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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Acts 11

 

 

Verses 1-30

Acts 11:2. They of the circumcision contended with him. Those who were zealous of the law, apprehending that Christ and his grace had only been promised and confined to themselves, the call and conversion of the gentiles became a dreadful stumblingblock even to the believing, as well as to the unbelieving jews. They contended with Peter for eating and conversing with the gentiles, especially for admitting them into communion without circumcision. Some tell us that the arch-heretic Cerinthus was the chief author of this contention.

Acts 11:4. Peter rehearsed the matter. Far from pretending to a superiority over the rest of the apostles, he did not disdain to render an account of his actions, but with great sincerity and humility rehearsed and related the whole matter to their entire satisfaction.

He acquainted the brethren with the vision which commanded him to make no distinction of clean and unclean, because there was no natural turpitude in any kind of meat, save only as it was prohibited of God: and that the law which made a difference of meats had now been abrogated, making all meats clean and free to be eaten.

He gave the interpretation of this vision, and acquainted them with the end for which it was designed, not so much to reveal the lawfulness of eating all sorts of meats, as to acquaint him with his liberty and duty to preach the gospel to the gentiles, whom he was no longer to look upon as unclean, though they were not circumcised, but as “heirs and fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”

The conclusion which St. Peter drew from the premises was that God had made the gentiles equal in grace with the believing jews; and that seeing the Holy Ghost came down upon them in the same manner, and with the same power as he did upon the apostles, he could not reasonably deny them baptism, and by baptism admission into the gospel church. Having the grace signified by baptism they ought to have baptism, the seal of that grace; they that have the inward, are not to be denied the outward baptism. They that were baptized with the Holy Ghost (as Cornelius and his family were) might and ought to be baptized with water. Had they been denied church communion for want of the ceremony of circumcision, it had certainly been resistance to the law of charity, and disobedience against God.

Acts 11:18. When they heard these things, they held their peace: ησυχασαν, they acquiesced, or approved. In men so educated as the jews, and so bigoted to the law, this silence discovers a high degree of the christian temper. As soon as they saw the counsel and the hand of God, they bowed to the decisions of heaven, and in a point too which touched the vitality of the ceremonial law. Let the disturbers of religious communions think of this; let those who would destroy souls, and rend the church sooner than not have their wicked will in all things, be ashamed in presence of their first christian brethren, who yielded under the strongest prejudices, to what the Lord had done.

Acts 11:19. They which were scattered abroad about Stephen, travelled as far as Phenice, a province of Syria, whose capital was Tyre; and Cyprus, whose chief towns were Paphos, and Salamis, the port where Mark some years after is said to have been stoned to death by the jews. This was the country of Barnabas. — And Antioch, once the capital of all Syria, and which king Antiochus had called after his own name. 2 Samuel 8:9. 1 Chronicles 8:5.

Acts 11:20. Some of them were men of Cyprus, a large island, and Cyrene, a small country east of Tripoli in Africa. By consequence, the Greek language was vernacular to those ministers. They preached to the Grecians, the Hellenists, really Greeks by birth and language, and not proselytes, as the Grecians in Acts 6:1. But they stopped not in cities adjacent to Judea. The Italian writers add, that they formed a church in Rome, and in Puteoli, now Pouzzol. Cardinal Baronius adds, as quoted in Acts 8:4, that they settled in cities of France and Spain. Our christian antiquaries, as bishops Lloyd and Usher, have not the smallest doubt, but that Britain and Ireland received the gospel, not only in the apostolic age, but from the earliest times of the dispersion of the saints.

Acts 11:21. The hand of the Lord was with them. A Hebraism, frequent in the prophets, to designate his power and presence, as in the words which follow. And a great number believed, and turned to the Lord. How desirable in every minister, to see at certain times such revivals as these, of constant occurrence in the first planting of christianity. With the first preachers every battle was a victory, and wherever they could gain a hearing, a church was built to the Lord.

Acts 11:22. Then tidings of these things came to the church in Jerusalem. They instantly discovered their paternal care for the young converts by sending Barnabas to strengthen and confirm them in the Lord; for the instruments of this great work in the above cities were neither apostles nor apostolic men, but helpers or evangelists only.

Acts 11:24. Barnabas, son of consolation, was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost. He lived and walked in the light and comforts of the Lord. He was a learned levite of the island of Cyprus, and educated with Paul at the college of Gamaliel in Jerusalem. Our Dr. Cave says, after Eusebius, that he was one of the seventy disciples of Christ, and nominated as one of the twelve. Acts 1. When Paul came to Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, Barnabas introduced him to the apostles, and to the church. His mission to Antioch is supposed to have been about nine years after the ascension. At Lystra, he and Paul were taken for gods, after the man, lame from his birth, had been healed: Acts 14:8. Barnabas accompanied Paul in all Asia minor; particularly in Pamphylia, Phrygia, and Galatia. In Whiston’s Primitive Christianity, we have an account how St. Clement was converted by hearing him at Rome; the church of Milan also claims him as its founder. The Catholic Martyrology says, he was martyred at Cyprus about the fifty fourth year of our Lord.

