Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,IV.
(1) The priests, and the captain of the temple.—For the first time in this book, we come across the chief agents in the condemnation passed on our Lord by the Sanhedrin. A few weeks or months had gone by, and they were congratulating themselves on having followed the advice of Caiaphas (John 11:48). They knew that the body of Jesus had disappeared from the sepulchre, and they industriously circulated the report that the disciples had stolen it (Matthew 28:13-15). They must have heard something of the Day of Pentecost—though there is no evidence of their having been present as spectators or listeners—and of the growth of the new society. Now the two chief members of the company of those disciples were teaching publicly in the very portico of the Temple. What were they to do? The “captain of the Temple” (see Note on Luke 22:4) was the head of the band of Levite sentinels whose function it was to keep guard over the sacred precincts. He, as an inspector, made his round by night, visited all the gates, and roused the slumberers. His presence implied that the quiet order of the Temple was supposed to be endangered. In 2 Maccabees 3:4, however, we have a “captain,” or “governor of the Temple” of the tribe of Benjamin.
The Sadducees.—The higher members of the priesthood, Annas and Caiaphas, were themselves of this sect (Acts 5:17). They had already been foremost in urging the condemnation of Christ in the meetings of the Sanhedrin. The shame of having been put to silence by Him (Matthew 22:34) added vindictiveness to the counsels of a calculating policy. Now they found His disciples preaching the truth which they denied, and proclaiming it as attested by the resurrection of Jesus. Throughout the Acts the Sadducees are foremost as persecutors. The Pharisees temporise, like Gamaliel, or profess themselves believers. (Comp. Acts 5:34; Acts 15:5; Acts 23:7.)
Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.(2) Being grieved.—The verb is one which expresses something like an intensity of trouble and vexation. (Comp. Acts 16:18.)
Preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.—Literally, preached in Jesus—i.e., in this as the crucial instance in which the resurrection of the dead had been made manifest. (Comp. the close union of “Jesus and the resurrection” in Acts 17:18.)
And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.(3) It was now eventide.—The narrative started, it will be remembered, from 3 P.M. (Acts 3:1). The “eventide” began at 6 P.M.
Put them in hold.—Literally, in custody. In Acts 5:18, the word is translated “prison.” The old noun survives in our modern word “strong-hold.”
Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.(4) The number of the men was about five thousand.—Better, became, or was made up to, about five thousand. It seems probable, though not certain, that St. Luke meant this as a statement of the aggregate number of disciples, not of those who were converted on that day. As in the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:21), women and children were not included. The number was probably ascertained, as on that occasion, by grouping those who came to baptism and to the breaking of bread by hundreds and by fifties (Mark 6:40). The connection in which the number is given makes it probable that it represents those who, under the influence of the impression made by the healing of the cripple and by St. Peter’s speech, attended the meetings of the Church that evening. The coincidence of the numbers in the two narratives could scarcely fail to lead the disciples to connect the one with the other, and to feel, as they broke the bread and blessed it, that they were also giving men the true bread from heaven.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes,(5) And it came to pass on the morrow . . .—Better, that there were gathered together the rulers, elders, and scribes in Jerusalem. The two last words are misplaced in the English version by being transferred to the end of the next verse. The later MSS. give, however, unto Jerusalem. The meeting was obviously summoned, like that of Matthew 26:5, to consider what course was necessary in face of the new facts that had presented themselves, and was probably the first formal meeting of the Sanhedrin that had been held since the trial of our Lord. On its constitution, see Notes on Matthew 5:22; Matthew 26:57; Matthew 27:1. This meeting would, of course, include the Pharisee section of the scribes as well as the Sadducees.
And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.(6) And Annas the high priest . . .—These are mentioned by themselves as representing the section that had probably convened the meeting, and came in as if to dominate its proceedings. The order of the first two names is the same as in Luke 3:2, and as that implied in John 18:13; John 18:24. Annas, or Ananus, had been made high priest by Quirinus, the Governor of Syria, filled the office A.D. 7-15, and lived to see five of his sons occupy it after him. At this time, Joseph Caiaphas was the actual high priest (see Note on John 11:49), having been appointed in A.D. 17. He was deposed A.D. 37. He had married the daughter of Annas; and the latter seems to have exercised a dominant influence, perhaps, as the Nasi, the Prince, or President, of the Sanhedrin, during the remainder of his life. If he presided on this occasion, it may explain St. Luke’s calling him “the high priest.”
