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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 7

 

 

Verse 1

3. Stephen’s FuneralDispersion of Jerusalem Church, Acts 7:1-4.

1. And (rather, but)

Saul—A transitional sentence. The same Saul, the indorser of the completed martyrdom, is leader of the coming persecution.

At that time—Literally, and doubtless truly, on that day. The martyrdom was the first act of the persecution.

Church… at Jerusalem—First mention of a city Christian Church; designating the organic body of all the congregation; a spiritual republic. The word Church ( εκκλησια) is used in the New Testament to denote, (1) The whole body of believers, (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 10:32; Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 5:23-24; Ephesians 5:27; Ephesians 5:29; Ephesians 5:32; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:15, etc.;) (2) A part of this whole, a particular congregation, as that at Jerusalem, or at Antioch, or at Rome, (1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:33.) (Shaff., Apost. History.)

All—The entire Jerusalem Church, with an exception soon to be noted.

Scattered abroad—That this dispersion was truly total (with the apostolic exception soon to be considered) is abundantly evident in spite of the unauthorized doubt of most commentators. Luke tells us that all the Church was scattered— scattered abroad into different countries; scattered by a most thorough persecution, ransacking every house, and sparing no class or character. (Acts 7:3.) So far as Saul’s keen eye could detect, not a Christian was left in Jerusalem. And it was because he was well satisfied that his work was thoroughly done in Jerusalem that he extended it to Damascus. And this terrible inquisition, as Mr. Lewin calculates, lasted a full six months.

Except—And surely where Luke states explicitly the exception, for himself all other exceptions are excluded.

Except the apostles—Why the apostolic twelve remained after the disappearance of the Church from Jerusalem, and how they remained safely, are two very interesting questions, treated scarce satisfactorily to our own mind by the body of commentators. First, the apostles remained, beyond all question, from some known imperative duty, such as an extension of the injunction in Acts 1:4, would impose. Now a very early tradition reaches us, through different independent channels, affirming that that injunction upon the apostles to remain in Jerusalem was extended to twelve years. Thus Eusebius tells us that Apollonius, a writer of the second century, records that “It was handed down by tradition that our Saviour commanded his disciples not to depart from Jerusalem for twelve years.” In an apocryphal work, the “Preaching of Peter,” it is said, “The Lord said to his apostles, If any one therefore of Israel repent, and through my name be willing to believe in God, his sins shall be forgiven him. After twelve years go ye out into the world, lest any say, We have not heard.” This tradition so accords with the fact by Luke here stated, with our Lord’s command. (Acts 1:4,) with the great rule obeyed even by Paul, “the Jew first, then also the Gentile,” that it may safely be accepted as an aid in solving the question of the apostles braving the danger of this terrible moment. And all this goes far to answer the second question. If the great Head of the Church required the presence of the twelve at Jerusalem, He provided for their safety. Not a hair of their head should perish if he needed their survival. Some powerful or skilful concealers, whose conscience was Christian, but whose courage (like that of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) dared not assume the Christian profession, might, with an inconsistent bravery, venture to cover and protect them from the searching eye of Saul himself, and leave the lion’s whelp bereaved of his prey. Many a lurking place those turbulent times had provided, such as the cells subterranean of the spacious tombs, enabling the apostles to anticipate the Church of the Catacombs. None the less were they the enthroned viceroys of the Great King, (Matthew 19:28,) and none the less would they hold communion with and supervision over the scattered missionaries who were spreading the Gospel abroad. When Philip’s success in Samaria reaches their ears it is as an organic body that they delegate two of their college to supervise the new field. Yet their home is still Jerusalem; and in confining their mission mainly to Jews, they hold themselves as fulfilling the true nature of the Lord’s command. We very decidedly reject the theory of Baumgarten, that the twelve themselves were, as Jews, thrown into the background by the call of Paul, as being a sort of failure. Here in Jerusalem, and after their own missionary dispersion, they were life-long heads of the universal Church, with but one additional colleague, (Paul,) and with no successor.


Verse 2

2. Devout men—The term would in itself include Christians, or pious Jews. Both may have commingled in the funeral of the martyr, and that may have been the reason why Luke uses a term that includes both. This contradicts not the fact that the persecution already existed. The plot was being organized, and its subsequent execution was probably aggravated by the dangerously open display of the funeral.


Verses 2-8

I. Transition from Chaldea to Canaan by Abraham, Acts 7:2-8.

The very selection of the holy place was really attained by a great transition from the old state of things. Stephen’s purpose in tracing this history of Abraham’s secession Isaiah , 1 st, to show that he is himself in faith still a true Abrahamic Jew; 2d, that Abraham, like Jesus and the Church, in attaining a holy ultimate departed from the old order and encountered difficulties and oppositions at every step; and, 3d, that God is no local deity so attached to one sacred spot but that the true Abrahamic worshipper may anywhere find his God. On the second of these three points Stephen shows that by the command of God Abraham seceded from the idolatrous Chaldeans, and from a probably idolatrous father; and when he arrived at the spot, now held so immutably sacred, he found it preoccupied by the Canaanites, and attained nothing but a promise of its possession in the indefinite future.

The God of glory—Not, as some have feebly rendered it, The glorious God, but the God of that glory which Stephen beheld, Acts 7:55. This glory was the visible resplendence of Jehovah’s own presence and person. It was called by the later Jewish writers the Shekinah, from the Hebrew shakan, to dwell. Thus the blaze of the burning bush that appeared to Moses, the splendour of the cloudy pillar that guided Israel, the “glory of the Lord a devouring fire” on Mount Sinai, the sudden flash that destroyed Nadab and Abihu, and the luminous splendour that filled the temple of Solomon at the dedication, were so many instances of the manifestation of the Shekinah, or dwelling Jehovah. In Romans 9:4, among the prerogatives of Israel over Gentilism Paul enumerates the glory.

Mesopotamia—A Greek compound term signifying Between-the-rivers; namely, the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. According to Genesis 11:31, the original residence of Abraham was in Ur of the Chaldees, whence he was brought by his father to Haran, or Charran.

Before he dwelt in Charran—God’s first appearance to Abraham mentioned in the Old Testament was not before he dwelt in Charran, but (Genesis 12:1-4) while he there dwelt. But there are traces in the Old Testament (Genesis 11:31) of a previous call, namely, in Ur of the Chaldeans; thus, (Genesis 15:7,) “I am Jehovah who brought thee out of Ur in Chaldea,” implies a divine call made in Chaldea itself. (See also Nehemiah 9:7.) And this is in accordance with the doctrine of Philo and other Jewish writers.


Verse 3

3. Saul… made havoc—The fierce cruelty of this Sauline persecution appears in every clause. Havoc, in the Greek, is a term that designates ravage done by a beast of prey; every house indicates that no single Christian was permitted to escape; haling (old English for hauling) describes the brutal violence done to persons in apprehending; women implies the disregard not only of the tender sex, but of any respected character; prison implies probably the inquisitorial prison belonging to the temple for religious heretics. Paul in many passages refers with deep contrition to these cruelties, (Acts 26:9-11; Acts 22:3-4.)

But while the detail of cruelty is so severe, and the dispersion so total, there is one most interesting feature of forbearance in the statement. Besides the martyrdom of Stephen, Luke intimates no other murder. A later martyrologist would have pictured a score of bloody executions. But in fact the Jewish authorities had no power for capital punishment. A single murder like that of Stephen might be overlooked by the Roman government; but persistence in a series of executions on their own authority would have brought the Roman procurator from Cesarea to exact an account, or even have roused Vitellius, the Roman prefect of all Syria, at Antioch, to appear with his army at Jerusalem.


Verse 4

4. Scattered abroad… every where—Luke repeats the scattering, as if to assure us of the totality of the dispersion. The Pentecostal Church forever disappeared, and of it the subsequently gathered Jerusalem Church was but an indifferent successor.

Twice did it appear to the hostile Jews that the life of Christianity was closed: first, when Christ was slain and his disciples apparently overwhelmed; second, when Stephen was martyred and the Church dispersed. Both these sad events were preceded by a brilliant but transient popularity of Christianity with the masses. Before the crucifixion the raising of Lazarus seemed to give almost a triumph to Jesus over the authorities. And before this martyrdom, the bold apostles, at two successive arraignments, seemed to come off by popular favour almost victorious over the Sanhedrin. But in the case of Stephen the terrible charge of hostility to the temple seemed to be so substantiated, and the bloody vengeance inflicted upon him so appalling, that the victory of hostile Judaism seemed to be complete; and the downfall of the Pentecostal Church appeared like the extinction of Christianity. (See note on Acts 4:1.)

