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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles

ANALYSIS

In this chapter is recorded the visible descent of the Holy Ghost, so often promised and so long expected, with some of its attendant circumstances, time, manner, form of parted tongues, result in the action taken by the Apostles (1–4). Effect of this stupendous miracle, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, viz., confusion and amazement (6–8). Astonishment on the part of strangers from the countries the most remote, who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time (9–12). The sarcastic gibes and mockery on the part of some (13). The apologetic defence by St. Peter and his refutation of the calumny uttered against the Apostles (14–15). His proofs from the Prophet, Joel, that all this had been predicted (16–21). His defence of our Lord’s authority and power, as demonstrated by miracles (22–23), by His resurrection predicted by David (24–31), confirmed by the testimony of the Apostles (32), by His Ascension and Power in Heaven. The happy effect of this address in the conversion of his hearers, numbering about 3,000 (36–41). The edifying life and spiritual exercises of their converts (42–47)

Commentary

1. “And when the days of Pentecost,” &c. In the Greek, “days” is in the singular, “the day.” The term, according to our Vulgate reading, “the days,” refers to the interval between the Pasch, and the Feast of Pentecost. The words, then, would mean; when the fifty days—(Pentecost was a term in use among the Hellenistic Jews, meaning fifty or fiftieth)—that intervened between the Pasch and Pentecost, were accomplished. The Jewish Pasch took place on the 15th day of Nisan—formerly called Abib, the first month of the sacred year—on whatever day of the week the 15th Nisan fell. According to Jewish custom, the celebration commenced on the previous evening, or, the 14th Nisan. The Christian Pasch took place on the Sunday immediately following the 15th Nisan. Counting then, from the morrow of the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15), as had been done by the Jews, who, during the Second Temple, kept Pentecost 50 days after the 16th Nisan, a period of fifty days intervened between that and Pentecost Sunday. Then, Sunday was the fiftieth day, and on it, the Festival was pretty far advanced, as it commenced, according to Jewish rite, on the preceding evening. We find it by no means unusual in the Gospels to say, a thing occurred after a certain period, though that period was not accomplished. This is observable in regard to our Lord’s Resurrection, which is said to have occurred after the third day, though it occurred on the third day. The same remark is true of our Lord’s circumcision (Luke 2:21), which took place on the 8th day; also, in regard to the time of our Lady’s purification. Also Genesis 41:18–20. Here, the fifty days are said to be accomplished, although the event took place on the fiftieth.

The same observation applies to the Greek reading, “When the day was accomplished.” The event recorded took place early in the day. The Greek reading confines the celebration to one fixed certain Festival day, Pentecost, which took place at a period of the year between Pasch and Tabernacles. Pasch, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were the three great Jewish Festivals. Pasch and Tabernacles had octaves. Not so Pentecost, although it practically had been celebrated for seven days.

As Pentecost took place at the end of 7th week from Pasch, it is called “the Feast of Weeks” (Exodus 34:23; Leviticus 25:15–16; Numbers 28:26).

It is also called “the Feast of Harvest” (Exodus 23:16), as it was celebrated in thanksgiving for the harvest. On it, the Jews presented to the Lord, the first fruits of the harvest in the form of bread baked from the new corn, and also a portion of the new flour (Exodus 27:16; Leviticus 23:17; Numbers 28:16). Hence called “the day of first fruits” (Numbers 28:26).

On it was commemorated the giving of the Law on Sinai, which took place on the 50th day after the Hebrews left Egypt.

Our Pentecost commemorates, in a more excellent way, the objects of the Jewish Pentecost. First, the giving of the New Law and its solemn promulgation to the world. Secondly, the plentiful effusion of the first fruits, far more precious and far more excellent than the Jewish fruits, as then are bestowed on us in abundance, the first fruits of the Holy Ghost.

“They were all together in one place.” “All” is restricted by some to the Apostles. But, the application of the Prophecy of Joel (vv. 17–20) to “daughters” and “handmaids” makes it more probable that the term embraced the 120 mentioned (c. 1. v. 14).

“In one place.” Most likely, this refers to the “upper room” (c. 1:14), a portion of the “house” referred to, in following v. 2. The Greek adds, ὁμοθυμαδον—with one accord, of the same mind, by which it is conveyed that union and charity attracts the Holy Ghost into men’s souls.

2. “Suddenly,” without their expecting the Holy Ghost to descend on them in this way. By this it was conveyed, First, that the plenitude of the gifts of the Holy Ghost was gratuitous, independent of personal merits. Secondly, that the operations of the Holy Ghost are not tardy, but, active, quick and energetic, “nescit tarda molimina virtus spiritus sancti.”—St. Ambrose.

“There came a sound” (ηχος, means any noise), a loud noise, “from heaven,” rushing over them, from above, not laterally or horizontally, as the sound of strong wind comes. The word indicates also the source whence the gifts of God come to us, “omne donum perfectum … desursum est (St. James 1:17). This sound was like that produced by a strong rushing wind, sweeping along. It is generally supposed there was no wind, the air being still, which heightens the wonder. The Text, “as of a mighty wind coming,” (ὡσπερ, φερομένης) conveys as much. It was like unto the sound of a strong wind, as in next verse, “tongues as it were of fire,” not really, “fire.”

This sound symbolized the sound of the preaching of the Gospel throughout the earth “in omnem terram exivit sonus eorum,” &c., and also the power of the Holy Ghost as well as the mighty results He would accomplish. It had the effect of stimulating those present to a desire of receiving the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost formerly appeared under several emblems or sensible signs; at one time, in the form of a dove as at our Lord’s Baptism; at another, of a bright cloud, as at the Transfiguration; again, as a gentle-breathing “insufflans.… accipite spiritum sanctum.” Here, under the form of fire, so emblematic of his several operations.

