provinces, whose capital cities should become centers of Western civilization; and among these, Antioch-enjoying unequaled advantages, natural and geographical-rose to the rank of Queen of the East.

By its harbour at Seleucia it commanded the Mediterranean trade of the West, while through the open country lying to the east of the Lebanon range the whole East lay open to it. It was the policy. of Seleucus and his successors to encourage the Jews to settle in these Greek cities. With this view, equal rights and privileges with those enjoyed by the Greeks were accorded to them by Seleucus (Josephus, Ant. 12: 3. 1). Attracted by these advantages, and the nearness, amplitude, and beauty of the city, immense numbers of Jews settled there; and though Antiochus Epiphanes oppressed them, his successors hastened to undo his acts, and not only did they celebrate their worship there in peace, and even with some splendour, but large numbers of proselytes from among the Greeks came over to them from time to time (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 7: 3. 3). Under the Romans Antioch was regarded as second only to Rome and Alexandria, while its Christian history has secured for it a veneration second only to Jerusalem itself.

As a Greek colony, the language and literature of Greece predominated, without eclipsing the native Oriental element, while a strong Jewish element also held its ground. With this mixture of nationalities, blending their respective characteristics, it need not surprise us that a metropolis situated geographically as Antioch was, and embracing a population of above half a million of souls, should have become the Rome of the East. The learning of every sort which flourished in it, and the great extent of its population, is attested by Cicero [Locus noblis celebris quondam urbs et copiosa, atque eruditissimis hominibus liberalissimisque studiis affluens.-Prov. Archia, 3]; and for nearly a thousand years it continued to be one of the most populous and wealthy cities of the world. It is now a poor miserable place of eighteen thousand inhabitants, of whom only a small proportion are-what the disciples were first called at Antioch-Christians. Of the first introduction of Christianity into this once celebrated city, and its earliest Christian activities, we are now to hear.


Verse 20

And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.

And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. Cyrene lay on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, between Carthage and Egypt, where Jews were settled in large numbers (see the note at Acts 2:10; and compare Acts 6:9).

Which, when they were come to Antioch , [ elthontes (Greek #2064)] - not 'come in,' or 'had entered' [ eiselthontes (Greek #1525).-as in the Received Text, the Vulgate and Beza, on very slight authority].

Spake unto the Grecians [ Helleenistas (G1675), or 'Greek-speaking Jews,'] preaching the Lord Jesus.

But this cannot be what the historian means; because not only had the Gospel been from the first preached to this class of Jews, but these preachers of Cyprus and Cyrene themselves belonged to it; and we had just been told that the word had been preached in Phenice and Cyprus and Antioch to Jews only. Can we suppose, then, that the historian would repeat this statement, with reference to the Greek-speaking Jews of Antioch, as something new and singular; and that he would tell us, besides, that when tidings of the accession of this class to Christ reached Jerusalem, it was deemed so surprising as to demand a special deputation to the spot to examine into it; and that it was to the honour of Barnabas, the deputy despatched to Antioch, that he recognized in these converts a real work of divine grace? Still, the true reading must be determined, not presumptively, but on evidence.

And certainly the weight of external evidence is on the side of the received reading. But that in favour of another reading-`Greeks' [ Helleenas (Greek #1672)] - is undoubtedly good; and even if it were less weighty than it is, the internal evidence for it, which is overwhelming, ought to decide the point in its favour. [The external evidence stands thus: Helleenistas (Greek #1675) is read by 'Aleph (') * D * * E G, and most others; Helleenas (Greek #1672) is read by 'Aleph (') [the corrector] A D. The Vulgate and some other versions seem not to distinguish between the two terms, in point of meaning; and while in some of the Greek fathers (as Chrysostom) the text has the received reading, the commentary takes the sense to be not "Grecians," but 'Greeks.'] Accordingly, nearly all the best critics, from Grotius downward, have understood the historian to mean, that these Cypriotic and Cyrenian disciples, did a thing never done before-preached the word for the first time to the uncircumcised Gentiles of Antioch; and so Griesbach, Lachmann, and Tischendorf have transferred into their text what is manifestly the true reading-`Greeks.' But what, it may be asked, moved these preachers to break ground so new? If the question had been put to themselves, probably they would have found no other answer than this - "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." And it was enough. What had proved light and life to themselves they felt certain would prove an equal boon to the great Gentile world. But probably they did not reason the matter at all. The fire burning in their own bosoms would not he pent up. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may also have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).

