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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 9

 

 

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Introduction

Acts 9:32 to Acts 11:18. A Collection of Peter Stories.—Lydda and Joppa (p. 28) belonged at this time to Judæa, and had a predominantly Jewish population, and Peter's activity is of a peaceful, quiet nature. Peter, who appears here alone, is carrying on a mission outside Jerusalem, to which, however, he always returns as he did in Acts 8:25 (see also Acts 12:3). The first two stories are of the same type as those in the Gospels; the third is in broader style, and gives rise to more questions.

Acts 10. The Conversion of Cornelius.—This incident is parallel to the conversion of the Ethiopian by Philip; both show the extension of the Gospel beyond the Jews, and prepare for the story of the Pauline mission. On the opening vision cf. Acts 8:26, Acts 16:9, Galatians 2:2. See also p. 767.


Verses 1-25

Acts 9:1-25. Paul's Conversion.—This belongs geographically to the field of the Hellenist mission, which was announced in Acts 8:4, and occupied that whole chapter. We heard of that mission at Samaria and Cæsarea, now we hear of people at Damascus who belong to "the Way." Saul's persecuting zeal (Acts 8:3) was not aimed at the apostles, but sought to protect the Jewish communities of the Dispersion from the poison of the Gospel. He is said to have applied to the High Priest for letters to the synagogues accrediting him as a special inquisitor. The High Priest had no authority over the synagogues of foreign towns, and under the Roman procurators the powers of the Sanhedrin were also much restricted (Schürer, II. i. 185); the Roman Government would have defended a believer who appealed to it from the designs here imputed to Paul, and we do not hear of any actual cases. We have his own statement (Galatians 1:13) that he did lay waste the Church, but any punishment he brought about must have been inflicted by the local synagogues. The conversion is narrated thrice in Ac. (Acts 9, 22, 26) with agreement in the main but differences in details. With these accounts of the outward occurrence, we can compare Paul's account of it as an inner event in his life (Galatians 1:15 f., 2 Corinthians 4:5 f., Philippians 3:7-10). Our accounts agree that it took place near Damascus, that the first act was the shining of a bright light, and as to the words addressed to him.

Acts 9:3. It is only a light that he sees, not a form; so in all three accounts; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Acts 9:4. fell upon the earth: so Daniel (Daniel 8:17), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28); the voice uses the Heb. and Aram. name of Saul; in ch. 26 it is said to have spoken Hebrew. It is impossible to argue from this passage that Paul recognised the Lord and must have seen him before (2 Corinthians 5:16*); he has to ask who is speaking to him.

Acts 9:6. Paul is not addressed as a blind man.

Acts 9:7. The companions are now spoken of; they are speechless, unable to understand what has happened, since they heard the voice but saw not the speaker. In ch. 26 they saw the light but heard not the voice.

Acts 9:8. Two Latin MSS read, "And he said to them, Lift me up from the ground; and Saul arose from the ground," etc. In the text he raises himself, but on opening his eyes sees nothing.

Acts 9:9. Does the fasting proceed from his mood or is it a preparation for baptism such as is prescribed in Didach, vii. 4, "Tell the person to be baptized to fast one or two days"? Baptism is called in early Church writers "enlightenment," and the blindness keeps Saul in a state for it.

Acts 9:10. A vision is often the means of introducing a new action or development (see Galatians 1:16, Acts 10:3; Acts 11:5; Acts 16:9; Acts 27:23). It is the Lord, i.e. Jesus, who speaks to him, and to whom he speaks (Acts 9:13; Acts 9:15). Ananias is to go to Straight Street, which still exists in Damascus (Darb-al-Mostakim), though not in the old splendour, and to ask in the house of Judas for Saul of Tarsus.

Acts 9:12 is omitted, to the improvement of the passage, in a Latin MS. In this vision Ananias is told of a vision which Saul had, and his answer of Acts 9:13 f. is rendered obscure.

Acts 9:13. thy saints: the believers at Jerusalem are "saints"; those elsewhere are "those who call on thy name." Ananias knows (how?) that Saul is accredited by the High Priest to Damascus to put the brethren in bonds; that is the story of Ac. on the subject, as to which there is, as we saw, grave doubt. The answer contains a view of Paul's mission somewhat different from his own. He is a "vessel of election" (cf. "vessel of wrath," Romans 9:22), a vessel chosen to bear the name of Jesus before Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. Paul regarded himself as chosen to preach Christ to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:16, Romans 1:5), and confesses himself debtor to all classes of men among them, but not to the Jews (Romans 1:14, but cf. 1 Corinthians 9:20), though he did address them as occasion offered.

Acts 9:16. His destined career is said to be one of suffering, yet it was also one of great and fruitful activity (Romans 15:18-21).

Acts 9:17. laying his hands on him: cf. Acts 9:12. Jesus in Mark 1:41 heals the leper by a touch (cf. Mark 5:23; Mark 7:32; Mark 8:25).—the Lord, in this chapter, is the ordinary title for Jesus; in the earlier chapters He has others; Saul is to know that this is His title (cf. Acts 9:10). Ananias is sent not only to give Saul his sight, but to see that he is filled with the Holy Spirit, as all the believers were at their baptism.

Acts 9:18. fell from his eyes as it were scales: a medical man would express himself thus (Hobart, p. 81) but so might another; and the physical blindness is symbolic of Paul's spiritual blindness when he entered the Church and was "enlightened" in baptism.

