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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Acts 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-22

C.—THE ARREST OF PETER AND John, WHO ARE, HOWEVER, RELEASED, AFTER ENERGETICALLY VINDICATING THEMSELVES BEFORE THE GREAT COUNCIL

Acts 4:1-22

1And as [But whilst] they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain[FN1] of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through [in, ἐν] Jesus the resurrection from the dead. [FN2]3And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto [confined them until] the next day: for it was now [was already] eventide 4 Howbeit [But, δὲ] many of them which [who] heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand 5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes [in Jerusalem],[FN3] 6And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander,[FN4]6 and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest [were of high-priestly race], were gathered together at Jerusalem [om. at J3]. 7And when they had set them in the midst,[FN5] they asked, By [In] what power, or by [in] what name, have ye done this? 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,[FN6] 9If we this day be examined of the [concerning a] good deed [benefit] done to the impotent man [a diseased] Prayer of Manasseh, by what means he is made whole [is saved]; 10Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by [in] the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by [in] him doth this man stand here before you whole [in health]. 11This is the stone which was set at nought of [by] you builders,[FN7] which is become the head of the corner [corner-stone]. 12Neither is there [And there is not] salvation in any other: for there is none[FN8] other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant [plain] men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of [recognized] them, that they had been with Jesus 14 And beholding the man which [who] was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside [om. aside] out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16Saying, What shall we do[FN9] to [with] these men? for that indeed [om. indeed, μὲν] a notable miracle [well-known sign] hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. 17But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly [earnestly] threaten[FN10] them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name 18 And they called them, and commanded them[FN11]not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus 19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God [before God] to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye 20 For we cannot but [cannot forbear to] speak the things which we have seen and heard 21 So [But δὲ] when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing [not finding] how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done 22 For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed [done].

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Acts 4:1-3. The priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, etc.—The measures which the hierarchy adopted in reference to the apostles, were executed by the officer (an Israelite and a priest) who commanded the Levitical guard of the temple. [This guard, consisting of Levites, is frequently mentioned by Josephus, and was probably commanded by one of the high priests; see Winer: Realw. art. Tempel, at the end, and comp. 1 Chronicles 9:11; 2 Chronicles 31:13.—Tr.]. Two different motives, acting in combination, influenced the priests and the Sadducees. The latter were indignant that the apostles, who bore witness to the resurrection of Jesus ( Acts 3:15), should thus support in general the doctrine of the resurrection, which they denied [see Matthew 22:23]; this offence they regarded as intolerable. The priests, on the other hand, considered it to be a grievous offence that the apostles should attempt to teach the people, without having been officially authorized by them; the act seemed to be an invasion of the privileges belonging to the Levitical priesthood. The motive which influenced the Sadducees is very obvious, but the present proceedings are not to be exclusively ascribed to it, and no allusion is made to it during the trial before the chief Council. [“The hold,” εἰς τήρησιν, was, probably, the prison: comp. Acts 5:18.—Tr.]

Acts 4:4. Howbeit many of them, etc.—But while the rulers and representatives of Israel, who held the hierarchical power in their hands, manifested a spirit of opposition, and even resorted to violent measures by arresting the two apostles, the apostolical testimony had made a profound impression on a large number of unprejudiced and disinterested hearers; these were entirely convinced, were conducted to faith, and were converted. It was not the event itself that had occurred (the miracle which they had witnessed), that induced them to believe; it had created simply wonder and amazement, Acts 3:10 ff.; it was, rather, the word of the apostles, their testimony concerning Christ, λόγος, which wrought faith in them. The apostolical efforts were so successful, that the multitude of the believers was perceptibly increased. The number of men who now belonged to the Church, amounted to five thousand, while the females [who were soon afterwards, Acts 5:14, very numerous] were not counted with them. The addition, on the day of Pentecost, to the original members of the Church, had already amounted to three thousand souls, Acts 2:41. We may easily infer that during the interval between that day and the present, which was, probably, not very brief, the Church had steadily gained in numbers [“the Lord added daily, etc,” Acts 2:47]. At all events, the occurrence here described constitutes an epoch in the early history of the primitive Church. Now, as Christ is set for the fall of some, and the rising again of others [ Luke 2:34], Song of Solomon, too, opposite effects were produced in the present case: the whole occurrence conducted some to a positive decision, so that they became believers; the repugnance of others assumed the form of positive hostility. It was an occasion which led all to decide in their hearts either for, or against Christ.

Acts 4:5-6. And it came to pass on the morrow, etc.—On the next morning, the Sanhedrin, the highest hierarchical tribunal, assembled, not having had time to hold a meeting on the previous day. It was three o’clock in the afternoon when Peter and John first saw the lame man ( Acts 3:1), and, doubtless, some time had passed, before Peter began to address the people ( Acts 3:8-11). It is possible that Luke has recorded only the substance of the address itself, which may have also occupied considerable time; it may have, accordingly, been not far from six o’clock in the evening, when the apostles were arrested. A formal and very full session of the Sanhedrin was, therefore, held the next morning. The three classes or orders of the members composing that body, are distinctly specified [the term rulers applying to the Sanhedrists generally, (de Wette)]: (1) High priests, (2) Elders of the people, and (3) Scribes. Several individuals belonging to the first order, are even mentioned by name, viz, the Exodus -high priest, Annas (called Ananus by Josephus), Caiaphas, the actual high priest, and Song of Solomon -in-law of the former, and also two other members of the family of the high priest, who are not otherwise known in history.

Acts 4:7. By what power … done this?—The point to which the examination of the apostles refers, Isaiah, not the language which they had employed when they addressed the people, but the miracle which had led to the subsequent address (ἐποιήσατε τοῦτο), and it is this point to which Peter alludes in Acts 4:9 ff. The answer to the twofold question was expected to state, first, the power through which [qua vi, de Wette] the apostles had performed the act of healing, and, then, the person (ὄνομα) whom they had named, and to whom they had appealed for aid and support.

Acts 4:8-12, a. Then Peter, filled, etc.—The following is the substance of the testimony of Peter:—(a) That he and John had performed an act which was a benefit (εὐεργεσία), not an injury, Acts 4:9; (b) That the poor and infirm man had, in truth been healed, been restored to health, and been saved (σέσωσται, ὑγιής), of which the Prayer of Manasseh, who was present, was himself the living witness; (c) That the power to heal and to save in this case, dwelt in Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, Acts 4:10; Acts 4:12; yea, (d) That all salvation was given solely and exclusively in Jesus Christ, and given, too, for mankind in general, as far as the heaven above extends, Acts 4:12.

b. Ye rulers, etc.—Peter expressly recognizes the Judges, personally, as the legitimate and authorized heads and representatives of the people of Israel ( Acts 4:8), and implies that when he addresses them, he really addresses the entire nation; they are, as it were, the ear, as well as the mouth, of the people, Acts 4:10. They are the builders [ Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42] who are called, authorized, and obliged by the duties of their office, to build up the house of God (οἰκοδόμων, Acts 4:11). But while Peter, in the most sincere and respectful manner, acknowledges the official character of the Sanhedrists, he is equally as candid and free in declaring that they had erred, seriously erred, and, indeed, grievously sinned. That stone which they had despised and rejected as worthless, had, nevertheless, been chosen as the corner-stone, and had, indeed, become [γενόμενος] the head of the corner; Acts 4:11 [comp. ἀκρογωνιαῖον in 1 Peter 2:6]; they had crucified Him, whom God afterward raised up, and who is given to men as the only Mediator, through whom men can be saved.

Acts 4:13-14. Now when they saw … And beholding the man, etc.—The deportment and words of the apostles, combined with the fact that the miracle had been really wrought, exerted so powerful an influence, that the Sanhedrists could not remain insensible to it. The παῤῥησία [boldness of speech], the unembarrassed manner, and the perfect confidence, which characterized the defence made by the apostles when they stood forth, and, then, the unexpected circumstance that they spoke, not as the party accused, but proceeded to assume the position of a party that brought accusations and refuted errors, already created the greatest astonishment in the minds of the judges. The latter plainly saw that these two men derived no aid from the rabbinical learning acquired in the schools (ἀγράμματοι καί ἰδιωται [“uneducated men and private individuals or laymen.”—J. A. Alex.]); besides, they gradually recollected that they had, at an earlier period, seen both of the men in the company of Jesus—a circumstance that had not at first attracted their attention. Their perplexity reached its height when they saw the man who had been healed, standing at the side of the apostles ( Acts 4:14); he had, doubtless been summoned by the officers of the Sanhedrin, with a view to extract condemnatory evidence from him; but all their expectations were disappointed, when they saw him standing before them, not uttering a word, and yet furnishing by his very posture incontestable evidence of the truth and reality of the miracle in question.

