Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The priests and Sadducees are incensed at the apostles' teaching, and put them in prison, Act 4:1-3. The number of those who believed, Act 4:4. The rulers, elders, and scribes call the apostles before them, and question them concerning their authority to teach, Act 4:5-7. Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, answers, and proclaims Jesus, Act 4:8-12. They are confounded at his discourse and the miracle wrought on the lame man, yet command them not to preach in the name of Jesus, Act 4:13-18. Peter and John refuse to obey, Act 4:19, Act 4:20. They are farther threatened and dismissed, Act 4:21, Act 4:22. They return to their own company, who all join in praise and prayer to God, Act 4:23-30. God answers, and fills them with the Holy Spirit, Act 4:31. The blessed state of the primitive disciples, Act 4:32-35. The case of Joses, who sells his estate, and brought the money to the common stock, Act 4:36, Act 4:37.
The priests - These persons had evidenced the most implacable enmity against Christ from the beginning.
The captain of the temple - See this office particularly explained in the note on Luk 22:4 (note).
The Sadducees - Whose whole system was now in danger by the preaching of the resurrection of Christ; for they believed not in the immortality of the soul, nor in any future world. These made a common cause with the priests, etc., to suppress the evidence of Christ's resurrection, and silence the apostles.
Being grieved - Διαπονουμενοι, They were thoroughly fatigued with the continuance of this preaching; their minds suffered more labor, through vexation at the success of the apostles, than the bodies of the apostles did in their fatiguing exercise of preaching during the whole day.
The number - was about five thousand - That is, as I understand the passage, the one hundred and twenty which were converted before pentecost, the three thousand converted at pentecost, and one thousand eight hundred and eighty converted since the conversion of the three thousand; making in the whole five thousand, or ὡσει about that number: there might have been more or less; the historian does not fix the number absolutely. A goodly flock in one city, as the commencement of the Christian Church! Some think all the five thousand were converted on this day; but this is by no means likely.
Their rulers, and elders, and scribes - Those with the high priest Annas formed the Sanhedrin, or grand council of the Jews.
Annas - Though this man was not now actually in the office of high priest, yet he had possessed it for eleven years, bore the title all his life, and had the honor of seeing five of his sons fill that eminent place after him - an honor that never happened to any other person from the commencement of the Mosaic institution. He is the same who is called Ananus by Josephus, Ant. b. xx. c. 8.
And Caiaphas - He was son-in-law to Annas, Joh 18:13, was now high priest, and the same who, a short time before, condemned Christ to be crucified.
And John - Dr. Lightfoot conjectures, with great probability that this was Jochanan ben Zaccai, who was very famous at that time in the Jewish nation. Of him it is said in the Talmud, Jucas. fol. 60: "Rabbin Jochanan ben Zaccai the priest lived 120 years. He found favor in the eyes of Caesar, from whom he obtained Jafneh. When he died, the glory of wisdom ceased." The following is a remarkable passage: Yoma, fol. 39: Forty years before the destruction of the city, (the very time of which St. Luke now treats), when the gates of the temple flew open of their own accord, Rab. Jochanan ben Zaccai said, "O temple! temple! why dost thou disturb thyself? I know thy end, that thou shalt be destroyed, for so the Prophet Zachary hath spoken concerning thee: open thy doors, O Lebanon! that the fire may devour thy cedars." See Lightfoot and Schoettgen.
And Alexander - This was probably Alexander Lysimachus, one of the richest Jews of his time, who made great presents to the temple, and was highly esteemed by King Agrippa. See Calmet. He was brother to the famous Philo Judaeus, and father of Alexander Tiberius, who married Berenice, the daughter of Agrippa the elder, and was governor of Judea after Cuspius Fadus. See Josephus, Ant. l. xix. c. 5, s. 1.
Of the kindred of the high priest - Or rather, as Bp. Pearce renders it, "of the race of the high priests, i.e. of the family out of which the high priests were chosen." It may, however, comprehend those who belonged to the families of Annas and Caiaphas, and all who were connected with the sacerdotal family. Luke distinctly mentions all these, to show how formidable the enemies were against whom the infant Church of Christ had to contend.
