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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 5

 

 

Verse 1-2

Acts 5:1-2. But a certain man named Ananias — A professor of the gospel, but certainly not a true believer, for all that truly believed were of one heart and of one soul, Acts 4:32. Probably he was not yet baptized, but intended now to offer himself for baptism; with Sapphira his wife — Who concurred with him; sold a possession — So the word κτημα, here used, properly signifies: what sort of a possession it was, we are not informed: for the word χωριον, (used Acts 5:8, and rendered land,) does not necessarily mean so, but simply, a place, of any kind, and might be a house or houses. He pretended, it seems, to imitate the zeal and liberality of Barnabas, chap. Acts 4:37; and kept back — Greek, ενοσφισατο, fraudulently secreted, or purloined, part of the price — While he brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet — Publicly, as if it had been the whole, perhaps saying it was so. It has been supposed by many, that Ananias and Sapphira had consecrated their estate to God by vow, and that they were guilty of the sin of sacrilege. But this is not probable; 1st, Because in all the sales of lands or houses, mentioned in the preceding chapters and here, there is not the least intimation of any such vow. 2d, Peter neither accuses him nor his wife of any such crime, but only of tempting, that is, distrusting and making trial of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and attempting to deceive him by an artifice. 3d, The apostle acknowledges (Acts 5:3) that the property was his, and at his disposal, before it was sold, and the whole price of it afterward, which could not have been the case, if he had before consecrated it to religious uses. But yet they were guilty of a double fraud; 1st, In presenting this part of the price to the apostles, as if it had been the whole, when, indeed, it was not. 2d, In tacitly signifying hereby that they had now the same right to be relieved from the common stock which others had, as having nothing of their own, when, indeed, they had money which they had kept back.


Verse 3-4

Acts 5:3-4. But Peter said — Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, which immediately suggested to him the fraud; Why has Satan — Through thine own wickedness in yielding to his temptations; filled thy heart — With such a degree of covetousness, falsehood, folly, and presumption, as to induce thee to lie to, or, as Dr. Waterland renders ψευσασθαι σε το πνευμα το αγιον, to put a fallacy, or cheat upon the Holy Ghost; that is, that thou shouldst attempt to impose upon the Spirit of God, namely, the Spirit with which the apostles were endued. Here we see St. Peter, under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of truth, of wisdom, and revelation, acknowledging and bearing testimony to the agency of Satan in exciting men to and promoting wickedness: and what faith then have they in the inspiration of the apostles, who call in question the very existence of the devil, and even venture to give it as their opinion that there is no such being in the universe? And to keep back part of the price — When thou pretendest to have brought the whole. While it remained unsold, was it not thine own? — It evidently appears from hence, that no Christian converts were obliged to sell their estates. And when it was sold, was it not still in thine own power — To have given, or not given, the whole or any part of the price of it into the treasury of the church, as thou shouldest think proper? Why then hast thou conceived this thing, &c. — So meanly and profanely to dissemble on this solemn occasion? Thou hast not lied unto men — That is, to men alone, whose treasurers we are; but unto God — Who resides in us by his Divine Spirit. Hence it is justly inferred, that the Holy Ghost is God; since lying to him is said to be lying to God.


