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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


In this chapter is recorded the violence offered the Apostles by the Jewish authorities for preaching to the people (1–3). The conversion of large numbers (4). The questioning of the Apostles by the leading men of the Jewish priesthood (5–8). Peter’s address, his vindication of his conduct, and exposition of doctrine (8–13). Consultation among the assembled authorities as to how the Apostles were to be treated (13–20). The liberation of the Apostles out of fear of the people, and on account of the incontestable evidence of the miracle (21–22). The solemn, united prayer to God on the part of the assembled faithful (24–30). The effect of this solemn prayer fully manifested (31). The edifying manner of life pursued by the first Christians, their charitable disinterestedness (32–37).


1. “Priests.” These likely belonged to the Sanhedrim. They seemed to possess some authority to prevent the Apostles from preaching in the Temple.

“The officer of the Temple” very likely, denotes the captain of the guard stationed in the Tower, Antonia, for the purpose of preserving order and preventing tumults in the Temple, especially on the occasion of Great Festivities. The assembling of the people round the Apostles, after the miraculous cure of the lame man, might lead to a riot.

“The Sadducees” (See Matthew 3:7, 22:23, Commentary). They were a kind of freethinking malcontents among the Jews. They denied the existence of spirits, and the spirituality, as also the immortality of the soul. They were particularly opposed to the doctrine of the Resurrection. Although generally at variance with the Pharisees and the heads of the Jewish church, they still joined them against our Lord and his Apostles (See Matthew 3:7).

“Came upon them,” by surprise and unexpectedly, while speaking to the people.

2. “Grieved,” in Greek, means, vexed, annoyed; “taught,” &c, thus causing their own influence and prestige to be lessened.

“The resurrection of the dead,” the general resurrection of all men, of which the Resurrection of Jesus, which they constantly proclaimed, was the model, the exemplary and efficient cause. This was very mortifying to the Sadducees, who saw that the preaching of the Apostles on this point, so opposed to their cherished tenets, was making head among the people. They, therefore, united with the priests in endeavouring to arrest the progress of the Gospel.

3. Forcibly seizing on them, they put them in safe keeping, either in prison or in charge of some guard “till next day,” when they were to be brought before the Council. It was now too late in the day to convene a Council.

4. The effect of this persecution was to increase the number of believers among the Jews. “Was made five thousand.” This form of expression would seem to signify, not that this number were just now converted and assembled in Solomon’s porch; but, that by the accession of the “many” now converted, to the number of converts already existing, the entire Church now amounted to this number, which shows the wonderful power of God’s grace in so short a time after Pentecost. The interval, though not stated, must be very short.

5. The assembly of the Sanhedrim, or great council of the nation, which wielded such authority, probably, the first time, since they condemned our Lord, shows the alarm caused the heads of the Jewish Church by the successes of the Apostles. Hence, they leave nothing undone to stop them. For a full account of the Synedrium, or, as the Talmudists termed it, the Sanhedrin (See Matthew 26:57, Commentary). Seventy-one (72) judges constituted the Sanhedrim, the High Priest being always President. It was composed of the High Priests, that is, such as enjoyed the dignity of High Priests, together with the heads of the twenty-four (24) classes into which the Priests were divided—“the ancients or elders, the chiefs of the Tribes and heads of families; the Scribes” (See Matthew 26:3). There is no mention of the High Priests here. Hence, the description of the Sanhedrim here is incomplete, though, of course, the High Priests formed no inconsiderable portion of the assembly. It was before these same men our Blessed Lord was arraigned; it was they handed him over to Pilate (Matthew 26:50). It was before the same that Peter denied our Lord (Matthew 26:70. &c.).

“In Jerusalem”—in Greek, “into Jerusalem,” conveying that such members of the Sanhedrim as were not actually at the time in Jerusalem, repaired thither for the trial of the Apostles.