By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? - It seems that this council were convinced that the lame man was miraculously healed; but it is very likely that they believed the whole to be the effect of magic; and, as all intercourse with familiar spirits, and all spells, charms, etc., were unlawful, they probably hoped that, on the examination, this business would come out, and that then these disturbers of their peace would be put to death. Hence they inquired by what power, εν ποιᾳ δυναμει, by what supernatural energy; or in what name, by what mode of incantation; and who is the spirit you invoke, in order to do these things? False prophets, reputed witches, wizards, etc., were to be brought before the sanhedrin, to be by them judged, acquitted, or condemned, according to the evidence. Some think the words should be thus understood: Who gave you authority to teach publicly! This belongs to the sanhedrin. What, therefore, is your authority, and who is he who gave it to you?
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost - Which guided him into all truth, and raised him far above the fear of man; placing him in a widely different state of mind to that in which he was found when, in the hall of Caiaphas, he denied his Master, through fear of a servant girl. But now was fulfilled the promise of Christ, Mat 10:18-20; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake; but take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.
The good deed done - Επι ευεργεσιᾳ, The benefit he has received in being restored to perfect soundness.
By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth - This was a very bold declaration in the presence of such an assembly; but he felt he stood on good ground. The cure of the lame man the day before was notorious; his long infirmity was well known; his person could be easily identified; and he was now standing before them whole and sound: they themselves therefore could judge whether the miracle was true or false. But the reality of it was not questioned, nor was there any difficulty about the instruments that were employed; the only question is, How have ye done this? and in whose name? Peter immediately answers, We have done it in the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom ye crucified, and whom God hath raised from the dead.
This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders - By your rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, you have fulfilled one of your own prophecies, Psa 118:22; and, as one part of this prophecy is now so literally fulfilled, ye may rest assured, so shall the other; and this rejected stone shall speedily become the head stone of the corner. See the note on Mat 21:42.
Neither is there salvation in any other - No kind of healing, whether for body or soul, can come through any but him who is called Jesus. The spirit of health resides in him; and from him alone its influences must be received.
For there is none other name - Not only no other person, but no name except that divinely appointed one, Mat 1:21, by which salvation from sin can be expected - none given under heaven - no other means ever devised by God himself for the salvation of a lost world. All other means were only subordinate, and referred to him, and had their efficacy from him alone. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; and no man ever came, or can come, to the Father but by him.
The boldness of Peter and John - Την παρῥησιαν, The freedom and fluency with which they spoke; for they spoke now from the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost, and their word was with power.
That they were unlearned and ignorant men - Αγραμματοι, Persons without literature, not brought up in nor given to literary pursuits - and ignorant, ιδιωται, persons in private life, brought up in its occupations alone. It does not mean ignorance in the common acceptation of the term; and our translation is very improper. In no sense of the word could any of the apostles be called ignorant men; for though their spiritual knowledge came all from heaven, yet in all other matters they seem to have been men of good, sound, strong, common sense.
They took knowledge of them - Επεγινωσκον may imply that they got information, that they had been disciples of Christ, and probably they might have seen them in our Lord's company; for there can be little doubt that they had often seen our Lord teaching the multitudes, and these disciples attending him.
That they had been with Jesus - Had they not had his teaching, the present company would soon have confounded them; but they spoke with so much power and authority that the whole sanhedrin was confounded. He who is taught in spiritual matters by Christ Jesus has a better gift than the tongue of the learned. He who is taught in the school of Christ will ever speak to the point, and intelligibly too; though his words may not have that polish with which they who prefer sound to sense are often carried away.
They could say nothing against it - They could not gainsay the apostolic doctrine, for that was supported by the miraculous fact before them. If the doctrine be false, the man cannot have been miraculously healed: if the man be miraculously healed, then the doctrine must be true that it is by the name of Jesus of Nazareth that he has been healed. But the man is incontestably healed; therefore the doctrine is true.
A notable miracle hath been done - A miracle has been wrought, and this miracle is known, and acknowledged to be such; all Jerusalem knew that he was lame - lame from his birth, and that he had long begged at the Beautiful gate of the temple; and now all Jerusalem knew that he was healed; and there was no means by which such a self-evident fact could be disproved.
