Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES Commentary by David Brown
This book is to the Gospels what the fruit is to the tree that bears it. In the Gospels we see the corn of wheat falling into the ground and dying: in the Acts we see it bringing forth much fruit (Joh 12:24). There we see Christ purchasing the Church with His own blood: here we see the Church, so purchased, rising into actual existence; first among the Jews of Palestine, and next among the surrounding Gentiles, until it gains a footing in the great capital of the ancient world—sweeping majestically from Jerusalem to Rome. Nor is this book of less value as an Introduction to the Epistles which follow it, than as a Sequel to the Gospels which precede it. For without this history the Epistles of the New Testament—presupposing, as they do, the historical circumstances of the parties addressed, and deriving from these so much of their freshness, point, and force—would in no respect be what they now are, and would in a number of places be scarcely intelligible.
The genuineness, authenticity, and canonical authority of this book were never called in question within the ancient Church. It stands immediately after the Gospels, in the catalogues of the Homologoumena, or universally acknowledged books of the New Testament (see Introduction to our larger Commentary, Vol. V, pp. iv, v). It was rejected, indeed, by certain heretical sects in the second and third centuries—by the Ebionites, the Severians (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.29), the Marcionites, and the Manicheans: but the totally uncritical character of their objections (see Introduction above referred to, pp. xiii, xiv) not only deprives them of all weight, but indirectly shows on what solid grounds the Christian Church had all along proceeded in recognizing this book.
In our day, however, its authenticity has, like that of all the leading books of the New Testament, been made the subject of keen and protracted controversy. De Wette, while admitting Luke to be the author of the entire work, pronounces the earlier portion of it to have been drawn up from unreliable sources (New-Testament Introduction, 2a, 2C). But the Tubingen school, with Baur at their head, have gone much farther. As their fantastic theory of the post-Joannean date of the Gospels could not pretend even to a hearing so long as the authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles remained unshaken, they contend that the earlier portion of this work can be shown to be unworthy of credit, while the latter portion is in flat contradiction to the Epistle to the Galatians—which this school regard as unassailable—and bears internal evidence of being a designed distortion of facts for the purpose of setting up the catholic form which Paul gave to Christianity in opposition to the narrow Judaic but original form of it which Peter preached, and which after the death of the apostles was held exclusively by the sect of the Ebionites. It is painful to think that anyone should have spent so many years, and, aided by learned and acute disciples in different parts of the argument, should have expended so much learning, research, and ingenuity in attempting to build up a hypothesis regarding the origination of the leading books of the New Testament which outrages all the principles of sober criticism and legitimate evidence. As a school, this party at length broke up: its head, after living to find himself the sole defender of the theory as a whole, left this earthly scene complaining of desertion. While some of his associates have abandoned such heartless studies altogether for the more congenial pursuits of philosophy, others have modified their attacks on the historical truth of the New Testament records, retreating into positions into which it is not worth while to follow them, while others still have been gradually approximating to sound principles. The one compensation for all this mischief is the rich additions to the apologetical and critical literature of the books of the New Testament, and the earliest history of the Christian Church, which it has drawn from the pens of Thiersch, Ebrard, and many others. Any allusions which it may be necessary for us to make to the assertions of this school will be made in connection with the passages to which they relate—in Acts, First Corinthians, and Galatians.
The manifest connection between this book and the third Gospel—of which it professes to be simply the continuation by the same author—and the striking similarity which marks the style of both productions, leave no room to doubt that the early Church was right in ascribing it with one consent to Luke. The difficulty which some fastidious critics have made about the sources of the earlier portion of the history has no solid ground. That the historian himself was an eye-witness of the earliest scenes—as Hug concludes from the circumstantiality of the narrative—is altogether improbable: but there were hundreds of eye-witnesses of some of the scenes, and enough of all the rest, to give to the historian, partly by oral, partly by written testimony, all the details which he has embodied so graphically in his history; and it will appear, we trust, from the commentary, that De Wette's complaints of confusion, contradiction, and error in this portion are without foundation. The same critic, and one or two others, would ascribe to Timothy those later portions of the book in which the historian speaks in the first person plural—"we"; supposing him to have taken notes of all that passed under his own eye, which Luke embodied in his history just as they stood. It is impossible here to refute this gratuitous hypothesis in detail; but the reader will find it done by Ebrard (The Gospel History, sect. 110, Clark's translation; sect. 127 of the original work, Wissenschaftliche Kritik der Evangelische Geschichte, 1850), and by Davidson (Introduction to New Testament, Vol. II, pp. 9-21).
