Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
15. In those days, Peter standing up in the midst of the disciples, said, (and the company of names together was almost an hundred and twenty,) 16. Men and brethren, it was expedient that this Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, which was guide unto them which took Jesus: 17. Which was adopted into the number of us, and had obtained part [lot] of this ministry. 18. And he truly hath [had] possessed [or gotten] a field with the reward of iniquity, and being hanged, he burst in sunder in the middle, and all his bowels gushed out. 19. And this was known unto all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that that field is called, in their tongue, Aceldama, that is, The field of blood. 20. For it is written in the book of the Psalms, Let his habitation be void, and let there be none to dwell therein, and let another man take his bishopric. 21. Of all those, therefore, which were gathered together with us all that time wherein the Lord Jesus went in and out amongst us, 22. Beginning from the baptism of John, until that day wherein he was taken up from us, must one be made a witness together with us of his resurrection.
15. It was meet that Matthias should be chosen into the place of Judas, lest, through the treachery of one man, all that might seem to have been made of none effect which Christ had once appointed. He did not unadvisedly choose the twelve in the beginning, as principal preachers of his gospel. For when he said that they should be judges of twelve tribes of Israel, Lu 6:13, Joh 6:70; he showeth here that it was done of set purpose, that they might gather together the tribes of Israel unto one faith. But after that the Jews had refused the grace offered unto them, it was behoveful that the Israel of God should be gathered together out of all countries.
This, therefore, was, as it were, a holy number, which, if it should have been diminished through the wickedness of Judas, then should the preaching of the gospel both have had, and also have, less credit at this day, if the beginning thereof had been imperfect. 56 Although, therefore, Judas would (as much as in him lay) have disappointed the purpose of Christ, yet nevertheless it stood firm and stable. He perished as he was worthy, yet did the order of the apostles remain whole and sound.
The company of names It is uncertain whether he meaneth the men who only have the name properly, seeing the women are comprehended under the name of the men; or whether he taketh names simply for all the heads, as the Hebrews call them souls. This may also be called in question, whether they were wont daily to frequent that parlor in which the apostles did dwell, or they did continually dwell there with them. For the place was scarce able to contain so great a multitude, to serve them for all necessary uses. Surely it seemeth to me a thing more like to be true, that Luke doth in this place express the number of them, that we may know that they were all gathered together when Peter made this sermon. Whereby we may guess that they were not always present there. Although I dare not affirm any certain thing concerning this matter, yet being moved with a probable conjecture, I do rather lean unto this part, that the church was gathered together them because they had to intreat of a serious matter, and to this end also tendeth this word rising, [standing up.]
16. It was meet that the Scripture should be fulfilled. Because Peter doth speak in this their assembly, therefore the Papists will have him to be the head of the church. 57 As though no man might speak in any assembly of the godly but he should straightway be Pope. We do grant, that as in every assembly there must be some which must be chief, so in this assembly the apostles did ascribe this honor unto Peter. But what maketh this unto (the proving of) their Papacy? Wherefore, bidding them adieu, 58 let us consider what the Spirit doth speak by the month of Peter. He saith That the Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, lest any man’s mind should be troubled with that horrible fall of Judas. For it seemed a strange thing that he which was chosen by Christ unto so excellent a function, should so filthily fall in the beginning of his course. Peter removeth this stone of stumbling, when he saith that it was foretold by the Scripture. Whence we may gather an admonition very necessary for daily practice; namely, that we ought to attribute this honor unto the prophecies of the Scriptures, that they are able to appease all such fear as we conceive of the sudden event of things. For there is nothing which doth more trouble us than when we stay still in our own sense and understanding, and procure unto ourselves lets and doubts, 59 which the Lord would be ready to cure, if so be that we would hold fast this one thing, that nothing is absurd which he hath foreseen, appointed, and foretold, that he might make us more strong. Neither was Judas therefore excusable, because that which befell him was foretold, seeing that he fell away, not being compelled by the prophecy, but only by the malice of his own heart. The oration of Peter hath two parts. For, in the first place, he putteth away the offense which godly minds might have conceived by reason of the fall of Judas; whence also he gathereth an exhortation that the rest may learn to fear God. Secondly, he telleth them that it remaineth that they choose another into his place, both which he proveth by testimony of Scripture.
