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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Acts 9

 

 

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Verse 1

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,

Conversion of Saul ()

And Saul, yet breathing out , [ empneoon (Greek #1709), literally, 'inwardly breathing,' that is, 'heaving with'] threatenings and slaughter}-`menace and murder.' The emphatic "yet" [ eti (Greek #2089)] is intended to note the remarkable fact, that up to this moment his blind persecuting rage against the disciples of the Lord burned as fiercely as ever. In the teeth of this, Neander and Olshausen picture him 'deeply impressed with Stephen's joyful faith, remembering passages of the Old Testament confirmatory of the Messiahship of Jesus, and experiencing such a violent struggle as would inwardly prepare the way for the designs of God toward him.' And Stanley, in his 'Sermons in the East,' and in 'Paul on his Way to Damascus,' (No. VIII) says, 'He had doubtless had better feelings stirring within him from what he had seen of the death of Stephen and of the good deeds of the early Christians. In this way his conversion, sudden as it seemed at last, had been long prepared. His conscience had been ill at ease with itself; and in this perplexity and doubt it needed only that one blessed interposition of his merciful Lord to recall him to a sense of his better self.' That such a man could have heard such an address as Stephen's without deep thoughts and feelings being stirred within him, was, indeed, hardly possible. But that it staggered or softened him, that it inclined him to think favourably of the Christian faith, that it produced anything but a more resolute determination to root it out as a pestilent heresy, his whole conduct, from that time up to the moment when the manifestation of Jesus Himself to him took place, conclusively disproves.

Bengel's note on the word "yet" bristly expresses the true state of the case-`Thus, in the utmost fervour of sinning, was he laid hold of and converted.' Nor are such sudden conversions from bitter enmity to burning love at all inconsistent with known laws, or without example in the history the bureau mind. The "slaughter," which the historian says that Saul yet breathed, points to cruelties the particulars of which are supplied by himself nearly thirty years afterward: "And I persecuted this way unto the death" (Acts 22:4); "and when they were put to death, I gave my voice ('or vote') against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to (or 'did my utmost to make them') blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange (that is, 'foreign') cities" (Acts 26:10-11). All this, be it observed, was before his present journey.


Verse 2

And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

And desired of him letters - of authorization; showing that, under the Roman power at this time, the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem had jurisdiction over Jews resident in foreign parts.

To Damascus - the capital of Syria, and the great highway between, eastern and western Asia, about 130 miles Northeast of Jerusalem; the most ancient city, perhaps, in the world, and 'lying in the center of a verdant and inexhaustible paradise.' It abounded, as appears from Josephus ('Jewish Wars,' 2: 20, section 2), both with Jews-and accordingly this verse speaks of more synagogues than one in it-and with Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith. The Gospel had penetrated there; and Saul, flushed with past successes, undertakes to crush it out.

That if he found - as the grammatical form of the expression [ ean (Greek #1437) heuree (Greek #2147)] implies, was to be expected.

Any of this way , [ tees (Greek #3588) hodou (Greek #3598)] - literally, 'any of the way;' a remarkable abbreviation to express the Christian Faith, one which evidently had its rise among the Christians themselves, and probably the very earliest-occuring only in this book, but there four times (here, and in Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 24:22). It seems intended to denote that what to the earliest Christians was felt to be most characteristic in the Gospel, was not so much the object to which it conducted those that embraced it, as the way of reaching it, through a crucified Saviour.

Whether they were men or women. Thrice are women specified as objects of Saul's cruelty, and as an aggravated feature of it (Acts 8:3; Acts 22:4; and here).

He might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. It may be that some who where won to Christ during the first triumphs of the Gospel left Jerusalem thereafter, and, going as far as Damascus, felt constrained to "speak the things which they had seen and heard." Be this as it may, there is every reason to believe that some of those "who were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen," traveled as far as Damascus, and doubtless there "preached the word," not without success.


Verse 3

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus. So Acts 22:6. Tradition points to a bridge near the city as the spot referred to. Events which are the turning points in one's history so imprint themselves upon the memory, that circumstances the most trifling in themselves acquire, by connection with them, something of their importance, and are recalled with inexpressible interest.

And suddenly - at what time of day, is not said; because artless simplicity reigns here; but he himself emphatically states, in one of his narratives of it, that it was" about noon" (Acts 22:6), and in the other, "at mid-day" (Acts 26:13), when there could be no deception.

There shined round about him a light from heaven , [ ek (Greek #1537), which Lachmann and Tischendorf adopt, is better supported than apo (Greek #575) of the Received Text]. In his defense before the people he calls this "a great light" (Acts 22:6), and to Agrippa he describes it as "above the brightness of the sun" (Acts 26:13) - which then was shining at its full strength. This light enwrapt not only Saul himself, but "them which journeyed with him" (Acts 26:13); and in his address to the people he says, "they which were with me saw the light" (Acts 22:9) - minute particulars, evincing the objective reality of this heavenly manifestation.


Verse 4

And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And he fell to the earth - and his companions fell with him (Acts 26:14),

And heard a voice saying unto him - "in the Hebrew tongue" (Acts 26:14),

Saul, Saul - a reduplication (says DeWette) full of tenderness. Accordingly, though his name was soon changed into "Paul," we find in both his own narratives of the scene, after the lapse of many years, the original form retained, even in the Greek, just as here; neither he nor the historian (who doubtless often heard him describe the scene) daring to alter, in the smallest tittle, the overpowering words addressed to him.

Why persecutest thou me? No language can express the affecting character of this question, addressed from the right hand of the Majesty on high to a poor, infuriated, persecuting mortal.


Verse 5

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? The word "Lord" here is an indefinite term of respect for some unknown but exalted speaker. That Saul saw, as well as heard, this glorious Speaker, is expressly said by Ananias (Acts 9:17, and Acts 22:14), by Barnabas (Acts 9:27), and by himself (Acts 26:16); and in claiming apostleship, he explicitly states that he had "seen the Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8), which can refer only to this scene.

And the Lord said. The true reading probably is, 'And He said,' I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. The pronouns "I" and "THOU" are both emphatically and touchingly expressed here [ egoo (Greek #1473) ... su (Greek #4771)], while the term "JESUS" is purposely chosen, to convey to him the thrilling information, that the hated Name which he sought to hunt down - "the Nazarene," as it is in Acts 22:8 - was now speaking to him from the skies, "crowned with glory and honour" (see Acts 26:9).


