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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Acts 22





Paul declareth at large how he was converted to the faith, and called to his apostleship. At the very mentioning of the Gentiles, the people exclaim against him. He would have been scourged; but, claiming the privilege of a Roman, he escapeth.

Anno Domini 61.

Verse 3

Acts 22:3. Brought up—at the feet of Gamaliel, Strabo tells us that it was customaryamong the inhabitants of Tarsus, for the young people, when they had gone through a course of education at Rome, to travel abroad for further improvement. Concerning Gamaliel, see on ch. Acts 5:34. The phrase of being brought up at his feet, plainly alludes to the posture in which the scholars were usually placed, who sat on the ground, or on low seats, while their teacher was raised on a kind of throne. Hence, in one of the rabbies, "to dust themselves with the dust of their feet," is a phrase for being a disciple. See on Luke 2:46; Luke 10:39. Instead of taught according to the perfect manner, &c. Dr. Doddridge renders it accurately instructed in the law of our fathers. Vitringa, and some other learned critics, would connect, and as it seems very properly, πεπαιδευμενος, taught or instructed, with the foregoing clause, at the feet of Gamaliel, which makes the enumeration more particular;—by profession a Jew,—born at Tarsus,—bred in this city,—instructed in the law at the feet of Gamaliel.

Verse 4

Acts 22:4. And I persecuted this way unto the death, We know that he was concerned in the death of Stephen: ch. Acts 8:1 and if he was not so in that of many more, it was not for want of zeal and rage, but merely of power. However, there is no reason to think that the sacred history contains a full account of all the outrages committed against Christians during the period to which it extends.

Verse 5

Acts 22:5. The high-priest doth bear me witness, That is, "I can appeal to him for the proof of this." It will not follow from hence, that he who was nowhigh-priest, also bore that office when St. Paul persecuted the Christians; he might then perhaps be only an inferior member of the sanhedrim. Instead of all the estate of the elders, some read the whole court of the elders; the Greek is πρεσβυτεριον, the presbytery, or sanhedrim.

Verse 9

Acts 22:9. But they heard not the voice See on ch. Acts 9:7.

Verse 14

Acts 22:14. And see that Just One, Some commentators refer this to a future vision of Christ, and a future commission to be received from him; but it clearly appears from St. Paul's own narration, that he had already seen him and heard him speak. It seems therefore most natural to refer it to the past, rather than to a future event; though it may possibly include both.

Verse 16

Acts 22:16. Be baptized, Baptism, in respect to adults, except in the very peculiar instance of our Lord, was a token of confession and humiliation for sin; and of a desire to be cleansed from it, as the body is by water cleansed from its pollution; and being administered to such professed penitents by divine appointment, is called the baptism of repentance, Matthew 3:11. Mark 1:4. Luke 3:3.

Verse 18

Acts 22:18. And saw him That is, the Lord Jesus. Some suppose, that this memorable event happened in the second journey that St. Paul made to Jerusalem. See ch. Acts 11:30. But the expression rather seems to intimate that it was on his first return to Jerusalem that he had this vision in the temple; and what he pleads here, Acts 22:19-20 as to the probability of their receiving his testimony, suits that circumstance of time much better than the other. His dispute with some Hellenist Jews who, toward the close of his first visit to Jerusalem, attempted to kill him, ch. Acts 9:29 engaged the brethren to hasten his departure; and our Lord's orders to him at this critical season would of course determine him to yield to their instances, which perhaps his desire and hope of usefulness at Jerusalem might otherwise have opposed. But when he had been forced in that manner to flee for his life, while the memory of his zeal against Christianity was comparatively fresh in their minds, it does not seem natural to suppose that he would have pleaded the probability of their regarding it, after an interval of six years more.

Verse 24

Acts 22:24. He should be examined by scourging; One of the ways of examining by torture among the Romans, as well as among the Jews, was by binding the person to a pillar, and severely scourging him; so that this infamous practice of extorting a confession has, to the disgrace of human nature, prevailed among almost all nations!

