Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
Acts of the
Notes on Chapter 11.
Verse 1. And the apostles and brethren that were in Judea— According to Calmet, Judea is here put in opposition to Caesarea, which, though situated in Palestine, passed for a Greek city, being principally inhabited by Pagans, Greeks, or Syrians.
Verse 2. Contended with him— A manifest proof this that the primitive Church at Jerusalem (and no Church can ever deserve this name but the Jerusalem Church) had no conception of St. Peter’s supremacy, or of his being prince of the apostles. He is now called to account for his conduct, which they judged to be reprehensible; and which they would not have attempted to do had they believed him to be Christ’s vicar upon earth, and the infallible Head of the Church. But this absurd dream is every where refuted in the New Testament.
Verse 3. Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised— In a Jew, this was no small offense; and, as they did not know the reason of St. Peter’s conduct, it is no wonder they should call him to account for it, as they considered it to be a positive transgression of the law and custom of the Jews. There is a remarkable addition here in the Codex Bezae, which it will be well to notice. The second verse of the chapter begins thus: —
Now Peter had a desire for a considerable time to go to Jerusalem: and having spoken to the brethren, and confirmed them, speaking largely, he taught them through the countries, (i.e. as he passed to Jerusalem,) and, as he met them, he spoke to them of the grace of God. But the brethren who were of the circumcision disputed with him, saying, etc.
Verse 4. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order— exetiqeto autoiv kaqexhv. This is the very style of St. Luke; see his Gospel, Luke 1:3. To remove their prejudice, and to give them the fullest reasons for his conduct, he thought it best to give them a simple relation of the whole affair; which he does, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, with a few additional circumstances here. See the notes before.
Verse 12. These six brethren— Probably pointing to them, being present, as proper persons to confirm the truth of what he was delivering.
Verse 14. Thou and all thy house shall be saved.— This is an additional circumstance: before, it was said, Acts 10:6, Peter shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do; and, in Acts 10:32, who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. But, in Peter’s relation, the matter is more explicitly declared, he shall tell thee words whereby thou and thy house shall be saved. He shall announce to you all the doctrine of salvation.
Verse 16. Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.— These words are very remarkable. The words of our Lord, as quoted Acts 1:5, to which St. Peter refers here, have been supposed by many to be referred to the apostles alone; but here it is evident that St. Peter believed they were a promise made to all Christians, i.e. to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who should believe on Jesus Christ. Therefore, when he saw that the Holy Ghost fell upon those Gentiles, he considered it a fulfillment of our Lord’s promise: ye, that is, all that will believe on me, shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost-not many days hence, i.e. in a short time this Spirit shall be given, which is to abide with you for ever. Hence we learn that the promise of the Holy Spirit is given to the whole body of Christians-to all that believe on Christ as dying for their sins, and rising for their justification.
Verse 17. God gave them the like gift, etc.— Viz. the Holy Spirit, and its various gifts and graces, in the same way and in the same measure in which he gave them to us Jews. What was I, that I could withstand God? It was not I who called them to salvation: it was God; and the thing is proved to be from God alone, for none other could dispense the Holy Spirit.
Verse 18. They held their peace— Their prejudices were confounded; they considered the subject, and saw that it was from God; then they glorified him, because they saw that he had granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life. As the word metanoia, which we translate repentance, signifies literally a change of mind, it may be here referred to a change of religious views, etc. And as repentance signifies a change of life and conduct, from evil to good, so the word metanoia may be used here to signify a change from a false religion to the true one; from idolatry, to the worship of the true God. Rosenmuller thinks that, in several cases, where it is spoken of the Jews, it signifies their change from a contempt of the Messiah to reverence for him, and the consequent embracing of the Christian religion.
The Christians who were present were all satisfied with St. Peter’s account and apology; but it does not appear that all were ultimately satisfied, as we know there were serious disputes in the Church afterwards on this very subject: see Acts 15:5, etc., where Christian believers, from among the Pharisees, insisted that it was necessary to circumcise the converted Gentiles, and cause them to keep the law of Moses. This opinion was carried much farther in the Church at Jerusalem afterwards, as may be seen at large in Acts 21:21, etc.
Verse 19. The persecution that arose about Stephen— That is, those who were obliged to flee from Jerusalem at the time of that persecution in which Stephen lost his life. See Acts 8:1.
Phoenice— Phoenicia, a country between Galilee and Syria, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including Tyre, Sidon, etc. It is often mentioned as a part of Syria. See Acts 21:2, 3.
Cyprus— An island of the Mediterranean Sea, over against Syria. See on Acts 4:30.
Antioch— A city of Syria, built by Antiochus Seleucus, near the river Orontes; at that time one of the most celebrated cities of the east. For the situation of all these, see the map accompanying this book.