“And it (the sound) filled the whole house,” a Hebraism for the apartment in this private house, conveying that all there would be replenished with the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

“Sitting” denotes not the posture, but only where they were remaining, some, perhaps, standing; others, on their knees; others, sitting, calmly awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit.

3. “And there appeared to them parted tongues,” &c. The Greek for appeared, ὤφθησαν—means, “seen by them.” “Parted tongues.” By “parted” some understand, that each tongue looked as if split, when it sat on the head of each; others, that though entire and not cloven in itself, each was parted and separated from the other, so that a distinct tongue appeared over each of those present.

“And it sat upon every one of them.” “It,” the flame, in a lambent form, assuming the appearance of a tongue, rested or appeared on the head of each. This denoted the gentle gliding down or descent of the Holy Ghost.

Fire was regarded as an emblem of God’s holy presence. Thus, Exodus 3:2, 3—we have the burning bush; the descent on Sinai in fire (Exodus 19:16–20). God is said to be a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; Psalm 18:12–14).

Fire was employed to symbolize the presence of the Holy Ghost. Here, it typified in the peculiar form of tongues the gift of tongues conferred on the Apostles, and also the divine eloquence of Apostolic men in preaching with power and effect the Gospel of God.

The natural properties of fire symbolized the gifts of the Holy Ghost, displayed in cleansing, purifying, consuming, enlightening, &c.

The tongues were not real fire. They only had the appearance of fire, “as it were of fire.”

4. “All filled with the Holy Ghost.” That is to say, the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Adorable Trinity, took possession of them; His Divine influence pervaded all their faculties, making them sharers, as far as their capacity would allow, and to the full extent of their dispositions, of the fulness of these heavenly gifts intrinsically possessed, in an infinite degree by Him in common with the Father and the Son. The first external manifestation, and, as it were, the first fruit of these was the gift of tongues, symbolized by the tongues which appeared over each, in the form of fire.

“And they began to speak with divers tongues.” In Greek it is, “other tongues.” They began to speak languages of which they were, no doubt, hitherto ignorant (vv. 8–11), different from their own.

“According as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.” According as the faculty of speaking these strange languages, hitherto unknown to them, was given them by the Holy Ghost. The words convey that they were hitherto ignorant of them, and that they spoke them not because they knew them, but as the Holy Ghost empowered them.

Their own language of Galilee was the Syro-Chaldaic. Possibly, some of them may have some knowledge of Greek and Latin, spoken in a way among the Jews. But the words employed by St. Luke clearly convey that they spoke the several tongues (vv. 8–11), to them hitherto unknown, under the miraculous influence of the Holy Ghost.

5. “Dwelling at Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was the chief seat of the Jewish religion. “Dwelling” (κατοικουντες) may either mean stopping there for a time, or making it a permanent abode. “Jews.” This strictly referred to the descendants of the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, that remained faithful and formed the kingdom of Judah, unlike the ten other tribes, that fell into schism under Jeroboam. These latter were called Israelites. In course of time, however, the term “Jews” embraced, without distinction, all the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Devout men” refers to their spirit of reverence towards God, which inclined them to observe His commandments. Those referred to here are different from the natives of the city.

As Jerusalem was the chief seat of the Jewish religion, many Jews scattered abroad among the Gentile nations, in the several dispersions of the Jewish nation, flocked thither, on the occasion of the great festivals, to satisfy their devotion. Of these, some returned home after the festivals to their permanent place of abode; others remained for some time to study the Jewish Law, and become better acquainted with its principles. The very expectation of the Messiah, at this time, caused some to dwell permanently in Jerusalem.

Like Rome, now, the chief seat of Christianity, Jerusalem had its colleges and public religious institutions. Others may have come and remained there for some time engaged in traffic. The words “devout men,” which insinuates the object of their present visit, would make it probable that these dwellers at Jerusalem had only a temporary abode there, having come to attend religious worship, and then, after some time, returned to the several countries, more particularly specified, next verses, where they had their permanent abode.

“Out of every nation under heaven”—an hyperbole, signifying all parts of the earth, every quarter of the globe. In the enumeration (vv. 8–11), there are several nations and peoples of the earth besides not referred to at all. “Every nation” expresses, therefore, a general, not a universal, proposition. The Providence of God so arranged it that every nation, in a general way, would furnish witnesses of this wonderful prodigy.

6. “And when this was noised abroad.” “The Greek is, “and this voice being spread abroad.” “Voice” is understood by some of the “sound as of a mighty wind” (v. 2), which was not confined to the house where the Apostles were assembled, but had been heard throughout the city. By others, of the rumour of this wonderful prodigy of the tongues, which quickly spread throughout the city and reached the ears of all, who quickly came together to witness it. “The multitude,” as well natives of the city as strangers, amounting to many thousands, as appears from the number of the converted (v. 41).

“Confounded in mind.” The Greek συνεχυθη would mean thrown into a state of great excitement, as if they were out of their minds, which was succeeded by feelings of amazement (v. 7).

7. “Amazed.” This sensation succeeded the state of mental excitement they were first thrown into.

“Galileans.” Proverbially ignorant and uncouth, their dialect, barbarous. They were isolated and unacquainted with other nations and their refined language. Hence the amazement caused by their speaking in the refined language of other nations. The word “Galilean,” was a well-known term of reproach among the Jews. This rendered the miracle more striking. Julian the Apostate, it is said, would fain, out of contempt, substitute the term Galileans for Christians. Hence, on the point of death, pouring out his life’s blood, he defiantly cried out, “Vicisti Galilee.” The Galilean was too strong for him. These were known to be the disciples of our Lord, whose followers were chiefly from Galilee. Their accent, also, would show them to be such (Matthew 26:73).

