Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.Acts 11:1-18 Peter, being accused for conversing with the
Gentiles, maketh his defence; the
church is satisfied, and glorifieth God.
Acts 11:19-21 The gospel having spread as far as
Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch.
Acts 11:22-26 Barnabas is sent thither, who
fetcheth Saul from Tarsus: many people are taught at
Antioch, where the disciples are first called
Acts 11:27-30 Agabus prophesieth a dearth: the
disciples send relief from Antioch to the brethren
in Judea by Barnabas and Saul.
And brethren; the rest of the believers, who had not only one God to their Father, but one church to their mother, and were born of the same Spirit, and were fed by the same milk of the word of God.
The Gentiles had also received the word of God; this was a most incredible thing unto them who were of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and were not acquainted with that mystery that Abraham should have a seed of his faith, upon whom all the promises were entailed. These looked upon the Gentiles as most execrable persons, such as the apostle describes, Ephesians 2:12, that had no hope, and were without God; and therefore no less than a miracle, and that well attested, as this was, could make them change their opinion.
And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,They that were of the circumcision; they were such Jews as conversed with them of the church, and argued against them for taking in the Gentiles into any fellowship with them. But it may be that the believing Jews might for a time be very weak, and offended at it, until they were further satisfied by the following relation of St. Peter: till then they disputed, and brought what arguments they could against it.
Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.This is the objection they make against Peter, that, contrary to the tradition of their elders, and precept of their wise men, its had familiarly conversed with the Gentiles: see Acts 10:28. This they look upon as piacular, although no conversation in order to the gaining of the Gentiles unto God was ever forbidden, but only such as might withdraw the Jews from God.
But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,This great apostle condescends to the least and weakest amongst them, and gives an account of what he had done and the reasons that moved him unto it, if by any means he might gain some, and confirm others.
I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:See this whole narration spoken to in the foregoing chapter.
It came even to me; to show that he was especially concerned in this vision, it being for his instruction and regulation.
Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.Fastened mine eyes; it speaketh his great intention of mind upon it; God so ordering of it, that it might leave the greater impression upon him.
And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.He might now use them without any distinction indifferently.
But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.St. Peter here avoucheth that he had lived in this ceremonial righteousness, though he thought himself far from being institled thereby.
Hath at any time entered into mouth; he abstained from all the appearances of that evil.
But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.This is twice spoken to St. Peter, that it might be the more unquestionable with him and others, it seeming otherwise very strange; and, it may be, therefore twice by St. Luke recorded.
And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.This was done three times; for the same reason but now mentioned, that God might more abundantly manifest this mystery of the calling in of the Gentiles, which had been so long hid.
All were drawn up again into heaven; all this was from heaven; unto which also it tended, namely, to bring the Gentiles thither.
And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.So many sent, and such a journey willingly undertaken, for to gain instruction in the way of life.
And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:These six brethren accompanied me; whom they might hear testify the same thing, that in the mouths of so many it might be established.
We entered into the man’s house: the man meant is Cornelius, concerning the entry into whose house, and converse with him, the doubt or controversy was that he was now speaking to.
And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;An angel, who, by reason of his appearing a man, is, in Acts 10:30, called a man.
Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.God promises that upon his obedience to this oracle, in sending for Peter, he should tell him those things that were necessary to be known by him and his whole family unto their salvation. Whatsoever was formerly the case of such as obeyed the precepts of Noah, (as they were called), after Christ is come, and preached unto the world, there is no other way unto salvation but through him.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.As I began to speak; whilst Peter was speaketh, as Acts 1:1.
The Holy Ghost fell on them, as in the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:4, he had fallen on the apostles; either visibly, by fiery cloven tongues; or rather by extraordinarily enduing them with the gift of tongues; enabling the most illiterate amongst them to speak in any language needful for any to understand towards their salvation.
Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.Of the Lord; of Christ, who is every where so called.
He said; but these words seem rather spoken by St. John himself. Matthew 3:11 Mark 1:8; which makes no difference; for, first, Whatsoever a disciple of Christ says in his name, it is as if it were spoken by himself:
He that heareth not, heareth me. But, secondly, Though this was spoken by the Baptist, it was spoken by our Saviour also, Acts 1:5.
John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost; by which the great difference is implied between outward baptism (administered by whomsoever, though the Baptist himself) and the inward baptism of the Holy Ghost, which, as fire, separates powerfully the scum and dross of sin from us.
With the Holy Ghost; the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit.
Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?The apostle’s argument is cogent: They who have the grace signified by baptism, ought to have the seal of that grace; but the Gentiles had the grace signified by baptism. Or, they who have the inward baptism, may not be denied the outward. As he that hath a right to an inheritance, cannot without injustice be denied the writings and seals thereunto belonging. To deny baptism unto any unto whom it doth belong, is to
withstand God, and to keep back the token of God’s love from such unto whom it is sent.
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.They held their peace; they were fully satisfied with the reason St. Peter had given them of his admitting the Gentiles unto baptism, and fellowship with him; wisely inferring from what Peter had said, that what he had done was of God, who was to be acknowledged in it.
Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance: repentance is the gift of God, as well as faith, or any other grace, 2 Timothy 2:25; nor can the greatest guilt affect the heart with true godly sorrow, until God hath quickened it. It is called
repentance unto life, because God hath appointed that it should precede our entrance into life.
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.So true hath it been from the beginning of the gospel, that sanguis martyrum est semen eccesiae. St. Stephen’s death, and the persecution upon it, was a great means of disseminating the gospel. Thus all things work for good.
Phenice; the country about Tyre.