Verse 5-6

Acts 5:5-6. And Ananias, hearing these words — While the sound of them was yet in his ears; fell down and gave up the ghost εξεψυξε, expired. It does not appear whether Peter designed or expected this event to follow upon what he said, though it seems probable, from the sentence he denounced on Sapphira, (Acts 5:9,) that he did. It is likely that Ananias’s own conscience smote him with such horror and amazement at the sight of his guilt, that he sunk down and died at the sense of it. Or, perhaps, he was struck by an angel, as Herod was, Acts 12:23. This punishment of his sin may seem severe, but we are sure it was just, considering that complication of vain glory and covetousness, of fraud and impiety, which, as several writers have proved, his action contained. It was also wise and gracious, being designed, 1st, To vindicate the honour of the Holy Spirit, lately poured out, in order to the erecting of Christ’s kingdom, and now grossly affronted by an attempt to impose on those who were so eminently endued with his influence. 2d, To deter others from such presumptuous conduct, now at the beginning of this new and divine dispensation. Simon Magus afterward was not thus punished, nor Elymas; but Ananias was made an example now at first, that, with the evident proofs given, what a blessed thing it was to receive the Holy Spirit, there might be also sensible proofs afforded of the awful consequences of resisting or doing despite to the Spirit. Thus the worshipping of the golden calf, and the violation of the sabbath day, were severely punished among the Israelites, when the law of Moses was newly given; as also the offering of strange fire by Nadab and Abihu, and the mutiny of Korah and his company, when the authority of Moses and Aaron was lately established. Add to this, that by this punishment of Ananias and Sapphira, hypocrites and dishonest persons were deterred from joining the Christians, merely for the sake of a present alms, or any temporal advantage, to which, by a fraud like this, many might, on easy terms, have purchased a pretence, who would also, no doubt, have proved a great scandal to a profession taken up on such base motives. This likewise was a very convincing attestation of the apostles’ most upright conduct in the management of the sums with which they were intrusted, and indeed, in general, of their divine mission; for none can imagine that Peter would have had the assurance to speak as he did to Ananias, and much less would such an awful sanction have been given to his words, if he had been, at the same time, guilty of a much baser fraud of the like kind, or had been belying the Holy Ghost, in the whole of his pretensions to be under his miraculous influence and direction. And great fear came on all that heard these things — That heard what Peter said, and saw what followed: or upon all that heard the story of it: for, doubtless, it was much spoken of in the city. See on Acts 5:11. And the young men — Some, probably, appointed in the church to the office of burying the dead; or some that attended on the apostles, perceiving there was no room to hope for the recovery of one who was struck dead by such an immediate act of the divine power; bound him up, and carried him out to burial — Without any further circumstance of mourning or delay.


Verses 7-10

Acts 5:7-10. About the space of three hours after — How precious a space! his wife — Who was absent when this happened; not knowing what was done, came in — Into the place where the apostles were, expecting, doubtless, to share in the thanks of all present, for consenting to the sale of the land, and becoming, with her husband, so great a benefactor to the fund; Peter said to her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much — Naming the sum. And she said, Yea, for so much — Ananias and his wife had agreed to tell the same story; and the bargain being private, and, by consent, kept to themselves, so that nobody could disprove their assertion, they thought they might safely affirm what they did, and should gain credit to it. It is lamentable to see those relations, who should quicken one another to that which is good, hardening one another in that which is evil! Peter said — By an immediate impulse of the same Spirit, which had before so awfully interposed; How is it that you have agreed — Have acted as if you had agreed together; to tempt the Spirit of the Lord — To try whether he be capable of searching the heart, and of knowing what is done in secret? Before Peter passes sentence, he sets before her the greatness of the crime. Behold the feet of them which have buried thy husband — Whom divine vengeance has already struck dead on this occasion; are at the door — Upon their return; and shall carry thee out — A breathless corpse. She had not heard till now that her husband was dead, the notice of which, with the discovery of her sin, and the sentence of death passed upon her, struck her as a thunderbolt, so that she expired in a moment. And the young men came in — And, to their utter astonishment, doubtless, found her also dead, and carrying her forth immediately, buried her by her husband! — Observe, reader, there are many instances of sudden death, which are not to be looked upon as the punishment of gross sin, like these here recorded: we must not think that all who die suddenly were sinners above others. It may be intended as a favour to some, that a quick passage is granted them. Such instances, however, are intended to be a warning to others to be always ready: but the deaths here mentioned were, doubtless, in judgment. Some inquire concerning the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, and incline to think, that the destruction of the flesh was effected, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And had there been any space granted them for repentance, as there was to the incestuous Corinthian, there might have been reason for indulging a hope of this kind. But, as the case was, the ground for hope concerning them seems small, according to the Scriptures. Secret things, however, belong not to us, and we know the Judge of all the earth will do only what is perfectly just and holy.