8. “How have we heard,” &c. The Greek has the present “we hear.” Each of us hears these men speak our native tongue, the language of the country wherein we were born.

9. “Parthians,” &c. To render the miracle more marked, St. Luke enumerates the several nationalities there represented. Beginning with the east, he proceeds westward. He speaks of the Jews or Jewish proselytes residing in these countries.

“Parthians.” Their country was a portion of Persia, remarkable among the ancients for fighting on horseback, and in the act of flight discharging their arrows behind them with unfailing precision and effect. Their language was the Persian.

“Medes.” Living under the same rulers as the Persians. They are often spoken of in the Sacred Scriptures. Their language, Persian.

“Elamites.” Their country was situated on the Persian Gulf. Probably so called from Elam, the son of Sem, who settled there as well as his posterity (Genesis 10:22). Some understand the word of Persia. The Greeks called the country Elymaís. Language, Persian.

“Mesopotamia.” A well-known region, lying between the Tigris on the east, and the Euphrates on the west, extending from the source of these two rivers to Babylon on the south. The language, Aramaic, spoken in the Babylonish dialect, while the inhabitants of

“Judea” spoke the same Aramaic language in the Jerusalem dialect. Some critics would have it that there is a mistake here in the Sacred text; that it was meant for India or Indumea, as the Galileans spoke the language of Judea. Others say the language of Judea was to them, in a great measure, an unknown tongue, their peculiar accent and idiom differing so much from the accent and idiom of the Jews—others, adhering to the accuracy of the Sacred text, say the sacred writer simply meant to convey that they spoke all languages, known and unknown.

“Cappadocia.” Their language, probably, a mixture of Greek and Syriac. Ancient writers describe this country as remarkable for wickedness, like the other places commencing with C—viz., Crete (Titus 1:12) and Cilicia.

“Asia,” as distinguished from Pontus and Cappadocia, refers to Proconsular Asia, often called Ionia, having for capital, Ephesus.

10. “Phrygia,” a province of Asia Minor. “Pamphylia,” another province of same. The language of these provinces was Greek.

“Egypt.” This country is too well known to dwell upon it. A great portion of the people of Alexandria—two fifths—were Jews (Josephus, Philo, &c.).

“Lybia.” The ancients called the entire of Africa “Lybia.” Here there is question of that part of “Lybia” bordering on Egypt called Cyrenaica from its capital, Cyrene.

“About Cyrene.” The district of “Cyrene,” with Cyrene for capital, had a great many Jewish inhabitants. Pliny informs us this district had five celebrated cities. Hence, called Pentapolis.

“And strangers of Rome.” The Greek might be better rendered, “and Romans sojourning there” (i.e.), at Jerusalem, Roman Jews, whether Jews by birth or proselytes, citizens of Rome, who took up their residence at Jerusalem either permanently, or came only to attend the Great Festivals and join in religious worship.

11. “Jews also, and proselytes.” Whether native born Jews descended from Jewish families; or, proselytes converted from Paganism to the Jewish religion. This refers to all mentioned in the preceding, including Cretans and Arabians, mentioned immediately after, and not confined, as some would have it, to the Romans only, “strangers of Rome,”

“Cretes” who earned for themselves the unenviable reputation of being liars and deceitful. (Titus 1:12, 13). Their language was the Greek.

“Arabians”—their language, the Arabic. In the above enumeration, there seems to be some confusion. But the sacred writers quote the language of men—who were greatly excited and amazed.

“The wonderful works of God.” In Greek. The great things of God; the wonderful miracles in regard to every thing connected with His Divine Son, His birth, life, death, Resurrection, Ascension, &c., such as are spoken of in the following discourse of St. Peter.

12. “They were all astonished,” &c., viz.: The foreign Jews referred to, most of those present. The Greek word for “wondered,” conveys that they were in a state of hesitancy and perplexity regarding a matter to them inexplicable. “What meaneth all this?” How comes this to pass?

13. “Others,” a different class, probably, the Jews of Jerusalem, who understood none of those foreign languages, enemies of our Lord’s disciples, said in a jeering mood, casting ridicule on the entire affair.

“Full of new wine.” They are under the influence of drunkenness. The Greek word, γλευκους, “sweet drink,” is commonly understood of wine. It does not mean, newly made wine. Pentecost which occurred in May or June was too early for the vintage of that year, which took place later on, in Angust. Hence it means unfermented wine, which was more intoxicating than the thinner wines commonly in use. Some say, this is meant as a sneer at the humble condition of the Apostles, as no men of position would use the wine of last year. Strange charge, as if men indulging in sweet wine, could on that account give utterance to foreign tongues.

14. Peter, the divinely constituted visible head of the church, representing her invisible founder, with characteristic ardour, now comes forward to defend the Apostles and our Lord himself, who commissioned them, from so foul a calumny. He stands up in order to make himself heard, “with the eleven” who also very, likely, stood up with him, in token of their respect, and in order to express their concurrence in what he was divinely inspired to utter. What the idiom or language he employed was, is, a subject of controversy. It is supposed by many eminent Interpreters, that he addressed them in the vernacular of the country—The Syro-Chaldaic or Aramaic of Palestine, so that almost all understood him. Likely, the foreign Jews retained still, with their knowledge of the language of the countries of their abode, a knowledge of the language of the country of their origin also. It may be too that the miracle of tongues was continued here, God so disposing it, that his hearers, foreigners as they were, understood his words, though strange to them; or, the words having the sound of his native tongue for each, the one language spoken became diversified and transformed in the ears of each into his own native tongue. Of this we have an example in the life of St. Francis Xavier, who speaking one tongue was understood by different peoples as if he were speaking their own language.