6. Having referred, in a general way, to the Sanhedrim, he now mentions some of its most prominent members, “Annas, Caiphas,” &c (See Luke 3). “John and Alexander,” men clearly of eminence among the body, “and as many,” &c., may denote members of the family of Annas and Caiphas, or those nearly related to them.

7. “And setting,” &c., assigning them as culprits a place where all the judges or assembled members of the Sanhedrim might easily see them.

“What power,” from God, or any other source? “Name.” What name did you invoke in order to perform this work? Although they knew it was by the power and invocation of the name of Jesus, still they hoped the Apostles might say it was by the Divine power, without specially referring to the name of Jesus; and thus, some confusion as to the distinct name of Jesus might arise (St. Chrysostom, Hom. x. in Acts).

“You,” is derisive. You, who are of no consideration.

“This” cure. They would not express what it was.

8. “Filled with the Holy Ghost” denotes a particular actual grace given him on this occasion, strongly influencing him; different or distinct from the habitual graces given him on Pentecost Sunday. Ordinary and habitual grace would not suffice for heroic deeds. A new actual grace is required. Thus, it is said of Sampson, on occasion of his wonderful displays of strength, “the spirit of the Lord came strongly upon him” (Judges 15:14).

How different is Peter’s conduct from what it had been on a former occasion. Then, trembling at the empty chidings of a silly maid, he denied his Lord. Now, as head of the Apostolic College, boldly confronting the united authority of the Jews, he makes reparation for his former crime by loudly proclaiming his Divine Messiahship, preaching the glorious Resurrection of the Crucified, whose power they were after witnessing in the miraculous cure of the lame man. Showing the deference due to their office, he respectfully addresses them as representatives of the supreme authority among the Jews, “Princes of the people,” &c. Before the same Council, the same men, in the same place and city, he repaires the scandal he gave in denying his Divine Master.

9. “If we this day,” &c. If notwithstanding the evidence of the fact, we are to be treated as criminals, brought to trial and subjected to judicial examination for the good deed of having bestowed the blessing of a perfect cure on the infirm man—which should be rather a subject of praise—and called to render an account of how “he has been made whole.” “If” conveys surprise at such an extraordinary proceeding, a matter scarcely credible.

10. As you ask by what name we did this, be it known to you and all the world, it was by invoking the name and exercising the power “of our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” The term of Nazareth was the epithet by which our Lord was known and scornfully referred to by the Jews. “Crucified,” “raised from the dead.” The contrast is so striking. They put him to death. God raised him up from the dead. The accusers now become the accused. With singular intrepidity and courage, St. Peter heretofore so timid, charges them with the greatest crime that could be perpetrated, the murder of their own long-expected Messiah and deliverer, putting to death the author of life.

“Standeth here,” &c. It may be that the cured man was imprisoned or guarded with the Apostles, and, very likely, brought forward at the trial to confront them.

11. He shows that the ignominious death and Resurrection of our Lord was predicted by the Prophets. He thus strengthens his argument, especially with the Jews, who valued so much the oracles of their inspired Prophets. The first part of Psalm 117, from which the quotation is taken, literally refers to David himself. The second part, also quoted, could refer to our Lord only, in its literal sense, and is quoted by our Lord as applying to Himself (Matthew 21:42). Here is a metaphorical allusion to architecture; skilful architects place in the corners of a building the largest and most binding stone, in order to unite and sustain the two walls of the building. It thus gets the most important place. St. Peter applies this prediction to our Lord, who was scornfully rejected by the Jewish rulers, the Priests, and Scribes, the builders of the Synagogue, who should labour for the construction of God’s spiritual house, and should, therefore, be the first to receive our Lord. But while they rejected Him, God placed Him as the head “corner stone,” sustaining, upholding, and fusing into one the two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, who were to form the Church. He united the old and new dispensations. In Him all the elect of old were justified, no less than the children of the New Law. To this our Lord alludes (Matthew 21:42. See Commentary on).

Isaias had predicted it (28:16). See also 1 Peter 2–4.

