Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,SECTION II
THE MIRACULOUS AND SUDDEN JUDGMENT WHICH VISITED THE SIN OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, DELIVERS THE CHURCH FROM A DANGER THAT THREATENED IT IN ITS OWN BOSOM. THE EFFECTS PRODUCED BY THIS EVENT, AND THE INTERNAL PROGRESS OF THE CHURCH, SUSTAINED BY MIRACULOUS POWERS GRANTED TO THE APOSTLES.
A.—THE INTERNAL DANGER; IT IS AVERTED BY THE JUDGMENT ON THE SIN OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
1But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2And kept back [purloined] part of the price, his wife1 also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to2 the Holy Ghost, and to keep back [purloin] part of the price of the land? 4While it remained, was it not [did it not remain, ἔμενε] 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. 5And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard [listened] these things3 [om. these things]. 6And the young [younger] men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. 7And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done [had occurred], came in. 8And [But] Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. 9Then Peter said4 unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which [who] have buried thy husband areat the door, and shall [will] carry thee out. 10Then fell she down straightway at5 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. 11And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 5:1, 2. a. But a certain man, etc.—The narrative concerning Ananias and Sapphira presents a case which is precisely the opposite of that of Barnabas and of many others, who delivered to the apostles the whole amount of the money derived from the sale of their property, Acts 2:34–37 (τὰς τιμὰς τῶν πιπρασκομένων, τὸ χρῆμα). Luke presents no reflections on the remote or immediate causes and effects of the events which he relates, but strictly adheres to his practice of simply narrating the historical facts themselves.
b. The bare facts in this case are perfectly intelligible. Ananias, whose wife is fully aware of the plan, sells a piece of land of which he is the owner. We are not told that he sold all his real estate; the original says: ἐπώλησε κτῆμα; in Acts 5:3, Peter designated the property sold as τὸ χωρίον, that is, that parcel of land, as to which the actual price that had been paid, was the point in question. Ananias reserves a portion of the money which had been paid to him, and appropriates it to his private use. The remainder he deposits as an offering, like others, at the feet of the apostles, and performs the act at the time when the believers are assembled for the purpose of worshipping God. No intimation is given in the text, whether he secreted only an inconsiderable part, or, as it is more probable, a large sum: the precise amount does not materially affect the moral character of the transaction. That he acted altogether in concert with his wife, and that both had previously arranged the whole plan, are facts that are indicated in Acts 5:2, and fully substantiated by the statements furnished in Acts 5:8 ff.
c. The internal character of the transaction is more complicated than the facts are that have just been adduced. We may readily assume that the original motive of these persons, when they effected the sale, was praiseworthy; it may have proceeded, in part, from the pleasure with which they contemplated the disinterested and fraternal conduct of others who willingly offered their property when the wants of the brethren called for relief. But when these two persons had actually sold the land, and held the money in their hands, avarice began to manifest its power. They had not set their affections on the land, but the money exercised such an influence on them that they could not resolve to resign the whole, and hence they retained at least a part of it. But they were unwilling to acknowledge this circumstance publicly. They brought the remainder as their offering, declared that it was the whole amount which they had received for the land, and thus assumed the appearance, in the eyes of the apostles and the whole church, of having performed an act of self-denial, charity and brotherly love. This was hypocrisy in its most odious form; the practice of it required the conscious utterance of a lie—a lie addressed not only to men, but also to God. And, further, when they declared that the whole amount of the sale now belonged to the church, and to its poor members in particular, but, at the same time, secretly retained a part of the sum, they were guilty of embezzling, and, indeed, virtually, of stealing money. Now this act was not simply the sin of individuals, but involved the whole church in very great danger. For if such hypocrisy should be practised by others, and if integrity and truth should disappear, the Church of Christ would lose her brightest ornaments, and Pharisaic hypocrisy would be substituted for Christian sanctification. It was, therefore, of vital importance to the Church, that the introduction of an evil of such magnitude should meet with an immediate and effectual resistance.
ACTS 5:3, 4. Why hath Satan, etc.—The sin which threatened to invade the church was repelled, partly by the revelation of the secret transaction, partly by the judgment which instantly succeeded. In the former, human instrumentality was employed, in connection with a divine intimation; the latter was a direct act of God. It was Peter, who unreservedly exposed to Ananias (and also to the church, since the whole occurred when all were assembled, παρὰ τ. πόδ. τ. ̓αποστ., Acts 5:2; οἱ νεώτεροι Acts 5:6; τὴν ἐκκλ. Acts 5:11) the deceitfulness and excessive wickedness of his heart, and the awful enormity of his guilt, Acts 5:3 f.; he adopted the same course with the woman, Acts 5:9. He severely rebukes Ananias for permitting Satan [as διατί implies (de W.)] to take entire possession of his heart, insomuch that he attempted to deceive the Holy Ghost. He shows him that the lie referred not to men, but to God, whom he attempted to deceive; the sin—Peter continues—was aggravated by the circumstance that he had been perfectly at liberty to retain the property for his private use, or to dispose of the money obtained by the sale, according to his own pleasure. And he also represents to Sapphira, that she and her husband, in accordance with their private understanding, which rendered them doubly guilty (συνεφωνήθη), had tempted the Spirit of the Lord; ψεύσασθαι σε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον; οὐκ ἐψεύσω ἀνθρώποις, etc. Each of these two constructions [of ψεύδω] furnishes a sense of its own: ψεύδεσθαι with the accusative, indicates the act of deceiving any one by a lie; with the dative, that of uttering a lie in reference to some one [see Robinson’s Lex. ad verb. for the usage of the New Testament and Sept.].—If the agency of Peter had been confined to the mere exposure of the fact that deception had been practised, the question whether he had not ascertained that fact by natural and ordinary means, would be strictly appropriate. But the apostle exposes not only the facts as far as they had actually occurred, but also their remote source, the secret personal motives, the inward frame of mind, the hidden sentiments and characteristic features of the heart; τὴν καρδιάυ σου, Acts 5:3; ἔθου ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου, Acts 5:4. No interpretation can here be possibly admitted, save one which recognizes that his knowledge was derived from the revelation of God through the Holy Spirit.
ACTS 5:5. Fell down.—The judgment itself—the immediate fall and death of Ananias, when Peter had addressed him—must be viewed as a direct act of God. For it is entirely inconsistent with the whole spirit of the narrative, to assume (with Heinrichs and others) that the sudden death of the man, and also that of the woman subsequently, was, in each case, occasioned by natural causes, such as the shock which the nervous system sustains (apoplexy) in consequence of fright. But on the other hand, the narrative furnishes as little support for the opinion (of Meyer and some earlier interpreters), that Peter had the immediate death of both persons in view at the time, and was the direct author of it, by an exercise of the miraculous power which dwelt in him. Not a trace of such a purpose appears on the part of the apostle, in the case of Ananias, either in his own words, Acts 5:3 ff., or in the historical statement of Luke. And even the declaration of Peter to Sapphira, Acts 5:9, (which, as Meyer supposes, would betray a presumptuous spirit, if he were not conscious that the result depended upon the determination of his own will), does not support this opinion: it was simply a prediction to the woman that her own death was at hand, and was not merely suggested by the fate of her husband, but, specially, derived from the inspiration of the Spirit. It was not the apostle, but God, who executed the judgment. The whole event must be regarded as the result of a direct divine interposition, by which a speedy and terrible punishment was inflicted. But neither the original text, nor any of the essential features of the case, forbid us to assign a psychological influence to the words of Peter who publicly unveiled the hidden wickedness, or to admit that those words powerfully affected the moral sense of the two sinners. For the course adopted at the beginning by the latter, demonstrated that they regarded the judgment of the apostles and public opinion in the church, as entitled to the highest consideration: under these circumstances, such an unexpected and complete exposure, and the censure which was publicly pronounced, could not fail to produce a terrible effect. We may recognize such influences, without necessarily incurring the charge of “confounding or halving divine and natural causes.” (Meyer.)
ACTS 5:6. And the young [younger] men arose.—The corpse of Ananias was at once so arranged as to be conveniently carried away (συνέστειλαν), that is, the limbs, which were more or less extended at the moment of the fall, were first properly disposed. Those persons who removed the two bodies in succession, and interred them in a burial-place lying beyond the walls of the city, are termed by the historian οἱ νεώτεροι, Acts 5:6, and οἱ νεανίσκοι, Acts 5:10. Some writers (MOSHEIM: De reb. Christ.; Olsh.; Meyer) suppose that they were regularly appointed church-officers, whose official duty required them to assume a task like the present. But the considerations which are advanced in favor of this view, possess no weight; it is, on the contrary, very doubtful whether, at that early period, any strictly defined office, with the exception of that of the apostles, existed in the church. It was, besides, quite natural and appropriate that the younger men who were present (particularly if the slightest indication had been given that such a service was expected of them,) should voluntarily and promptly come forward and lend their aid.
ACTS 5:7–10. The circumstance that Sapphira presented herself about the space of three hours after, has led Baumgarten (Apgsch. p. 99) to suppose that her death took place at a second assembly of the church, which, with the former, conformed to the stated hours of prayer among the Jews, between which such intervals of three hours occurred. But the language in Acts 5:7 seems rather to imply that the religious exercises had continued during the whole period, and that Sapphira did not attend until three hours had elapsed after her husband’s death. When Peter asked, “Did ye sell the land for this sum of money?” it is very probable that τοσούτου indicates the gesture of the apostle, who pointed to the money which still lay before him, without mentioning the precise amount. [The apostle’s language: “ye have agreed, etc.,” Acts 5:9, indicates that he regarded this previous agreement of the husband and wife as a serious aggravation of their sin, as it demonstrated that they had committed it deliberately, and not in haste or through ignorance. (J. A. Alexander).—TR.]
ACTS 5:11. And great fear, etc.—Luke mentions, in the case of Ananias, and, again, in that of Sapphira, the impression which the event made on others. The only difference which appears between the two statements, Acts 5:5 and Acts 5:11, arises from the narrower or wider circle to which he refers. He describes, in the former case, the impressions which the hearers received, who had assembled for the purpose of being taught by the apostles (τοὺς ἀκούοντας without ταῦτα, the genuineness of the latter being doubted by critics). He refers, in Acts 5:11, on the other hand, partly to the church, and partly to those who were unconnected with it, but who received tidings of the event. It is worthy of notice that the conception expressed by ἐκκλησία is first of all introduced in THE ACTS, in the present verse. [The author, who appears to regard the word as having been originally employed by Luke in Acts 2:47, (see note 3, appended to that passage), has probably omitted any reference to it here, for the reason that eminent critics have doubted its genuineness.—TR.] Luke had hitherto spoken of οἱ μαθηταί, Acts 1:15; πάντες οἱ πιστεύοντες, 2:44; τὸ πλῆθος τῶν πιστευσάντων, 4:32. In contradistinction from these forms of expression, which were undoubtedly suggested when the believers were viewed simply as individuals, he now mentions ὅλη ἡ ἐκκλησία as a totality, or as a collective body. We cannot regard it as accidental that the collective conception of the Church, viewed as a distinctly defined whole, should present itself in connection with that event which assumes the character of an august “act of divine church - discipline.” (Thiersch).