This address of St. Peter is composed of two parts. In the first part, taking advantage of the circumstances, to defend the miracle and the Apostles against calumnies and ridicule, he shows from the wonderful event, which was, the subject of scorn—that the times of the Messiah had now arrived. In the second part, he shows from our Lord’s miracles, that he was the long-expected Messiah.

“Ye men of Judea.” Native born Jews, “and all you that dwell in Jerusalem,” all you—besides native born Jews—proselytes or strangers who now dwell in Jerusalem. These comprised the whole assembly.

“Receive my words.” Listen attentively to what I am about to say to you.

15. “These,” himself and the others.

“The third hour of the day.” The Jews divided their days and nights into twelve equal parts, counting from sunrise to sunset. Now subject to Rome, they adopted the Roman system of calculating time. Days and nights they divided into twelve hours at all seasons. Hence, their hours were longer or shorter at several periods of the years. Not only were their civil duties, but also their Sacred and Ecclesiastical duties regulated by this division of time (Mark 15:25). (See Matthew 27:45; Commentary on.)

They divided the twelve hours of the day into four greater hours or principal parts, each comprising three common hours. The first great hour commencing at sunrise, continued three hours, and terminated at 9 o’clock, half the time from sunrise to midday. The next great or principal hour commenced at a time corresponding with 9 o’clock with us, that is three hours after sunrise, and ended at midday. This was the hour referred to here.

“The third hour of the day.” This was the earliest of the hours of prayer, at which the morning sacrifice was offered, midway between sunrise and noon. It was customary with the Jews to abstain from meat or drink on their Sabbaths and Festivals till after this hour. Sometimes, even until midday. (Lightfoot, Horæ Hebraicæ.) It was very unlikely—there was the strongest presumption to the contrary—that after a night of prayer and preparation for the great Festival of Pentecost, the disciples who made religion their profession, would indulge in intoxicating drinks, which was peculiar to dissolute and abandoned characters only. St. Peter’s address was his vindication and defence.

16. This is but the fulfilment, in reality, of the words spoken by the Prophet Joel (2:28–32). Hence, far from being a matter for reproachful-taunts, the whole occurrence should be reverentially treated, as emanating from one of their own divinely inspired Prophets.

17. “In the last days.” The Hebrew of Joel has “after these things.” In the rendering of St. Peter, “the last days,” clearly refer to the Christian Dispensation, the last age of the world, from our Lord’s coming to the final consummation of all things. The “Lord hath said” are found not in the beginning, as here, but at the end of the Prophecy of Joel (2:32). Placed in the beginning, they fix the mind on the source whence it emanates and beget greater feelings of respect.

“I will pour out of my spirit,” may mean, portions of “my spirit,” a plentiful effusion, denoting great abundance of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, whether, “ministrations” or “operations,” all varying, but emanating from one and the same spirit (1 Cor. 12:4–11). “Of my spirit” this is the reading according to the Septuagint. In the Hebrew it is, “my spirit,” “shall pour out my spirit,” denoting the Holy Ghost sent by the Son. “Of my spirit” denotes distribution of gifts just as God wills to give in greater or lesser measure. To the Holy Ghost is appropriated the giving of grace which is common to the entire Trinity.

“Upon all flesh,” all mankind without distinction of age, sex, profession or condition “will prophesy.” This is not necessarily confined to the prediction of future events, though primarily signifying this. It sometimes signifies communicating under Divine influence, the knowledge of the hidden things of God, or explaining, in intelligible language, the inspired utterances of others; or speaking, in foreign tongues (1 Cor. 14), the meaning it bears here.

“Visions,” whether in real, visible form, or, in ecstasy interiorly impressing upon them the images of things, conveying real and Divine knowledge, in regard to the supernatural and hidden things of God.

“Visions” are suited to the temperament of youth.

“Dreams” suited to old age. Visions and dreams are often employed, as the medium of communicating the Divine will and heavenly revelations. Whenever a dream comes from God, as in the case of Joseph, it will be ascertained without fail. Visions and dreams were (as in Numbers 12:6) two particular forms of Divine manifestations. The meaning of the whole passage is; the marvellous results of this spirit of prophecy poured out on all flesh will be, that your sons and your daughters, your old men, and your young men, every age, and sex, shall participate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

18. “And upon my servants,” &c. The words for “and” in the Greek means, nay even. In the Hebrew of Joel, the reading is, “and upon the servants,” &c., conveying that no class is excluded from sharing in the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The most abject, even slaves of both sexes, the castaways of society, shall be sharers. These men and women of servile condition are called my servants; because in their abject condition they serve God and are loved by Him, with whom there is no distinction between slave and free.

The Septuagint and Vulgate reading “my servants,” would imply that the words refer to the religious worshippers of God of both sexes.

“And they shall prophesy,” are not found in the Prophecy of Joel. They are added by St. Peter for greater emphasis’ sake.

In order to stimulate his hearers to render themselves worthy of the promises conveyed in the Prophecy of Joel, St. Peter continues to quote from this Prophecy and sets before their eyes the frightful calamities which those alone will escape, “who shall invoke the name of the Lord.”

19. Not unlikely, the prodigies mentioned here and quoted from Joel have immediate reference to the unheard of calamities that befel the Jewish nation in the sack of Jerusalem under Titus, in punishment of their obstinate infidelity and resistance to grace, shown in their rejection of their long expected Messiah, their crimes culminating in the crucifixion of the Son of God. The interval between our Lord’s death and the final end of all things was comparatively very brief, and the woes that befell Jerusalem were only a type of those that are to take place at the end of the world. Hence, it is likely, that here, as in Matthew (c. 24) there is reference to the phenomena, that are to usher in the final end of all things. We are informed by Josephus (De Bello, Jud. vi. 3) and Tacitus (Hist. v. 13) that prodigies took place at the destruction of Jerusalem ‘evenerunt prodigia … Visæ per cœlum concurrere acies, rutilantia arma, et subito, nubium igne conlucere templum; apertæ repente delubri foresæ, et cœtera.”