Verse 6

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

[And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him.] The last clause of Acts 9:5, "[It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks]." and the first half of Acts 9:6, "[And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him.]" which we have enclosed within brackets, are found in no Greek manuscript either uncial or cursive; and though it is in the authorized Vulgate, the best copies of that version want them. But as the entire passage occurs in the apostle's own accounts of his conversion, it has thus doubtless crept into this place. And it will be convenient to take in the exposition of them here. (In the genuine text the words that follow the interpolation begin thus: 'But [ alla (Greek #235)] rise and go into the city,' etc.) The metaphor of an ox, only driving the goad deeper by kicking against it, is a classic one, and here forcibly expresses not only the vanity of all his measures for crushing the Gospel, but the deeper wound which every such effort inflicted upon himself. The question, 'What shall I do, Lord?' or "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" indicates a state of mind singularly interesting (see the note at Acts 2:37). Its elements seem to be these: first, resistless conviction that "Jesus whom he persecuted" - now speaking to him-was "Christ the Lord" (see the notes at Galatians 1:15-16); next, as a consequence of this, that not only all his religious views, but his whole religious character, had been an entire mistake-that he was up to that moment fundamentally and wholly wrong; further, that though his whole future was now a blank, he had absolute confidence in Him who had so tenderly arrested him in his blind career, and was ready both to take in all His teaching, and to carry out all His directions. Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. See the notes on the similar direction given to Philip, Acts 8:26.


Verse 7

And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless , [ enneoi (Greek #1767), or, as the best manuscripts write it, eneoi (Greek #1769)]. If the word "stood" here is to be taken literally for the standing posture, it seems inconsistent with the apostle's own account in Acts 26:14, where he says they all "fell to the earth." One explanation of this is, that while all fell, Saul remained prostrate, while the rest quickly arose. (So Bengel and Baumgarten). Another is, that they first stood transfixed with wonder, and then sank down (so Grotius); while DeWette, Meyer, Olshausen, and Humphrey see no need to reconcile the two statements, looking upon such trifling discrepancies in different reports of a most exciting scene, as just what might be expected. But perhaps a simpler and more natural explanation is to understand the statement-`they stood speechless'-to mean no more than that 'they remained speechless,' according to a sense of the word "stood" in Greek, and indeed in most languages. In this case, the statement tells us nothing about their posture, but merely reports their silence. (So Hackett, Webster and Wilkinson, and Lechler.)

Hearing a voice, [ tees (G3588) foonees (G5456), rather, 'the voice,'] but seeing no man. This (as Humphry remarks) explains the reason of their remaining speechless: though they heard the voice, they saw not the speaker. But how, then, does Paul say afterward, they "heard not the voice of Him that spake to him"? (Acts 22:9.) No doubt the explanation is, that they heard the sound, but not the articulate words; just as "the people that stood by" when the Greeks came up to worship at the feast are expressly said to have heard the voice "which came from heaven" to Jesus, yet heard it so inarticulately that some thought it mere thunder, while others who heard better thought "an angel spake to Him" (John 12:28-29). Apparent discrepancies like these, in the different narratives of the same scene in one and the same book of Acts, furnish the strongest confirmation both of the facts themselves and of the book which records them.


Verse 8

And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man - `seeing nothing' [ ouden (Greek #3762), in place of oudena (Greek #3762)] is the slightly preferable reading. After beholding the glory of the Lord, since he "could not see for the glory of that light" (Acts 22:11), he would involuntarily close his eyes to protect them from the glare, and on opening them again he found his vision gone. That the apostle never recovered entirely from this supernatural blindness; that the "thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan sent to buffet him" (2 Corinthians 12:7), was just this weakness of the eyes; and that it is to it that he refers when he reminds the Galatians that they would if possible have plucked out their own eyes and given them to them (Galatians 4:15) is a supposition which Humphry and others conceive to be not without reason; but to us such suppositions only show on what strange collocations of passages conclusions the most surprising can be drawn. But see the note at Acts 9:18.


Verse 9

And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink - that is, according to the Hebrew mode of computation, he took no food during the remainder of that day, the entire day following, and so much of the subsequent day as elapsed before the visit Ananias. Such a period of entire abstinence from food, in that state of mental absorption and revolution into which he had been so suddenly thrown, is in perfect harmony with known laws and numerous facts. But what three days must those have been! 'Only one other space of three days' duration can be mentioned of equal importance in the history of the world' (as Howson well observes). Since Jesus had been revealed not only to his eyes, but to his soul (see the notes at Galatians 1:15-16), the double conviction must have immediately flashed upon him, that his whole reading of the Old Testament hitherto had been wrong, and that the system of legal righteousness in which he had, up to that moment, rested and prided himself was false and fatal.

What materials these for spiritual exercise during those three days of total darkness, fasting, and solitude! On the one hand, what self-condemnation, what anguish, what death of legal hope, what difficulty in believing that in such a case there could be hope at all; on the other hand, what heart-breaking admiration of the grace that had "pulled him out of the fire," what resistless conviction that there must be a purpose of love in it, and what tender expectation of being yet honoured, as a chosen vessel, to declare what the Lord had done for his soul, and spread abroad the savour of that Name which he had so wickedly, though ignorantly, sought to destroy-must have struggled in his breast during those memorable days! Is it too much to say that all that profound insight into the old Testament, that comprehensive grasp of the principles of the divine economy, that penetrating spirituality, that vivid apprehension of man's lost state, and those glowing views of the perfection and glory of the divine remedy; that beautiful ideal of the loftiness and the lowliness of the Christian character, that large philanthropy and burning zeal to spend, and be spent, through all his future life, for Christ, which distinguish the writings of this chiefest of the apostles and greatest of men-were all quickened into life during these three successive days! [The Greek reader will observe in the phrase mee (Greek #3361) blepoon (Greek #991), the subjective mee (Greek #3361) expressive of the vain effort to see; while in the following phrase, ouk (Greek #3756) efagen (Greek #5315), the objective ouk (Greek #3756) expresses the simple fact that he took no food. See Jelf, 739; Winer, 55. 5.]

Through the instrumentality of Ananias, Saul's sight is restored-He is Baptized, and is filled with the Holy Spirit-After continuing with the disciples at Damascus for some time, he begins to preach, to the astonishment of all ()


Verse 10

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord (that is, the Lord JESUS, as is evident from all that follows), in a vision, Ananias. Of this man Paul himself afterward bears this testimony, in his address to the people, that he was "a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there" (Acts 22:12), to show that the national religion could be in no way hostile to anything taught by him, since he had been taken by the hand by one of such strict Jewish orthodoxy and high repute.