Preaching the word—But the death of the Pentecostal Church was but its resurrection into a Missionary Church. Unconsciously missionary it probably originally was; for it was through the returning Pentecostal visitors at their various homes, by whom even the first germs of Christianity at Rome may have been planted. But this Jerusalem body was really absorbed in the home intensification of its own piety. That beautiful structure must break into countless fragments, and each fragment scattered abroad must become the nucleus of a new Church. Young Christianity must not conclude to be merely one self-luminous spot, but must radiate the world through. She must learn that the world is not now to be ended, but to be converted. The pentecostal emblems of universality must now begin to be realized.

Every where… preaching—Those dispersed Christians are, every man, an itinerant preacher! They wait for no “holy orders” forsooth; ask no bishop’s permit to hold prayer-meetings, and do not refuse to exhort or preach because they have received no license. Work is better than formal machinery. Saving souls is better even than churchly order; for no churchly order is established and is good for any thing, only for saving souls and doing good to men. A large share of the wide spread growth of Methodism historically arises not only from the fact that her itinerancy is this scattering abroad organized into system, but also from the fact that her laymen so often have such a spiritual life in themselves that when flung out of the reach of the regular ministry they forthwith, like these dispersed ones, set about the work of preaching the word themselves. Such vitality in such circumstances every earnest Christian should show forth whether he possess the parchment or not. The church order that does not rejoice in this freedom sacrifices the spirit to the form. It idolizes the machinery at the expense of all the machinery is good for. The electrical apparatus was made for the fluid, not the fluid for the apparatus.


Verse 5

I. PHILIP, ONE OF THE SEVEN, EVANGELIZES SAMARIA, Acts 7:5-40.

5. Philip—Stephen closes the Pentecostal Church; Philip opens the missionary or modern Church. To Stephen belongs the headship of the glorious army of martyrs, to Philip the leadership of the glorious army of foreign missionaries. Both were forerunners of Paul; the former in proclaiming the cessation of ritualism, the latter in heralding the Gospel beyond the boundaries of Judaism. Paul was Stephen and Philip united and enlarged.

It may appear a strange accident that not to apostles, but to mere so-called deacons such honours should be given. The fact, however, tells deacons, and even laymen, that working and dying for Christ are not privileges confined to dignitaries alone. But special reasons existed for this apparent accident. The great Head of the Church designed that the apostolic twelve should not yet be diminished by martyrdom; so they were holden back by a divine official conservatism, and to a deacon was it given to do the martyr’s work of first proclaiming the downfall of the ritual.

A striking contrast is apparent in the characters of Stephen and Philip. The whole history of the former grows out of his own intense, stern, tragic personality; whereas the latter appears cheery, spiritualistic, and alert, and the effects he accomplishes are produced almost unexpectedly to himself, and rather through him than by him. The only express words of his recorded (Acts 7:30) contain a pleasantry.

Went down—Down not from higher grounds, but from the more eminent capital.

The city of Samaria—Without the article in Greek, and so held by most later scholars to mean a city; that is, some unknown city of the province of Samaria. But neither our view of Luke’s acquaintance with the present facts, (note on Acts 7:9,) nor the familiar fulness of the narrative, permit us to suppose that the true locality was to him unknown. We find in πολιν της σαμαρειας a genitive of apposition like πολεις σοδομων και γομορρας, Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah 2 Peter 2:7. So Urbs Romae, Flumen Rheni, city of Rome, river of the Rhine. The definite article is omitted because the city is made definite by the genitive. (See Winer, Gram. New Test., pp. 125, 531.) Some authorities supply the article, such as Lachmann and Tischendorf.

Samaria—The city of Samaria was the capital of the great province of Samaria, and of the kingdom of Israel while independent and separate from Judea. Its position is nearly the centre of Palestine. It was founded by King Omri, upon a hill bought of its owner, Shemer, after whom it is named, and signifies watch-height. It was a place of singular beauty and of powerful defences, excelling Jerusalem in both respects. During the kingdom of Israel it was eminently idolatrous, was the seat of a temple of Baal, and was denounced by the voice of the prophets. It was the scene of many of the acts of Elijah and Elisha. It was depopulated in the time of the captivity, but rebuilt and adorned with magnificent streets and edifices by Herod, who received it as a present from Augustus, whose name it bore in the Greek form, Sebaste. Such were its condition and name when visited by our Philip.

Preached Christ—The Christ who, less than nine years ago, had preached himself to Shechem, in Samaria. There may have been hearers of Philip who remembered the person of Jesus himself. And Philip himself had, doubtless, heard from the apostles the parable of the good Samaritan. In connection herewith, read our notes on Matthew 10:5, and John 5.


Verse 6

6. With one accord gave heed—As we have mentioned in the fifth chapter of John, the Samaritans believed in a Messiah or Converter, and the miracles and touching discourse of Jesus found open ears and hearts.

The present unanimity of heed, or attention, implies that Philip was for the hour the topic of the town.


Verse 7

7. Unclean spirits—Demoniacs were not limited to Judea, nor to the time of the Saviour. It is to be noted that they are expressly distinguished from the diseased, namely, the palsied and the lame.


Verse 8

8. Joy—Not merely wonder and perplexity at mere prodigies, but joy, as at a divine and blessed salvation.


Verse 9

9. Simon—Celebrated among the early Christian writers as Simon Magus, or Magician. (See note on Matthew 2:1.) The term Magos is not applied to Simon by Luke, but the word for used sorcery ( μαγευων, magizing) is the same word in a verb form. Elymas in Acts 13:8, is a μαγος, magus, rendered sorcerer.

The best and earliest Church fathers, Justin Martyr and Hippolytus, gave credit to Simon for having a sort of theological (or theosophic) doctrine, and held him as the father of heretics. According to Hippolytus, he taught that the original source of all things, the primitive Nature, unfolded itself in a twofold form, the stronger as masculine, and the feebler as feminine. Of this masculine divine energy he was himself the incarnation; and a Tyrian courtezan named Helen, associated with him, the feminine. The passive or feminine principle was, by becoming material, held in bondage; and it was the purpose of the incarnation of the higher power in Simon’s person to redeem it or her. This redemption was to be accomplished by magical incantations and ritual performances. Not rising into the conception of the omnipotent personal God, Simon, of course, had no idea of sin as a transgression of God’s law, and so no idea of sanctification or redemption from sin by a true holiness. Knowing no God but nature, and no sin but physical evil, redemption could be only by magical processes, and consisted in an emancipation from the burden of matter in which all evil resides.

The doctrine that all evil resides in or consists of matter, borrowed from the Oriental system, and widely spread through the world at this time, practically led to opposite moral results. First, it led to asceticism; for the believer held it to be his duty to become spiritual by mortifying and subduing the material body. Second, it led to the sensual; for the believer, contrariwise, could infer that the body was base and worthless, and could be abandoned to all licentiousness without defiling the spirit. (See note Acts 6:5, and Romans 14:1-6) This doctrine of the innate evil of matter may be shown, we think, to have been the vital germ of gnostic heresies, the mystery of iniquity even now working, (2 Thessalonians 2:7,) which in the various forms troubled the Apostolic Church, was fully systematized in the second century, and became permanent in the monasticism of the Romish Church. So there was a deep truth in Simon’s epithet, “the father of heretics.”

Justin Martyr, in the second century, (who was himself a Samaritan, see note on John v,) says that Simon was a native of Gitton, in Samaria. Justin adds that he went to the city of Rome in the time of Claudius, where he gained such reputation as to be worshipped as a god. He professes to have himself seen a statue on an island in the Tiber with the inscription, To Simon, the Holy Deity: Simoni Sancto Deo. It is a very curious fact that in 1574 a stone was found standing on an island in the Tiber bearing the slightly different inscription, Semoni Sanco Deo; that is, To the Deity, Semo Sancus; the name of the Sabine Hercules. This indicates that Justin Martyr really saw what he intended to describe, but mistakenly described what he saw. The learned writer on the article Simon Magus, in “Smith’s Biblical Dictionary,” however, thinks that Justin could have made no such mistake, inasmuch as the full inscription explicitly identifies Semo with Hercules, and excludes its reference to the Magus.

Beforetime—Previous to the arrival of Philip.