“Heaven above and earth beneath,” “above and beneath,” are not in Joel. They are added by St. Luke.

“Blood” is understood of a shower of blood, of which Josephus speaks.

“Fire,” the fiery phenomena in the sky. “vapours of smoke.” In Hebrew, “pillars of smoke” columns of vapour like smoke ascending aloft from the bowels of the earth, or from the ruins of burning cities—the veriest picture of desolation.

20. An hyperbolical form of expression not uncommon in Sacred Scripture (Isaias 13:10; Jerem. 4:13; Ezech. 32:7) well suited to the imagination of Eastern peoples.

“Before the great and manifest day,” &c. The Hebrew for “manifest” means, terrible. It refers, in the first instance, to the siege of Jerusalem, and, in the next, to the day of judgment of whose dreadful precursory Phenomena, those that occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem were a mere figure.

21. “Whosoever,” be he Jew or Gentile, “shall call upon,” &c., embracing the Christian religion—“shall be saved” from ruin here. If it refers to the siege of Jerusalem, it was literally fulfilled in the case of the Christians, who by Divine admonition, fled to Pella, beyond the Jordan before the final destruction of Jerusalem (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. Lib. iii. c. 5).

22. In order to escape these calamities, invoke the name of the Lord, embrace the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom I now mean to make known to you.

“Men of Israel.” Their natural, and, therefore, honourable appellation. He had already addressed them, as Jews (v. 14).

“Jesus of Nazareth.” The name by which our Lord was commonly known; often applied to Him by the Jews in scorn and reproach.

“Approved of God.” Accredited as His envoy. “Among you,” for your sakes, for your benefit.

“Miracles, wonders,” &c. The same stupendous miraculous works performed by our Lord during His life, publicly and privately, among the Jews, are here regarded under a threefold aspect.

“Miracles,” in proof of Omnipotent power. Wonders, as stupendous portents and departure from the Laws of Nature, calculated to beget astonishment. “Signs,” as a means of accrediting an envoy from heaven, or in any way manifesting the Divine Will. It is in this last-mentioned relation they are regarded here by St. Peter, as proofs of the Divine mission of Jesus.

It is remarked here by commentators that it is only as an envoy from God St. Peter here regards our Lord, without formally propounding, though by no means questioning, His Divinity, in which light his hearers were as yet unprepared to regard Him.

“In the midst of you,” &c. These miracles were incontestible, wrought publicly, so as not to be denied or gainsayed.

23. St. Peter now following up the chief subject of his discourse, proceeds to treat of the terrible crime of the Jews, in subjecting to the death of the cross Him whose Divine mission was so clearly proved. This delicate subject he treats, however, with wonderful prudence, avoiding, as much as possible, giving offence or creating prejudices. Without extenuating their guilt, he puts forward, in the first instance, the foreknowledge of God and His Eternal Decree, determining on the death of His Son as the means marked out, in His Infinite Wisdom, for accomplishing the salvation of mankind. Hence, foreseeing from Eternity that in abandoning His Son to the fury of the Jews, they would subject Him to the death of the cross, He, therefore, by a permissive Decree, determined on doing so, thus securing the ends of Redemption This, however, did not diminish the crime of those wretched Deicides, who acted all along as free agents. “Delivered” does not refer to the treason of Judas. It has the meaning of the words of St. Paul (Romans 8:32) “sed pro nobis omnibus tradidit illum,” delivered over to His enemies, being sent round from one tribunal to another. St. Peter so puts it, that they might be regarded as the agents in carrying out God’s Eternal Decree. Joseph acted similarly, in order to assuage the grief of his afflicted brethren (Genesis 40:5).

In the Vatican edition of the Vulgate (A.D. 1598) for “crucified” it is “afflicting,” But the Greek reading προσπηξαντες, “affixing Him” to the cross, is the most probable reading.

“And slain.” If some of those present had no hand in our Lord’s crucifixion—and likely many of them were present—their nation had.

“Hands of wicked men.” The Greek ανομων, lawless men, who had no law, is allusive to Pilate and the other Romans, pagans who were not “under the law.” Although our Lord was condemned and crucified by the Romans, it was the Jews that handed Him over to them. It was they planned and arranged His condemnation. Although fixed by the Decree of God, it was their own free act. The foreknowledge of God no more interferes with man’s free agency than remembrance interferes with a past act or vision with the present. God foresees a future act just as it takes place, or as it is performed—viz., by the free will of man (see Gospel, John 12:39, Commentary).

24. “God raised up.” Our Lord, who was God, raised himself up from the dead, as He had repeatedly promised. His resuscitation was the act of the Adorable Trinity. In condescension to the intelligence and feelings of his hearers who were not in a mood to admit his Divinity, St. Peter speaks of Him as a great distinguished Prophet, without denying his Divinity.

“Having loosed the sorrows of hell.” There is a diversity of reading here. In the Greek it is, “having loosed the sorrows of death.” There is, however, no great difference as to sense; for by “hell” is meant the receptacle of the souls of men who died before Christ. The body was consigned to the tomb, the soul to the region called “hell” and kept there, as expressed in the words “because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,” &c. (v. 27). Some understand the Greek word for “sorrows” (ὠδυνας) to mean cords or cables. This accords well with the word loosing, or having loosed. The phrase, loosing cords, which kept our Lord bound in the embraces and arms of death is more intelligible than “loosing sorrows,” though this, too, will make sense, if understood, of the great pains our Lord endured, which were put an end to by being raised to a new life in His Resurrection. It would thus be allusive to the pains of parturition conveyed by the word ωδυνας, and our Lord’s birth into a new life in His Resurrection (Acts 13:33).