Verse 11

Acts 5:11. And great fear came upon all the church — All that had joined themselves to it were struck with a holy awe of God and his judgments, and with a great veneration of this dispensation of the Spirit, which they were now under. It did not damp or check their holy joy, but it taught them to be serious in the midst of it, and to rejoice with trembling. And all that laid their money at the apostles’ feet, after this, were afraid of keeping back any part of the price. And upon as many as heard these things — Who could not but acknowledge that it was the immediate hand of God by which both these persons died, and that he was just in this awful dispensation. Many, no doubt, were put into a consternation by it, and were ready to say, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God and his Spirit in these his servants! As the word church ( εκκλησια) now occurs a second time in this history, it may be proper to observe, that we have here a native specimen of a New Testament church; which is a company of persons called by the gospel, grafted into Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit, admitted into the society of Christians by baptism, animated by love, united by every kind of fellowship, and disciplined by the execution of a divine judgment on two unworthy members.


Verse 12

Acts 5:12. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs, &c., wrought — Many miracles of mercy for one of judgment. Now the gospel power returned to its proper channel, which is that of grace and goodness. These miracles, which were not a few, but many, not of one kind merely, but of divers kinds, evidently proved the divine mission of the apostles, for they were signs and wonders, such wonders as were confessedly signs of the divine presence and power; they were not done in a corner, but among the people, who were at liberty to inquire into them, and if there had been any fraud or collusion in them, would have easily discovered it. And they were all — All the believers; with one accord in Solomon’s porch — Frequently meeting there, and conversing together with the most affectionate expressions of mutual endearment, being unanimous in their doctrine, worship, and discipline; and there was no discontent or murmuring about the death of Ananias or Sapphira, as there was against Moses and Aaron, about the death of Korah and his company, Numbers 16:31. The separation of hypocrites from the society of the faithful, should make those that are sincere cleave so much the closer to each other. It seems strange that the priests, and other rulers of the temple, should suffer the Christians to keep their meetings there; but it was, doubtless, through the providence and grace of God, who inclined the hearts of their enemies to tolerate them there a while, in order to the more convenient spreading of the gospel.


Verse 13-14

Acts 5:13-14. And of the rest — Who were not really converted to Christianity; durst — Or presumed; no man to join himself to them — As, had it not been for the late signal judgment, some hypocrites might have attempted to do, in order to obtain a share in the distributions which were made among the Christians from their fund of charity; but the people magnified them — Namely, the apostles: had a great veneration for them, and spake of them with the highest expressions of reverence and respect, as persons who were owned by God in a most signal manner. And believers were the more added — Though the death of the two above-mentioned unhappy offenders deterred many, who did not sincerely believe in Jesus, and were not awakened to a sense of the importance of things spiritual and eternal, from joining themselves to the church; yet such as truly believed and were brought under a serious concern about their salvation, were united to the Lord in great numbers; multitudes both of men and women — Becoming his genuine disciples, and making an open profession of their faith, by submitting to the ordinance of baptism: for they wisely inferred, from what had happened, how dangerous it would be to oppose or suppress the inward convictions of their minds, in a matter of such great importance.


Verse 15-16

Acts 5:15-16. Insomuch, or so that, they brought the sick into the streets, &c. — The contents of this and the following verse are evidently connected with the former part of Acts 5:12; the intermediate paragraph being intended to be read in a parenthesis. They brought the sick into the streets, because, as is probable, the priests would not suffer them to bring them into the temple to Solomon’s porch; and the apostles had not leisure to come to the houses of them all. And they laid them on beds and couches — Because they were so weak that they could neither walk nor stand, and in order that, if they could neither have access to Peter, nor he come to them, at least the shadow of him passing by might overshadow some of them — Though it could not reach them all, and they had faith to believe this would be the means of healing them. And it is probable that they were not disappointed, but that some, at least, were thus healed, as the woman mentioned in the gospel was, by touching Christ’s garment. According to their faith it was done unto them. And in this, among other things, the promise of Christ, (John 14:12,) The works that I do, shall ye also do, and greater works than these, &c., was eminently fulfilled. And if such miracles were wrought by Peter’s shadow, we have reason to think some were wrought in some such way by the other apostles; as by the handkerchiefs from Paul’s body, Acts 19:12. And there came a multitude out of the cities — In proportion as the fame of these wonderful works was spread abroad; bringing sick folks — That were afflicted in body; and those vexed with unclean spirits — Who were troubled in mind; and they were healed every one — Distempered bodies and distempered minds were both cured. Thus opportunity was given to the apostles, both of convincing people’s judgments, by those miracles, of the heavenly origin of the doctrine they preached, and also of engaging people’s affections both to them and it, by giving them specimens of its manifest beneficial tendency.


