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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles

ANALYSIS

Peter’s arrival at Jerusalem (1–2). His defence of his conduct in admitting Gentiles into the Church, which he grounds on the vision vouchsafed to him at Joppe, which he describes (3–14). The external effusion of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. After which all held their peace and acquiesced (14–19). The spread of religion consequent on the preaching and miracles of the disciples (19–21). The prediction of a great famine by Agabus. The charitable resolve to send relief, which was actually forwarded through Barnabas and Saul, to the distressed Christians of Judea (19–30).

Commentary

1. The rumour regarding the admission of Cornelius and his household into the church was circulated far and wide throughout Judæa. Likely, the Apostles were at this time scattered throughout the different parts of the country.

2. “They that were of the circumcision.” Such among them as were over zealous about the Mosaic rite of circumcision and its necessity “contended,” disputed with him, as to the propriety of his conduct, and reproached him,

3. “Saying: why didst thou?” &c. In the Greek it is in the assertive, not interrogative form. They held it to be unlawful to hold converse and take food with uncircumcised Gentiles, erroneously fancying the Law of Moses, as they understood it, on these points to be still in vigour. The gifts of the Holy Ghost abundantly poured out on them, put the propriety of receiving the Gentiles into the Church beyond dispute. This they don’t explicitly upbraid him with; they do so implicitly.

4. Peter justifies the admission of the Gentiles into the Church, and explains in detail each occurrence in connexion with it so far as he himself was concerned. “In order,” in the order in which it took place.

5–16. See preceding chapter.

16. The descent of the Holy Ghost on the Gentiles as well as on the Jews “in the beginning” (v. 15) at his visible manifestation on Pentecost Sunday brought to Peter’s mind the words spoken by our Lord on the eve of His Ascension (1:5). “John, indeed baptizeth,” &c., which he saw clearly verified in the case of Cornelius and others.

17. If, then, God bestowed the same spirit on the uncircumcized believing Gentiles, as on us, requiring no other condition save to believe, thus establishing a perfect equality, “Who was I, to withstand God,” by refusing to baptize them, to obstruct His gracious designs and holy will clearly manifested in their regard, and refuse to admit into His Church by Baptism those on whom He Himself conferred the exalted Baptism of the Spirit?

18. “They held their peace.” They had no more to say, on seeing the clear manifestations of God’s will, but humbly acquiesced in, and conformed, to His holy will.

“Unto life” so as to attain salvation.

19. “Now” is resumptive of the narrative interrupted (c. 8:4) by the description of the conversion of Saul (9:32), the visitation of the churches of Palestine by Peter (33–43), the wonderful events connected with Cornelius, &c. Now, St. Luke resumes the history and doings of those disciples who were scattered abroad on the occasion of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and enters on a new phase of the history of the Acts, chiefly in regard to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles in several prominent places, and especially in regard to the history of St. Paul, the principal events of his life, his Apostolic labours and heroic sufferings in the cause of the Gospel.

“They that had been dispersed by,” or owing to, the persecution, on the occasion of the death of Stephen, “went about as far as Phenice.” Some of these dispersed disciples, not Apostles, made their way preaching the Gospel as far as Phenice—that tract of country on the shores of the Mediterranean between Judæa and Syria; others, as far as Cyprus, the island over against Phœnicia, others, as far as Antioch, the capital of Syria. All these exiles preached the Gospel to the Jews only.

20. “But some of them” who were dispersed (c. 8:4), “Cyrene,” the capital city of Lybia, these were converted Jews.

“Greeks.” Gentiles. The opposition between these and “the Jews only,” among whom, doubtless, were found Hellenistic Jews, would seem to require that the word “Greeks” would refer to those who were in no sense “Jews” but Pagans. Very likely these men heard at Antioch of Cornelius’ conversion, and doubtless this example would influence them to preach to the Gentiles, and admit them into the Church.

21. “The hand of the Lord” was with those teachers, empowering them to perform miracles in corroboration of their teaching which, therefore, was successful in effecting conversions.

The occurrences referred to (19–21) would seem to have taken place during an interval of some years, between the death of Stephen and the mission of Barnabas to Antioch.

22. The rumour concerning the successful labours of the disciples among these Cyprians and Cyreneans at Antioch reached the faithful of Jerusalem and the Apostles themselves who may have been there. Peter and James were there. Hence, the deputation by them of Barnabas to Antioch to confirm by Apostolic authority the successful work of the Cyprian and Cyrenean disciples. They send Barnabas alone as being a Cyprian and Hellenist; he was best fitted for the work, and would give less offence in his communication with the successful preaching of the word.

