Acts 13:39
And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(39) And by him.—Literally, in Him, as the sphere in which forgiveness was found, rather than as the instrument through whom it came.

All that believe are justified.—Literally, with a more individualising touch, every one that believeth is justified. The latter verb is not found elsewhere in the Acts. It is interesting to note in this, the first recorded example of St. Paul’s teaching, the occurrence of the word which, as time passed on, came to be almost identified with him and with his work. It is clearly used, as interpreted by the “forgiveness of sins” in the context, in its forensic sense, as meaning “acquitted,” “declared not guilty.” (Comp. Note on Matthew 12:37.)

From which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.—The words are full of meaning, as the germ of all that was most characteristic in St. Paul’s later teaching. The Law, with its high standard of righteousness (Romans 7:12), its demand of entire obedience, its sacrifices which bore witness to the burden of sin, yet had no power to liberate conscience from its thraldom (Hebrews 8:1-3), had taught him that its function in the spiritual life of man was to work out the knowledge of sin (Romans 7:7), not to emancipate men from it. The sense of freedom from guilt, and therefore of a true life, was to be found, as he had learnt by his own experience, through faith in Christ. “The just by faith shall live” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).

13:38-41 Let all that hear the gospel of Christ, know these two things: 1. That through this Man, who died and rose again, is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. Your sins, though many and great, may be forgiven, and they may be so without any injury to God's honour. 2. It is by Christ only that those who believe in him, and none else, are justified from all things; from all the guilt and stain of sin, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. The great concern of convinced sinners is, to be justified, to be acquitted from all their guilt, and accepted as righteous in God's sight, for if any is left charged upon the sinner, he is undone. By Jesus Christ we obtain a complete justification; for by him a complete atonement was made for sin. We are justified, not only by him as our Judge but by him as the Lord our Righteousness. What the law could not do for us, in that it was weak, the gospel of Christ does. This is the most needful blessing, bringing in every other. The threatenings are warnings; what we are told will come upon impenitent sinners, is designed to awaken us to beware lest it come upon us. It ruins many, that they despise religion. Those that will not wonder and be saved, shall wonder and perish.And by him - By means of him; by his sufferings and death.

All that believe - See the notes on Mark 16:16.

Are justified - Are regarded and treated as if they were righteous. They are pardoned, and admitted to the favor of God, and treated as if they had not offended. See this point explained in the notes on Romans 1:17; Romans 3:24-25; Romans 4:1-8.

From all things - From the guilt of all offences.

From which ye could not ... - The Law of Moses commanded what was to be done. It appointed sacrifices and offerings as typical of a greater sacrifice. But those sacrifices could not take away sin. See the notes on Hebrews 9:7-14; Hebrews 10:1-4, Hebrews 10:11. The design of the Law was not to reveal a way of pardon. That was reserved to be the unique purpose of the gospel.

The law of Moses - The commands and institutions which he, under the direction of God, established.

39. by him all that believe are justified from all things—The sense requires that a pause in the sentence be made here: "By him the believer is absolved from all charges of the law." What follows,

from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses—is not an exceptional but an explanatory clause. The meaning is not, "Though the law justifies from many things, it cannot justify from all things, but Christ makes up all deficiencies"; but the meaning is, "By Christ the believer is justified from all things, whereas the law justifies from nothing." (Note.—The deeper sense of justification, the positive side of it, is reserved for the Epistles, addressed to the justified themselves: and whereas it is the resurrection of Christ here, and throughout the Acts chiefly, which is dwelt on, because the first thing in order to bring peace to the guilty through Christ was to establish His Messiahship by His resurrection, in the Epistles to believers His death as the way of reconciliation is fully unfolded).

