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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


In this Chapter, we have an account of the terrible Judgment of God upon Ananias and Sapphira his wife, for having conspired to act a deceitful part in regard to the Apostles (1–10). The terror consequent in the publication of this judgment (11). The miraculous cures wrought by the Apostles circulated far and near (12–16) The violence offered the Apostles who were thrust into prison (12–18). Their liberation by the hand of an Angel, who commanded them to preach to the people (19–21). The confusion and embarrassment of the authorities, who, sending for the Apostles, rebuked them (22–28). The spirited reply and defence of Peter (29–32). The apologetic vindication of the Apostles by Gameliel (33–39). Notwithstanding the unmerited scourging inflicted on them, they still zealously continued to preach (40–42).


1. “But.” marks the contrast which St. Luke institutes between the single minded and open hearted generosity of Barnabas, as described in the foregoing chapter, and the parsimonious avarice of Ananias, which he is now about to describe. “Sold a piece of land.” The Greek man properly means, a possession. From v. 3, it appears to be property in land.

2. “And by fraud kept back.” The Greek means, to set apart for private use, to purloin a portion of what was common or belonged to another. Now, Ananias while professing, in a religion way, to transfer it to the Apostles for common use, secreted, purloined a part of it; and was thus guilty of lying hyprocrisy and vain glory. Some of the Fathers, among whom St Jerome (Ep. viii., ad. Demetriam), say that he vowed it. His wife, Sapphira, was privy to it, and willingly became a partner in his guilt. For this, they were visited with signal and awful punishment.

“Part of the price of the land.” “Land” is not in Greek. It is however in the Vulgate.

“Laid it at the feet,” &c., clearly professing to devote it all to God.

3. Peter, as head of the Church, exercises authority, having received a revelation from above as to Ananias’ hypocrisy; similar was the case of Eliseus and Giezi (4 Kings 5:25).

“Satan tempted.” Why did you consent to Satan’s temptation? It was in yielding to the temptation, that the sin consisted. The Greek for “tempted” is “filled thy heart,” that is, made you so presumptuous or daring, so strongly incited you, as to “tell a lie,” &c.

The Greek word for “tell a lie,” would signify to deceive the Holy Ghost, thus tempting God, as if he could not detect the fraud. It was the Holy Ghost that inspired the Apostles. Hence, the lie was committed against the inspirer of the Apostles (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. xvi., 8). Others understand it of a vow to devote all to God. By violating it, he lied to God.

4. “Whilst it remained” unsold, “did it not remain,” &c., as thine own possession, with full power and title to it, to dispose of it at will.

“And after it was sold,” the price was your own. This shows the cession of the goods by the people was quite free and voluntary. No Law to constrain them.

“Why hast thou conceived?” &c. made up thy mind to do such a thing. This shows his liberty of action in the matter.

“Not lied to men,” &c., chiefly, not so much to men, “but to God.” He lied to men, but it was principally to God, whom they represented. So that the offence against them almost vanished, in presence of the offence to God. It is said above he lied “to the Holy Ghost;” here “lied unto God.” Hence, the Holy Ghost is God, and a Divine Person; since it is only to a person, one can tell a lie. A peculiar sin against the Holy Ghost is here specified; just as, by appropriation, certain sins are said to be against God the Father; others, against the Son; so here against the Holy Ghost. This is said by appropriation. For every sin is against each of the Three Persons of the Adorable Trinity. Sins committed against each of the Three Persons, say, the Father, indicate that He is a distinct Person. The same holds in regard to the Son, so does it also, in regard to the Holy Ghost.

5. Seeing his sin, in attempting to deceive God, supernaturally disclosed, Ananias felt the sudden stroke of Divine vengeance would follow; so failing down, he expired. All the circumstances show this was not the result of any natural sudden stroke, but rather the effect of Divine vengeance, and of God’s Judgment. The repetition of the same result, a few hours afterwards, in regard to his wife, shows that this double death was a chastisement from God, who followed up the severe rebuke of His representative by a most signal punishment. He wished to terrify others, by placing before the infant Church a striking example of His justice.

“All that heard it,” either at the meeting of the faithful, or throughout the city, as the news of this terrible event, very likely, soon spread through the city.