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The question of the apostle Peter: “Why hath Satan filled thine heart, etc.?” contains more than one truth respecting Satan. It undeniably teaches, in the first place, the existence and the reality of Satan, that is, of the evil spirit who is the prince of darkness, since it cannot possibly be imagined that the apostle merely spoke in an allegorical manner. The occasion was so grave, his language was so emphatic, and it refers so positively to facts, that mere figures of speech are entirely out of the question.—We have here, in the next place, the evidence, that moral evil does not hold an isolated position in the heart of man, but is closely connected with the kingdom of the Evil One in the invisible world. And precisely the most heinous sins, such as hypocrisy combined with forethought and cunning, or moral evil invested with the most sacred garments of light and truth, are the operations of Satan.—Further, the direct and expressive terms of the apostle assume as an undeniable truth, that the influences and operations of Satan advance by degrees, beginning with scarcely perceptible approaches, until he reaches a point at which he “fills” a heart, that is, takes entire possession of it; and then the awful counterpart to the state described as πλησθῆναι πνεύματος ἁγίουis revealed.—Lastly, the freedom of the will, and the imputability of man’s acts, even in view of the powerful influences of the Devil, are indirectly, but, nevertheless, unmistakably asserted by Peter. For he not only says to Ananias: “Satan has filled thy heart, so that thou hast done this,” but he also asks: “Why was this?” The cause he evidently finds, not in Satan, but in Ananias. The question undeniably means: “Why hast thou permitted—why consented, that Satan should fill thy heart?” The apostle testifies, even if it be but indirectly, that man, if he so wills, can resist the devil (1 Pet. 5:9; Jam. 4:7)—that man is an accountable being, and must bear the guilt, when he abandons himself to satanic influences—and, that Satan never exercises an irresistible power.
2. The words of Peter in Acts 5:3, 4 and 9, furnish us with most important instructions respecting the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. He views the act of Ananias and Sapphira solely in its relation to the Divine Spirit. He expresses no opinion of it, in so far as it may affect the apostles as individuals, or the Church as a human society, but views the act itself and the sentiments from which it proceeded only in so far as these define the position of the two offenders with respect to the Spirit of the Lord. Their sin is a trespass against the Holy Ghost, a crimen læsæ majestatis committed against the Holy Ghost. Now we have in this procedure of the apostle, essentially and directly, the evidence both of the personality and of the Deity of the Holy Ghost. He says: “Satan hath filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost—thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God—ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord”. But such solemn language, uttered so impressively, and intended to expose promptly and fully the secret guilt contracted by the persons here addressed, cannot consistently receive any interpretation which would assume that the term “Holy Ghost” simply denotes a power or an operation of God (STRAUSS, Glaubensl. I. 418). The Holy Ghost is here, on the contrary, distinctly assumed to be a Person, with whom men deal uprightly or deceitfully, whom they may put to the test (πειράσαι, Acts 5:9), or whom they may attempt to deceive by lying words. Again, Peter bears witness to the Deity of the Holy Ghost when he says: οὐκ ἐψεύσω ἀνθρώποις, ἀλλὰ τῷ θεῷ, Acts 5:4. Meyer makes the remark, it is true, that Ananias had lied unto God by belying His Spirit [virtually saying that the Spirit was ignorant of the fraud (Bengel)]; according to this explanation, θεῷ in Acts 5:4 designates, not the Holy Ghost, himself, but God the Father. But the lie of Ananias, when he lied to the Holy Ghost, and when he lied to God, is, unquestionably, one and the same sin (Bengel). But even if we admit the distinction which Meyer makes, one circumstance stands forth preëminently in the whole narrative, which constitutes the heaviest charge brought by the apostle; namely, these two persons had insulted the Holy Ghost, and thus committed, in a direct manner, a grievous and unpardonable sin. The enormity of the guilt is, in this case, proportioned to the majesty and inviolable sanctity of the Spirit as a divine Person.
3. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Ananias had persuaded himself that he would not commit a very serious offence, if he should utter a falsehood, since they whom he intended to deceive, were merely human beings. But Peter says: “Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God,” for in these “men” the Holy Spirit himself has his dwelling. And as it was precisely in divine things that Ananias attempted to corrupt and mislead the Christian conscience and judgment of others, his wicked act was an outrage offered directly to the Holy Ghost; for He imparts all the truth that exists in the convictions of men, He is the author of every holy sentiment, He directs the judgment of believers in divine things, and it was on His work that Ananias attempted to lay a profane hand.—But who are the men, in whose persons the Holy Ghost was insulted? The apostles alone are usually supposed to be meant, but there is not a word in the text which can be adduced in favor of this opinion. It is true that Ananias laid his money at the feet of the apostles, but he had not these alone in view at the time; he intended to influence the opinion and judgment of the whole church. Now the Holy Ghost dwelt, as the narrative has already shown (Acts 4:31), not only in the apostles, but also in all the believers; comp. BAUMGARTEN: Apgsch. I. 100 ff.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
ACTS 5:1. Barnabas and Ananias! Two persons may perform the same act, but in the eyes of God it may be far from being the same. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings unto the Lord. Ananias and Barnabas alike sold land for the benefit of the poor.—Ananias in the Pentecostal church! Where there is light, there will also be a shadow. Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel at its side. Where the divine householder sowed good seed, the enemy afterwards sowed tares, Matt. 13:25.—There was a traitor among the apostles of Jesus, and a hypocrite in the bosom of the primitive church; such a form the visible church at all times assumes. (Starke).—Since both good and evil men are found in the visible church, God has caused a record of good and evil examples to be made—the former being intended to edify, the latter, to warn us. (Quesnel).—“Remember Lot’s wife,” said the Lord, long after her day, Lu. 17:32; the same words may be applied to all other pillars of salt which are erected as a warning. (K. H. Rieger).
ACTS 5:2. And kept back part of the price.—Avarice is a root of all evil [1 Tim. 6:10], as illustrated in the cases of Judas and Ananias.—Brought a certain part, etc.—Hypocrisy, a besetting sin among believers!—The offering of Ananias demonstrates how little confidence we can place in so-called “good works”.—God will not accept the fragments which avarice and hypocrisy are willing to relinquish; he demands the whole, Mal. 1:12 f. (Quesn.).—Ananias and Sapphira probably sold their property more for the sake of avoiding shame, when all others were so liberal, than from any pure and disinterested impulse of their own. (K. H. Rieg.).—Those are wretched beings, who endow a charitable institution only for the sake of gaining honor in the world. (Starke).
ACTS 5:3. But Peter said, Ananias.—A pastor is not at liberty to behold the sins of his flock with indifference; his motives for lifting up his voice are, I. His love to God, and zeal for His house; II. His anxious care for the souls that are led astray; III. His concern for the welfare of those who may either take offence, or be corrupted by evil examples. (From Apost. Past).—Why hath Satan filled thine heart?—a solemn warning, I. In view of the power of Satan, who not only can influence, but also “fill” the hearts even of Christians by profession; II. In view of the guilt and responsibility of those whom he seduces. “Why” has he filled thine heart? How can the devil seduce him who is guided and controlled by Christ? (Apost. Past.).—A man who intentionally lies, and deceives his neighbor, has already surrendered his heart to Satan; John 8:44. (Starke).—And to keep back part of the price.—It is a sacrilegious act when we withdraw from the service of God that which we had resolved to consecrate and give to him, Deut. 23:21. (Quesn.).
ACTS 5:4.—While it remained, was it not thine own?—God desires not our property, but our hearts. (Quesnel).—Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?—It still occurs at times that those who are powerfully moved by the word of the Lord, feel as if he who proclaims that word, well knew and was setting forth all the secret sins and abominations of which they are guilty, when, in truth, he may possibly have never before seen those hearers. Such cases demonstrate the power of the divine word, which is a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” [Heb. 4:12]. (Apost. Past.).—We may conjecture that if Ananias, or, afterwards, Sapphira, had still cherished in the heart only a faint love of the truth, and could have given an answer to the apostolic question: “Why?” the awful judgment might, in such a case, have been averted. (Rieger).—Thou hast not lied … unto God!—“Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” [Eph. 4:30], who speaks to you, inwardly, in your hearts, and externally, in his word; for, in such a case, you would, I. Offer an insult to the divine majesty of God; II. Pronounce a sentence on yourselves, which would consign the soul and body to destruction.
ACTS 5:5. Fell down, and gave up the ghost.—Be not deceived, dear brethren; God is not mocked; Gal. 6:7. God has not ceased, under the new covenant, to be “a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” [Deut. 4:24].—The truth, that the Holy Ghost is true God: I. Awfully demonstrated in the death of Ananias; II. Graciously revealed in the life of those who obey him. (From Apost. Past.).
ACTS 5:6. Buried him.—It is not inconsistent with divine justice, that those whom it has overwhelmed, should receive the last attentions from men, 1 Kings 13:26, 29. (Starke).—But an honorable funeral does not necessarily imply the salvation of the soul of the deceased!
ACTS 5:7. About the space of three hours after.—Three hours were given to Sapphira for the purpose of reflecting and changing her course. To one sinner God, in his long-suffering and mercy, grants a longer time for repentance, than to another, Isai. 65:20. (Starke).—Not knowing what was done; but she did know that God had threatened in his word to punish the hypocritical and unrighteous. “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” [Lu. 16:29.] (Apost. Past.).
ACTS 5:8.—Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?—The woman had not only had a longer time for reflection, but had also found another opportunity, which Peter’s question afforded, for examining her heart and giving glory to God [Josh. 7:19]. But as she replied with increased audacity, the sentence which was pronounced, inflicted an additional pang, when she heard of the judgment that had overtaken her husband.
ACTS 5:9. How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?—It is a gross violation of the duties of married life, when the parties agree to do evil.—The iniquitous perversion of the ties of marriage in many families: I. When the marriage is simply a community of goods, a business transaction designed to consolidate wealth, instead of being a union of hearts in the Lord; II. When the union is effected for the purpose of serving the flesh, the world and the devil, instead of being influenced by the holy principle: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Josh. 24:15]; III. When married life is thus converted into a downward path, conducting both parties to hell, whether it be a hell on earth (domestic strife), or eternal perdition; whereas they should have been partners in every holy joy, and have aided each other in their common efforts to obtain eternal blessedness in heaven.—How is it that ye have agreed?—a solemn question addressed to the conscience of every married believer.
ACTS 5:10. Then fell she down, etc.—“Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness.—The foolish shall not stand in thy sight.—Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing.” Ps. 5:4–6. If these two persons suddenly died, when a mere mortal spoke, how shall sinners for one moment endure the rebukes which truth will utter on the day of judgment? 2 Thes. 1:8–10. (Starke).—But if, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, it was only “for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” [1 Cor. 5:5], then, that day will reveal it. (Rieger). [For another view of 1 Cor. 5:5, see Kling’s exegesis in a subsequent volume of this Commentary.—TR.]
ACTS 5:11. And great fear came upon all the church.—The Church was not founded for the purpose of fostering sinful inclinations, or securing impunity for the sinner. (Quesnel).—Divine judgments are intended to awaken a holy fear; yet they are often regarded only with idle wonder, or with levity, or with uncharitableness and self-righteousness!—When the Lord purges his floor, [Matt. 3:12], and the chaff is scattered [or burned], his own kingdom sustains no loss, for true believers are then protected and confirmed in the faith. (Apost. Past.).