Are justified; it is a forensic word, opposed to condemned; all that believe in Christ with the heart, by his merit and mediation shall be absolved, and shall not come into condemnation: and thus this agrees with the former words, and shows us whence remission of sins is to be had. If any will take this word as signifying also to be purged from sin; yet it is evident, that the law can bring neither of these benefits unto us. The law declares what is sin, and what the curse is that is due unto sin, but not how to be delivered from them; it shows the spot, but not how to wash it off; and the sore, but not how to heal it; but, on the other side, we are bidden to glory in the Lord, ( Jesus), who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 1 Corinthians 1:30,31.

From all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses; to which may be added, that there were some sins which by the ceremonial law there was no sacrifice appointed for; and for such sins which a sacrifice was appointed for, it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take them away, Hebrews 10:4; which may make us more to admire the grace of the gospel, by which we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, Hebrews 10:10. And by him all that believe are justified from all things,.... Christ, as God, is not only the justifier of his people, who pronounces them righteous in the sight of God; but his righteousness imputed to them is the matter of their justification, or that by which they are justified; and not the works of the law, or obedience to the Gospel, or internal holiness, either in whole or in part, or the grace of faith, but the object of it, Christ, and his righteousness: and justification by this is complete and perfect; it is from all sin, original and actual, secret and open, greater or lesser sins; sins of presumption and ignorance, of omission or commission; from all things the law can charge with, as breaches of it; from all things which the justice of God can demand satisfaction for; and from all things that Satan, or a man's own conscience, can justly accuse him of. And those that believe in Christ with the heart unto righteousness, are openly and manifestly justified in their own consciences, and can claim their interest in it, and have the comfort of it, as well as they were before secretly justified in the mind of God, and in their head and representative Jesus Christ. And from all sin these are justified of God, as Beza's ancient copy reads, "for it is God that justifies", Romans 8:33 against whom men have sinned, and whose law they have violated, and whose justice they have affronted, by reason of which they are liable to condemnation; but God justifies them, by imputing the righteousness of his Son to them, in which he views them as without fault, unblamable and irreprovable; and though all men are not justified, yet many are; even all the seed of Israel, all the elect of God, everyone that believes in Christ, as all do who are ordained to eternal life; Christ's righteousness is imputed and applied to all these, and therefore they shall never enter into condemnation, but shall be acquitted and discharged from all things,

from which, it is added,

ye could not be justified by the law of Moses; that is, by the works of the law, or by obedience to it, because such obedience is imperfect; and therefore the law cannot justify, discharge, and acquit upon it, but instead thereof, must curse and condemn; as it does everyone, that does not do all things commanded in the law, and in the manner that requires; besides, if righteousness was hereby, the grace of God in justification would be frustrated, the death of Christ would be rendered null and void, and boasting would not be excluded; all which are contrary to the scheme of the Gospel. It may be observed, that pardon of sin and justification are two distinct blessings, or the apostle must be guilty of a great tautology; since having spoken of forgiveness of sin in the preceding verse, he speaks of justification in this, as another blessing enjoyed by and through Christ, and published in the Gospel, styled therefore the word and ministration of righteousness. And indeed they are distinct; in pardon the man is considered as a sinner, in justification as a righteous man; pardon takes away his sin, justification gives him a righteousness; pardon frees from punishment, but justification besides that gives him a title to eternal life; to pardon, the blood of Christ is sufficient; but to justification are required the holiness of Christ's nature, the perfect obedience of his life, as well as his suffering of death; moreover, justification passed on Christ as the head and representative of his people, but not pardon; he may be said to be justified, but not pardoned: these two blessings make a considerable figure in the ministry of the word.