Bewitched—Amazed and seduced the people into belief. After Alexander the Great conquered Persia and India, a high road of communication was opened between Asia and Europe. And this intercourse was completed by the Roman conquests in the East. Thence the stupendous superstitions of the imaginative East, especially from the Brahmins and Buddhists of Asia, passed in varied streams into the West. They broke up the narrow circle of Roman mythology. A dreamy pantheism invaded the religion of Roman Jupiter. A strolling swarm of supernatural pretenders appeared, teaching mystical doctrines, and claiming powers to conjure with the dead, to read the stars, to predict fortunes, to insure life, or health, or safety, or to hold intercourse with invisible powers. A large part of their craft was pure trickery; but another share consisted in an intense cultivation of those parts of our nature most allied to the preternatural and demoniac. (See note on Matthew 5:1, and Acts 2:13.) Their systems lay largely in the mysterious regions of ventriloquism, somnambulism, legerdemain, mesmerism, animal electricity, and diabolism.

Samaria—Clearly of the city of that name, for the whole transaction is thus far in the city of Acts 7:5.


Verses 9-19

II. Transition from Canaan to Egypt under the leadership of Joseph, Acts 7:9-19.

During this period Stephen shadows forth that no “holy place,” no “Moses,” no “customs” existed, yet Israel and the Abrahamic Church did exist in Egypt!

Joseph was preeminently a transitional character, under the direction of God taking departure from the promised land. The whole house of Israel beset him with enmity; yet God was with him as he went down into Egypt, the true Church among the Gentiles. The condition of salvation to his brethren and departure to the so-called “holy place” were their reconciliation with him. And it was in consequence of this dwelling of the Church amid the Gentiles of Egypt that they were restored to the holy land, first typically in Jacob, and then, inclusive of Joseph, of the whole tribes.


Verse 10

10. From the least to the greatest—Both old and young, pauper and magistrate, freely credited the super-naturalism of Simon. It was not the low and ignorant alone, but ladies of high rank, philosophers, generals, and emperors, that listened to magicians, fortune-tellers, and necromancers. Pompey, Crassus, and Cesar consulted Oriental astrologers; Brutus beheld an apparition summoning him to the fatal Philippi; and Cesar was warned by the soothsayers to “beware the ides of March.” Tiberius, at Capreae, “had a flock of Chaldeans around him.” Tacitus styles them “a class of men faithless to the powerful, fallacious to those hoping from them; which will ever be legally prohibited in the State, yet always retained.” In an age when old religions are dying out, the empty hearts of men are hungry for something beyond dead nature. Vacate men’s spirits of a true religion, and they will hanker after the vilest superstitions. There are at the present day so-called philosophers, who tell us that the age of faith is passing away, and the higher age of reason, the glorious millennium of Atheism, is coming on, when men will be far too wise to believe in God. But such an age would be rife with demon-worship and base paganism. We see in the sorceries of Simon something identical with the sorcery of the Old Testament, (and with the execrable pseudo-spiritualism of the present day,) something rather basely below nature: sub-natural rather than super-natural; where the depths of vice may perhaps be so fathomed as to reach clown to the infernal.

The great power—The true reading is, This man is the power of God, which is called great. It refers, doubtless, to the masculine or greater power of nature in distinction from the feminine, of which Simon professed to be the incarnation.

It, of course, became the ascended Head of the Church, (see note on Acts 1:1,) the Lord Jesus, to overcome these spurious miracles by the genuine, and the false doctrines by the divinely true.


Verse 11

11. Our fathers—The same phrase, our fathers, is used in Acts 7:12-13, indicating that Stephen intends to claim for himself and the Church of Jesus the fatherhood of the patriarchs.


Verse 12

12. Believed Philip—But so total a desertion of Simon as to compel him to surrender, indicates the manifestation of an entire superiority of the deacon’s manifestations over the magician’s.

They were baptized—Their faith in the miracles of Philip deepened into an experience of the truth and power of the Gospel he preached.


Verse 13

13. Simon himself believed—Simon was aware both of the falsehood existing in his own juggleries, and of the strange appearances of truth sometimes disclosing itself in his magical practices. He supposed that there was the same mixture of juggle and mysterious supernaturalism in Christianity, with a yet higher theurgic power. Christ was a daemon of more powerful name than he had known, and the miracles sprung from a deeper magic; and baptism was the method of induction into the new art. He continued with Philip, in hopes of acquiring the doctrines he preached; and, wondering at the signs, he hoped to acquire the power to perform. He might become himself a deacon, a wonder-worker, even an apostle!

Was baptized—But why did not Philip, with the gift of discerning spirits, detect and reject the hypocrite from baptism? Gifts, we reply, were not at the absolute command of those endowed, so as to be used at will. Philip may have perceived tokens of wrong in Simon, not sufficient to exclude him from baptism, but quite sufficient to need an apostle’s skill and power to deal with.


Verse 14

14. Apostles… Jerusalem… heard—The greatness of the event and the inferiority of the instrument alike surprised them. Cooperation, oversight, and control by them were evidently the demand of wisdom.

Sent… Peter—The apostolic body acted organically, so that they must have been still in secret organized and authoritative position. And as Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, was the most important post, after Jerusalem, in all Palestine, so they sent thither the senior apostle.


Verse 15

15. When they were come down—We do not, with Dr. Goulburn, (Acts of the Deacons,) extol Philip’s modesty in now standing in the background. Philip held the apostles as much his superiors here as in Jerusalem; and the apostles came with the same spirit of wise and holy supervision as they exerted in first establishing the deaconship.

Prayed for them—The apostles seemed to think that praying was better than criticism. Rather than be too ready at exercising their own authority, they sought the decision of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Verse 16

16. Into Sychem—Sychem is the Shechem or Sychar of John 4:5; and for a full account of the place and of Joseph’s tomb see our notes there.

Abraham bought… of the sons of Emmor—To make this correct history Jacob should be substituted for Abraham; for, according to Genesis 33:19, it was Jacob who purchased the family tomb at Shechem. Far earlier indeed than this the venerable Abraham did make a somewhat similar purchase, namely, of the cave of Machpelah of the sons of Heth, wherein to bury Sarah his wife, of which see the interesting account in the twenty-third chapter of Genesis. We see no other plausible way among all the proposed expedients of sustaining the accuracy of Stephen but by supposing that in the earliest copies from Luke’s manuscript the word Abraham was by mistake inserted for Jacob, for which, however, there is no manuscript support. But for a mistake committed by Stephen the sacred historian himself could not be held responsible.

Dr. Wordsworth ingeniously argues that Emmor or Hamor was a hereditary princely name like Pharaoh and Candace; that Abraham in all probability had bought the same spot from an earlier Hamor, and that Jacob as matter of peace re-bought the same ground.


Verse 17

17. Laid… hands—What is called the rite of confirmation by the laying on of episcopal hands, though of venerable antiquity in the Church, is not made obligatory in this or any other passage of the New Testament. This was an imposition of hands by a miraculous authority and for a miraculous purpose.

Received the Holy Ghost—In his miraculous and extraordinary manifestation; not merely sanctifying but charismatic. They had been doubtless regenerated by that Spirit before their baptism, in his secret and ordinary power and operation.

We have here, as at Cesarea (Acts 10:44-48) and at Ephesus, (Acts 19:5-7,) a miniature Pentecost, in which a new inauguration seems to take place by the repetition of the same charismatic effusions, each time under apostolic supervision. (See note, page 30, on Acts 2:4.) Samaria is thus ushered into the kingdom of Christ; and her semi-Gentilism, intermediate between Judaism and paganism, is authenticated as truly called. Hence, we see that not until the apostles came to Samaria might the charismatic Spirit descend. This was part of that miraculous supremacy of the apostles— Christ’s own chosen, original, witnessing twelve—which they could not communicate to any fellow, or transmit to any successor.


Verse 18

18. Simon saw—Simon now takes no share in the laying on of hands. He stood by, a spectator, and saw. Simon the Magus is intently gazing on Simon the Apostle: the very emblem of error and sin malignly eyeing the power of Christian truth and holiness, incapable of understanding its nature. He sees a work performed on the young Samaritan converts that raises them above themselves. He notes how beautiful and miraculous the results. These apostles he sees are higher than the deacon; they are the topmost masters of the new system, the possessors of the original wonder-working power, alone able to impart that power to others. From them, and not from their subordinate Philip, must the true primal secret be obtained.

Offered them money—He hopes to buy a seat in the apostolic college. From his name a mercenary traffic in holy things has, through the Christian ages, been called simony. “It is fortunate for us,” Dr. Hackett well says, “that our religious institutions in this country require us to obtain our knowledge of the term from a lexicon.”


Verse 19

19. Give me—As we have noted of Judas’s What will ye give me? (Matthew 26:15,) “This is a true huckster’s proposition.” Judas sold the SON Simon would have bought the HOLY GHOST!


