The next day the rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,
I. Compare the CIRCUMSTANCES of this testimony with those in which Jesus stood. Some of the same were present. Actuated by similar feelings against the truth. But notice:
1. Called together on the ground of one specific fact - the miracle done (ver. 7) undeniably real.
2. Without any accusation as in the Lord's case. No false witnesses called.
3. In appearance, at least, orderly and candid; inquiring, "By what power, or in what Name, have ye done this?" certainly evincing, as does the sequel, considerable reaction from the fury of the Crucifixion. Conscience was at work. A sign that the gospel was already beginning to lay hold of Jerusalem.
II. Consider the TESTIMONY borne by the apostle.
1. The substance of it. It pointed to the signs of Divine power present; connected those signs with the Name and authority of Jesus Christ; clearly announced the fulfillment of Scripture, and invited all to rejoice in the blessings of the gospel.
2. The inspiration of it; seen in its simplicity, boldness, wisdom, and yet supreme gentleness and love. A perfect respect for the old, and yet an entire acceptance of the new with all its consequences. It was not the address of a criminal excusing himself, or of a suspected man putting by the misconstructions of enemies; it was the appeal of a herald and inspired ambassador, fulfilling his Divine office to be a witness to Jesus. There was in it a sublime indifference to human opposition, and yet a confidence in the sufficiency of the gospel which could not have been of merely human origin. Peter spoke as one "filled with the Holy Ghost," the Spirit of truth, life, and love; as a true Israelite, without one word of disparagement of what was represented in that Sanhedrim; and yet as a true apostle of Christ; as the priest of that restored temple, of which Jesus was henceforth the Corner-stone; and as a true prophet, able to connect the present with the past and the future, and say, "Thus saith the Lord." - R.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers... were gathered together.1. Of all the ancient Jewish institutions there is none which is of greater interest than that of the Sanhedrin. Though the name is not to be found in the Authorised Version, yet it occurs in the original no less than twenty-two times in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, where it is uniformly, but inadequately, represented by the expression "council."
2. There were two kinds of Sanhedrins.
I. THE GREAT OR SUPREME SANHEDRIN consisted of seventy members and a president. Hence it is sometimes spoken of as the Sanhedrin of seventy-one members, and sometimes as the Sanhedrin of seventy, exclusive of this patriarch. To understand the constituencies from which these were chosen, it is necessary to remark that from time immemorial the Jewish commonwealth was divided into the three following classes: First, the priests. These, by virtue of their being descendants of Aaron, were the ministers of the sanctuary, and enjoyed certain privileges arising from the services they rendered in the private life of the laity. Second, the Israelites — the people at large who were distinguished by their princes or chiefs of the several tribes, and by the heads of the families called "the elders of the people," or, simply, "the elders," or "rulers," because they managed the affairs of their respective clans. The third class consisted of the literary laity, the custodians and transcribers of the Sacred Text, hence called the "lawyers," or the "scribes." The first class was represented in the Sanhedrin by its four-and-twenty chiefs, "the chief priests." The second class were represented by their four-and-twenty elders, whilst the scribes had two-and-twenty members.
1. To belong to one of these three classes was simply a preliminary necessity, but it was also necessary to be of unblemished moral reputation, and without any physical blemish. Blindness of one eye, or even squinting, or lameness of one foot, or even repulsive appearance, was a disqualification. The applicant had to be the legitimate offspring of Jewish parents, in the prime of life, and wealthy. One who played dice, lent money on usury, or flew pigeons to entice others, was disqualified. He had to be a father of a family, so as to be able to sympathise with domestic affairs. He had to be learned in the Divine law and secular knowledge, and foreign languages, so that the Sanhedrin might not be dependent upon an interpreter. He was, moreover, required to have been a judge in his native town, and to have been promoted thence to the Small Sanhedrin which sat at the entrance to the temple hall.
2. The newly elected member had not to go through any special ceremony, since the ordination which he had received from his teacher on his appointment to a judgeship at his native town was deemed sufficient. About thirty years before Christ, however, the power to ordain, which had up to that time been vested in every teacher, was conferred upon Hillel I., the president of the Sanhedrin. With the permission of this functionary, any member of this assembly of notables, assisted by two non-ordained persons, performed this ceremony by calling him Rabbi, and by saying, "Behold, thou art ordained, and hast the authority to judge even cases involving pecuniary fines." The chain in the succession of ordination, however, was broken during the presidency of Hillel II., A.D. 330-365.
3. In the earliest times of the Jewish commonwealth the seventy-one members elected the most distinguished of their number as president, and the next in distinction as vice-president. The former was styled nasi (i.e., prince, patriarch), because he represented the civil and religious interests of the Jewish nation before the government abroad, and before the different Jewish congregations at home; whilst the latter was called "the father of the house of judgment," because he led and controlled the discussions on disputed points. The only one ineligible for the presidency was the king, because, according to the Jewish law, subjects were not allowed to contradict or differ from the monarch. Besides these two high officials, there was a referee, who examined the cases before they were brought before the Sanhedrin. There were, moreover, two notaries, and several menial officials corresponding to lictors, who are alternately called in the New Testament "servants," "officers," and "ministers" (Matthew 5:25; Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:54, 65, etc.).