23. Had seen the grace of God manifest in the conversion and edifying lives of the Gentiles. “The grace of God” was the chief agent in the work of conversion. Free will is also upheld when He exhorts them “with purpose of heart,” with firm and determined purposes, “to continue,” &c.

24. “A good man,” &c. “Good,” benign, kind; loving God and solicitous for the salvation of his brethren; distinguished for the abundant gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially faith and confidence in God. To these qualities was added his success in the work of the Gospel.

25. Paul went from Jerusalem to Tharsus, his native city. Likely while there he was engaged in his trade of tent-making. Possibly, the Apostles at Jerusalem may have instructed Barnabas to call on him knowing what an effective labourer he would be in preaching the Gospel.

26. “Conversed there.” Held sacred meetings for the purposes of worship “for a whole year,” and instructed great multitudes in the faith of Christ.

“First named Christians,” which shows the wonderful progress the Gospel made at Antioch.

“Christians,” the most honourable of all appellations, suggestive of the gratitude we owe our Blessed Saviour, and of our obligation to walk in His footsteps if we wish to share in His glory.

By whom they were so called, whether by Paul or Barnabas, or the Pagans, among whom they lived by way of distinction cannot be ascertained. Likely, it was not meant as a term of reproach. Agrippa uses it in a complimentary sense (Acts 26:20 also 1 Peter 4:16). Galileans or Nazareans was employed scornfully and reproachfully (2:7, 24:5) to designate our Lord’s followers.

27. “Prophets,” strictly speaking, those who predict future events. In SS. Scriptures, the term is applied to those endowed with the faculty of explaining the SS. Scriptures or mysteries of faith, in an extraordinary way, as the result of sudden enlightenment or inspiration for the moment, without any reference to the prediction of the future. Here, it seems, some of them, had the faculty of foretelling future events.

28. “Rising up” likely he had been in a sitting posture before at one of their meetings. He uttered a prediction regarding St. Paul, (Acts 21:10, 11). “Signified,” conveyed in rather an obscure way (12:23). Here, it means to foretell, “by the Spirit,” by the interior revelation of the Holy Ghost, or under the influence of inspiration.

“Over the whole world,” all over the habitable portions of the globe. The Greek (οἰκουμένην) means inhabited or habitable. Or, as there is reference to “Claudius” throughout the extent of the Roman Empire, which comprised most of the habitable or civilized portions of the earth (24:5, Luke 2). Sometimes, it is employed to denote the entire land of Judæa, as contradistinguished from parts only of it.

“Which came to pass.” Famine had visited almost all the provinces of the Roman Empire, especially Syria and Palestine, in the fourth year of the reign of Claudius (Josephus, Antiq. xx. 2–6; Eusebius, ii. 2–11; Hist. Eccles.).

We are informed by historians, that three or four famines took place in the reign of Claudius, between the years A.D. 41 and 54. One in particular, referred to here was more general and more severely felt than the rest.

29. The Church of Jerusalem was regarded at that day, as the mother Church. It was very poor. To it the other Churches were, in a great measure, indebted for the spiritual blessings they enjoyed. Hence, it was meet, that out of their temporal wealth, they should relieve her necessities. This was in accordance with the teachings of St. Paul (1 Cor. 9:11).

The Greek word for “relief,” εις διακονιαν, means a “subsidy.”

30. “Ancients,” πρεσβυτερους—though literally expressing age, was, however, employed among the Jews, to designate the members of the Sanhedrim, who with the High Priest constituted the supreme council of the Jews, whether their age corresponded or not, just as among the Romans, the Senators, whether aged or not, were, on account of their office termed “Patres.”

After the example of Moses the Apostles, in their Church organizations, called in or appointed sacred ministers, to aid in such ministration as they themselves could not reach or attend to.

The word Presbyteri, is here used for the first time in the New Testament to designate Christian ministers. Although used, at first, to designate Christian ministers in general, without distinction of classes or orders; it was, however, in course of time applied to the second order of the clergy. It is de fide, that Bishops are superior to Priests in the twofold power of order and jurisdiction (Council of Trent, SS. 23. Can. vii.).

Likely, here, there is question of perhaps the Apostles themselves, or Bishops or Deacons intrusted with the proper and judicious distribution of the alms among the most necessitous objects for relief.








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