John.—This may have been the Johanan ben Zaccai, who is reported by Jewish writers to have been at the height of his fame forty years before the destruction of the Temple, and to have been President of the Great Synagogue after its removal to Jamnia. The identification is, at the best, uncertain; but the story told of his death-bed, in itself full of pathos, becomes, on this assumption, singularly interesting. His disciples asked him why he wept: “O light or Israel, . . . . whence these tears?” And he replied: “If I were going to appear before a king of flesh and blood, he is one who to-day is and to-morrow is in the grave; if he were wroth with me, his wrath is not eternal; if he were to cast me into chains, those chains are not for ever; if he slay me, that death is not eternal; I might soothe him with words or appease him with a gift. But they are about to bring me before the King of kings, the Lord, the Holy and Blessed One, who liveth and abideth for ever. And if He is wroth with me, His wrath is eternal; and if He bind, His bonds are eternal; if He slay, it is eternal death; and Him I cannot soothe with words or appease with gifts. And besides all this, there are before me two paths, one to Paradise and the other to Gehenna, and I know not in which they are about to lead me. How can I do aught else but weep?” (Bab-Beracoth, fol. 28, in Lightfoot: Cent.-Chorogr., Acts 15)
Alexander.—This name has been identified by many scholars with Alexander, the brother of Philo, the Alabarch, or magistrate of Alexandria (Jos. Ant. xviii. 8, § 1; xix. 5, § 1). There is, however, not the shadow of any evidence for the identification.
As many as were of the kindred of the high priest.—The same phrase is used by Josephus (Ant. xv. 3, § 1), and may mean either those who were personally related by ties of blood with the high priest for the time being, or the heads of the four-and-twenty courses of priests. (See Notes on Matthew 2:4; Luke 1:5.) All these had probably taken part in our Lord’s condemnation.
And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?(7) And when they had set them in the midst.—The Sanhedrin sat in a semi-circle, the president being in the middle of the arc, the accused standing in the centre.
They asked.—Literally, were asking. They put the question repeatedly, in many varying forms.
By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?—Literally, By what kind of power, or what kind of name? apparently in a tone of contempt. They admit the fact that the lame man had been made to walk, as too patent to be denied. (Comp. Acts 4:16.) The question implied a suspicion that it was the effect of magic, or, as in the case of our Lord’s casting out devils, by the power of Beelzebub (Luke 11:15; John 8:48). There is a touch of scorn in the way in which they speak of the thing itself. They will not as yet call it a “sign,” or “wonder,” but “have ye done this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,(8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost.—The tense implies an immediate sudden inspiration, giving the wisdom and courage and words which were needed at the time. The promises of Matthew 10:19-20, Luke 21:14-15, were abundantly fulfilled. The coincidence of names in the juxtaposition of the representatives of the new and the older Israel is striking. On each side there was a John; on each a Cephas, or Caiaphas, the two names possibly coming from the same root, or, at any rate, closely alike in sound. A few weeks back Peter had quailed before the soldiers and servants in the high priest’s palace. Now he stands before the Sanhedrin and speaks, in the language of respect, it is true, but also in that of unflinching boldness. We may, perhaps, trace a greater deference in the language of the Galilean fisherman, “Ye rulers of the people,” than in the “Men and brethren” of St. Paul (Acts 23:1; Acts 23:6), who was more familiar with the members of the court, and stood in less awe of them.
If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole;(9) If we this day be examined.—The word is employed in its technical sense of a judicial inter rogation, as in Luke 23:14. It is used by St. Luke and St. Paul (Acts 12:19; Acts 24:8; 1Corinthians 2:14-15; 1Corinthians 4:3-4), and by them only, in the New Testament.