What now was their success in this novel field?


Verse 21

And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.

And the hand of the Lord , [ yad (Hebrew #3028) Yahweh (Hebrew #3068)] - His converting power, put forth by His Spirit,

Was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord - or [according to the reading of Lachmann and Tischendorf - polus (Greek #4183) te (Greek #5037) arithmos (Greek #706) ho (Greek #3588) pisteusas (Greek #4100)], 'a great number, who believed, turned to the Lord;' though the evidence for both readings is pretty equal. These conversions, be it remembered, took place BEFORE the accession of Cornelius and his party. Nay, whereas we read of no direct influence which the accession of Cornelius and his house had on the further progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles, there here open upon us operations upon the Gentiles from quite a different quarter, and attended with ever-growing success. In fact, the only great object served by the case of Cornelius was the formal recognition of the principle, which that case ever afterward secured, (see the notes at Acts 15:1-41.)

Tidings of these Surprising Accessions having Reached Jerusalem, Barnabas is Deputed to Examine into Them on the Spot-The Delightful Result ()


Verse 22

Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.

Then tidings of these things came unto the ears , [ eekousthee (Greek #191) eis (Greek #1519) ta (Greek #3588) oota (Greek #3775), a special Hebraistic phrase, though not elsewhere occurring in this unique form: cf. Isaiah 5:9 (Septuagint); Matthew 10:27; Luke 1:44; James 5:4]

Of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch. Two notable facts are to be observed here. It was not one of the Twelve who was sent on this delicate mission of inquiry, but-as yet, at least-simply a 'teacher,' of influence at Jerusalem; nor was he sent by the apostles, but by "the church which was in Jerusalem," the apostles at the most presiding and going cordially along with the appointment. Perhaps his being himself a Cypriot might recommend him for an investigation into the proceedings of Cypriot and Cyrenian disciples; but no doubt his personal standing and character at Jerusalem was the main ground of choice; and certainly the result. as given in the following terms, amply justified the selection.


Verse 23

Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.

Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, [ echaree (G5463), or 'rejoiced,'] and exhorted them all [ parekalei (Greek #3870)] - an allusion, perhaps, to the name, 'son of exhortation,' given him by the apostles,

That with purpose of heart (as opposed to a hasty and fickle discipleship) they would cleave unto the Lord. Each party seems to have acted toward the other in a beautiful spirit. As for the new converts, instead of regarding Barnabas with prejudice and suspicion, as an intruder on the labours of their own teachers, they, and their teachers themselves, seem to have hailed his visit, and to have put themselves cordially under him as an honoured deputy from the mother Church, who would confirm and advance them in the Faith, the rudiments of which only they had as yet received. But no less admirable was the spirit of Barnabas. Unlike some ecclesiastics of subsequent times-jealous for their own position, and looking with unfriendly eye on the evangelistic labours of simple Christians as irregular and disorderly-this disinterested and noble-minded teacher no sooner saw the grace of God in these uncircumcised converts than he owned it as divine, and rejoiced in it; nor could he find anything at first to do among them, except to exhort them all that (guarding against fickleness) with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. The question of circumcision seems never to have come up. The reality first, and then the permanence of the grace given to them, seem to have been his whole care; and the historian evidently wishes his readers to regard this as the result of rare spirituality and large-heartedness on the part of Barnabas-adding, as he does, this significant remark,


Verse 24

For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.

For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. The sense of "good" here is evidently 'large-hearted' (cf. Romans 5:7), 'liberal-minded,' rising above narrow Jewish sectarianism; while in virtue of the fullness of the Holy Spirit he clearly discerned and had entire sympathy with the grace of God in these Gentile converts, and in the exercise of his "fulness of faith," he shook himself free from those traditional trammels which might have warped his judgment and blunted his courage.