6. “The young men.” The article “the” would seem to point to the young men who attended the assembly of the faithful in some official capacity, preparing the place, arranging seats, looking after the books, probably also charged with burying the dead. This will account for their promptitude, on this occasion, to perform spontaneously the office of burying the dead man.

“Removed him,” in Greek, “wound him up,” in several folds of linen in winding sheets, which, according to Jewish custom, was an immediate preparation for “removing him.” Save in case of embalming, the Jews always, for sanitary reasons, owing to the heat of the climate, and to avoid legal defilement arising from contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:11, &c.), had their dead buried at once.

7. Sapphira, who was a sharer in Ananias’ guilt, was visited with a like punishment.

8. “For so much.” The precise sum specified by Ananias.

9. “Agreed together.” Conspired “to tempt the Spirit of the Lord.” One is said to tempt God when he unnecessarily, tests or puts to trial, any of God’s attributes, power, wisdom, &c. Here, it was testing his omniscience, as he spoke through the Apostles, whether he knew of the fraud committed in secret.

10. “Behold the feet,” &c. The footsteps of the young men just returning, were heard. Peter, with a clear Prophetic insight, commands beforehand, that the same sad function should be performed in her case, as well as in that of her husband. Clearly, it was the result of Divine interposition, which Peter announces beforehand. How awfully sudden is God’s Judgment sometimes?

11. “The whole church,” “the brethren” (1:15), “all the believers” (2:44), who gradually increased so as to form the mystical body of Christ.

12. By the hands,” &c., by the Apostles themselves. “Many signs,” &c., numerous miracles “in Solomon’s porch.” This was covered, adjoining the Temple to the East, called “Solomon’s porch,” either because originally built by Solomon—it was left undestroyed by the Chaldeans, and preserved amidst the ruins of the Temple—or, because it was built anew on the site of the porch built by Solomon, on the Eastern side of the hill (Josephus, de Bello, c. vi.); (3:11. See Notes).

“With one accord.” They, doubtless, were there for the purposes of public worship.

13, 14. “But of the rest.” There is a great diversity of opinion, who are referred to here. Some say “the rest” mean, those in good circumstances, such as Ananias. For they are contrasted with the “people” in general who “magnified” the Apostles. Others understand by them, the unbelieving portion of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had no wish to become converted. These kept aloof; while the faithful and such as had any desire to embrace the faith, joined familiarly with them. While the influential portion kept aloof, as well as those who had no desire to become converted, the mass of “the people magnified them,” on account of their miracles and teaching. The result was, that they joined the Church, every day, from both sexes, men and women.

15. “Insomuch that they brought,” &c. Owing to the immediate connexion of this verse with what is recorded, v. 12, Commentators generally hold that vv. 13, 14 are to be read parenthetically, connecting the words of this v. immediately with v. 12. This seems a very natural connexion. Many miracles were wrought by the Apostles (v. 12). “Insomuch that they brought,” &c., “they brought forth,” that is, the friends of the sick did so.

“His shadow might overshadow them.” This shows the popular belief in the power of St. Peter to work miracles. He is specially noted, because it was he cured the lame man in the temple (c. 3:4), and moreover, he had been most prominent in his discourses, and, possibly, it might have been known that he was divinely constituted the head of the Apostolic College, the rock of the Church. Something similar to this is recorded (Acts 19:12), where it is said contact with the aprons and handkerchiefs brought from the body of St. Paul effected cures, also, Matthew 9:21, 22, in which the exercise of our Lord’s power in this respect is spoken of.

16. “Out of the neighbouring cities,” attracted by the rumours that were bruited abroad regarding Peter’s miraculous powers.

“Sick, and such as were troubled with unclean spirits.” Those troubled with unclean spirits are put down as different from “the sick.” For a full explanation of this possession by devils (See Commentary, St. Mark c. 1:23–26). “Unclean spirits,” because they incited men to acts of impurity.

“Who were all healed,” of the infirmities which demoniac possession entailed.