Of the good deed.—Strictly, the act of beneficence. There is a manifest emphasis on the word as contrasted with the contemptuous “this thing” of the question. It meets us again in 1Timothy 6:2.
By what means he is made whole.—Better, this man. The pronoun assumes the presence of the man who had been made able to walk. (Comp. John 9:15.) The verb, as in our Lord’s words, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (Mark 10:52; Luke 7:50), has a pregnant, underlying meaning, suggesting the thought of a spiritual as well as bodily restoration.
Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.(10) By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified.—The boldness of the declaration was startling. He does not shrink now from confessing the Nazarene as the Messiah. He presses home the fact that, though Pilate had given the formal sentence, it was they who had crucified their King. He proclaims that He has been raised from the dead, and is still as a Power working to heal as when on earth.
This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.(11) This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders.—Better, of you, the builders. The members of the Council to whom Peter spoke had heard those words (Psalm 118:22) quoted and interpreted before. (See Notes on Matthew 21:42-44.) Then they had thought, in their blindness, that they could defy the warning. They, by their calling, the builders of the Church of Israel, did reject the stone which God had chosen to be the chief corner-stone—the stone on which the two walls of Jew and Gentile met and were bonded together (Ephesians 2:20). Here again the Epistles of St. Peter reproduce one of the dominant thoughts of his speeches (1Peter 2:6-8), and give it a wider application. Thirty years after he thus spoke, Christ was still to him as “the head of the corner.”
Set at nought.—St. Peter does not quote the Psalm, but alludes to it with a free variation of language. The word for “set at nought” is characteristic of St. Luke (Luke 18:9; Luke 23:11) and St. Paul (Romans 14:3; Romans 14:10, et al.).
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.(12) Neither is there salvation in any other.—Here the pregnant force of “hath been made whole,” in Acts 4:9, comes out; and St. Peter rises to its highest meaning, and proclaims a salvation, not from disease and infirmity of body, but from the great disease of sin. The Greek has the article before “salvation.” That of which Peter spoke was the salvation which the rulers professed to be looking for.
Given among men.—Better, that has been given. The words must be taken in the sense which Peter had learnt to attach to the thought of the Name as the symbol of personality and power. To those to whom it had been made known, and who had taken in all that it embodied, the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth was the one true source of deliverance and salvation. Speaking for himself and the rulers, Peter rightly says that it is the Name “whereby we must be saved.” Where it is not so known, it rises to its higher significance as the symbol of a divine energy; and so we may rightly say that the heathen who obtain salvation are saved by the Name of the Lord of whom they have never heard. (Comp. 1Timothy 4:13.)
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.(13) When they saw the boldness of Peter and John.—John, so far as we read, had not spoken, but look and bearing, and, perhaps, unrecorded words, showed that he too shared Peter’s courage. That “boldness of speech” had been characteristic of his Lord’s teaching (Mark 8:32; John 7:13). It was now to be the distinctive feature of that of the disciples: here of Peter; in Acts 28:31, 2Corinthians 3:12; 2Corinthians 7:4, of St. Paul; in 1John 4:17; 1John 5:14, of the beloved disciple. It is, perhaps, characteristic that the last named uses it not of boldness of speech towards men, but of confidence in approaching God. The Greek word for “when they saw” implies “considering” as well as beholding; that for “perceived” would be better expressed by having learnt, or having ascertained. The Greek verb implies, not direct perception, but the grasp with which the mind lays hold of a fact after inquiry. In Acts 25:5, it is rightly translated “when I found.”
Unlearned and ignorant.—The first of the two words means, literally, unlettered. Looking to the special meaning of the “letters” or “Scriptures” of the Jews, from which the scribes took their name (grammateis, from grammata), it would convey, as used here the sense of “not having been educated as a scribe, not having studied the Law and other sacred writings.” It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The second word means literally, a private person, one without special office or calling, or the culture which they imply: what in English might be called a “common man.” It appears again in 1Corinthians 14:16; 1Corinthians 14:23-24, with the same meaning. Its later history is curious enough to be worth noting. The Vulgate, instead of translating the Greek word, reproduced it, with scarcely an alteration, as idiota. It thus passed into modem European languages with the idea of ignorance and incapacity closely attached to it, and so acquired its later sense of “idiot.”