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira, venial according to the standard of the world, bat heinous in the sight of God: for, I. It was a theft (Acts 5:3), proceeding from the love of money, the root of all evil; II. It was a lie and a hypocritical act, an abomination in the eyes of the God of truth (Acts 5:3 and 8); III. It was committed intentionally and wantonly (“was it not in thine own power?” Acts 5:4); IV. It was committed in accordance with a secret understanding of the two persons, who combined to do evil, in place of addressing to each other’s conscience the words: “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” [Gen. 39:9]. (“How is it that ye have agreed?” Acts 5:9); V. It grieved the Holy Spirit of God, who warned, rebuked, and admonished them, not only by the mouth of Peter, but also in their own hearts, as believing members of the Church (Acts 5:3, 4, 9); VI. It was an offence to the Church, which should “not have spot or wrinkle, or any such thing” [Eph. 5:27], and which just began to exhibit such beauty and vigor in the Holy Ghost (Acts 24:32). “Woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” [Matt. 18:7]; VII. It had a tendency to cause the name of Jesus Christ to be blasphemed among the Gentiles.—The first tares among the wheat: I. How the enemy sows them; II. How the householder gathers them up:—The judgment which overtook Ananias and Sapphira, an august example of the procedure of divine justice: I. The summons; it accepts no man’s person [Gal. 2:6], but cites alike believers and unbelievers before His tribunal, yea, is even more prompt in the case of the former, who are servants who know their Master’s will; “judgment must begin at the house of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17); II. The trial; the investigation is rigid, making manifest the counsels of the hearts [1 Cor. 4:5]; III. The sentence of condemnation; divine justice exhibits no weakness, but cuts off a diseased member of the Church, so that the whole body may not perish, and prefers to inflict on the flesh, if the spirit may thereby be saved unto life eternal.—The first case of discipline in the Christian Church, decided by its divine Head: I. The occasion, and the subjects: a stumbling-block in the Church; II. The means and instruments in administering discipline: the words of rebuke pronounced by the ministerial office; III. The object and design of the disciplinary measures: the promotion of the honor of God, by cleansing the Church, enlightening the conscience, and maintaining a salutary fear. (Here, however, the practical application must carefully distinguish between life in this world and its objects, on the one hand, and eternity, on the other).—The divine administration of Church discipline in the case of Ananias and Sapphira—a humiliating lesson for our Church, which dispenses with all discipline: I. The subjects: there, a stumbling-block in the church; here, hundreds and thousands whose cases cannot be reached. II. The agents: there, a resolute and divinely inspired apostle; here, feeble guides and officers of the Church, whom either the Spirit of the Lord has forsaken, or whom the Church does not sustain. III. The effects: there, devout fear and salutary awe; here, levity and ridicule.—[The death of Ananias and Sapphira: I. The circumstances connected with the event; (a) personal history of Ananias and Sapphira (Jews—converts—possessed property—ambitious—selfish—ignorant); (b) their sin (its source, concomitants—form—effects); (c) the penalty (divine interposition—design); (d) effects which it produced. II. Lessons taught by the event: concerning (a) the purity of the Church, as a divine law (sound doctrine—devout sentiments—holy life); (b) the divine attributes; (c) the nature of death (originally a penalty—in Christ alone its nature changed); (d) the accountability of man.—TR.]
Acts 5:2.—One of the principal MSS., (E), inserts αὐτοῦ after τῆς γυναικός, and has been followed by the text. rec.; the word is, however, a later addition (perhaps repeated from Acts 5:1), as well as the words with which, in the same MS., Acts 5:1 begins, viz.: ἐν αὐτῷ δὲ τῷ καιρῷ ἀνήρ τις. [Alf., Lach., and Tisch. omit the word, in accordance with A. B. D., and Cod. Sin.—TR.]
Acts 5:3.—[For to lie to, the margin proposes the words to deceive; the former version is preferable; but see the note below.—TR.]
Acts 5:5.—ταῦτα after ἀκούοντας [of text. rec.] is, likewise, an addition found in the same MS., without doubt taken from Acts 5:11. [Alf., like Lach. and Tisch., omits it, with A. B. D. and Cod. Sin. (original); a later hand (C) inserted ταῦτα in Cod. Sin.—TR.]
Acts 5:9.—εἶπε is wanting in Cod. Alex. [marked A., as well as in B. D. Cod. Sin.], has a different position in the manuscript of St. Germain (E), and is exchanged by Origen for φησίν; it was, without doubt, not in the text originally, as several MSS. testify. [The MS. usually designated by the capital letter E, (the four Gospels) is Codex Basileensis; but two others, Codd. Laudianus and Sangermanensis, also receive the same designation. The last, the one meant by the author, derives its name from the monastery of St. Germain-des-Prés, in Paris, where it was deposited before its removal to Petersburg; it is regarded as a copy of D.—The verb is omitted after Πετ. by Lach., Tisch., and Alf.—TR.]
Acts 5:10.—πρὸς τοὺς πόδας; other readings are: παρὰ [text. rec. with E.], ἐπὶ, ὑπό [with minuscules]; πρὸς is better sustained than the others [adopted by Lach., Tisch., and Alf. with A. B. D. and Cod. Sin.—TR.]
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.B.—THE PROGRESS OF THE CHURCH, SUSTAINED BY MIRACULOUS POWERS OF HEALING GRANTED TO THE APOSTLES
12And [But] 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. 13And [But, δὲ] of the rest durst no man [ventured no one to] join himself to them: but [ἀλλ’] the people magnified [highly esteemed] them. 14And believers were the more added to the Lord [And there were more and more (μᾶλλον) added, who believed in the Lord], multitudes both of men and women;) [parenth. marks omitted] 15Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets6, and laid them on beds7 and couches, that at the least [if but, κἂν] the shadow of Peter passing by [when he came,] might overshadow some [some one, τινὶ] of them. 16There came also a [the, τὸ] multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem8, bringing sick folks, and them which [who] were vexed with [by] unclean spirits: and they were healed every one [were all healed, ἅπαντες].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 5:12–16. a. The narrative of the Pentecostal miracle, Acts 2:43, and that of the first hostile movement against the church, 4:32, are succeeded by general statements respecting the peaceful progress of the latter during a certain period of time. The narrative of the penal miracle which God wrought for the protection of the holy character of the church, is followed by additional statements in the present passage. But the description does not, now, as in Acts 4:32 ff., refer to the inner life of the church; its main purpose is to exhibit the influence exercised by the apostles and the church on those who were not yet united with them.
b. The statements in this passage are not logically arranged, systematically combined, or pragmatical. [“The pragmatical historian inserts reflections on the causes and the results of the events which he relates, and deduces useful lessons from them.” (Heyse).—TR.]. Nearly the whole of this episode has, accordingly, been suspected by rigid critics like Beck, Ziegler, etc., to be an interpolation. But it is written simply in the same plain and artless style which characterizes other portions of this book.
c. By the hands of the apostles, etc.—Luke first mentions (Acts 5:12) numerous miracles, i.e., miracles of healing, which the apostles wrought among the people; these were, therefore, miracles which conferred advantages and blessings, and were thus contradistinguished from the recent miraculous judgment of God which has just been described. The latter occurred in the bosom of the church; but these miracles of healing were performed for the benefit even of those who were not yet believers. This circumstance is more fully described in Acts 5:15, 16. The sick were brought out of the houses along the streets (κατὰ τὰς πλ.), and deposited on beds and couches of various kinds, in order that they might be healed by Peter, even if only his shadow should fall on the one or the other. It should be carefully noticed here, that when Luke uses this peculiar language, he only intends to give expression to the popular thought; the people, he implies, entertained such confidence in the apostle’s power, that they ascribed a healing influence even to his shadow, [comp. Acts 19:12]. But he does not employ a single word which distinctly affirms that the mere shadow of Peter had healed any sick person. He simply testifies, particularly at the close of Acts 5:16, that Peter performed many miracles of healing, but he does not describe the mode. The phrase: διὰ τῶν χειρῶν τ. ἀπ., undoubtedly expresses more than the simple preposition διὰ would have done; it authorizes us to infer that, in most cases, these miracles were wrought through the medium of the imposition of hands, or by touching the sick. It is, however, also possible, that in some instances, sick persons, whose faith prepared them to receive the gift of health, were restored without having been actually touched by Peter. Such faith or confidence in the power of the apostle to heal, was not confined to those who dwelt in the city; it influenced others also, and induced many who resided in the neighboring cities to bring their sick, as well as demoniacs, to Jerusalem; the relief which they sought, was invariably obtained.
d. They were all with one accord, etc.—Luke relates, in addition, that the union of the believers and their assemblings, were uninterruptedly maintained; they met in Solomon’s porch (mentioned above, 3:11), which was sufficiently spacious to admit them all, and was well suited for their meetings, although they now constituted a numerous body, and constantly received new accessions.—As their numbers had so greatly increased, it might have occurred, under ordinary circumstances, that individuals would enter with comparative ease, whose presence might create a disturbance, or impair the harmony and confidence which had originally characterized their intercourse. They escaped such a great affliction in consequence of the sentiments of esteem and reverence with which they were regarded by the people, insomuch that those who had not attached themselves to the church, respectfully refrained from approaching them when they were assembled (Acts 5:13, “no man durst join himself to them”, [i.e., obtrude himself on them]). The interpretation of Baur, (who restricts αὐτοί to the apostles, and supposes that the Christians themselves are designated by the term οἱ λοιποί,) assumes that the profound reverence with which the members of the church regarded the apostles, kept them at a distance from the latter; but such a view is inconsistent with the whole character of the life of the church, as it is described in THE ACTS.—Finally, many persons of both sexes believed in Jesus, and became connected with the company of the disciples, Acts 5:14: it was precisely this steady growth of the church (ὥστε, Acts 5:15) which, at the same time, strengthened the confidence of the people in the miraculous powers of the apostles.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The penal miracle did not fail to produce a deep impression both on the church itself, and also on those who stood without. It solemnly admonished the former to watch over its own spiritual state with the utmost diligence, and was a most impressive warning against the sin of grieving the Holy Ghost. But it also taught the people that those who attached themselves to the church, were required to subject their conscience and whole spirit to the control of the Holy Ghost, and that a mere external union with the church, in which the heart had no share, was of no advantage. The great object which the divine Head of the Church has in view, is not the accession of a mixed multitude of members, but the sanctification of his people.
2. The numerous miracles of healing which the apostles now perform, constitute the answer to the prayer recorded in Acts 4:30; they also furnish the evidence that, however awful the manifestations of God’s displeasure with the wicked may be, he is always ready, in his infinite mercy, to help, to heal, and to save all those who seek his face.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
ACTS 5:12. And by the hands, etc.—The wrath of God, who spoke by the mouth of the apostles, had consumed two hypocrites; but now, through the hands of the apostles, relief is afforded to a multitude of sufferers. Thus the Lord demonstrated that he had no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but preferred to do good to his creatures.—In wrath he remembers mercy [Hab. 3:2], and even as he takes vengeance on the ungodly, so, too, he never turns away from the cry of the needy. (Apost. Past.).
ACTS 5:13. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them.—It may be noticed even in our own day, that disingenuous men, who reject the word, do not readily approach an upright servant of Christ, but rather avoid all intercourse with him. (Apost. Past.).—The judgment which visited Ananias and Sapphira, was a public testimony that the Lord does not primarily desire to gather a mixed multitude into the church. Hence it was one of the first results produced by that judgment, that no one ventured to form a merely outward connection with the believers; the power of the Spirit and of the truth, which was revealed in the latter, deterred others from making any professions which were not sustained by the movements of their hearts. (K. H. Rieger).
ACTS 5:14. And believers were the more added, even after that awful illustration of divine justice had been given! It seems then, that the apprehensions of a spurious wisdom are unfounded; that wisdom objects to the maintenance of a consistent and rigid church-discipline, fearing that others will thus be deterred from approaching. No! Let good order be strictly maintained, and an improvement will soon become visible. (Starke).—Pruning is also one of the means which God employs for promoting the vigorous growth of the church. (Quesn.).
ACTS 5:15. The shadow of Peter.—A pastor who is aware of his own insufficiency, sometimes becomes discouraged, and asks: “How can I accomplish any good work, when I myself am sitting in the shade, and am more like a shadow than a living man?” But God can accomplish a great work by employing even the weakest things of the world [1 Cor. 1:27], such as the shadow of Peter, if only the instrument humbly yields to his control. (Apost. Past.).—“The Lord is thy shade,” (Ps. 121:5), was Peter’s answer. It was not his shadow that healed; the apostle, who tried the spirits [1 John 4:1], would have rebuked the man who expected help from the shadow of a human being; the sick sought for aid from the power of God which wrought through Peter. (Besser).