Acts 11:25. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, a short distance by water, but a hundred miles by land, to seek Saul. The work required both their labours, and the year they spent in that city and province was among the most useful part of their lives. It is probable that Saul, pursued by persecutions, had retreated thither as a Roman, till the storm had subsided.

Acts 11:26. The disciples were called christians first in Antioch. χρηματισαι

implies, that they were so called by divine appointment. What follows is the substance of what the fathers have said on this head. The name was just, honourable, and approved by the world. Prior to that time they had been called disciples, as here; believers, Acts 5:14; men of the church, Acts 12:1; men of the way, Acts 9:2; and the saints, as in Acts 11:13. By their enemies they were called Nazarenes and Galileans. But now, by the conversion of Cornelius, his kinsmen and family, the believing jews and gentiles were made one church, and the name of jew and heathen should no more continue the distance that was betwixt them, but this new name was given to them both, and as some conceive according to the prophecy mentioned in Isaiah 65:15. This name is embraced by all believers, as more expressive of their relation to their divine Lord, a name in which they gloried, and owned before the face of their bitterest enemies. Euseb. Hist. Ecclesiastes 50. 5. c. 1. — Joan. Antiochen in chronol. informs us, that this honourable name was fixed upon the disciples of Christ at Antioch, about the beginning of Claudius’s reign, ten years after Christ’s ascension; and adds, that Euödius, lately ordained bishop of that place, was the person that imposed this name upon the whole church.

Acts 11:27-30. In those days came prophets from Jerusalem. Agabus was the first of these, that church being favoured with every gift. He announced the famine that was coming on all the provinces by drought; for the Lord was gracious in forewarning his people of the impending calamity. Many short harvests happened in the east for want of rain, to teach men their dependence on providence for bread. But this famine was so severe as to be named by four historians. Eusebius says that it oppressed nearly the whole empire. It happened while Claudius was consul, ob assiduas sterilitates, through continued sterility, says Suetonius, vita Claud. Josephus names it in a particular manner, because it continued to afflict the world for two or three years. He adds, that Helena, queen of Adiabene, sent agents to Egypt to buy corn, and to Cyprus to buy dried figs, for distribution among the poor. Antiq. lib. 20. cap. 2. But the christians, ever foremost in works of charity, were spontaneously ready to send relief to the poor saints in Judea.

It ought not to escape remark here, that it was in this second visit to Jerusalem, that Paul was favoured with a glorious rapture of visions, being caught up as it were into paradise, into the third heavens. This vision which equalized to the first of ancient prophets, was designed to confirm and strengthen his faith, and support him in all the future labours and sufferings of his ministry. See on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.

REFLECTIONS.

Oh jews, doctors of the law, more learned than your fathers, and therefore more ingenious in malice, and more inveterate in persecutions against the church than ever they were against the prophets. What is this that you have done? John is beheaded with your silent approbation. The Son, the heir is slain, that you may peacefully enjoy the inheritance. Stephen is stoned; and all your dogs of war you have slipped against the flock. Two thousand of them lie bleeding in Jerusalem, and on the hills around the city, and in the fields of Judea, as stated on chap. 8. But pause, and think. Is not your prudence devoid of wisdom? Had Zimri peace when he slew his master? Had Jezebel peace in her palace, when she had stained the adjacent ground with the blood of Naboth? Pause; for the seven woes pronounced by the Saviour are coming upon you. Matthew 23.

On the other hand, see what your policy for judaism has done for the gentiles. You have driven out an army of missionaries to illuminate the world! God, who rides on the storm, laughs you to scorn. The age is come, to call those his people who were not his people. Your shekinah is gone over to the gentiles, among whom his name shall be great to the ends of the earth. See how his heralds run from province to province with torches in their hands, like the little army of Gideon, to illuminate the dark night of the gentiles. They publish the new philosophy from heaven, to make void the wisdom of the schools.

But oh how far does the Spirit of holiness shed down on the church surpass the glory of the synagogue. You had but a few prophets, ever opposed and persecuted; now an army of teachers are sent forth to convert the world. Special endowments were rare in the ancient church: now the Spirit is poured out on the thirsty lands. While the world sustains hunger, the prophets apprise the church of the droughty year, that bread may be in the habitations of the just, and joy in the houses of the saints.

But more terrific still. As your own prophet Isaiah has said, chap. Isaiah 65:15, so you are about to leave your name for a curse, while the Lord has “called his people by another name.” The disciples, and it would seem by divine appointment, were called Christians first in Antioch. The whole world are sponsors to the vows; they have repudiated your wicked name of Nazarenes, a name of malice and contempt. If you, oh jews, have boasted of the name of Abraham; if the princes of David’s house have gloried in the name of their sire; how much more shall we glory in the name of Him who has loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. He bears our names before his Father, and allows us to bear his name on our forehead, that we may never be ashamed of the cross. Oh that it may be written indelibly, and in all its forms of love, on every heart —

“Through all eternity to prove, Thy nature and thy name is love.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 11:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/acts-11.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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