They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.—Better, they began to recognise. The tense is in the imperfect, implying that one after another of the rulers began to remember the persons of the two Apostles as they had seen them with their Master in the Temple. These two, and these two alone, may have been seen by many of the Council on that early dawn of the day of the Crucifixion in the court-yard of the high priest’s palace (John 18:15).
And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.(14) They could say nothing against it.—Literally, they had nothing to say against it.
Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.(16) What shall we do to these men?—The question now debated was clearly one that never ought to have been even asked. They were sitting as a Court of Justice, and should have given their verdict for or against the accused according to the evidence. They abandon that office, and begin discussing what policy was most expedient. It was, we may add, characteristic of Caiaphas to do so (John 11:49-50).
A notable miracle.—Literally, sign.
We cannot deny it.—The very form of the sentence betrays the will, though there is not the power.
But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.(17) Let us straitly threaten them.—The Greek gives literally, let us threaten them with threats. The phrase gives the Hebrew idiom for expressing intensity by reduplication, as in “blessing I will bless thee” (Genesis 22:17), “dying thou shalt die” (Genesis 2:17, marg.), and, as far as it goes, indicates that St. Luke translated from a report of the speech which Caiaphas had delivered in Aramaic. It is a perfectly possible alternative that the High Priest, speaking in Greek, reproduced, as the LXX, often does, the old Hebrew formula.
And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.(18) Not to speak at all.—The Greek is even more forcible: absolutely not to utter . . . The very name of Jesus was not to pass their lips.
But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.(19) Whether it be right in the sight of God . . .—The words assert the right of conscience, recognising a divine authority, to resist a human authority which opposes it. In theory, as the appeal “judge ye” showed even then, the right so claimed is of the nature of an axiom. In practice, the difficulty rises in the question, Is there the divine authority which is claimed? And the only practical answer is to be found in the rule, that men who believe they have the authority are bound to act as if they had it. If the Lord God hath spoken to them, they can but prophesy (Amos 3:8). In cases such as this, where the question is one of witness to facts, they must not tamper with the truth, if they believe themselves commissioned by God to declare the facts, for fear of offending men. When they pass from facts to doctrines inferred from facts, from doctrines to opinions, from opinions to conjectures, the duty of not saying that which they do not believe remains the same, but there is not the same obligation to proclaim what they thus hold in various stages of assent. There may be cases in which reticence is right as well as politic. And even in regard to facts, the publication—as law recognises in relation to libels—must not be gratuitous. There must be an adequate authority, or an adequate reason for disobedience to the human authority, which is binding until it is superseded by that which is higher than itself. And the onus probandi rests on the man who asserts the higher authority. Intensity of conviction may be enough for himself, but it cannot be expected that it will be so for others. In the absence of signs and wonders the question must be discussed on the wide ground of Reason and of Conscience, and the man who refuses to enter into debate on that ground because he is certain he is right is ipso facto convicted of an almost insane egotism. The words have clearly no bearing on the “froward retention” of a custom which God has not enjoined and a lawful authority has forbidden.
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.(20) We cannot but speak . . .—The pronoun is emphatic: “we, for our part” . . . The question at issue was one of bearing witness, and that witness they had received a special command to bear (Acts 1:8).
So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.(21) All men glorified God . . .—The tense implies continued action. It is specially characteristic of St. Luke thus to note the impression made upon the people by signs and wonders (Luke 2:20; Luke 4:15; and in seven other passages).
For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.(22) The man was above forty years old.—This precision in noting the duration of disease or infirmity is again characteristic of the writer. Comp. the case of the woman with an issue of blood (Luke 8:43); of Æneas (Acts 9:33); of the cripple at Lystra (Acts 14:8).
And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.(23) They went to their own company.—Literally, their own people. The statement implies a recognised place of meeting, where the members of the new society met at fixed times.