ACTS 5:16. There came also a multitude … unto Jerusalem.—Happy is he, whose distress has taught him to lift up his heart to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to look in that direction for the power that shall heal him. 2 Cor. 5:1, 2. (Quesn.).—Them which were vexed with unclean spirits.—We ought not, as pastors, to abandon hope in a single case, even if the individual before us is possessed by the most unclean of the spirits, and by legions of them! (Ap. Past.).—The blessed results which follow, when God sifts the Church: I. The chaff is removed; (a) either expelled, (Ananias and Sapphira), (b) or kept afar off (the people who durst not join thomselves to the believers, Acts 5:13); II. The wheat remains; (a) purified by faith; (b) united by love, Acts 5:12.—The mysterious power exercised by a believer who is filled with the Spirit: I. It repels the evil, Acts 5:13, but attracts the good, Acts 5:14; II. It subdues unclean spirits, Acts 5:16, but gives rest to them that labor, and are heavy laden, Acts 5:15; III. It is a savour of death unto death [2 Cor. 2:16] to the enemies of the truth (Ananias and Sapphira; the priests and elders), but a savour of life unto life to them that seek salvation (the sick who were brought to Peter; believers who were added to the church).—The human instrumentality employed in conducting a soul to heaven, proceeds itself from the divine and only source of salvation.—The transition from the shadow of Peter into the light of Christ: I. Salvation is not obtained through Peter’s shadow, although the weakness and folly of men are often prompted to assign an undue value to the personal characteristics, the peculiarities, or even the infirmities of chosen instruments (the idolatrous attentions paid to preachers, pastors, heads of sects; the worship of relics); it proceeds solely from Christ, who was the light and life of Peter (Acts 3:6); II. Salvation is not obtained through Peter himself, but through Him whose strength was made perfect in Peter’s weakness [2 Cor. 12:9]—through Christ, Acts 3:12. And thus Peter’s shadow directs attention to Christ, the light of the world, the sun of righteousness.—If Peter himself cannot save, much less can his shadow—the Pope—save a single soul!—What is the remedy that can heal a diseased soul? I. Not the shadow of Peter, nor the garment of Christ (Lu. 8:44), that is to say, no outward object, no outward act; II. It is the light which shone on Peter, the power of Christ, that is to say, the life of God, revealed in Christ and his witnesses, received in faith, and infused into the soul.—The Gospel of Christ, the true Bethesda [John 5:2] Acts 5:16.—Sickness and misery enlarge the borders of the church of Christ. If the sick are to be healed, they must be brought to Jerusalem, Acts 5:16, that is, to Jerusalem which is above, and which is the mother of us all [Gal. 4:26]. (Gossner).
Acts 5:15. a. κατὰ τὰς πλατείας [of text. rec. With D (original)., and adopted by Alford]. The readings vary considerably: ἐν ταῖς πλ. [E.]; εἰς τὰς πλ. [in A. B. D (corrected)., and Cod. Sin., and adopted by Lach. and Tisch.], etc. They are all corrections, intended to furnish an easier construction than the original text presents.
Acts 5:15. b. κλιναρίων; in place of this word, some present the simple and more usual form: κλινῶν—[The latter, of the text. rec. is found in E. Alford, with A. B. D. Cod Sin., and recent editors, reads κλιναρίων—TR.]
Acts 5:16. εἰς Ἱερουσαλήμ; the preposition εἰς was omitted in some MSS., as the name of the city was supposed to be connected with πἐριξ, but εἰς should be retained. [It is omitted in A. B. Cod. Sin. Vulg., etc., and by Lach., and Tisch., but found in D. E., and retained by Alf., with whom de Wette and Meyer agree.—TR.]
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,SECTION III
ANOTHER AND A MORE VIOLENT ASSAULT, CONDUCTED BY THE SADDUCEAN PARTY, IS FOLLOWED BY THE IMPRISONMENT OF ALL THE APOSTLES; THE MIRACULOUS DELIVERANCE OF THE LATTER, THEIR BOLD DEFENCE BEFORE THE GREAT COUNCIL, AND THE INTERVENTION OF GAMALIEL, ULTIMATELY LED (AFTER THEY HAD SUFFERED SHAME FOR THE SAKE OF JESUS), TO THEIR RELEASE.
A.—THE ARREST OF ALL THE APOSTLES, WHO ARE, HOWEVER, MIRACULOUSLY DELIVERED BY THE ANGEL OF THE LORD; THEY ARE THEN SUMMONED TO APPEAR BEFORE THE GREAT COUNCIL, AND VOLUNTARILY PRESENT THEMSELVES
17Then [But] the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) [om. parenthetical marks] and were filled with indignation,9 18And laid their10 [om. their] hands on the apostles, and put them in the [a] common [public] prison. 19But the [an] angel of the Lord by [during the] night opened the prison doors, and brought them, forth, and said, 20Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. 21And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning [temple about daybreak], and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate [all the elders] of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned and told, 23Saying, The prison truly [om. truly, μὲν] found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without11 before [standing at] the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man [no one] within. 24Now when the high priest12 [the priest] and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of [were in doubt concerning] them whereunto this would grow [what this would become]. 25Then came one and told them, saying13, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching [are in the temple, standing and teaching] the people. 26Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without [not with] violence: for they feared the people, lest14 they should have been stoned [in order that they might not be stoned (the words: “for they feared the people”, viewed as a parenthetical remark)].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 5:17, 18. Then the high priest rose up … prison.—This second interference of the highest Jewish tribunal with respect to the affairs of the Church, is marked by increased bitterness of feeling, and may be distinctly traced to the influence of the Sadducean party. The high priest rose up, ἀναστάς, that is, proceeded to employ active measures; Annas is, no doubt, the individual meant, according to Acts 4:6, although his son-in-law Caiaphas was, at that time [John 11:49; 18:13], actually the high priest. Those who lent him their aid, πάντες οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ, were, preëminently, the sect of the Sadducees. Luke does not say that the high priest himself belonged to that sect (and no evidence of his connection with it exists elsewhere), but simply informs us that the Sadducees coöperated with him on this occasion. If Annas was a Pharisee, it is quite possible that the public appearance of the Christians as a distinct body, temporarily influenced the party feelings of the Pharisees and Sadducees, in so far at least, that the distrust with which they regarded each other, was forgotten in the presence of a common enemy. When, therefore, the Sadducean party unequivocally assumed a hostile attitude toward the apostles, the high priest was easily persuaded to become the ally of the former. As the resurrection of Jesus was the central fact to which the preaching of the apostles continually referred, the most violent opposition which they encountered, naturally proceeded precisely from the sect of the Sadducees.
ACTS 5:19. But the [an] angel of the Lord.—In the course of the night which followed the arrest of the apostles, they were liberated by an angel who opened the doors of the prison. Interpreters who have deemed it necessary to trace this deliverance to natural causes, have suggested various agents, such as a flash of lightning, or an earthquake, or the keeper of the prison himself, or a resolute Christian. But all these explanations contradict the Scriptural narrative in direct and absolute terms; it might with equal propriety be asserted that the original facts had received legendary additions (Meyer), or that the whole narrative bore an unhistorical character (Baur; Zeller). Unless we concede the point that angels do not exist, and that, consequently, no miracles are wrought by them, the present narrative affords no grounds for the doubts of these interpreters. There are only two circumstances in the narrative which might, at first view, suggest doubts: first, when the apostles are subsequently examined in the presence of the Sanhedrin, Acts 5:27 ff., no mention whatever is made of the mode in which they had been delivered from the prison. This circumstance certainly demonstrates that the account which Luke gives, is a mere summary of events, in which full details are omitted, but not that it is itself untrustworthy. Secondly, the liberation of the apostles appears to have been without a definite purpose, since they were, nevertheless, brought before the tribunal, after their escape, ver 27, and shamefully beaten, Acts 5:40, 41. This latter fact, however, by no means authorizes us to conclude that their deliverance had been effected without an object in view, for Luke expressly refers, Acts 5:24, to the perplexity and confusion of mind which prevailed among the enemies of the apostles, when the event, occurred; with respect to them at least, the object of the miracle was attained. Further, it may be easily conceived that such a wonderful interposition of God, must have added new power to the faith of the apostles, and this effect is plainly seen in Acts 5:20 ff. Lastly, when the apostles voluntarily appear before the great Council, Acts 5:26, 27, they occupy a very different position from that of prisoners who are carried from a place of confinement to the presence of the judges. Hence the alleged absence of an object, when the apostles were liberated during that night, is only apparent; the effects which it produced, indicate its object.
ACTS 5:20. Go, stand and speak.—The angel directs the apostles to stand forth with freedom and boldness (σταθέντες), and preach publicly in the temple [ἱερῷ, the sacred enclosure, as distinguished from the edifice itself, called ναός], in the presence of the people; τὰ ῥήματα τῆς ζωῆς ταυτῆς are the words that refer to this life, this blessed life in Christ and through Christ. If an hypallage should be assumed to occur here [so that the true meaning would be thus expressed: τὰ ῥήμ. ταῦτα τῆς ζ.], (an assumption, which, however, is by no means necessary), the meaning would be: life-words: such a conception would scarcely have been expressed by Luke, or have originated in those primitive times.
ACTS 5:21–23. But the high priest came.—While the apostles were teaching in the temple, the high priest and his followers called a meeting of the whole Sanhedrin, for the purpose of instituting legal proceedings against the apostles. The expression πᾶσα ἡ γερουσία τ. υἱῶυ Ἰσρ., cannot, however, be reasonably understood as designating any others than the πρεσβύτεροι mentioned in Acts 4:5. Meyer and Stier, it is true; assign the utmost latitude of meaning to the words, and suppose that the entire college or body of the elders is here meant. The sense would then be, that an extraordinary session of the Sanhedrin was held, at which even those elders of the people, who were not regular members of it, also assisted. Such additions to the actual members of the Council, are not recorded elsewhere, and the Sanhedrin uniformly bears the name of γερουσία in the Second Book of the Maccabees. That a tautology occurs in the present passage must be admitted, but the cause may be readily found in the purpose of the writer to indicate distinctly that the whole number of the members was present at the meeting [i.e. the council and all the senate, equivalent to: the council, including all the elders who were members of it.].
ACTS 5:24, 25. Now when … heard these things.—The title ὁ ἱερεύς doubtless designates the high priest himself, and οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς are high priests in the wider sense of the term [that is, predecessors of the high priest, who retained the title, and also the heads of the twenty-four sacerdotal classes, or courses, 1 Chron. 24:1–19; 2 Chron, 8:14; Luke 1:5.—TR.]. The captain of the temple-guard, who was, no doubt, himself a priest, may have been personally engaged in effecting the arrest of the apostles; comp. Acts 4:1 ff.
ACTS 5:26. Then went the captain.—The captain of the temple now conducted the apostles to the place in which the Sanhedrin was assembled, but without offering personal constraint; his motive in avoiding violent measures is indicated in the words: ἵνα μὴ λιθασθ. These words are much more naturally connected with ἤγαγεν—βίας. than with ἐφοβοῦντο. Even if instances can be produced from Greek writers who employed the Attic dialect, in which φοβεῖσθαι is connected with ὅπως μή, ἵνα μή, the passive verb λιθασθῶσιν seems to indicate that the former construction was really intended; the words ἐφοβ. γὰρ τ. λα. may, without any difficulty be regarded as parenthetical.—The popular feeling which was manifested on this occasion, is truly remarkable. The guard must have considered it a possible event, that they would be stoned by the people, if they resorted to violence in their treatment of the apostles. The popular favor which the apostles enjoyed, had undoubtedly reached its culminating point at this time. The sources from which it proceeded, are readily ascertained: many benefits had been conferred, not simply on individuals, but on entire families whose sick relatives had been healed; and then, the apostles had been imprisoned on the previous day, but had been liberated, not by human aid, but by a direct interposition of God. We may conjecture that the latter circumstance inspired the apostles with unusual confidence, and augmented the power of their language when they addressed the people.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Christ is our Redeemer, preëminently as the Crucified One, [1 Cor. 2:2], and the cross is the mark by which the Gospel is recognized; so, too, the history of the apostles and of the primitive church exhibits a development which proceeded under the sign of the cross. Every blessing was succeeded by a trial, either originating in the bosom of the church [Acts 5:1 ff.], or produced by external causes. But the richest and most glorious consolations which the devout receive from heaven, are also imparted to them only under the cross.