Acts 4:15-16. But when they had commanded them to go aside, etc.—When the apostles, together with the man whom they had healed, had been temporarily dismissed, and the consultation commenced, the chief difficulty which the members of the council found in arriving at a decision, lay in their own will; they would not box before the truth although it was apparent alike to the understanding and the conscience, was generally known in the city, and was too well supported to be denied even by themselves; a miracle had been wrought, but they would not believe in Jesus. They desired, on the contrary, to check the spreading of the truth concerning Christ, as well as the growth of His Church, by employing, as offensive weapons, all the powers deposited in their hands; and they desired to “hold back the truth in unrighteousness,” Romans 1:18 [καιέξω, Germ. vers. aufhalten; see Robinson’s Lex. art. κατέχω, 1. a. and b.—Tr.]. They were conscious that no divine nor human law would sanction the adoption of violent measures against the apostles; nevertheless, they were fully resolved that the matter should not spread further. At this point the highest authority of the people of Israel came to a decision, which, in view of the impulses from which it proceeded, produced the most serious results. This was the first occasion since the sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus, on which the chief magistrates of Israel were led to act officially in reference to the disciples of Jesus; but afterwards Israel continued in the path which was now chosen.

Acts 4:17-18. Let us straitly threaten them.—The immediate course of action which the council resolved to pursue, was the following: Nothing that belonged to the past, should be subjected to official animadversion, Acts 4:21; but, with respect to the future, a precautionary measure should be adopted. It consisted in sternly threatening them with punishment, as well as in forbidding them, in the strictest manner, to speak with a single individual on the subject of confessing Jesus (ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ Ἰησοῦ) Acts 4:17 f.; they were forbidden to utter a sound (μὴ φθέγγε σθαι μηδὲ διδάσκειν), that Isaiah, they should not, even in any private conversation, much less before a public assembly, speak or teach aught concerning Jesus.

Acts 4:19-20. But Peter, etc.—The reply of Peter and John is manly and resolute; appealing to the conscience and the judgment of the judges themselves, they ask the latter whether it would be right before God, if they, the apostles, should give heed to this human prohibition rather than to the command and will of God. Bengel says, with much truth: Non facile mundus tanta perversitate suas leges contra causam Dei tuetur, ut naturalis æquitas etiam in intellectu plane obruatur. They even declare, with the utmost candor, that they cannot refrain from telling all that they had seen and heard. They cannot do otherwise than speak and testify, for they are impelled to pursue this course, alike by the love of Christ, which fills their hearts, and by the irresistible conviction: “Such is the will of God.”

Acts 4:21-22. They let them go.—To the conscientious and bold declaration of the apostles, the Sanhedrin replied by uttering additional threats of punishment, which, however, they were deterred from executing, in consequence of the deep feeling produced among the people by the miracle, Acts 4:21. Still, their language intimated that severe conflicts were approaching; the actual commencement of the latter, andthe degree of bitterness with which they would be maintained by the enemies of the apostles, depended on the popular feeling. The sentiments which prevailed at this time, are accurately described in the words: Populus sanior, quam qui præsunt . (Bengel). The actual infliction of a penalty would, possibly, not have been tolerated by public sentiment; the judges could discover no way, τὸ πῶς κολάσωνται αὐτούς, how they might punish the apostles, because of the people, etc. But they resolved that if they found, on any subsequent occasion, that the people themselves betrayed animosity or even simply a want of interest, they would inflict a decisive blow.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. It was not the act itself of healing the lame Prayer of Manasseh, but the word, the doctrine which the act led the apostles to proclaim, especially the word concerning Jesus the Risen One, that awakened opposition, and engendered a persecuting spirit. The world is willing to endure moral lectures, and even abstract evangelical truth. But when Jesus Christ, personally, the Crucified and Risen One, is proclaimed, the opposition of the natural heart is aroused. And yet all that is precious to the believing heart, is found in Christ personally. When the apostles preached Jesus, they also preached the resurrection from the dead, Acts 4:2. To preach Jesus, is to preach the righteousness and the grace of God, or, rather, to preach all Wisdom of Solomon, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption [ 1 Corinthians 1:30]. In Him and through Him, the believing heart, the reflecting mind, the awakened conscience, find all that man can need.

2. The history of the persecutions of the Church, furnishes by no means the feeblest evidence that Christ lives and reigns. The present persecution of the two apostles is an illustration, Their faith was, undoubtedly, tried, strengthened, and elevated in tone, by their arrest and the judicial proceedings which followed; but these events possess other, and still more striking features. The judicial investigation of the case furnished Peter with an opportunity for delivering, in a direct manner, his testimony concerning Jesus, as the sole Mediator of our salvation, in the presence of the highest tribunal in Israel. Such an opportunity he could not possibly have found under any other circumstances; we have here the evidence that Christ reigns, and that all the evil devices of the enemies of his kingdom are so overruled, as to work together for good, to believers and to his Church. The whole trial and its results tended to establish the truth; (see the following remarks).

3. When Peter defended himself before the great Council, the special fact that he was filled with the Holy Ghost, Acts 4:9, was the fulfilment of an important promise of Jesus. On two different occasions, first, when the Twelve were sent forth, ( Matthew 10:19 f.; comp. Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11 f.), and, again, in the eschatological discourses ( Luke 21:14 f.), Jesus had promised his disciples, that, whether they were examined by civil authorities, or in the synagogues of the Jews, the Holy Ghost would speak in them and through them; he directed them to entertain no anxiety respecting the defence which they should make on such occasions; he even assured them that their adversaries would not be able to resist or reply to their wisdom and eloquence, ( Luke 21:15). The first fulfilment of these promises occurred on the present occasion. Not previously, but now, precisely at the moment when such aid was indispensable (τότε, Acts 4:8), Peter was “filled with the Holy Ghost;” that is to say, the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Song of Solomon, who had, from the day of Pentecost, dwelt in him, as in the other disciples, was now poured out, in the fulness of power, into his mind and heart. He was thus enabled to vindicate himself, and to bear witness to Jesus, not only with a fearless, bold, and joyful spirit, (παῤῥησία, Acts 4:13), but also with Wisdom of Solomon, with propriety of language, and in the most impressive style. Both πῶς and τί ἀπολογήσησθε ( Luke 12:11) were given to the apostles; the Spirit enabled them to exhibit in their whole deportment, alike the wisdom of serpents, and the harmlessness of doves. This is inspiration, demonstrated in the sentiments of the heart, in the thoughts, in the words, and exhibited, too, in a concise and appropriate style.

4. We find a special proof of the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in the circumstance, that when Peter was examined respecting a certain fact, he was enabled to state a fundamental truth like that of salvation in Jesus Christ alone, with so much clearness, openness, and fulness. Salvation (that Isaiah, deliverance, redemption and help, when the body and the soul are endangered, grace and the divine blessing in time and eternity), is in Jesus Christ, in him alone, in him for all. Such is our Christian confession of faith; it is an evangelical, fundamental truth. It is here scarcely necessary to specify all the truths which this confession includes respecting the sinfulness of Prayer of Manasseh, the Person of Jesus Christ himself, and the way of salvation. But we may call attention to the efficient protection which this fundamental principle affords against unevangelical sentiments, doctrines and conduct. They mistake the truth, and deviate from the narrow way of salvation, who indeed receive Christ as a Saviour, but not as, exclusively the Saviour, the sole foundation of our salvation. On such false views Romish and other errors depend for support. He who has once stepped aside from the narrow way of the doctrine of salvation, may easily wander further and further from it.

