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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 11

 

 

Verses 1-3

Acts 11:1-3. The apostles and brethren heard — To their great surprise; that the Gentiles had also received the word of God — That not only the Jews who were dispersed in the Gentile countries, and the Gentiles who were proselyted to the Jewish religion, but that the uncircumcised Gentiles also themselves, with whom it had hitherto been thought unlawful to have any fellowship, had heard and received the gospel, and had even been baptized and received into church communion, without being required to submit to circumcision and the observances of the Mosaic law; intelligence this which alarmed them exceedingly, as they had not yet been made acquainted with the particular circumstances attending the affair. And when Peter was come to Jerusalem — From Cesarea; they that were of the circumcision — Those Jewish converts who still retained a veneration for the ceremony of circumcision, and thought it to be of perpetual obligation; contended with him — About what he had done. There seems to be no reason here to except any of the believing Jews (unless, perhaps, the apostles) from this contention; for they were all zealous of the law, and of their customs, and could not endure to hear that any Jew should act contrary to them, Acts 21:20-21; and Peter himself had been of that mind till he had received the vision, (see chap, Acts 10:28,) and even after the vision withdrew himself from the believing Gentiles for fear of the Jews, Galatians 2:12; and they of the dispersion preached to the Jews only, Acts 11:19. We may observe here, also, that these Jewish believers had no idea of the supremacy, and much less of the infallibility, of Peter; for otherwise they would not have dared thus to rise up against him, or to can his actions in question. See Whitby.


Verses 4-15

Acts 11:4-15. But Peter rehearsed εξετιθετο, laid open; the matter from the beginning — Of the vision which he had seen, which was evidently designed to dispose him to such condescension, and gave them a full detail of all the particulars, with the exactest truth and simplicity. So far was he from taking it ill to be questioned, or desiring to be treated as infallible. And he answers the more mildly, because it related to a point which he had not readily believed himself. See these verses explained in the notes on Acts 10:11-33; Acts 10:44.


Verses 16-18

Acts 11:16-18. Then remembered I the word of the Lord — This descent of the Holy Ghost on them, as on us at the beginning of our public ministry, was such an extraordinary occurrence, that I immediately called to mind, and could not but reflect on, the word of the Lord, as then remarkably verified; how he said — Just before his ascension, (Acts 1:5,) Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost — For this pouring forth of the Spirit upon them appeared to be a wonderful accomplishment of that prediction. Forasmuch then as God — The sovereign dispenser of his own favours; gave them the like gift as he did unto us who believed — That is, because we believed, not because we were circumcised, was the Holy Ghost given to us. What was I that I should withstand — Greek, δυνατος κωλυσαι, that I should be able to prohibit, God — From conferring such a gift upon them; or should presume to oppose myself against his wise and gracious pleasure? They had inquired only concerning his eating with the Gentiles, but he satisfies them likewise concerning his baptizing them; and shows that he had done right in going to Cornelius, not only by the command of God, but also by the event, the descent of the Holy Ghost. And who are we, that we should withstand God? — Particularly by laying down rules of Christian communion, which exclude any whom he has admitted into the church of the firstborn, from worshipping God together. O that all church governors would consider how bold a usurpation this is on the authority of the supreme Lord of the church! O that the sin of thus withstanding God may not be laid to the charge of those who, perhaps with a good intention, but in an over-fondness for their own forms, have done it, and are continually doing it! When they heard these things, they held their peace — Being thoroughly satisfied for the present, till the controversy was renewed by some fierce zealots, Acts 15:1-5; and glorified God — For so wonderful a manifestation of his grace; saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles — The poor, ignorant, uncircumcised, despised, idolatrous Gentiles; granted repentance unto life — Has not only made them overtures of it, but has graciously wrought it in some of their hearts. Here, it is plain, they speak of those to whom this repentance was granted, as persons who before, according to their apprehension, were in a state of spiritual death; in which condition, it is probable, they had thought all uncircumcised persons to be: and, without doubt, they must mean to include the idolatrous Gentiles among the rest, as those who were most evidently and certainly so. Observe, reader, true repentance is a change from spiritual death to spiritual life, and leads to life everlasting.


Verses 19-21

Acts 11:19-21. Now they which were scattered abroad — Luke here resumes the thread of his narration in the very words wherewith he broke it off, chap. Acts 8:4; travelled as far as Phenice — To the north; Cyprus — To the west; and Antioch — To the east; preaching the word to none but the Jews only — Not being at all apprehensive that the Gentiles were to share the blessings of it. And some of them — Who bore a part in this work; were men of Cyprus — The island so called; and of the province of Cyrene in Africa; which when they were come to Antioch — Then the capital of Syria, and, next to Rome and Alexandria, the most considerable city of the empire; spake unto the Grecians — Here, instead of ελληνιστας, Hellenists, the Alexandrian manuscript, which is favoured by the Syriac, and some other ancient versions, reads ελληνας, Greeks; which reading common sense would require us to adopt, even if it were not supported by the authority of any manuscript at all; for as the Hellenists were Jews, there would, in the common reading, be no opposition between the conduct of these preachers and those mentioned in the preceding verse. “Here, undoubtedly, we have the first account of the preaching of the gospel to the idolatrous Gentiles: for it is certain there is nothing in the word rendered Greeks, to limit it to those that were worshippers of the true God, such as all those were to whom it had hitherto been preached; nor is there the least hint in the New Testament of the two different periods that some speak of, in the first of which they suppose it was preached only to those called proselytes of the gate, and in the second to those who were before idolaters. It is well known, that as the Greeks were the most celebrated of the Gentile nations near Judea, the Jews called all the Gentiles by that general name.” — Doddridge. And the hand of the Lord — That is, the power of his Spirit; was with them — Crowning their pious labours with success; and a great number — Of the Gentiles, who were before idolaters, were so effectually enlightened and wrought upon by their discourses and miracles, that they believed in the one living and true God, and in Jesus Christ whom he had sent; and turned unto the Lord — Dedicated themselves to the service of God through him, with an humble dependance on his merits and Spirit.