And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.


Verse 11

And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,

And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight. There, is still (says Maundrell) a street of this name in Damascus, about half a mile in length, running from east to west through the city.

And inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul. In the minuteness of these directions-even to the very name of the street-by the glorified Jesus to this Jewish disciple, there is something noteworthy. Compare the angel's direction to Cornelius-that Peter would be found "lodging with one Simon a tanner, whose house was by the sea side" (Acts 10:6). But are not all things which we call great or small, trivial or important, measured by another geometry in heaven from what they are on earth-by their bearing on the divine purposes and the progress of the kingdom of grace among men?

Of Tarsus - (see the note at Acts 21:39.)

For, behold, he prayeth - "breathing" no longer "threatenings and slaughter," but only struggling desires after light and life in the Persecuted One. Beautiful note of encouragement this as to the frame in which Ananias would find the persecutor!


Verse 12

And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias. [Lachmann and Tischendorf exclude from their text the clause en (Greek #1722) horamati (Greek #3705), but on insufficient authority, as it appears to us.] Thus, as in the case of Cornelius and Peter afterward, there was a mutual preparation of each for each. But what is remarkable here, we have from the historian's pen no account of the vision which Saul had of Ananias coming in to him and putting his hands upon him for the restoration of his sight: we only know it from this interesting allusion to it in the vision which he tells us that, Ananias himself had.


Verse 13

Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man. Instead of the perfect tense, "I have heard" [ akeekoa (Greek #191)], the aorist [ eekousa (Greek #191)], "I heard," appears to us to have decidedly the best support. This gives definiteness to the reports which Ananias had "heard by many" of this dread inquisitor, the terror of whose name had, it seems, gone before him to Damascus.

How much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem. This relation of the disciples to Christ, as "His saints," is noticed by Bengel as evidence of His proper divinity; and certainly, in connection with Ananias' familiar yet reverential way of addressing the glorified Redeemer, and his authoritative style in directing Ananias, this cannot be deemed a strained inference. Accordingly, in the next verse, Ananias describes the disciples as those "that called on Christ's name." See the notes at Acts 7:59-60; and compare 1 Corinthians 1:2. 'If Christ (says Lechler) has "His saints" - an expression which in the Old Covenant could only refer to Yahweh-then by this expression divine honour is ascribed to Him.'


Verse 14

And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. Thus it would seem that not only the terror of his name, but the news of this dread commission, had traveled before him from the capital to the doomed spot. But, indeed, the three days that had already passed since Jesus appeared to him in the way, and the news of what had happened-which could not but be immediately spread through Damascus-would naturally lead to inquiries of Paul's companions as to the object of their visit; and to this, in all likelihood, Ananias refers in this last clause.


Verse 15

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way - q.d., 'Do as thou art bidden, without gainsaying; his days of hostility to Me are at an end.'

For he is a chosen vessel unto me , [ skeuos (Greek #4632) eklogees (Greek #1589)]. This word "vessel" (as Alford observes) is afterward used once and again by the apostle himself in illustrating the sovereignty of God's electing grace (Romans 9:21-23; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:20-21; Zechariah 3:2).

To bear my name before the Gentiles. This great characteristic of his ministry, as distinguished from that of Peter, is here appropriately placed first; and it had that place in his own estimation ever afterward (Galatians 2:7-8).

And kings (as Herod Agrippa and Nero), and the children of Israel - to whom he invariably presented the Gospel first.


Verse 16

For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

For I will show him , [ hupodeixoo (Greek #5263)]. The word signifies to 'indicate' or 'hint,' rather than to manifest plainly (as in Matthew 3:7). Accordingly, it is evident, from the subsequent history, that though the apostle was prepared by successive hints given him from above, for the worst that could happen to him, he had no knowledge of the precise form in which his sufferings were to come upon him at any stage of his Christian history until he found himself in the midst of them. See Acts 20:22-23; Acts 21:11-13.

How great things he must suffer for my name's sake - q.d., 'Much he has done against that Name; but now, when I show him what great things he must suffer for it, he shall count it his honour and privilege, feeling in himself, by a retribution that will be sweet to him, what he so cruelly made others to feel.' The Redeemer and Ananias converse with each other as Friend with friend; yet neither forgets that it is Master and servant that are talking together.


Verse 17

And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him, said, Brother Saul. How beautifully child-like are the faith and the obedience of Ananias here to the heavenly vision! No longer beholds he in Saul the dreaded persecutor: now he is "brother Saul," and his style of address is that of brother to brother in Jesus.

The Lord hath sent me, [even] Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest. This is the order of the words as they stand in the original; and it would have been better to retain it, as showing clearly that "the Lord" in this whole transaction-as indeed almost invariably throughout this book, dud for the most part in the Epistles too-means the risen and glorified One, JESUS, the Lord of the Church, invested with all power in heaven and in earth for its behoof, and with it alway, even unto the end of the would. Such knowledge on the part of Ananias, of the appearance of Jesus to him on his way to Damascus, would convince Saul at once that this was the man whom Jesus had already in vision prepared him to expect. That the two men were total strangers to each other up to this moment is evident on the face of the narrative; and yet the rationalistic critics would have us believe that they were intimate acquaintances!

That thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias, it will be observed, does not tell Saul what the glorified Redeemer had communicated to himself about his future career. 'It was not for Saul (says Bengel well) to know of how great account he already was.' As the actual descent of the Holy Spirit upon Saul, through the instrumentality of Ananias, and in fulfillment of the expressed purpose of this heaven-directed visit, is not recorded, we cannot be quite certain whether it took place before or after his baptism, nor are expositors agreed upon this point. While it usually followed baptism, it preceded the baptism of Cornelius and his company (Acts 10:44-48). But what is of much more importance to observe is, that this gift of the Holy Spirit came through one who was not an apostle, nor (so far as we are informed) occupying any official position whatever. Looking, however, at Acts 22:12, it is likely that he was a Christian of note at Damascus; and as no organized church had probably been formed there as yet, he probably took a leading part in the private meetings of the disciples for "reading, exhortation, and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:13).


Verse 18

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales , [ hoosei (Greek #5616) lepides (Greek #3013)] - not actual scales, but something resembling the falling of such from the eyes; just as on the day of Pentecost there sat on the disciples "cloven tongues (not of fire, but) like as of fire" [ hoosei (Greek #5616) puros (Greek #4442)] (Acts 2:3). 'This shows (as Webster and Wilkinson pertinently remark) that the blindness as well as the cure was supernatural. Substances like scales would not form naturally in so short a time.' The medical precision of the beloved physician's language here is worthy of note.

