Matthew Poole's Commentary
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,Acts 5:1-11 Ananias and Sapphira, profanely tempting the Holy
Ghost with a lie, at Peter’s rebuke fall down dead,
Acts 5:12-16 The apostles work many miracles, to the great increase
of the faith.
Acts 5:17-28 They are all imprisoned, but released by an angel, and
sent to preach openly in the temple: being brought
before the council,
Acts 5:29-32 they support their witness with great freedom.
Acts 5:33-40 The council are restrained from killing them by the
advice of Gamaliel, but beat and dismiss them with a
charge not to speak in the name of Jesus.
Acts 5:41-42 They rejoice in their sufferings, and cease not to
preach Christ both in public and private.
A dreadful instance of God’s indignation against hypocrisy and sacrilege, which we have an infallible testimony of; which is the more remarkable, because such sins escape punishment from men, either as not known, or not disliked; yet the damnation of such as are guilty of them slumbereth not, 2 Peter 2:3, it being the glory of God to search out matters further than men can, or list to do.
A possession; an estate, house, or farm.
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.Kept back part of the price, when they had vowed the whole to God and his service, which made it a robbing of God, whatsoever pretence they might possibly have of detaining some part for their own necessities in old age, or time of sickness; arguing a great distrust in that God, whom, when they had made their vow, they pretended to give themselves and their substance unto.
His wife also being privy to it; her subjection to her husband not excusing her partaking in his sin and punishment.
Brought a certain part; their ambition carried them thus far, they would seem devout, charitable, &c., and their covetousness hindered them from going farther.
Laid it at the apostles’ feet: see Acts 4:35.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?But Peter said; Peter knew this deceit by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; it being most probably not otherwise likely ever to be discovered.
Satan filled thine heart: as when the heart is filled with hot spirits it is daring and bold, so when Satan filled their heart these wretches venture upon desperate courses and provoking sins.
To lie to the Holy Ghost; this sin is said to be lying to the Holy Ghost:
1. Because against their own consciences, and the Spirit of God too witnessing with their spirits, Romans 9:1. As also:
2. Because they pretended to holiness, and the service of God, when they intended only to serve their own turns; now the Spirit is in a peculiar manner the Spirit of holiness, and the author of it in us, whom they pretended to have been moved by, but falsely.
3. And, lastly: Defrauding the poor members of Christ of their right, (for so by their vow it became), they lied to the Holy Ghost, who constitutes and establishes the church, and accepteth these gifts as given to God, and not to men.
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? A sufficient argument that there was no command (even then) to necessitate them to part with their estates, but only what the present and eminent necessity of the church did persuade them voluntarily unto. The doubling of this expostulation makes the conviction the more forcible.
In thine own power; as a steward under God, to do what thou wouldst with it according to his will; and none are, or can be, otherwise disposers of what they possess.
Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? It seems hence, that it was a deliberate and propensed iniquity.
Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God: in that lying unto God is so often charged, and no express mention is made of Ananias’s vow, some excuse him of sacrilege, and charge him the more deeply with ambition, covetousness, lying, and hypocrisy, to the apostles, whom he intended to deceive.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.Fell down and gave up the ghost; expired and died. Some instances of God’s extraordinary judgments upon sinners were in the beginning of the Jewish church; as upon the man that gathered sticks on the sabbath day, Numbers 15:35, and upon Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10:1,2; and so here in the beginning of the Christian church; to be as marks to teach us to shun such sins, and to teach us that the God with whom we have to do is greatly to be feared. And this miraculous way of punishing notorious sinners in the church, was accommodated to such a time, in which magistrates were so far from defending the church, that they themselves were the greatest enemies unto it.
And great fear came on all them that heard these things: let others also hear, and fear, and do so no more.
And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.The young men; such as were present at that time, and fittest for that employ.
Wound him up; according as they were wont to do to such as they intended to prepare the sepulture. Read what was done to the body of our Saviour, Mark 15:46.
And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.About the space of three hours after; in his circumstance is expressed to confirm the truth of this history.
Not knowing what was done; not suspecting any such thing, she was the less inquisitive; and such a consternation and dread was upon all that were there, that they durst not tell her, lest they should offend Peter; also, probably, lest they should with so sudden and sad news grieve her.
Came in; into the church, or place, where they were met together.
And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.Peter answered; an ordinary Hebraism, by which one that speaketh first is said an answer, if it be tending towards my discourse especially.
