Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,1. But a certain man] It is not by way of contrast that the story of Ananias is put side by side with that of Barnabas, therefore much stress is not to be laid on the word But. Acts 5:36 of the last chapter begins, in the original, with the same conjunction, and it is often employed in narratives where only a simple connection of clauses is intended. Thus, Acts 8:1-3, the same conjunction occurs four times over without any adversative sense.
named Ananias] The name was common. See Acts 9:10-17; Acts 23:2; Acts 24:1. It is the same as Hananiah, Jeremiah 28:1; Daniel 1:6-7, &c., where it is the Hebrew name of Shadrach. which is spelt Ananias in the “Benedicite,” and that form of the name is found Tob 5:12. It signifies “one to whom Jehovah has been gracious.”
with Sapphira his wife] A name probably derived from the name of the precious stone sapphire, which word is found both in Hebrew and Greek.
sold a possession] The word may signify either lands, or buildings, or any kind of property. It is the word used of the young man who went away sorrowful from Jesus “for he had great possessions,” Matthew 19:22; Mark 10:22. The LXX. use it of vineyards (Hosea 2:15).
Acts 5:1-11. Account of Ananias and Sapphira
The narrative with which this chapter commences is one which none but a veracious narrator would have inserted where it stands. The last chapter concludes with a description of the unity of heart and soul which prevailed among the brethren, and expressly notices that all were filled with the Holy Ghost. But as among the twelve Apostles there was a Judas, so into the infant Church there had intruded two at least whose professions were not sincere, and who were unworthy of the gifts of grace which, with the rest, they had received. The offence of Ananias and Sapphira shewed contempt for God, vanity and ambition in the offenders, and utter disregard of the corruption which they were bringing into the society. Such sin, committed in despite of the light which they possessed, called for a special mark of Divine indignation, and to those who, likewise filled with the Spirit, knew all that had been done and why it was done, there is no shock produced by the terrible doom of the sinners, nor any language employed in the narration but the simplest and plainest. A late-compiled story would have enlarged and spoken apologetically on the reasons for such a judgment, and would not have presented us with a bare recital of facts without comment.
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.2. and kept back part of the price] i.e. while at the same time they professed to be bringing the whole sum into the common fund. The portion which was kept back was probably not large, for otherwise the general sense of the value of the land would have made it conspicuous. The word translated “kept back” is the same which is rendered Titus 2:10 purloining, and in classical Greek it has frequently the meaning to rob.
his wife also being privy to it] This is mentioned to shew that the offence was an aggravated one, and had not been committed without deliberation and set purpose. She was a willing accomplice in the intended fraud.
and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet] Thus professing equal devotion with all the others who were making sacrifices for the cause of the faith. We are not told what they hoped to gain by their act, whether in reputation among the people (Acts 2:47), or, by giving what was supposed to be their whole estate (which may be implied in the vague word possession), to procure for themselves in perpetuity a maintenance from the common funds. The former ambition was most probably what led to their offence. They thought more of the display made at the Apostles’ feet than of the offence before God’s eyes. And we know from St Peter’s Epistle (2 Peter 2:3) that it was soon foretold that men would arise in the Christian community, who “through covetousness would with feigned words make merchandise of” the society, and at a later date (Judges 11), these men are described as those who run “greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” We may therefore be convinced that in the example of Ananias we have a typical instance of the kind of offence into which at this time the Christian community was in danger of being tempted.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?3. But Peter said, Ananias, why, &c.] The interrogative particle is of a strengthened form in the original, and seems to indicate that there had been a possibility of resisting the influence which led to this offence, had Ananias been desirous to do so. We must believe that the Holy Spirit gave Peter knowledge of the deception which Ananias was seeking to practise on the Church, and most likely also of the punishment which should come upon the offender. Otherwise we can hardly account for the calm manner of the Apostle when such a startling judgment was inflicted in an instant.
hath Satan filled thine heart] i.e. made thee bold enough. Cp. Esther 7:5, “that durst presume in his heart,” and Ecclesiastes 8:11.
to lie to the Holy Ghost] for it was the power of the Holy Ghost that was manifested in the Apostles. It is much to be noticed how from the first the Apostles disclaim any power in themselves. It is Christ who works the miracles, the God of Abraham who gives the power of healing, and the Holy Ghost who is grieved by sins like that of Ananias. There is no trace of any seeking after consideration for themselves and their deeds among the records of these Acts of the Apostles, and no sign could be more indicative of the earliest age of the Christian Church. Before the apostolic age was past the internal character of the Church was much altered from this.
and to keep back part of the price of the land] As before, the sense is that of fraudulent concealment and purloining.