Unto the Jews only.— For they knew nothing of the vision of St. Peter; and did not believe that God would open the door of faith to the Gentiles. The next verse informs us that there were others who were better instructed. See below.
Verse 20. Men of-Cyrene— The metropolis of the Cyrenaica; a country of Africa, bounded on the east by Marmarica, on the west by the Regio Syrtica, on the north by the Mediterranean, and on the south by the Sahara. Cyrene is now called Cairoan. This city, according to Eusebius, was built in the 37th Olympiad, about 630 years before Christ. In consequence of a revolt of its inhabitants, it was destroyed by the Romans; but they afterwards rebuilt it. It was for a long time subject to the Arabs, but is now in the hands of the Turks.
Spake unto the Grecians— /ellhnistav, The Hellenists. Who these were, we have already seen Acts 6 and Acts 9:29, viz. Jews living in Greek cities and speaking the Greek language. But, instead of /ellhnistav, Grecians, /ellhnav, Greeks, is the reading of AD*, Syriac, all the Arabic, Coptic, AEthiopic, Vulgate, some copies of the Itala, Eusebius, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and OEcumenius. On this evidence, Griesbach has admitted it into the text; and few critics entertain any doubt of the genuineness of the reading. This intimates that, besides preaching the Gospel to the Hellenistic Jews, some of them preached it to heathen Greeks; for, were we to adopt the common reading, it would be a sort of actum agere; for it is certain that the Hellenistic Jews had already received the Gospel. See Acts 6:1. And it is likely that these Cyprians and Cyrenians had heard of Peter’s mission to Caesarea, and they followed his example by offering the Christian faith to the heathen. It is worthy of remark that the Jews generally called all nations of the world Greeks; as the Asiatics, to the present day, call all the nations of Europe Franks.
Verse 21. The hand of the Lord was with them— By the hand, arm, and, finger of God, in the Scripture, different displays or exertions of his power are intended. Here it means that the energy of God accompanied them, and applied their preaching to the souls of all attentive hearers. Without this accompanying influence, even an apostle could do no good; and can inferior men hope to be able to convince and convert sinners without this? Ministers of the word of God, so called, who dispute the necessity and deny the being of this influence, show thereby that they are intruders into God’s heritage; that they are not sent by him, and shall not profit the people at all.
A great number believed— That Jesus was the Christ; and that he had died for their offenses, and risen again for their justification. Because the apostles preached the truth, and the hand of God was with them, therefore, a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord, becoming his disciples, and taking him for their portion.
Verse 22. The Church which was in Jerusalem— This was the original, the mother Church of Christianity; not the Church of Rome; there were Christian Churches founded in many places, which exist to the present day, before Rome heard the Gospel of the kingdom. A Christian Church means a company of believers in Christ Jesus, united for the purposes of Christian fellowship, and edification in righteousness.
They sent forth Barnabas— It seems, then, that the Church collectively had power to commission and send forth any of its own members, whom it saw God had qualified for a particular work. There must have been, even at that time, an acknowledged superiority of some members of the Church beyond others. The apostles held the first rank; the deacons (probably the same as those called prophets, as being next chosen) the second; and perhaps those called evangelists, simply preachers of the truth, the third rank. Those who knew most of God and sacred things, who were most zealous, most holy, and most useful, undoubtedly had the pre-eminence.
Verse 23. Had seen the grace of God— That is, had seen the effects produced by the grace of God. By the grace of God, we are to understand: 1. His favor. 2. The manifestations of that favor in the communication of spiritual blessings. And, 3. Principles of light, life, holiness, etc., producing effects demonstrative of the causes from which they sprung. Barnabas saw that these people were objects of the Divine approbation; that they were abundantly blessed and edified together as a Christian Church; and that they had received especial influences from God, by his indwelling Spirit, which were to them incentives to faith, hope, and love, and also principles of conduct.
Was glad,— Not envious because God had blessed the labors of others of his Master’s servants, but rejoiced to find that the work of salvation was carried on by such instruments as God chose, and condescended to use. They who cannot rejoice in the conversion of sinners, because they have not been the means of it, or because such converts or their ministers have not precisely the same views of certain doctrines which they have themselves, show that they have little, if any thing, of the mind that was in Christ, in them.
With purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.— These converts had begun well; they must continue and persevere: God gave them the grace, the principle of life and action; it was their business to use this. If they did not, the gift would be resumed. Barnabas well knew that they must have the grace of God in them to enable them to do any good; but he knew, also, that its being in them did not necessarily imply that it must continue there. God had taught him that if they were not workers together with that grace they would receive it in vain; i.e., the end for which it was given would not be answered. He therefore exhorted them, th proqesei thv kardiav, with determination of heart, with set, fixed purpose and resolution, that they would cleave unto the Lord, prosmenein tw kuriw, to remain with the Lord; to continue in union and fellowship with him; to be faithful in keeping his truth, and obedient in the practice of it. To be a Christian is to be united to Christ, to be of one spirit with him: to continue to be a Christian is to continue in that union. It is absurd to talk of being children of God, and of absolute, final perseverance, when the soul has lost its spiritual union. There is no perseverance but in cleaving to the Lord: he who in his works denies him does not cleave to him. Such a one is not of God; if he ever had the salvation of God, he has lost it; he is fallen from grace; nor is there a word in the book of God, fairly and honestly understood, that says such a person shall absolutely and unavoidably arise from his fall.