5. That faith is not a subject depending on mathematical demonstration, or results produced by processes of the understanding, but that it is a matter belonging to the heart and the will, appears from the results of the present judicial proceedings. The man that had been healed stood forth in the presence of all as an unimpeachable witness, whose very appearance incontestably proclaimed the truth; no one attempted to deny that he had formerly been a helpless cripple, but was now restored to health and vigor; neither was any one prepared to assert that this change or restoration to health had not been effected through the apostles, in the power of the name of Jesus. The character of theevent was obvious to the understanding even of the members of the Sanhedrin. And yet they resist, and attempt to check or suppress all mention of the name of Jesus. They will not believe; the heart refuses to yield; all men have not faith [ 2 Thessalonians 3:2].

6. As the rulers commanded the apostles to observe silence respecting Jesus, while Jesus himself had appointed the latter to be his witnesses ( Acts 1:8), two duties seemed to come in collision with each other. The rulers prohibit a certain course of action, and conscience [ Romans 13:5] requires obedience to the rulers; on the other hand, the divine call prescribes that course of action, and conscience demands obedience to a divine call. Can the apostles adopt any method of procedure, which will not involve a violation of conscience? They do not vacillate; they make a statement in unequivocal terms, and act in accordance with it, at the same time that their conduct is irreproachable, in a moral point of view, and, indeed, exemplary. They refuse to obey the constituted authorities, whose official character they themselves respect, solely on the ground that they owe unconditional obedience to God. They are compelled by a sense of duty to state unreservedly that they cannot comply with the demand of the rulers, since it would be positively immoral, or, rather, morally impossible, to withhold their confession and testimony respecting Jesus, Acts 4:20. (Comp. Rothe: Theol. Ethik, III:357 f.: 975 ff.). But they simply decline to obey, and most carefully refrain from committing any act indicating opposition or virtual resistance; not a word, not a glance, betrays a hostile purpose. We are rather led to believe, in view of all that the apostles uttered, that they would submit, without resistance, to any punishments which the rulers might be disposed to inflict.—One point, however, remains, which demands special notice. When the apostles appeared before the Sanhedrin, they were, undoubtedly, governed by the voice of conscience, which, as they declared, would not permit them to be silent, Acts 4:20. But then, they were also governed by the will of God, who had commanded them to speak, Acts 4:19. They refer here to the express command of Christ, found in Acts 1:8, that is to say, to a distinct and sure word of God. It indicates narrow or partial views, when language is used by writers solely in reference to the “individual’s own conscience,” and to “the independent, supporting power of the spirit within as a power that reposes on itself,” and when it is maintained that “for the objective authority, the apostles substituted the subjective authority of their own conviction, which was wrought by the Spirit.” (Baumgarten: Apostelg. I:90 f.) The conscience may err, and the controlling spirit may be an enthusiastic, fanatical spirit; but the plain and sure word or commandment of God conducts in the right way. It was that word which the apostles obeyed.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Acts 4:1. And as they spake unto the people.—Let us be watchful and diligent, so that when the Lord sends us trials, we may be found in the path of duty. (Starke).—The priests—and the captain—and the Sadducees.—When Christ accomplishes a good work through his apostles, Satan also soon presents himself, attended by his apostles, who belong both to the laity and the clergy.—In any attempt to inflict an injury on true Christianity, Pharisaic priests are willing to avail themselves of the aid even of Herodians or Sadducees. Matthew 22:15-16. (Starke).—Although the apostles are assailed by their enemies before they can conclude their discourse, the interruption is not permitted to occur, until they are enabled to proclaim and to apply the fundamental truths of the Gospel. The Lord, in his Wisdom of Solomon, can so direct the steps of his faithful servants, that each one is enabled to finish his course and complete his task, before the enemies of the truth can place an obstacle in his path. (Apost. Past.).

Acts 4:2. Being grieved that they taught the people.—The world cannot impede the work of God (the healing of the lame man), but combines to oppose His word.—And preached, etc.—The people of the world may be willing to receive the Gospel of Christ, if it be presented as a system of morals; but when they are invited to seek those invisible and eternal blessings, for which it teaches us to hope, they are ready to repel it with violence. (K. H. Rieger).—Pride, self-interest, and envy, teach men to hate the truth on account of its friends, and to hate its friends on account of the truth. (Starke).

Acts 4:3. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold.—Such is the experience of the Gospel; it offers mercy to the world, and receives evil in return. Psalm 109:5. (Starke).—This is the course adopted by the ungodly and hypocritical; they resort, not to arguments, but to violence and carnal weapons, (ib.).—When they have no arguments, they inflict blows; when they have no proofs, they produce fetters.—Temporal affliction is the lot of the preacher, but also the seal of the word. Jeremiah 20:8. (Quesn.).—Blessed bonds! They restore many souls to liberty. Philippians 1:14. (ib.).—Here, in the hold, Peter found an opportunity to reflect on the words which he had once pronounced: “Lord, I am ready to go with thee—into prison.” [ Luke 22:33]; the time had come, of which his Master had spoken: “Thou shalt follow me afterward.” [ John 13:36]. (K. H. Rieger).—It was now eventide.—Thus the night afforded them time for prayer, so that they might be strengthened by the power of Christ, when they should defend themselves on the next day. (Apost. Past.).—That defence which they made, plainly shows that, through the intervening night, they had become, not weaker, but stronger in faith. (Rieger).

Acts 4:4. How beit many … believed.—The truth may be oppressed, but it cannot be suppressed. Men may bind the preacher, but the word cannot be bound. [ 2 Timothy 2:9]. (Quesn.).—Shepherds and their flocks, united more closely by common blessings and trials: I. God comforts the persecuted pastor, by increasing the flock; II. He establishes the flock in the faith, by imparting strength to the pastor. (From Starke).—About five thousand.—The fruits of the second discourse of Peter were even more abundant than those of the first ( Acts 2:41), because the speaker’s sufferings were more abundant. (Starke).

Acts 4:5-6. On the morrow … were gathered together.—The prisoner may enjoy great peace of mind, while they who are free from bonds, may be sorely distressed, in consequence of the bondage of their souls.—When an injury may be inflicted on Jesus and the Church, the ungodly are always ready to assemble; they are then willing to dispense with sleep and all other comforts: (Starke).—Rulers, elders, scribes.—The tribunal before which the apostles appeared, consisted of persons invested with power (rulers), possessing prudence and experience (elders), and acquainted, as we might reasonably expect, with sound doctrine (scribes). With what diligence the Adversary combines all possible means for injuring the kingdom of Christ! (Apost. Past.).

Acts 4:7. By what power … have ye done this?—The enemies, who cannot deny the miracle itself, inquire only concerning its source. What a glorious proof of the truth and firm foundation of our Gospel! (Apost. Past.).—Those who are unwilling to obey the truth, often ask questions concerning subjects with which they are already acquainted, still hoping to find their course justified, but, at the same time, hardening their hearts more and more. John 9:27. (Starke.).—The world is willing to excuse the acts of the ungodly, but not those of an upright pastor and Christian. There were many sinners in Jerusalem who escaped all punishment, but the apostles are imprisoned on account of a good deed, Acts 4:9. (ib.).

Acts 4:8. Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost.—The predictions which the Lord addressed to his chosen witnesses ( Matthew 10:16 ff.), are here fulfilled: “They will deliver you up to the councils.” “It shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.” “The Spirit of your Father speaketh in you.” “Be ye,” was his charge, “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”—The Holy Ghost, bearing witness, combining the wisdom of serpents and the harmlessness of doves, the courage of the lion and the patience of the lamb—illustrated in the testimony delivered by Peter before the chief council, Acts 4:8-12.

Acts 4:10. Whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead.—The judgment of men (“He is guilty of death,” Matthew 26:66), and the judgment of God (Jesus set forth as “the Prince of life,” Acts 3:15).

Acts 4:11. This is the stone.—Christ, the corner-stone; set, I. For the fall; II. for the rising again of many [ Luke 2:34].—The divine Master-builder and the human builders.—The new spiritual building stands before the rulers, five thousand living stones, built upon the living cornerstone; the true builders are the holy apostles and prophets, gathering together all men as stones, in order to build this eternal temple. [ Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:5]. The apostle took a special, and, indeed, a personal, interest in the passage ( Psalm 118:22) to which he refers; his own name, Peter [ Matthew 16:18], continually reminded him of this stone. (Besser).—If, then, kings, princes, bishops, lords, holy, wise, prudent, wealthy, learned men, persecute the Gospel, should we wonder? Who else should do that work? If the Gospel must be persecuted, these are the proper agents, since they are the builders. And, indeed, they act officially; their interest requires them to adopt such precautions, in order that their own building may not be rent or undermined. (Luther).

