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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


We have an account of the extension of the Church occasioned by the dispersion and persecution consequent on the martyrdom of Stephen, of which Saul was the most active agent (1–4). The success of Philip’s preaching in Samaria—the miracles wrought by him (5–9)—the numerous conversions effected by him. Among others, Simon Magus, embraced, or pretended to embrace, the faith (9–13). The mission of Peter and John to administer confirmation and bestow the gifts of the Holy Ghost (14–17). The impious offer by Simon Magus, whom Peter exposes and rebukes with merited severity (18–24). The interviews, suggested by Divine inspiration, of Philip with the eunuch of Queen Candace. The conversion of the latter, after due instruction and Baptism (27–40).


1. “And at that time,” in Greek, “that day,” refers to the period immediately succeeding the death of Stephen.

“A great persecution.” St. Paul himself testifies that many of the early Christians were put to death.

“Against the Church at Jerusalem”—the first founded.

“All dispersed.” All, taken in a morally universal sense, denotes a large number. Some remained, who required the ministration and pastoral care of the Apostles. A large number consulted for their safety by flight, following the counsel of our Lord (Matthew 10:23). This was providentially arranged, for the greater spread of the Gospel, which they failed not to make known in Samaria, Judea, &c. (c. 1:8). Some of them went to Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch, and preached the Gospel there (c. 11:19).

“Except the Apostles,” who remained in face of the storm; probably, in order to attend those of the faithful, who lay hid; and to give an example of courage and constancy.

2. “Devout men.” This, according to some, may refer to religious men, still of the Jewish persuasion, who, unlike Saul, utterly disapproved of the murder of Stephen. As for devout Christians they were dispersed; and if they were Christians St. Luke would have said so. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus acted similarly in regard to our Lord (John 19:3–8). Patrizzi, however, thinks there is reference made to “devout men” among the believers.

“Took order.” The Greek signifies taking charge of everything appertaining to his burial, washing, embalming, &c.

“Great mourning,” in the way usual among the Jews. This expressed their strong disapproval of the crime of his murderers.

3. “But Saul,” &c. Some expositors (Beelen, &c.) are of opinion that vv. 2, 3 should be enclosed in a parenthesis, and that v. 4 should be connected immediately with v. 1. The words, “they, therefore,” would seem to warrant this.

“Made havoc.” The original ελυμαινετο conveys the idea of wild beasts, devastating a country. So Saul acted the wild beast in his fury against the Christians. In the next words is shown how he acted the part of infuriated persecutor, “entering in from house,” &c., whereever any suspected Christian might be. Persecution only served to spread the Gospel. “Sanguis martyrum; semen Christianorum.” (Tertullian.) “Committed them to prison.” The Sanhedrim, whose agent he was, had this power; but not the power of life and death.

4. “They, therefore,” &c. “Therefore” is resumptive of the subject of dispersion referred to in v. 1.

“Preaching,” in Greek, Evangelizing, announcing the glad tidings of redemption through Christ, each in his own way; some, with authority in public discourses; others, privately in conversation with their neighbours, and in their edifying conduct.

5. “Philip,” the Deacon (c. 6:6) called “an Evangelist, one of the seven” (21:8). If Philip, the Apostle, were meant, he would have imposed hands on them (v. 14, &c).

“Samaria,” Not the country but city of Samaria, which retained its ancient name, though at the time changed by Herod into Sebaste or Augusta.

“Preached Christ.” This he did in virtue of a special commission.

6. “With one accord, were attentive,” &c. Unanimously, in great numbers, embraced the teaching on witnessing the miracles he wrought.

7. “For many,” our construction is rather complicated. In the Greek, for πολλοι we have πολλων which accurately conveys the meaning thus: “Out of many of them who had unclean spirits, these (spirits) departed or were expelled, crying out with a loud voice.”

9. “Great joy,” arising from the miraculous cures and restoration to health, as well as from the wonderful conversions.

“A certain man, … Simon, who,” &c. In this construction, according to the Vulgate, “who” has no meaning. It is omitted in the Greek. “A certain man had been before”—the arrival of Philip—“a magician,” &c.