Verse 24. For he was a good man— Here is a proper character of a minister of the Gospel.
Much people was added unto the Lord.— No wonder, when they had such a minister, preaching by the power of the Holy Ghost, such a Gospel as that of Jesus Christ.
Verse 25. To Tarsus, for to seek Saul— The persecution raised against him obliged him to take refuge in his own city, where, as a Roman citizen, his person was in safety. See Acts 9:29, 30.
Verse 26. He brought him unto Antioch— As this city was the metropolis of Syria, and the third city for importance in the whole Roman empire, Rome and Alexandria alone being more eminent, Barnabas might think it expedient to have for his assistance a person of such eminent talents as Saul; and who was especially appointed by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Saul appears also to have been a thorough master of the Greek tongue, and, consequently, the better qualified to explain the Gospel to the Greek philosophers, and to defend it against their cavils. Barnabas, also being a native of Cyprus, Acts 4:36, where the Greek language was spoken, was judged to be proper for this mission, perhaps on this account, as well as on account of his disinterestedness, holiness, and zeal.
And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.— It is evident they had the name Christians from CHRIST their master; as the Platonists and Pythagoreans had their name from their masters, Plato and Pythagoras. Now, as these had their name from those great masters because they attended their teaching, and credited their doctrines, so the disciples were called Christians because they took Christ for their teacher, crediting his doctrines, and following the rule of life laid down by him. It has been a question, by whom was this name given to the disciples? Some think they assumed it; others, that the inhabitants of Antioch gave it to them; and others, that it was given by Saul and Barnabas. This later opinion is favored by the Codex Bezae, which reads the 25th and 26th verses thus: And hearing that Saul was at Tarsus, he departed, seeking for him; and having found him, he besought him to come to Antioch; who, when they were come, assembled with the Church a whole year, and instructed a great number; and there they first called the disciples at Antioch Christians.
The word crhmatisai in our common text, which we translate were called, signifies in the New Testament, to appoint, warn, or nominate, by Divine direction. In this sense, the word is used, Matthew 2:12; Luke 2:26; and in the preceding chapter of this book, Acts 10:22. If, therefore, the name was given by Divine appointment, it as most likely that Saul and Barnabas were directed to give it; and that, therefore, the name Christian is from God, as well as that grace and holiness which are so essentially required and implied in the character. Before this time. the Jewish converts were simply called, among themselves, disciples, i.e. scholars; believers, saints, the Church, or assembly; and, by their enemies, Nazarenes, Galileans, the men of this way or sect; and perhaps lay other names which are not come down to us. They considered themselves as one family; and hence the appellation of brethren was frequent among them. It was the design of God to make all who believed of one heart and one soul, that they might consider him as their Father, and live and love like children of the same household. A Christian, therefore, is the highest character which any human being can bear upon earth; and to receive it from God, as those appear to have done-how glorious the title! It is however worthy of remark that this name occurs in only three places in the New Testament: here, and in Acts 26:28, and in 1 Peter 4:16.
Verse 27. Came prophets from Jerusalem— Though the term prophet is used in the New Testament simply to signify a teacher, (see the note on Genesis 20:7, where the subject is largely explained,) yet here it evidently means also such as are under Divine inspiration, and foretold future events. This was certainly the case with Agabus, Acts 11:28, though, perhaps, his ordinary character was that of a teacher or preacher. It seems from various scriptures, Romans 12:4, etc., 1 Corinthians 13:2-14:40, that the prophets of the New Testament were: 1. Teachers or preachers in general. 2. Persons who, on special occasions, were under the influence of the Divine Spirit, and then foretold certain future events. 3. Persons who recited hymns to the honor of God in the public assemblies of the Christians. 4. Persons who prayed in those assemblies, having sometimes the gift of tongues, at other times not. From Ephesians 2:20; 3:5, we learn that the prophets of the Christian Church were inferior to the apostles; but, from Ephesians 4:11, we see that they were superior to all other teachers, even to evangelists and pastors.
Verse 28. Agabus— This prophet, of whom we know nothing, is once more mentioned, Acts 21:10. He was probably a Jew, but whether converted now to Christianity we cannot tell.