The undesigned coincidences between this History and the Apostolic Epistles have been brought out and handled, as an argument for the truth of the facts thus attested, with unrivalled felicity by Paley in his Horæ Paulinæ, to which Mr. Birks has made a number of ingenious additions in his Horæ Apostolicæ. Exception has been taken to some of these by Jowett (St. Paul's Epistles, Vol. I, pp. 108 ff.), not without a measure of reason in certain cases—for our day, at least—though even he admits that in this line of evidence the work of Paley, taken as a whole, is unassailable.
Much has been written about the object of this history. Certainly "the Acts of the Apostles" are but very partially recorded. But for this title the historian is not responsible. Between the two extremes—of supposing that the work has no plan at all, and that it is constructed on an elaborate and complex plan, we shall probably be as near the truth as is necessary if we take the design to be to record the diffusion of Christianity and the rise of the Christian Church, first among the Jews of Palestine, the seat of the ancient Faith, and next among the surrounding Gentiles, with Antioch for its headquarters, until, finally, it is seen waving over imperial Rome, foretokening its universal triumph. In this view of it, there is no difficulty in accounting for the almost exclusive place which it gives to the labors of Peter in the first instance, and the all but entire disappearance from the history both of him and of the rest of the Twelve after the great apostle of the Gentiles came upon the stage—like the lesser lights on the rise of the great luminary.
Ac 1:1-11. Introduction—Last Days of Our Lord upon Earth—His Ascension.
1, 2. former treatise—Luke's Gospel.
Theophilus—(See on Lu 1:3).
began to do and teach—a very important statement, dividing the work of Christ into two great branches: the one embracing His work on earth, the other His subsequent work from heaven; the one in His own Person, the other by His Spirit; the one the "beginning," the other the continuance of the same work; the one complete when He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, the other to continue till His second appearing; the one recorded in "The Gospels," the beginnings only of the other related in this book of "The Acts." "Hence the grand history of what Jesus did and taught does not conclude with His departure to the Father; but Luke now begins it in a higher strain; for all the subsequent labors of the apostles are just an exhibition of the ministry of the glorified Redeemer Himself because they were acting under His authority, and He was the principle that operated in them all" [Olshausen].
Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
2. after that he, through the Holy Ghost, had given commandments, &c.—referring to the charge recorded in Mt 28:18-20; Mr 16:15-18; Lu 24:44-49. It is worthy of notice that nowhere else are such communications of the risen Redeemer said to have been given "through the Holy Ghost." In general, this might have been said of all He uttered and all He did in His official character; for it was for this very end that God "gave not the Spirit by measure unto Him" (Joh 3:34). But after His resurrection, as if to signify the new relation in which He now stood to the Church, He signalized His first meeting with the assembled disciples by breathing on them (immediately after dispensing to them His peace) and saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (Joh 20:22) thus anticipating the donation of the Spirit from His hands (see on Joh 20:21, 22); and on the same principle His parting charges are here said to have been given "through the Holy Ghost," as if to mark that He was now all redolent with the Spirit; that what had been husbanded, during His suffering work, for His own necessary uses, had now been set free, was already overflowing from Himself to His disciples, and needed but His ascension and glorification to flow all forth. (See on Joh 7:39.)
To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
3-5. showed himself alive—As the author is about to tell us that "the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" was the great burden of apostolic preaching, so the subject is here filly introduced by an allusion to the primary evidence on which that great fact rests, the repeated and undeniable manifestations of Himself in the body to the assembled disciples, who, instead of being predisposed to believe it, had to be overpowered by the resistless evidence of their own senses, and were slow of yielding even to this (Mr 16:14).
after his passion—or, suffering. This primary sense of the word "passion" has fallen into disuse; but it is nobly consecrated in the phraseology of the Church to express the Redeemer's final endurances.
seen of them forty days—This important specification of time occurs here only.
speaking of—rather "speaking."
the things pertaining to the kingdom of God—till now only in germ, but soon to take visible form; the earliest and the latest burden of His teaching on earth.
And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
4. should not depart from Jerusalem—because the Spirit was to glorify the existing economy, by descending on the disciples at its metropolitan seat, and at the next of its great festivals after the ascension of the Church's Head; in order that "out of Zion might go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa 2:3; and compare Lu 24:49).
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
5. ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence—ten days hence, as appears from Le 23:15, 16; but it was expressed thus indefinitely to exercise their faith.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
6-8. wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?—Doubtless their carnal views of Messiah's kingdom had by this time been modified, though how far it is impossible to say. But, as they plainly looked for some restoration of the kingdom to Israel, so they are neither rebuked nor contradicted on this point.