Verse 25

Acts 22:25. Is it lawful, &c.?— See the note on ch. Acts 16:37.

Verse 28

Acts 22:28. But I was free born. This is thought, by some, to have been in consequence of his being a native of Tarsus; but Dr. Lardner has produced many strong arguments against admitting that city to have been a colony, or what the Romans call municipium, that is, a place where all the natives were free of Rome by birth. It seems therefore much more probable, that St. Paul's father, or some other of his ancestors, might have been rewarded with the freedom of the city for his fidelity and bravery in some military service, as an auxiliary to the Romans, as Josephus says several Jews were. It is also most certain that the freedom of the city of Rome might be bought.

Verse 29

Acts 22:29. Which should have examined him: Put him to the question or torture. See on Acts 22:24. The latter part of the verse might be better rendered, the chief captain was afraid,—because he had bound him, knowing that he was a Rom

Inferences.—The learned education which St. Paul had received at the feet of Gamaliel, was once, no doubt, matter of his boasting and confidence. Unsanctified learning,—that potent snare to many an unstable mind,—made his bonds strong, and furnished him with frequent and specious arguments to oppose the gospel; yet, when once divine grace had changed his heart, and turned these accomplishments into their proper channel, they made the conquest so much the more glorious, and rendered him the fitter instrument to subserve the merciful purposes of the almighty and all-wise God, for the defence and propagation of Christianity. Wherever learning is possessed, may it always be so directed and improved! and wherever it is perverted and abused, may Christ thus manifest his victorious arm, to cast down imaginations, and every high thing which exalts itself in daring rebellion against him!

By whatever methods God has been pleased to bring us home to himself, and to introduce into our minds the saving light of his gospel, we shall have, if faithful unto death, long,—nay, everlasting reason, with St. Paul, to recollect it with pleasure. They who have obtained mercy of the Lord, should make it their care often to bring back to remembrance the particular circumstances of it, and be ready, on every proper occasion, to recount those wonders of power and love for the encouragement and instruction of others. Compare 1 Timothy 1:16.

How adorable the condescension of that blessed Redeemer, who spared this prostrate enemy, and reduced him by the tender expostulations of mercy, rather than the terrors of wrath! It is of the same divine mercy that we are not all consumed, and because his compassions fail not. Speak, ever speak thus from heaven, O Lord, to those who ignorantly persecute thee; and make them humbly willing to receive the law from thy mouth, and to embrace thee as their only Saviour!

We learn from Acts 22:17-18 as well as from many other passages of sacred writ, that our Lord Jesus Christ, though invisible, is present while the proclamation of his gospel is made, and ever attentive to the temper with which it is received. Justly therefore does he resent the injury which is done him, when these messages of life and peace are neglected: justly does he often, in the course of his providence, remove those ordinances which men have ungratefully slighted, as did these Jews of Jerusalem; and call away the faithful ministers, who have all the day long stretched out their hands in vain to a disobedient and gainsaying people. Romans 10:21.

But what cruel malignity did these Jews express, whom all the wonders of that astonishing relation given by the holy apostle could not convince, nor all the eloquence of it persuade!—On the contrary, for no crime—but that of being made the ambassador of divine mercy, the instrument of deliverance to thousands of perishing sinners,—they raise a clamour against the delegate of Heaven, as if he were the most impious of blasphemers; and would have hurried him from the face of the earth as unfit to live upon it. How much less were they fit to continue there? But thus forbidding the apostle to speak unto the Gentiles, (as he himself observes,) they filled up the measure of their iniquities; so that, after the abused mercy of God had waited a little longer, his deserved wrath came upon them to the uttermost. 1 Thessalonians 2:16.