And he received sight [forthwith]. This bracketed word [ parachreema (Greek #3916)], though one of which our historian is fond, both in his Gospel and in the Acts, is wanting in authority here. On the purely fanciful style of criticism by which Humphry infers that this cure was never complete, see the note at Acts 9:8. Since this restoration of sight is recorded in the same simple style in which the complete and instantaneous cures of our Lord are recorded in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 20:34; Mark 10:52, etc.), and those of the apostles in this same book (cf. Acts 7:1-60; Acts 10:34; Acts 14:10. etc.), it seems almost ludicrous to suppose, from Galatians 4:15, that the Galatians proposed to supply the apostle's lack of vision by a gift of their own. As to the thorn in the flesh, it had better be left in its obscurity.

And arose, and was baptized - in compliance with the call of Ananias, not here recorded, but reported long afterward by himself in his address to the people of Jerusalem (Acts 22:16), "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." No doubt the baptism was performed by the bands of Ananias himself. For further particulars of this interview, see the notes at Acts 22:12-21.


Verse 19

And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

And when he had received meat, he was strengthened - for the bodily exhaustion occasioned by his three days' fast would be not the less real, though unfelt during his mental struggles; and now that these were over, the sensation of hunger (as in the case of our Lord after His forty days' fast) would come upon him in all its keenness (see the note at Matthew 4:2).

Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus - making their acquaintance in another way than either he or they had anticipated, and regaining his tone by the fellowship of the saints; but not certainly in order to learn from them what he was to teach, which he expressly disavows (Gal. ).


Verse 20

And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

And straightway (that is, after the "certain days" spent in private with the disciples, Acts 9:19), he preached Christ. The true reading here unquestionably is, 'he preached Jesus' [with 'Aleph (') A B C E, etc., and most versions] - in favour of which the internal evidence from Acts 9:22 is nearly as strong as the external.

In the synagogues. The plurality of synagogues at Damascus, here noted, shows that there must have been a large body of Jews there; and Josephus (as Olshausen remarks) mentions that no fewer than ten thousand of them perished there in the reign of Nero (Jewish Wars, 1: 2, 25).

That he is the Son of God.


Verse 21

But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?

But all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? This, it will be observed was not the language of the Christians-whose astonishment no doubt found full vent before this, and to whom all would be fully explained in private-but of his Jewish auditors in the synagogues, to whom his previous persecuting career, and the object of his present visit, were, it seems, by this time well known.

The Jews of Damascus, Exasperated at Saul's Preaching, Seek to Kill Him-His Narrow Escape ()


Verse 22

But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.

But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ , [ ho (Greek #3588) Christos (Greek #5547).] - or more simply, 'that this is the Christ.' Had we only this record to guide us, we should certainly have supposed that Saul never left Damascus from the time that he entered it, blinded by the glory of the heavenly manifestation, until he came to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). But we learn from the apostle himself (Galatians 1:7; Galatians 1:18) that, before going up to Jerusalem after his conversion, he "went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus," and that "then, after three years (from the time of his conversion) he went up to Jerusalem." That no allusion to this should be made in the Acts is not more remarkable than that this same Luke, in his Gospel, should write as if the Holy Family went straight from Jerusalem to Nazareth, immediately after the presentation of the infant Saviour in the temple; omitting all allusion to the flight into Egypt, the stay there, and the return thence, which constituted so important a feature in the early history of our Lord upon earth, and for which we are indebted to Matthew's Gospel.

The main difficulty is where, in the verses before us, this visit of Saul to Arabia should come in-whether before the Jews of Damascus sought to kill him (that is, between Acts 9:21-22), or after it (between Acts 9:25-26). The latter is the view of Bengel, Olshausen, and Baumgarten: the former that of Beza, Neander, Meyer, Humphry, Alford, Hackett, Webster and Wilkinson. That the apostle did not leave Damascus until he was driven from it for his life, might seem the most natural supposition; but that after this flight he should have again imperiled his life by returning to it, even after the lapse of some two years, is, though not impossible, scarcely probable; nor can one see any important object to be gained by his returning to it at all again. But if we suppose that it was after his first preaching of Christ in the synagogues that he withdrew for a lengthened period into Arabia, and that he "returned again unto Damascus" (Galatians 1:17) - that city, in the vicinity of which he had been so marvelously brought to Christ, and in which the first opening of his mouth as a preacher had produced such a sensation-we can readily conceive that his now matured ability to plead for Christ would, with his Master's presence, be attended with powerful results, so powerful as to bear down all opposing argument, 'confounding the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, by his proofs that Jesus was Christ;' but that, failing to convince, be only exasperated them, and soon found that his very success must cut short his stay there. This seems to us to be the most natural way of filling up the gap in our narrative, and may explain the special form of expression used in Acts 9:23.


Verse 23

And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:

And after that many days were fulfilled. The expression is studiously indefinite [ epleerounto (Greek #4137) heemerai (Greek #2250) hikanai (Greek #2425)] - literally, 'but as a considerable number of days were getting fulfilled,' "the Jews took counsel to kill him:"


Verse 24

But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.

But their laying await, [ epiboulee (G1917), 'their plot'] was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.


Verse 25

Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.

Then the disciples. Lachmann and Tischendorf have 'his disciples' [ autou (Greek #846) for - auton (Greek #846) - with A B C E, and the cod. Amiat. of the Vulgate]. But strong as is the external evidence in its layout, that for the received reading is not inconsiderable [E G H, and both Syriac versions, both the Egyptian, etc.], while the internal evidence appears to us strongly to favour the Received Text.

Took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. The full extent of his danger appears only from his own account of it long after, in recounting to the Corinthians the perils he had come through for Christ's sake: "In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me" - the exasperated Jews having obtained from the governor a military force, the more surely to compass his destruction; "and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands" (2 Corinthians 11:32-33). The "window" was probably one of those overhanging windows in the walls of eastern cities which were then common, and are to be seen in Damascus to this day. The "basket" [ spuris (Greek #4711)] in which he was lowered, as described by Luke, was one of the same kind as that employed in gathering up the fragments of the seven loaves with which our Lord fed the four thousand (Mark 8:8). The word used by the apostle himself [ sarganee (Greek #4553)] denotes only the wicker-work of which it was made. Before taking our leave of Damascus, as the scene of the apostle's labours, it is delightful to observe that there were "disciples" there, numerous enough and courageous enough to effect, at their own risk, the great preacher's escape from the hands both of his blood-thirsty enemies and of the military force by which he was guarded; and though there can be no doubt that some of these had, like Ananias, been brought to Christ before Saul's own conversion-for it was in pursuit of them that he came to Damascus-it is reasonable to suppose that their number was not a little increased, as well as their faith strengthened, by his labours; and thus, even there, were they not in vain in the Lord.