The original Hebrew word is sometimes rendered ωδινας in the Septuagint, even when it is meant for cords. The meaning of the words in our version is, that in raising Himself up from the dead, God overcame the empire of death and hell, dissolving, destroying, putting an end to all the pains and dolours that usually accompany death and follow it. Hell or death is here personified, as appears from the words “holden by it.”

“Because it was impossible,” &c. Considering the Divine nature of our Lord, “the author of life” (3:17; John 5:26), and especially the prophecies regarding the Son of God, which argument St. Paul employs (Acts 13:33). It is to this prediction of His Resurrection, and all its circumstances, St. Peter here refers. These prophecies could not possibly be frustrated, God made a liar, and the end of His mission frustrated, which would be the result, if he did not fully overcome death and rise to a glorious and immortal life.

25. “For David saith,” in Psalm 15. The first portion of this Psalm literally refers to David himself as a type of Christ. But, in the latter part (vv. 8–11) the Psalmist, like one transported beyond himself, literally and primarily refers to Christ. To him only can this latter part of the Psalm literally refer. Of himself, David could not say with truth, that his body would not see corruption.

“I foresaw the Lord,” &c. In all the actions, sufferings and incidents of my life, I looked to the Lord, as my protector who would rescue me from every tribulation, and bestow on me a glorious and immortal life.

“Because He is at my right hand,” always by me to guard and protect my human nature.

“That I may not be moved,” may suffer no injury.

26. “My heart,” &c., expresses very great interior joy, which was also exteriorly expressed.

The Hebrew for “my tongue” is, my glory. It means, I myself, the word, glory, being an honourable epithet. Thus we say of a man, your Majesty, your Highness, meaning himself.

“Shall rest” securely, in the sepulchre for some time, “in hope,” with the certain hope of my near resuscitation and the glory in store for me.

27. “Leave my soul,” which after its separation from the body, shall descend to the regions of the dead, it shall not be permitted to remain there. It shall be united to my body, reposing in the tomb, so that both united may enjoy a glorious and immortal life. It is quite certain, that our Lord, after death, descended to the “Limbo of the Fathers,” where the just of old were detained until the gates of Heaven, so long closed, were thrown open by the death of Christ, “Thy holy One,” our Lord, the author and source of holiness itself, was Himself pre-eminently “holy.”

28. “Hast made known.” A prophetical past, on account of the certainty of accomplishment. The Hebrew has the future, “Thou shalt make known or teach me, the ways of life,” the way of returning to life in my resurrection, so as to point it out to others, viz., the Patriarchs and Saints, who are to rise with me, and all who are to be raised up on the last day. My resuscitation is to be a model of their Resurrection which is the way to life and glory eternal.

“Make me full of joy,” &c. In the Hebrew it is, “the abundance of joy shall be for me before thy countenance.” My soul in the interval between my death and Resurrection shall see the joy of thy countenance and my body, though the same soul, in its resuscitation, gifted with the qualities of glorification, shall also be filled with all joy. Clearly these words are not applicable to David.

29. He here shows that the quotation from Psalm 15 cannot apply to David, who was dead, buried and subject to putrefaction; but, only to our Lord risen, after being three days in the grave.

“Men, brethren.” Words of affectionate regard, to avoid all offence in what he was about telling them. Instead of saying at once and directly that the passage regarded Christ and not David, the Apostle adopts a conciliatory form of language; some among them, who held David in the greatest veneration might possibly understand the words of Psalm 15 to refer to him directly. He styles him “a Patriarch”—a term of honor and veneration—being the head of the Royal line, to which the promises regarding the Messiah were made, “was buried; and his sepulchre,” where his remains, after being subjected to putrefaction, are enclosed,

“Is with us,” may be seen in our midst here in Jerusalem “till the present day.” Hence, the words, “shall not see corruption,” cannot apply to him.

Josephus testifies (Antiqu., xvi. 7, 1) that David’s Mausoleum was an object of veneration in his day. St. Jerome bears witness, that it might be seen in the days of the Emperor Adrian, when it fell to pieces. Ep. 18.

A. Lapide observes that St. Peter says nothing of David’s body or soul, which by this time had mounted on High, ascending glorious with the band of Patriarchs, &c., whom, at his ascension, our Lord had to accompany him, as so many trophies, to grace his glorious triumph.

30. “A prophet” inspired by God’s holy spirit (Matthew 22:43), he knew from Divine Revelation that by God’s unchangeable Decree, sanctioned by a solemn oath, one of his posterity would occupy his throne. The following words found in the Greek, but omitted in the Vulgate, “according to the flesh he would raise up Christ,” are omitted in several versions and MSS., and are regarded by most eminent critics, as of dubious authenticity. The passage makes sense without them.

31. Foreseeing this to occur at a future day, he predicted the Resurrection of Christ, in the words, “thou shall not leave my soul,” &c. These words were fulfilled in him, “For neither was he left in Hell,” &c.

32. The prophecy regarding Christ’s Resurrection has been fulfilled. We, Apostles, who saw Him, and conversed with him are witnesses of His Resurrection as an incontrovertible fact, that cannot be gainsayed or called in question.

33. The effect or consequence of this resuscitation was, that He was taken up by the power of God into Heaven, and having received from His Father the Holy Spirit whom He promised His Apostles (John 14:6, 16:7), He abundantly poured forth the manifold and varied gifts, which bring under your sense of hearing in the various tongues spoken, and the sense of seeing in the fiery forms of these tongues, His visible presence amongst you.