Which the Holy Ghost foretold Such manner of speeches bring greater reverence to the Scriptures, whilst we are taught by them that David and all the rest of the prophets did speak only as they were directed by the Holy Ghost; so that they themselves were not the authors of their prophecies, but the Spirit which used their tongues as an instrument. Wherefore, seeing that our dullness is so great, that we ascribe less authority unto the Scriptures than we ought, we must diligently note such manner of speeches, and acquaint ourselves with them, that we may oftentimes remember the authority of God to confirm our faith withal.
17. Adopted. It is word for word reckoned. And he saith that he was one of the number, that he might signify unto them that it was needful that the empty place should be filled, to the end that the number might continue whole. And to this propose serveth that which followeth, that he had obtained a part in the ministry. For thereupon it doth follow that the body should be, as it were, lame, if that part should be wanting. Surely it was a thing which might make them greatly amazed, that he whom Christ had extolled unto so high dignity should fall headlong into such destruction. Which circumstance doth increase the cruelty of the fact, 60 and teacheth the rest to take heed unto themselves. 61 Neither is it to be doubted but that the disciples did remember Judas with great grief and sorrow. But Peter doth here express by name the excellency of his function, that he might make them more attentive and more careful to provide a remedy.
18. And he truly It seemeth unto me a thing like to be true, that this narration of the death of Judas was put in by Luke; therefore, it seemeth good to me to include it within a parenthesis, that it may be separated from Peter’s sermon. For to what end should Peter here reckon up unto the disciples those things which they already knew well enough?
Secondly, it should have been an absurd thing to have spoken after this among them, that the field which was bought with the money that was given to betray Christ was called of the Hebrews, in their own mother tongue, Aceldama. But whereas some do answer, that Peter spoke this unto the Galileans, whose speech did disagree with the Jewish tongue, it is but vain and frivolous. In very deed they did somewhat disagree in pronunciation; yet not so much but that they did well understand one another; like as do these of Paris and the men of Rouen.
Furthermore, how could this be a fit word for Jerusalem, where Peter made his sermon? To what end should he interpret in Greek among the Hebrews their own mother tongue? Therefore doth Luke of himself put in this sentence concerning the death of Judas, lest Peter’s words might seem strange 62 through ignorance of that history.
He possessed a field This word hath a double signification, which, in my opinion, doth rather signify in this place to possess than to get; yet because it skilleth little whether way we read it, I leave it indifferent. And he speaketh after this sort, not because Judas had the use of the field, or that he himself did buy it, seeing it was bought after his death. But Luke’s meaning was, that his burial was the perpetual note of ignominy; was the reward which he had for his falsehood and wicked act. Neither did he so much sell Christ for thirty pieces as his apostleship. He enjoyed not the money; 63 he only possessed the field. Furthermore, it came to pass through the marvelous providence of God, that the very common name of the field should be a note of infamy for the priests, which had bought (the) innocent blood of [from] the traitor. He saith that the Hebrews did call it by that name in their tongue, because he himself was a Grecian born; and he calleth that the Hebrew tongue which the Jews did use after the captivity of Babylon, namely, such as was mixed of the Assyrian tongue and of the Chaldean tongue.
It is written in the book of Psalms He taketh away, by authority of Scriptures, all offense which might have happened by reason of the falling away of Judas. Yet might this place seem to be greatly wrested: First, in that David did not wish that these things might befall any particular person, but (in the plural number) he wisheth them unto his enemies. Secondly, it seemeth that Peter doth apply these things amiss unto Judas, which were spoken of the enemies of David. I answer, that David doth there speak after this [afterwards] of himself, that he may describe the condition and state of Christ’s kingdom.