All that the chief priests.—The word is probably used in its more extended meaning, as including, not only Annas and Caiaphas, but the heads of the four-and-twenty courses (see Note on Matthew 2:4), and others who were members of the Sanhedrin.
And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:(24) They lifted up their voice to God with one accord.—The phrase seems to imply an intonation, or chant, different from that of common speech (Acts 14:11; Acts 22:22). The joint utterance described may be conceived as the result either (1) of a direct inspiration, suggesting the same words to all who were present; (2) of the people following St. Peter, clause by clause; (3) of the hymn being already familiar to the disciples. On the whole, (2) seems the most probable, the special fitness of the hymn for the occasion being against (3), and (1) involving a miracle of so startling a nature that we can hardly take it for granted without a more definite statement. The recurrence of St. Luke’s favourite phrase (see Note on Acts 1:14) should not be passed over.
Lord.—The Greek word is not the common one for Lord (Kyrios), but Despotes, the absolute Master of the Universe. It is a coincidence worth noting that, though but seldom used of God in the New Testament, it occurs again, as used by the two Apostles who take part in it, as in 2Peter 2:1, and Revelation 6:10. (See Note on Luke 2:29.) In the Greek version of the Old Testament it is found applied to the Angel of Jehovah in Joshua 5:14, and to Jehovah Himself in Proverbs 29:25. The hymn has the special interest of being the earliest recorded utterance of the praises of the Christian Church. As such, it is significant that it begins, as so many of the Psalms begin, with setting forth the glory of God as the Creator, and rises from that to the higher redemptive work. More strict, “the heaven, the earth, and the sea,” each region of creation being contemplated in its distinctness.
Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?(25) Who by the mouth of thy servant David . . . .—The older MSS. present many variations of the text. It probably stood originally somewhat in this form: “Who through the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David our father, thy servant,” and was simplified by later copyists. In the citation from Psalms 2 we have another lesson from the Apostles’ school of prophetic interpretation. The Psalm is not cited in the Gospels. Here what seems to us the most striking verse (Acts 4:7) of it is passed over, and it does not appear as referred to Christ till we find it in Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5.
Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine . . .?—Neither noun has the article in the Greek or in the Hebrew. Why did nations rage and peoples imagine . . .? The word for “rage” is primarily applied to animal ferocity, especially to that of untamed horses.
The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.(26) And against his Christ.—The question whether the word “Christ” should be used as a proper name, or translated, is commonly answered by accepting the former alternative. Here, perhaps, to maintain the connection with the Psalm and with the verb in the next verse, it would be better to say, “against His Anointed.” The “Lord” stands, of course, for the Supreme Deity of the Father.
For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,(27) Of a truth. . . .—Many of the better MSS. add the words “in this city.”
Both Herod, and Pontius Pilate.—The narrative of Herod’s share in the proceedings connected with the Passion is, it will be remembered, found only in Luke 23:8-12. So far as the hymn here recorded may be considered as an independent evidence, the two present an undesigned coincidence.
With the Gentiles, and the people of Israel.—Even here the nouns are, in the Greek, without an article. The “peoples” (the Greek noun is plural) are rightly defined, looking to the use of the Hebrew word, as those of Israel.
For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.(28) To do whatsoever thy hand. . . .—The great problem of the relation of the divine purpose to man’s free agency is stated (as before in Acts 1:16; Acts 2:23), without any attempt at a philosophical solution. No such solution is indeed possible. If we admit a Divine Will at all, manifesting itself in the government of the world, in the education of man kind, in the salvation of individual souls, we must follow the example of the Apostle, and hold both the facts of which consciousness and experience bear their witness, without seeking for a logical formula of reconciliation. In every fact of history, no less than in the great fact of which St. Peter speaks, the will of each agent is free, and he stands or falls by the part he has taken in it; and yet the outcome of the whole works out some law of evolution, some “increasing purpose,” which we recognise as we look back on the course of the events, the actors in which were impelled by their own base or noble aims, their self-interest or their self-devotion. As each man looks back on his own life he traces a sequence visiting him with a righteous retribution, and leading him, whether he obeyed the call, or resisted it, to a higher life, an education no less than a probation. “Man proposes, God disposes.” “God works in us, therefore we must work.” Aphorisms such as these are the nearest approximation we can make to a practical; though not a theoretical, solution of the great mystery.
