Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
26. And when Saul was at Jerusalem, he essayed to join himself to the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27. But when Barnabas had taken him, he brought him to the apostles, and he told them how that he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had behaved himself boldly at Damascus, in the name of Jesus, 28. And he was conversant with them at Jerusalem; and when he was emboldened in the name of the Lord Jesus, 29. He spake, and disputed with the Grecians. And they went about to kill him. 30. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him to Cesarea, and sent him to Tarsus. 31. Then the churches throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, had peace; and they were edified, and walked in the fear of the Lord, and were filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.
26. When Saul was. These were yet hard entrances 617 for Paul, who was as yet but a freshwater soldier, in that, when he had hardly escaped the hands of the enemies, the disciples would not receive him. For he might have seemed to have been so tossed to and fro, as it were, in mockery, that he could have no resting place. All his own nation was set against him for Christ’s cause. The Christians refuse him. Might he not have been quite discouraged and out of hope as one expelled out of men’s company? First, what remaineth but that he fall away from the Church, seeing he is not received? But when he remembereth the life which he had led aforetime he marvelleth not that they are afraid 618 of him. Therefore, he doth patiently suffer the brethren to refuse his company, seeing they had just cause of fear. This was true conversion, that whereas he raged horribly before, he doth now valiantly suffer the storms of persecutions; and, in the mean season, when as he cannot be admitted into the company of the godly, he waiteth with a quiet mind until God reconcile them unto him. We must diligently note what he desireth, to wit, that he may be numbered amongst the disciples of Christ. This can he not obtain. Here is no ambition, but he was to be instructed by this means to make more account even of the lowest place amongst the disciples of Christ than of all masterships in corrupt and revolted 619 synagogues, And from this submission was he exalted unto the highest degree of honor, that he might be the principal doctor of the Church, even unto the end of the world. But no man is fit to be a teacher in the Church save only he who willingly submitteth himself, 620 that he may be a fellow disciple with other men.
27. When Barnabas had taken him. Whereas the disciples fled so fast from Paul, that was, peradventure, a point of too great fearfulness, 621 and yet he speaketh of none of the common sort, but of the apostles themselves. But he doth either extenuate or lighten their fault, because they suspected him for just causes, whom they had found and tried 622 to be such a deadly enemy; and, it was to be feared, lest they should rashly endanger themselves if they should have showed themselves to be so easy to entreat. Therefore, I think that they are not to be blamed for that fear which they conceived for just cause, or that they deserve to be even accused for the same. For if they had been called to give an account of their faith, they would have provoked 623 not Paul only, but also all the furies of hell, without fear. Whence we gather that every fear is not to be condemned but such as causeth us to turn aside from our duty. The narration which Luke addeth may be referred as well unto the person of Barnabas as of Paul. Yet I think rather that Paul declareth to the apostles what had befallen him; and yet the speech may be well applied to Barnabas, especially when as mention is made of Paul’s boldness.
28. Luke saith afterwards that Paul went in and out with the disciples, which speech signifieth amongst the Hebrews familiarity, as the inhabitants of cities are said to go in and out at the gates of the city. Therefore after that Paul was commended by the testimony of Barnabas, he began to be counted one of the flock, that he might be thoroughly known to the Church. Luke saith again that he dealt boldly in the name of the Lord, by which words he commendeth his (stoutness and) courage in professing the gospel. For he durst never have whispered amidst so many lets, unless he had been endowed with rare constancy. Nevertheless, all men are taught what they ought to do; to wit, every man according to the measure of his faith. For though all be not Pauls, yet the faith of Christ ought to engender in our minds so great boldness, that we be not altogether dumb when we have need to speak. I take the name of the Lord in this place for the profession of the gospel; in this sense, that Paul defended Christ’s cause manfully.
29. He disputed with the Grecians. Erasmus noteth well in this place that those are here called Grecians, not which came 624 of Grecians, but rather those Jews who were scattered throughout divers parts of the world. Those men were wont to come together 625 to Jerusalem to worship. And it is to be thought that Paul disputed rather with strangers and aliens, 626 than with those who dwelt at Jerusalem, 627 because this latter sort would never have abidden him, neither had it been wisely done to come in their sight. Therefore being excluded from those who knew him before he tried whether there were any hope to do good amongst men whom he knew not, so that he did most stoutly whatsoever concerned the duty of a valiant soldier.