And by him all that believe are justified from {q} all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

(q) Whereas the ceremonies of the Law could not absolve you from your sins, this man absolves you, if you lay hold of him by faith.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 13:39. So far the words represent the entire harmony between the preaching of St. Peter and St. Paul, and there is no reason to attribute this verse, as also Acts 10:43, with Jüngst, to any reviser; δικαιοῦσθαι ἀπό only elsewhere in Romans 6:7. But if St. Paul’s next words seem to imply that within certain limits, i.e., so far as it was obeyed, the law of Moses brought justification, they affirm at the same time the utter inefficacy of all legal obedience, since one thing was certain, that the law exacted much more than Israel could obey; complete justification must be found, if anywhere, elsewhere. Can we doubt that St. Paul is here giving us what was really his own experience? (See Briggs, Messiah of the Apostles, p. 76.) In spite of all his efforts to fulfil the law, there was still the feeling that these efforts were hopelessly deficient; there was an area of transgression in which the law, so far from justifying, condemned. But in the Messiah, the Holy One of God, he saw a realisation of that perfect holiness to which in the weakness of the flesh he could not attain, and in Him, Who died, and rose again, for us—that Righteous One, Whom he saw, not only on the road to Damascus, but ever on his right hand by the eye of faith—he found complete and full justification. That this forgiveness of sins is not connected specially with the Death of Christ, but with His Resurrection, or rather with His whole Messianic character, to which the Resurrection put the final seal, is certainly not to be regarded as an indication of a non-Pauline view, cf. Romans 4:25; Romans 8:34, 2 Corinthians 5:15. Moreover, if we consider the connection of the whole address, the Resurrection is not regarded apart from the Death of Christ: Acts 13:26-29 show us that the Message of Salvation starts from the Death of Christ, and is based upon that, cf. Bethge, Die Paulinischen Reden, p. 54. It is unreasonable to complain that St. Paul’s conception of justification in this address falls below his characteristic and controlling idea of it (McGiffert, p. 186). We could not justly expect that the Apostle’s utterances, thus summarised by St. Luke, would contain as full and complete a doctrinal exposition as his Galatian and Roman Epistles. To the former Epistle McGiffert points as giving us what Paul actually taught in Galatia; but there is no contradiction between the teaching given us in St. Luke’s account of the address in Pisidian Antioch and St. Paul’s account of his teaching to his converts in his letter “the coincidences between the two are so striking as to make each the best commentary on the other … and there is no such close resemblance between the Epistle and any other of Paul’s addresses reported in Acts,” Ramsay, Expositor, December, 1898. “Historical Commentary on Gal.” see below, and also Lightfoot, on Galatians 3:11. St. Paul’s teaching is essentially the same in the synagogue at Antioch as when he is writing to his Galatian converts: only in Christ is justification, and in the law as such there is no forgiveness of sins. He does not say in so many words that there was no sin from which men could be freed under the law of Moses, but it is evident that the most solemn warning with which the Apostle follows up his declaration could only be justified on the ground that some essential principle was involved in the acceptance or rejection of the work of Christ. On δικαιόω in classical literature, in LXX, and in N.T., see Kennedy, Sources of N. T. Greek, pp. 104, 105, and Sanday and Headlam, Romans, pp. 30, 31.Acts 13:39. Ὧι) ἀπὸ is to be repeated from what immediately goes before.—οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε, ye could not) Not merely, ye cannot, but ye never could, although ye tried it.—νόμῳ) by the law, which ye so revere: ver.15. We ought not to suppose that the division of the law into the moral and ceremonial was as familiar to the Jews as it is to us in the present day, since at that time both flourished together. Wherefore this passage treats of the whole law. Moses is Moses, whether he enjoins concerning rites or concerning morals: and on the other hand, Christ is Christ.—ἐν τούτῳ, in Him) In antithesis to the law of Moses.—πᾶς, every one) whether having, or not having the law: whether Jew or Gentile; for some of the latter were present: Acts 13:42.Verse 39. - Every one that believeth is for all that believe are, A.V. Here, then, is the great gospel message of grace, "the gospel of the grace of God," as St. Paul speaks in Acts 20:24; the proclamation, consequent upon the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, of a free and full forgiveness of sins to all that repent and believe the gospel (Acts 20:21); see Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 4:12; Acts 5:31; Colossians 1:14, etc., and Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:77. Note, too, how adroitly the apostle points out the superiority of the gospel which he was preaching to them over the Law, and the pre-eminence of Christ over Moses.
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