Verse 20

20. Money perish with thee—Literally, May thy silver be with thee unto destruction; in which the apostle, assuming that the magician is bound to destruction, wishes that he may take his briberies with him. The words of the apostle are a true imprecation; but without any element of selfish wrath, such as the magus might have uttered, being but the judicial anathema of holiness against heinous sin. Money is a mighty power for evil or for good. With it a man may purchase death and damnation; with it he may increase his treasures in heaven. If the rich are to be envied for anything, it is for their means for munificence in endowing schools, colleges, and churches, in providing advantages for the poor, and sending the Gospel to the outcasts.


Verses 20-43

III. The Transition from Egypt to the Holy Land under Moses, Acts 7:20-43.

Stephen was accused of blaspheming Moses, of seeking to abolish his law and change his customs; and so it is Moses upon whom he most fully dwells and builds his argument. He now professes his faith regarding Moses. Moses was the founder of a great change, the human author of the law and the customs; and he was also assailed in his great mission by the opposition, persecutions, and apostasies of the Jews; and, finally, he was not only a type of Jesus, but as a prophet he predicted Jesus as his antitype. The claims of Jesus as such antitype thus premised, Stephen, had he been uninterrupted, would doubtless have fully shown. So far he had not dared utter his name. His topics are, 1. Moses’ life preparatory to his mission, Acts 7:20-29. 2. His call, Acts 7:30-34. 3. The performance of his mission, Acts 7:35-36. 4. His prediction of a prophet like unto himself, Acts 7:37. 5. The persecutions and apostasies of his people against him, Acts 7:38-43.


Verse 21

21. Part—A share by their own right or character.

Lot—By the allotment or assignment of God.

This matter—Of dispensing the Holy Ghost.

Not right—Literally, not straight. Rectitude is a straight line, with which the thoughts of a pure heart coincide.

In the sight of God—Who sees with perfect accuracy both the straight line and the crookedness of the heart not coinciding with it.


Verse 22

22. Repent… of wickedness—Literally, repent from thy wickedness. For repentance is a mental turning away from the wrong, and its effect is separation from it.

Perhaps—This word does not express doubt of the mercy of God if Simon truly repents, but of the probability of Simon’s ever truly repenting. There are so many depths and so many bottoms to his duplicity and depravity that Peter has slight faith in any repentance he may profess.


Verse 23

23. Gall of bitterness—Bitterness is depravity; true hatred and malignity against holiness and God. But in Simon the apostle sees the very gall of such bitterness, the very quintessence of depravity.

Bond of iniquity— Hemmed around by habits and principles of iniquity, as if bound fast by a fetter or bond, from which he cannot energetically even will to escape. Such are all men by nature without Christ and Spirit and Gospel. To such a condition do men tend by habits and principles of profligacy, even in spite of Christ and his provisions. Simon was none the less guilty for these bonds, for his own free will had fastened them about himself.


Verse 24

24. Pray ye—For a moment the Magus is overawed. He believes the divine power to reside in the apostles, and trembles at the perdition into which Peter’s imprecation precipitates his money and himself. He begs their prayer, not as refusing to pray for himself, but as believing they have an interest with the Divine, while his is only with the lower powers. But still his lower dregs of character remain undisturbed. Peter tells him to seek forgiveness; he only wants the aversion of threatened evil. He is at bottom still a sorcerer, and has not the slightest purpose of turning from his deviltries and demonish ways.

Josephus relates that, some ten years later than this, the Roman procurator, Felix, sent one of his friends, Simon by name, a Jew, a Cyprian by birth, claiming to be a magus, to seduce by glowing predictions and promises, Drusilla, daughter of Herod Agrippa and wife of Azizus, king of Emesa, to forsake her husband and marry the procurator. Rosenmuller, Kuinoel, Neander, and others, identify the two magi as one. But this Simon was a Cyprian; and the testimony of Justin Martyr that Luke’s Simon was a Samaritan, born at Gitton, is a little too specific to be fictitious, and is confirmed by the newly discovered writings of Hippolytus. If either was mistaken as to Simon’s birthplace it was Josephus.

In the early apocryphal writings, Simon Magus was made a legendary hero. His imagined contests with St. Peter were marvellous. He elevated himself into the air, (like a modern pseudo-spiritualist,) but was made to fall to the earth and was crushed, by Peter’s prayers, in Nero’s presence. He shut himself up in a tomb at Rome, promising to rise from it the third day; but, as Hippolytus says, he remains there still!

The case of Simon Magus suggests a brief discussion of the differences between a true and a false miracle. We agree with that class of thinkers, including Dr. Samuel Johnson, Baxter, Wesley, and, at the present day, Dr. Bushnell, who maintain that supernatural events of various classes are not confined to Scripture alone, but that the narratives affirming them are too numerous and too well authenticated to be rationally rejected summarily and universally. These narrated events may be roughly classified as 1. Fictitious, 2. Preternatural, 3. Supernatural, and 4. Miracle.

1. The Fictitious. Narratives not sustained by contemporaneous evidence of perfectly unexceptionable character are to be held false. This sweeps away the larger mass of pagan and papal supernaturalisms. They are not generally, like the Gospel miracles, sustained by eyewitnesses, or the eyewitnesses were easily deceived by collusion, or mechanical and other contrivances. In countries where supernatural events, in accordance with the established faith, are readily believed without any critical hesitation, abundance of stories of the kind will prevail. Others are true in fact, but explicable by science. Marks of the cross on the body, which were once imagined to be miraculous, are found to be producible by electricity. Apparitions are often the result of disease.

2. The Preternatural. A large share of wonders there are, not produced by any superhuman agent, but connected with the human system, which seem to belong to that side of our nature which is nearest to the supernatural, which is divided from the supernatural by no clear line, and which seems to be an avenue through which the supernatural reaches us, but which human scrutiny has never yet fully investigated. Under this class may come somnambulism, mesmeric sleep, verified presentiments, second sight, and some predictive dreams. Here may come those marvels in witchcraft which have never been explained. All these phenomena reveal depths in our nature never yet revealed by science.

Our systems are susceptible of preternatural wonders from the intense expectation of their coming upon us. (See note on Acts 3:4.) Here we may place, perhaps, the curing of diseases by the shadow of Peter, (Acts 5:15,) and the handkerchiefs and aprons of Paul, (Acts 19:12.) Here, too, we place mostly the performances of Sceva and his set at Ephesus, as well as the wonders there produced by the spells of Diana; and the casting out of demons by the Jews as narrated by Josephus and alluded to by Jesus. Here we may place the wonder-working of Simon Magus, Elymas the sorcerer, and their class. Many preternatural phenomena take place in intense religious excitements, such as catalepsies, jerkings, and trances. The Mohammedan dancing dervishes perform preternatural exploits in whirling, and the Shakers in dancing.

Many preternaturalisms combine the marvel of expectation with the tentative. By tentative marvels we mean those which seem sometimes to succeed, but often fail. Thus the royal touch to cure the king’s evil, (of which Lecky in his “History of European Morals” makes much account,) had in its favour (besides the predisposition to feign and lie for flattery to the king) all the power of intense expectation, and yet often failed, or cured doubtfully, partially, or temporarily. So the public papers, both of New York and London, have contained marvellous paragraphs concerning the preternatural cures of certain classes of cases, performed by a Dr. Newton through manipulations and faith, which cures were partial and temporary, and yet sometimes apparently real. No clear case has ever yet occurred, we may believe, of curing congenital blindness or lameness.

The oracles of antiquity mostly arose from a preternatural excitement of the faculty of presentiment, in persons of a predisposed temperament, by artificial means. We have no necessity to deny that real predictions were sometimes produced. The difference between the oracular predictions and the divine prophecies is, that the former were scattered, and were, if not aimless, merely temporal in their objects and origin, and the latter were a collective system converging upon the Divine Messiah, having in view eternal objects as well as claiming a Divine origin.

3. Supernatural. The simply supernatural, as distinct both from the preternatural and the miraculous, is a phenomenon that comes upon us from some invisible, yet clearly living superhuman agent. The power of that prophecy which identifies itself to the consciousness as the revelation from God, and is fully sustained as such by a fulfilment, is a supernaturalism.

The gifts or charisms of the New Testament Church, as promised by Christ, and forming part of his divine system, though often underlaid by the preternatural, are clearly supernatural. So, also, are the inspiration of the sacred writers, and even the influences of the Holy Spirit. All these are parts of one great supernatural whole, of which the word of God is the record and Christ the centre. All stand or fall together.