They would have slain him. Behold, again, fury instead of zeal; and it cannot otherwise be, but that hypocrisy and superstition will be cruel and fierce. The godly must be incensed with an holy wrath, when they see the pure truth of God corrupted with false and wicked opinions; yet, so that they moderate their zeal, that they set down nothing until they have thoroughly weighed the cause; and, secondly, that they essay to bring those into the way who wander out of the same. Lastly, that if they see their stubbornness to be past hope, they themselves take not the sword in hand, because they must know that they have no authority granted them of the Lord to (punish or) revenge. But hypocrites are always ready to shed blood before they know the matter; so that superstition is bloody, through blind and headlong fury. But Paul, who of late ran up and down to vex the godly, can abide nowhere now. 628 And yet this estate was far better for him, than if he should have reigned in peace and quietness, driving the godly everywhere out of their places.
30. In that he went to Tarsus, he did it undoubtedly to this end, that he might carry the doctrine of the gospel thither, because he hoped that he should have some favor and authority in his country, where he was famous; yet was he brought thither by the brethren, that they might deliver him from the lying in wait.
31. Then the Churches. Luke’s meaning is, that the enemies of the gospel were greatly provoked by Paul’s presence. For why was there such peace made suddenly by his departure, save only because the very sight of him did provoke the fury of the enemies? And yet this is no reproach to him, as if he had been, as it were, some trumpet in war; but Luke doth rather commend him for this, because he made the wicked run mad, only with the smell of him when he was near them. For Christ meant so to triumph in him, that he might be no less a trouble than an ornament to his Church.
Therefore we are taught by this example that those are not by and by 629 to be condemned, who inflame the madness of the wicked more than others; which admonition is not a little profitable. For as we are too dainty and too much besotted with the love of our own rest, so we be also sometimes angry with the best and most excellent servants of Christ, if we think that through their vehemency the wicked are pricked forward to do hurt; and by this means we do injury to the Spirit of God, whose force and speech kindleth all that flame.
And whereas Luke saith, that the Churches had peace, let us know that it was not continual, but because the Lord granted his servants some short breathing. For thus doth he bear with 630 our infirmity, when he appeaseth or mitigateth the winds and storms of persecutions, lest if they should hold on still, they should urge us out of measure. And this blessing is not to be despised, neither is it any common blessing, when as the Churches have peace. But Luke addeth other things, which are of far more value; to wit, that the Churches were edified, they walked in the fear of God, and they were filled with the consolation of the Spirit. For as we are wont to riot and exceed in time of peace, the Churches are more happy, for the most part, amidst the tumults of war, than if they should enjoy what rest they would desire. But and if holy conversation, and the consolation of the Spirit, whereby their state doth flourish, be taken away, they lose not only their felicity, but they come to nought. Therefore, let us learn not to abuse external peace in banqueting and idleness; but the more rest we have given us from our enemies, to encourage ourselves to go forward in godliness whilst we may. And if at any time the Lord let loose the bridle to the wicked to trouble us, let the inward consolation of the Spirit be sufficient for us. Finally, as well in peace as in war, let us always joyfully go forward toward him who hath a reward for us. 631
Edification may be taken either for increase; to wit, whilst the Churches are augmented with the number of the faithful, or for their going forward who are already in the flock; to wit, whilst they have new gifts given them, and have greater confirmation of godliness. In the first signification it shall be referred unto the persons; in the second unto the gifts of the Spirit. I embrace both willingly; that there were some every now and then gathered unto the Church who were strangers before, and those who were of the household of the Church did increase in godliness and other virtues. Furthermore, the metaphor of a building is very convenient, because the Church is the temple and house of God, and every one of the faithful is also a temple, (1Ti 3:15; 1Co 3:16.) The two things which follow, that they walked in the fear of God, and that they were filled with the consolation of the Spirit, are parts of that edification. Therefore, though the Churches had peace, yet they were not drunken with delights and earthly joy, but, trusting to God’s help, they were more emboldened to glorify God.
“Dura et aspera Paulo adhuc tironi rudimenta haec fuerunt,” this was rough and harsh training for Paul, who was as yet a tyro.
“Se horrori esse,” that he is a terror to them.
“Qui sponte in ordinem se cogit,” who spontaneously reduces himself into insubordination.
“Id nimiae forsan timiditatis fuit,” that, perhaps, was owing to too great timidity.
“Experti sunt,” experienced.
“Provocassent,” challenged or defied.
“Qui oriundi essent ex Graecis,” who were of Greek extraction.
“Ex suis provinciis,” from their different provinces.
“Advenis... hospitibus,” with guests and strangers.
“Indigenis,” with natives.
“Fidem figere,” rest his foot.
“Indulget,” is indulgent to.
“Ad nostrum agnotheten,” to him who judges our combat.