For so much; the certain price is not mentioned, as not being necessary to the intent of the Holy Ghost in this narrative; but be it more or less, it was the same which her husband had said the land was sold for.
She said, Yea; she had agreed with her husband what to say; and one sin draws on another, till it ends in perdition.
Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.To tempt the Spirit of the Lord; this expression, of tempting God, or the Spirit of God, is not used amongst profane writers; and this sin is not (at least to such a degree) committed amongst pagans and heathens, and is to be dreaded by all that profess the gospel. As often as men sin against their conscience, and their consciences condemn them in what they do, so often they dare, tempt, or try, whether God be omniscient, and knows of, or holy hand powerful, and will punish, their sins; which they find at last to their cost.
The feet of them which have buried thy husband, are at the door; this the apostle foretells ere it came to pass, the more to confirm his authority and the truth of the gospel.
Shall carry thee out, after thou art dead, to thy burial.
Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.The same sins meet with the same punishment; God is no respecter of persons, Jew or Gentile, male or female.
And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.Thus upon the smiting of so many men in and about Bethshemesh, 1 Samuel 6:20, they wisely demand,
Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And upon the slaying of Uzzah, 2 Samuel 6:9, David was afraid of the Lord. Discite justitiam moniti. As many as heard these things, out of the pale of the church: God’s judgments do restain in a great measure wicked men.
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.By the hands of the apostles; by the apostles’ ministry: though they were holy and excellent men, they were but instruments; the power they acted by was God’s; which also they had prayed for and acknowledged, Acts 4:30.
Among the people; generally among the meaner sort, according to that question, Have any of the rulers believed on him? John 7:48.
Not many mighty, not many noble, are called, 1 Corinthians 1:26.
In Solomon’s porch; a large and capacious place, where they might with greatest convenience hear and see what was done and said.
And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.Of the rest; such who were not of the common sort of people, and here seem to be distinguished from them: or, of the rest (more largely) who had not joined themselves to the church, being amazed at this judgment on these two hypocrites, durst not make a formal show of religion, unless they had a thorough persuasion in their mind concerning the truth of it, and a firm resolution in their conversation to live answerably unto it.
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)This explains the former verse, and helps us against mistaking it, for this wonderful judgment was so far from being a hinderance to the men of the gospel, that it is turned to the furtherance of it; for though great men, and such as were insincere, were terrified from owning Christ and his doctrine, others did more readily embrace them by reason of it.
Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.Into the streets; into every street generally taken, it being a common practice where they came, and not in one street only. These weak and unlikely means did more show the power to be of God, and was the greater confirmation to the truth of the gospel; and this was fulfilled what our Saviour had promised to the apostles, and such as should believe in him, John 14:12, that they should do greater works than he did.
There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.The variety and grievousness of these evils did but the more commend the power which was present with the apostles.
They were healed every one; an evidence that these cures were not wrought by second causes, for the best medicines do not always succeed; as also, in that they were perfectly and suddenly cured who were thus miraculously cured, the God of nature restoring nature beyond what means and art could do.
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,Then the high priest rose up; moved at the report of these things, went out of the council to observe what was done.
And all they that were with him; there were both Pharisees and Sadducees in their sanhedrim or great council, as appears Acts 23:6; but the high priest and a great part were at this time Sadducees.
Indignation, or zeal, which is the best when kindled (as the fire on the altar) from heaven, regularly acting for God’s truth and word; and the worst when inflamed by carnal affections, and set upon wrong objects for self-ends. The pique these Sadducees had against the apostles and their doctrine, was, because they taught the resurrection, which the Sadducees denied.
And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.See Acts 4:3.
But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,God useth the ministry of angels, though he might otherwise do what pleaseth him. An angel rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulchre. Angels ministered to Christ, Matthew 4:11; and are all ministering spirits, sent forth to master for them who shall be heirs of salvation, Hebrews 1:14; and encamp round about them that fear God, Psalm 34:7.
Opened the prison doors; and shut them again, after that the apostles were gone out, as appears Acts 5:23.
Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.Stand; the word implies courage and stedfastness of mind, as well as such a posture of the body.
All the words; without preferring some acceptable truths before others more ungrateful, if necessary towards their salvation. Christ for a time did limit them; they might not tell any that he was Jesus the Christ, Matthew 16:20, nor the vision which they had seen in his transfiguration, Matthew 17:9. Now this prohibition is taken off. Thus the sun does not shine in his full glory all at once.