34–35. In corroboration of his proof derived from the visible manifestation referred to in preceding verse, that Christ ascending on high sent down the Holy Ghost, the Apostle adduces the words of David (Psalm 109), predicting the exaltation of Christ. The very Jewish Doctors themselves did not deny that the words of this Psalm (109) referred to Christ (Matthew 22:42, 46).

“David ascended not into Heaven,” to send down the Holy Ghost. It was Christ did so.

“Sit on right hand” (“right hand” with the Hebrews meant, power), refers to our Lord’s humanity. As man, He was the most exalted Being in Heaven, next to God, occupying the highest place next him. As God, he was equal to the Father; as man, the next after Him.

“Footstool” conveys the deepest humiliation (see Matthew 22:44, &c. Commentary).

36. “House,” the entire family or descendants of Israel. “Know most assuredly,” from the Resurrection of our Lord, from His elevation up to Heaven, from the sending down of the Holy Ghost, shown in the miracles of tongues, &c., from the Prophecies just quoted, let them firmly believe, that God has constituted this same Jesus, viewed according to His human nature. “Lord of all things”—“and Christ.” That is to say, the long expected Messiah of the Jewish Nation, whom He anointed in His Incarnation and Union with the Eternal Word, with the oil of gladness beyond his fellows.

“Whom you have crucified,” thus, rendering yourselves guilty of the greatest crime ever perpetrated on this earth. In this peroration and conclusion of his discourse, he meant to excite in them feelings of compunction and to stimulate them to penance, which, with the aid of God’s grace, he succeeded in doing.

37. “They had compunction,” exteriorly produced by the words of Peter, and interiorly, “in their heart,” efficaciously produced by the grace and unction of the Holy Ghost enlightening and stimulating them. The Greek for “had,” κατενυγησαν, means, transpierced, as if by some sharp instrument. They were pierced in their hearts with bitter, pungent sorrow—“compunction,” on account of the crime of putting our Lord to death, whom they now believed and knew to be their long promised Messiah.

“What shall we do?” in expiation of so dreadful a crime.

38. “Do penance,” which implies change of heart, in the first instance, also good works worthy of penance.

“And be baptised every one of you in the name”—by the authority, or in the faith “of Jesus Christ,” and the external profession of that faith, by embracing his religion and becoming his followers.

The Greek for “in,” επι, upon, would imply that their Baptism should be grounded on the profession of the Christian religion. “For the remission of your sins,” so that, through this rite as an instrument, you may receive the remission of your sins. “And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Shall receive the Holy Ghost with His gifts. This is understood by some of the Sacrament of Confirmation given through the imposition of hands, administered in the early ages of the Church immediately after, or simultaneously with, Baptism.

However, since the giving of the Holy Ghost was not confined to the rite of confirmation, as in the case of the Apostles themselves; nay, He was given in some cases before it, as happened Cornelius the Centurion: Hence, it is better to understand it of giving of the Holy Ghost, in due circumstances to the faithful, apart from the rite of imposition of hands.

In this it is not implied that Baptism was given in “the name of Jesus,” but only in the form prescribed by our Lord Himself (Matthew 28:19). Likely, St. Peter had fully instructed them on these points.

39. In proof that they will receive the Holy Ghost, he tells them that to the Israelites in general, in whatever place they are, many of them here present from even the most distant nation under heaven (“far off”) was made the promise announced by Joel (v. 17) regarding the effusion of the Holy Ghost.

“And their children,” their sons and daughters referred to by Joel, limited neither to time nor place. It embraced “all flesh.”

The terms, “afar off,” are frequently employed in the Old Testament to designate the Gentiles, who were to be co-heirs of Abraham’s promises (Galatians 3:29; 4:28), in opposition to those “near,” which denotes the Jews. However, it militates against its application here, that St. Peter needed to be informed by a heavenly vision, after this, of the call of the Gentiles (Acts 10:10, &c.) Moreover, it was of the Jews, Joel spoke. “Whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.” Besides being of the race of Abraham, they needed a Divine call to be partakers of the promised blessings.

40. The entire of St. Peter’s discourse is not given here. The same may be said of his other discourses, as well as those of St. Paul and of others recorded in this narrative of the Acts.

“Did he testify,” by adducing the testimony of Scripture, the Prophecies regarding our Lord, the sanctity of his life, his miracles in life and death, the testimony of the Apostles, who were so many eyewitnesses, that his teachings and sayings regarding Christ were true.

“This perverse,” unbelieving, unrepenting “generation.” Similar are the words (Matthew 12:39). They should strive not to be involved in the common ruin in store for the wicked unbelievers. This is the practical summary of St. Peter’s exhortation.

41. “Received his word,” voluntarily and believed. In the words, “whom the Lord shall call,” is asserted the necessity of Divine grace; here, is vindicated human liberty, as a principle of free action.

“Added,” joined the Church or congregation of the faithful already formed.

42. “Doctrines,” &c., continually assisting at the teachings and instructions of the Apostles.

“And in the communication of the breaking,” &c. “By communication” is meant their mutual charitable intercourse with each other in their ordinary union, especially on the occasion of their meeting at the Agapes or feasts of love and charity, usually celebrated, after the example of the Apostles and of our Lord himself, before approaching the Holy Eucharist.

“And in the breaking of bread” is commonly understood of the Blessed Eucharist, which is termed “bread” by St. Paul (1 Cor. 10:15). That it could not refer to any common or profane partaking of food, seems most likely, independently of the fact, that the ordinary partaking of bread is spoken of, v. 46. From the whole context, there is clearly question of a religious act.