Acts 4:12. Neither is there salvation in any other.—This is one of those passages that shine like the sun, shedding light on all parts of the Bible. Our fathers, accordingly, gave it, in conjunction with several other passages, the most prominent position in the Smalcald Articles, as the foundation of the chief article of that sound doctrine from which “we cannot recede in a single point, even if heaven and earth should fall, or aught else should happen.” (Besser). [Of the Confession of Faith, known as the Smalcald Articles, written by Luther, and adopted in1537, J. T. Müller says: “We may say that the adoption of these articles completed the Reformation, and was the definitive (absolute and final) declaration of the separation (of the signers) from Rome.” Symb. Bücher; Einleit., p83.—Tr.]

No salvation in any other: this truth viewed, I. As the life and heart of all apostolical preaching; II. As the experience of every soul to which divine grace has been imparted; III. As the power which enables confessors of Jesus to defy death; IV. As the foundation which supports all the missionary labors of the Church. (Leonh. and Sp.).—The unchangeable testimony: No salvation in any other: behold, I. How God chose him as the corner-stone, Acts 4:11; II. How his word heals the sick, Acts 4:14; III. How his servants boldly confess him, Acts 4:13; IV. How even the silence of his enemies proclaims his power, Acts 4:14.—None other name.—It is that name which God commands men to honor. It is conveyed by the word to all the nations of the earth. He himself is not visibly present among us, but we hear him in his word. The name and the word will come to an end in the eternal world, and we shall then see the only-begotten Son “as he is”, as it is written in 1 John 3:2; but we can only hear him in his word, and cannot see him, in this present world. We hear him when his Gospel is preached. The name of the only-begotten Son of God is all-powerful. It should fill every unbelieving and ungodly creature with terror, and teach them that believe, to be glad and to leap for joy. ( Acts 10:43). St. Paul, indeed, says in Philippians 2:10, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” When we pronounce the name of Jesus, we overcome the world, and put Satan to flight. (Luther).—Whereby we must be saved.—This expression of the apostle is a summary of Gospel doctrine, presenting, I. The great promise: “saved”; II. The great command: “we must.” (From Stier.).

Acts 4:13. The boldness of Peter and John.—Happy are those teachers, whose hearers are deeply moved not only by their words, but also by the power of God, and whose boldness of faith imparts such life and vigor to their discourses, that the influence of the latter is felt long after they themselves have ceased to speak.(Apost. Past.).—When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face shone with the majesty of the law [ Exodus 34:29 f.]; the face of Peter, or of an evangelical preacher who descends from the pulpit, shines with the blessedness of the Gospel.—The true boldness of a witness of God: I. Its foundation: his own experimental knowledge of divine grace; the pure word of God which he proclaims; his exemplary walk in the ways of God; II. Its outward manifestation: in the pulpit, by joyfully opening his mouth; in the world, by fearlessly bearing witness to the truth; under the cross, by peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; III. Its effects: it puts enemies to shame; it edifies the church; it glorifies the Lord.—The means by which the witnesses of Christ silence enemies and blasphemers: I. They joyfully continue to bear witness, Acts 4:13; II. They point to the fruits of their labors, Acts 4:14. (From Apost. Past.).—Took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.—What an honorable badge of the true witnesses of Jesus! Our highest distinction Isaiah, not the tribute which the world may give, that we are well acquainted with the usages of society, but the spirit of Jesus, revealed in our whole deportment, and demonstrating to the world that we have been, and continue to be, with Jesus. (Apost. Past.).

Acts 4:15. Commanded them to go aside out of the council.—The wisdom of God is excluded from the council-chamber, and folly presides at the board. For what results can we now look? (Gossner).

Acts 4:16. What shall we do to these men?—Instead of saying to these men: Brethren, what shall we do that our souls may be saved? they say of them: How shall we stop their mouths? So great is the blindness of the ungodly. (Starke).—The longer our repentance is delayed, the more difficult the fulfilment of the duty is found to be. (Wolf).

Acts 4:17. But that it spread no further among the people.—The enemies of the truth concerning Jesus Christ can neither deny nor destroy it; but they attempt at least to erect barriers and walls, by which they hope to prevent its diffusion. (Apost. Past.).

Acts 4:18. Nor teach in the name of Jesus.—These enemies do not forbid the disciples to teach at all, or to perform any miracle whatever; the restriction applies only to the act of preaching the name of Jesus. The world can endure preaching and good works, but will not tolerate the name of Jesus, the preaching of the Crucified One, or the doctrine that he alone can save the soul. (Apost. Past.).

Acts 4:19. Judge ye!—The appeal to reason and conscience in matters pertaining to divine truth: I. Such an appeal is justified and required by our confidence (a) in the power of the truth itself, and (b) in that perception of the truth which we may ascribe even to its enemies; II. But reason and the conscience do not constitute the highest tribunal, for (a) such authority over God’s word, was never given either to the enfeebled reason or the erring conscience of sinful Prayer of Manasseh, and (b) history shows, in innumerable instances, that, in divine things, both judge blindly and unjustly, from the days of Annas and Caiaphas to our own age.—It is our duty to hearken unto God more than unto men: I. It Isaiah, consequently, the duty of men to obey a human government, as far as its official claims extend, both in doing and in suffering, inasmuch as the government bears the sword as the minister of God. “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s” [ Matthew 22:21]; but, II. It is our duty to obey God more than men; that Isaiah, in the first place, even when we obey men, we obey for God’s sake, fulfilling the divine command by respecting law and order; in the second place, when the commands of men come in conflict with the divine will, as made known not only by our erring conscience, (“we cannot but speak”), but also by the unerring word of God (“the things which we have seen and heard”), we refuse to obey men, for the sake of God. But we do not conspire in secret; we act openly and honestly, and say with Peter: “We cannot but—”. We do not contend with carnal weapons, but, like the apostles, take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; we do not act in an aggressive and revolutionary, but resist in a passive manner, and, with the apostles and martyrs, would much rather suffer wrong many times, than do wrong even once. Compare Luther’s words pronounced before the Diet of Worms 1521]: “Unless I am overpowered and convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures, or by other public, distinct, and obvious arguments and reasons, and unless I am thus fully satisfied respecting the passages of Scripture which I have hitherto adduced, insomuch that my conscience is taken captive by the word of God, I neither can nor will retract any thing, well knowing that it is neither safe nor advisable to do aught in opposition to the conscience. Here I stand. cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen.”—Our duty, to obey God more that men: I. The importance and necessity of this principle, in its influence both on the founding in the Church, and on her continued existence on earth; II. Its perfect consistency with that obedience to men which is necessary and beneficial. (Schleierm.).—Peter’s saying: We must obey God more than men, a sharp sword, designed, I. Not for children as a toy, but, II. For men and heroes, to be used in the holy wars of the Lord.—Whether it be right … judge ye.—Fanatics have more than once hurled this apostolic saying like a fire-brand among men, and thus produced insurrections and confusion. But when did Peter and John, or any other disciple of the Lord, take up arms against the chief Council? It is true that they did assemble and lift up their hands, but not in opposition to the government; they lifted up their hands to the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, and prayed, Acts 4:24 ff. To refuse obedience, when rulers command a wicked act—to prefer to be torn in pieces, rather than act against God’s express commandment, is a very different course from that of taking up arms, and enticing others to unite in insurrectionary movements. (Tholuck: Stund. christl. Andacht [Hours of Christian devotion]).