Verse 17-18

Acts 5:17-18. Then the high-priest rose up — Never did any good work go on with any hope of success, but it met with opposition; for they that are bent to do evil cannot be reconciled to them who make it their business to do good. Satan, the destroyer of mankind, ever was, and ever will be, an adversary to those who are men’s benefactors. And it would have been strange, if the apostles had been suffered to go on thus teaching and healing, and had received no check. In these and the following verses we have the malice of hell and the grace of Heaven struggling about them; the one to make them cease from this good work, the other to animate them in it. The high-priest, Annas or Caiaphas, was the ringleader in the opposition made to them: he rose up — As it were, with awakened and renewed fury; and all they that were with him — His friends and associates; for they saw their wealth and dignity, their power and tyranny, that is, their all at stake, and inevitably lost, if the spiritual and heavenly doctrine of Christ should gain ground and prevail among the people. Which is the sect of the Sadducees — A goodly company for the priest! The Sadducees were most forward to join with the high-priest in this persecution, having a particular enmity to the gospel of Christ, because it attested and confirmed the doctrine of the invisible and eternal world, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and the future state, which they denied. And were filled with indignation — Greek, ζηλου, with zeal, rather; namely, bitter, persecuting zeal against the cause of Christ: for it is not strange, if men of no religion be bigoted in their opinions against true and pure religion. When they heard and saw how the people flocked to the apostles, and how reputable they were become, they were exasperated to the last degree, and rose up in a passion, as men who could no longer bear such proceedings, and were resolved to oppose them, being vexed at the apostles for preaching the doctrine of Christ, and curing the sick; at the people for hearing them, and bringing the sick to be cured; and at themselves and their own party for suffering this matter to go so far, and not suppressing it at its first rise. Thus are the enemies of Christ and his gospel a torment to themselves! And laid their hands on the apostles — Being determined to bring them to another trial before the sanhedrim; and put them in the common prison — Where the vilest malefactors were lodged.


Verses 19-23

Acts 5:19-23. But the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors — In spite of all the locks and bars that were upon them, and without giving any alarm to the keepers, or any of the other prisoners; and brought them forth — Hereby God evidently showed how impotent the rage of the priests and rulers was against those whom he determined to support. And said, Go, stand and speak to the people — They must not think they were thus miraculously delivered, in order that they might save their lives by making their escape out of the hands of their enemies; no, it was that they might go on with their work, with so much the more courage and diligence. Thus recoveries from sickness, deliverances out of trouble, &c, are granted us, not that we may enjoy the comforts of life, but that God may be honoured with our services. All the words of this life — Of the life which God had commissioned them to preach, and which the Sadducees denied; or, the whole doctrine of the gospel, which brings life and immortality to light, and shows the way that leads thereto. This they must preach in the temple. We may be ready to think, though they might not quit their work, yet it would have been prudent to proceed with it in a more private place, where it would have given less offence to the priests than in the temple; and so would have the less exposed them. But this was not permitted: they must speak in the temple: for that was the place of concourse, where they would have the greatest number of hearers, and do the greatest good. It is not for the preachers of the gospel to retire into corners, as long as they can have an opportunity of preaching in the great congregations. And when they heard that — When they heard that it was the will of God they should continue to preach in the temple, they took the first opportunity of doing it; for very early the next morning, as soon as the gates were open, they entered into the temple, and taught with the same freedom as before, no way discouraged by the fear of persecution. Doubtless it was a great satisfaction to them to receive these fresh orders from Heaven; for if they had not received them, they might have questioned whether, since they had now received their liberty, they should preach as publicly in the temple as they had done, Christ having said, When they persecute you in one city, flee to another. But while they were prosecuting their blessed work in obedience to the divine command: the high-priest came — Into the room where the council was usually held; and called together all the senate of Israel — All the members of the sanhedrim, being solicitous that there should be as full a house as possible on so important an occasion; and sent proper officers to the prison, to have the apostles brought before them, that the court might proceed to their examination and punishment. But when the officers came — To their great surprise, they found them not in the prison, and yet could discover no way whereby they could have made their escape, considering the circumstances that appeared on inquiry. Returning, therefore, to the council, they made their report accordingly.