2. The angel of the Lord here acts as a minister, not only of God the Father in his government of the world, but also of the exalted Son of God; he exerts an influence on occurrences in civil and daily life, but, at the same time, also on the progress of the kingdom of God, that is, the development of the church of Christ.
3. The angel encourages the apostles to speak all the “words of this life.” He belongs to the celestial world, in which death is not known; he neither manifests an interest, nor does he actively participate, in aught else, save that which is called life, and which possesses life. Hence the angels appeared in large numbers at the birth of the Redeemer, who is the life of the world, and at his resurrection, which was the most glorious manifestation of his life, and of his victory over death. The angels rejoice over one sinner that repenteth [Lu. 15:7, 10]; they take pleasure only in those words which refer to the life that was manifested [1 John 1:2], and that imparts life to the world; such words alone claim their active and efficient aid.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
ACTS 5:17. Then the high priest rose up.—When the Lord arises to build up Zion [Ps. 102:16] through the instrumentality of his servants, the enemy also arises, in order to employ his servants in hindering the work, (Ap. Past.).—The sect of the Sadducees.—The carnal and sinful life of the Sadducees, both of ancient and of modern times, is sluggish, as long as the Spirit of God, and his warning messages, are withheld. But when the disciples of Christ, filled with the Holy Ghost, bear witness against that carnal life by their words and their deeds, it is at once aroused, openly avows its hostility, and manifests a Satanic zeal in its opposition to God and his Gospel. “How often, since that day, the Sadducean Annas, who lives after the flesh even when he assumes the Christian name, has attempted to bind believers and their faith with chains!” (Leonh. and Sp.).—And were filled with indignation.—The servants of Christ are filled with the Holy Ghost; his enemies with a hellish zeal [ζήλου; Germ. version: Eifer]!—A holy zeal, and a wicked zeal: I. The objects of each; II. The manifestation of each. [Gal. 4:17, 18].
ACTS 5:18. Put them in the common prison.—The bonds and chains by which men are confined for Christ’s sake, are truly honorable badges. (Quesn.).
ACTS 5:19. But the angel of the Lord.—There is a divine “But,” which often disconcerts the plans of men. When the latter have matured their evil counsels, this “But” defeats them all. Joseph says to his brethren; “Ye thought evil against me, BUT God meant it unto good.” David complains in the second Psalm: “The rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed; BUT He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” (Ahlfeld.)—By night opened the prison doors.—Affliction is not of long continuance; be not dismayed, thou sorrowing soul! “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy Cometh in the morning.” Ps. 30:5.—No bars nor bolts are so strong, that the Lord cannot open a passage for his servants. There are no sorrows so profound, no burdens so heavy, that the Lord cannot, in his own appointed time, give relief to the soul.—But He who holds the key which opens the prison doors of his servants, holds also the key of hell and death, yea, the key of heaven and eternal life. (Ap. Past.).—The angels of God, ministering unto our salvation, [Hebr. 1:14]: as, I. Friends of the devout; II. Guardians at night; III. Deliverers from danger; IV. Leaders in the path of duty, Acts 5:20; V. Messengers of heavenly life in the world, Acts 5:20; VI. Guides to heavenly life and eternal joy.—How precious man is in the sight of God, since an entire invisible world is at hand, and ready to afford him aid in seeking salvation! How full of comfort the assurance is, that they that be with us, are more than they that be against us [2 Kings 6:16]. (Fr. Arndt.)—Brought them forth.—A strange beginning, but a glorious end! Thou sayest: The course of events is wonderful; what will the issue be? We reply: Unquestionably, it is wonderful, but is not God He who doeth wonders? (H. Müller).
ACTS 5:20. Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people.—The angel does not say: Go, seek concealment!—but—Go, and stand forth! He does not say: Speak to your own company!—but—Speak in the temple to the people! Such a commission is suited, not to men who confer with flesh and blood [Gal. 1:16], but to those, who, at all times, promptly respond: Lord, at thy word! (Lu. 5:5). These are the men through whom God accomplishes his great designs. (Williger).—All the words of this life.—The word of Christ, demonstrated in the history of the apostles as a word of life: by the power of that word, they, I. Were endowed with a divine life in the soul; II. Communicated a new life to the world; III. Joyfully ventured their temporal life; IV. Triumphantly gained eternal life.
ACTS 5:23. We found no man within.—Every persecution which believers endure for Christ’s sake, ultimately glorifies Him in them: I. Where Christ appears, the power of his life is speedily manifested, Acts 5:16; II. The enemy, to whom that life is invisible (Acts 5:17), attempts to fetter it, Acts 5:18; III. But it is ultimately revealed in all its glorious freedom and power, Acts 5:19–23. (Ahlfeld.).—Praise thy God, O Zion! I. Out of Zion God hath shined, [Ps. 50:2,] Acts 5:16; II. Let the children of Zion be joyful in their king, [Ps. 149:2] Acts 5:17, 18; III. The Redeemer shall come to Zion, [Isai. 59:20] Acts 5:19 ff. (Leupold).
ACTS 5:24. They doubted of them where-unto this would grow.—How salutary this alarm of the enemies of the Lord might have been, if they had been willing to recognize the mighty hand of God, and bow in submission before his majesty and power! (Ap. Past.).
ACTS 5:25. Then came one and told them.—When an injury is to be inflicted on Christ and his people, a Judas can always be found.
ACTS 5:26. They feared the people.—Godliness converts men into heroes; ungodliness, into cowards. (Starke).—The Lord glorified alike in the joys and the sorrows of his servants: I. In the blessing which attends their labors; II. In the trials which accompany that blessing; III. In the protection which he grants to his suffering servants. (Langbein).—How the Lord builds up his church by his protecting care in seasons of persecution: I. He permits its enemies to rage, so that their unholy passions may demonstrate the innocence of his persecuted people; II. He opens a pathway for his messengers, so that their successful labors may reveal the helplessness of its enemies. (Lisco).
Acts 5:17. [For indignation (Tyndale; Cranmer; Geneva), the margin offers (as in Wiclif) the word envy. “The word (ζήλου) necessarily suggests the ideas of zeal, party spirit; and indignant jealousy or envy, etc.” (J. A. Alex.); Hackett, who refers to Acts 13:45, where the same word is translated envy, here prefers indignation.—TR.]
Acts 5:18. αὑτῶν is wanting in important MSS. and versions [A. B. D., Cod. Sin., Syr., Vulg., etc.,], and is, without doubt, an addition made by a copyist. [Found in E; omitted by Lach., Tisch., Alf.—TR.]
Acts 5:23. ἔξω is undoubtedly an interpolation, and was suggested by ἔσω, which afterwards occurs, in the same verse. It is not found in any of the more important MSS.; [omitted in A. B. D. E., Cod. Sin., Vulg., and by Alf. as a “gloss”].—ἐπί [before τῶν θ.] is supported by the authority of the most important MSS. [by A. B. D. Cod. Sin.]; πρό [of the text, rec., and found in E.] is a later correction, and was substituted as a more descriptive word.
Acts 5:24. ὅ τε ἱερεύς [of the text. rec.] is wanting in many MSS. and versions, among which are some of the more important [A. B. D. Cod. Sin., Vulg., etc.]; but it was unquestionably cancelled [by copyists] simply for the reason that its presence in connection with οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς in the same clause was not comprehended. If it had not been originally employed in the text, it would certainly never have been inserted by a later hand. [No uncial MS. exhibits it; E reads οἱ ἱερεῖς; it is omitted by Lach. and Tisch., but retained by Alf., and advocated by Meyer and de Wette, on the ground that the great variety of readings, intended as corrections, indicates its original presence.—TR.]
Acts 5:25. [λέγων after αὐτοῖς, inserted in the text. rec. is omitted in A. D. E. Cod. Sin. Vulg., and cancelled by recent editors, including Stier.—TR.]
Acts 5:26. Lachmann [but not Tisch.] omits ἵνα, following the authority of several MSS., and assuming that μή is connected with ἐφοβοῦντο, in which case, ἵςα would be inaccurate. [If ἵνα is retained, the phrase: ἵνα μὴ λιθ. depends upon οὐ μετὰ βίας; it is omitted in B. D. E. Cod. Sin., but found in A., and retained by Alf.—TR.]
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,B.—THE APOSTLES BOLDLY DEFEND THEMSELVES BEFORE THE GREAT COUNCIL: THEY ARE ULTIMATELY RELEASED, IN CONSEQUENCE OF THE INTERVENTION OF GAMALIEL, AFTER THEY HAD BEEN SHAMEFULLY BEATEN
27And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the highpriest asked them, 28Saying, Did not15 we straitly command [We strictly commanded] you that ye should not teach in this name? [; note of interrog. om., and placed at end of verse], and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend [wish]to bring this man’s blood upon us [?]. 29Then Peter and the other [om. other] apostlesanswered and said, We ought to [must] obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers [has] raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree [the wood,ξύλου]. 31Him [This (one)] hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince anda Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are his16 witnesses of these things [words]; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hathgiven to them that obey him. 33When they heard that, they were cut to the heart17,and took counsel18 to slay them. 34Then stood there [But (δέ) there stood] up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law [a scribe], had in reputation [highly esteemed] among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles19 [the men] forth a little space20; 35And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed toyourselves what ye intend to do as touching [with respect to] these men. 36For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be [and alleged (λέγων) that he was] somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined21 themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed22 him, were scattered and brought to nought.37After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much23 people after him; he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.38And now I say unto you, Refrain [Stand off] from these men, and let them alone:for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39But if it be of God, ye cannot24 [will not be able to] overthrow it25 [them]; lest haply ye be found even to [that ye be not even found as those who] fight against God. 40And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten [scourged] them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41And they [They now, οἱ μὲν οὖν] departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing thatthey were counted worthy to suffer shame for his26 name. 42And daily in the temple, and in every house [here and there in houses, χατʼ οἶκον], they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ [ceased not to proclaim the gospel concerning Jesus the (τὸν) Messiah].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 5:27. And the high priest asked them.—The word ἐπηρώτησεν, certainly seems to indicate that the words of the presiding judge, which are now reported, had assumed the form of a direct question, although this is not really the case, as οὐ is spurious. Still, the whole tenor of the high priest’s language, in which the apostles are charged with having promulgated their doctrine, notwithstanding the prohibition [in 4:18], shows that he demanded, at least indirectly, an explanation of their conduct. [See note 1 above, appended to the text.—TR.]
ACTS 5:28. (a) Did not we straitly command [We strictly commanded] you, etc.—The high priest refers with great circumspection to Jesus, and avoids the actual mention of his name, as if it were inconsistent with his dignity to pronounce it; he merely says: τῷ ὀνόμ. τούτῷ; τοῦ ἀνθρ. τούτου. But Peter, on the contrary, is not ashamed of the name of Jesus; he names him with the utmost freedom and boldness, and ascribes all honor and glory to him, Acts 5:30 ff.