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.4. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own?] The verb in the original is repeated. Whiles it remained, did it not remain thine own? That is, there was no compulsion on him to sell it, the only thing expected from him being that, if he were moved to sell, he should honestly set forth what he had done. There seems to have been no necessity to give at all to the common fund unless a man felt that he could well afford to do so, nor to give all that he either had or realized by any sale, provided only he made honest declaration of what his gift really was. This is implied in the words which follow, which declare that the sum produced by any sale was at the seller’s disposal until he made it over to the common fund.
why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?] The original is a translation of a Hebrew expression which is repeated several times in the prophet Haggai (Acts 1:5; Acts 1:7, Acts 2:18), and is rendered by the A. V. Consider. The force of the expression is “to lay anything (as a plan or a precept) deep in the heart,” and it implies long and deep deliberation on the part of this offender. It was not a case of yielding to a sudden temptation, but the plan had been accepted into the heart, and fostered there till there seemed to be a way of carrying it out. Satan had filled his heart, but he had made no effort to cast out the intruder.
thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God] It is not intended to say that Ananias had not lied unto men at all, but that the gravity of his offence was that he thought to deceive God. In Acts 5:3 it is said that the deception had been practised towards the Holy Ghost, and so we learn hence the Divinity of the third Person of the Trinity.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.5. And Ananias hearing these words fell down] Smitten through the power of that Spirit whom he had intended to deceive. Here is no description of a death from apoplexy or mental excitement under the rebuke of the Apostle, but a direct intervention of the Divine power.
Terrible as this Divine judgment was, we cannot wonder that it should be inflicted, for it was so done to check that kind of offence which brought in all the troubles of the early Church, and which though they be not so punished now, when Christ’s Church has attained more firm hold on the world, yet would, if not terribly visited in these earlier days, have overthrown the whole work of the Apostles. Of a like character is the apparent severity of the penalty inflicted on Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, at the commencement of the Jewish priesthood (Leviticus 10:2); and the way in which Aaron and his family are forbidden to mourn for those whom God so punished may teach us what interpretation to put upon the judgment inflicted on Ananias and Sapphira. For they were of the members of the infant Church; they had presumed to come nigh unto God and in a wrong spirit. On them, we may conclude, some gifts had been bestowed, and in this they differed from Simon Magus (Acts 8:20) and Elymas (Acts 13:11), with whom they are sometimes compared, so that the words which God spake of Nadab and Abihu may be used of these offenders, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.” We see what evils the spirit of greed and hypocrisy wrought in the Corinthian Church, even to the profanation of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-21). Every good institution would have been thus perverted and, as is said of some in later times (Judges 4), they would have “turned the grace of God into lasciviousness.” The very community of goods which here was instituted for a time, was in this way perverted and turned into an argument for a community of all things, which resulted in the vices for which the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15) are so severely censured in the Scriptures. The death of Ananias and his wife is the finger of God interposed to save his Church from danger, just as He interposed to build it up by stretching forth His hand to heal, and that through the name of His Servant Jesus mighty works might be wrought by the first preachers.
and great fear came on all them that heard these things] In the best MSS. these things is omitted. Read “that heard it.”
This fear would deter for a while all who were not thoroughly in earnest from making profession of Christianity, a profession which the favour that had been shewn towards the society (Acts 4:33) might have induced many to make who would have been rather a hindrance than a help to the cause.
And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.6. And the young men arose] (Lit. the younger.) Some have suggested that these were persons connected with the Church whose business it was to take charge of funerals. But it seems unlikely that, at a time when assistance had not been provided to relieve the Apostles from “serving tables” and distributing the funds to those who needed (Acts 6:1-4), there should already have been an organization for this less pressing necessity. The Greek word used here is not the same as in Acts 5:10, and this variation seems to shew that “the young men” were not in any official position, but were only the most able physically to perform such an office as is here described. On the way in which the Jews looked on attention to funeral rites see note on Acts 8:2.
wound him up] wrapped the dead body about with the robe which he was wearing at the time.
and carried him out, and buried him] We know from what took place after the Crucifixion that graves were made ready beforehand, and in the caves where the dead were deposited, as we can see from the account of the raising of Lazarus, there (John 11:43) needed little preparation, and they were closed by the simple means of a stone placed at the cave’s mouth. So that it would not need much time to complete the whole work of burial. In hot climates burial must needs follow quickly after death. Cp. the brief time which Jehu allowed to pass after Jezebel’s death (2 Kings 9:34) before he gave orders for her burial.
And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.7. the space of three hours after] Time enough for the bestowal of the dead body, but yet so short that the news of what had befallen her husband had not reached Sapphira. It may have been that their home was in the country at a distance from Jerusalem, and that the husband alone came in to offer the money by reason of the distance.
came in] i.e. to the room where Peter and the rest of the congregation were assembled.
And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.8. And Peter answered unto her] This use of the English verb answer, where no question has preceded and often where no remark has gone before, is not uncommon in the Bible (cp. 1 Kings 13:6; Daniel 2:14-15; Daniel 2:26; Luke 3:16), but in the present verse what St Peter says is not an answer but a question.