Acts 4:20. We cannot but … —They cannot forbear, except on three conditions: That the world should not be filled with infirm persons; that Jesus Christ should not be the only Saviour of all the infirm; that they, the apostles themselves, should not have been healed by him. (Besser). —We cannot but … seen and heard.—I. We gladly speak of the eternal power of God, which wisely and wonderfully rules and directs all things; II. We still more gladly speak of his pitying love, which sent the only-begotten Son into the world; III. We most gladly proclaim our blessed experience of his grace, which fills the heart with peace and joy, Acts 4:13. (Lisco).—The Risen Saviour, demonstrating his power to his faithful disciples: I. He gives them the words which they utter; II. Infuses his power into their hearts; III. Protects them in all their ways. (ib).—With the progress of Christianity, hatred increases; next, sufferings increase; then help increases; finally, power increases. (Florey).—The perseverance of the enemies, and of the friends of the Lord: I. Of his enemies: they cannot refute his word, and yet oppose it; they cannot overcome his power, and yet resist it; they cannot deny the blessings which he imparts, and yet reject him; II. Of his friends: the world questions their faith, but they are firmly established on the word of the Lord; the world rejects their faith, but they boldly confess it, obeying the Lord; the world persecutes their faith, but they patiently endure, loving the Lord. (id.).

Acts 4:21-22. They let them go, etc, (with a summary of the whole.). The conflict of the Gospel with the world: I. How does it originate? II. What weapons shall the defenders of the Gospel employ? III. What Isaiah, in the counsel of God, its ultimate purpose, in reference to these defenders, and to the kingdom of Christ in general? (Rudelbach).—Peter and John, examined before the great Council: an image, I. Of the suffering; II. Of the witnessing; III. Of the triumphant Church. (From Leonh. and Sp.).—The four sources of the evidences of revealed religion: I. Miracles (the lame man); II. Prophecy, and the Scriptures ( Acts 4:11); III. History ( Acts 4:21); IV. Religious experience ( Acts 4:13). (Ad. Schmidt, Predigtst.).—Jesus Christ, demonstrating in his members, that he lives and is invincible: before the tribunals, I. Of the government; II. Of the wisdom of the world; III. Of history; IV. Of the conscience. (Albert Knapp).—Boldness in confessing the name of Jesus: I. Its foundation; II. Its manifestations; III. Its effects. (Langbein).—The apostles in the presence of the great Council, faithful and triumphant witnesses of the truth ( Matthew 10:16 ff.): I. Before the examination, Acts 4:1-4; II. At the examination, Acts 4:5-18; III. After the examination, Acts 4:19-22.—Jesus Christ, the Exalted One, ruling in the midst of his enemies: I. They cannot suppress his word; II. They cannot deny his work; III. They cannot intimidate his servants; IV. They cannot hinder the progress of his kingdom.

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Acts 4:1.—[The margin of the Engl. B. proposes ruler (Tyndale, Geneva) in place of captain; στρατηγὸς, “general, or captain,” Alex.; “commander,” Hack.; “captain, or prefect,” Owen.—Tr.].

FN#2 - Acts 4:2.—τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν [of text. rec. with A. B. C. E. Cod. Sin.] should be unconditionally preferred to τῶν νεκρῶν; the latter reading is but feebly supported [by D.], and is an imitation of the more usual phrase [ἀνάστ. τῶν ν.].

FN#3 - of text. rec.].—[Εἰς, which is the reading of Cod. Sin, Isaiah, according to Alf, “a correction to suit συναχθῆςαι.” The Engl. version transfers at Jerusalem to the end of Acts 4:6, connecting συναχθ. with the reading εἰς.—Tr.]

FN#4 - Acts 4:4.—The nominatives Ἂννας, etc. [in A. B. D. and Cod. Sin.] assume that [instead of the inf.] συνήχθησαν, found in one ancient MS. (D), had preceded, but the accusative [found in E], is more accurate. Lach. [but neither Tisch. nor Alf.] inserts the nominatives.

FN#5 - Acts 4:7.—ἐν μέσῳ, is sufficiently sustained [D. E.] in place of ἐν τῷ μέσῳ, [of the text. rec.], which is adopted by Lach. [τῷ, which is found in A. B. Cod. Sin, is cancelled by Alf. as a later correction.—Tr.]

FN#6 - Acts 4:8.—τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ [of text. rec.] is cancelled by Lach. in accordance with two ancient minuscule mss.; [cursive mss., the oldest of which are not earlier than the year890. Reuss: Gesch. d. h. S. N. T. 2d ed. § 375]; it Isaiah, however, supported by weighty authorities [D. E, but is wanting in A. B. Cod. Sin. Vulg.—Tr.]

FN#7 - Acts 4:11.—οἰκοδόμων, Isaiah, in accordance with the best MSS. [A. B. D. Cod. Sin.] and other authorities, to be preferred to οἰκοδομούντων of the text. rec.; the latter [found in E.] is a correction to suit Psalm 118:22, in the Greek translation [Sept.], as well as Matthew 21:42. , too, Alf.]

FN#8 - Acts 4:12.—The reading οὐδὲ before γάρ is better supported than οὔτε, which Meyer [with Alf.] defends; ούδέ [as Tisch. and Winer (Gr. N. T. § 53, 3, γαρ) read] is also quite appropriate, in so far as it is an additional negative, distinct from the one which preceded. [οὐδὲ in A. B. Cod. Sin.; οὒτε, of text. rec. in E.—Tr.]

FN#9 - Acts 4:16.—πο.ήσομεν [of the text. rec.] Isaiah, with Griesb, Lach, and Tisch, to be preferred to ποιήσωμεν [adopted by Alf.]; the latter form is not as well supported as the former; the subjunctive seemed better suited to the language of a deliberative assembly. [ποιήσομεν, in B (e sil) D; ποιήσωμεν in A. E. Cod. Sin.—Tr.]

FN#10 - Acts 4:17.—ἀπειλησώμεθα in text. rec. [Lach, Tisch, Alf.]; the indic. fut.—σόμεθα, is sustained by only a few authorities [D. (corrected)], and Isaiah, without doubt, a correction to suit ποιήσομεν of Acts 4:16, instead of the original subj. aor. [The text. rec. is sustained by A. B. (e sil) E. Cod Sin.].—ἀπειλῇ is wanting in some minuscules, and has, therefore, been cancelled by Lach, but may have easily been dropped [by copyists] accidentally [“or omitted as unnecessary,” says Alf, who, with Tisch, retains it. It is found in E, most minuscules, etc, but is omitted in A. B. D. and Cod. Sin.—Tr.]

FN#11 - Acts 4:18.—αὐτοῖς after παρήγγειλαν, is an addition found in but few authorities. [Inserted in the text. rec.; omitted by Lach, Tisch, and Alf.; Alf. says that it is a “common filling-up.” It is not found in A. B. D. E. Cod. Sin.—Tr.]


Verses 23-37

D.—THE CHURCH ENCOURAGED AND STRENGTHENED IN THE FAITH IN CONSEQUENCE OF THESE EVENTS; THE ONENESS OF SPIRIT AND BROTHERLY LOVE OF THE BELIEVERS

Acts 4:23-37

23And [But] being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them 24 And when they heard, that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which [Lord, thou who[FN12]] hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them Isaiah 25 Who by the mouth of thy servant[FN13] David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ [Anointed!]. 27For of a truth against thy holy child [Servant, (as in Acts 3:13)] Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both [om. both] Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people [peoples, λαοῖς] of Israel, were gathered together [in this city],[FN14] 28For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done [before, that it should come to pass, γενέσθαι]. 29And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, 30By stretching [In that thou stretchest] forth thine hand to heal [for healing]; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child [Servant] Jesus 31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