17. “The High Priest.” Probably Caiphas, a determined enemy of our Lord. “Rising up” refers to mental excitement, which roused him to action. This also applies to the assessors of the Sadducean sect, who shared in his views. “They that were with him.” The Sadducees were specially hostile to our Lord and His doctrines. It would seem they held high offices among the Jews, and, at this time, their party was predominant in the Sanhedrim. One of their chief tenets was the denial of the resurrection of the body, which the Apostles preached with such success. This chiefly excited them and stung them with envy.

18. “Common prison,” as if manifestly guilty, not a private prison, the apostles, for examining into their conduct. Here, they are supposed to be guilty, without further inquiry.

19, 20. “An angel,” &c. Here, God miraculously interposed, when all seemed to be lost. This happened during the night, and doubtless was known the following day throughout the city.

“In the Temple”—the most conspicuous place, where their miraculous liberation could be known to all.

“All the words.” All the doctrines, “of this life,” spiritual and eternal life, of which Christ’s Resurrection was a pledge; on account of teaching this, they were cast into prison.

21. “Early in the morning.” Greek, day break.

“All the ancients of the children of Israel.” Who these were, as contra-distinguished from the members of the Council or Sanhedrim is not agreed upon. They are supposed by many to be men of great repute and experience among the Jews, and although not members of the Sanhedrim. they were, on some important occasions, invited to attend as assessors and advisers of the Council. This was considered the best course to be adopted in certain critical cases of emergency.

24. “Officers of the Temple” (see c. 4:1). “They were in doubt,” a state of perplexity, not knowing what to think of the whole affair,—as they did not seem to recognise the hand of God miraculously stretched forth—or what would it all result in.

28. “Commanding, commanded,” most strictly commanded you. This is read interrogatively in some Greek copies. Did we not strictly command you?

“In this name,” the name of Jesus, or proclaim His doctrines.

“To bring the blood,” &c. Make us guilty of the crime of having murdered him make us responsible for his death.

29. Peter answering in his own name, and that of his fellow Apostles, who were of the same mind with him.

“Ought to obey God,” &c. In a conflict of injunctions, God is to be obeyed first, and man’s commands if opposed to His, utterly disregarded. The Apostles thus inform the Sanhedrim of their Divine commission to preach the Gospel.

30. “The God of our Fathers,” conveys an allusion to the several prophecies regarding Jesus. “Hath raised up Jesus” from the dead (c. 3:15; 4:10). “Hanging Him on a tree,” the tree of the Cross. The antithesis is striking. They put Him to death. God raised Him up from the dead.

31. “Exalted” in his glorious Ascension. “To be Prince and Saviour.” These two words are supposed by some eminent Commentators (Beelen, &c.) to convey one idea, “the Prince of Salvation,” the author of our salvation, as expressed by the Apostle (Hebrews 2:10). As “Prince,” He exercises His power and dominion now seated at the right hand of His Father, in giving the means of salvation, in tendering the grace of repentance, and bestowing on men the remission of their sins. St. Peter having fearlessly charged them, without in the slightest degree, extenuating the grossest guilt in crucifying their Messiah, here holds out hopes of pardon. From motives of prudence, however, he confines the great blessings of salvation to “Israel.” It might not be prudent for him at present to extend these blessings to the Gentiles. He does so, however, later on (c. 11:18).

32. “We are witnesses of these things,” viz.: Our Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, and the other wonderful events of His sacred life (1:8–22; 2:32).

“And the Holy Ghost.” So is also the Holy Ghost, who could testify only to truth. To these things he bore testimony by descending on those miraculously with His several gifts of tongues, &c., “who obey Him,” and embrace the faith preached by the Apostles, whom He guided and inspired.

33. “Cut to the heart.” The Greek word means cut with a saw, conveying the idea of violent agitation and rage. “They thought,” &c. They deliberately resolved to put them to death.

34. “Rising up” from the seat which he occupied in the Council, in order to address his colleagues of the Sanhedrim “a Pharisee.” The High Priest and many members of the Council were Sadducees, determined enemies of our Lord, and violently opposed to the doctrine of the Resurrection. The Pharisees actively differed with them on the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, so zealously preached by the Apostles. “Gamaliel,” only once more is there mention of him in the Scriptures (22:3) when he is said to have been the teacher of St. Paul, “a Doctor of the Law,” an expounder and interpreter of the law of Moses, “respected by all the people.” His advice and opinion, therefore, carried great weight. He is supposed by some to have been in secret a follower of our Lord, or at least favourably disposed towards the believers—“a little while,” quite usual in regard to men on their trial (4:15).