Tell me] The Apostle’s question might have made Sapphira suspect that their scheme was discovered, but she is as firm in her story as her husband had been.
whether ye sold the land for so much?] i.e. and no more. St Peter mentioned the sum which Ananias had brought in, or perhaps it was lying on the ground where he had put it at the first.
Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.9. ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord] To try whether the deception which you had planned would be found out; whether God’s Spirit would make it known to us.
behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door] They were heard returning from the burial of Ananias.
and shall carry thee out] Better, and they shall, &c. thus making it clear that the verb refers to the bearers. St Peter, as before, was prompted by the Holy Ghost in what he said, and was enabled to predict the punishment of Sapphira for her persistent dissembling. We are not told that St Peter knew what would befal Ananias, but as the Spirit shewed him what was to come on the wife we may perhaps conclude that he knew what the fate of the husband would be also.
Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.10. Then fell she down straightway at his feet] Close to the place where the money, for which they had sinned, had been laid, and where perhaps it was still lying. For we cannot think that St Peter would be willing to mix an offering given in such a hypocritical spirit with the more pure offerings of the other brethren. It may be that as he spoke, in Acts 5:8, he pointed to the money still lying there unaccepted, “Did ye sell the land for so much?”
and yielded up the ghost] The verb is only used in the N. T. of the death of this husband and wife, and of the end of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:23).
and the young men came in, and found her dead] They came to join the congregation again, for the worship appears not to have ceased during the time between the death of Ananias and the arrival of Sapphira. And this may be the explanation of the wife’s ignorance of her husband’s fate. None had gone forth but the younger men to bury the dead body.
and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband] Probably all that was required to be done was to roll a stone from some cave’s mouth and place the body within.
And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.11. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things] Lit. upon the whole church and upon all that heard, &c. To produce such a fear as should deter others from a like offence was God’s intention in this miracle of punishment. And St Luke seems to have pointed to the reason by making here for the first time any mention of “the church” (see note on Acts 2:47). The true ecclesia must be free from such hypocritical professors, or its work could not advance. The lesson was to be stamped into the hearts of all who were fit to be of “the church,” though at the same time it would strike deep into the minds of all others who learnt how the Spirit of God had punished the lying lips of those who sought the praise of men rather than that of God.
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.12–16. Miraculous powers of the Apostles. Continued growth of the Church
12. And by the hands of the apostles, &c.] By the hands may here only be the Hebrew mode of expressing by. Cp. (Joshua 14:2) “By lot was their inheritance as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.” But as in the description of our Lord’s miracles we very often read “he laid his hands upon a few sick folk” (Mark 6:5, &c.), and as it is said of the Apostles (Mark 16:18) “they shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover,” it seems better to understand the words here of such acts of imposition of hands, though we presently find (Acts 5:15) that the multitudes believed that a cure could be wrought without such an act.
and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch] This must refer to such assemblies as were held by the Apostles for conference and instruction when they went up at the usual times of prayer. Thus all will signify the whole company assembled on some such occasions, and not embrace every person who had joined the new teaching. They came to Solomon’s porch, both teachers and hearers, with one common purpose, to tell and know more of the religion of Jesus. But it is not necessary to interpret the sentence to signify that they took a regular possession of this cloister as their place for worship (see Acts 3:11).
And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.13. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them] The sentence seems to convey an opposition to what has been stated in Acts 5:12, and should begin with But. The sense intended is that the assemblies of Christians made the porch of Solomon their special rendezvous when they went up to the Temple, seeing that it was there that the first addresses in the Temple-precincts had been given by St Peter. And while they were so assembled none of the other people who had not yet joined the new community ventured to attach themselves intrusively to the Christian body. The verb κολλᾶσθαι is used of Philip (Acts 8:29) when he is commanded “Go near and join thyself to this chariot,” where the action meant by it is one that was to press some notice of Philip upon the eunuch. From such intrusion all who were not Christians held back, and left the worshippers in Solomon’s porch alone.
but the people magnified them] Render, howbeit the people, &c. This is necessary because we have taken but as the conjunction at the beginning of the verse. There are two different conjunctions in the original.
Although the people (= the rest, who were not of the Church) held back from pressing themselves among the congregation, yet they greatly praised them for the words and works of which they heard and saw.
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)14. And believers were the more added to the Lord] In the Greek it is clearly seen that the words rendered to the Lord belong quite as closely to believers as to were added. “Persons believing in the Lord were added to His Church.” The addition of this verse makes clear what has been said on Acts 5:13, that the joining there mentioned was an intrusion into the congregation when they were assembled for public instruction. For the increase of the Church was not hindered in any degree. The Christians were held in reverent regard, and the faith which they preached gained multitudes of adherents.
Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.15. Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets] Instead of the preposition into, the best authorities read even … into, “they even brought forth,” &c.
These words are a description of one way in which the new believers gave evidence of their faith. To bring a sick person on a couch to the presence of Jesus was accepted by Him (Mark 2:5) as a sign of true faith, and for the sake of the faith shewn by those who brought him the paralytic was made whole. So here, though we are not told of any cures wrought by the shadow of Peter, we may conclude that to the like faith God would give a like blessing.
and laid them on beds and couches] The warm climate making it possible for the sick to be exposed in the open air.
that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them] The order in the original is, that, as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might, &c. Peter is alone mentioned here because he was the most prominent figure, but we are not to conclude that no mighty works were done by the rest. These men who gave such an exhibition of faith have been described (Acts 5:14) as believers in the Lord. There can therefore be no question as to what they regarded as the power which was to heal their sick. They did not believe on Peter, though they magnified him as the Lord’s instrument; they did not ascribe healing power to Peter’s shadow, though it might please God to make that a sacrament of healing, as to Israel in old times He had made the brazen serpent. They had seen health bestowed through the Apostle by the name of Christ, and to demonstrate their faith in that name, they bring their afflicted friends into the way of salvation.
There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.16. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem] The best MSS. have no word for unto. The construction without that preposition would be and there came also together the multitude out of the cities round about Jerusalem. The use of the word city (πόλις) is common even when the places so called are very insignificant, as of Nazareth (Matthew 2:23), Nain (Luke 7:11), and Arimathæa (Luke 23:51).
bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits] It was recognized that the power of the Apostles extended not only to physical, but also to spiritual maladies. Indeed the whole history being of a supernatural character, the cures wrought on ordinary maladies were of the nature of signs and wonders, and spake of a power which was not human. The power here displayed is that which in Christ’s own life was confessed to be that of the Son of God (Luke 4:40-41).
The verb in the original for vexed is found only here and in Luke 6:18 in the N. T., and like the word rendered “gave up the ghost” (Acts 5:5; Acts 5:10), is used frequently in the works of Greek medical writers, so that it is such a word as we should expect to find a physician using in the description of this malady.
unclean spirits] are those which are called wicked in other parts of the New Testament (Matthew 12:45, &c.), and the former epithet is probably applied to them because the sufferer in his state of frenzy wandered into places where he would incur ceremonial defilement, as the demoniac who had his dwelling among the tombs (Mark 5:3), the latter on account of the evil effects so often patent in the condition of the afflicted person, as loss of speech, hearing and other senses, the belief of the Jews being that spirits afflicted with such maladies were the cause of the like affliction in human beings.
and they were healed every one] For it was only a complete faith which had prompted the bringing them unto the Apostles, and to such faith all things had been promised by Christ (Mark 9:23).
Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,17–32. Arrest of the Twelve. Their miraculous deliverance and their Defence before the Sanhedrin
17. Then the high priest rose up] The conjunction at the beginning of the sentence should be But. While the multitudes thronged to be healed, the effect on the authorities was to provoke them to opposition.
rose up] The Greek word is used in this chapter of the insurrections of Theudas and Judas (Acts 5:36-37) and in the next chapter (Acts 6:9) of the disputants with Stephen. It is often found without the sense of opposition which it has here and in those verses.
and all they that were with him] A phrase more comprehensive than that used in Acts 4:6, “as many as were of the kindred of the high priest.” The opposition has had time to gather its forces and now represents not only the family of Annas, but the heads of the party of the Sadducees.
which is the sect] The word is that which St Paul uses in his defence (Acts 24:14) before Felix, “after the way which they call heresy.” But he employs it without any sense of blame (Acts 26:5) about the Pharisees, and it is used of them also Acts 15:5. With a bad sense it is applied to the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5), and similarly Acts 28:22.
of the Sadducees] From Acts 5:21 it will be seen that the statement of Josephus concerning the influence of this sect is fully borne out (Antiq. xiii. 11. 6), for they had the rich on their side. We have no certain evidence in Scripture that Annas was a Sadducee, but Josephus (Antiq. xx. 9. 1) tells us that his son Ananus [or Annas] was of this sect.
and were filled with indignation] The word used to express their feeling might better be rendered jealousy. What the historian is describing is an outbreak of party-feeling. The whole influence of the Sadducean party is called forth by their antagonism to the doctrine of the resurrection and their envy of the growth of the new movement.
And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.18. and laid their hands on the apostles] The best MSS. omit their. The whole of the twelve are now seized, for the authorities are roused to activity. It is clear from this that, though St Luke has only mentioned the speeches of Peter, with some slight notice that John also was a speaker, yet all the Apostles were busy, and could have been quoted as preachers and teachers had it been any part of the compiler’s purpose to write a history of all the Apostles.
and put them in the common prison] The noun is the same as in Acts 4:3, and the notion—that of ward, as a place of temporary imprisonment till the formal summoning of the council next day—should here be preserved. Read, in public ward. Such confinement was only precautionary and formed no part of the punishment intended by the Sadducees.