In that Psalm (I say) is contained the common image of the whole Church, which is the body of the Son of God. Therefore, the things which are there set down must needs have been fulfilled in the head, which are indeed fulfilled, as the evangelists do testify, know, if any man object that those things which there were spoken against the enemies of David do not fitly agree unto Judas, we may easily gather that they do so much the rather agree with him, because David doth not respect himself as being separated from the body of the Church; but rather as he was one of the members of Christ, and so taking upon him his image, he steppeth forth in his name.
Whosoever shall mark that this singular person was attributed to David, that he should be a figure of Christ, will not marvel if all these things be applied unto him which were prefigured in David. Although, therefore, he doth comprehend the whole Church, yet he beginneth at the head thereof, and doth especially describe what things Christ should suffer by the hands of the wicked. For we learn out of Paul’s doctrine, that whatsoever afflictions the godly suffer, they are part of the afflictions of Christ, and serve to the fulfilling of the same, (Col 1:14.) This order and connection did David observe, or rather the Spirit of God, who meant by the mouth of David to instruct the whole Church. But as touching the persecutors of Christ, all that which is commonly spoken of them is by good right referred unto their standard-bearer; whose impiety and wickedness, as it is most famous, so his punishment ought to be made known unto all men. If any man do object again, that that which is recited in the Psalm is only certain cursings, and not prophecies; and that, therefore, Peter doth gather improperly that it was of necessity that it should be fulfilled, it is soon answered. For David was not moved with any perverse or corrupt affection of the flesh to crave vengeance; but he had the Holy Spirit to be his guide and director. Therefore, what things soever he prayed for there, being inspired with the Holy Ghost, they have the same strength which prophecies have, because the Spirit doth require no other thing than that which God hath determined with himself to perform, and will also promise unto us. But whereas Peter doth cite out of the Scriptures two diverse testimonies; by the first is meant, that Judas, together with his name and family, should quite be extinguished, that his place might be empty; the other, which he fetcheth out of the 109th Psalm, tendeth to this end, that there should be another chosen to supply his place. These seem at first to be contrary; namely, a waste habitation and succession. Yet, because the Spirit saith only, in the former place, that the adversaries of the Church should be taken away, that their place might be empty, and without one to dwell therein, in respect of themselves, this is no let why another may not afterward supply their empty place. Yea, this doth also augment their punishment, in that the honor, after it was taken from him that was unworthy thereof, is given to another.
And his bishopric The Hebrew word could not be translated more fitly. For פכודה (pecudah) doth signify a jurisdiction or government, so called of the overseeing and beholding of things. For as for those which interpret it wife, the text 64 refuteth them; for it followeth in the next verse, of his wife, that she may be made a widow. Therefore, after that he had wished that the wicked may be deprived of his life, he addeth, moreover, that he may be spoiled of his honor; neither doth he stay here, but also he desireth that another may succeed him, whereby, as I have said before, his punishment is doubled. In the meanwhile, he noteth by the way, 65 that this false, treacherous, and wicked person, whereof he speaketh, should not be some one of the common sort, but such an one as should be indued with honor and dignity; from which, nevertheless, he shall fall. And out of this place must we learn, that the wicked shall not escape scott free, which have persecuted the Church of God; for this miserable and wretched end is prepared for them all.