The study and practice of magic generally prevailed among the ancients. Those who practised it, designated magi, or wise men, were held in the highest estimation among the Eastern Nations, especially the Chaldeans and Persians. Their chief occupation was the study of Philosophy, Astronomy, Medicine, &c. (see Matthew. 11). In course of time they fell into disrepute. They used enchantments, had recourse to Astrological predictions and jugglery of all sorts (Isaias 2:6; Daniel 1:20; 2:2).

The Jews were prohibited under the severest penalties from having recourse to them (Leviticus 20:6).

“Seducing the people,” &c. The Greek word means, astonishing the people, causing amazement among them.

“Giving out,” boasting that he was “some great one,” some superior personage, which he endeavoured to prove by his incantations practised on the credulity of every description of people.

10. “The power of God,” &c. The organ or instrument employed by the supreme power of God for displaying His Divine wonders. It may be meant to be regarded as some kind of Divinity, some Divine Legate or the expected Messiah (St. Jerome in c. 24; Matthew; St. Augustine de Heres. c. 1). We are informed by St. Justin, Tertullian, &c., that a statue was erected in his honour in the Isle of the Tiber by order of Claudius and the Roman Senate, with the inscription, Simoni, Deo Sancto, though this is denied by others, but without reason. The testimony of St. Justin, who says he saw it, is decisive on the point.

13. “Simon himself believed also.” Whether he really believed or only acted the hypocrite is disputed. Even those who hold that his faith was real say it was not a living faith accompanied by charity, only a sort of intellectual faith, not unlike that of the demons who, compelled by the evidence of facts, “believe and tremble” (St. James 2:19). Indeed, the severe reproof given him by St. Peter for his impious conduct furnishes a strong presumption in favour of this opinion. “Desideravit (says St. Augustin in Psalm 30) non gratiam sed potentiam, non unde liberaretur; sed unde extolleretur.”

“He stuck close to Philip.” It was usual with converts at the time to cling to their masters.

14, 15. “Sent unto them Peter,” &c. Not by the exercise of any authority, especially when Peter, the head of the Church, was concerned. They only, as a community, urged and persuaded them to go; so that Peter would be the first to admit the Samaritans, as he was the first afterwards to receive the Gentiles, into the Church.

The object the Apostles had in view in going to Samaria in compliance with the wishes of the Apostolic body was to communicate the gifts of the Holy Ghost in an increase of grace and sanctity, and by external miraculous manifestations (v. 18).

16. “Not yet come upon them” in any special visible manner. “Only baptized in the name of Jesus,” that is, by the authority and in the manner instituted by the Lord Jesus when he commanded to Baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son,” &c. The phrase is meant to distinguish the Baptism instituted by our Lord from the Baptism of John. “In the name” may also mean into the name of the Lord Jesus so as to become His followers and be aggregated with those who embraced His sacred teaching and religion.

17. “They laid their hands,” &c. Besides the increase of sanctifying and interior grace given them through the Apostles, in addition to that received in Baptism, there can be no doubt that this descent of the Holy Ghost was also attended by certain visible effects seen by Simon Magus (v. 18.) It was this power of miracles and not the graces given that he wished to purchase. This power of speaking strange tongues, of working miracles, &c., it was that Simon saw and offered money for. It is certain that unction accompanied the imposition of hands. But, St. Luke only mentions here, for brevity sake, one of the sensible elements. As at the Baptism of the eunuch (v. 27) he is described as only professing his faith in the Divinity of our Lord, though other points were required. Both always went together. Hence, the Holy Fathers said at one time, that the Holy Ghost was given by the imposition of hands; at other times, by the Holy Unction. As they regarded both, as only one, they designated at times only one of the two things that were inseparably united. Thus, Tertullian, uniting both (de Resurrectione Carnis. cap. viii.) says, “caro ungitur, ut anima consecretur; caro signatur ut anima muniatur; caro manus impositione obumbratur, ut anima spiritu illuminatur,” though, in his treatise against Marcion, he only speaks of the Unction.