Verse 24-25

Acts 5:24-25. When the high-priest, &c., heard these things — So perfectly unexpected; they doubted of them — They were extremely perplexed, and even at their wit’s end, having never been so disappointed before of a thing they were so sure of. They doubted, τι αν γενοιτο τουτο, what this thing might be — That is, whether they had procured their liberty by corrupting the keepers, or whether there might not be something miraculous in the deliverance of persons, whom such extraordinary circumstances had attended; and in that case, what this affair might import, and what the issue of it might be. Thus the world, in persecuting the children of God, entangle themselves in numberless difficulties. Then came one — Who knew their disappointment, and the uneasiness it gave them; saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison — And have commanded to be brought to your bar; are standing in the temple — Here, however they came thither; and teaching the people — With as much freedom and confidence as ever. Now this confounded them more than any thing. Prisoners, who had broken prison, used to abscond for fear of being retaken; but these prisoners, after they had made their escape, durst show their faces even there where their prosecutors had the greatest influence.


Verses 26-28

Acts 5:26-28. Then went the captain with the officers — By the direction of the sanhedrim; and brought them ου μετα βιας, not by violence; for they feared the people, lest — If they had offered any violence in their presence; they should have been stoned — The people were so fully persuaded that a divine power attended the apostles, that they held their persons sacred, and would not have borne any open attack upon them. “This may seem a surprising change in the people, considering the eagerness with which they demanded that Christ should be crucified. But it is exceedingly probable, that seeing the mighty power which wrought in the apostles, they might entertain some hope of obtaining temporal deliverance by their means, (see Acts 1:6,) of which they were so exceedingly fond; and a disappointment in their hope of which had turned their hosannas [addressed to Christ] into the cry, Crucify him, crucify him.” And when they had brought them — For the apostles made no opposition, but readily and cheerfully obeyed the summons, that they might repeat their testimony to their Divine Master, in the presence of the rulers; they set them before the council — In order to their examination. We may think, if God designed that the apostles should be thus seized, and brought before the sanhedrim a second time, why were they rescued from their first imprisonment? But that was intended to humble the pride, and check the fury of these their persecutors. And the high-priest — Singling out Peter and John, who had so lately been examined before the council; asked them — As the mouth of the court; saying, Did we not straitly command you — You two in particular, and so, in effect, all the rest of your company, and on pain of our highest displeasure; that you should not teach in this name — But you have disobeyed our commands, and go on to preach, not only without our license, but against our express order. See the poor cunning of the enemies of the gospel! They make laws and interdicts at their pleasure, which those who obey God cannot but break, and then they take occasion thereby to censure and punish the innocent as guilty. And behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine — Your false and pernicious doctrine, and thereby have disturbed the public peace; and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us — An artful and invidious expression. The apostles did not desire to accuse any man; they simply declared the naked truth. Thus these rulers charged them, not only with contumacy, and contempt of the court, but with sedition and faction, and a plot to set the people against them, for having persecuted, even to death, not only so innocent, but so good and great a man as this Jesus.