Cyprus; an island in the Mediterranean Sea.
Antioch; the metropolis of Syria. This explains what was briefly said, Acts 8:4, and showed what places the disciples were scattered into, and preached in.
They preached to
the Jews only, because they were not yet persuaded of the calling of the Gentiles; God suffering them to be enlightened by degrees.
And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.Men of Cyprus and Cyrene; they were such as were born in Cyprus and Cyrene, but had their habitation in Jerusalem, and now upon the persecution there fled unto Antioch; which by this means in time became the Jerusalem of the Gentile Christians, whither their greatest resort was.
Spake unto the Grecians: here they of the dispersion taught not only such Hellenists as are spoken of, Acts 6:1, who were born of Hebrew parents, though living out of the country of Judea; but such also amongst the Gentiles, (who are generally called Greeks since Alexander’s time, who conquered all those nations round about, and brought in his own language amongst them), who, forsaking idolatry, and worshipping the true God, were called sebomenoi, devout or religious persons, such as Cornelius is said to be, Acts 10:2. And thus God by degrees brought in the knowledge of himself, and his Son Jesus Christ.
Preaching the Lord Jesus; which knowledge only is that which is necessary unto salvation, and that only which Saul determined to know, 1 Corinthians 2:2.
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.The hand of the Lord; the power, assistance, and working of God, expressed by the hand, which is the organ or instrument men use in working. This hand or work of God was manifest, first, In the miracles which they wrought. Secondly, In the conversion of any by these miracles. For these alone cannot soften a heart; as appeared in Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened by them.
A great number believed, and turned unto the Lord; faith and conversion are wrought by the hand of the Lord, and are his work. But in vain is faith pretended unto, when there is no change in heart and life. What God hath put together, none may put asunder.
Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.Came unto the ears of the church; this pleonasm seems emphatical, to show with what readiness and delight the church heard the news of the conversion of so many to Christ.
Of Barnabas we read, Acts 4:36, who had given such an earnest of love to God, and true faith in Christ, for whose sake he sold what he had.
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.The grace of God; which appeared in their conversion, being made manifest by their professions, and answered by their pious lives and conversations; for all which they might cry, Grace, grace.
By the grace of God, is also to be understood the increasing of the church, and adding to it such as should be saved.
Was glad; this is matter of joy in heaven, Luke 15:7, and of all such as are learning their lesson, and preparing for that blissful place.
With purpose of heart; firm and fixed resolution, that come what can come, tribulation or distress, life or death, they would keep close to the profession of the truth of Christ. This purpose of heart is the same with the whole heart elsewhere; which must cleave unto the Lord; be joined, or stick close, to God’s truth and ways.
For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.Barnabas is here described to be beyond what the Jews called a righteous man, who would say to his neighbour, That which is yours is yours, and that which is mine is mine; meaning such as would do no wrong. But Barnabas, as the good man in their esteem, (such a one as the apostle speaks of, Romans 5:7, for whom one would dare to die), had actually made, and not called only, that which was his his poor neighbours’, selling what he had to bestow upon them, as Acts 4:37.
Much people was added unto the Lord; his good works, accompanying his good preaching, might be a great means of the conversion of so many.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:Saul, or Paul, being Barnabas’s friend and acquaintance, whom Barnabas had brought to the knowledge of the apostles, Acts 9:27; he goes now to seek him, that they might advise and strengthen one another in the work of the Lord.
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.A whole year they assembled themselves: frequency of meeting to partake of the ordinances of God, is the great reason why the gospel was so prevalent in this place.
The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch; which will be renowned so long as the world lasts, because here the banner of Christ was first publicly set up, and men listed under him: and this by Divine authority, for the word imports no less. And that it was not a name they gave themselves, much less was it a name the enemies of Christianity gave unto the professors of it, for they called them Nazarenes, or Galileans, out of contempt. But God would have Christ’s disciples to be called Christians: not only as scholars were amongst the Greeks called from their masters, (viz. Platonists, Pythagoreans, &c.), to teach us whom we profess to learn of, and to be instructed by; but to mind us of our unction; for Christians are anointed ones, 1Jo 2:27, and are made by Christ (in a spiritual sense) kings and priests unto God and his Father, Revelation 1:6.
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.These here meant were enabled to foretell things to come; a gift which God did furnish some of his church with on such an extraordinary occasion, Ephesians 4:11, whereby they did beforehand signify future things for the good for the church, as here.
And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.By the Spirit; by a resolution from the Spirit, as one of his gifts, and not by judicial astrology, or any other means real or pretended; for it is a prerogative of God only to foretell things to come, as Isaiah 41:22,23.
Which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar: this famine Suetonius and other heathen writers make mention of, though some place it in one year, and some in another year, of Claudius’s reign. It may be there were divers famines, or one might continue divers years; but thus God, who provided for the patriarchs by means of Joseph’s foreseeing of the scarcity in Egypt and elsewhere, provides for his church now also by a like prediction. God’s omniscience is exerted for his church’s preservation.
Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:Every man according to his ability; which is the measure whereby we must mete out unto others: we are to give alms of such things as we have, or according as we are able, Luke 11:41.
These brethren, or believers, in Judea, were very poor, by reason of the extraordinary malice and persecution of the Jews against them, and therefore recommended by St. Paul unto them of Achaia, (especially to the Corinthians), and to the believers in Macedonia.
Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.To the elders; to the apostles; or if they (as it is probable) were gone out of Jerusalem, to the governors or chief of the churches; for the famine being to come over all Judea, it is most probable that the other churches, besides that in Jerusalem, did partake of this bounty.