Verses 22-24

Acts 11:22-24. Then tidings of these things came to the church at Jerusalem — And, as they had lately seen a way opened for the conversion of the Gentiles, they received information of this further progress of the gospel with peculiar pleasure; and sent forth Barnabas to Antioch — That he might confirm the new converts in the faith into which they had been initiated: who, when he came — To the city, and had seen — Evident proofs of the grace of God conferred upon them; was glad — Rejoiced in the good work wrought among them; and exhorted them all that — Whatever circumstances of difficulty and suffering might arise; they would, with purpose of heart — With full determination and constancy; cleave unto the Lord — Adhere to his truth, cause, and people. For he was a good man — A man eminently pious and benevolent; and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith — Largely endowed with the sanctifying graces and extraordinary gifts of the Divine Spirit; and much people — Through his instrumentality; were added unto the Lord — Were converted unto God, and received into the church by baptism.


Verse 25-26

Acts 11:25-26. Then departed Barnabas — Namely, after some abode at Antioch, perceiving, probably, that he wanted an assistant in his labours; to Tarsus, to seek Saul — Whose departure thither was mentioned, chap. Acts 9:30. And finding him there — According to his expectation, he gave him, it seems, such an account of the state of things at Antioch, and such a view of the extensive usefulness which appeared to present itself there, that he prevailed with him to accompany him at his return to that populous and celebrated city. Probably he judged, that since he was by country a Greek, though by descent a Hebrew of the Hebrews, he would be peculiarly fit to assist him in his great work, especially considering, on the one hand, his accomplishments as a scholar, and, on the other, his extraordinary conversion and eminent piety and zeal. And, continuing there a whole year, they taught much people — Instructed them in the doctrines, privileges, and duties of Christianity. And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch — A title that was really an honour to them, and by which, from this time, they were generally denominated, being before termed Nazarenes and Galileans.


Verse 27-28

Acts 11:27-28. In these days — While Barnabas and Saul were at Antioch; came prophets thither from Jerusalem — Persons who were divinely inspired to foretel future events. And there stood up — In the congregation; one of them named Agabus, and signified — By the immediate direction of the Spirit; that there should be a great dearth — Or famine; throughout all the world — The expression generally signifies all the Roman empire; but here many learned men suppose it only denotes the land of Judea, which is its meaning in several other places; Which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cesar — The Roman emperor then reigning. It began, it seems, in the fourth, but raged chiefly in the fifth and sixth years of his reign. It is mentioned by Josephus, (Antiq., Acts 20:2,) who speaks of it as “a very great famine, in which many died for want of food.” “Then Helena, queen of Adiabene, who had embraced the Jewish religion sent some of her servants to Alexandria, to buy a great quantity of corn; and others of them to Cyprus, to buy a cargo of dried fish, which she distributed to those who were in want.” And in cap. 5, Josephus further observes, that this famine took place when Tiberius Alexander succeeded Cuspius Fadus as procurator.


Verse 29-30

Acts 11:29-30. Then the disciples — Foreseeing the distress they would otherwise be in, on account of that famine; determined to send relief unto the brethren in Judea καθως ηυπορειτο τις, according as each was prospered, or, according to the abundance which each had; these disciples being, doubtless, some in more plentiful circumstances than others. “This their determination was extremely proper; for the churches of Judea being more exposed than other churches to persecution, and the rapacity of the Roman officers, and to those outrages which the populace, under weak and corrupt governments, commit upon the objects of their hatred, the brethren in Judea could not have supported this dearth, if they had not been assisted from abroad.” — Macknight. These disciples, therefore, at Antioch, having made collections for them, sent the money, not to the apostles, (for they had now given up the management of the funds of the church in Jerusalem to others,) but to the elders — Or rulers of that church, chosen, perhaps, out of the one hundred and twenty, on whom the Holy Ghost fell at first. And these were to deliver it to the deacons, or otherwise to make distribution thereof to the brethren, according to their need. By sending this seasonable gift to the brethren in Judea, the disciples at Antioch, among whom were many Gentile proselytes, gave proof of the reality of their conversion, and did what they could to conciliate the good-will of the Jewish believers. And this mark of their regard seems to have been well received by them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 11:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-11.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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