Acts 9:19 f. It is hypercritical to compare the statement that on his recovery he was certain days with the disciples at Damascus, with his own assurance in Galatians 1:16. But could he say that straightway he "conferred not with flesh and blood" if, as is here said, he was engaged in preaching in the synagogues in Damascus? That preaching might, no doubt, be uncontroversial, but what became of the High Priest's letters? [Galatians 1:16 b seems to mean "I did not consult any of my fellow-Christians as to the significance of the Gospel." This does not exclude preaching in the synagogues to unconverted Jews. It frequently happens after a catastrophic conversion that one of the first things the new convert does is to start preaching to his old associates. Paul may conceivably have delivered the High Priest's letters, but this is very unlikely; they were not letters which it would have been a breach of trust to withhold, but letters of authorisation for a commission he could no longer fulfil.—A. S. P.] It seems unlikely that he preached to the Jews what he is said to have done, that Jesus was the Son of God. That insight made him the missionary to the Gentiles, but could it be developed so early? [If, as is not improbable, Galatians 1:16 a, "to reveal his Son in me," expresses what Paul at the time of his conversion realised Jesus to be, then Ac. may be quite right in representing Paul as using the designation "Son of God," all the more as it never represents his predecessors as using it.—A. S. P.] Only here does Ac. represent him as preaching it (see Introduction to Menzies' Commentary on 2 Cor.). In Acts 9:22 his theme at this time is said to have been that Jesus was Messiah, much more likely for a beginner.

Acts 9:21. Everyone is acquainted with the story, already known to Ananias before he was sent to Saul (Acts 9:13 f.), and is naturally surprised at his conduct.

Acts 9:22. His increase in strength is not merely physical as in Acts 9:19; some MSS add "in the message," i.e. his confidence increased. He goes on with his demonstration to the Jews that Jesus is Messiah.

Acts 9:23. A plot of the Jews brings his activity at Damascus to a sudden conclusion. In 2 Corinthians 11:32 f. Paul tells us how he left Damascus, and the only important difference between the two accounts is that he represents the attempt on him as proceeding from the ethnarch of Aretas (p. 655) the king, while here it is due to the Jews in the city (pp. 768f.).—his disciples: better "the disciples" (AV), since no collection of disciples by him has been reported. Both readings are well supported.—basket: a different word from that in 2 Corinthians 11:33.


Verses 26-30

Acts 9:26-30. Paul at Jerusalem.—This visit is understood to have taken place very shortly after Saul's conversion; the brethren there have not heard of his conversion, nor of his preaching in Damascus. Barnabas has to tell them of it. He associates freely with them, and preaches freely as a disciple of Jesus ("in the name of the Lord"); he also took the step, repeated again and again, of discussing, like Stephen (Acts 6:9), with Hellenists (mg.) instead of addressing himself, as the apostles did, to the Jews. They, far from being conciliated, lay their plans for his destruction, and the brethren rescue him as had been done at Damascus; he is sent to Tarsus, his native city.

The account in Galatians 1* is very different. After his conversion he held no converse with men but went to Arabia. From there he returned to Damascus, and after three years he went, for the first time after the conversion, to Jerusalem, a visit which lasted a fortnight and made him acquainted with Peter and James, the Lord's brother, only; then he went on to Syria and Cilicia. The places are the same, but the times are completely altered, and the motive of the visit to Jerusalem is omitted; it is not till he has gone to Tarsus that the churches of Juda, personally unacquainted with him, realise the fact of his conversion and of his being now a Christian missionary (p. 858).


Verse 31

Acts 9:31 is an editorial note between the story of Paul and the set of stories about Peter, now to follow. There is much early evidence for the reading of the AV, "the churches," instead of "the church." The same remark occurs at Acts 16:5 in that form.


Verses 32-35

Acts 9:32-35. Æneas.—His name shows him to have been probably a Hellenist. This story is modelled on that of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. Many of the words are the same; the case is similar, and only the command to the patient is different. He is told that Jesus is curing him, and that he is to rise and manage his bed himself, which others had hitherto done for him. The use of "the Name" (Acts 3:6*) is effective; and the result is seen by all the inhabitants of Lydda and in the plain of Sharon; a general conversion to the Lord follows.


Verses 36-43

Acts 9:36-43. Dorcas.—This story is like that of the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:22-24; Mark 5:35-43, Luke 8:41 f., Luke 8:49-56). Tabitha (in Gr. Dorcas, Eng. Gazelle; though the Gr. equivalent for the name is given, the woman was called Tabitha by Peter (Acts 9:40) and was a disciple); the nature of some of her good deeds and alms appears in the sequel. Her burial does not follow hard on her death as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:6; Acts 5:10). The object of the urgent message (Acts 9:38) is not stated; contrast Mark 5:23. As in Jairus' house a great mourning is going on in the upper room where the body lay. The widows are here carrying out the rites; or was it their connexion with Dorcas that brought them? The widows of Acts 6:1 have no connexion with this scene; the Church order of widows (1 Timothy 5:9 f.) may already have been present in germ. They are wearing clothes that Dorcas had given them; this is more likely than that the garments were hanging or lying about the room; they pointed to them and said, "She made us this garment; she abounded in such kind deeds." Peter puts them all out (cf. Mark 5:40) and addresses the motionless figure in words strangely similar to those of his Master, reported in Mk. not in Lk. He must have used the Name (Acts 2:38, Acts 3:6*) also; his words are not given fully, and would resemble those of Jesus less closely than now appears. Peter gives the patient his hand after she has sat up of herself. The widows are mentioned along with the saints to whom the revived person is presented. Conversions naturally follow. Simon the tanner" (Acts 9:43) is a person known to the church.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Acts 9:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/acts-9.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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