But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,19. But the angel of the Lord] Better, an angel by night opened the prison-doors. As if for a protest against the actions of those who taught that “there was neither angel nor spirit.” There is no possibility of explaining St Luke’s words into anything but a miraculous deliverance. He gives no word that can be twisted into any other meaning. It was not an earthquake, it was not a friendly human being who interposed to procure the release of the Apostles. The writer readily acknowledges in this very chapter the intervention of Gamaliel and its effect, but he is here speaking of supernatural aid. If it be remarked that the Apostles make no mention of their miraculous deliverance when they are called upon for their defence, it may be answered that they in no case dwell on the miracles either wrought by or for them, except where they have been wrought under the eyes of men and are to be used as signs of the Divine power which was working in and for the Church. To enter on a description of a miracle which had been wrought as this deliverance had been, and to ground their claims to be beard upon circumstances of which the eyes of those to whom they spoke did not bear testimony, is foreign to the whole character of the Apostolic ministry.
Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.20. Go, stand and speak in the temple] There is a conjunction in the Greek which is not here expressed. Render, Go ye and stand and speak.
There was to be no attempt made to conceal their escape. They were to go back to the same place where their most frequent teachings had been given before, and they were to continue the same teaching. They are not directed to appeal to the multitude for sympathy, nor to try and excite any feeling against those who had arrested them.
to the people all the words of this life] Here we have another of the words by which St Luke emphasizes in the most natural manner the point at issue between the Sadducees and the Apostles.
this life] i.e. this future life, the promise of which has received its first fulfilment in the resurrection of Jesus. This was the teaching which the Sadducees could not tolerate, but which in spite of opposition was to be persisted in.
And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.21. early in the morning] The words indicate a time as soon as possible after day dawn. They lost no time in obeying the command. How early it was possible for them to come to the Temple we find from the directions in the Talmud concerning the morning sacrifice. It is said (Mishna Joma iii. 1), “The Memunneh (see note on Acts 4:1) said to them: Go ye out (on to the Temple wall or roof) and see whether the time for killing the sacrifice has arrived. If it had arrived, the out-looker said, ‘It has flashed forth’ (i.e. day has dawned). Matthia ben Shemuel said [that the form of question was] ‘Has the whole face of the east become lit up as far as to Hebron? And the man answered, Yes.’ So that the first sacrifice took place at the very peep of day.” A like explanation is found Mishna Tamid iii. 2.
But the high priest came] i.e. into the council chamber, to consult on what should be done with the prisoners, of whose release they had as yet heard nothing.
called the council together] This was evidently deemed a case of the utmost consequence, and all pains are bestowed to gather to the hearing the combined wisdom of the whole authorities, for now, as is seen from Gamaliel’s presence, not Sadducees alone were called. The word here rendered council means probably the smaller Sanhedrin.
and all the senate of the children of Israel] Senate is here used in its original sense = the older men, and is a literal rendering of the Greek gerousia, meaning the great Sanhedrin of 71 elders. The name indicates that these were assessors added to the council by reason of their age and weight of character. We find from the Jewish literature that such assessors were often appointed. In the extract Mishna Joma i. 1, quoted on Acts 4:6, the word for “assessors” is parhedrin, i.e. the Greek πάρεδροι, and the adoption of such a word into the Jewish vocabulary shews that the office was not Jewish in origin but had become so firmly grafted among them as to justify the adoption of a foreign expression to describe it.
But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,22. But when the officers came] The name may imply a military body or it may have been only some of the Levitical guard who were sent. The same word is used (Luke 4:20) of the “minister” of the synagogue.
Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.23. The prison truly found we shut] The word rendered truly is omitted in the best MSS.
and the keepers standing without before the doors] The best MSS. read, and the keepers standing at the doors. Of course they were unconscious that their charge was no longer there.
Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.24. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple] The best MSS. have only Now when the captain of the temple. The word which in the A. V. is rendered high priest is simply = priest, but the like usage is common enough in Hebrew.
On the captain of the temple, see Acts 4:1; and on chief priests, Acts 4:23.
heard these things] Better, these words. It refers simply to the report which the officers had just brought back.
they doubted of them whereunto this would grow] i.e. they were at a loss about what was said, and did not know what step to take next. It is worthy of notice that when the Apostles are brought before them in the end, the magistrates avoid all questions about how they had been released. They clearly wished to have no more testimony to the supernatural powers which had been so often manifested in connection with Jesus and His followers. Caiaphas and his party could not be ignorant how Jesus Himself had risen out of His grave to the great terror of the Jewish guard set over it. With the opinions these authorities held, we can quite understand their perplexity and their silence on the subject, at all events before the disciples and the multitude.
Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.25. Then came one and told them] Better, And there came, &c. The English then is often in such a position taken for an adverb of time.
The proceedings were evidently well known, and the hall of judgment was not far from where the Apostles were teaching at the very time.
are standing in the temple, and teaching the people] The order of the original should be preserved: are in the temple standing, &c., for the words look back to the command of the angel in Acts 5:20. This standing implies the prominent and undaunted position which the Apostles had taken up. They were not like prisoners who had escaped, and so were seeking a place to hide themselves; but like men whose work had been interfered with, and who, as soon as they were able, had come back to it again.
Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.26. without violence] Nor can we suppose that the Apostles were at all likely to offer resistance, for their examination before the council would afford them an opportunity of proclaiming the message of the Gospel.
lest they should have been stoned] We have already had evidence of the favour with which the disciples were looked upon by the people, and we can see from the account of the death of Stephen that the sudden outbreak of popular rage might result in the death of him against whom this feeling was displayed. And that the Jewish people were ready enough thus to take the law into their own hands, we can see from the Gospel history (John 10:31-33), and the parables of Jesus speak of such proceedings as though they were of no very rare occurrence (Matthew 21:35).
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,27. And when they had brought them] i.e. to the judgment hall.
Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.28. Did not we straitly command you] The best authorities have here an affirmative sentence, We straitly charged you. The charge had been given only to Peter and John, but the council assume that it would have been by them conveyed to the rest of the twelve.
that you should not teach in this name] They go at once to that which is the great offence in their eyes. The name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they knew to have been crucified, but who was proclaimed to be alive again, and whose followers manifested such mighty works, was the object against which their power was directed.
and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine] A testimony from the mouth of enemies that the Apostles had laboured diligently and successfully to fulfil the first portion of Christ’s command, that their preaching begin at Jerusalem.
and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us] Better, and ye wish to brings &c. It is a marvellous spectacle to see the judges take the place of culprits, and deprecate accusation where they would naturally be dealing out penalties. But the invocation of the people before Christ’s crucifixion, “His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matthew 27:25), was felt by the council to be likely to be brought to fulfilment.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.29. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said] The Greek has no word for other. It is quite like the style of the New Testament to say “Peter and the apostles,” and it is not implied hereby that Peter was excluded from the number of the Apostles, but, as he probably was the chief speaker, his name is singled out for prominence in the narrative (see note on Acts 4:6). Here again we have evidence that St Luke has made no attempt to do more than produce for us the substance of such speeches as he notices.
We ought to obey God rather than men] Better, We must, &c. In substance, though not in words, this is the argument used by Peter and John (Acts 4:19), though here more stress is laid upon the impossibility of doing otherwise than as they had begun.
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.30. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus] As Peter did in Acts 3:13, so here the Apostles point out that there is no severance of themselves from the worship of the Covenant God of Israel, but that they were teaching that His promise through Moses had now been fulfilled, for that in Jesus the promised prophet had appeared. Cp. Deuteronomy 18:15, and St Peter’s speech, Acts 3:22.
whom ye slew and hanged on a tree] Better, whom ye hanged on a tree and slew. This sentence describes the Roman, and not the Jewish mode of execution. With the latter people only those who were already dead were to be hanged (Deuteronomy 21:22; Joshua 10:26).
In the word which they use for slew the Apostles intimate that the guilt of the Crucifixion was as truly upon the Jews as if the act had been done by their hands, and not by those of the Roman soldiery.
The phrase hanged on a tree is used by St Peter again (Acts 10:39), and by nobody else in the N. T. He also has a similar expression, tree for cross (1 Peter 2:24), “He bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”
Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.31. Him hath God exalted with his right hand] The right hand is the symbol of might. Cf. Exodus 15:6, and “His right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory” (Psalm 98:1).
to be a Prince and a Saviour] Mark how with the claim of sovereignty there is closely joined the promise of salvation. If Christ seeks to rule over men it is that He may save them.
for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins] Thus offering the way of salvation to all those who were ready to accept it. These words to a Jew would have great significance, for they had a saying (T. B. Sanhedrin 113 a) that salvation was one of the things which God kept in His own power. If Christ then was to bestow this gift on Israel He must be owned by them as God.
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.32. And we are his witnesses of these things] The best texts omit his, while some ancient authorities add in him in place of his.
these things] i.e. the Crucifixion and the Resurrection and Ascension.
and so is also the Holy Ghost] Also is not found in the best MSS. Christ had said, while alive, concerning the Holy Ghost, “He shall testify of me” (John 15:26). This He did in the minds of the Apostles by “bringing all things to their remembrance,” and enlightening them to see how Christ’s life had fulfilled the prophecies, and also in the mighty powers which through the outpouring of the Spirit they now possessed.
whom God hath given to them that obey him] Thus the disciples declare that the obedience to God, which at the outset (Acts 5:29) they had proclaimed as their bounden duty, was also the reason why the Holy Ghost had been bestowed upon them, and leaving it to be gathered that what God has done He will do again, and bestow His gifts of grace on those who are willing to obey Him.