32And the multitude of them that believed [of the believers] were of one [were one] heart and of one [om. of one] soul: neither said any of them [and not one said] that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common [but all things were common to them]. 33And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all34[For, γὰρ] Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need 36 And Joses [Joseph],[FN15] who by[FN16] the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which Isaiah, being interpreted, The [A] son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus [born in Cyprus], 37Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Acts 4:23.—They went to their own company.—When the apostles were dismissed from the council-chamber of the Sanhedrin, where none but watchful and threatening enemies surrounded them, they proceeded πρὸς τοὺς ἰδίους. Who were these persons? Our first impression would be, that they were the believers, the disciples of Jesus, and this is the opinion of Kuinoel and Baumgarten. The interpretation of Olshausen, according to which the respective household friends of the apostles are meant, too greatly restricts the meaning of the term, and is supported by no other passage. [Olshausen says: “the church in the house (Hausgemeine), those with whom the apostles were accustomed to unite in prayer,” and refers to Acts 12:12.—Tr.] The opinion of Beza, and, more recently, of Meyer and de Wette, who restrict the meaning of the term to the group of the apostles, is not sustained either by Acts 4:32 (in which the πλῆθος τῶς πιστευσάντων is contradistinguished from the ἴδιοι), or by Acts 4:31, in which all that, were assembled, are said to have spoken the word of God. The latter act is not identical with that of bearing witness to Christ in a public, didactic manner (comp. Acts 4:33); for λαλεῖν [ Acts 4:31] describes the freedom of a conversation, not the solemnity of an address, and could therefore be applied with perfect consistency to the language of all the believers. And with respect to Acts 4:32, it cannot possibly have been the case that all the believers who were in Jerusalem, and whose number, according to Acts 4:4, amounted to five thousand men, were assembled in that place. The apostles, accordingly, proceeded to the company of the believers, or to the Christian congregation (including, of course, their fellow-apostles, although we cannot assume that the whole number of the Christians, who already constituted a vast multitude, could, have been present). Here, at length, the two apostles knew that they were among friends; the members of the Church had, naturally, felt the deepest sympathy, and continually offered fervent prayer in their behalf; they were now entitled to receive a full report of all that had occurred.

Acts 4:24. a. They lifted up their voice.—When the apostles had, accordingly, communicated, not that which they themselves had said and done, but that which the rulers and representatives of the people of God had spoken in an imperious and minatory manner, their hearers unitedly poured forth their feelings in a prayer. In what manner was this done? Bengel and others suppose that Peter pronounced the words, and that these were repeated by the company; but this view does not agree with the statement that Peter and John had made their report, and that the others, after listening to the recital, offered prayer (οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες—εἶπον). Baumgarten conjectures that the whole congregation sung the second Psalm [quoted in Acts 4:25-26], after which Peter applied it to the present conjuncture, using the words here recorded. But the objection just made, applies to this interpretation also; besides, the words of the Psalm and those of the application are interwoven, so that the text before us does not make the distinction which Baumgarten’s interpretation presupposes. Meyer escapes this difficulty by assuming that Acts 4:24-30 present an established formula of prayer, which had been previously composed, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, while the impressions made by the sufferings of Christ were still recent; this formula, he adds, was now repeated by the assembled apostles (see above, Exeg. note on Acts 4:23) with one heart and one voice. But even if we do not insist on the circumstance that the recitation of a form of prayer from memory, is inconsistent with the present situation, that Isaiah, the vigorous, original, spiritual life of the church, other considerations show distinctly that the origin of this prayer must be assigned to this precise time; there are, namely, special allusions to the present case ( Acts 4:29 f. ἀπειλάς, παῤῥησίαν, ἴασιν etc.). If we assume that one of the other apostles pronounced the prayer, and that all who were present, united, in part audibly, (for instance, when the words of the Psalm occurred, Acts 4:25) we shall, doubtless, do full justice to the words of Luke, inasmuch as Hebrews, not rarely, ascribes language to several persons, which could have been uttered only by one of their number, e. g. Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29, etc.

b. Lord, which [thou who] hast made.—This is the first Christian church-prayer with which we are acquainted, and claims special consideration. A close inspection shows, (a) that this prayer was dictated by a deep feeling of distress and danger; “this beautiful flower, too, grew under the cross;” (b) that this prayer, dictated by the distress of the present moment, beseeches the Almighty to regard the threatenings of enemies (that their counsel and will might not be fulfilled), and to grant grace and support to the servants of God in their words and acts (so that the kingdom of God might come). (c) The ground of the confidence of these afflicted men, and, indeed, that on which they offer prayer, Isaiah, first, the almighty power of God, the Creator of heaven and earth; secondly, the consoling word and promise of God ( Psalm 2:1-2, quoted strictly according to the text of the LXX.), the fulfilment of which had already been seen in the sufferings (and the resurrection) of Jesus.

Acts 4:25-28. By the mouth of … David.—The second Psalm, which, as it is well known, is without a title, Isaiah, in accordance with the common view, ascribed to David. The raging of the גּוֹיִם (φρυάσσω, originally descriptive of the wild snorting of spirited or intractable horses,) which the Psalm mentions, is referred, in the prayer, to the hostile conduct of the pagan Romans; the term ἄρχοντες, Acts 4:26, specially designates Pontius Pilate, Acts 4:27; λαοί (לְאֻמִּים in the Psalm) is referred to Israel [the plural, in allusion to the twelve tribes, (Meyer)], and the phrase βασιλεῖς τ. γ. is applied to Herod [Antipas, mentioned, e. g. in Matthew 14:1; Luke 3:1; Luke 23:7.—Tr.]

Acts 4:29-30. Behold their threatenings.—The words of the prayer, ἔπιδε ἐπὶ τὰς ἀπειλὰς αὐ τῶν refer to the immediate danger in which the believers were involved. The threats of the Sanhedrin, Acts 4:17; Acts 4:21, were like a sword suspended over the heads of the apostles. In view of the danger, they beseech God to behold—to restrain their enemies, and to protect his people. If this petition may be said to be negative in its character, the positive blessing for which they ask, is a bold and joyful spirit in proclaiming the word of God. And when they ask, in addition, for power to perform signs and miracles of healing in the name of Jesus, they again refer to the most recent events, the healing of the lame Prayer of Manasseh, and their immediate necessities. For the gifts which these men specially need in that moment, are, first, the power to proclaim the word with courage and joy, and secondly, the power to help and to heal, as evidences that the omnipotent God is with them.

Acts 4:31. The place was shaken.—When the place in which the congregation was assembled, was shaken, and when they themselves were filled with the Holy Ghost, their prayer received an immediate and direct answer—these events were the Amen of their petition. The connection shows that this shaking of the place, was not a natural or merely accidental occurrence (as Heinrichs and Kuinoel suppose), but a miraculous and direct act of God. Bengel views this trembling of the place as a symbol of the commotions which were at hand, and which the Gospel would produce in every direction, while Baumgarten sees in it a sign that the will of God is able to control all visible objects. We may, in general, regard it both as a sign of the omnipotence of God, to which, indeed, the men who prayed, had appealed, and on which they relied, Acts 4:24, and also as an accompanying external sign of the internal and invisible influences of the Spirit. The believers had referred to the future, when they prayed that the apostles might appear with boldness in the presence of unbelievers and enemies; but God, who does exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think [ Ephesians 3:20], answered their prayer immediately, even while none but friends were present, as an earnest and pledge of future mercies.

Acts 4:32-35. a. And the multitude of them that believed.—This first attempt of the enemies of the Church of Christ to overthrow it, which was defeated by the protection and grace of God, constitutes an epoch in its history; the believers enjoyed a temporary repose. And here Luke pauses, in order to describe the condition of the entire Church (πλῆθος τῶν πιστευσάντων). His statement presents four of the prominent features: (a) The apostles gave witness of the resurrection of Jesus, with great power—a proof that God continued to fulfil the petition recorded in Acts 4:29. The apostles, far from being intimidated by the threatenings of the rulers, publicly delivered their testimony concerning Jesus and his resurrection with increased courage and power. (b) Great grace was upon them all, that Isaiah, not the apostles only, but all the believers. The word χάρις does not here [as in Acts 2:47] denote favor with the people (Olsh. and others); there is nothing in the passage itself which would suggest such an interpretation; it denotes the grace and benevolence of God [Alf. Hack.] for Christ’s sake, in which every individual (ἐπὶ πάντας) shared, (c) The union of hearts of the Christians, their brotherly love and perfect harmony in sentiment and thought ( καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία)—a circumstance which was the more remarkable, as the number of the members had already greatly increased (πλῆθος τῶν πιστ.).