And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
7. It is not for you to know the times, &c.—implying not only that this was not the time, but that the question was irrelevant to their present business and future work.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
8. receive power—See Lu 24:49.
and ye shall be witnesses unto me … in Jerusalem … in all Judea … and unto the uttermost part of the earth—This order of apostolic preaching and success supplies the proper key to the plan of the Acts, which relates first the progress of the Gospel "in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria" (the first through ninth chapters), and then "unto the uttermost part of the earth" (the tenth through twenty-eighth chapters).
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
9-11. while they beheld, he was taken up—See on Lu 24:50-53. Lest it should be thought He had disappeared when they were looking in some other direction, and so was only concluded to have gone up to heaven, it is here expressly said that "while they were looking He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight." So Elijah, "If thou see me when I am taken from thee" (2Ki 2:10); "And Elisha saw it" (Ac 1:12). (See on Lu 9:32.)
And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
10. while they looked steadfastly toward heaven—following Him with their eager eyes, in rapt amazement. Not, however, as a mere fact is this recorded, but as a part of that resistless evidence of their senses on which their whole subsequent testimony was to be borne.
two men in white apparel—angels in human form, as in Lu 24:4.
Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
11. Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven, &c.—"as if your now glorified Head were gone from you never to return: He is coming again; not another, but 'this same Jesus'; and 'as ye have seen Him go, in the like manner shall He come'—as personally, as visibly, as gloriously; and let the joyful expectation of this coming swallow up the sorrow of that departure."
Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.
Ac 1:12-26. Return of the Eleven to Jerusalem—Proceedings in the Upper Room till Pentecost.
12-14. a sabbath day's journey—about two thousand cubits.
And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.
13. went up into an upper room—perhaps the same "large upper room" where with their Lord they had celebrated the last Passover and the first Supper (Lu 22:12).
where abode—not lodged, but had for their place of rendezvous.
Peter, &c.—(See on Mt 10:2-4).
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
14. continued with one accord—knit by a bond stronger than death.
in prayer and supplication—for the promised baptism, the need of which in their orphan state would be increasingly felt.
and Mary the mother of Jesus—distinguished from the other "women," but "so as to exclude the idea of her having any pre-eminence over the disciples. We find her with the rest in prayer to her glorified Son" [Webster and Wilkinson]. This is the last mention of her in the New Testament. The fable of the Assumption of the Virgin has no foundation even in tradition [Alford].
with his brethren—(See on Joh 7:3).
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
15-26. in those days—of expectant prayer, and probably towards the close of them, when the nature of their future work began more clearly to dawn upon them, and the Holy Ghost, already "breathed" on the Eleven (Joh 20:22), was stirring in Peter, who was to be the leading spirit of the infant community (Mt 16:19).
the number … about an hundred and twenty—Many, therefore, of the "five hundred brethren" who saw their risen Lord "at once" (1Co 15:6), must have remained in Galilee.
Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.
For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.
Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
18. falling headlong, &c.—This information supplements, but by no means contradicts, what is said in Mt 27:5.
And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
20. his bishopric—or "charge." The words are a combination of Ps 69:25 and Ps 109:8; in which the apostle discerns a greater than David, and a worse than Ahithophel and his fellow conspirators against David.
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
21. all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—in the close intimacies of a three years' public life.
Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
22. Beginning from the baptism of John—by whom our Lord was not only Himself baptized, but first officially announced and introduced to his own disciples.
unto that same day when he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection—How clearly is the primary office of the apostles here expressed: (1) to testify, from personal observation, to the one great fact of "the resurrection of the Lord Jesus"; (2) to show how this glorified His whole previous life, of which they were constant observers, and established His divine claims.
And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
23. they appointed—"put up" in nomination; meaning not the Eleven but the whole company, of whom Peter was the spokesman.
two—The choice would lie between a very few.
And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
24. prayed and said, Thou, Lord, &c.—"The word 'Lord,' placed absolutely, denotes in the New Testament almost universally THE SON; and the words, 'Show whom Thou hast chosen,' are decisive. The apostles are just Christ's messengers: It is He that sends them, and of Him they bear witness. Here, therefore, we have the first example of a prayer offered to the exalted Redeemer; furnishing indirectly the strongest proof of His divinity" [Olshausen].
which knowest the hearts of all men—See Joh 2:24, 25; 21:15-17; Re 2:23.
That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
25. that he might go to his own place—A euphemistic or softened expression of the awful future of the traitor, implying not only destined habitation but congenial element.
And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
26. was numbered—"voted in" by general suffrage.
with the eleven apostles—completing the broken Twelve.