Saul, Coming to Jerusalem, Is Introduced by Barnabas to the Disciples-To Escape Assassination at the Hand of the Jews, Exasperated at His Preaching, He Is Brought Down to Caesarea, and Sent to Tarsus-The Church in Palestine Has Rest and Prospers ()


Verse 26

And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.

And when Saul - or 'when he' [omitting ho (Greek #3588) Saulos (Greek #4569), as Lachman and Tischendorf do, though on scarcely preponderating authority],

Was come to Jerusalem , [ eis (Greek #1519) and en (Greek #1722) have nearly equal support]. The special object of this his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion was-as he himself tells the Galatians (Galatians 1:18) - to "see Peter;" not to learn anything from him (for this he is very careful to repudiate, Galatians 1:11-12; Galatians 1:16-20), but to inform him, as the leading apostle, of his conversion and calling, but more particularly the specific sphere to which his labours were to be directed-namely, to the Gentiles pre-eminently; and to confer with him in brotherly fellowship on the things of the kingdom.

He assayed to join himself to the disciples - simply as one of them, leaving his high commission to manifest itself.

But they were afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple - knowing him only as a persecutor of the Faith; the rumour of his conversion, it it ever was cordially believed, passing away during his long absence in Arabia, and the news of his subsequent labours in Damascus perhaps not having reached them.


Verse 27

But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles - that is, to Peter and James; for "other of the apostles saw I none," says he to the Galatians (Galatians 1:18-19). Probably none of the other apostles were there at that time. 'Barnabas (says Howson) being of Cyprus, which was within a few hours' sail of Cilicia, and annexed to it as a Roman province, and Saul and he being Hellenistic Jews, and eminent in their respective localities, they may very well have been acquainted with each other before this.' However this may be, what is here said of Barnabas is in short consistency with the character given of him in Acts 11:24, as "a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith," and with the name given to him by the apostles, "The son of 'exhortation' or consolation" (Acts 4:36). After Peter and James were satisfied, the disciples generally would at once receive the new convert.

And declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he (the Lord) had spoken to him - that is, how he had received his commission direct from their glorified Lord Himself. It is not impossible that Barnabas may have been at Damascus, and brought these particulars of Saul's conversion with him; but this is mere conjecture.


Verse 28

And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.

And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem - for 15 days' lodging with Peter, as we learn from himself in Galatians 1:18 [ eis (Greek #1519) Ierousaleem (Greek #2419) is decidedly better than en (Greek #1722) here].


Verse 29

And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.

And he spake boldy in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians - the Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews (see the note at Acts 6:1). He seems to have specially directed his addresses to this class as being himself one of them, and, in the days of his ignorance, notorious for his virulence against the new Faith.

But they went about to slay him. Thus was he made to feel, throughout his whole Christian course, what he himself had made others so cruelly to feel-the cost of discipleship.


Verse 30

Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.

Which when the brethren knew, [ epignontes (G1921), or 'came to the knowledge of,'] they brought him down to Cesarea - on the coast (see the note at Acts 8:40); accompanying him thus far. But Paul left Jerusalem thus abruptly for another reason than the danger to which his life was, for the second time, exposed. He received express instructions to that effect from his glorified Lord: "It came to pass (says he, in his defense before the people), that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; and saw Him (the glorified One) saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: and when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him:" - q.d., 'Can it be, Lord, that they will resist the testimony of one whom they knew to be the bitterest of all the persecutors of Thy name, whom only resistless evidence could have overpowered and won to Thee?' "And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles:" - q.d., 'Enough; Jerusalem is steeled against all evidence; the Gentiles afar off are to be thy special sphere' (Acts 22:17-21). Under these solemn impressions-communicated probably to the brethren, who would be glad of this confirmation of their own urgent entreaties to him to hasten away-he would yield himself to their affectionate solicitations; and so they brought him to Caesarea.

And sent him forth to Tarsus. The natural conclusion from this would be that he went by sea, direct to Tarsus, sailing due north from Caesarea, and landing at the mouth of the river Cydnus, the harbour for Tarsus. But since he himself tells us that, after this departure from Jerusalem, he "came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia" (Galatians 1:21), the probability is that he landed at Seleucia (see the note at Acts 13:4), proceeded thence by land to Antioch, and from this penetrated northward into Cilicia, ending his journey at Tarsus. For some interesting particulars regarding Tarsus, see the note at Acts 21:39. As this (says Howson) was his first visit to his native city since his conversion, so it is not certain that he ever was there again (see the notes at Acts 11:25-26). Now it probably was that he became the instrument of gathering into the fold of Christ those "kinsmen," that "sister," and perhaps her "son," of whom mention is made in Romans 16:7; Romans 16:11; Romans 16:21; and in Acts 23:16, etc.


Verse 31

Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.

Then had the churches. But the true reading here seems to be 'the Church' [ hee (Greek #3588) ekkleesia (Greek #1577), with A B C, etc., and most versions], which Lachmann and Tischendorf adopt (and DeWette, Alford, and Lechler approve, though not Meyer). Indeed, it is hardly conceivable that 'churches,' in any proper sense of the term, should have been formed thus early "throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria."

Rest , [ eireeneen (Greek #1515)] - or 'peace.' This rest or peace, however, was not so much owing to Saul's conversion as probably to the Jews themselves having other things to stand to. For at that very time (as Lardner notices) they were filled with alarm at the Emperor Caligula's persistent determination to have an image of himself set up in the temple of Jerusalem; to prevent which they sent an influential deputation to remonstrate with him; and when this failed, and Petronius, governor of Syria, was ordered to make war on the Jews, in order to force on them this obnoxious measure, thousands of them hastened to implore him not to do this, or, if he was resolved on it, to take their lives rather than oblige them to yield. It was delayed, however, only on the intercession of Herod Agrippa, whose influence with the emperor at that time was great; and but for Caligula's death, the measure would probably have been carried out, (Josephus, Ant. 8: 8. 1-8; Lardner,

I. chapters 2: and 8:) This was sufficient to withdraw for some time the attention of the Jews from the Christians, and give them rest.

Throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria. This incidental notice of the extent to which Christianity had spread and converts been made in all the great scenes of our Lord's ministry, where the facts proclaimed by the heralds of the Cross could be best attested, is extremely interesting (see the note at Acts 8:4).

And were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied. The structure of the sentence [ eichon (Greek #2192) eireeneen (Greek #1515), oikodomoumenee (Greek #3618) kai (Greek #2532) poreuomenee (Greek #4198) too (Greek #3588) foboo (Greek #5401) tou (Greek #3588) kuriou (Greek #2962), kai (Greek #2532) tee (Greek #3588) parakleesei (Greek #3874) tou (Greek #3588) hagiou (Greek #40) pneumatos (Greek #4151) epleethuneto (Greek #4129)] will hardly bear this sense-which our translators have adopted from Beza, in opposition to the Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, and the best modern critics. The true sense appears to be this: 'Then had the Church rest throughout all Judea, and Samaria, and Galilee, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord, and was replenished with the comfort of the Holy Spirit.' It is objected to this rendering of the last clause (by Alford and Alexander) that the word pleethunoo (Greek #4129), though classically it signifies to 'make full' or 'be full,' is never so used in Hellenistic Greek, but always in the sense of to 'multiply.' So (with Meyer, Webster and Wilkinson, and Hackett) they render this clause, 'was multiplied by the exhortation (or 'consolation,' or, 'aid,' or 'encouragement') of the Holy Spirit.' But this is a most unusual idea in the New Testament; and though to 'multiply' seems the sense of the word elsewhere in the New Testament, the two ideas of 'multiply' and 'fill' are so cognate that the word is in the Septuagint used in the sense of 'fill,' often enough to show that it is as good Hellenistic as classical Greek (ex. gr., Genesis 18:20; Deuteronomy 28:2; Psalms 4:7; Psalms 65:13; Psalms 92:14).

We therefore have no hesitation in translating, 'were replenished with the Holy Spirit' (with the Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, DeWette, and Baumgarten). The outward peace which the Church enjoyed was improved (says the sacred historian) to its internal consolidation and advancement; their walk before men in the fear of the Lord, and their inward consolation through the power of the Holy Spirit, going sweetly together. The way has now been prepared by the narrative of Saul's conversion and early labours, for relating those wonderful events in his missionary life which were to occupy the principal part of this book. But as the sacred historian had still to relate some particulars of the doings and sufferings of that "apostle of the circumcision," with which hitherto we have been chiefly occupied-and most of all, the last great honour conferred upon him, of "opening the door of faith to the Gentiles" - he now returns to him, leaving him finally when has to take up the career of a still greater apostle, (Acts 13:1-52.)

Peter at Lydda Heals Aeneas of the Palsy, and Raises Dorcas to Life at Joppa ()


Verse 32

And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.

And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all [quarters]. Our translators seem here to have inserted a wrong supplement, as what follows makes it pretty clear that not places, but persons, are meant. The historian's object is to inform us that the apostle made a tour of inspection on visitation among all the disciples throughout the country. The supplement, therefore, if any were needed, should be, 'as Peter passed through all' (the disciples),

He came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. But no supplement is required, "as Peter passed through all" [ dia (Greek #1223) pantoon (Greek #3956)] being rendered quite intelligible by the next clause. (So the Vulgate, Calvin, Beza, and nearly every modern interpreter.) Lydda is (says Robinson) some 10 or 12 miles southeast of Joppa-the same as the Hebrew Lod (Ezra 2:33; Nehemiah 7:37); and the Greek Diospolis.


Verse 33

And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.

And there he found a certain man named Eneas - probably, from his Greek name, a Hellenistic Jew. Since he is simply called 'a man' of such a name, Bengel, Humphry, and Lechler conclude he was not then a believer, though he must have heard of the cures which Jesus performed. Meyer, Alford, and Alexander are doubtful. But since the historian tells us that a general conversion of the district resulted from the cure of this man, is it likely that he would have said nothing of Aeneas' own conversion if he had not been a believer before? Accordingly (with Hackett and Webster and Wilkinson), we judge that he was himself one of "the saints which dwelt at Lydda."

Which had kept his bed (or 'pallet:' see the note at Acts 5:15) eight years, and was sick of the palsy (or 'paralyzed').


Verse 34

And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And Peter said unto him, Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. The immediate presence and power of the glorified Redeemer, eclipsing almost absorbing the instrument by whom He worked, is strikingly expressed in these words. See the note at Acts 3:6.

Arise, and make thy bed , [ strooson (Greek #4766) seautoo (Greek #4572), sc., krabbaton (Greek #2895)] - not, "take up they bed," as once and again our Lord said to the bedridden (Mark 2:11, etc.), to evince the completeness of the cure (see the note at John 5:8); but 'spread' or 'sort thy bed'-an operation which would quite as effectually show the perfectness of his cure.

And he arose immediately.


Verse 35

And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.

And all that dwelt in Lydda and Saron , [ ton (Greek #3588) Saroonan (Greek #4565); or, according to the best manuscripts, Saroona (Greek #4565)] - the Sharon of the Old Testament [ Shaarown (Hebrew #8289)]; not any town or village, but (as the article shows) the rich flat coast district which stretches southward from Caesarea to Joppa.

Saw him, and turned to the Lord - that is (according to the accustomed phraseology of this book) the Lord Jesus. As to the bearing of this statement on Aeneas' own discipleship, see the note at Acts 9:33. The "all" here need not be taken with strict literality. All that is meant seems to be, that this event resulted in a general conversion throughout the district.


Verse 36

Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.

Now there was at Joppa - the modern Jaffa, the ancient sea-port of Palestine, and still the sea-port of Jerusalem, from which it lies distant 45 miles to the northwest.

A certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas - the one the Syro-Chaldaic, the other the Greek name for an antelope or gazelle, which, from the grace of its motions and the beauty of its eyes, was frequently employed as a proper name for women. The interpretation of the name is given by the historian, to signify that it expressed the character which she bore among the Christians of the place.

This woman was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did - eminent for the active generosities of the Christian character.


Verse 37

And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.

And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed - according to the custom of all civilized nations toward the dead. Though the washing of the corpse was in this case, of course, a female operation, the participle is in the masculine gender [ lousantes (Greek #3068)], as the writer's object was not to express by whom the thing was done, but simply to state what was done by those whose business it was (Winer, 27: 6).