12. Having assured them in figurative terms, that Christ was the Messiah, St. Peter now, in language devoid of all figure, adds, as a consequence, that in him only can man find eternal Salvation.

“Name” often signifies person or being. No one else can save us from the consequences of sin, viz., hell and damnation; and bestow on us eternal joy and peace in Heaven—the chief object of our Lord’s Mission. The Apostle avails himself of this corporal cure to place before the assembled Sanhedrim the greater cure and salvation from Hell which our Lord came to bring about.

Our Lord is frequently marked out, “given” as the source of this greater and universal Salvation. (John 3:16), (1 Cor. 3:5), (1 Tim. 2:6), &c.

“Must be saved” in the present order of Divine Providence, whereby our Lord is constituted the only source of eternal life and salvation.

13. “Constancy,” in Greek, boldness of speech, implying also intrepidity and courage in circumstances of danger.

“And of John.” We have no evidence here that John spoke. Likely he showed by his countenance that he assented to what Peter spoke, and endorsed it. Possibly he may have spoken, though not recorded here.

“Illiterate,” without the benefit of education.

“Ignorant,” Greek, ἰδιωται, men leading a private life, not used to speak in public, displaying the character of rudeness, peculiar to the Galileans (Matthew 26:73). Hence, their surprise, “they wondered.”

“They knew that they had been with Jesus.” Some of the Assessors of the Sanhedrim could not but have seen Peter and John on more than one occasion present with the other Apostles when our Lord taught in public. St. John was known to the High Priest (John 18:15). Knowing, then, these ignorant, timid Galileans to have been disciples of our Lord, they could not understand the extraordinary change wrought in them, so as to become so eloquent and courageous. This added to their confusion and astonishment.

14. The presence of the man, whose cure could not be gainsayed, added to their perplexity as to what course to pursue.

15. “Outside the council,” the place where the council was held.

16. “A known,’ incontrovertible, miracle. All Jerusalem knows it. We cannot deny it.

17, 18. Fancying these timid Galileans would not dare to violate an order coming from so powerful a body “they charged them,” commanded them, not “to speak at all,” in Greek, μη φθεγγεσθαι, “open their lips.” Little did they take into account the change wrought in them, and the spirit of fortitude that descended on them.

19. The Apostles intrepidly, but modestly, reply, by appealing to themselves if it “was just in the sight of God,” who Judges all things truly, to hear and obey them “rather than God,” whose will and mandate they were carrying out, to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”

20. For knowing for certain that Christ is the Messiah, who commanded them to preach the Gospel, they declare they could not be silent, thereby conveying they could not obey the Sanhedrim in this matter.

21. “Threatening them,” in a still more stern way, “Not finding how they might punish them.” They could not punish them without causing a tumult among the people and losing their own influence.

“Glorified what had been done.” In Greek, “glorified God for what had been done” on account of the miracle.

22. The age of the man, a cripple from his birth, well known to the people, placed the miracle beyond doubt.

23. “Their own company.” Their fellow Apostles and possibly others who might have joined them in prayer while Peter and John were under trial.

“Chief Priests and Ancients.” They alone gave judgment, not the Scribes, who are passed over here.

24. “Lifted up their voice,” that is in prayer, “to God,” with one accord, heartily and fervently joining in the prayer, which some one among them, very likely Peter, recited aloud, with the cordial assent of the company there present. Possibly the form of prayer may have been in common use before this, chiefly found in Psalm 145:6. This is the second public prayer addressed by the primitive Church to God—(the first is in c. 1:24). They invoke His Omnipotence as one of the chief grounds of hope against their persecutors. They refer to His omniscience (next verse) predicting all their persecutions and trials. The Greek for “Lord,” δεσποτα, not κυριος, denotes God’s absolute, ruling power, κυριος, possessor or master, having propriety right in a thing.