Catholic writers are unanimous in asserting, that in this action of the Apostles, in which Philip the Deacon had no part,—the Apostles being deputed to perform it,—there is question of the holy Sacrament of Confirmation, instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ as one of the seven Sacraments of the New Law. We have here all the conditions of a Sacrament. 1, minister, viz.: the Apostles; 2, the sensible-sign, viz.: imposition of hands, accompanied, no doubt, with unction; 3, the effect, viz., a new and special communication of Sacramental grace through the descent of the Holy Ghost.

18. Clearly, the presence of the Holy Ghost in those confirmed was manifested by sensible signs, gift of tongues, prophecies, miracles, added to interior grace (as in c. 19:6). For these Simon offered “money,” in order to perpetuate his infamous delusions practised on the Samaritans. Hence, the odious term, Simony, expressive of the enormous crime of purchasing for money sacred and spiritual things.

19. “That on whomsoever I shall lay,” &c. Simon wished to have the power of imparting these gifts to others.

20. The words of this passage, though in the form of an imprecation, hardly consistent with Peter’s exhortation to repentance (v. 22) are generally regarded as an expression of the heinousness of Simon’s crime; and prophetic of the fate that awaited him, as a deterrent to others, unless he did penance. Similar forms are found in the Psalms of David apparently imprecatory.

“The Simoniacal Heresy—the first to assail the Church—was nipped in the bud by the sword of Apostolical vengeance”—(St. Gregory, Ep. 114).

“Thou hast thought,” &c., conveys the utter inequality between worthless pelf and the exalted and priceless gifts of God, which could not be matter for such impious traffic.

21. “Part, lot,” express the same thing with greater emphasis and force. They mean that Simon is utterly unfit to share in the exalted gifts of imposing hands on the baptized and giving the Holy Ghost, as “his heart was not right in the sight of God,” the searcher of hearts, being filled with ambitious pride, avarice, and love of evanescent popularity. “In this matter.” The Greek is, this word. “Word” is used by the Hebrews for the thing it signifies.

22. Peter, who by Divine light, got an insight into Simon’s sinfulness (23) invites him to do penance, and under the influence of this change of heart and penitential spirit (for a contrite and humbled heart God never despises, Ps. 50), to approach God in prayer.

“If perhaps this thought”—wicked device and purpose—“of thy heart may be forgiven thee.” The doubt as to his forgiveness does not regard God’s power or beneficence; but Simon’s sincere dispositions, whom Peter saw to be still in permanent obduracy.

23. “For I see,” from your impious offer and Divine revelation.

“Gall of bitterness.” A Hebrew form for bitter gall, expressive of black malice, injurious to others; perverse malignant dispositions, hostile to Christianity.

“Bonds of iniquity.” Sunk in wickedness of the worst kind, bound in the chains of sin. The Greek for “in” is, εις, into, which, though joined to a verb of repose, conveys the idea of motion, and of rushing headlong into a thing.

24. These words can hardly be regarded as expressive of a sincere desire of amendment. Simon very likely regarded the menaces of Peter, as pointing to the result of some enchantment to be removed by him who practised it. It was not the malice of his sin he felt concerned for, but only the punishment, like Pharaoh and Antiochus. He was not sincerely repentant. Far from reforming his wicked life, it is said he continued his evil practices (St. Ireneus, lib. 1, cap. 20–23), and acquired great fame afterwards at Rome from the practice of magic and sorcery. His end is not known for cerlain.

25. “Testified.” Given convincing proofs of the truths of the Gospel. They were not idle during their stay in the city of Samaria.

“Many countries.” Samaria itself was only one country or province. Hence, the Greek reading “villages” is the genuine one. They preached in several villages on their way to Jerusalem.

26. The word “angel” designates the office of messenger, “the Lord.” It may be the Spirit of God Himself (29–39). As it occurred in day time, most likely he appeared in a visible form. From the word “arise,” some infer that Philip was in bed, and the occurrence, a dream. But, looking to Hebrew usage, the word “arise” does not necessarily mean this. It means to prepare for some course of action. “South” of Samaria, where he had been preaching.