Verses 29-32

Acts 5:29-32. Then Peter and the other apostles — Or, Peter, in the name of the others, who, it seems, were all present; said — He does not give them the titles of honour which he did before; (Acts 4:8;) but enters directly upon the subject, and justifies what he and his brethren had done. This is, as it were, a continuation of that discourse, but with an increase of severity; We ought to obey God rather than men — They do not plead the power they had to work miracles; a power which spoke sufficiently for them, and proved their divine mission; and therefore, they humbly declined mentioning it themselves: but appealed to a maxim universally owned, to which even reason must subscribe, and which was a perfect justification of their conduct; God had commanded them to teach in the name of Christ, and therefore they were in duty bound to do it, though the chief priests forbade them. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus — Of the seed of David, according to the promises made to our fathers; that is, he qualified him for, and called him to, his great undertaking. It seems to refer to the promise made by Moses. See Acts 3:22. Or, he may speak of God’s raising him from the grave. Whom ye slew and hanged on a tree — As if he had been the meanest of slaves, and the vilest of malefactors. You put him to death in the most infamous manner; but God has restored him to life; so that God and you are manifestly contesting about this Jesus, and which must we side with? Him — This very person, notwithstanding all the outrage with which you treated him; hath God exalted with his right hand — By his almighty power, from the grave to heaven; or, to his right hand. You loaded him with disgrace; but God has crowned him with honour; and ought not we to honour him whom God honours? A Prince and a Saviour — To his people, whom he both governs and delivers, and therefore we ought to preach in his name, and make known the laws of his kingdom, as he is a Prince; and the offers of his grace, as he is a Saviour. Observe, reader, we cannot have Christ to be our Saviour, unless we be willing to take him for our Ruler. We cannot be redeemed and healed by him, unless we give up ourselves to be governed by him. His saving us is in order to his ruling us. To give repentance to Israel — To give the people of Israel place or room for repentance, notwithstanding their aggravated guilt; and to declare unto them the terms of peace and reconciliation: or, to call them to repentance by the gospel, and give them grace to enable them to obey the call; and forgiveness of sins — To all the truly penitent, on whom alone that blessing is bestowed: for there is no remission without repentance; none are freed from the guilt and punishment of sin, but those who are freed from the power and dominion of it; that are turned from it to God. And on the other hand, wherever repentance takes place, accompanied with fruits worthy of repentance, and faith in Christ, and in the promises of God through him, remission is granted without fail. Some infer from hence, that repentance and faith are as mere gifts of God, as remission of sins. Not so: for man co-operates in the former, but not in the latter. God alone forgives sins. And we are his witnesses of these things — How incredible soever they may appear to you, and are appointed by him to publish them to the world: and if we should be silent, as you would have us to be, we should be false to, and betray, a trust of the greatest possible importance; and so is also the Holy Ghost — A much greater witness, a witness from heaven; whom God hath given — In his gifts, as well as graces, as has been abundantly manifested of late, in the presence of thousands; to them that obey him — That obey his gospel, and submit themselves to his government. “The testimony arising from this miraculous communication of the Spirit to Christians at that time, entirely removes the objection from Christ’s not appearing in public after his resurrection: for had there been any imposture, it had been easier of the two to have persuaded people at a distance, that he had so appeared to the Jewish rulers, or even to the multitude, and yet had been rejected, than that he had given his servants such extraordinary powers; since, had this assertion been false, every one might have been a witness to the falsehood of such a pretence, without the trouble and expense of a journey to Jerusalem, or any other distant place.” — Doddridge.


Verse 33

Acts 5:33. When they heard that — When the high-priest and the Sadducees heard this courageous testimony, and faithful remonstrance; they were cut to the heart — Greek, διεπριοντο, they were sawn asunder, namely, with anger and indignation. When a sermon was preached to the people to this purpose, they were pierced to the heart, Acts 2:37; namely, with remorse and godly sorrow: these here are cut to the heart with resentment and rage. Thus the same gospel is to some a savour of life unto life, and to others of death unto death; and its enemies not only deprive themselves of its comforts, but fill themselves with terrors, and are their own tormentors. And took counsel to slay them — To put them all to death, either under pretence of blasphemy, or for sedition and rebellion against the supreme council of the state. Thus, while the apostles proceeded in the service of Christ, with a holy security and serenity of mind, perfectly composed, and in a sweet enjoyment of themselves, their persecutors went on in their opposition to Christ, with constant perplexity and perturbation!