As unrighteous as it was in the Roman officer, on this popular clamour, to attempt putting this holy apostle to the torture, so reasonable was St. Paul's plea, as a Roman citizen, to decline that suffering. It is a prudence worthy the imitation of the bravest of men, not to throw themselves into unnecessary difficulties. True courage widely differs from rash and heedless temerity; nor are we under any obligation, as Christians, to give up our civil privileges, which ought to be esteemed as the gifts of God, to every insolent and turbulent invader. In a thousand circumstances, gratitude to God, and duty to men, will oblige us to insist upon them; and a generous concern for those who are to come after us, should engage us to labour and strive that we may transmit them down to posterity improved, rather than impaired.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, No sooner had the apostle obtained permission to speak, and all in silence listened, than with noble composure of mind, and in the most respectful manner, he addressed himself to the people, saying, Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence, which I make now unto you. He touches not on their violence, but merely aims to apologize for himself, and undeceive them respecting the false charges laid against him; and it is the greatest injustice to condemn any man, till he has been heard impartially in his own defence.

As he spoke aloud to them in the Hebrew dialect, which they understood, they kept the more silence, and he proceeded as follows.

1. He gives them an account of his parentage and education. He was one of their own body, a native Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews; not a poor obscure man, nor illiterate, as some might have said; but a freeman of Tarsus in Cilicia, and educated under the most famous of their rabbis, at the feet of the learned Gamaliel: and as he was thus early initiated in the most critical and accurate knowledge of the Mosaical law, with all the traditional comments of the elders thereupon; so was he most zealous for these institutions, and for the observance of these traditions, from a conscientious regard to God's glory, as they themselves now appeared to be.

2. He informs them of the bitter enmity which he had himself formerly expressed against that religion of Jesus which he now preached. He had been a bloody persecutor of the disciples of Jesus; furious to extirpate the Christian name from the earth; seizing without respect of rank, age, or sex, the professors of Christianity; and dragging them to prisons, endeavouring by every ignominy and cruelty to compel them to blaspheme and recant. And for this he appeals to the high-priest and sanhedrim, by whom he had been employed, and under the sanction of whose commission he had been sent to Damascus, to seize and carry prisoners to Jerusalem all who should be there found professing the Christian religion; that they might be proceeded against, and punished as apostates. None could have been farther from Christianity than himself: the bitterest of those who now persecuted him, came short of the enmity which he had shewn against it.

3. He relates the history of his conversion. It proceeded from no affectation of novelty, no discontent at being disappointed of preferment, from no worldly motives, nor the sophistry of others; but was the immediate miraculous work of God. For as he was ready to enter Damascus, with all his prejudices, and breathing out threatenings and slaughter, suddenly at noon a light from heaven, brighter than the meridian sun, shone around him; and, falling in terror to the earth, he heard the voice of Jesus, saying, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And when trembling, and astonished, he answered, Who art thou, Lord? it was replied, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. Convinced now of his own dreadful guilt, and earnest to escape the fearful consequences thereof, he begs to be informed what he must do; when the Lord bid him go to Damascus, and there he should receive information of every thing that was appointed for him to do. And being now raised from the earth, and blinded with the heavenly light, his companions led him by the hand to Damascus; for the truth or which facts they could witness, this being no fancy or delusion; for though they heard not distinctly the words which were spoken, they saw the light, were terrified, and fell to the earth together with him, and heard the sound of a voice, though not the articulate discourse.

4. He declares the farther instructions and cure which he received from Ananias, whose character he describes, to recommend him to their regard. He was a devout man according to the law, and though a Christian, still zealously observed the ritual service, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, for his exemplary life and conversation, and attachment to the temple worship. He came, and said, Brother Saul, receive thy sight, which was no sooner spoken than accomplished: the same hour I looked up upon him. Then Ananias delivered his message, and said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, as revealed in the gospel, and see that Just One, who so wrongfully suffered; and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth, and in some future time receive a fuller commission and farther instructions from him. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men, to the Jews and Gentiles, of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? without delay arise, and be baptized, receiving this instituted sign of admission into his church, and to all the privileges of it; and wash away thy sins, now pardoned through his atoning blood, calling on the name of the Lord, the only Saviour, that all the blessings of his gospel may be conferred upon thee, according to his promises.