Under the supernatural, too, superinduced upon the preternatural, we rank demoniacal possessions and the case of the pythonic girl of Philippi. Here come all well-authenticated apparitions of the dead, and the appearance of angels, as to the apostles at ascension. It is impossible to explain the celebrated phenomena occurring in the Wesley family as other than supernatural, that is, as produced by an invisible, intelligent, purposing agent. They were sustained by such contemporaneous, intelligent, and incorrupt testimony as would prove even a miracle; they are authentic facts which no natural or materialistic philosopher has ever yet reconciled with his own system.

4. The Miraculous. All miracle is supernatural; and from the standpoint of God himself, the Author of nature, both all nature and all supernatural, as by him performed, are miraculous. But from our human standpoint we may limit the term to a particular kind of supernaturalism, namely, to a supernaturalism visibly originated and performed at the will of a visible agent in attestation of a religious truth, system, or mission. A supernaturalism like a dream or a presentiment, coming upon a man from an invisible source rather than performed voluntarily by him, would thus be no miracle. Miracles, therefore, are in fact mostly limited to Scripture history. And the power for these miracles may be conceived as either in their agent’s permanent and original possession, and completely at his will, or specially delegated to him on only special occasions. Moses performed one miracle of larger physical magnitude than any one performed by Christ; but his miracles were specifically limited and prescribed to him. Christ alone appears to be full master of all miraculous power at will. All other performers of miracles are only occasional, and by special delegation from God, or from the ascended Christ. He stands alone in the attitude of claiming and wielding at pleasure, or in permanent unity with God’s will, any power he pleases in proof of his supreme identification with God himself. The human system, the elements, the gates of death and hades, nay, the powers of hell, submit to his sway and volition. He stands, therefore, without a rival; alone among all wonder-workers, alone among all professed religious founders; and when we superadd the identification of his divine person by antecedent prophecy, the majesty of his personality as it presents itself in the Gospel picture, and the wonderful effects of his life on human history, it is absurd to bring any supernaturalism into competition with his Divine Supremacy. Quite the reverse. Every other visible manifestation of the supernatural serves to remove the presupposition against miracle, and especially against the supreme miracle of Christ claiming to be God-man.


Verse 25

25. And they… returned—Like victors from the field, the apostles return to the capital. They probably pass by the same route which they once travelled with the Lord from Samaria, (Luke 9:51-55. See note on John 4:4.) Then John would have called fire from heaven upon the people. Now they testified the historic fact of the Lord’s history, and preached salvation through his name. For the route they took and the villages they evangelized (reversing our Lord’s course) see our note on John 4:4.


Verse 26

26. The angel—An angel. Perhaps, as to Paul, (Acts 16:9,) in a dream; as the word arise may possibly, but not certainly indicate. Philip is still in Samaria. The apostles return home in the ordinary level of their apostleship, but for the cheery and spiritual Philip there is an angel-call to a lively work.

Why are the nearer thousands overleaped, and the distant and lonely one selected for this angel-directed visit through the desert? The reply, From God’s mere sovereignty, is absurd, for God has no mere sovereignty, but always a sovereignty with a reason. Now Abyssinia, to this day Christian, says that it was by this eunuch, his name being Indich, that she was converted to the Christian faith. This our Indich had been on a blessed visit to Jerusalem, and was returning with a heart full of God, and his hands holding God’s book, and his lips pronouncing the syllables of God’s open word. And the Divine Head of the Church said, He must not go to Ethiopia before he hears the name of Jesus. And he spake to his angel to speak to Philip to go and speak to the eunuch. And to such a heart how welcome the name of the Saviour would come! We strongly believe that Indich converted Candace and her Ethiopia.

South… way—The road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip is to go southward from Samaria until he arrives at that Gaza road which is the desert one. There are three routes from Jerusalem to Gaza: one, the most northern, passes through Wady Aly, (a wady is a valley;) the middle one through Wady Surar; the southern one through Eleutheropolis. To this last the epithet desert is most applicable. Some apply the epithet desert not to the road, but to Gaza itself; but, first, there would be no reason for specifying the condition of the city; and, second, there is no reason to doubt that Gaza was at this time a populous city, having lately been rebuilt by Gabinius, the Roman general. The words of the angel literally are, The same is desert. He gives Philip no information what he will find besides or in the desert; but he must go to that road of the three which is desert. Let him obey and he will find what the desert can afford.

Gaza—Gaza is a very ancient city, mentioned as early as Genesis 10:19, and is celebrated as the scene of one of Samson’s most noted exploits, the carrying off of the city gates. It was one of the frontier towns defending Palestine from Egyptian invasion. It was three miles from the sea, but had a seaport town. It was the route through which the eunuch would take ship for Alexandria.


Verses 26-40

2. First Fruit of Africa, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 7:26-40.

Africa received the Gospel earlier perhaps than Europe; and as an angel invited the Gospel into Europe, (Acts 16:9,) so an angel commissions it to be sent into Africa, (Acts 7:26.) Were these angels the guardian princes of those continents? Daniel 10:20.


Verse 27

27. Went—Dr. Thomson thinks that Philip intercepted the eunuch somewhere southwest of Latron.

Behold—The desert is just now not wholly desert, for the chariot of a princely negro is rolling by, giving it a rare life.

Ethiopia—Is a country south of Egypt, including the modern Abyssinia. The word Ethiopia is derived from the Greek αιθω, burn, and ωψ, face, and alludes, of course, to the negro colour.

Eunuch—The word etymologically signifies a couch-keeper or chamberlain, and designates a class of mutilated men who are in the East employed to guard the harems. But as in the palaces of princes such persons often gained the personal confidence of the despot, and became his chief adviser, so the very word eunuch was often used of officers of state who belonged not to this injured class. Yet the Greek for of great authority, δυναστης, a dynast or potentate, seems to express the official power, and leaves the term eunuch to its natural meaning.

Candace—A name, like Pharaoh, designating not a single individual, but each one of the line of queens by which the country was ruled. Candace was queen of Meroe, (near the modern Sennaar,) an island, or rather peninsula, termed by two arms of the river, a thousand miles up the Nile from Alexandria; to which city the eunuch is on his way to take his upward-sailing Nile-boat, made perhaps of papyrus and acacia. The name of Candace (spelled Kandakatis) is still found on her palace walls in Meroe, as in the cut, in hieroglyphical characters. Her buildings are in Egyptian style, varied with modern, perhaps Roman, elements.

Come to Jerusalem—Most probably to the feast of Tabernacles, the festival most visited by far distant residents.

Come to worship—He was probably a pagan proselyte, converted from the worship of the ram-headed Ammon by the influence of some of the many Jews residing in Meroe.

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Verse 28

28. Was returning—Very probably he may have been in Jerusalem at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, when the city was rife with the name of Jesus and his Nazarenes.

In his chariot—In vain, at the present day, does the traveller look for such a thing as a chariot in this country. This very desert is more a desert now than when the eunuch travelled by its route. The barbarism of the Mohammedan conquerors of the country has abolished all vehicles, and camels, mules, and asses are the only means of conveyance. A better day is coming when these vile intruders will be vanquished, and the railway will send its wonders through this land.

Reading—The rabbies had a maxim which the eunuch here well practises: “The companionless traveller should employ his thoughts in study of the law.”

Esaias—The Greek form for Isaiah.


Verse 29

29. The Spirit said—Philip subsequently had four daughters all prophetesses, so that the prophetic impulse was familiar perhaps to his interior consciousness.

Go near—Probably Philip encountered the eunuch at the point where his Samaritan road fell into the Gaza road. Both the angel and the Spirit give the briefest possible directions, and in the order of climax.


Verse 30

30. Philip ran—The chariot of the eunuch moved gently, so as not to impede the reading, and Philip by a quick pace could overtake it.

Heard him read—The Oriental reads even to himself alone with a full voice.

Understandest—The question of Philip, for the purpose of vivacity, contains a play upon words in the Greek, for which the nearest parallel we can invent would be, Heedest what thou readest? (See note on Acts 7:5.) Though he understood not to the bottom, yet his heart understood enough of the divine word to feed its spiritual life on. God’s word has several bottoms, and deeper and deeper surfaces. Beneath the stratum to which the eunuch could penetrate, Philip knew the Divine Saviour lay.


Verse 31

31. Guide me—The eunuch understands that he is challenged to an exegesis of the passage he is reading, and indirectly accepts the indirect proffer. He invites the stranger to a seat and to a biblical investigation.