The article is placed before “bread and prayers, “the bread, the prayers.” The Syriac has, the breaking of the Eucharist. Some commentators on this passage remark, that here allusion is evidently made to the unbloody sacrifice of the mass. “Breaking of the bread,” no common bread. “The prayers,” fixed prayers usually said on occasion of this celebration.

43. A feeling of reverential awe, created by the wonders witnessed on Pentecost Sunday, succeeded the derision first manifested (v. 13).

“Many wonders,” &c. The Apostles confirmed their teaching, and especially their testimony regarding our Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, whence, He sent down the Holy Ghost, by performing marvellous wonders in accordance with the powers promised them (Luke 16, &c.).

“In Jerusalem.” These words are rejected by some commentators, as they are wanting in several MSS. They are, however, found in several MSS. and versions, Coptic, Italic, Vulgate, and several old Greek MSS. Patrizzi regards them as genuine, and as meant to convey, that these marvellous occurrences were confined to Jerusalem.

“And there was great fear,” &c., are wanting in several MSS., and are regarded by some as not of the text; since, they would seem to be only a repetition of the idea conveyed in the preceding words, “and fear came,” &c.

44. Having spoken of the Apostles, he now describes the relations of the faithful with one another.

“Were together.” Not that they had the same lodging—a thing quite impossible, considering their numbers, even after the foreign Jews had left for their own homes.

It simply means that being entirely united, having but one heart and one soul, they exhibited great fraternal union and concord and frequently met, as members of one united family, especially in the Temple and place of Divine worship. Likely, in their social relations and gatherings, they formed a society distinct, as far as possible, from the unbelieving Jews, intercourse with whom might prove a source of danger to the newly converted.

“And had all things common,” so far as the relief of distress was concerned. In this respect, there was no such thing as mine and thine. The rich among them, voluntarily and of their own free accord sold their property, at least in part, in order to have at hand the means of relieving their indigent brethren; so that so far as the relief of distress was concerned, voluntary charity handed to the indigent the goods their richer neighbours possessed.

It does not appear that those blessed with earthly goods among the early Christians sold off all their property, and divested themselves of all right and title to them. The contrary may be inferred from c. 4:32–34. They sold off all that was necessary to relieve the destitute.

45. “Possessions,” immovable property, lands, houses. “Goods,” moveable personal property. These they sold, and divided to all as each one needed.

The infant Church of Jerusalem was modeled on the life of our Lord and His Apostles. The same mode of life is still continued in religious communities whose members, for greater perfection sake, have everything in common, without any private property. This economy was confined to the Church of Jerusalem. The Apostles in preaching the Gospel did not think fit to establish it generally. Indeed the exhortations of St. Paul to have collections made for relieving the poor (2 Cor. 9., &c.) would show there was no such condition of things among the churches he founded. The condition of the Church of Jerusalem was peculiar. Owing to the confiscation of property, it was very poor (Heb. 10:34, 13:2–3, 16). St. John had property (John 19:27). Neither did our Lord nor His Apostles command the faithful to throw all their property into a common fund.

The condition of things among the first Christians of Jerusalem gives no sanction whatever to the wicked principles of modern communism, which are simply impracticable and absurd. Unlike the wicked principles or practice advocated by these disturbers of public order, the community of goods referred to here was:—1, perfectly free and spontaneous (Acts 5:4); 2, local and special, confined to the Church of Jerusalem, as appears from the collections set on foot by St. Paul in other churches, in which he supposed they retained their possessions, to relieve the necessities of the saints (1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor. 9); 3, transitory, even in the Church of Jerusalem itself; (this economy the Apostles did not think fit to establish in other churches); 4, not essential to the existence or well-being of the church or salvation of men; (St. Peter, on being asked what was necessary for salvation, only inculcated Baptism and Penance); 5, neither did our Lord or His Apostles insist upon it. On the contrary, St. Paul in several of his Epistles inculcates alms deeds, and speaks of them as free—by no means compulsory.

46. He describes the life observed by the first Christians. “Continuing daily,” with persevering assiduity, they attended daily with one accord, at the usual hours of prayer, the public services in the Temple. At this time, “in order to bury the Synagogue with honor,” it was allowed the first Christians to join in Jewish rites and ceremonies. Most likely they celebrated their own Christian Liturgy and offered up the Christian sacrifice.

“Breaking bread.” Here we have not the article “the” prefixed—“the bread,” as in v. 42, where it is commonly understood of the Eucharist. “From house to house,” privately partaking of food in their own houses.

“They took their meat with gladness” is a fuller explanation of “breaking bread,” and shows that here there is not question, as in v. 42, of the Blessed Sacrament, but only of social intercourse. It refers to their ordinary meals, of which they partook in common, now in one house, now in another. Some say there is allusion to the Agapes.

“With gladness.” Overjoyed at the blessings of Christianity bestowed on them, ever rejoicing in the ordinary circumstances of life.

“Simplicity of heart.” With moderation; generous to all who needed it.

47. Constantly engaged in the Divine praises. “Having favour with the great body of the people, who admired their edifying, inoffensive manner of life, their benignity and accommodating charity. “And the Lord increased daily together.” The number of those who were associated with the Church assembled on Pentecost day at Jerusalem, and were thus placed in the way of salvation.

In the Greek we have for “increased daily together”—the usual rendering of in idipsum of the Vulgate—“added daily to the Church such as should be saved,” a paraphrase for “Christian believers.”

“Together” is the introduction to next chapter (3). In some ancient codices, “Peter and John went up together,” &c. (c. 3, v. 1).

Most likely the Vulgate is the correct reading, and the words mean he Lord added to the church and increased daily “together,” so as to live in each other’s company, and form a compact, united community, such as, listening to the words of Peter (v. 40), seceded from the Synagogue, and entered into the church, where they were placed in the way of salvation.








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