(b) And, behold, ye have filled.—The high priest alleges, as the most serious charge which he can produce against the apostles, that they had wished ἐπαγαγεῖν ἐφʼ ἡμᾶς the blood of Jesus. Meyer thus interprets the verb: to cause that the blood of this man which was shed, should be avenged by a popular insurrection. Such a fulness of meaning can, however, scarcely be ascribed to it. It is more probable that the high priest accused the apostles only of an attempt to fix the responsibility and guilt of having shed that blood; on him and his associates. The reproach which he utters, betrays the secret trouble of his conscience, which was oppressed by a dread of well-merited punishment. The charge which he brings is not entirely unfounded, for Peter had, without the least reserve, said to the Sanhedrists: Ye slew Jesus—ye slew him with your own hands (διεχειρίσασθε,) Acts 5:30. Still, the odious, revengeful, and hostile sentiments which the high priest ascribes to the apostles, had not controlled them; the language in Acts 5:31, on the contrary, contains an indirect offer even to the Sanhedrists of the divine gift of repentance and forgiveness with respect to the sin committed by them.
ACTS 5:29. We ought to obey God rather than men.—This truth, which had once before been expressed, Acts 4:19, is repeated on this occasion in a far more emphatic manner. Peter had introduced it, in the former case, only at the close of the proceedings, but here he at once commences his defence with a distinct, statement of it. He may be said to have, on the former occasion, addressed himself to the members of the Sanhedrin personally, and appealed to their own conscience: εἰ δίκαιόν ἐστιν—κρίνατε; but he now repeats the sentiment in terse and absolute terms, as an incontestable truth, without inquiring whether it would receive the assent of his judges, or be unconditionally rejected by them.
ACTS 5:30–32. The God of our fathers.—Meyer, who adopts the view of Erasmus and others, supposes that the phrase: ὁ θεός—ἤγειρεν Ἰησοῦν refers to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; but when ἐγείρειν has this sense in THE ACTS, it is always connected with ἐκ νεκρῶν [3:15; 4:10; 13:30; or the context indicates that sense, 10:40; 13:37]. Besides, the sequence of the clauses beginning with ἤγειρεν—διεχειρίσασθε,—ὕψωσε, indicates that the succession of events, in the order in which they really occurred, was intended to be set forth. Hence, ἤγειρεν cannot refer to any other event than the public appearance of Jesus as the messenger of God [“raised up, sent into the world.” Hack.]. In accordance with this interpretation, ὕψωσε in Acts 5:31, includes both the resurrection, and the ascension.
ACTS 5:33. When they heard that, etc.; διεπρίοντο, literally, they were sawed through; dissecabantur (Vulg.); findebantur; it cut them through the heart, they became violently enraged: many of the members, accordingly, conceived the thought of putting these men to death, and secretly consulted with one another respecting the mode; they cannot, however, have openly discussed this subject, since the apostles were only afterwards, (Acts 5:34), directed to withdraw.
ACTS 5:34. Gamaliel.—Three facts connected with the personal history of this man, are stated: (1) he was a member of the Sanhedrin; (2) he belonged to the party of the Pharisees; (3) he was a scribe [νομοδιδάσκαλος, a teacher of the law, equivalent to γραμματεύς, scribe, ROBINSON: Lex. ad verb.]. The second and third are more fully illustrated in Acts 22:3, where Paul, who evidently describes himself as having been originally a Pharisee (ἄκρίβεια τοῦ πατρῴου νόμου), states that he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel as a pupil. As to the fact first stated, some writers have supposed that he was the President of the Council, but the terms τις ἐν τῷ συνεδρ. cannot possibly describe the presiding officer; they simply state that he was one of the members.—Two learned men, who both receive the same name, are mentioned in Jewish history: Gamaliel I. or, the Old [the Elder] (חַזָקֵן), a son of Rabbi Simeon, and grandson of the celebrated Hillel, and Gamaliel II., or Gamaliel of Jabne [the Jamnia of the Books of the Maccabees and Josephus, situated between Diospolis (Lydda) and Ashdod (VON RAUMER: Palæstina, p. 203.—TR.]. Each receives the honorable appellation of Rabban in the Talmud, and is described as having been the presiding officer of the Sanhedrin. The younger or second Gamaliel cannot be the individual meant in the text, as the period in which he flourished did not begin until A. D. 80, after the destruction of Jerusalem, and continued to the year 118. But no chronological difficulties interfere with the interpretation which identifies the Gamaliel of the text with the older, or the first of that name. The period in which he labored, coincides, according to the Talmud, with the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius, and he is said to have died eighteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem. This interpretation encounters no internal difficulty, unless we assume that the ancient Christian tradition (Recognit. Clem. I. 55; Photius, Cod. 171) is really more than a mere conjecture suggested by the present text; according to that tradition, Gamaliel had secretly become a Christian, and had, at a later period, in conjunction with his son Abib and with Nicodemus, been baptized by the apostles Peter and John. But this account is altogether inconsistent with the strict Pharisaic and national character of Gamaliel I., as he is described in Jewish writings, and it is by no means sustained by the opinion which he expresses in Acts 5:35–39.
ACTS 5:35. Ye men of Israel.—Gamaliel advises the council to exercise prudence and to wait, rather than hastily adopt measures that might produce results which they would regret, προςέχετε ἑαυτοῖς, Acts 5:35; he therefore proposes that the apostles should be temporarily released, without the infliction of any punishment, ἀπόστητε—καὶ ἐάσατε αὐτούς, Acts 5:38. He appeals, in confirmation of his views, to the lessons which experience teaches, and asserts that if the whole affair proceeded solely from a human source, it would come to an end without any interference on their part, but that if it had really been ordered and sustained by God himself, it could not possibly be opposed with success. The opinion which the speaker himself entertained respecting the human or divine source of the proceedings of the apostles, cannot be ascertained from his words. Meyer, who follows Bengel’s example [“ἐὰν ῇ̓, si fit—conditionaliter; εἰ ἔστιν, si est—categorice.” (Gnom. ad loc.)—TR.], compares εἰ with the Indic. pres., at the beginning of Acts 5:39, with ἐάν followed by the Subj. in the preceding verse, and thence concludes that Gamaliel himself considered it probable that the Christian religion proceeded from a divine rather than from a human source. It may here be remarked, in general, that εἰ with the Indic, pres. is by far more objective than ἐάν with the Subj., that is, the latter construction supposes that a certain case occurs, while the former, without any reference to actual occurrences, simply states the condition under which any case will occur; comp. BÆUMLEIN: Gr. Schulgr. 2d ed. § 604, 606. [KUEHNER, transl. by Edwards and Taylor, on εἰ, § 339, 2, I. (a); on ἐάν, II. (b); MATTHIÆ, transl. by Blomfield, §§ 508, 523.—“ἐάν and εἰ are sometimes combined in two parallel propositions: Acts 5:38, 39. ἐὰν ᾖ ἐξ κ. τ. λ (if it should be of men, which the result will show), εἰ δὲ ἐκ θ. ἐστιν, κ. τ. λ (if it is of God, a case which I suppose),” WINER: Gr. N. T. § 41, 2, near the end.—TR]. Gamaliel undoubtedly assumes that the cause of the apostles may possibly be the cause of God, and that, accordingly, any opposition to them would be sinful, resistance offered to God himself (θεομάχοι, Acts 5:39). The two instances, however, which he adduces, Acts 5:36, 37, indicate, that, as a consistent and decided Pharisee, he nevertheless expected that this new effort, like many similar innovations, would soon terminate in an entire failure. And on this account, also, the present address is quite consistent with the character which Gamaliel I. bears in history.
ACTS 5:36, 37. For before these days, etc.—The two historical events to which Gamaliel appeals, are connected with the Galilean Judas and with Theudas. The former is repeatedly mentioned by Josephus (Antiq. xviii. 1, 1; xx. 5, 2; Bell. Jud. ii. 8, 1). This Judas was born in Gamala, in Lower Gaulonitis, and is, on this account, once termed a Gaulonite by Josephus, but also twice a Galilean, as in this place, [having subsequently lived in Galilee. (de W.)—TR.]. The fact that he instigated the people to rebel, at the time when Augustus directed Quirinus to take the census (Jos. Ant xviii. 1, 1), fully agrees with the present statement; ἐν ταῖς ἡμ. τῆς ἀπογραφῆς, etc.; he represented this measure as the means by which a yoke was to be put upon the people, and appealed to the established principle: μόνον ἡγεμόνα καὶ δεσπότην τόν θεὸν εἶναι. Luke informs us that Judas himself perished, while Josephus (Ant. xx. 5, 2) records the death of his sons; the two statements are complementary to one another. And the remark of Josephus that the band of Judas afterwards re-appeared during the Jewish war, may be easily reconciled with the text before us, which simply mentions the dispersion (διεσκορπίσθησαν), but not the entire extinction of that band.
But while the narrative of Luke fully agrees with that of Josephus, as far as Judas is concerned, (although it is obvious that the former was not derived from the latter), the case of Theudas presents an entirely different aspect. The general facts which Josephus relates concerning a certain Theudas, perfectly agree with those recorded by Luke, but the chronological data are totally different. The leading facts presented in Acts 5:36, and those narrated by Josephus (Ant. xx. 5, 1) precisely agree in the following particulars: 1. Theudas incited the people to revolt, and found numerous adherents; 2. He professed to be a person of special importance (λέγων εἶναί τινα ἑαυτον); for instance, he styled himself a prophet, and promised to divide the waters of the Jordan by his word (Jos.); 3. He himself was slain, and his party became extinct. Josephus relates that he was captured and beheaded, and that his adherents were, partly killed, and partly taken prisoners by the cavalry which had been sent in pursuit of them.—But the dates of the events of the two narratives differ in a surprising manner. According to Luke, the insurrection of Judas was posterior to that of Theudas (μετὰ τοῦτον, Acts 5:37), and the latter was, of course, anterior to the delivery of this address (πρὸ τούτων τῶν ἡμερῶν, Acts 5:36). Josephus, on the other hand, distinctly states that this Theudas appeared as an insurgent when Cuspius Fadus was the Procurator, that is, during the reign of the emperor Claudius, and, consequently, not before A. D. 44, whereas the address of Gamaliel was delivered during the reign of Tiberius, who died A. D. 37. Now as Judas, according to the concurrent testimony of Josephus and Luke, began his movements at the time when the census was taken, the Theudas mentioned in Acts 5:36, must have come forward about fifty years before that Theudas, of whom Josephus speaks, acted as an insurrectionist. [Augustus, during whose reign Judas appeared, as stated above, died A. D. 14; the Theudas of Josephus appeared during the reign of Claudius, which began A. D. 41.—TR.]. It is, therefore, usually assumed that the Theudas of Luke was a different person from the one who bears the same name in Josephus (Ant. xx. 5, 11); this is the opinion of Bengel, Baumgarten, and many others [e. g. Origen, Beza, Grotius, Rosenm., Kuin., Ols., Lardner, Guericke, Ebrard, Jost, J. A. Alexander, Hackett.—TR.]. These writers are influenced by the following considerations: 1. The name Theudas, was not rare among the Jews (Lightfoot); 2. Insurrections frequently occurred among the Jews at that period; 3. Josephus does not furnish a full historical account, and may have easily omitted all mention of an earlier Theudas who was at the head of a party during the age of Herod the Great. That such an omission may have occurred, cannot be denied in abstracto. Still, the agreement between Acts 5:36 and the narrative of Josephus in the three particulars mentioned above, is so striking, that an unbiassed reader would involuntarily receive the impression that the same individual, and the same events were meant by both writers, particularly as not every leader of an insurgent band would presume to assert that he possessed a super-human authority. But if this supposition is correct, an erroneous chronological statement—a πρόληψις attributed by Luke to Gamaliel—must be admitted (de Wette, Neander, Meyer). [A recent writer, A. Köhler, in Herzog’s Real-Encyk. Vol. 16, p. 40, states a theory which originated with Wieseler, and which, adopting as a basis the statements found in Josephus, Ant. xvii. 6, 2-4; ch. ix, 1–3; xix. 6, 4; Bell. Jud. i. 33, 2–4, presents the following features:—About the close of Herod’s reign, Matthias and another zealot, named Judas, commenced proceedings on religious grounds, which resulted in a popular tumult. It was suppressed, and Matthias was ultimately burned alive by order of Herod. This Matthias—Köhler proceeds—was Gamaliel’s Theudas. For Matthias is simply the Grecized form of the Hebrew name Mattaniah, (found in 2 Kings 24:17, and elsewhere frequently, and signifying gift of Jehovah); when translated into Greek, it assumes the form of Θευδᾶς=Θεοδᾶς=Θεοδώρος. Either Luke here translates the name in writing to Theophilus, or else Matthias, in accordance with the Jewish custom at the time, substituted for his Hebrew name, one in Greek of similar import.—In allusion to the opinion apparently adopted by the author above, viz.: that Luke represents Gamaliel as speaking proleptically of Theudas, Alford (ad loc.) remarks: “We are plainly in no position (setting all other considerations aside) to charge St. Luke with having put into the mouth of Gamaliel words which he could not have uttered.… All we can say is, that such impostors are too frequent, for any one to be able to say that there was not one of this name at the time specified. It is exceedingly improbable, considering the time and circumstances of the writing of THE ACTS, and the evident supervision of them by St. Paul, the pupil of Gamaliel, that a gross historical mistake should have been here put into his mouth.”—TR.]