25. They now appeal to God for knowledge, who predicted these things. “By the Holy Ghost” is not found in the Greek. The passage shows that David to whom this Psalm (2:1, &c.), (though its author is not mentioned in the Psalm), is here attributed, spoke under the influence of Divine Inspiration. Now, they say, the events predicted have taken place. The Messiah is come; and they appeal to God, who predicted it, for protection.

“Why have the Gentiles,” &c. This is supposed to have reference directly and immediately to our Lord. It is, however, held by some that it is only in a mystical sense—often the principal sense intended by the Holy Ghost—it refers to Him. At all events, it must be admitted from this passage that it refers to Him chiefly.

“Gentiles raged.” Romans and Idumeans. The words of next verse “against the Lord and His Christ” expressed in next v. 26, are understood here, “and the people,” Jewish people, “vain things” combined in foolish and abortive designs, that came to nought. “The Lord,” Jehovah, and His anointed Son. Our Lord Himself seems to allude to this (Luke 18:31, 32).

26. “The Kings,” &c. Herod the Idumean, Pontius Pilate, who represented Cæsarism, “stood up” to oppose, “and the Princes assembled” entered into consultation. This regards, in the first place, the members of the Sanhedrim, though the prophecy is not confined to them exclusively. In some copies, these words are read interrogatively thus, “Why have the Princes assembled,” &c.

27. “Of a truth” as an undoubted fact, the above prophecy has been fulfilled in regard to our Lord. “Anointed” as king, as is expressed in the very Psalm 2:6, “But I am appointed king.” In the Hebrew, “I myself appointed my king” “my king” because he reigned by my command.

28. “To do” against thy Son Jesus, not whatever they pleased, but “what thy hand,” thy power, “and thy counsel,” thy will, “decreed to be done” by others (see 11–23). God did not Himself do it. But, by His decree, permitted it to be done. The Greek word for “to do” denotes man’s guilt; “to be done,” γενεσθαι, denotes God’s unalterable decree. St. Leo says: præsciendo quod faciendum esset, Deus non coegit ut fieret.… Dominus Jesus Christus in nullo, auctor corum criminum fuit, sed usus est obcæcatæ plebis insania quomodo et perfidiæ Traditoris, quem ab immanitate concepti sceleris revocare dignatus est (Sermo 16, de Passione).

29. They pray not to be released from persecutions, but for courage and constancy to enable them not to be deterred from intrepidly preaching and advancing the cause of the Gospel.

30. They also pray for a continuance of miraculous powers in the name of Jesus, as evidences of His Divinity, and a means of advancing His glory.

31. “The place was moved.” This denotes a violent agitation of the earth, which seems miraculous. It was regarded as a proof that their prayer was heard. Among Jews and Gentiles the quaking of the earth was looked upon as undoubted evidence of the presence of God. As regards the Jews (see Isaias 29:6; Ps. 18:6; Habacuc 3:6–11). As regards the Gentiles (see Virgil, Æneid, iii. 90).

“They were all filled,” &c., received a new strengthening impulse to preach with courage the word of God. For this they prayed. They also obtained the second object of their petition, viz., a continuance of the power to work miracles (v. 33).

32. “The multitude of believers,” five thousand (c. 4:4) “one heart and one soul,” indicating the closest and tenderest union. Plutarch, in his life of Cato, quotes a saying, “two friends, one soul.” This tender union was evidenced in their relations with one another. They showed this in act, in the distribution of their property and their unselfishly giving up what they possessed to relieve the distressed members of their body.

33. Their prayer in regard to the power of working miracles having been heard, they accordingly perform miracles in corroboration of their zealous preaching of the Gospel, especially the Resurrection of Christ, the foundation of all Christian faith. Some interpret “great power” to mean the zealous preaching of the Gospel, as in the case of St. Paul (1 Cor. 2:4).