“This is desert.” According to some, this means a place mostly uninhabited. Others understand it to refer to “the way” that passed through desolate places, and is distinguished from other ways. This was the road that would bring him to the place where he would meet the eunuch.

27. “An eunuch,” men of this description being usually employed in discharging offices in the palace. The term is often applied to officers of court, without reference to their bodily condition. Here, most likely, the man was not, strictly speaking, an eunuch. He was a great officer of State, the Queen’s treasurer.

“Candace.” Some expositors hold that this was a family name, assumed by the Queens of Ethiopia; like Pharaoh among the Egyptians.

“Had come to Jerusalem,” &c. Most likely he was a Jew or Jewish proselyte. In the latter case, he could not be an eunuch, strictly speaking, as such were not admitted as Jewish proselytes.

“To adore.” It was not unusual with foreign Jews to attend the great Jewish Festivals, Pasch, Pentecost, &c., at Jerusalem, and religiously assist at the leading functions of public worship—sacrifices and all religious ceremonies—in the Temple. At Jerusalem only was it allowed to offer sacrifices (Deut. 14:23). The word “adore” frequently bears the meaning of sacrificing (Genesis 22:5, John 4:20, 12:20, &c.). If these were questions merely of praying, that he might do any where, as well as at Jerusalem.

28. “Reading” aloud, “Isaias the prophet.” The Prophecy of Isaias, which is often termed an anticipated Gospel, owing to the vivid account it gives by anticipation, of the several circumstances connected with the life and death of our Lord, was the portion of Scripture the eunuch was reading and directly meditating upon. The events, which recently took place in Jerusalem, in connection with our Lord’s death and Resurrection, and the discourses to which they gave rise, added special interest to the Prophecy of Isaias, where they were described beforehand.

29. “And the Spirit” of God, the angel or messenger referred to (v. 26). “Go near,” &c. Join company with the man in the chariot.

30. Philip was inspired to put this question, which the eunuch took in good part.

31. The answer, according to the Greek construction, implies a negative. It runs thus: “For how can I,” &c., as if to say, I do not. “For how can I,” &c. Unless some man, more learned and better versed in Scripture—“show me.” The Greek is guide or direct me.

Grotius remarks on this passage. “This eunuch did not find the Scriptures so perspicuous as they are now made, not only by handicraft men, but by shoemakers, tailors, and even by women.” The Scriptures contain many things in themselves hard to be understood, difficult for all and very injurious to some. (2 Peter 3 and 32.)

32. And the place “passage” of the Scripture (Isaias 53:7, 8). “He was led as a sheep” &c. This is according to the Septuagint version, differing but little from the Hebrew. He, was, therefore, reading from the Septuagint. This passage, as was universally admitted, referred to the Messiah; and Philip applied it to him. Isaias adopting the Prophetic style, speaks of the future event, as past or present, owing to the certainty of its accomplishments.

33. This is also according to the Septuagint; but very different from the Hebrew, which runs thus: “From prison was He taken,”—which is expressed here “in humility,” or in the humiliation he was subjected to. “Humility” here has the same sense as in Psalm 9 “Vide humilitatem meam, that is, humiliationem meam.”

“His judgment was taken away.” Which means that He was in humiliation, bereft of friends to stand by Him, His just sentence was denied to Him and he was condemned to an unjust, ignominous death. He was oppressed by an unjust judgment.

“His generation who shall declare.” Generally understood of His Divine origin, of His eternal generation begotten of his father. The depth of his humiliation and the injustice perpetrated on Him will be seen in having His life taken away from the earth. Others understand it of the wicked generation or class of men among whom he lived, who in return for the manifold benefits conferred on them during His mortal life, ungratefully repaid all by taking away His life and subjecting Him to an ignominous death. Who, then, can sufficiently describe the crimes of the guilty generation of men of His own day, by whom He was thus treated?