21. We must therefore. This which he bringeth in might seem, at the first sight, to be far set [fetched.] For if so be it David did speak of transposing 66 Judas’s bishopric, it did not thereupon straightway follow that the disciples should choose another to be his successor; yet, because they knew that they had this charge given them to order the Church, so soon as Peter had told them that it did please the Lord that it should be so, he gathereth thereupon that they ought to do it. For whensoever God will use as means, 67 to maintain the government of his Church, so soon as we know what his will is, we must not linger, but stoutly perform whatsoever is required in our ministry (and function.) That was, without all controversy, what was the duty of the Church; like as, at this day, when we hear that those must be put from their office which behave themselves ungodly and wickedly, and that others must be chosen in their rooms, the Church must take this charge in hand. Wherefore, it was superfluous to move any question about a thing that was not to be doubted of. Therefore, let us always remember to consider what we have to do, that we may be ready to obey the Lord. Furthermore, when as he intreateth of the making of an apostle, he saith, He must be a witness of the resurrection; which signifieth that the apostleship is not without the preaching of the gospel. Whence it may appear how vain and frivolous the Popish bishops are, which having on only dumb visors, brag that they are the successors of the apostles; but wherein are they like unto them? I grant that Peter doth here require such a witness as saw the Lord after his resurrection, of which sort John professeth himself to be one, when he saith, “He which saw it beareth witness,” (Joh 19:35.) For this did serve for the confirmation of faith; yet, nevertheless, Peter maketh it a thing necessary in him and the rest of his fellows in office, that they should teach, whilst he maketh them and himself preachers or witnesses of the resurrection.
He nameth the resurrection, not because they must bear witness thereof alone; but because, first, under this is comprehended the preaching of the death of Christ; secondly, because we have the end of our redemption therein, and the accomplishment thereof, and also it bringeth with it the celestial government of Christ, and the power of the Spirit in defending his, in establishing justice and equity, in restoring order, in abolishing the tyranny of sin, and in putting to flight all the enemies of the Church. Let us know, therefore, that those things are not excluded by this word which are necessarily knit together. Nevertheless, let us note that the resurrection is here named before other things, as being the chief point of the gospel, as also Paul teacheth, (1Co 15:17.)
But were the apostles alone witnesses of the resurrection? Was not this also common to the rest of the disciples? For Peter seemeth to challenge this as proper only to the apostles. I answer, that this title is therefore attributed unto them, because they were chosen peculiarly unto that function, and because they had the chief room amongst those which did bring this embassage; therefore, though they were the chief of those which were assigned, yet were not they only appointed thereunto.
All that time. He beginneth at that time when Jesus began to show himself unto the world, which is diligently to be observed, as before I have said; for he lived privately until such time as he was almost thirty years of age. For he would not make himself known further than was needful for our salvation. Therefore, when the time was come wherein he must go about that business which his Father had appointed him, he came abroad like a new man, and one that was but lately born. Every man may easily perceive what great force this hath to bridle our curiosity. The whole life of Christ might have been a mirror most marvelous, 68 of more than absolute perfection; and yet, notwithstanding, that he might keep us occupied in the study and meditation of those things which were most needful to be known, he would lead the better part of his life obscurely and in secret. 69 Who dare now wander without Christ, seeing that he doth apply the knowledge of himself to the edifying of faith?
The Hebrews take this, to go in and out, for to be conversant and to lead the life among men. In which sense, citizens are said to go in and out by the gates of their city; so Joh 10:9,
“If any man enter in by me, he shall go in and out,
and shall find pasture.”
Although, in the Second Book of the Chronicles, the first chapter, and tenth verse, it seemeth to be a token of rule and government.
“Ut ita loquar claudicaret,” had been, so to speak, lame, defective.
“Universae Ecclesiae,” the Universal Church.
“Illis valere jussis,” omitting these things.
“Offendicula,” small scandals.
“Atrocitatem sceleris,” the atrocity of the crime.
“Ut sibi caveant et metuani,” to be cautious and fear.
“Lectoribus obscura essent,” might be obscure to his readers.
“Argento potitus non est,” he did not obtain the money.
“Quum opera nostra uti velit Deus,” since God is pleased to use our agency.
“Admirable speculum,” an admirable mirror.
“Quasi sepultam,” as it were buried.