Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
34. And a certain Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, precious to all the people, rising in the council, commanded the apostles to be carried out a little space. 35. Then he said unto them, Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves, what ye intend to do touching these men. 36. For before these days there arose one Theudas, saying, that he was some great man, to whom consented a number of men, about four hundred, who perished; and they were all scattered abroad which had obeyed him, and were brought to nought. 37. After him arose one Judas of Galilee, in the days of the tribute, and led away much people after him, and he likewise perished; and all which had obeyed him were scattered abroad. 38. Now, therefore, I say unto you, Abstain from these men, and let them atone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it shall come to nought: 39. But if it be of God, you cannot destroy it; lest, at any time, ye be found to fight with God.
34. Luke showeth now after what manner God brought to nought the fury of the wicked. They were purposed to put the apostles to death; Gamaliel standeth up amidst them, to break off that mad consultation. Furthermore, he noteth the circumstances, to the end we may know how it could be, that one man could prevail so much against so many. He saith he was a Pharisee which sect was in great estimation, as we know. He saith that he was in price, or honored amongst the people; and they feared the people. Hereby it cometh to pass that they are the more afraid to do any thing contrary to his mind. So God doth oftentimes set sudden terrors against his enemies, (when they look not for them,)to stay their violence. Furthermore, Gamaliel commandeth the apostles to go aside, lest they should be the more emboldened by his words. For we must not think that he spake thus, because he did allow 283 the doctrine of the gospel, or that he meant to defend the same; but because he saw all the rest inflamed with fury, he being a man moderate and courteous, doth with sober speech temper that excess.
But if we consider all things well, this judgment and opinion is unmeet for a wise man. I know that many count it as an oracle, but it appeareth sufficiently hereby that they judge amiss, because by this means men should abstain from all punishments, neither were any wicked fact any longer to be corrected. Yea, all helps of life were to be refused, which we cannot prolong one moment. 284 Both things are true, that no endeavor of men can destroy that which is of God; and that that which is of men is not so strong that it can stand. But he gathereth amiss hence, that men must sit still and say nothing in the mean season. We must rather mark what God commandeth us to do, and he will have us to restrain wickedness. To this end hath he appointed magistrates, and armed them with the sword; to this end hath he set elders over his Church, to bring the froward in order, and that they may not suffer sin licentiously to rage without punishment. Therefore it is gathered amiss that we must refrain from punishing, because God is sufficient of himself to take away evils. Although his whole counsel is such, Gamaliel willeth the scribes and elders to take heed that they make not open war against God. And he speaketh as it were touching a doubtful matter; whereby it appeareth that he hath no certainty from the foundation, when as he doubteth in the quality of the cause, neither dare set down whether it be good or evil, but doth only command to defer it for a time, until the cause appear more plainly.
In sum, Gamaliel setteth an evil consequent from true grounds; 285 because he applieth that amiss unto the external office and manner of doing which ought to serve for faith only. On the other side, let this be our logic, That which is of God must needs stand, though all the world say nay; therefore faith must stand without all fear, against all the assaults of Satan and men, seeing faith is under-propped and supported with the eternal truth of God; although heaven fail, our salvation is safe, which hath God to be the author and keeper thereof; because God doth defend the kingdom of Christ, it can never be overthrown with any violence; because the doctrine of the gospel is grounded in God, howsoever men resist or shake the same, yet shall it nevertheless continue firm. Again, although the wicked attempt whatsoever they can, and seek all means 286 to destroy the Church, although they furiously strive against Christ and his Church so much as they are able, yet they shall not prevail, because it is the property of God to bring the counsels of men to nought; and by this means doth he punish their rashness. We see that both members are well applied to faith. But, in the mean season, there is no cause why the servants of Christ should be less diligent in maintaining the truth; why they should suffer the Church to decay through their fault; 287 why they should carelessly wink at their wickedness who endeavor to turn all things topsy-turvy.
36. There arose one Theudas. If we credit Josephus, Gamaliel altereth in this place the true course of the history. For he reporteth that Judas Gaulanites, who was born in Gamala, at such time as Quirinius, or Cyrenius, was proconsul, did raise a tumult with his adherents, because they would not have their goods taxed; 288 and that Theudas, at such time as Cuspius Fadus was procurator, did boast that he was a prophet of God. And Fadus was sent into Judea by Claudius Caesar. The former history is recorded in the Eighteenth Book of Antiquities; and the other in the Twentieth. But I think that when Luke saith, After him was there one Judas, he meant not to note the course of time, as if he were the latter; but forasmuch as Gamaliel brought in two like examples, he might put the one in place of the other, 289 without having respect of time. Therefore the word post is as much as moreover, or besides.
Furthermore, even these examples wherewith Gamaliel confirmeth his opinion do not sufficiently agree with the present cause. For, because they did not by and by resist Judas, that sedition which he had raised was the occasion of many murders, and at length he was vanquished with hand and weapon. Theudas also had done far more hurt, unless he had been put to flight in time by Cuspius Fadus. But Gamaliel hath respect unto this alone, that men have unlucky success when as they advance themselves un-advisedly; and that cometh to pass by the just judgment of God. But because the priests refuse to hearken when God giveth them good counsel, they are worthy to be made amazed by man with frivolous reasons, wavering hither and thither through foolish perplexity. Furthermore, if we cast the time, we shall find that it was twelve years at least after the death of Christ before the apostles were beaten. For unto the five years which remained of the government of Tiberius, we must add three and a half which Caligula reigned. Fadus was not sent by Claudius into Judea before the second or third year of his reign. Gamaliel rehearsed not the act within a day or two after. Therefore that space of time is complete whereof I spake. Wherefore the constancy of the apostles was the more excellent, who, though they be so evil rewarded for those long pains which they had endured, yet are they not discouraged, neither do they cease to hold on as they had begun.
That he was some great man. Some books 290 have, Saying that he was somebody; yet both carry one sense. For he boasted that he was such a prophet that he could dry up Jordan, that those which were with him might go over dry foot. Nevertheless, we see how far Gamaliel is from true knowledge, who compareth the holy ministers of Christ unto seducers and robbers; although he mitigateth his words afterward, and, inclining toward the better part, leaveth it indifferent whether they have taken this matter in hand, having God for their author or no. Yet he speaketh doubtfully, because he provideth 291 only for quietness, all inquiry being set apart. This is only to be allowed 292 in his speech, that he feareth [deterreth] the wicked from wicked boldness, because there is nothing more to be feared than to strive against God.
“Probaret,” he approved.
“In arbitrio nostro,” at our pleasure.
“Ex veris principiis perversam consequentiam deducit,” deduces a false consequence from true principles.
“Nullosque non moveant lapides,” and leave not a stone unturned.
“Ne census ageretur,” to prevent a census from being taken.
“Promiscue miscere,” mix promiscuously, confound the two.
“Probandum,” to be approved.