But that it spread no farther - Not the news of the miraculous healing of the lame man, but the doctrine and influence which these men preach and exert. More than a thousand people had already professed faith in Christ in consequence of this miracle, (see Act 4:4), and if this teaching should be permitted to go on, probably accompanied with similar miracles, they had reason to believe that all Jerusalem (themselves excepted, who had steeled their hearts against all good) should be converted to the religion of him whom they had lately crucified.
Let us straitly threaten them - Απειλῃ απειλησωμεθα, Let us threaten them with threatening, a Hebraism, and a proof that St. Luke has translated the words of the council into Greek, just as they were spoken.
That they speak ...to no man in this name - Nothing so ominous to them as the name of Christ crucified, because they themselves had been his crucifiers. On this account they could not bear to hear salvation preached to mankind through him of whom they had been the betrayers and murderers, and who was soon likely to have no enemies but themselves.
Not to speak ...nor teach in the name of Jesus - Any other doctrine, and any other name, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites and infidels will bear, but the doctrine which is according to godliness, proclaiming salvation through the blood of Christ crucified, they will not bear. If their doctrine were not the truth of God it could not be so unpopular; there is such an enmity in human nature against all that is good and true, that whatever comes from God is generally rejected by wicked men.
Whether it be right in the sight of God - As if they had said: Worldly prudence and a consideration of our secular interests would undoubtedly induce us to obey you; but acting as before God, and following the dictates of eternal truth and justice, we dare not be silent. Can it be right to obey men contrary to the command and will of God? When he commands us to speak, dare we hold our tongue? We have received our authority from God through Christ, and feel fully persuaded of the truth by the Holy Spirit which now dwells in us; and we should be guilty of treason against God, were we on any consideration to suppress his testimony. Your own consciences testify that we should be sinners against our heavenly King, were we to act according to your orders; and the conclusion is, that we cannot but speak what we have seen and heard.
When they had farther threatened them - Προσαπειλησαμενοι, When they had added to their former threatenings, repeating the former menaces, and adding new penalties.
Finding nothing how they might punish them - Or, as the Codex Bezae reads, μηεὑρισκοντες αιτιαν, πως κολασωνται, not finding a cause why they might punish them. This reading is supported by the Syriac and Arabic. Bp. Pearce says, "This is better sense and better Greek."
Because of the people - The people saw the miracle, confessed the finger of God, believed on the Lord Jesus, and thus became converts to the Christian faith; and the converts were now so numerous that the sanhedrin was afraid to proceed to any extremities, lest an insurrection should be the consequence.
The man was above forty years old - The disease was of long standing, and consequently the more inveterate; but all difficulties, small or great, yield equally to the sovereign power of God. It is as easy with God to convert a sinner of forty or four-score, as one of ten years old. But he who now refuses to obey the call of God has neither reason nor revelation to support himself even in the most distant hope that he shall get, in a future time, the salvation which he rejects in the present.
They went to their own company - This was properly the first persecution that had been raised up against the Church since the resurrection of Christ; and as the rest of the disciples must have known that Peter and John had been cast into prison, and that they were to be examined before the sanhedrin, and knowing the evil disposition of the rulers toward their brethren, they doubtless made joint supplication to God for their safety. In this employment it is likely Peter and John found them on their return from the council, and repeated to them all their treatment, with the threats of the chief priests and elders.
Lord, thou art God - Δεσποτα, συ ὁ Θεος, Thou God art the sovereign Lord. Thy rule is universal, and thy power unlimited; for thou hast the heaven and its glories, the earth and the sea, and their endlessly varied and numerous inhabitants, under thy direction and control.
By the mouth of thy servant David hast said - Several add, but impertinently, δια πνευματος ἁγιου, by the Holy Spirit; but it is sufficient that God has said it; and thugs we find that David spoke by the inspiration of God; and that the second Psalm relates to Jesus Christ, and predicts the vain attempts made by Jewish and heathen powers to suppress Christianity.
Against the Lord and against his Christ - Κατα του Χριστου αυτου should be translated, against his Anointed, because it particularly agrees with ὁν εχρισας, whom thou hast Anointed, in the succeeding verse.
There is a parenthesis in this verse that is not sufficiently noticed: it should be read in connection with Act 4:28, thus: For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, (for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done), both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, were gathered together.