And much people was added unto the Lord - such an increase of disciples at that important capital being a divine seal set upon the beautiful spirit displayed by both parties. Did Barnabas now return to Jerusalem, leaving the work at Antioch in the hands that began it, and just as he found it; or-as Paul afterward left Titus among the converts at Crete, to "set in order the things that were lacking, and ordain elders in every city" (Titus 1:5) - did he organize them, and hand over the spiritual care of them to elders ordained from among themselves for that purpose? He did neither of these things. They seem not to have been sufficiently advanced for the former plan; and probably Antioch was deemed too important a capital, and the kind of fruit which it had yielded to Christ was of too novel a character, for the latter method. Accordingly, Barnabas judged it fit to remain at Antioch, to build up with his hand and extend the work so suspiciously begun. That in doing so he set aside the original preachers, is not for a moment to be supposed; and, as we shall by and by find one of them at least occupying an important post in this church at Antioch, we are safe in concluding that, with the same large-heartedness which actuated him from the first, he associated them with him in his labours. Such at any rate was the vigorous growth of the work, that he was fain to leave it for a time, in order to fetch as an associate the man who, of all others in the Church, was the most fitted to aid him in such a sphere of labour.

Barnabas, Finding the Work at Antioch too much for Him, Goes to Tarsus for Saul, with whom He Labours there for a Whole Year with much Success, and this First of All the Gentile Churches is Honoured to Be the Birthplace of the Term CHRISTIANS ()


Verse 25

Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

Then departed Barnabas (or, 'departed he,' according to the better reading), to Tarsus - a short run by sea from Seleucia, which he would probably prefer to the more tedious land-route, which would have obliged him to thread the defiles of the Amanus range of mountains as one rounds the northeast head of the Mediterranean, at the Gulf of Issus.

For to seek Saul - entrusting the church at Antioch meantime, beyond all doubt, to the honoured brethren to whose instrumentality it had owed its existence. Barnabas had been the first at Jerusalem to recognize the genuineness of Saul's conversion, and, on the first visit of the great convert to Jerusalem after the change, to convince the brethren there that in the dread persecutor they had not an enemy in disguise, but a true brother, and already a mighty preacher of the Faith which once he destroyed (Acts 9:26-27). That visit lasted but 15 days (Galatians 1:18); for such was the boldness of his preaching in the capital, that, to prevent his assassination, the brethren had to hurry him off to Caesarea, and thence to Tarsus. Probably Barnabas alone discerned, at this early stage of his ministry, those special endowments in the new convert in virtue of which he was to eclipse all others. How he spent his time at Tarsus-at this his first visit to his native city since his conversion, and probably his last-we can but conjecture from incidental notices; but the words that follow,


Verse 26

And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

And when he had found him, may imply that he had been on some evangelistic tour. (For on his way from Caesarea to Tarsus he appears to have taken the land-route through Syria and Cilicia (see the note at Acts 9:30; and cf. Galatians 1:21); and as he was afterward sent with Judas, Silas, and Barnabas, with the letter of the council at Jerusalem "unto the brethren which were the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia" (Acts 15:23), we may not unnaturally conjecture, that having been instrumental in gathering out "brethren" all along Syria and Cilicia, as he passed through them he was engaged in visiting some of them when Barnabas "found him.") Be this as it may, Saul at once embraces the call, and "he brought him unto Antioch."

He brought him unto Antioch - the two going lovingly together to the Syrian capital. That Barnabas did not err in his expectations from his young co-adjutor, we are now to learn.

And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with [ en (G1722), rather 'in'] the church, that is, in its meetings,

And taught much people - they met the believers in all their stated assemblies, taking the lead, no doubt, in their public devotions-though that is not said-but occupying themselves chiefly in "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Jesus had commanded them." For the teaching committed by the ascending Lord of the Church to His servants (Matthew 28:19-20) was of two kinds, for which two different words are used-first, "making disciples" [ matheeteuein (Greek #3100)], and next, instructing the disciples so made [ didaskein (Greek #1321)]. And since it is the latter of these departments of ministerial work which is here intended, it is the second of the two words which is here employed [ didaxai (Greek #1321)]. At the same time, it is clear, from the sequel of this history, that they were no less successful in adding to the church at Antioch than in building it up. And thus in that great and many-sided community there stood forth a church which, for solidity of organization and warm impulsive Christian life, became the first contributor to the necessities of the Jewish brethren, and the great missionary center for diffusing Christianity among the pagan; and the Gospel there achieved for itself a name which-with whatever intention originally given-will live and be gloried in as long as the world lasts, as the symbol of all that is most precious to the fallen family of man.