ACTS 5:38–42. Refrain from these men.—The opinion of Gamaliel, whose calmness, thoughtfulness, and apparent impartiality, contrast strikingly with the heated fanaticism and passionate language of others, especially of the Sadducees, was adopted to a certain extent; the council resolved to abandon the murderous plan which they had entertained, Acts 5:33, and to release the apostles. Nevertheless, they decided to inflict corporeal punishment on the latter, and that sentence was carried into effect, Acts 5:40; [δέρω, to flay, excoriate by scourging]. They had a twofold object in view: they desired, on the one hand, to avoid the appearance of having causelessly instituted proceedings, and, on the other, to punish the disobedience of the apostles; comp. Acts 5:28; their own dignity and consistency seemed to demand that their previous threats (Acts 4:17, 21) should be executed. But the apostles are not intimidated either by bodily punishments or by repeated and stern prohibitions; they leave the spot, on the contrary, with the animating and happy consciousness that they are honored when they suffer shame for the sake of the name of Jesus. And they continue to testify daily that Jesus is the Christ, both publicly in the temple, and also privately in the houses of believers.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Jesus, a Prince and a Saviour, Acts 5:31; he is called ἀρχηγός, since he is our leader; he is not only the chief, “the author [Greek: άρχηγ. Heb. 12:2] and finisher of our faith,” but also the ruler who claims obedience. (The office of Christ as our King, is here indicated). Christ, as ἀρχηγός, commands an army which obeys him, a kingdom which belongs to him.—But he is also termed σωτήρ. He saves us from the greatest evil, the most imminent danger—namely, from sin and its wages, from the wrath of God and eternal destruction. It is his great object, as our ruler, to deliver, to minister, and to save; he seeks the salvation of the souls of men, and not his own honor, might and glory.—God has exalted him to be a Prince and a Saviour; it was by the resurrection and ascension to heaven that God, in his omnipotence, exalted him (ὕψωσε τῇ δεξιᾷ αὑτοῦ, Acts 5:30); it was then that he was invested with the dignity of an ἀρχηγός and σωτήρ. He was such, it is true, already in the state of humiliation, as the Son of God, and the Son of man; but it was this subsequent exaltation which so plainly assigned such a position to him, that he now claims the reverence of all, and that his power to lead, to deliver, and to save, can be universally recognized.
2. The apostles had testified from the beginning, that no one could be saved through Christ without a change of mind [μετάνοια, Mark 6:12]; they also taught that all who repented of their sins, should obtain forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ. But Peter here intimates that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be viewed as the grace or gift of God (δοῦναι μετάν. καί ἄφ. ἁμ.). That forgiveness of sins is a gift of the grace of God, that man cannot atone for his sins in his own person, and cleanse himself from guilt by his own means, are obvious truths, to which the Old Testament also bears witness, e. g. Ps. 32:1, 2, 5. But that the change of mind itself is a gift of God, imparted through the Spirit and his gracious influences, is here distinctly declared. This doctrine by no means involves a denial of the freedom of the will, but implies that no true change of mind and no true conversion can take place without the previous action of grace, or without the converting grace of God. And, again, this action of converting grace could be manifested in a full measure and in a wider sphere, only as a result of the exaltation of Jesus. God exalted him in order to give repentance (a change of mind) and forgiveness to Israel.
3. The apostles and also the Holy Ghost, are witnesses of Jesus, according to Acts 5:32, that is to say, the Holy Ghost dwelling in those who receive the word of the apostles, who obey God and believe in Jesus. The apostles represent their own testimony as merely that of men, but, nevertheless, of men who had personally heard and seen all that they declare, and who are, accordingly, credible and trustworthy witnesses. But in order that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established,” their testimony, which is human and transitory, is sustained by other testimony, which is divine and of eternal efficacy; the Holy Ghost was a witness as well as the apostles. Every one who receives with faith the word of the Gospel, when it is proclaimed, and submits to it with an obedient spirit, receives the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost bears witness in man, that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Redeemer; and he who receives this witness, becomes at length fully persuaded in his own mind respecting the truth.—The testimony of the apostles is recorded in the Holy Scriptures for us and for all succeeding generations; the word and the Spirit are now the two witnesses that testify to us concerning Christ. But the word becomes a living power, is made intelligible, convinces and moves us through the presence of the Spirit, so that ultimately a divinely-wrought reliance on our redemption through Christ, and on the power of God which resides in the Gospel, secures the peace of the soul.
4. The facts connected with the case before us, demonstrate in the clearest manner, that Jesus Christ, whom the Father exalted, rules even in the midst of his enemies. He has a kingdom, and he protects and enlarges it, but no compulsory measures interfere with the liberty of man. For no one is compelled by an irresistible operation of God either to put faith in his word and the testimony of the apostles, or to render obedience. He who does not voluntarily receive the word, unto his own salvation, is not constrained to do so. He may experience its power when it pierces him as a sword, but he may also discard it; he may even devise murderous plans against the servants of God, Acts 5:33. But “man proposes; God disposes.” The Lord is able to frustrate every evil counsel. When he deems it wise and necessary, he can so direct an individual, even in the ranks of the enemies of his word, and so influence the conscience, that this individual, prompted by the fear of God, will arise and oppose that evil counsel. And he can so control the minds of men, that they give heed to the warning and refrain from adopting violent measures against the witnesses of the truth.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
ACTS 5:28. Ye intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.—The wolf always accuses the innocent lamb of Christ of having mingled the mud and the clear water. (Starke).—The kingdom of this world betrays in its hostile movements against the kingdom of God, that it consists, in part, of clay, in part of iron [Dan. 2:33, 43]—of clay, for its fears proceed from a consciousness of its own weakness—of iron, for it obstinately refuses to yield to the truth. This obstinacy it attempts to extenuate or justify, by confessing any truth, the power of which it has deeply felt. These men complain: “Ye intend, etc.,” but they pass over the offer of forgiveness in entire silence.—And still does the world complain of the mode in which the truth is proclaimed; it alleges that the condemnation of the sinner is constantly set forth, but never alludes to the invitations to seek the mercy of God, which are addressed to sinners. For the world deems it to be disreputable to seek for grace at the foot of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (K. H. Rieger).—We unquestionably do intend to bring the blood of Christ upon you, when we preach Him crucified, but it is unto your salvation, not your damnation!—The preaching of the doctrine concerning the blood of Christ: I. It is a loud call to repentance, Acts 5:30; II. It affords the richest consolations, Acts 5:31.
ACTS 5:29. We ought to obey, etc.; see Acts 4:19.
ACTS 5:30 ff. Whom ye slew.—The hatred with which the world regards some Gospel truths, cannot justify us in being alarmed and therefore suppressing them; festering wounds and sores must be exposed and probed, before they can be healed. (Ap. Past.).—Jesus Christ, a Prince and a Saviour: I. A Prince, in view of (a) his celestial origin, (b) his divine testimonials, even when he appeared in the form of a servant, (c) his glorious exaltation to the right hand of the Father; II. A Saviour, (a) in the manger (by making himself of no reputation), (b) on the cross (by dying as a sacrifice, in order to give repentance, etc.), (c) on his throne (by becoming our advocate with the Father [1 John 2:1]—a merciful high priest); III. Both Prince and Saviour; (a) he would not be a Prince, if he were not a Saviour (his most glorious and princely ornament is the crown of thorns); he became a Prince, when his love prompted him to sacrifice himself; (b) he would not be a Saviour, if he were not a Prince (the value and power of his sacrifice proceed from his divine dignity); (c) in order to obtain salvation through him, we must honor and obey him as a Prince, and love and confide in him as a Saviour.—Salvation in Christ: I. Offered by him as a Prince and Saviour; II. Accepted by us, in connection with repentance and forgiveness of sins.
ACTS 5:33. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart.—When the truth is not voluntarily received, let it cut to the heart; that, too, is a victory. (Starke.)—And took counsel to slay them.—It is an evidence of the powerlessness of the enemies of the truth, that they silence those who confess it, not by adducing arguments, but by applying a gag, and by attempts to slay them. (Ap. Past.).
ACTS 5:34. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee.—God can find an advocate of his cause, even in the midst of his enemies. (Starke).—Named Gamaliel.—Pfaff says: “Gamaliel is only a moving figure on the stage, but no Christian; he is guided by the light of reason, but Christ does not own him. Such is the judgment of over-wise men, who do not wish to incur the enmity of any party. The Pentecostal miracle should have conducted him to a decision. Beware of worldly wisdom; as Gamaliel advances in years, his heart grows colder.” But a different view is presented in Apost. Pastorale: “It is true that Gamaliel did not sincerely love the Saviour, and we should not unreasonably extol his course. Still, he was not guided merely by the common rules of prudence. His heart may have previously often been deeply moved, and he was in so far influenced by that grace which seeks men, and anticipates their call, that he at least feared to commit an act which might involve him in danger.” And Schleiermacher says: “To him, if ever to any one, the Lord would have said: ‘Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’ ”
ACTS 5:36, 37. For before these days rose up Theudas, etc.—The false and the true prophet: I. The former “rises up” by his own impulse, as Theudas and Judas; the latter is raised up by God (Acts 3:22); II. The former “boasts himself to be somebody;” the latter gives the honor to God alone (3:12); III. The former “draws away much people after him;” the latter conducts men to the Lord; IV. The former falls from heaven like a wandering star (Jude, Acts 5:13); Theudas and Judas both “perish,” and their adherents are “slain” or “scattered;” the latter will shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars, for ever and ever. (Dan. 12:3.—A number of men—joined themselves.—Men who will not take up the cross of Christ, are willing to bear the yoke imposed by Satan’s prophets. And the Lord still abandons many who defy and despise him, to the influence of lying prophets, in order that they may ultimately be put to shame with their leaders.—Unbelief conducts men to the embraces of superstition. (Leonh. and Sp.).