It is evident that what God's hand and counsel determined before to be done was not that which Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, (Romans), and the people of Israel had done and were doing; for, then, their rage and vain counsel would be such as God himself had determined should take place, which is both impious and absurd; but these gathered together to hinder what God had before determined that his Christ or Anointed should perform; and thus the passage is undoubtedly to be understood.
Were gathered together - Εν τῃ πολει ταυτῃ, In this very city, are added by ABDE, and several others; all the Syriac, the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonian, Vulgate, Itala, and several of the primitive fathers. This reading Griesbach has received into the text. This makes the words much more emphatic; in this thy own city, these different and in all other cases dissentient powers are leagued together against thine Anointed, and are determined to prevent the accomplishment of thy purpose.
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings - It is not against us, but against thee, that they conspire: it is not to prevent the success of our preaching, but to bring to nought thy counsel: the whole of their enmity is against thee. Now, Lord, look upon it; consider this.
And grant unto thy servants - While we are endeavoring to fulfill thy counsels, and can do nothing without thee, sustain our courage, that we may proclaim thy truth with boldness and irresistible power.
By stretching forth thine hand to heal - Show that it is thy truth which we proclaim, and confirm it with miracles, and show how highly thou hast magnified thy Son Jesus, whom they have despised and crucified, by causing signs and wonders to be wrought in his name.
Thy holy child Jesus - Του ἁγιου παιδος σου should be translated, thy holy Servant, as in Act 4:25. Δαβιδ παιδος σου, thy servant David, not thy Child David: the word is the same in both places.
The place was shaken - This earthquake was an evidence of the presence of God, and a most direct answer to their prayer, as far as that prayer concerned themselves. The earthquake proclaimed the stretched-out arm of God, and showed them that resistance against his counsels and determinations must come to nought.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost - And, in consequence of this, they spake the word of God with boldness; a pointed answer to a second part of their request, Act 4:29. A right prayer will always have a right and ready answer. Though these disciples had received the Holy Spirit on the day of pentecost, yet they were capable of larger communications; and what they had then received did not preclude the necessity of frequent supplies, on emergent occasions. Indeed, one communication of this Spirit always makes way and disposes for another. Neither apostle nor private Christian can subsist in the Divine life without frequent influences from on high. Had these disciples depended on their pentecostal grace, they might have sunk now under the terror and menaces of their combined and powerful foes. God gives grace for the time being, but no stock for futurity, because he will keep all his followers continually dependent on himself.
With boldness - Παντι τῳ θελοντι πιστευειν, To all who were willing to believe, is added by DE, two others, Augustin, Irenaeus, and Bede.
The multitude of them that believed - The whole 5000, mentioned Act 4:4, and probably many others, who had been converted by the ministry of the other apostles since that time.
Were of one heart and of one soul - Were in a state of the most perfect friendship and affection. In all the 5000 there appeared to be but one heart and one soul; so perfectly did they agree in all their views, religious opinions, and holy affections. Some MSS. add, και ουκ ην διακρισις εν αυτοις ουδεμια, and there was no kind of difference or dissension among them. This remarkable reading is found in the Codex Bezae, another of great authority, E, two others, Ambrose, Bede, Cyprian, and Zeno. Diogenes Laertius relates of Aristotle, ερωτηθεις, τι εστι φιλος; being asked, What is a Friend? εφη, μια ψυχη δυο σωμασιν ενοικουσα answered, One soul dwelling in Two bodies. This saying has been justly celebrated: but what would this wonderful philosopher have thought and said, had he seen these disciples of Jesus, and friends of mankind: one soul dwelling in 5000 bodies!
They had all things common - See the notes on Act 2:44, where this subject is examined. See below, Act 4:34.