When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.33–42. Effect of the Apostles’ defence. Counsel of Gamaliel. Release and subsequent conduct of the Twelve
33. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart] There is no Greek here for to the hearty, but as in the only other place in the N. T. where this verb is found (Acts 7:54) those words are added to it, it is best here to supply them to complete the sense, which is the same here as in that passage. The effect described is not the compunction which leads to penitence, but the annoyance that results in more furious anger.
and took counsel to slay them] The best texts read, and wished to slay them. So to get rid of the fear of one man’s blood being brought upon them, they would take the lives of twelve more.
Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;34. Then stood there up one in the council] Better, But there stood up, &c. See note on Acts 5:25.
a Pharisee, named Gamaliel] It may very well be believed that some small sympathy towards the Christian teachers would be roused in the breast of a Pharisee, because they maintained, as he did, the doctrine of a resurrection, but there is nothing in the speech of this Pharisee beyond a policy of inactivity.
This Gamaliel, called here a doctor of the law, is no doubt the same person who is mentioned (Acts 22:3) as the teacher of St Paul. He is known in Jewish writings as Gamaliel ha-Zaken (i.e. the older), and was the grandson of Hillel. He was alive during the time when Herod was beautifying the Temple. For in Tosephta Shabbath xiv. (ed. Lemberg) we read, “Rabbi Jose said, It happened that Rabbi Khalaphta went to Rabban Gamaliel (the younger, and grandson of the Gamaliel in our text) to Tiberias, and found him sitting at the table of Rabbi Jochanan ben-Nozâph, and in his (Gamaliel’s) hand was the book of Job in Targum (i.e. in the Chaldee paraphrase), and he (Gamaliel) was reading in it. Rabbi Khalaphta said to him, I remember concerning Rabban Gamaliel the elder, the father of thy father, that he was sitting on a step in the Temple mount, and they brought before him the book of Job, in Targum, and he said to the builder, “Sink it (bury it) under this course of the wall.” This could only have been when the walls were in building.
Gamaliel is said to have died 18 years before the Temple was destroyed.
In T. B. Abodah Zarah 11 a, in allusion to the custom of burning beds, clothes, and other things, at the funerals of great men (see Jeremiah 34:5), it is said, “When Rabban Gamaliel the elder died, Onkelos the proselyte burned in his honour the worth of 70 minæ of Tyrian money.”
So great was Gamaliel’s fame that we read (Mishna Sotah ix. 15) when he died “the glory of the Torah ceased, and purity and sanctity died out also.” We can therefore understand that he was “had in reputation among all the people.”
and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space] Instead of the apostles, the best authorities have the men. He wished them to be removed for a short time from the council room, that the conversation of himself and his colleagues might be the more unrestrained.
And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.35. Ye men of Israel] It has been remarked upon the frequent occurrence of this and similar formulæ in the introduction of speeches in the Acts, that they are evidence that the speeches themselves are the composition of the writer of the book, and are only his own thoughts of the matter put into the mouths of the various speakers. After what has been said on the character of all the speeches, that they make no attempt to set before us all that was said on each occasion, but only the substance of what St Luke had received from eye and ear-witnesses, it can in no wise detract from the substantial veracity of all that is reported, if we find the compiler of the Acts, who was himself a Greek, giving the usual Greek form of introduction to the speeches of which he has shewn so often that he intends to supply only an outline.
take heed to yourselves] The phrase implies that thought is required before any action be taken. It is not, as the English words are sometimes taken to be, a warning against some danger which was impending.
For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.36. For before these days rose up Theudas] Gamaliel proceeds to give illustrations that mere pretenders will come to naught. But about the mention of Theudas much discussion has been raised, because it is declared that the statements of Gamaliel contradict the facts recorded by Josephus, and therefore cannot be received as historic. In this way discredit would be thrown on all the rest of his speech.