They laid in an (or 'the') upper chamber - of the house where she was (compare 1 Kings 17:19).


Verse 38

And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.

And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa (see the note at Acts 9:32), and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. The direct form, 'Delay not to come to us' [ okneesees (Greek #3635) ... heemoon (Greek #2257)], is decidedly better supported. This request shows that miraculous gifts were not possessed by the disciples generally (as Bengel notes).


Verse 39

Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.

Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows - whom she had clad or fed,

Stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made , [ epoiei (Greek #4160)] - that is (as the tense implies), 'had been in the habit of making.'

While she was with them.


Verse 40

But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.

But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed - the one in imitation of His Master's way (Luke 8:54, and compare 2 Kings 4:33); the other in striking contrast with it. The kneeling befitted the lowly servant, but not the Lord Himself-of whom it is never once recorded that He knelt in the performance of a miracle: and this although, during His mysterious soul-agony in the garden, one of the three evangelists who record that scene, states expressly that He "kneeled down," and the two others, that He "fell on His face," and "upon the ground."

And turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. This graphic minuteness of detail imparts to the narrative an air of charming reality.


Verse 41

And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.

And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up - precisely as His Lord had done to his own mother-in-law (Mark 1:31).

And when he had called the saints (whose fellow-disciple she was), and widows (whose benefactress she had been), presented her alive.


Verse 42

And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.

And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord - the Lord Jesus; unable to resist the living evidence of the divine power put forth in His name upon one known to all in the place.


Verse 43

And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.

And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa - no doubt taking advantage of the opening for His Master's work which the miracle on Dorcas created, as well as imparting further instruction to the disciples.

With one Simon a tanner - a trade regarded by the Jews as half unclean, and consequently disreputable, from the contact with dead animals and blood which was connected with it. For this reason, even by other nations, it was usually carried on at some distance from towns; accordingly, Simon's house was "by the sea side" (Acts 10:6). Peter's lodging there shows him already to some extent above Jewish prejudice.

Remarks:

(1) It is greatly to be regretted that some able critics, even among the orthodox and believing-with the view, apparently, of conciliating the sceptical, and themselves perhaps suffering from a reigning scepticism-have shown a disposition to explain all the cases of conversion recorded in the New Testament by the one law of a gradual development of religious convictions and impressions, aided by outward events, and only divinely directed. Least of all can this case of Saul of Tarsus be so explained. No doubt his rare natural abilities and previous training at the feet of Gamaliel would go to rich account in his subsequent career; nor have we any reason to doubt that his views would undergo a progressive enlargement, and his personal Christianity ripen as he advanced. But the great turning-point was the manifestation of Christ to him on his way to Damascus. Up to that moment his feeling toward Jesus of Nazareth was that of unmixed hatred, and the express errand on which he journeyed to Damascus was to extirpate the faith of Him in that city.

But as soon as he knew that the voice which addressed him from the heavens was that of Jesus Himself, he yielded himself up in trembling but absolute subjection to His authority as the Christ of God. Now, he was His servant as heartily and wholly as until that moment he had been His enemy. As yet, indeed, he had no intelligent apprehension of the work of Christ-that, perhaps, was reserved for Ananias to impart to him-but the change then worked on him was as total, as instantaneous, as little the result of any previous thoughts and feelings, as any mental change can be conceived to be. In another place (at Matthew 13:44-46, Remark 1) we have adverted to the important difference between two great classes of conversion: the one illustrating that divine saying, "I am found of them that sought me not, I am made manifest unto them that asked not after me" (Isaiah 65:1; Romans 10:20) - and if ever there was such a case, surely this of Saul of Tarsus was it-the other fulfilling the promise, "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13); and such was the case of Cornelius, in the next chapter.

(2) The identity of the risen and glorified Jesus with Him who was nailed to the accursed tree, receives delightful illustration from this scene on the way to Damascus. As it was for believing in the resurrection and glorification of the crucified Nazarene that Saul persecuted the Christians, so the vision of Him now in actual glory, and His own proclamation, that He was the Object against whom he was rushing, carried irresistible conviction to him that the Christians were in the right. Ever afterward did he refer to that vision as evidence that he "had seen Jesus Christ our Lord," and so had that indispensable qualification for the apostleship. If, then, all this was not an illusion, it follows that that same Jesus whom the Jews nailed to the cross is now, in His risen body, in the heavens.

(3) What unutterable consolation is in the bosom of that expostulation, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" Even on the well-known principle, that the dearer anyone is to another the more he identifies himself with him in feeling-accounting himself injured by the injuries done to his friend-this question shows that the strength of Christ's attachment to His disciples on earth had suffered no abatement by His removal to heaven, and by the new sphere of life on which He had now entered. But further, since few, if any, of those in whom He considered Himself persecuted by Saul were among the number of His disciples when on earth, it must have been their discipleship simply-no matter when or how brought about-that formed the strong bond of attachment to them on Christ's part, in virtue of which every injury inflicted upon them was, to His feeling, a violence dose to Himself. But there is more in it than this. His own explicit testimony, and that of His apostles, is, that whosoever believeth in Him is one life with Him-even as the head and members of one and the same body; because "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30). On this principle, as a wound inflicted on the extremities thrills upwards to the head, Jesus would have Saul to know that his persecuting arm beneath was felt by Himself above. And should not those who love their ascended Saviour take the full comfort of this wonderful truth? To believe the fact that Christ in heaven recognizes and realizes His oneness with believers on earth, is not enough. It is that He feels it; for so much is certainly implied in His most tender expostulation with this ruthless persecutor. And as there is nothing which Christians less vividly apprehend than this, so there is nothing more fitted to help them to it than to let this expostulation from the heavens with Saul of Tarsus sink deep into their hearts.

(4) That the men who journeyed with Saul to Damascus were themselves drawn partially within the blaze of this scene, and were employed to lead the converted persecutor blind into the city-while yet total strangers to the internal revolution which it effected in him-was befitting the wisdom that reigned in this wonderful dispensation. For thus were provided unexceptionable witnesses to the reality of the outward facts, and all the more so from their entire ignorance of the change which they had worked on the man whom they attended. But a deeper wisdom reigned in the subsequent steps. Since the conversion of Saul, at the very moment of it, amounted to nothing more than the absolute subjugation of his spirit to Jesus as the very Christ of God and the Lord of glory-without any explicit knowledge of the Gospel-and the teaching, if any, which he received from Ananias before his baptism would be brief and elementary, those memorable three days were permitted to intervene, during which he "was without sight, and neither did eat nor drink." We have already indicated the probable character and direction of the exercises which during those three days were to him instead of bodily sustenance-exercises which would stamp their impress on his whole future ministry, and perhaps his writings too (see exposition of Acts 9:9).