Verses 34-37

Acts 5:34-37. Then stood up one in the council, a Pharisee — And as such believing the immortality of the soul and the resurrection; named Gamaliel — He is said to have been the son of good old Simeon, mentioned Luke 2:25; and the person at whose feet St. Paul was brought up. He was a man in so great esteem among the Jews, that Onkelos, the author of the Targum, is said to have burned seventy pounds weight of perfumes at his funeral; and the Jews have this saying concerning him: “From the time that Rabban Gamaliel, the old, died, the honour of the law failed, and purity and Pharisaism died.” A doctor — Or teacher; of the law — Who trained up a great number of pupils in the knowledge of it; had in reputation among all the people — Except the Sadducees. Thus can God raise up defenders of his servants whensoever and wheresoever he pleases. This man, rising up, commanded to put the apostles forth a little space — That he might speak the more freely, and be the more freely answered. And said, Ye men of Israel — To whom Divine Providence has committed the guardianship of this people, and the important care of their public affairs; take heed to yourselves — Now you are angry at these men; what ye intend to do — Lest you meddle to your own hurt. He puts them in mind of the importance of the matter in hand, which, in their heat, they were not capable of considering as they ought. For before these days rose up Theudas — He prudently mentions the facts first, and then draws the inference. A person of the name of Theudas is mentioned by Josephus, (Antiq., Acts 20:5,) under the character of a false prophet, who drew a great number of people after him, with a promise of dividing Jordan before them, but was defeated and beheaded, most of his followers being also slain or imprisoned. See notes on Matthew 24:5. But as this person appeared when Fadus was procurator of Judea, that is, according to Capellus, seven, or, according to Whitby, at least ten years after this was spoken, there can be no reference to him here. But Theudas being a very common name among the Jews, the person here mentioned, most probably, was one among the many leaders, who, as Josephus informs us, took up arms in defence of the public liberties, when the grand enrolment was made by Cyrenius, in the days of Archelaus. See note on Luke 2:17. This Theudas seems to have been supported by smaller numbers than the second of the name; and (as the second afterward did) perished in the attempt; but as his followers were dispersed, and not slaughtered like those of the second Theudas, survivers might talk much of him, and Gamaliel might have been particularly informed of his history, though Josephus only mentions it in general. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee — Of whom see note on Luke 13:1-2; in the days of the taxing — Or, as εν ταις ημεραις της απογραφης signifies, in the days of the taxation, or enrolment; meaning those same days, or at the same period of time, when the impostor Theudas appeared; and drew away much people after him — Endeavouring, on the principles of sacred liberty, to dissuade the Jews from owning the authority of the Romans in that instance; he also perished — Was quickly destroyed; and as many as obeyed him — As hearkened to, and followed him; were dispersed — And their cause came to nothing.


Verse 38-39

Acts 5:38-39. And now I say unto you — I, therefore, with regard to the present affair, give it as my most serious and deliberate advice; Refrain from these men, and let them alone — In a cause which is manifestly good, we should immediately join. In a cause, on the other hand, which is manifestly evil, we should immediately oppose. But in a sudden, new, doubtful occurrence, this advice of Gamaliel is proper and eminently useful. For if this counsel or this work — He seems to correct himself, as if it were some sudden work, rather than a counsel, or design. And so it was. For the apostles had no counsel, plan, or design of their own; but were mere instruments in the hand of God, working just as he led them from day to day. If it be of men — If it be a merely human contrivance, and matter of deceit; it will come to naught — It will soon sink, and come to nothing of itself; some incident will arise to discredit it, and the whole interest of this Jesus will moulder away, as that of Theudas and of Judas did, both which seem to have been much more strongly supported by human power. But if it be of God — If it be really his cause, which does not appear to me impossible, ye cannot overthrow it, whatever power or policy you use; for though even these particular instruments should be taken off, he will, undoubtedly, raise up others: lest haply ye be found even to fight against God — Against his almighty power, and infinitely wise and ever watchful providence; an undertaking which must prove dreadfully fatal to all who are so rash and unhappy as to engage in it.