The Christian often needs a commentator, but never needs a pope. When headstrong ignorance rejects the aid of the skill and learning which able expositors have gathered upon the word of God, illustrating its statements by the aid of history, geography, grammar, and suggestive thought, and assumes ability to draw right conclusions from the bare words of the English text, it is very likely to land where rash ignorance ever lands, in the depths of error. But when men, with all the aids of learning and sagacity and the blessed Spirit, give themselves over to a supposed infallible living expounder, they are very likely to be consigned to bondage and perdition. Men must use the right of private judgment by the aid of the best facts, lights, and counsels; but the right itself they have no right to renounce.


Verse 32

32. The place of the Scripture—The section. When the persecutor Antiochus forbade the Law to be read, the Jews divided the prophets into fifty-four sections for reading in the public service. The section now being read by the eunuch was 53-56. The passage given by Luke (Isaiah 53:7-8) is undoubtedly from the Septuagint, a version made in Egypt, and familiar, of course, to the Ethiopian. It differs somewhat in meaning from the Hebrew.

Sheep… lamb dumb—A vivid description of our Lord’s silent submission to sentence and death.


Verse 33

33. Judgment was taken away—Not his own mental faculty of judgment, but a fair judicial trial, which was taken away by violence and fraud.

His generation—Who shall describe the generation, that is, the men of that cruel age?

Life is taken—For they unjustly deprived him of earthly life.


Verse 34

34. Answered—Responded to some previous remark not given by this question.

Of himself—Very probably the eunuch, had heard the Jewish tradition that Isaiah was martyred by sawing asunder at the command of the wicked king Manasseh, and so supposed that the prophet might have predicted his own death.


Verse 35

35. Opened his mouth—As if to roll out a large discourse. (See note on Matthew 5:2.) The passage, and the eunuch’s question, furnish large text for large sermon. The expositor expounds, and expands into a preacher.

Preached… Jesus—Unfolded the agreement of prophecy and history in him; showed how Jesus was the true Messiah of Israel’s expectation explained how to believe and be baptized in his name is the way of life.


Verse 36

36. Water—The Spirit and the water, the reality and the symbol, are diffused through the world, refreshing both the moral and the material desert of this earth.

Baptized—Baptism was indeed suggested in the very prophecy the eunuch was reading: “So shall he (Messiah) sprinkle many nations,” words which the Ethiopian, son of a distant nation, might feel rightly to include himself. Rightly, therefore, he asks, “What doth hinder ME to be baptized?”

Robinson plausibly decides that this was “a certain water,” as the Greek signifies, “standing along the bottom of the adjacent wady,” [or valley, namely, of Tell el-Hasy.] “This water is on the most direct route from Beit Jibrin to Gaza, on the most southern road from Jerusalem, and in the midst of the country now desert, that is, without villages or fixed habitations. There is no other similar water on this road.” Undoubtedly “many changes” may have occurred in the earth, rendering all such identifications somewhat uncertain; but the entire presumption is that the traveller stands on the very spot where Philip and the eunuch stood!


Verse 37

37. And—This verse is wanting in the most reliable manuscripts and versions. It is, however, as old as Irenaeus, and Augustine did not question its authenticity. It may have been a later addition by Luke himself to his own work. (See introductory note, John 21.) It was inserted, Meyer suggests, to conform the text to the baptismal service, requiring faith as a condition.

With all thine heart—For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. Faith is affectional as well as intellectual. So the eunuch heartily professes that Jesus, the Messiah, is the Son of God. And he who, believing this from the heart, consents to be baptized in the fulness of the meaning of the baptismal service, is a true, saved Christian, how sudden soever the work. The outpoured water, the symbol of the outpoured Spirit, is the external regeneration and washing away of sin, correspondent to the internal regeneration previously wrought by the descending power.


Verse 38

38. Down—The opposite of up in the next verse. And as this up describes the ascending the bank, so the down most properly describes (not the alighting from the chariot but) the walking adown the bank.

Into—The Greek εις, into, signifies prevalently, but not universally, into, and not merely to. Here it is opposed to out of in the next verse. The Greek for out of, εκ, prevalently but not universally signifies out from, and not merely from, which is usually expressed by απο. Taking the correspondent force of both prepositions as they stand here, it ought to be conceded that an entrance of both Philip and the eunuch into the water most probably took place.

Even without the force of these prepositions, and in whatever mode the baptism was performed, the parties would naturally step into the water’s edge. A native of a southern clime, passing an arid desert, wearing nothing but light sandals, uninfluenced by a northerner’s fear of spoiling the polish of his boots, would step into the water even for the natural agreeableness.

Baptized—Performed that rite which images forth the “sprinkling of many nations.” (See note on Acts 7:36.) Immersion fails to be the type of the antitype, the shedding forth of God’s regenerating Spirit.

The main support, we think, of the practice of immersion is derived not from Scripture practice, but, 1, from the pagan meaning of the word βαπτιζω; and, 2, from ecclesiastical tradition.

1. The sense of βαπτιζω in pagan authors denotes in some cases the descent of water on the subject.

2. Even if the pagan use of the word meant solely plunge, that decides not the New Testament meaning. Nearly every term borrowed from classic Greek to express a Christian use changes its force. The word εκκλησια, church, signifies a political town-meeting; the word δειπνον, supper, would require the Lord’s Supper to be always performed at evening.

3. Early Christian practice favours immersion; but the earliest ecclesiastical practice requires self-immersion, naked, thrice performed.


Verse 39

39. Caught away Philip—This, with the correspondent phrase in the next verse, was found at Azotus, can be hardly understood otherwise than to mean that Philip was by bodily “rapture” transferred to Azotus miraculously. So Ezekiel says, (Ezekiel 8:3,) “He (the Lord God) put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the Spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north.” The Old Testament prophets, at one period, not seldom underwent such transport. Said Obadiah to Elijah, “As soon as I am gone from thee, the Spirit of the Lord will carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me.” And again: “Let them go and seek thy master, lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or valley.” The Greek for caught up here is used to describe the ascension of glorified saints, (1 Thessalonians 4:17,) and of Paul’s rapture into Paradise, (2 Corinthians 12:2-4,) and of the man-child into heaven, (Revelation 12:5.)

Rejoicing—So that as there was a rapture of Philip’s body, there was a rapture in the eunuch’s soul. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit; and that the eunuch showed this fruit is good proof that his conversion was as sound as it was sudden. As to Philip the angel of God had given command, so to the eunuch, Philip, like an angel, had suddenly come, briefly but beneficially stayed, and instantly disappeared, never again to be beheld. One was to go beyond the land of the pyramids; the other northward, to the Roman Cesarea.


Verse 40

40. Azotus—The Ashdod of the Old Testament. It stands on the summit of a grassy hill, near the Mediterranean shore, about eighteen miles north of Gaza. It was one of the powerful cities of the old Philistines, made wealthy by being the medium of trade between Asia and Europe across the Mediterranean. This marine town worshipped the fish-god Dagon. It was one of the border towns in the great wars between Syria and Egypt, and hence, being strongly fortified, it was an important objective point. It stood a siege, the longest on record, against Psammetichus. The ancient war between these Philistine coast towns and Judah was in more modern times obliterated, first, by the incoming of Alexander the Great, and, finally, by the overwhelming power of the Romans. Azotus is described as now a small village, with few traces of ancient magnificence.

All the cities—The rapid Philip, skirting along the shore, evangelized (such is the Greek word transferred to English) the cities in line; such as Jamnia, Joppa, Apollonia, Antipatris, etc. This beautiful maritime strip of plain, lying between the sea and the Israelite high lands, dotted with towns, and checkered with gardens and grain-fields, was, in the olden time, the land of the PHILISTINES. These were descendants from Ham (as the Israelites were from Shem) through Mizraim, and so related to the Egyptians. From these Philistines, the Greeks and Romans, unacquainted with Israel in the interior, called the whole country, even to the Jordan and Dead Sea, PALESTINA. The Philistines had possession when Israel departed from Egypt, and Israel marched by a roundabout circuit to the Promised Land to avoid fighting with them. (Exodus 13:17.) While the Gospel was limited to Israel, this region is unmentioned in the New Testament. When Christianity began to feel the full force of its Gentile mission, among its earliest incursions, as we here see, was this visit to this beautiful margin of the Mediterranean, followed by numerous others; “as if Christianity,” says Stanley, “already felt its European destiny.”

This Philistine strip extended northward to the Tyrian Ladder; and then commences the similar sea-shore strip of the ancient Canaanites. These were also sons of Ham, through his younger son, Canaan. But the Greeks and Romans called their country PHENICIA, or Palm land, from its plentiful growth of that picturesque tree. Their early cities were Tyre and Sidon. They were celebrated as the inventors of letters, as the boldest of navigators, the richest of manufacturers; but condemned for the grossness of their sensuality and the cruelty of their idolatry, (Moloch worship,) even to human sacrifices. With the Philistines, Israel was ever at war; with the more distant Canaanites or Phenicians, usually at peace.