With great power gave the apostles witness - This power they received from the Holy Spirit, who enabled them, μεγαλῃ δυναμει, with striking miracles, to give proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; for this is the point that was particularly to be proved: that he was slain and buried, all knew; that he rose again from the dead, many knew; but it was necessary to give such proofs as should convince and confound all. This preaching and these miracles demonstrated this Divine truth: Jesus died for your sins - he rose again for your justification; behold what God works in confirmation of these glorious truths; believe therefore in the Lord Jesus, and ye shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
Great grace was upon them all - They all received much of the favor or grace of God; and they had much favor with all who feared God. In both these ways this clause may be understood; for χαρις means favor, whether that be evidenced by benevolence or beneficence, or by both. The favor of God is the benevolence of God; but his benevolence is never exerted without the exertions of his beneficence. Hence the grace or favor of God always implies a blessing or gift from the hand of his mercy and power. The favor or benevolence of men may exist without beneficence, because it may not be in their power to communicate any gift or benefit, though they are disposed to do it; or, 2dly. the persons who enjoy their favor may not stand in need of any of their kind acts; but it is not so with God: his good will is ever accompanied by his good work; and every soul that is an object of his benevolence stands in the utmost need of the acts of his beneficence. Hence, as he loved the world, he gave his Son a ransom for all. All needed his help; and, because they all needed it, therefore all had it. And truly we may say of the whole human race, for whom the Son of God tasted death, that great grace was upon all; for All have been purchased by his sacrificial death. This by the way.
Neither was there any among them that lacked - It was customary with the Jews to call the poor together, to eat of the sacrifices, but as the priests, etc., were incensed against Christ and Christianity, consequently the Christian poor could have no advantage of this kind; therefore, by making a common stock for the present necessity, the poor were supplied; so there was none among them that lacked. This provision therefore of the community of goods, which could be but temporary, was made both suitably and seasonably. See Bp. Pearce, and see the note on Act 2:44.
Laid ...down at the apostles' feet - To show how cordially and entirely they parted with them. And they entrusted the management of the whole to those men to whom they found God had entrusted the gifts of his Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of the kingdom of heaven.
Joses - Or, Joseph, as many excellent MSS. read; but who he was, farther than what is here said, we know not.
Surnamed Barnabas - Or, Barsabbas, according to the Coptic.
The son of consolation - Υἱος παρακλησεως; As παρακλησις signifies exhortation, as well as consolation, and is indeed distinguished from the latter, Co1 14:3, the original name was probably בר נבא Bar naba, or בר נביא Bar nebia, which signifies the son of prophecy or exhortation; and this is certainly one sense which prophecy has in the New Testament; and in this way Barnabas distinguished himself among the apostles. See Act 11:23. And Barnabas Exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they should cleave unto the Lord.
A Levite, and of the country of Cyprus - Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, off Cilicia, and not very distant from the Jewish coast. The Jews were very numerous in that island: see Dion. Cas. lib. 68, 69. Though he was a Levite, he might have had land of his own by private purchase. The Levites, as a tribe, had no land in Israel; but the individuals certainly might make purchases any where in the country: but, as Barnabas was of Cyprus, his land probably lay there; and as it is likely that he was one of those strangers that came up to Jerusalem to the late feast, and was there converted, he might have sold his land in the island to some of his own countrymen who were at Jerusalem at this time; and so, being called to the work of the ministry, continued to associate with the apostles, travelling every where, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God. He was the constant companion of St. Paul, till the separation took place on account of John Mark, mentioned Act 15:36-39.
It is worthy of remark that the two apostles of the Gentiles, though of Jewish extraction, were both born in Gentile countries; Paul in Cilicia, Barnabas in Cyprus: this gave them many advantages; served to remove prejudices from the heathens; and gave them no doubt much facility in the Greek tongue, without which they could have done but little in Asia Minor, nor in most parts of the Roman empire where they traveled. How admirably does God determine even the place of our birth, and the bounds of our habitation! When under the influence of the grace of Christ, every thing is turned to a man's advantage. The man whom he calls to his work he will take care to endue with every necessary qualification. And is it too much to say that God never did call a man to preach the Gospel whom he did not qualify in such a manner that both the workman and the work should appear to be of God?
Some have said that ignorance is the mother of devotion. Devotion and religion are both scandalized by the saying. Enlightened piety has ever been the most sincere, steady, and active. God makes those wise who turn unto him; and by experimental religion all the powers of the mind are greatly improved. Every genuine minister of Christ has an enlightened heart; and, to this, it is his duty to add a well-cultivated mind. Ex quovis ligno Mercurius non fit: A blockhead never did, and never can, make a minister.