Verse 40

Acts 5:40. And to him they agreed — Acknowledging his advice to be safe and wise. They, therefore, dropped the design of putting the apostles to death; yet they could not forbear giving vent to their rage, (so outrageous was it,) in a most unjust and cruel manner, and as evidently contrary to the conviction of their judgments and consciences, as it was to Gamaliel’s counsel, which was to let them alone. For when they had called them in, they beat them — That is, stripped and scourged them as malefactors. Thus they thought to make them ashamed of preaching, and the people of hearing them; as Pilate scourged our Saviour to expose him to shame, when he declared he found no fault in him. And, added to this, they renewed their prohibition of speaking any more in the name of Jesus. This they did in order that, if they could find no other fault with their preaching, they might, at least, have this reason for reproaching it, that it was against law; and not only without the permission, but against the express order of their superiors.


Verse 41

Acts 5:41. And they departed from the presence of the council — As soon as they were dismissed, not in the least terrified by the cruel usage they had met with, nor by the threatenings of their adversaries. See the power of the grace of God! These are the men who forsook Christ when the soldiers came to apprehend him, not daring to be seen in his company: yet now they profess his name, and abide by their profession, though they are derided and beaten for it. And we do not find that they said one word by way of reflection upon the court, for the unjust treatment given them: when reviled they reviled not again, and when they suffered they threatened not; but committed their cause to him, to whom Gamaliel had referred it, even to God, who judgeth righteously. All their care was to preserve the possession of their own souls, and to make full proof of their ministry, both which they were enabled to do in a manner worthy of the imitation of all ministers and people who may, at any time, be in similar circumstances. Nay, they departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame — Being men in reputation, who had never done any thing to make themselves vile, they could not but have a sense of the shame they suffered, which, it seems, was more grievous to them than the smart caused by the scourges, as uses to be the case with ingenuous minds. But they considered that it was for the name of Christ that they were thus abused, and that their sufferings would be made to contribute to the further advancement of his cause and glory; and, therefore, 1st, They reckoned it an honour to be so treated, to be disgraced, or exposed to infamy for his name — His venerable and sacred name; rightly judging that a punishment of this kind, though generally shameful, became a glory to them when borne in so excellent a cause, and for the sake of him who, though so divinely great, and so perfectly happy, had submitted, not only to stripes, but to death for them. 2d, They rejoiced in it, remembering what their Master had said to them at their first setting out, Matthew 5:11; Matthew 5:13; When men shall revile and persecute you, rejoice and be exceeding glad. They rejoiced not only though they suffered shame, their troubles not diminishing their joy, but that they suffered shame, for their troubles increased their joy, and added to it. Reader, if we suffer ill for doing well, provided we suffer in a right spirit, and as we should, we ought to rejoice in that grace which enables us so to do.


Verse 42

Acts 5:42. And daily in the temple, &c. — The apostles were punished for preaching, and commanded strictly not to preach: yet they went on with their work with unabated zeal, and indefatigable diligence, omitting no opportunity of doing it. Observe, 1st, They preached daily, not only on sabbath days, or on Lord’s days, but every day, as duly as the day came; not fearing lest they should either injure their health, or cloy their hearers. 2d, They preached both publicly in the temple, and privately in every house: in promiscuous assemblies, to which all resorted: and in the select assemblies of Christians, appointed for special ordinances. They did not think that either of these would excuse them from the other, knowing they were to preach the word in season and out of season. Though in the temple they were more exposed, and were under the eye of their enemies, yet they did not confine themselves to their little oratories in their own houses, but ventured into the post of danger: and though they had the liberty of the temple, a consecrated place, yet they made no difficulty of preaching in houses: in every house — Even the poorest. 3d, We are also told what was the subject of their preaching; they preached Jesus Christ; they not only preached concerning him, but they preached him, exhibiting him to those that heard them, as their Prophet, Priest, and King; their Teacher, Mediator, Governor, and Judge; their Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption: they preached, not themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, as the one Saviour of lost sinners, making it their chief business to advance his honour and interest, and not their own. This was the preaching that gave most offence to the priests and rulers: they were willing they should preach any thing but Christ; but the apostles would not alter their subject to please them. Observe, reader, it ought to be the constant business of gospel ministers to preach Christ; Christ, and him crucified; Christ, and him glorified; Christ dying for us; Christ living in us; nothing besides this, or what is reducible to it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 5:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-5.html. 1857.

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Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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