“Great grace,” &c. By this some understand grace properly so called, which, undoubtedly, was accorded them in an extraordinary degree, and was manifested among the faithful, as shown by their disinterestedness, as in next verse. Others understand it of favour with the people, a sense in which the Greek word, χαρις, is sometimes taken (c. 2:47). It was very important for them that it should be so, considering what occurred at the meeting of the Sanhedrim. Their union and charity towards the poor caused them to be held in great esteem among the people.

Some commentators hold that this v. 33 is misplaced owing to the negligence of copyists, that v. 34 should immediately follow v. 32, or that v. 33 should be read parenthetically.

34. The account of the demeanour and qualities of the faithful commencing at v. 32 was interrupted in v. 33, and is here resumed again.

“For.” The corresponding Greek word is understood by Beelen to signify “therefore,” expressing a conclusion from v. 32. “No one needy” allowed to suffer want. The reason of this is given in a general way in v. 32, “all things common,” &c. It is explained here more particularly how this was done.

“For as many,” &c. The words here used indefinitely by no means convey that all the Christian cover’s sold their entire property and possessions, giving up their title to them; but only parted with whatever portion was necessary to relieve the pressing wants of their indigent brethren with whom all things were common as to use, so far as was necessary. This, however, was not obligatory, but rather quite voluntary, as appears from the case of Ananias (c. 5:4); and the singling out of Joseph (v. 36) as a singular instance of generosity would indicate the same. Doubtless, he had many imitators who sold so much of their property as was necessary for the relief of the poor.

This edifying economy practised in the early Christian Church of Jerusalem was neither general nor permanent. The Apostles, in their intercourse with their Gentile converts, did not deem it wise to establish it. Hence, their appeals to the churches they founded on behalf of the poor. It is not likely that even in the Church of Jerusalem men sold all they possessed—St. John had retained some property (John 19:27), nor is there any evidence that in Jerusalem they sold all their property, save as far as was necessary to relieve their distressed brethren.

35. “And laid it down,” conveys that it was left for disposal “before the feet,” &c., in token of respect and reverence. The Apostles finding the duty of distributing their alms becoming too burdensome and distracting, as it interfered with prayer and preaching the word (c. 6:1, 2), appointed others for this special duty (c. 6:1, 2).

36. “Joseph,” which is sometimes read with a Greek termination, Joses. However, the vulgate reading is the more probable. He is different from the Joseph mentioned (1:23), “by the Apostles was surnamed Barnabas.” St. Luke explains the meaning of Barnabas to be “the son of consolation” The strict etymology of the Hebrew word means “son of Prophecy.” But, St. Luke interprets “son of consolation,” or exhortation, because one of the chief ends of prophecy was to exhort, console; and it would seem that Barnabas afterwards displayed this gift in an eminent degree. Barnabas is most probably singled out because of his exemplary liberality, and of his being afterwards distinguished as a zealous preacher of the Gospel. He is frequently referred to in the Acts as the companion of St. Paul, 11:22–30; 12:25; 13:1–50.

St. Luke interprets it “the son of consolation,” or rather exhortation. παρακλησεως. Barnabas was most probably surnamed the son of exhortation on account of his talent and success in preaching, and the gift of prophecy with which Barnabas was favoured was given in the Church for instruction unto edification.

“A Levite” descended from Levi. The Levites were employed in the lower services of the temple and assisting the priests in the discharge of their office.

“A Cyprian born.” After the captivity the Jewish race were dispersed all over the earth. There were many Jews in the Island of Cyprus (Dion. Lib. 68, 69).

37. “Having land, sold it.” By Divine arrangement (Numbers 18:20, 23) the Levites, as a tribe, were prohibited from holding lands in Judea, except pasture lands in the immediate vicinity of their cities (Numbers 30:3, 4). This prohibition did not comprise individuals even in Judea nor the countries outside Judea. This prohibitory law in regard to the Levites had fallen into disuse (Jeremiah 32:7). Moreover, the property of Barnabas may have been in Cyprus. Levites could purchase land and have a title to it in right of their wives.

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