b. They had all things common.—The fourth feature is (d) the community of goods; comp. Acts 2:44 ff. In this Luke finds an expression of fraternal union, Acts 4:32, on the one hand, and on the other, an evidence of the grace of God, Acts 4:34 (γαρ) [omitted in the Engl. vers.; “Neither was there should have been—For there was not.” (J. A. Alex.) Tr.]. It is hence evident that Luke designs to represent this community of goods, not as a measure demanded by any law or authority, but as a course of action which individuals adopted voluntarily; and this view is confirmed by the illustrative case of Joseph Barnabas, to which Luke specially calls attention.—But does this description of the community of goods imply that a general custom, admitting of no exceptions, prevailed, so that every individual (not indeed, compelled by a law, but in a voluntary manner) sold all his real estate, and placed the proceeds at the disposal of the Church? The words before us do not suggest an affirmative answer to this question. If, according to Acts 4:32, not one declaredthat any of the things which he possessed was his own (ἔλεγεν ἴδιον εἶναι), this language unquestionably implies that his proprietorship remained undisturbed; hoc ipso præsupponitur, proprietatem possessionis non plane fuisse deletam. (Bengel). The owner did not retain possession of his property in a selfish spirit, allowing none to derive benefit from it; on the contrary, they had πάντα κοινά—all things were so employed as to supply the wants of all. When Luke continues his description of the action of the Christians, Acts 4:34-35, the main feature is evidently the provision which was made for the needy; the work was performed with so much liberality and success, that no one suffered, Acts 4:34; the wants of every individual were supplied, Acts 4:35. This result was due to the sale of property on the part of all the members of the church (ὅσοι) who were owners of lands or houses; the funds which were thus obtained, were laid at the feet of the apostles (who sat when they taught), that is to say, the funds were intrusted to them as the almoners of the church. We are certainly authorized by the literal import of the passage to assume that all the owners of real estate, who belonged to the church, sold property, but not that they sold all the real estate of which they were the possessors. Each one contributed a certain portion, but it is not said here that each one disposed of his whole property; we are not even distinctly told that a single individual relinquished all that he owned. This passage, accordingly, can by no means be so interpreted, as to lead legitimately to the conclusion that it was the universal custom of the members (voluntarily observed, indeed, but still not neglected in a single case) to surrender the whole amount of their real estate for the benefit of poor members. Indeed, the special case which is now adduced, leads to the opposite conclusion.

[The right of individual ownership might exist within the forty-eight cities and the territory adjacent to them, which were assigned to the Levites, Numbers 35:1-8; Leviticus 25:32 (Hack.), and it is probable, that after the return from Babylon, the restrictions imposed on the priests and Levites by the Mosaic law, Numbers 18:10-24; Joshua 18:7, were no longer enforced (de Wette).—Tr.]. Hence Barnabas did not sell the land in order to comply with the requisitions of any law, but was prompted to take that course by his love to the brethren.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. When the believers prayed, they were supported by their faith in the omnipotence of God, who made heaven and earth, Acts 4:24. This article of faith appears to many to be exceedingly trivial; nevertheless, it is one of the original and fundamental truths of Revelation, from which faith continually derives new strength and consolation. The last book of the Scriptures, the Apocalypse, gives special prominence to this truth, which is revealed and illustrated in the first book of the Bible. As truth is an undivided whole, the component parts of which are essentially connected, no one article of faith can be undervalued without affecting the integrity of the whole (as far as an individual is personally concerned).

2. The second Psalm is the Scriptural basis of the prayer, Acts 4:24 ff.; the divine inspiration from which it originally proceeded, revealed its true application, Acts 4:25. Its divine character is demonstrated by the fulfilment which occurred in Jesus Christ. For David is here clearly the type of Jesus; as the former was the servant of God, so Jesus is the servant of God in the full sense of the word (παῖς, Acts 4:25; Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30 [see abov, Exeg. and Crit. notes, on Acts 3:13-14 a.]); as David, the king, was the anointed of God, Acts 4:26, so Jesus is the Anointed of God, Acts 4:26-27; as men rebelled, and resisted David’s royal rights and authority, so they dealt with Jesus, Acts 4:27. But even as God then protected his anointed, and vindicated his character by divine Acts,, Song of Solomon, too, he will interpose in the present circumstances, and defeat his foes, Acts 4:29 ff. For a greater than David is here [ Matthew 12:42].

3. What Isaiah, accordingly, the substance of the confession which the Church here pronounces respecting Jesus Christ? He receives, indeed, the same appellation which is given to David—each, is a παῖς θεοῦ, Acts 4:25; Acts 4:27. But, then, an incomparably higher character is ascribed to Jesus, not only when he is termed the Servant of God, while David is merely a servant of God, but also when Jesus is specially and repeatedly [ Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30] termed ἅγιος παῖς θεοῦ, that Isaiah, he is distinguished from all that is sinful and unclean, and is infinitely exalted above David, serving God and his kingdom alone, as the consecrated servant and executor of the divine decrees. This description involves a most intimate and a peculiar union with God, of which there is no other instance. That union is implied in the confession that God performs miracles through [διὰ—“strictly meaning through, by means of,” J. A. Alex, ad loc.—Tr.] the name of Jesus, Acts 4:30, that Isaiah, through Jesus, who is confessed and invoked, when these miracles are wrought. He Isaiah, accordingly, the Mediator of salvation, and of the miraculous operations of divine grace.

4. The pure and holy spirit of Christ breathes in this prayer. It exhibits no traces of revengeful feeling, of carnal zeal, or of a desire for the destruction of any enemies: however zealous these Christians are in the cause of God, all that they presume to ask Isaiah, that he would behold the threatenings of their enemies, and graciously enable them to bear witness in word and in deed, with confidence and joy. Even as Christ did not come to condemn, but to save the world [ John 3:17], Song of Solomon, too, the apostles and other believers are controlled, not by the penal, burning zeal of an Elijah, but by deep love for the souls of men, who are to be saved through the instrumentality of their words and Acts, and be conducted to salvation in Christ. And when the word is not bound, when Christ is preached with power and boldness, his cause will always triumph in the end.

5. The prayer and its answer. The prayer was offered in the name of Jesus, in communion with him, in his own mind and spirit. The promise is given unconditionally that such prayers shall be heard. The prayer was, accordingly, answered—it was answered immediately, and above all that they asked or thought [ Ephesians 3:20]. Such prayers elevate, strengthen and sanctify the soul. The believers could not have been filled with the Holy Ghost, if they had not previously offered this prayer, Acts 4:31.

6. This admirable union in spirit, Acts 4:32, which was not only a union in faith, but also in brotherly love, demonstrates that the Christians were truly regenerated, and in a state of grace. It was a union which, combined with self-denial and a renunciation of the world, looked not “on its own things, but also on the things of others” [ Philippians 2:4]. Each one felt the sorrows of the other, bore his burdens, and regarded his own possessions as common property. And as faith demonstrates its truth when it actively works by love, divine grace was with all, and upon all.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Acts 4:23. They went to their own company, etc.—It is an advantage when believers are made acquainted with the dangers that threaten the Church; they are thus led to address earnest supplications to God, and to wrestle in prayer. (Quesnel).—A faithful pastor is greatly assisted, when, by the goodness of God, he sees around him those whom he can regard as his own company, that Isaiah, who are partakers of his grace [ Philippians 1:7], and are united with him in oneness of spirit. Such a company of believers offers him a place of refuge, in which he can find relief and encouragement in the midst of afflictions. (Apost. Past.).

Acts 4:24. They lifted up their voice, etc.—The most effective weapons which the Church can employ in distress and persecution, are prayers and tears [ Hosea 12:14].—If the prayer of a righteous man availeth much [ James 5:16], the prayer of many righteous men, when offered with one accord, availeth still more. (Starke).—The lips of faithful witnesses of Jesus are never sealed; they either preach to the world, or cry aloud to God. (Apost. Past.).—Trials teach the individual, and the Church too, how to pray.—The communion of saints on earth: a communion, I. Of faith; II. Of affection; III. Of prayer.