Cesarea—The Roman capital of Palestine.—A few years before the birth of Christ, almost the entire coast of Palestine, without the indentations that form good harbours, had a point called Strato’s Tower for an insecure landing place. Herod the Great, who was a prince in architecture, a munificent builder of palaces and a founder of cities, resolved to supply the maritime want by placing a great capital at this point. He laid it out in long rectangular streets, lined with structures of white stone, adorned at intervals with stately palaces, and crowned at its summits with splendid temples and royal statues. Josephus pronounced it “a city of palaces!” But noblest of all the works was the harbour. Herod extended a long semicircular wall, like an arm, into the sea, open at the north, to embrace the commerce of the Mediterranean within its sheltering haven. This marine wall was composed of stone, fifty feet long, into a sea sixty feet deep, and the surface of the wall presented a level two hundred feet broad. In honour of his royal master, the Emperor Augustus Cesar, Herod named this city CESAREA. He made it his own royal residence, and the political capital of his realm. The successive Roman procurators of Judea, Pilate, Felix, and Festus, held their residence and courts in Cesarea, under the authority of the great Prefect of all Syria residing at Antioch. Here Paul was two years imprisoned: and here, some years hence, Philip, with his four prophetic daughters, is found by Paul, still true to the cause of Christ. Cesarea afterward became an episcopate, of which Eusebius, the father of Church History, was, in the fourth century, bishop. The Church, though founded by the humble deacon, became renowned in ages of persecution for its confessors and martyrs. It is now a desolation, inhabited by lizards and jackals.

Near the time that Paul was imprisoned at Cesarea, there occurred the tragical event which opened the fatal war which closed with Jerusalem’s destruction. It was a standing strife—Was Cesarea a Jewish or a Greek city? “It is Jewish,” said the Jews, “for it was built by Judaic Herod.” “Those pagan temples,” replied the Greeks, “prove it Gentile.” At length the quarrel grew so fierce that the Greeks, aided by Felix, opened an indiscriminate massacre upon the twenty thousand Jews, and in a few hours not a single Jew remained to question the pure Gentilism of Cesarea.


Verse 41

41. Made a calf—Stephen here, in order doubtless to express contempt for the base idolatry, probably coined a word found nowhere else in the Greek language, which may be literally rendered, they bullock-made.

Rejoiced in—Revelled in. Alluding to the licentious rites of heathen worship.


Verses 41-43

41-43. Stephen describes the complication of idolatries which the Israelites practised in rebellion against Moses and against God. They adopted the bullock-worship used by their old task-masters the Egyptians, who worshipped the bull Apis at Memphis, Upper Egypt, and the bull Muevis at Heliopolis in Lower Egypt. They adopted from the Phenicians or old Canaanites the star-worship of Moloch and of Remphan, the Egyptian name for Saturn. It was for these abominations that they suffered captivity in Babylon.


Verse 42

42. God turned—Averted himself and gave them up.

The host of heaven—Literally, the army of heaven; the body of stars are so styled, being, as it were, a countless host marshalled in the sky. As the Israelites had run after bullock-worship, God abandoned them to run into star-worship also.

In the book of the prophets—The book of the minor prophets, which are spoken of as a separate volume. The quotation is from Amos 5:25-26. The question asked, Have ye offered me slain beasts forty years? does not imply necessarily, or perhaps truly, a negative reply. It is not equivalent to an affirmation that during the forty years Israel had not offered sacrifice to God. The import of the question and the retort in the following verse is this: Have you offered thus long sacrifices to me, the true God? Yes, to be sure, but you have worshipped the false gods also.


Verse 43

43. Took up the tabernacle—Have borne the tabernacle of Moloch. That is, you have carried it, according to idolatrous custom, in the public processions of idol-worship. These tabernacles were what were called shrines: that is, they were small model temples which could be carried in the hands, containing the image of the god. These shrines containing the idolatrous image could be kept in the family or about the person in concealment, so that even while Jehovah alone was publicly worshipped a private idolatry could be perpetually maintained.

Moloch—The name Moloch in the Hebrew, and other dialects of the posterity of Shem, signified king. It is clear that terrible rites were performed of sacrifice to the hideous image of this idol-god. He is described as a hollow figure with the face of a calf and his arms extended. By fire kindled within his brazen frame was heated, and children were placed in his arms and burnt.

Remphan—This is the Greek term by which the Septuagint translators have rendered the word Chiun, found in Amos 5:26. It is the Coptic, or old Egyptian word, for the name of the star Saturn.

Beyond Babylon—In the Hebrew it is beyond Damascus, by which the same captivity is designated. The present phrase is suggested by the historical fulfilment.


Verse 44

44. Tabernacle of witness—The tabernacle built by Moses and carried through the wilderness lasted probably until the time of David. It was a movable structure, after whose model the temple was built. (See note on Matthew 21:12.) In the Hebrew language the word signifying to meet or to congregate or constitute, and the word signifying to testify, closely resemble each other, and so this tabernacle was called both the tabernacle of the congregation and (by the Septuagint translators) the tabernacle of testimony or witness. It was called the former because the congregations of Israel gathered to it; it was called the latter because it contained the covenant by which God testified himself as the God of Israel.

As he had appointed, speaking unto Moses—More clearly, As he who spoke unto Moses had appointed.


Verses 44-50

IV. The Transition from the old Tabernacle to the Temple under Solomon, Acts 7:44-50.

As Stephen was accused of blaspheming the temple, so he now shows both that the building of the temple was a great change from the old order of things, and that Solomon, the very builder of the temple, denied that any locality could circumscribe or fix the Deity itself. To maintain, therefore, that the divine worship is to spread itself away from one spot is no blasphemy, but Strictly accordant with Scripture and the Divine nature.


Verse 45

45. Fathers that came after—That is, the second generation; the first having died in the wilderness.

With Jesus—Very capriciously, our translators here have put the Greek form of the name Jesus for its Hebrew, Joshua. (See note on Matthew 1:1.)

The possession of the Gentiles— The landed possession; that is, the territory

Unto the days of David— This depends upon brought. The meaning is that our fathers of the second generation under Joshua brought the tabernacle into the land of the expelled Canaanites, retaining it until the time of David.


Verse 46

46. Found favour… find a tabernacle—This repetition of the finding forms a significant contrast. As David found favour with God, so he would find a tabernacle for God. The word tabernacle here in the Greek is different from the tabernacle of Acts 7:44. This signifies a permanent residence; that a movable tent.


Verse 47

47. But Solomon—Instead of David, to whom God did not permit the honour of building the temple.


Verse 48

48. Howbeit—Nevertheless Although Solomon built the house for God, yet (as the following verses affirm) God cannot be circumscribed by an earthly building. And the first clause of this verse is a condensation of what Solomon himself says in 1 Kings 8:27, and 2 Chronicles 6:1-2; 2 Chronicles 6:18 : “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded!” Saith the prophet—Isaiah 66:1-2. Stephen makes the quotation nearly exact from the Septuagint.


Verse 51

51. Ye stiffnecked—A customary epithet in Scripture, drawn, probably, from oxen refusing the yoke.

Uncircumcised in heart and ears— Circumcision was the material sign of cutting off our sensual desires and all unholy feelings, so that to be uncircumcised in heart was to be religiously and morally corrupt. The phrase “uncircumcised in ears” is implied in Jeremiah 6:10 : “Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.” Now when we note that in Acts 7:57 they stop their ears with many signs of fury, it may easily be believed that they had already given some such tokens that Stephen’s words were a reproach to them.

Ye do always resist… so do ye—These words clearly indicate a present manifestation of their resistance to the Holy Ghost appealing to them through the words of Stephen.


Verses 51-53

51-53. We agree with those commentators who hold that Stephen is here, by some interruption or sign of disapprobation from his audience, turned from his intended train of discourse.

From the four great revolutions in Israel’s past history he has shown negatively that there is no blasphemy in expecting a similar great change to come which should perfect, rather than fundamentally destroy, the previous. Next, following positively the lines of Peter’s argument at Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36) and before the Sanhedrin, (Acts 3:12-20,) he would bring the affirmative proof from prophecy and living testimony that the new epoch was Christianity and the new personality Jesus-Messiah, and then he would press them to repentance and acceptance of him.