This life; some admit of an hypallage, and join the pronoun to the other substantive, reading in this place, these words of life; and the rather because by this life is ordinarily understood the present, temporary life, as in 1 Corinthians 15:19: but there needs not this translatitious sense; by this life, the angel might very well understand eternal life and salvation, for that was it which the Sadducees denied, and for the preaching of which life the apostles were imprisoned.
And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.When they heard that; having received a command from God, they resolved to obey him rather than man.
Early in the morning; taking the first opportunity, though they could not but be sensible of the danger they ran into.
The council; the sanhedrim, or great council.
The senate; the judges of their inferior courts, or the chief amongst the priests or senators; either living in the city, or coming thither upon that festival occasion.
But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,These men, thus sent to hinder the spreading of the gospel, could not but be a means of confirming it, when they saw, and declared what they found; so easily can God make use of what is intended against his truth and people unto the advantage of either.
Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.All means imaginable were used to secure their prisoners; but when God will deliver, what can keep them? When God will work, who can hinder? Job 11:10. It is strange, that so great evidence of the innocence of the apostles, and truth of their doctrine, should be ineffectual; but prejudice is insuperable, unless to the mighty power of the grace of God; and this blindness cannot be cured, but by God’s Ephphatha.
Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.The captain of the temple; the commander over the soldiers who were set to guard the temple, either to secure the treasure there, or to be in a readiness to suppress any tumult thereabouts; Pilate speaks of this, Matthew 27:65.
The chief priests; the heads of the families, or chief of the courses of the priests.
They doubted of them; by what means these wonderful things were done; for they were loth to see and acknowledge God in them.
Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.So true is that in Isaiah 8:10, Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought. But, The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, Psalm 33:11.
Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.Brought them without violence; they might, peradventure, think it needless or impossible to bind them against their wills, who had opened the prison, and so miraculously came out: however, another more certain reason is given of it;
they feared the people; they feared men more than God, who had done so great things amongst them.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,When they are about to do the greatest injuries, they pretend to right; and will not judge them, without giving them leave to answer for themselves.
Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.Did not we straitly command you? As indeed they had, Acts 4:18; hence they aggravated the apostles’ crime, as done out of malice, and not out of ignorance.
This name, and this man’s blood, are odious reflections, full of contumely against our blessed Saviour, as if he had not been worthy the naming by them.
To bring this man’s blood upon us; they shunned not the sin of murder, but are afraid or ashamed of the imputation of it: as many scruple not to commit that wickedness which they would be loth to be thought guilty of, Blood; the punishment of his bloodshedding.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.This they all agree in, and it is the common sense of all considering men; as Socrates in his apology told the Athenians, I embrace and love you, O Athenians, and yet I will obey God rather than you. This the apostles had formerly asserted, Acts 4:19.
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.The God of our fathers; this is the rather mentioned by the apostle, that they might not think our Saviour, or they his ministers, preached any other God unto them, but him whom they had worshipped from their forefathers.
Hanged on a tree; a tree, or wood, which is rather mentioned than a cross, that the allusion to Deu 21:23 might be more full, where he that is hanged on a tree is accursed; and in that Christ was made a curse for us, Galatians 3:13.
Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.Him hath God exalted with his right hand: see Acts 2:33. A Prince; to conquer and subdue all his enemies, to defend and protect his subjects.
A Saviour; to save from sin, according to his name, Jesus, Matthew 1:21; viz. from the condemnation that is due unto it, and the pollution that is acquired by it.
To give repentance; repentance is the gift of God; and nothing does more avail with us to repent, than the loss of Christ, (his bitter suffering and death), by whom the world is crucified unto us, Galatians 6:14: and if repentance includes newness of life, (as it does), who would not walk in that way which our blessed Lord hath recommended, and in which only we can enjoy him; that doing as he did, we may come at last to be where he is?
And forgiveness of sins, which never fails to accompany true repentance, and is therefore also called repentance unto life, Acts 11:18.
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.We are his witnesses; they refuse not to bear their testimony for Christ, who witnessed a good profession for us.
So is also the Holy Ghost; the Holy Ghost does witness,
1. By the apostles; through his grace and strength they bear their record.
2. By all the miracles that were wrought, for they were only done by his power.
3. By enabling any to believe these things; which belief is his work.
4. Not to say that the Holy Ghost was a witness of the things concerning Christ at his baptism, and the several attestations he gave, saying, This is my beloved Son, Matthew 3:17.