And the disciples were called [ chreematisai (G5537), or 'got the name of'] CHRISTIANS first in Antioch. That this name originated outside the Church itself, we may be pretty sure; because we never find the disciples so calling themselves; on the contrary, the apostle Peter refers to it in his first Epistle apparently as a term of reproach ("If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed," 1 Peter 4:16); and Agrippa's way of using the term when Paul made his defense before him (Acts 26:28) seems to imply as much. But neither is it likely to have originated with the Jewish enemies of the Gospel; for besides that "Nazarene" was the term of contempt used by them (Acts 24:5), as it still is, the name of "Christian" would seem to Jewish ears to imply that these disciples of Jesus were followers of the Messiah-which we may be sure that no unbelieving Jews would even seem to admit. The term, therefore, must have originated with the pagan portion of the community, and with the Latins, rather than the Greeks of Antioch-as the termination of the word seems to imply (like Pompeiani, Coesariani, Herodiani, as DeWette, after Wetstein, remarks). But whatever the origin of the terms, its import is of more consequence; and doubtless it was intended to express that about the Christian Faith which the preachers of it and the disciples of it were perpetually speaking of, and dwelling upon, as their all-in-all-CHRIST. In this view of it-whether owing its origin to Jew or Gentile, Greek or Roman, friend or foe-who can wonder that, once given to them, it was felt to be too appropriate, too beautiful, too dear, to be ever allowed to die?

One other incident only in the history of this beautiful Church of uncircumcised Gentiles at Antioch remains to be noticed, before the historian (after a parenthetical chapter) is prepared to come to its principal characteristic-its missionary character and doings.

Barnabas and Saul are Sent to Jerusalem with a Contribution from Antioch for the Famine-Stricken Brethren of the Circumcision There ()


Verse 27

And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.

And in these days came prophets - that is, 'inspired teachers, or persons speaking with supernatural authority;' a class with which we shall frequently meet in the sequel, who sometimes (as on this occasion) foretold future events, though that is not at all necessarily implied in the use of the term. In the lists of the divinely-instituted church offices (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11) they stand in rank next to the apostles, in virtue of their inspiration as revealers of the divine mind, and are associated with them as constituting the divine authority bit which the Church was to be ordered.

From Jerusalem unto Antioch. This was virtually a divine recognition of the Gentile Christianity of Antioch, and of the importance of that first of Gentile churches.


Verse 28

And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.

And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit (by divine inspiration), that there should be great dearth}, [ megaleen (Greek #3173) ... heetis (Greek #3748), which is better supported than megan (Greek #3173) ... hostis (Greek #3748) of the Received Text]

Throughout all the world , [ holeen (Greek #3650) teen (Greek #3588) oikoumeneen (Greek #3625)] - the whole Roman empire (see the note at Luke 2:1).

Which came to pass in the days of Claudius [Cesar]. The word "Caesar" here is an explanatory gloss, not belonging to the original text (as manuscripts and versions make quite clear). 'It appears (says Humphry) that the world was much afflicted with scarcity in the reign of Claudius. Four local famines are mentioned:

(1) In his first and second years (A.D. 41 AD), at Rome (Dio. Cass. 9: p.

949);

(2) in his fourth year, in Judea (Josephus, Ant. 20: 2. 5; Eusebius,

H.E., 2: 8);

(3) in his ninth year, in Greece (Eusebius, Chr. 1: 79);

(4) in his eleventh year, at Rome (Suetonius, Vit. Claud. 17:; Tacitus, Annals 12: 42).