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,(29) And now, Lord, behold their threatenings.—The context shows that the prayer of the Church is addressed to the Father. The Apostles, who had shown “boldness of speech” (Acts 4:13), pray, as conscious of their natural weakness, for a yet further bestowal of that gift, as being now more than ever needed, both for themselves and the whole community.
By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.(30) By stretching forth thine hand to heal.—There seems something like an intentional assonance in the Greek words which St. Luke uses—iāsis (healing) and Jesus (pronounced Iesus)—as though he would indicate that the very name of Jesus witnessed to His being the great Healer. A like instance of the nomen et omen idea is found in the identification by Tertullian (Apol. c. 3) of Christos and Chrestos (good, or gracious), of which we have, perhaps, a foreshadowing in 1Peter 2:3. (Comp. also Acts 9:34.)
Thy holy child Jesus.—Better, as before, Servant. (See Note on Acts 3:13.)
And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.(31) The place was shaken. . . .—The impression on the senses was so far a renewal of the wonder of the Day of Pentecost, but in this instance without the sign of the tongues of fire, which were the symbols of a gift imparted once for all, and, perhaps also, without the special marvel of the utterance of the tongues. The disciples felt the power of the Spirit, the evidence of sense confirming that of inward, spiritual consciousness, and it came in the form for which they had made a special supplication, the power to speak with boldness the word which they were commissioned to speak.
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.(32) And the multitude of them that believed.—Literally, And the heart and the soul of the multitude of those that believed were one. Of the two words used to describe the unity of the Church, “heart” represented, as in Hebrew usage, rather the intellectual side of character (Mark 2:6; Mark 2:8; Mark 11:23; Luke 2:35; Luke 3:15; Luke 6:45, et al.), and “soul,” the emotional (Luke 2:35; Luke 12:22; John 12:27, et al.). As with most like words, however, they often overlap each other, and are used together to express the totality of character without minute analysis. The description stands parallel with that of Acts 2:42-47, as though the historian delighted to dwell on the continuance, as long as it lasted, of that ideal of a common life of equality and fraternity after which philosophers had yearned, in which the rights of property, though not abolished, were, by the spontaneous action of its owners, made subservient to the law of love, and benevolence was free and full, without the “nicely calculated less or more” of a later and less happy time. The very form of expression implies that the community of goods was not compulsory. The goods still belonged to men, but they did not speak of them as their own. They had learned, as from our Lord’s teaching (Luke 16:10-14), to think of themselves, not as possessors, but as stewards.
And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.(33) With great power gave the apostles witness.—The Greek verb implies the idea of paying or rendering what was due, as in Matthew 22:11. They were doing that which they were bound to do.
Great grace was upon them.—The words may stand parallel with Luke 2:40 as meaning that the grace of God was bestowed upon the disciples in full measure, or with Acts 2:47 as stating that the favour of the people towards them still continued. There are no sufficient data for deciding the question, and it must be left open. The English versions all give “grace,” as if accepting the highest meaning, as do most commentators.
Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,(34) Neither was there any among them that lacked.—Better, perhaps, any one in need.
Sold them, and brought the prices.—Both words imply continuous and repeated action. It is possible that besides the strong impulse of love, they were impressed, by their Lord’s warnings of wars and coming troubles, with the instability of earthly possessions. Landed property in Palestine was likely to be a source of anxiety rather than profit, As Jeremiah had shown his faith in the future restoration of his people by purchasing the field at Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:6-15), so there was, in this sale of their estates, a proof of faith in the future desolation which their Master had foretold (Matthew 24:16-21).
And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.(35) And laid them down at the apostles’ feet,—The words are a vivid picture of one phase of Eastern life. When gifts or offerings are made to a king, or priest, or teacher, they are not placed in his hands, but at his feet. The Apostles sat, it would seem, in conclave, on their twelve seats, as in the figurative promise of Matthew 19:28, and the vision of Revelation 4:4.