Obey him; some read, believe in him, which is to the same purpose; for there is no true repentance where there is no faith; nor no saving faith where there is no repentance and amendment.
When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.They were cut to the heart; they grinned with their teeth, visibly showing the rage and fury that was within them, by which they were as sawn and divided asunder; malice and rage being a grievous torment to the cruel and malicious, o gar megav ponov to mh zhn kalwv..
Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;A Pharisee; this sect was accounted more mild than the Sadducees.
Named Gamaliel; it is thought that this man was the same at whose feet Paul sat, Acts 22:3: that he was the instructor to Barnabas and St. Stephen, with many other stories concerning him, are doubtful; howsoever, God made use of him, though as yet an enemy to his church and people, to plead for and protect them to his power. God can effect any thing without or against means, and suddenly to make such as were against him to be for him and his truth.
Commanded to put the apostles forth; that they might consult amongst themselves what to do with them: thus Acts 4:15.
And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.A wise and good caution; for he that injures another brings the worse mischief upon himself, both in the sense of having done evil, and in being exposed to the revenging hand of God, whose property vengeance is, Hebrews 10:30.
For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.Before these days; probably under the reign of Augustus, as he whom Josephus mentions was another under the reign of Claudius.
Theudas; some suppose it a contracted name of Theodorus, as Demas is thought to be of Demetrius; though others think it to be of a Hebrew original.
After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.Judas of Galilee; whether this was the same Judas who was called Gaulonite, from the place of his birth, a town in or near Galilee, and Galileus, from the province itself in which he was born, it is not so material to discuss, Josephus makes mention of two of this name.
The taxing; setting down all their names at the command of the Roman emperor, whereby,
1. They professed themselves to be his subjects.
2. They paid him a certain rate, in token of subjection, for every head, as poll money.
3. By this means he knew the number of his subjects, and the strength or weakness of every province. This was another tax than that mentioned Luke 2:2, which is there called the first.
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:And now I say unto you; he undertakes to advise them what they should do in the present case.
Refrain from these men; have nothing to do with them, as Pilate’s wife advised him concerning our Saviour, Matthew 27:19. Gamaliel interposes, partly out of his moderate and mild disposition; partly out of fear, lest if they slew the apostles they might incense the Romans, who were very jealous of their authority, and had taken away the power of capital punishments from the Jews.
For if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; this argument, or dilemma, which Gamaliel uses for the sparing of the apostles, is of force either way; as that question our Saviour propounds concerning the baptism of John, Matthew 21:25. This first part is evident, for that building must needs fall which is built upon the sand, Matthew 7:27.
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.The other part of the dilemma.
The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand, Proverbs 19:21 Isaiah 46:10; and it must needs be so, for all power is his, in whom we live and move, Acts 17:28.
Fight against God; they who afflict and contend with his people unjustly, though they little think so, set themselves against God, who will overcome at the last, and triumph over his and his people’s enemies.
And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.To him they agreed; they yielded to his reason and argument, being persuaded and convinced by it.
Beaten them; this was what our Saviour had foretold them, Matthew 10:17; and thus the husbandmen took the householder’s servants and beat them, Matthew 21:35. They had power yet left them by the Romans to punish offenders in their synagogues, but not capitally nor publicly. In this they left the good advice of Gamaliel, who had warned them not to fight against God.
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.Rejoicing; it argued full persuasion of the truth, and great resolution to abide by it, that they could account so foul a disgrace for Christ’s sake to be an honour.
That they were counted worthy to suffer; it is a condescension and favour, when God uses any to give testimony unto his trnth, although it be by their suffering: Philippians 1:29, Unto you it is given, not only to believe, but to suffer; as if to suffer for Christ were as great, if not a greater gift than to believe in him.
Shame; scourging being a servile and disgraceful punishment.
For his name; Christ’s name, or for Christ’s sake, to assert his truth, &c.: some do not read the pronoun, but the name, put absolutely for God, as was usual amongst the Jews, out of reverence to God’s name, lest they should profane it.
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.This is the same with what we read Acts 20:20, publicly, and from house to house; that is, in the temple, and public places, they preached unto the Jews; and in more private places, (or houses), where they saw it needful; unto such they conversed with. They visited their flock, and instructed, exhorted, comforted them as their condition required. See the power of the grace of God; these were the men who forsook Christ when the soldiers came to apprehend him, they durst not be seen in his company; yet now they profess his name, and abide by their profession, though they are derided and beaten for it.