34. “Answering” is frequently used in Scripture, to speak to one whether addressed before or not. “Of himself.” There was hardly anything in the text to determine to whom it referred. Possibly this text was urged to prove that Jesus of Nazareth whose claim to Messiahship was put forward within the few preceding days in Jerusalem, and whose death was compassed by the Jews, was their long-expected Messiah; and the eunuch, on his journey, was profoundly meditating on the sense of the passage, as to whether it could apply to the Messiah. It seemed self-contradictory, that he would be a great prince, and at the same time subjected to such humiliations. It was this made the eunuch inquire whether the passage might not be understood of Isaias himself.

35. “Opening his mouth,” a form of expression, conveying that he commenced to debate fully and solemnly on an important subject (see Matthew 5:1). “And beginning at this scripture.” Taking up this very passage of Isaias, from which the eunuch was reading, he dilated fully on its meaning and applicability to our Lord, stating that the prophet referred to Jesus, and that Jesus was the eternal Son of God. “And preached unto him Jesus,” His Gospel, His Divinity, Incarnation for the love and salvation of mankind, the necessity of being ingrafted in Him by baptism and other practical points of Christian doctrine.

36. “A certain water.” A pool or rivulet containing water enough for the rite of baptism, “what doth hinder,” &c.? Clearly, Philip had, previously, among other points, instructed him as to the necessity of baptism to be introduced into the church and ingrafted on the body of Christ.

37. “If thou believest,” &c. Faith is the first and most essential condition for baptism. It must not only be a mere act of intellect. It must come from the “heart,” from the will and affections also. These words imply a full belief in all the truths of the Gospel, of which Philip no doubt, placed before him a summary, all founded on the leading truth of the Divinity of Jesus Christ; from the answer of the eunuch, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son,” &c., it is quite clear, this was the first truth insisted upon.

The authenticity of the words “thou believest,” &c., is questioned by some distinguished critics. They are wanting in some MSS. “I believe that Jesus Christ,” &c. This conveys a full belief in all that Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, the infallible truth has revealed with a belief in the leading articles of the Apostles’ Creed, which, no doubt, Philip briefly taught the eunuch. St. Luke only mentions this fundamental article of the Divinity of our Lord. It must be that Philip also taught the eunuch the necessity of contrition for the remission of sin.

38. “Went down into the water.” This would look like baptism, by immersion. However, that would not necessarily follow. He might go down into the water, and receive a baptism different from immersion. The mode of conferring it is a matter of discipline, which may vary at different times. There is no decretorial proof here as the mode in which this baptism was administered, whether by immersion or otherwise. It might be done by pouring out, or infusion while in the water as well.

39. “Up out of the water.” The Greek particle may mean from as well as, out of. “Took away Philip.” How, it is not stated here, whether miraculously or supernaturally carried through the air, as is recorded in some cases in the Old Testament (3 Kings 18:12; 4 Kings 2:11; St. Paul, 2 Cor. 12:2, 4), thus confirming the faith of the eunuch. Others understand it of strong suggestions imperatively urging Philip to depart at once from the society he would fain enjoy much longer.

40. “Was found.” According to those, who assign a supernatural complexion to the preceding narrative, it means; carried through the air. He found himself suddenly in Azotus. According to others it simply means, he came to Azotus; was not heard of till he came to Azotus. The former interpretation seems the more natural, if we consider the angelic influences at work all through. Azotus on the Mediterranean was over thirty miles from Gaza.

“And passing through,” &c. He preached the Gospel in all cities that lay between Azotus and Cæsarea, viz., Joppa, Lydda, Askelon, Arimathea, &c., situated on the sea coast.

Cæsarea formerly called Strato’s Tower, was over sixty miles north of Azotus. It was rebuilt by Herod and called “Cæsarea,” in honour of Augustus Cæsar, to whom a temple was built by Herod; a statue of the Emperor was also erected by him, at the mouth of the harbour. The seaport was called Sebaste, the Greek term for Augustus.

This city of Cæsarea adorned by sculptures, buildings and porticoes, was the seat of government. There the Roman governor of Judea resided.

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