5. He informs them of the divine warrant by which he was commissioned to go and preach to the Gentiles. It was given him at Jerusalem, while he was in the temple praying; where he fell into a trance, and saw this divine Redeemer, who said unto him, Get thee quickly out of Jerusalem; for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me, being obstinately prejudiced against it. And I said, unwilling to leave my dear countrymen, for whose souls I so earnestly longed, and to whom I fancied my ministry might be particularly convincing, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee. And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. And this he urges as a reason why the people would now more readily regard his testimony, when he preached that faith which he once destroyed; since it must needs be a supernatural power which could produce so wonderful a conversion. But the Lord, who knew the hearts of all men, and that his ministry would be rejected by the Jews, repeated his command Depart, and appointed him other work; for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.

From all which they might see clearly how far he was from being that enemy to the Jewish nation and worship, which he was represented to be; how earnestly he would have continued labouring among them; how reluctant he was to leave Jerusalem; and by what most express divine authority he acted in his labours among the Gentiles.

2nd, Hitherto with patience the Jews gave audience to the apostle's discourse; but the very mention of the Gentiles fired their indignation, and they would hear no more.

1. They cried out in the most raging fury, Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live; the very thought that the idolatrous Gentiles should be preferred to them, exasperated them beyond bounds, and they imagined no punishment was equal to the desert of such a miscreant, who could dare plead a divine commission to preach to the abhorred heathen. Therefore they cried out against him with the utmost detestation, and cast off their clothes, resolved to stone him on the spot as an apostate and blasphemer; and threw dust into the air to express the violence of their rage, or as if they wanted to bury him alive. Thus have the greatest and best that the world was ever blessed with, been treated as the offscouring of all things, and unworthy of the air they breathed.

2. The chief captain Lysias, seeing such madness and fury expressed by the people, commanded Paul to be brought into the castle, partly to shelter him from the popular rage, partly from the apprehension that he must needs have been guilty of some enormous wickedness, which could occasion such general abhorrence; and therefore he most unjustly bade, without further inquiry, that he should be examined by scourging, to extort a confession from himself of the supposed crime which made the people so violent against him.

3. When the soldiers who were about to execute the chief captain's command, were binding the apostle with thongs to the pillar in order to scourge him, St. Paul mildly addressed himself to the centurion who stood by, and said, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? The centurion, startled at this intimation, and knowing the dangerous consequence of such a procedure, stayed the soldiers, and went immediately to acquaint the chief captain, suggesting to him the necessity of proceeding with caution, since the person whom they had in custody was one of much greater distinction than they apprehended, being a Roman citizen.

4. The chief captain Lysias, knowing the jealousy of the Roman citizens, and the severity of the law against those who should dare to bind or scourge any of them, especially without a fair and public trial, came directly, and desired to be informed in this point, saying, Art thou a Roman citizen? St. Paul said, Yea. The chief captain, surprised at this, answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom; and you seem a poor Jew, unable to purchase so high a dignity: and Paul, who held his privilege from a more honourable source, said, But I was free-born.

5. Instantly orders were given for his being loosed. They who were about to scourge him, departed; and the chief captain himself was under terrible apprehensions, lest, if St. Paul should complain of this outrage, it might be attended with very ill consequences to himself—that he had rashly proceeded so far as to bind his prisoner, he being a Roman. Our civil privileges are invaluable blessings.

6. The next day, the chief captain, desirous of coming at the certainty of the thing laid to St. Paul's charge, commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear; and having loosed him from his bands, that he might not seem to prejudice his cause, and treat him as a criminal without proof, he brought Paul down, and set him before them, that they might bring their accusations, and he be at liberty to answer in his own defence.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 22:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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