James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.Acts 8:1-9:30
— TRANSITION PERIOD
We explained in the last lesson the meaning of the transition period which continues to chapter 13. The first sentence in chapter 8 is more properly the concluding one of chapter 7, although it introduces the account of the persecution following in which Saul was the leader (Acts 8:1-3). With the account of this persecution (compare Hebrews 10:32-34), and for Saul’s part in it, see Acts 22:4; Acts 22:19-20; Acts 24:10-11 and parallel places.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” as the results in Acts 8:4-8 bear witness. Notice in this case that everyone was a preacher, somewhat as in the later instances of the Waldenses and Huguenots.
John 4:42 shows how the soil had been prepared in Samaria. Miracles were in order here because the New Testament had not come into existence, but in our day faith in the Word of God is substituted for them.
Simon, or “Simon Magus,” was one of Satan’s instruments to anticipate the coming of the gospel and counterfeit God’s power (Acts 8:9-11). See 1 Thessalonians 2:9 for the multiplication of such persons towards the end of the age. His pretended faith deceives even Philip (Acts 8:13).
Acts 8:14-17 have lead to error in two directions. Some teach from it that one may believe in Christ and yet not possess the Holy Spirit, and whose reception it is claimed is distinct from conversion. Others affirm that the laying on of hands as in the rites of confirmation and ordination are needful to His reception. The correction of these things is found in the dispensational character of this part of the book. The Samaritans who had a controversy with the Jews (John 4:19-24) had to be identified with those in Jerusalem, after their conversion, hence the gift of the Holy Spirit was withheld in their case till Jerusalem sent the apostles to them.
Peter uses the “keys” here as with the Jews on the day of Pentecost and the Gentiles later in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10). Nowhere in the New Testament is it taught that the believer on Christ should seek the gift of the Holy Spirit afterward, nor that He is to be received only by the laying on of hands. The believer may be “filled with the Spirit” many times, but the Spirit comes to dwell in him once and forever.
“Simony” is the name given to the offence of the impostor recorded in v. 18-24, and it stands for any attempt to make merchandise of the gifts of God. In so far as Christian Science, claiming to be a divine religion, seeks pay for its healing benefits, it is guilty of this sin.
The remainder of the chapter is quite plain. All must be impressed with Philip’s obedience (Acts 8:26-27), tact, intelligence (Acts 8:30-35) and success (Acts 8:38) as a soul-winner, but the explanation is that he was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:3). Acts 8:37 is omitted in the Revised Version as not belonging to the text. It states a great and important truth, but it anticipates the later teaching of Christianity which was given Paul to reveal (Acts 9:20; Galatians 1:12). The catching away of Philip (Acts 8:39) suggests 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and is a type of that which will occur when the church as a whole has finished her labors here, and will be translated to “meet the Lord in the air.”
We include the conversion of Saul in this lesson, as the opening of chapter 9 leads us back to that of chapter 8, showing the intervening narrative as a parenthesis. With the exception of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Saul is the most important event in the book. For something of his early history see Acts 22:3; Acts 22:28; Acts 23:6; Galatians 1:13-14; Php 3:5-6. What happened on the way to Damascus was unique (Acts 9:3-7), and will not be repeated until Zechariah 12:10 is fulfilled at the end of this age. It is related twice again, and with more detail, in Acts 22:5-16; Acts 24:12-18. The “light out of heaven” (Acts 9:3) was doubtless the Glory of the Lord, but later on it is the Lord Himself who appears unto Saul. For proof of this cross-reference verse 5 with verses 17 and 27 of the same chapter (also Acts 26:16; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9).
Note the identification of the Lord and His people, the Head and the members of the body in the words, “Why persecutest thou Me?” Note the correspondence in the two visions to Saul and to Ananias (Acts 9:6, Acts 9:10-16), which establishes the actuality of the occurrence. Note the particularities of God’s knowledge of man, the name of Ananias, the city, the street, the house in which he dwelt, the name of Saul, his birthplace, his present occupation! How real and startling it all is! And Ananias is an ordinary disciple, not an apostle, to whom the great commission is accorded (Galatians 1:1). Note the first indication of what Paul’s mission is to be (Acts 9:15). Note that he was first filled with the Spirit and afterward baptized (Acts 9:17-18), which was different from Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:44. Evidently had there been uniformity in all these cases it would have resulted in the belief that to receive the Spirit, the same method always must be followed, which has to be avoided. It is to be remembered that these cases were all unique as taking place in the Jewish and the transition stages, while the present method of receiving the Spirit is revealed in Ephesians 1:13.
We pass over the remainder of this story except to notice Acts 9:23. The many days doubtless included the journey to Arabia and back spoken of in Galatians 1:17, and which will be treated when that epistle is reached.
1. What is meant by the transition period?
2. Have you carefully examined the other scriptures referred to in this lesson?
3. What is now substituted for miracles?
4. In what two directions as the translation in Acts 8:14-17 led to error?
5. In what is the correction found?
6. What is “simony”?
7. What marks Philip as a soul-winner?
8. What is suggested by his being caught away?
9. What comparison is made between the conversion of Saul and other events in this book?
10. How is God’s knowledge of our intimate life shown in this lesson?
11. What did we note about receiving the Holy Spirit?
12. What is included in the “Many days” of Acts 9:23?