ACTS 5:38, 39. Gamaliel’s counsel.—It is not always wise to wait passively for the issue; that course would encourage spiritual sloth and a doubting spirit. But when the occasion presents features which are above our comprehension, we rightly wait, and submit the result to God; Ps. 39:9. We cannot adopt the principle that those things are not of God, which have no stability, for then it would follow that the Christian congregations which the apostles established in Asia Minor, and which have long since passed away, were also not of God. Neither can we adopt the principle, that those things which firmly endure, are of God, for in that case the religion of the Turks, which has so long sustained itself, or that of pagans, is also of God. (Starke).—He who cannot decide until Christ and his Church are completely victorious, will remain in doubt until the day of judgment arrives. Hence the neutral policy of waiting is not recognized in the kingdom of Christ. (Leonh. and Sp.).—Gamaliel’s counsel is both prudent and devout; but he did not practically follow it himself, and here lies his error. For he who cautiously abstains from fighting against God, ought certainly to consider it a solemn duty to fight for God, and firmly hold the standard of the truth, even when the heathen rage, and the world combines in offering resistance. Gamaliel’s counsel was the voice of God, speaking in his heart, and the evil which he committed, consisted in his refusal to obey that voice, to trust the Lord’s word implicitly, and to test the truth of the saying: ‘If any man will do the will of him that sent me, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.’ John 7:17. (Rudelbach).—Gamaliel’s whole counsel proceeded on the false principle that the temporal and visible results of any testimony or undertaking, decide conclusively respecting its divine or human character. Is not this a total misconception of the cross? He whose heart as well as whose understanding has been influenced by the Holy Ghost, as little waits for the issue before he decides, as the genuine supporters of missions wait for glowing missionary reports; on the contrary, he is added to the company of believers, and avows his faith in the Gospel, even when that Gospel seems to have reached the moment of its entire extinction; thus the blood of martyrs, which was shed during the persecutions, attracted new adherents. We cannot fight against God—this is the view of the halting, feeble prudence of calculating and worldly-minded men; we must believe and obey God’s word, even before his work is actually crowned with victory—this is the true wisdom of repenting souls. Still, Gamaliel’s opinion, as expressed in that council of ungodly men, will always possess a highly significant character; it may be regarded as the representative of the conscience of the Sanhedrin, or of that voice which bears witness in every enemy of God, and which prompts the reason even of such men to cry aloud: “Take heed.” We unite therefore willingly with Luther in appealing to Gamaliel’s sentiments, as far as these exist in enemies or worldly-minded men, since they encourage us to hope; but let us not ourselves, in the spirit of Thomas, first ask for ocular evidence, but believe at once. (Stier).—Gamaliel is a believer living under the old covenant, even if the light within him is feeble; he adheres to the principle that God cannot permanently leave himself without a witness among his people, and that, consequently, false prophets who come forward, will, sooner or later, receive their merited punishment. (Gerlach).—Two points are presented in the advice of Gamaliel. He holds, in the first place, that no violent measures should be employed in any affair, which can be only spiritually discerned, even if it be a work of man; he does not, however, dissuade the council from opposing it by spiritual force, and would, indeed, have been himself prepared to adopt such a course. The second point he presents in the following form: “If it really be a work of God, you will, in no case, be able to suppress it, but you will yourselves be found to be men who fight against God.” Can we conceive of greater anguish of soul than that to which Gamaliel alludes? Such an individual learns, perhaps at the close of his career, when he cannot possibly retrace his steps, that he had deviated far from the right way, and employed noble, great and glorious powers with which God had endowed him, in direct opposition to his Maker’s will! When the scales fall from his eyes, he himself rejoices that the entire work on which he had expended his whole life, has come to nought! As long, therefore, as we are in doubt whether any counsel or work is of men or of God, so long we can adopt no wiser course than that which Gamaliel recommends—none that will more effectually withhold the upright from entering on the way that leads to destruction, and preserve them from sacrificing their life in fruitless efforts—none that could more successfully furnish man with the true light in his path, or qualify him for receiving a knowledge of the truth. (Schleiermacher).
The threefold attitude which men may assume in view of the progress of the kingdom of God: it may be marked, I. By open hostility, Acts 5:33; II. By a calculating prudence, Acts 5:34; III. By humble and zealous coöperation, Acts 5:42. (Ahlfeld).—Gamaliel’s counsel: I. Convenient—for those who yield to spiritual sloth—for those who are governed by policy rather than religious principle; II. Judicious—as opposed to an inconsiderate zeal; III. Faltering—at a time which demanded immediate decision and prompt action—when the highest interests are concerned. (C. BECK: Homilet. Repert.).—By what principles are we to be governed, when we are required to choose between things that are old, and things that are new, in the kingdom of God? (id.).—Gamaliel’s counsel: it is, I. Judicious, (a) as a guide for our judgment, when the issue of the ways of God is considered; for the words of the Lord will always apply: “Every plant, etc.,” Matt. 15:13; (b) as a guide for our conduct: (1) when a carnal zeal would prompt us to employ carnal weapons in a spiritual contest; (2) when we are not yet enabled to decide whether a work be of God or of men. (In this aspect Luther presented the counsel of Gamaliel to the Elector of Treves, while the mind of the latter was still undecided); II. Injudicious, (a) as a guide for our judgment, if it should lead us to pronounce on the good or evil character of any work in accordance with its external and temporal results, before the whole course of human events is completed; (b) as a guide for our conduct, if we should avail ourselves of it as an excuse, (1) for deferring our own decision, even when God’s word speaks unequivocally, and his Spirit bears direct witness, or, (2) for evading the duty of acting with vigor, and bearing witness with boldness, even when we are fully convinced in our own minds.—The counsel of Gamaliel: it is, I. Wise, in so far as it recommends (a) humility in the presence of God, the sovereign Judge; (b) gentle treatment of those who differ from us, even if they should judge erroneously; (c) a watchful control of our passions; II. Unwise, in so far as it recommends (a) the principle of judging merely according to external results; (b) the toleration even of that which is evil; (c) a neutrality proceeding from irresolution or indifference.—Better by far than the counsel of Gamaliel are the actions of the disciples!—The extension of the kingdom of God depends on the counsel of God and the work of man (Acts 5:38, 39); I. The counsel of God; let us, therefore, do nothing against God, or without God, as Gamaliel advises; II. The work of man; let us, therefore, do all for God, and with God, as the Apostles teach.—The Reformation triumphantly demonstrated to be a work of the living God: I. By the choice of the instruments which he employed; II. By the sure and lasting foundation on which this work was established; III. By the weapons which the agents employed in this warfare [2 Cor. 10:4]; IV. By the fruits which it has produced. (Sermon on the Reformation, by W. Hofacker).
ACTS 5:40. When they had … beaten them.—The gradation in the afflictions of the servants of the cross, an illustration of the divine mode of training them: I. Threats, 4:21; II. Imprisonment, 5:18; III. Scourging, 5:40; IV. Martyrdom, 7:60.
ACTS 5:41. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing.—The servants and children of God are indeed a mystery in the eyes of the world. What philosophy was it that taught them to rejoice under such circumstances? (Apost. Past.).—Of all who were assembled, none departed rejoicing, except the men who had been scourged. He who suffers, not for evil doing [1 Pet. 3:17], but for Christ’s sake, and in his service encounters shame, stripes, and bonds, is indeed truly united with Christ, and has reason to rejoice. (Ahlfeld).—Four classes in the school of affliction: I. I am called to suffer; II. I am willing to suffer; III. I am able to suffer; IV. I am permitted to suffer. (K. F. Hartmann).
ACTS 5:42. They ceased not, etc.—When the apostles were released, and addressed the people, they did not complain of their enemies, did not boast of their own firmness, did not defend their character, which had been sullied by the scourge, but simply preached the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ. (Apost. Past.).—[The spiritual state of the persecutors of the apostles: I. Described; (a) total misapprehension of the meaning of the Scriptures; (b) entire want of love to God; (c) complete subjection to human passions, Acts 5:33. II. Causes; (a) traced to the original corruption of the heart; (b) confirmed by their spiritual sloth; (c) established by their worldly-mindedness. III. Results; (a) abject fear, Acts 5:28; (b) vain opposition to God; (c) eternal loss of their souls.—TR.]
Acts 5:28. οὐ [of the text. rec. before παραγ., giving the whole an interrogative form] is wanting in A. B., in some ancient versions, and in some of the fathers; it is undoubtedly spurious; for if it had been originally in the text, no one would have cancelled it, whereas its insertion on account of ἐπηρώτησε could easily occur. [Found in D. E., but omitted in A. B. Cod. Sin. Vulg. etc., and cancelled by recent editors; it was inserted by a later hand (C) in Cod. Sin.—TR.]
Acts 5:32.—αὐτοῦ [of text. rec.] after ἐσμέν seemed to be superfluous, as μάρτυρες was followed by another genitive depending on it, and was therefore omitted in some MSS. [A. D. Cod. Sin.] and versions [Syr., Vulg.], or ἐν αὐτῷ was substituted [B., and adopted by Lach.]; but, as the more difficult reading, it is, without doubt, genuine. [Found in E., and retained by Tisch. and Alf.]
Acts 5:33. a. [The Italicized words of the Engl. version: to the heart, are supplied from Acts 7:54, where they are connected in the Greek with precisely the same verb; see the exegetical note on this verse.—TR.]
Acts 5:33. b. ἐβουλεύοντο is not better attested, it is true, than ἐβούλοντο, but should be preferred, as the shorter form could more easily have proceeded from the longer than vice versa. [ἐβουλεύοντο, of D. H., and also Cod. Sin., is preferred by Tisch. and Alf. to ἐβούλοντο of A. B. E., which latter Lach. adopts.—TR.]
Acts 5:34. a. τ. ἀνθρώπους was exchanged in some MSS. for the explanatory ἀποστόλους, but it is sufficiently attested, and, even, in sermone obliquo, may be the term actually employed by Gamaliel. [Alford, with D. E. H. reads ἀποστ.; Lach. and Tisch. with A. B. Cod. Sin. Vulg., etc., read ἀνθρώπ.; de Wette regards the latter as a correction to suit Acts 5:35, 38.—TR.]
Acts 5:34. b. τι after βραχύ [in H. and text. rec.] is not genuine, as external evidence demonstrates, and is clearly a later addition. [Rejected by recent critics, in accordance with A. B. D. E. Cod. Sin.—TR.]
Acts 5:36. a. The reading προςεκλίθη is sufficiently attested [by A. B. Cod. Sin., and adopted by later editors], but does not occur elsewhere in the New Test.; for this more difficult reading other terms were substituted: προςεκλήθη [C.], προςεκολλήθη [text. rec.] and also προςετέθη) [the two latter only in minuscules.—TR.]
Acts 5:36. b. [The word obeyed (or, followed, lit. were persuaded by) in the text of the Engl. version (Geneva), is preferable to believed (Wiclif; Tynd.; Cranmer) in the margin. (Robinson; J. A. Alexander.)—TR.]
Acts 5:37. [ἱκανὸν of text. rec., found in E. H., is omitted in A. B. Cod. Sin. Vulg., etc., and cancelled by Lach. Tisch. and Alf. with whom Meyer and de Wette concur; C. and D. substitute πολύν.—TR.]
Acts 5:39. a. The fut. δυνήσεσθε has by far the stronger testimony in its favor [found in B. C. D. E.; Vulg. etc.]; the pres. δύνασθε [of text. rec.] was substituted, in order to give the strongest possible emphasis to Gamaliel’s opinion. [Alford, who retains the pres., (found in A. H.) regards the fut. as an alteration to agree with the foregoing future, καταλ., and the conditional εἰ. Lach. and Tisch. adopt the fut. Cod. Sin. exhibits δυνησεσθαι.—TR.]
Acts 5:39 b. αὐτούς is supported by many MSS. and versions [A. B. C. D. E. and Cod. Sin.], while αὐτό is but feebly attested [by Vulg., etc., and adopted in text. rec.]; it seems to be a correction to suit τὸ ἔργον, as an easier sense. [αὐτούς, Lach. Tisch. Alf.]
Acts 5:41. τοῦ ὀνόματος without the appended αὐτοῦ [of text. rec.] is, unquestionably, the original reading; the following explanatory additions occur:αὐτοῦ; Ιησου[Vulg.]; τοῦ χριστοῦ, τοῦ κυρίυ, etc. [αὐτοῦ is omitted by later critics, in accordance with A. B. C. D. H. and Cod. Sin.—TR.]