4. The Sanhedrin held its sessions in the hall of squares which was situated in the centre of the south side of the temple court, between the courts of the priests and of the Israelites, and had doors into both. With the exception of the Sabbath and festivals, these sessions were held every day, from the termination of the daily morning sacrifice till the evening sacrifice. On these occasions the president sat on an elevated seat; on his right sat the vice-president, and on his left the referee, whilst the members were seated on low cushions, with their knees bent and crossed in Oriental fashion in a semicircle, according to their respective ages and attainments. They could thus see each other, and also be seen by the president and vice-president. Twenty-three, or one-third of the entire number of members, formed a quorum.
5. Besides being the depositaries of the legislative enactments which were called forth by the development of the domestic institutions and foreign relations of the Jewish commonwealth, the Sanhedrin had both to interpret and to administer the Divine law in its ecclesiastical and civil bearings upon the daily life of the community. All questions of orthodoxy or heterodoxy, morality and immorality, every pretension to prophecy or miraculous gifts, the legitimacy to perform the duties of priesthood, the necessity to extend the precincts of the temple or the boundaries of the city, the desirability of going to war, and even the conduct of the king, all these came within the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim Though sitting at Jerusalem, its jurisdiction was recognised by Jews everywhere, so that their decisions secured unity of faith and uniformity of practice.
6. In trials of capital offences it required a majority of at least two to condemn, and the verdict of guilty could only be delivered the day following the trial, to enable the Sanhedrin carefully to go over again the whole evidence. The Sanhedrin who found the verdict had to fast all day, and the criminal was executed the day after the sentence. This leniency, however, was not extended to one who gave himself out as the Messiah, or was proved to be a false prophet, or promulgated false doctrines. The trial of such an offender was generally reserved for the forthcoming festival, when all the Israelites came up to Jerusalem. The accused was then tied in the presence of the pilgrims; he was condemned and executed the same day on the festival (Deuteronomy 17:13). But even to such a criminal a stupefying beverage was mercifully administered before his execution, to deprive him of consciousness and lessen his pain. In latter days, however, the sentence of death passed by the Sanhedrin had to be confirmed by the Roman procurator.
7. Whatever we may think of Jewish tradition, which affirms that the Sanhedrin is a Mosaic institution based upon Exodus 18:24-26; Numbers 11:16-24, still both the several classes and the number of members which constituted this assembly of notables are alluded to in the Old Testament Scriptures (Jeremiah 26:8, 16; Ezekiel 8:11, etc.; Ezra 6:8; 2 Chronicles 19:8, 11). The chain of presidents, however, can only be traced uninterruptedly to circa For about a hundred and forty years the members elected the president from one of their midst. Thirty years before Christ, however, the presidency of the Sanhedrin became hereditary in the family of Hillel I. for fifteen generations; that is, from to
8. To enable the student to see with which of the Jewish patriarchs the important events in the lives of Christ, the apostles, and the apostolic fathers synchronise, we subjoin a list of these fifteen presidents of the Sanhedrin with their dates of office:
1. Hillel I B.C. 30- A.D. 10
2. Simon I. b. Hillel I
3. Gamaliel I. b. Simon I., the teacher of St. Paul
4. Simon II. b. Gamaliel I.
5. Gamaliel II. b. Simon II. 6. Simon III. b. Gamaliel II. 7. Jehudah I. the Holy b. Simon III. 8. Gamaliel III. b. Jehudah I. 9. Jehudah II. b. Simon III 10. Gamaliel IV. b. Jehudah II. 11. Jehudah III. b. Gamaliel IV 12. Hillel II. b. Jehudah III. 13. Gamaliel V. b. Hillel II. 14. Jehudah IV. b. Gamaliel V. 15. Gamaliel VI. b. Jehudah IV. From the destruction of Jerusalem, however, to the death of the last president, the Sanhedrin held its sessions in different cities of Palestine.
II. There were also SMALL SANHEDRINS, consisting of twenty-three members, who were appointed by the Great Sanhedrim. Every town or village in Palestine, which had no less than one hundred and twenty representative men, had a smaller court, which held its sittings on Mondays and Thursdays in the market-place, or in a room adjoining the synagogue. There were two such courts in Jerusalem itself; one sat at the entrance to the temple mount, and the other at the entrance to the temple hall. With the exception of certain capital offences which belonged exclusively to the jurisdiction of the Great Sanhedrin, the Small Sanhedrin had the power to judge both civil and criminal cases, and there was no appeal against their decision to the Great Sanhedrin. It was only when the judges were divided in their opinion that they themselves consulted the Great Sanhedrim In such a case the decision given by the supreme court was absolutely binding upon the judges of the Small Sanhedrin. As a rule, the members of the Small Sanhedrin were elected to fill up the periodical vacancies in the Great Sanhedrim
(G. D. Ginsburg, LL. D.)
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