And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,(36) And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas.—The better MSS. give the name as Joseph. It is possible, as Rabbinic writers often give Jose for Joseph, that both were but different forms, like Simon and Simeon, of the same name. The later friendship between the Levite of Cyprus and St. Paul makes it probable that there had been some previous companionship (see Notes on Acts 9:27; Acts 11:25), and it may well have been that he was sent from Cyprus to receive his education in the famous schools of Tarsus, or practised with Saul in early life the craft of tent-making, for which Tarsus was famous, and in which they were afterwards fellow-labourers (1Corinthians 9:6). As a Levite he had probably taken his place in the ministries of the Temple, and may, therefore, have been among our Lord’s actual hearers. His relation Mary, the mother of John surnamed Marcus, was, we know, living at Jerusalem. (See Note on Acts 12:12; Colossians 4:10.) A tradition, as early as Clement of Alexandria (Strom. ii. § 116), makes him one of the Seventy, and this agrees with the prophetic character which we have seen reason to think of as attaching to that body. (See. Note on Luke 10:1.) The new name which the Apostles gave him, literally, if we look to its Hebrew etymology, The son of prophecy, or, taking St. Luke’s translation, The son of counsel, implies the possession of a special gift of persuasive utterance, in which the Apostles recognised the work of the Spirit. The Paraclete had endowed him with the gift of paraclesis, in the sense in which that word included counsel, comfort, admonition, application of divine truth to the spiritual necessities of men. (See Excursus G. on St. John’s Gospel.) In Acts 11:23, we find him exhorting the Gentile converts at Antioch, the verb being that from which paraclesis is derived. He was, i.e., conspicuous for the gift of prophecy as that gift is described in 1Corinthians 14:3. The several stages in his life come before us later. An Epistle bearing his name, and recognised as his by Clement of Alexandria and Origen, is still extant, but its authenticity is, to say the least, questionable. It consists mainly of allegorical interpretations of Old Testament narratives. Some critics have assigned the Epistle to the Hebrews to his authorship, as the expounder of St. Paul’s thoughts. It should be noted that a little further on his kinswoman Mary’s house is the chief meeting-place of the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), and that her son John, surnamed Mark, is mentioned by St. Peter (“Marcus my son,” 1Peter 5:13) in words which make it almost certain that he was converted by that Apostle.
Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.(37) Having land, sold it.—Better, perhaps, having a farm. (See Notes on Mark 5:14; Mark 6:36; Mark 6:56.) In the original polity of Israel the Levites had cities and land in common, but no private property (Numbers 18:20-21; Deuteronomy 10:8-9, et al.), and depended for their support upon the tithes paid by the people. The case of Jeremiah, however (Jeremiah 32:7-12), shows that there was nothing to hinder priest or Levite from becoming the possessor of land by purchase or inheritance. The position of Barnabas’s sister Mary shows that she, also, was wealthy, and, though she did not sell her house, she, too, did not call it her own, but gave it up for the public use of the community. The self-chosen poverty of Barnabas led him afterwards to act as St. Paul did in working for his livelihood (1Corinthians 9:6). It will not be out of place on this first mention of the name of a new disciple to note a few others whose membership of the Church dated probably from this period; Mnason, the “old disciple” of Acts 21:16, of Cyprus, and probably, therefore, a friend of Barnabas; Andronicus and Junia (or, more probably, Junias, as a man’s name), in some sense kinsmen of St. Paul, who were “in Christ” before him (Romans 16:7), and whom we find afterwards at Rome; the seven who in Acts 6:5 are prominent enough to be chosen as representatives of the Hellenistic members of the Church; Agabus (Acts 11:28), Judas, and Silas (Acts 15:32). The last three, however, as being “prophets,” may have been among the number of the Seventy; and, possibly, if we follow a fairly early tradition, Stephen and Philip among the Seven. (See Note on Luke 10:1.) We again note the absence of any measure of the interval between the events of this chapter and the history that follows. The picture of the peaceful expansion of the Church’s life implies, probably, as in Acts 2:41-47, one of several months.