History does not indeed inform us of an universal famine in the reign of Claudius, anymore than it speaks of an universal census under Augustus Caesar (Luke 2:1). But universal taxing might be decreed, though but partially carried into effect; and the whole world might suffer dearth in the reign of Claudius, though the famine was intense only at particular times and places.' The one here referred to appears to be the second of the four above enumerated, which took place 41 AD-an important date this for tracing out the chronology of the Acts. (See Introduction.)


Verse 29

Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:

Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea. The manner of expression here seems clearly to imply that this spirited proposal originated, not with Barnabas and Saul, but with the disciples themselves, in the spontaneous exercise of Christian love to their suffering brethren of the circumcision-a grace which seems to have shone the brightest in the earliest days of the churches, as it still does in every new community of believers.


Verse 30

Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Which also they did, and sent it to the elders. Here, for the first time in the Acts, the term "elders" (or 'presbyters') is used to denote an office in the Christian Church. And as no definition is given of its nature and functions, these must be gathered from a comparison of the various passages where it occurs. That it was borrowed from the synagogue, and that the Christian churches were constituted after its model, and not that of the temple, is beyond reasonable dispute.

By the hands, [ cheiros (G5495), rather, 'by the hand'] of Barnabas and Saul - regarded jointly as one custodier. This-the reader should observe-was Saul's visit to Jerusalem after his conversion.

Remarks:

(1) We must advert hers again to the relation which the divine recognition of the uncircumcised Gentile believers of Antioch bears to that of Cornelius and his party. This, at Antioch, was the spontaneous outgoing of zeal for Christ and love to the souls of men: that (as Lechler well expresses it) was 'the legitimizing of this extra-official activity' by the Lord of the Church. 'God, in Cornelius, and in the apostle Peter (he adds), sanctioned the principle of the conversion of the Gentiles; but the first successful inroad into the territory of paganism-the founding of the metropolis of Gentile Christianity in the Church at Antioch-was effected not by Peter nor by any other apostle, but by simple members the Church.' Nor should we overlook the fact, already noted, that when a deputy was sent from Jerusalem to investigate this new state of things, it was not one of the Twelve, but an esteemed and influential "teacher," that was sent; nor did the apostles send him, but "the church which was at Jerusalem," the apostles probably just presiding and going cordially along with the measure.

(2) How beautiful is the large-hearted and loving liberality with which both parties treated each other-the Gentile Christians at Antioch, in welcoming a Jewish Christian who might have been supposed to come on an errand not altogether welcome, an errand wearing the appearance at least of distrust; and Barnabas, on his part, in not regarding with suspicion the spontaneous labours of those simple disciples of Cyprus and Cyrene, but then when he "saw the grace of God" in their Gentile converts (as if that had been the one thing to which he looked), recognizing it with joy, and finding at first nothing to do among them but to "exhort them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." The question of circumcision seems never to come up: he troubles them not on that subject, but simply counsels them to stedfast adherence to the Lord Jesus. And since the historian expressly ascribes this to his rare spirituality and benignant liberality, we cannot fail to draw the inference that characters such as his will be quicker to discern the grace of God in others-in however unusual a way it meets them-than small points of difference between them.

(3) What a spectacle does this church at Antioch present at the period to which the elope of this chapter brings us! It grows so on the hands of Barnabas that he has to leave it-to the care, no doubt, of those to whom it owed its existence-to fetch Saul from Tarsus as his fellow-labourer; and in the hands of these eminent men it so advances, that, out of ground broken from the hard pagan rock, it becomes a garden of the Lord, a church which, for vigour and enterprise, was fast outstripping that at Jerusalem, and which became the first contributor to the necessities of the saints there, and the originator of missions to the pagan. Indeed, in Jerusalem and throughout Judea, Christianity was regarded as an offshoot from Judaism-a heretical and impious form of it by its enemies, and by its friends as Judaism perfected; and so it would certainly have been regarded at Antioch had the converts there been exclusively Jews or Jewish proselytes. But the novelty of a church consisting Gentile disciples of a crucified Jew could not fail to attract general attention; and the name which their fellow-citizens gave them (no matter from what motive) - not Nazarenes, as they were called by the Jews, but CHRISTIANS-marks a memorable era in the development of the great purpose of God, that among the Gentiles was now to be preached the unsearchable riches of Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 11:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/acts-11.html. 1871-8.

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