Great dearth throughout all the world— The words ef/ olhn thn oikoumenhn probably here mean the land of Judea; though sometimes by this phrase the whole Roman empire is intended. In the former sense the disciples appear to have understood it, as the next verse informs us; for they determined to send relief to their brethren in Judea, which they could not have done had the famine been general. It does not appear that they expected it to extend even to Antioch in Syria, where they then were, else they would have thought of making provision for themselves.
It is well known from history that there were several famines in the reign of Claudius. Dion Cassius, lib. lx., mentions a severe famine in the first and second year of the reign of Claudius, which was sorely felt ln Rome itself. This famine, it is supposed, induced Claudius to build a port at Ostia, for the more regular supply of Rome with provisions.
A second famine happened about the fourth year of this reign, which continued for several years, and greatly afflicted the land of Judea. Several authors notice this, but particularly Josephus, Ant. lib. xx. cap. 5, sect. 2, where, having mentioned Tiberius Alexander as succeeding to the procuratorship in the place of Cuspius Fadus, he says that, “during the government of these procurators, a great famine afflicted Judea.” epi toutoiv dh kai ton megan limon kata thn ioudaian sunebh genesqai.
A third famine is mentioned by Eusebius, in An. Abrahami, which commences with the calends of October, A.D. 48, which was so powerful “in Greece that a modius (about half a bushel of grain) was sold for six drachms,” about three shillings and sixpence English. Vid. Euseb. in Chron. edit. Scalig. The same author mentions another famine in Rome, in the tenth year of Claudius, of which Orosius gives the details, lib. vii.
A fourth famine, which took place in the eleventh year of Claudius, is mentioned by Tacitus, Annal. lib. xii. sect. 43, in which there was so great a dearth of provisions, and famine in consequence, that it was esteemed a Divine judgment. Frugrum quoque egestas, et orta ex ea fames, in prodigium accipiebatur. At this time, the same author tells us, that in all the stores of Rome there were no more than fifteen days’ provision; and, had not the winter been uncommonly mild, the utmost distress and misery must have prevailed.
It may now be inquired, to which of these famines in the reign of Claudius does the prophecy of Agabus refer? Most learned men are of opinion that the famine of which Agabus prophesied was that mentioned above, which took place in the fourth year of this emperor. A.D. 47. This famine is particularly mentioned by Josephus, Ant. lib xx. cap. 2, sect. 5, who describes it as “a very great famine, in which many died for want of food.”-”That Helena, queen of Adiabene, who had embraced the Jewish religion, sent some of her servants to Alexandria, to buy a great quantity of corn; and others of them to Cyprus, to buy a cargo of dried figs, which she distributed to those who were in want.” And in cap. 5, sect. 2, he says that this happened” when Tiberius Alexander succeeded Cuspids Fadus; and that under these procurators the famine happened in which Queen Helena, at a vast expense, procured relief to the Jews.” Dr. Hudson’s note on this passage in Josephus deserves to be copied: “This,” says he, “is that famine foretold by Agabus, Acts 11:28, which happened when Claudius was consul the fourth time, (A.D. 47,) and not that which happened when Claudius was consul the second time, and Caecina was his colleague, (A.D. 42,) as Scaliger says, upon Eusebius, p. 174. Now when Josephus had said, a little after, cap. 5, sect. 2, that Tiberius Alexander succeeded Cuspius Fadus as procurator, he immediately subjoins, under these procurators there happened a great famine in Judea.” From this it is evident that this famine must have continued several years, as it existed under both these procurators. Fadus, says Mr. Whiston, was not sent into Judea till after the death of Agrippa, i.e. towards the end of the fourth year of Claudius, in the end of A.D. 44, or beginning of 45. So that this famine, foretold by Agabus, happened on the fifth, sixth, and seventh years of Claudius, A.D. 45, 46, and 47. See Whiston’s Josephus; and see Krebs’ Observat. in Nov. Test. on this place.
Verse 29. Then the disciples-determined to send relief— These were probably Gentile converts; and as they considered themselves receiving the spiritual blessings, which they now so happily enjoyed, through the means of the Christians in Judea, they resolved to communicate to them a portion of their temporal goods; and every man did this according to his ability, i.e. he gave a certain proportion of the property with which the providence of God had entrusted him. The community of goods had for some time ceased.
Verse 30. And sent it to the elders— These probably mean those who first believed on Christ crucified, either of the seventy disciples mentioned Luke, Luke 10:1, or the one hundred and twenty mentioned, Acts 1:15, or the seven deacons, Acts 6:5. Some have divided the primitive disciples into three classes: 1. The autoptai, those who were eye witnesses. 2. The aparcai, those who were the first fruits, or converts of the apostles’ preaching. The diadocoi, those who were the successors of the preceding from whom they had received the doctrines of the Gospel. It is likely the deacons are meant, whose office it was to take care of the poor. See Acts 6:1, etc.