Acts 4:25-29.—Why did the heathen rage?—When the enemies of the Church rage, we are not permitted to yield to our passions, but are commanded to be calm, and to praise God in faith, patience and prayer. (Starke).—The genuine prayer of the Church, an acceptable burnt-offering: I. The altar on which it is placed—the communion of believers, Acts 4:23; II. The fire in which it burns—the ardor of brotherly love, Acts 4:23-24; III. The wind which, fans the flame—the storms of trial, Acts 4:23-26; IV. The wood which maintains the fire—divine promises found in the evergreen forest of the Scriptures, Acts 4:25-26; V. The Deity, to whom the offering is made—the Almighty Maker and Lord of heaven and earth, Acts 4:24; Acts 4:29-30; VI. The Amen that responds to the prayer—renewal and strength in the Holy Ghost, Acts 4:31.—In what spirit should the Christian mention his enemies in his prayers? I. Without fear or dread; for he prays to the King of all kings; “if God be for us,” etc, ( Romans 8:31) Acts 4:25-28; II. Without wrath and hatred; for his prayers are directed against that which is evil, not against evil men, Acts 4:29; III. Without pride and defiance; for he prays not so much with respect to his personal affairs, as to the cause of God, Acts 4:29-30.

Acts 4:30. That signs and wonders may be done.—The prayers of the Church work great miracles; they rescued three of our number from death, that Isaiah, myself, when I lay sick unto death on many occasions; my wife Catharine, who was equally near to death, and M[agister] Philip Melanchthon, who, in the year1540, lay in a dying state in Weimar. Although such deliverances from sickness and bodily dangers are very ordinary miracles, they should still be noticed for the sake of those who are weak in faith; for I consider those as far greater miracles which the Lord, our God, daily performs in the Church, when he baptizes, administers the Sacrament of the altar [Lord’s Supper], and delivers from sin, death, and eternal damnation. (Luther).

Acts 4:31. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken, etc.—Prayer worketh miracles: I. Those that are internal: the heart is filled with happiness; the soul is wonderfully strengthened; II. Those that are external: houses shaken, congregations awakened, enemies alarmed, mountains moved, the world convulsed.

Acts 4:32. a. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.—Believers ought to be not only of one heart (as far as the will is concerned), but also of one soul (united in opinions and views). (Ap. Past.).—Affliction binds the hearts of the devout together; it severs those of the wicked, and enkindles hatred, selfishness and strife.—“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalm 133:1.—Herethe bride of Christ appears, adorned with the jewels of holiness—a joyful faith, and unity of the Spirit. (Starke).—This was truly a Paradise on earth; alas! how soon it passed away! Hebrews 13:1; Revelation 2:4. (Quesn.).

Acts 4:32. b. Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own.—The noble Communism of the primitive Christians, and the spurious Communism of the modern Communists; see above, Acts 2:44-45, Hom. and Pract.—The apostles and disciples did not ask that the possessions of others, as of Pilate and Herod, should be common to all, as our senseless peasants now imperiously demand. But these men claim an equal share of the private property of others, and yet insist on retaining their own. They are, truly, admirable specimens of Christians! (Luther).—The true mode of contending against this modern and ungodly Communism, and against every false, levelling process, consists in the maintenance of the godly communion of Christians; the latter will, at all times, and in all places, conform to the indwelling royal law of love. (Besser).

Acts 4:33. And with great power, etc.—The more violently men attempt to suppress divine truth, the more vigorously it manifests its power. (Starke).

Acts 4:34. a. Neither was there any among them that lacked.—This result was, no doubt, produced in part by the community of goods which is here mentioned, Acts 4:32; but it is to be ascribed chiefly to the grace of the Lord Jesus, which moderated their desires, and gave them contented and peaceful hearts.

Acts 4:34. b. For as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, etc.—We cannot more unequivocally demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus, who “became poor for our sakes” [ 2 Corinthians 8:9], than by submitting even to poverty for the sake of his poor members. (Quesn.).—He who offers himself as a willing sacrifice to the Lord, is likewise prepared to sacrifice his goods for the benefit of the brethren.—The providence of God, in its wisdom and mercy, alleviated the trials which the subsequent flight of the Christians from Jerusalem occasioned [see Matthew 24:20, and Comment. ad loc.], by inducing them to dispose in time of their real estate, and to become literally pilgrims who retain no private property. (Apost. Past.).—The community of goods of the primitive Christians: in which of its features should it be taken as a model by Christians in our day? In what respects should it not serve as a model?—When may a Christian congregation be said to flourish? Acts 4:32-35 : I. Where Christ is preached with fidelity ( Acts 4:33), true faith will manifest its power; II. Where true faith exists, a genuine Christian love will prevail (“of one … soul,” Acts 4:32); III. Where Christian love prevails, all are prosperous (“neither was there any … that lacked,” Acts 4:34).—The tempests of persecution which assail the Church, produce results similar to those which follow storms and rains in nature: all things seem to revive and bloom, and to grow and flourish with increased vigor and beauty, Acts 4:32-35.

Acts 4:36-37. And Joses [Joseph], who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas.—That every Christian should become a Barnabas, a son of consolation: I. By seeking consolation himself, in faith, in the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; II. By freely imparting consolation to others in love: (a) with the words of his lips (affectionately encouraging them, which was doubtless the special gift that grace had bestowed on Barnabas, and that gained for him this honorable appellation; comp. Isaiah 40:1 : “Comfort ye,” etc, and Isaiah 52:7 : “How beautiful upon the mountains,” etc.); (b) with the gifts of his hand (with brotherly love relieving the wants of others, like Barnabas, Acts 4:37.—“Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18).—The fraternal union of the primitive Christians: I. The fraternal prayer of faith, Acts 4:23-31; II. The fraternal acts of love, Acts 4:31-37.—[One Lord, one faith, one baptism ( Ephesians 4:5), the true foundation of Christian union.—The rapid growth of the primitive Church: I. The direct means; (a) the inspired word; (b) the holy Sacraments, Acts 2:41; Acts 2:46; (c) the special gifts of the Spirit. II. The circumstances which promoted it; (a) the faith, Acts 4:12; (b) the love, Acts 4:32; (c) the zeal of the newly converted, Acts 4:31. III. Its effects; (a) on the Church itself; (b) on its enemies; (c) on the world.—Tr.]

Footnotes:

FN#12 - Acts 4:24.—Δέσποτα, σὺ ποιήσας. θεος between σύ and ποιήσ. is wanting in important MSS. [A. B. Cod. Sin. Vulg. etc.], and seems to be one of the many interpolations, by which the simple prayer was supposed to gain in beauty. [Alford retains the reading of the text. rec.—Tr.]

FN#13 - Acts 4:25.—ὁ διὰ στόματος Δαυῖδ παιδός σου εἰπών; many of the variæ lectiones (of which the most important are: διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου, and, τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν), appear to be interpolations, intended to improve the original. [Alford says: “The text of this verse is in a very confused state. I have kept to that of the oldest MSS, adopted also by Lachmann.” He reads thus: τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν διὰ πνεύματος ἀγίου στόματος Δαυὶδ παιδός σου εἰπὼι; with A. B. E. and Cod. Sin.—δια is inserted by D. before τ. στόμ. Tisch. reads: διὰ στόμ. Δ. π. σου εἰπών, omitting all the rest, in the ed. of1849.—Tr.]

FN#14 - Acts 4:27.—ἐν τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ; this reading [after ἐπʼ ἀληθ.] is undoubtedly genuine, according to external testimony, and there is not sufficient internal evidence to justify the conclusion that it is merely a gloss. [Omitted in text. rec, on authority not stated, but found in A. B. D. E. Cod. Sin. Vulg, and nearly all the versions, and inserted by Lach, Tisch, and Alf.—Tr.]

FN#15 - Acts 4:36. a.—The most important MSS. and ancient versions read: Ιωσὴφ [A. B. D. E. Cod. Sin, Syr, Vulg, etc.]; that the reading Ἰωσῆς, which is less strongly supported, is merely a correction to suit Acts 1:23 [Meyer], is only an unsupported opinion. [Lach, Tisch, and Alf. read Ἰωσὴφ.—Tr.]

FN#16 - Acts 4:36. b.—ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποστ.; this reading is somewhat more strongly supported [by A. B. E.] than ὑπό, and would scarcely have been introduced, if ὑπό, which Isaiah, grammatically, the easier form, had been originally employed. [ἀπὸ in A. B. E. Cod. Sin, and adopted by Lach, Tisch, and Alf.—ὑπό, of text. rec. in D, and retained by Alf.—Tr.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Acts 4:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/acts-4.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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