36. “Before these days,” how long cannot be accurately ascertained. Gamaliel prefaces his prudent counsel by quoting a two-fold precedent to enforce what he was going to advise.

“Theodas.” This was a common name among the Jews. But who he was or when he raised the standard of revolution is not known. The fact of the case being mentioned before that of Judas of Galilee would show that he rendered himself remarkable before Judas appeared.

The event here referred to must be different from the insane attempt at revolution by one Theodas recorded by Josephus (Amal. xx. 5–1). The dates are quite different. The occurrence recorded by Josephus took place after this, while Fadus was Procurator of Judea, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius, whereas this referred to by Gamaliel occurred in the reign of Tiberius. There may have been several such attempts at revolution under different men, called Theodas, of whom there were, doubtless, several in Judea which Josephus may have passed over as not deserving of notice. There is, therefore, no necessity for reconciling the account given by Josephus as to chronology with the account given here by St. Luke, as they likely referred to different events brought about by different men altogether. At all events, even if they referred to the same event, St. Luke, apart from inspiration, is as respectable an authority any day as Josephus.

37. “Judas of Galilee.” Josephus (Antiq. xvii., chap. x.) speaks of him as a Galilean from the place where he resided, and (Antiq. xviii. 1) as a Gaulonite from the place of his birth, as he was originally from Gamala.

“In the days of the enrolling.” There is reference not to the first census ordered by Augustus (Luke 2:2) when Our Lord was born (see Luke 2:2, Commentary), but of a census later on under Cyrinus, then ordinary Governor of Syria, to which Judea was annexed after the banishment of Archelaus. Cyrinus himself came into Judea to take an account of the property of the inhabitants and to dispose of Archelaus’ property. He now acted as ordinary Governor; whereas, at the first census, he acted in capacity of extraordinary commissioner to assist Sentius Saturninus, who at the time of this first enrolling was ordinary Governor of Syria. It was on the occasion of this second census that Judas, taking with him as associate, Saddouak, a Pharisee, raised the standard of revolt, and perished with a multitude of his followers. His was the beginning of a series of revolts that ended in the final destruction of Jerusalem and utter ruin of the nation, under Titus.

38. “And now,” and as regards the present case, “refrain from these men,” from any threats, violence or punishment in regard to them. “Let them alone,” unharmed. “This counsel or this work,” this plan, or work which the Apostles propose carrying out, “be from men,” a mere human device, like the cases just quoted, “it will come to nought” of itself, without any interference on the part of the Sanhedrim.

39. “Cannot overthrow it.” God is too powerful and unchangeable to allow his design to be frustrated by weakness and malice.

“They consented to him.” Allowed themselves to be persuaded by him. This they did in part, so far as putting them to death was concerned; but not altogether, as they treated them badly; they “scourged them.” Likely they did so to uphold their own authority with the people who knew they had issued several mandates which the Apostles justly undervalued.

40. “Scourged them.” Inflicted the number of stripes allowed by law (2 Cor. 11:24). Thus was verified Our Lord’s prediction in their regard (Mat. 10:17). It was meant to subject them to humiliation and cast a stigma on the Christian profession.

The counsel and reasoning of Gamaliel in this famous dilemma were excellent in regard to this present particular case. But, taken in the general application, by no means admissible, liable to be abused by heretics, as well as by the enemies of religion and social order, to claim full unrestrained liberty for the propagation, and unrestricted practice of immoral teachings and practices, which those charged with authority in Church and State have a perfect right, nay, are bound, in virtue of their office, to prevent and check by every legitimate means.

41. “Accounted worthy.” Deserving of the high Christian privilege of being assimilated to their Lord, who suffered ignominy and reproaches in the cause of justice.

42. Far from being deterred from preaching Jesus, as the Sanhedrim expected, as the result of their humiliation, they, on the contrary, persevered in preaching both publicly and privately.

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