It is true that Josephus mentions a Theudas (Antiq. xx. 5. 1) who rose up and professed himself a prophet, in the time when Fadus was procurator of Judæa, about a.d. 45 or 46, and persuaded a great part of the people to take their goods and follow him to the river Jordan, through which he promised he would afford them a miraculous passage. This man, who with many of his followers was destroyed, could clearly not be the leader of the revolt which took place before that raised by Judas of Galilee in the time of the taxing which took place some few years after our Lord was born. But when we turn to the history which Josephus gives of the events which preceded this rebellion of Judas we find him saying (Antiq. xvii. 10. 4), “At this time [i.e. in the days when Varus was president of Syria] there were ten thousand other disorders in Judæa, which were like tumults.” Of these innumerable disturbances he gives account of no more than four, but presently in the same chapter says: “Judæa was full of robberies, and whenever the several companies of the rebels could light upon any one to head them, he was created a king immediately.” Then in a brief space after (Antiq xviii. 1. 1) Josephus proceeds to mention Judas of Galilee, though he calls him sometimes (Antiq xviii. 1. 6; xx. 5. 2; B. J. ii. 8. 1, and 17. 8) a Galilean and sometimes a Gaulonite (xviii. 1. 1), and his rebellion in the days of the taxing. Now amid so many outbreaks, spoken of but not described, there is no violence in supposing that one may have been led by a Theudas, a name not very uncommon, and thus the order of events as stated by Gamaliel would be perfectly correct. The great multitude of the followers of the later Theudas indicates a far larger number than the four hundred of whom Gamaliel speaks. Moreover while Gamaliel’s Theudas was killed and his followers dispersed, Josephus says that many of the adherents of his Theudas were slain, and many taken prisoners. There seems, therefore, more reason to identify this Theudas of whom mention is made by Gamaliel with some of the ten thousand rebels whom Josephus speaks of before the time of the census, than to suppose that Gamaliel, who is correct in his account of Judas, has mentioned in the other case a rebel who did not rise till long after the time of which he is speaking.
That such false leaders were numerous and had caused a terror in the minds of the more thoughtful among the Jews we can see from the Jewish literature which has come down to us. Thus (T. B. Sanhedrin 97 b) Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachmani on the authority of Rabbi Jonathan, expounding Habakkuk 2:3, says, “It means, may his spirit be blown away (perish) whosoever over-anxiously calculates about the ends. For people have said [in consequence of such calculations] when the end [so calculated] came, and he [Messiah] did not come, that he would never come at all. Yet wait anxiously for him, for it says if he tarry wait anxiously for him.” We have here the despairing echo of Gamaliel’s words, “Let them alone.”
boasting himself to be somebody] Literally, saying that he was, &c. Of course each one of these leaders professed himself to be the Messiah, for that was what the people in their distress were ever looking for.
After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.37. Judas of Galilee] With this account agrees the history of Josephus (Antiq. xviii. 1. 1), except that, as has been already noticed, he calls Judas a Gaulonite, but as when speaking of the same man again (xx. 5. 2) he calls him Judas of Galilee, and in the same sentence alludes to the history before narrated “as we have shewn in a foregoing book,” we can have no hesitation in accepting Gamaliel’s story as the correct one, while at the same time we may learn from this example what value we ought to place on the accuracy of Josephus when we have to weigh his statements against those of the New Testament.
in the days of the taxing] Not the same which is mentioned Luke 2:2. That was rather an enrolment or census-taking preliminary to taxation. The revolt of Judas, about seven years later, was caused by the actual imposition of a tax. Josephus says of it (xviii. 1. 1): “Cyrenius came into Judæa to take an account of their substance,” and afterwards “Judas said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty.”
drew away much people after him] The Greek word rendered much is wanting in the best MSS. Read, drew away [some of the] people after him.
he also perished] Josephus gives no notice of the fate of Judas and his party, though he mentions the revolt several times and says (B. J. ii. 8. 1) that this “Judas was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own.
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:38. it will come to nought] As the verb is the same as that in the following verse it is better to render, it will be overthrown.
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.39. but if it be of God] The verb is not in the same mood as in the previous clause, and had the construction been in classical Greek, it might have indicated some opinion on Gamaliel’s part of the truth of Christianity = “If it is [as it is] of God.” But in the N. T. the construction indicates no more than a simple conditional. Yet to mark the difference of phrase, read here, But if it is of God.
ye cannot overthrow it] The best authorities read, ye will not be able to overthrow it.
lest haply ye be found, &c.] The clause depends on, “Take heed to yourselves …” (Acts 5:35).
And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.40. and when they had called the apostles] i.e. back again to the judgment-hall.
and beaten them] As the guilty parties in the controversy (see Deuteronomy 25:1-3).
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.41. worthy to suffer shame] The Apostles count as their glory what the world would count as shame, cp. Galatians 6:14, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This figure of speech (called oxymoron, and consisting in the effective contrast of words apparently opposite) is common in the New Testament. Cp. 2 Corinthians 6:8-10.
for his name] Read with the best authorities, for the Name. That name of which St Peter had said (Acts 4:12), “There is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.42. And daily in the temple, and in every house] Read, as in Acts 2:46, in the temple and at home. These are their two fields of labour, in the Temple, while they may be there, and then in their own houses; and it may be that some would not be able to go to the Temple, yet these at home were teachers still.
Jesus Christ] Better, Jesus the Christ, i.e. the anointed, the Messiah. This is the Name of Acts 5:41.