That at the commencement of this paragraph, by the gift of “the discerning of spirits,” he saw in them a complete obduration of heart to their own destruction, was an ample justification of his burning rebukes. The terms are less severe than the Baptist’s “O generation of vipers,” etc., (Matthew 3:4,) or our Lord’s “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers; how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Hence we see no demand for Kuinoel’s palliation of the martyr’s “bad temper,” drawn from his subsequent noble behaviour.


Verse 52

52. Which of the prophets—This is not equivalent, as some would understand it, to saying that every prophet, without exception, had been persecuted. Being but a question, it allows that some exceptional reply may be made.

Them which showed before—The particular prophets who predicted the Messiah.

The Just One—Same as the Holy One of Peter, Acts 2:27; Acts 3:14.

Betrayers and murderers—The same charge was repeatedly made by Peter on the day of Pentecost and in chap. 3.


Verse 53

53. Law… angels—We have intimated on Acts 7:38 that, according to Scripture, the law on Sinai was given by the Angel-Jehovah; but here the law is said to have been given at the dispensation or disposition of angels, in the plural. We understand this plural to be parallel to the plural of the name for God in Hebrew, Elohim. This plural grammarians explain by what they call the plural of excellence, or majesty, such as when a king styles himself We. We prefer to think it arises from the infinite variety and manifoldness of God, as when we call him the Heavenly Powers. So the Angel-Jehovah of Sinai is angels, from the manifoldness of his manifestations on that memorable occasion. Thus for the Hebrew phrase, (Deuteronomy 33:2, describing the same scene,) “From his right hand went a fiery law for them,” the Septuagint reads, “On his right hand angels were with him,” where the plural angels is their rendering for the singular fiery law. In this same sense (Hebrews 2:2) we have the word spoken by angels as being inferior to the utterances of the Son—the visible fiery symbol being less than the living reality, Christ. So, also, “ordained by angels,” (Galatians 3:19,) used in the same sense.

There is, indeed, nothing requiring us to deny that God was attended by angels on mount Sinai; but there should be more precise proof than we have that the law, or word, was spoken even instrumentally by personal angels before we can adopt that view. The former point is confirmed by several passages. Thus in Deuteronomy 33:2, “He shined from Paran, and he came with holy myriads,” (as it should be rendered,) the word myriads probably denotes myriads of angels. Josephus says, “Our best doctrines and holiest laws have been learned from God through angels.” And Philo says, (on the Decalogue,) “There were present at the giving of the law voices visible, flames of fire, spirits, trumpets, and divine men running hither and thither to publish the law.”

This uninspired testimony is over fanciful. Admitting, in deference to Deuteronomy 33:2, that Jehovah was attended by personal angels, we doubt that the law was GIVEN by angels in any other sense than the plural of the Angel-Jehovah, unfolding himself by his multitudinous manifestations on the mount.

Have not kept it—Though the Angel-Jehovah, amid angel ranks and with manifold unfoldings of his own power, had given the law, these Jews had not kept it.


Verse 54

54. Cut to the heart—See note on Acts 2:37.


Verse 55

55. Saw the glory of God—Saw the Shekinah, for in Jewish phraseology the glory and the Shekinah are convertible terms. The martyr, like Moses, was for the moment permitted to see God face to face, even before quitting his veil of flesh. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and thereby the eyes of his own spirit were so quickened that no material object and no distance could prevent him from beholding, as through an opening heaven, the very presence of the Ancient of Days. He who in the first clause of his speech affirms in effect that Abraham beheld the God of glory now beholds that glory himself!

Right hand of God—If Stephen saw one at the right hand of God, he must have seen the God at whose right hand he was. Now it is abundantly said in Scripture that “No man hath seen God at any time,” John 1:18. God is dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see,” 1 Timothy 6:16. And yet, on the other hand, it is said of the elders of Israel “they saw the God of Israel,” “they saw God,” Exodus 24:9-11. So Exodus 19:11; Deuteronomy 4:12; Exodus 33:11; Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 6:5. By this class of passages must be meant that the Shekinah, the glory, was the “face of God,” was his “Presence,” was in symbol or fact himself.

If, then, Stephen saw God, he must have seen him so identified and located that one could be at his right hand. He must have beheld the glory condensed to a center, or at any rate there must have been some local symbol which he recognised as God. Daniel, in Acts 7:9, recognised him enthroned as “the Ancient of Days” with the “Son of man” not beside him but before him.


Verse 56

56. Son of man—Beside the luminous presence of God, Stephen sees one who from recollection, or from divinely inspired intuition, he recognises as Jesus, and identifies by the term used by Daniel as “the Son of man.” The glory of God here, parallel to that of Daniel, must have identified itself with God, “the Ancient of Days,” from which the Son of man is distinguished.

Standing—Not, as usually described, sitting. He will not reposingly sit while men are thus rough-dealing with his faithful confessor. He stands up to watch the bloody scene, and terribly will he require it at their hands in the day of vengeance. So (Daniel 12:1) “Michael shall stand up for the children of thy people.”


Verse 57

57. Cried… ran upon him—The succession of feeling through which they passed is curiously marked in the narrative. When first his face shone like an angel’s they were awed into quiet listening. As he lingered upon the honourable points of Jewish history their attention seems to have been rapt; but as the point of his argument was felt they began to manifest (Acts 7:51) their unwilling ears and mental resistance. When he charged them with violation of the law (Acts 7:53) they gnashed; but finally, when he claimed to station Jesus the Nazarene at the right hand of the Shekinah, they would stand it no longer. At such unheard-of blasphemy, stopping their ears and raising a howl, they rush, all at once, upon the victim.

This case may have begun with due judicial regularity; but it terminated in a scene of mob violence, paying some regard to the forms of law in the mode of execution. It is probable that the Sanhedrin possessed no power for capital punishment; but in those turbulent times daring acts of atrocity as deep as this were constantly occurring. Stoning to death was the Jewish punishment for blasphemy.


Verse 58

58. Out of the city—In accordance with the law that malefactors should not be executed within the city. Tradition as early as the fifteenth century has given the name of St. Stephen to the gate through which it supposes him to have passed, opening over the Kedron toward Gethsemane. Earlier tradition designated the Damascus Gate, opening on the north to the road that leads to the city of that name. To a spectator on any northeastern height, the crowd through either gate would have been visible.

Witnesses—According to Jewish law, the witnesses who slay the man by their testimony must execute him with their hands. This was held as a check upon false accusation.

Laid down their clothes—Putting off their loose garments in order that they might perform the arduous task of hurling the huge stones, as prescribed for blasphemy.

Saul—The first introduction of the name of one hereafter to be a most illustrious defender of the cause for which Stephen dies.


Verse 59

59. And they stoned Stephen—It is with exquisite pathos that Luke returns to say a second time that they stoned the holy martyr: in Acts 7:58 as one of the points of cruelty which they dealt upon him; in this verse as a fact contrasted with the holy demeanour of the blessed martyr himself. They stoned him, laying their garments coldly at Saul’s feet; they stoned him, breathing forth his spirit into the hands of his Lord Jesus. As if Luke was an eyewitness, the image of the brutal stoning seems to linger in his mental vision.

God—A word strangely inserted by the translators, and obscuring the fact that Stephen called upon Jesus.

Lord Jesus—Still does the faithful martyr, reeling under the force of their missiles, confess his Lord. Into the hands of that Lord, standing in glory before his eyes, captured even in death, he commits the spirit no violence can kill. Good proof that the spirit of man, like the Spirit of God, is no material substance. And thus may every dying follower of a faithful Lord humbly commit his parting spirit to His faithful keeping. Evidences are plenty in the history of dying saints that visions from the excellent glory dawning on their eyes anticipate the glory into which they are fast entering; and this visible presentation by the Lord Jesus of his own living person before the eyes of blessed Stephen does but furnish a type for all that die in the Lord.


Verse 60

60. With a loud voice—Literally, with a great voice; just as (Acts 7:57) they had shouted with a great voice. The clear prayer of the martyr now outrings the loud curse of his murderers.

Lay not… their charge— Beneath the gazing eye of his Lord and Master the confessor utters the same prayer as was uttered from the cross, for mercy, upon his destroyers. This was a new spirit and a new prayer in this dark world. Well did he show that his words of rebuke were not words of hate, but uttered by loving lips.

Fell asleep—Tranquil as a pure calm in the midst of a great storm.

Thus triumphantly fell the first of “the glorious army of martyrs,” presenting a model example for the whole illustrious line. It is one of the most beautiful, if not most truthful, of legends, that the blessed mother of Jesus, standing upon a rock on the other side of the valley, watched with solemn interest the issues of the bloody scene.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 7:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-7.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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