But their influence in so quickly ripening him into a powerful preacher of the Faith which he was on his way to Damascus to destroy, can hardly escape any thoughtful reader. Scarcely less remarkable were the steps which followed, by which this rare convert was to be prepared for his great work. The Lord had said to him, as he lay prostrate before Him, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." But the three days are drawing to a close, and no director has appeared. At length one named Ananias, in vision, enters his chamber and puts his hand on him, that he may receive his sight; while Ananias himself, by another vision, is directed to go to Saul of Tarsus, whom he will find in such a street, at the house of such a man-and find, too, in the act of prayer-who also has seen in vision that very man, Ananias by name, who is to lay his hand on him for the recovery of his sight! At the sound of that dread name-Saul of Tarsus-Ananias is startled, because it is terror to all Christians; and the very errand on which he has now come has traveled to Damascus before him. But the Lord hushes his fears, assuring him that he is no longer the bloody persecutor, but to Him a chosen vessel for eminent service in the Gospel, for which he is to be as great a sufferer as he himself had made others to be. Not disobedient unto the heavenly vision, Ananias goes boldly to the man with the dreaded name, and delivers his commission. Immediately the film drops from the eyes of the new convert, he is baptized, receives sustenance, remains some days in private fellowship with the disciples, and straightway preaches Christ in the synagogues of Damascus, waxing mightier from day to day, and bearing down all opposition. Could it be that out of such unparalleled preparations there should not come forth a witness for Christ of signal power?

(5) That Ananias occupied no official position among the Christians of Damascus (as noted in the exposition of Acts 9:17) we may with tolerable certainty conclude, from his being described simply as "a certain disciple." Yet this was the man whom the great Head of the Church Himself sent to baptize the chiefest of the apostles and the most distinguished of all preachers, to be the instrument through whom his vision should return to him, and through whom the Holy Spirit should descend on him; nor were any other human hands laid upon him after those of this "certain disciple." Are we then to infer that any Christian may at any time baptize another on his profession of faith, and that no forms of human ordination should have place in the Church? That certainly would be in the teeth of our apostle's own instructions in his Pastoral Epistles, and in opposition to what appears to have been the regular practice in the apostolic churches; but thus much may safely be inferred from the case of Saul, that where no constituted Church of Christ exists, and official instrumentality is not to be had, the essential ordinances of the visible Church may be performed by those whom the providence or secret direction of God may point out as fittest for doing it, and the work of the ministry discharged by those whom the gifts of the Holy Spirit have qualified for the exercise of it.

(6) What was Saul's object in withdrawing to Arabia, in the midst (as we judge) of his first labours at Damascus as a preacher of Christ, and in returning to it, after a lapse of probably more than two years, to continue his preaching labours? Not to enter on a new sphere of evangelistic labour-as some think. For why, if he was to return to Damascus, should he have left it at all, at a time when his work was telling so powerfully there upon the Jewish mind? and why, if preaching had been his object, does he make no allusion to it to the Galatians, when, in mentioning to them his visit to Arabia, it would certainly have been to his purpose to tell them that he had gone there after leaving Damascus, preaching his own Gospel, without any communication with the other apostles? Instead of this, he simply says he went into Arabia and returned to Damascus (Galatians 1:17). That he never preached in Arabia none will say; but the object of this lengthened visit appears to us to have been the enjoyment of a period of retirement and repose.

Perhaps the excitement attending the change in his character and occupation demanded this, and his contendings with the Jews as to the sense of the Old Testament required deeper study and more prayerful reflection than he could possibly have given it since the light of heaven had broken in upon his darkened understanding. And if the prophets, after giving forth their Messianic predictions, had themselves to "search what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories which were to follow them" (1 Peter 1:11) - we may well conceive how it should be indispensable to the maturing of this great apostle's gift for opening the Messianic sense of the Old Testament Scriptures, that he should have to spend a lengthened period in searching them, "comparing spiritual things with spiritual," as he expressly tells us that he did (1 Corinthians 2:13). Certain it is, that in such researches, as in everything else, "the soul of the diligent shall be made fat" (Proverbs 13:4).

(7) What internal evidence of truth does the account of Saul's first visit to Jerusalem, after his conversion, bear to the unsophisticated reader. Him object was (as himself afterward writes to the Galatians, Galatians 1:18) to see Peter. But he obtrudes not himself and his commission direct upon that apostle; he simply "assays to join himself to the disciples," as one of their number. But the sight of him awakens their fears, and their recollection of his dreadful proceedings in time past begets the suspicion that he may only be putting on the cloak of discipleship for the purpose of identifying and seizing them. Here it is that Barnabas steps in, and in beautiful consistency with that "goodness" elsewhere ascribed to him (Acts 11:24), and which shone through all his proceedings, he brings him not to the disciples at large, but to the apostles-whose satisfaction would speedily dispel the fears of the rest-informing them of the circumstances of his conversion, and of his subsequent labours at Damascus in the cause of the Gospel. This was enough for the apostles, and through them for all; and now he is constantly with them, coming in and going out testifying boldly of Christ, particularly to the Hellenistic class of Jews to which himself belonged, until his life was in danger from them, and then his friends hurried him off to Caesarea and thence to his native Tarsus. Are these the marks of an artfully dressed-up narrative, as the critics of the Tubingen school allege?-pretending to a historical insight of which, in its deeper and only worthy sense, they are signally destitute.

(8) The rest or peace which the Church at this time had from Jewish persecution (the hands of the Jews being then full enough of their own endangered interests), and the consequent increase of the disciples and prosperity of the Christian cause, has had its parallels once and again in later times. How often, for example, did it happen at the time of the great Reformation, that when the cause of Protestantism was in imminent danger from the Popish princes of the empire-and from the emperor himself, who was ever ready to league with the Pope to crush it-the danger that all were in, of being overwhelmed by the victorious and ever-advancing Turks, procured the reformers and reforming princes a blessed breathing time, during which their cause acquired both growth and consolidation. And thus it is that oftentimes the Lord, not by holding their enemies' hands, but by simply giving them other work to do, effectually interposes in behalf of His people-thus exemplifying, as in numberless other ways, that ancient law of His kingdom - "The Lord will judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants, when he seeth that their strength is gone" (Deuteronomy 32:36).

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 9:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/acts-9.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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